Month: November 2014

Asylum seekers need our compassion and our help, Scott Morrison, not “enhanced processing” or expanded powers.

asylum seeker boat


A trawler carrying 38 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers was intercepted by an Australian border protection vessel off Cocos Island two weeks ago and handed over to the Sri Lankan Navy. There were six children aboard. The Sri Lankans are the first to be turned back in five months as Australia’s highest court hears a test case challenging the government’s right to intercept asylum seekers’ boats outside its territorial waters.

At the same time, the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment Bill which is currently before the Australian Senate represents an unparalleled aggrandisement of the Immigration Minister’s authority and an all-out assault on refugee law.

The recent dilatory disclosure of the latest interception, well after the event, is disturbing in many ways. First, there is once again that toxic smoke-cloud of secrecy which enshrouds so much of our immigration policies. It cloaks all dealings of the tirelessly self-promoting Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison and the increasingly arbitrary actions of his own paramilitary Sturmabteilung, the Australian Border Force.

It is added to by a layer of befogging sophistry and specious argument often blended with a testy belligerence such as Morrison’s infamously disingenuous justification of his policy of deterrence as proceeding from a desire to prevent accidental drownings. It is present whenever he is publicly questioned such as his offensively belligerent and shamefully disrespectful hectoring of Gillian Triggs at the Australian Human Rights Commission recent inquiry into the detention of asylum-seeker children.

Morrison’s latest act of piracy or ‘interception’ was not reported immediately but hidden, it seems, for as long as possible. This has become a pattern, although on this occasion the fact that the action was illegal and that the ‘enhanced questioning’ was both wrong and against international law might have also contributed to its suppression. Whatever his precise motive, he was, however, just following the LNP coalition party line of being lean or mean with the truth.

For a party that promised the high road of open and transparent government, the LNP Coalition has done its best to crawl in the opposite direction. Delaying, suppressing, concealing, disputing and denying have now become its typical response to challenges. The Abbott government increasingly stands revealed as a government of broken promises and lies whose behaviour has cost it both credibility and legitimacy. Its governance lacks principle, its day to day conduct is dictated by a desperate necessity to pick a winner.

Nowhere is all of this better seen than in Morrison’s regime. Ruthless expediency and duplicity combine in what it grandly and falsely represents as border security and control. It’s touted as a runaway success. Yet Morrison’s operation, in fact, represent a callous indifference or calculated cruelty to others and a wilful determination to dishonour or evade Australia’s international obligations. It is illegal. It is wrong. It is dangerous. Shame on you, Abbott; shame on all of us.

The Abbott government has rightfully earned Australia United Nations’ censure for its indefinite detention, its detention of children. Its ABF shames us before the rest of the world. Yet, with characteristic hubris, Scott Morrison has recently blithely dismissed all such criticism with the line that that Australia’s immigration policies ‘will always be made in Australia’ as if we can walk away from the law or our international obligations any time it suits us.

His department’s secrecy has been defended by the Minister in several unsatisfactory ways, including his infamous ‘on-water matters’ excuse which is predicated on the fiction that ‘border protection’ would be somehow jeopardised if made public. ‘Loose lips sink ships’ was a British propaganda poster slogan of the last world war. Morrison is clearly either in some time-warp or he is labouring under the misapprehension that Australia is at war with asylum seekers. Nothing is further from the truth. They are part of our human family. We owe them the duty of care we owe to our brothers and sisters, daughters and sons. Most of us know this instinctively. Yet for Morrison and Abbott, they are the enemy. Horrifying as it is, it is not Morrison’s or his party’s only delusion.

Morrison likes to hark back to his party’s campaign slogan, stop the boats, as if successful government were merely a checklist of promises to be kept to the electorate by any means. He is also a little too interested in his own image, paying staff to google his name and to monitor his press. Little concern is spared for reflecting on the ways turning back the boats represent a scandalous abandonment of all civilised behaviour and a wilful flouting of all relevant international agreements and expectations.

If Morrison’s habitual secrecy is a continuing concern, what it covers on this occasion is even more alarming, the introduction by stealth of so-called ‘enhanced screening’. Were it not tight-lipped about its covert operations, the ABF might divulge the nature of its new, improved, streamlined fast-track ‘enhanced’ screening process, a self-parodying ‘process’ which in Orwellian Newspeak manner grotesquely distorts the meaning of the word enhancement to mean impoverishment and debasement.

Flouting accepted international practices, asylum seekers face a set of simple questions on the spot from an ABF operative with translator. It is brutally swift and unsatisfactory. There are enormous flaws in this impromptu, unsupervised, unscrutinised ‘process.’ Not the least of these faults is the likelihood that the subject of interrogation does not understand the seriousness of his entrapment.

Enhanced screening’s worst feature is, of course, that it is a cruel and cynical hoax, an instrument of coercion and duplicity contrived to return asylum-seekers hastily back where they came from – and further persecution. It is a shameful deception.

In the recent case, moreover, all but one aboard the trawler were returned to jail in Sri Lanka where they have been jailed while awaiting court cases set for May 2015 for illegally leaving the country. The all-but-one returned statistics reveal that the ‘process’ is a monstrous lie, a shameful sham and a travesty of due process. The world knows that on past evidence most, if not all, of these asylum seekers are likely to be genuine refugees. It is also widely understood that returning these people is to endanger their well-being. Experts attest that returning these Sri Lankans amounts to refoulement, or delivering them into the hands of their persecutors and oppressors.

The Tamil Refugee Council has said that the return almost certainly condemned them to persecution, including torture by returning them to their homeland. Furthermore, the screening system used by authorities is an illegal and insufficient test, the council said.

“The idea that you can properly test a person’s claim for refugee status at sea has been condemned by well-respected legal and human rights groups many times, yet this government cares nothing for its legal, moral or ethical obligations,” stated the council’s Trevor Grant.

For Australia, however, an arrogant ‘made in Australia’ evasion is all that Morrison bothers to offer to defend his proposed changes to the law. Then he repeats the lie that Australia has discharged its international obligations to refugees. He knows, like all tyrants, that to repeat a monstrous lie is to give it life. His latest moves serve to bring into sharper focus the cruelty and calculated inhumanity we now choose to inflict on asylum seekers; the bad faith with which we persecute those who in good faith seek asylum.

In itself, turning back the boats is a government’s disgraceful capitulation to the politics of petty ignorance, fear and chauvinism. Most of us can see it is wrong. Most of us know it is wrong. It is persecution and torture. It is a wilful denial of what makes us human.

What makes it even more disturbing is the perverse joy, and evident self-satisfaction, animating the Minister, his government and his key staff. Most Australians would blush with shame at the latest UN condemnation of our policy of indefinite detention as torture, but for Morrison and his government it is just another ‘on water matter’, an inconsequential irritation that will not deter him, nor cause him to reflect on the essential cruelty and betrayal of humanity that are the core of our immigration policy. The act does not need extending by legislation. It needs to be thrown out, along with its authors and supporters. Our humanity, our innate sense of justice and our compassion demand no less of us.

sri-lankan-refugees

Clowns in politics, the Victorian state election and its coverage.

clowns


Victorian State Election, yawn! That’s how TV, our medium of choice, packages the campaign. It’s how it packages our participation in our future. ‘Journalists’ jostle with each other to deplore the lack of anything interesting in the Victorian election. That’s how most see their role. It’s a derivative, generic and seductive interpretation. But does it do any of us a real service? Or is it self-fulfilling?

“Media commentators” mimic the judges’ panel on reality TV singing, dancing or cooking shows. Must be a whole cross-over thing going on. They scold candidates, obsess over performance and appearance, skim over substance then bag the whole shebang for not entertaining us. ‘Lighten up’ is the ever present subtext. Sex it up is another. Depth, detail, or even accuracy are for party-poopers. In an era of contracting worldwide attention spans, the trivial is king.

Sheesh! Listen up candidates. WOTF? What is wrong with you? Don’t you know you are in show business? Show business for ugly people? Like the commentariat, itself, only less powerful, less prolific and harder to photograph? Get your act together! Entertain us. For God’s sake don’t challenge us, make us think or expect us to do or know anything.

It’s a disturbing trend. And it is widespread. Is this how we kid ourselves our apathy is OK? Is this how we assuage our guilt for our lack of attention, interest or involvement? Are we really so ignorant or so confused that we believe that politics, our chance to have some say in our increasingly more powerful and intrusive government, is really only a form of show business?

Whatever the case, the results are bad news for democracy. It’s the kiss of death to reporting and it’s the kiss of death to effective representation. Yet we must not over-simplify causality. In the end, we get the politicians we deserve. That’s how it works. Almost. We get by with a little help from our friends. Participation in politics is mediated and massaged by an ever expanding, ever-present digital media. And, for a decreasing few, by an endangered popular press.

Print media is in extremis, an increasingly unprofitable atavism in an era where consumers have been colonised by the Digital Empire. Our major papers have, perhaps, two years’ life before they, too are forced to fold, driven into extinction by their digital competitors. Internet killed the video star and then went on to massacre print media. The first step was to rip its heart out.

A beleaguered media, is increasingly side-tracked into distraction and diversion instead of investigating and reporting facts. Murdoch media goes a stage further towards complete surrender. It combines diversion and distraction with dutiful distortion; abandoning objective investigation or reporting for brazen partisan support; a cheer squad for the interests of the Murdoch empire. Or something more sinister.

In the 2013 election of the Abbott government, the Murdoch Press became a death squad for its opponents, the Labor Government(s) of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Given its dwindling circulation and rising unprofitability, it was probably its last gasp effort. But you don’t have to be openly partisan or in print to offer another kiss of death, the kiss of irrelevancy.

Josie Taylor, last night on local ABC 7:30 report, a show which will be axed as part of Abbott’s ‘efficiency dividend’, asked a random grab of light-weights for some superficial election eve fluff. They obliged with a consensus that the campaign had been dull and boring. Josie commiserated: “I thought that’s what you would say.”

The subtext was motivational in a way. Well, we have to vote. These clowns are forcing us to do something we resent. So let’s save face by dismissing them. We know diddly-squat about the campaign because we haven’t been paying attention. But, hey, that’s all their fault for being boring. Their fault for being politicians.

The morphing of information into infotainment with a fair dollop of ridicule is aided by choosing crossover commentators. Waleed Aly is an intelligent, scholarly, thoughtful and perceptive person. His choice of stand-up comedian, Claire Hooper on his election eve ABC radio show may have been to redress listeners’ boredom. His station’s attempt to lighten up may also be enlightened. Commentators can come from any walk of life. But the exercise is fraught with peril when it panders to our prejudices and reinforces our rejection of politics in the guise of light entertainment.

A night ago, called to give her views on the state election, Ms Hooper replied with an anecdote to the effect that a mate of hers didn’t even know the Labor candidate’s name. Came up, she said, with “Dennis Andrews”, an amalgam of both Dennis Napthine and Andrew Daniels. On one level this says a lot about what’s in the popular mind about State Politics. Boring! Like a Maths lesson. On the other hand its relentless negativity reinforces and legitimises our own abdication of responsibility.

Deploring dullness in politics may be an excuse for opting out of something we vaguely sense we ought to take an interest in. Ceding the field of participation in politics to entertainment; to show business is, however, no solution. Unless, of course we relish having clowns in politics. 

andews on guitar

 

 

Abbott government runs aground on its own duplicity; Prime Minister faces existential crisis.

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Tony Abbott, catapulted by fate into an unexpected and totally undeserved captaincy, continues to confound critics and supporters alike by leading his government from crisis to catastrophe. Confirming all initial fears about his total unsuitability as Prime Minister, in the space of just one year, Abbott jerks and twitches frenetically across the political stage like some manic over-charged Energiser Bunny, a battery operated suicide bomber.

Feverishly, assiduously, the little manikin continues to wreck his own career, Australia’s international reputation and any prospects of a Liberal re-election.  A loose-lipped, loose cannon who is ever fast and loose with the truth, Abbott is an accomplished one-man wrecking machine who has cleared the decks of HMS Team Australia of any last vestige of optimism.

Newspoll’s latest result has Labor leading 55% to Coalition 45%. If an election were to be held now the Coalition would be wiped out.  On balance it would be a good outcome. Both at home and overseas, the Abbott government has lost all credibility and the capacity to act like a government let alone a world citizen. His G20 debacle made Abbott look like an international pariah on climate change and a narrow, inward-looking self-serving politician with nothing to offer on an international or intellectual plane, further lowering his stocks both at home and abroad. So on the nose, is Abbott that his own party have called it electoral suicide to be seen out with him in public in Victoria. “Eyebrows”, John Howard, seventy-five and not out, is a former Liberal Prime Minister and respected authority on Australian cricket, whose appearance and stagey, manic manufactured bonhomie resemble a demented garden gnome, has been wheeled out to press the startled flesh in the Victorian State Election on behalf of lost-cause Liberal party pretender Denis Napthine. Napthine, whose ineffectual efforts so far and his cronyism towards powerful local supporters suggest that we would all be safer and better off when he goes back to Warrnambool to resume his career as a well-connected country vet with a naturally long reach. The nearest “Nappers”, or “Kermit” as he is sometimes known, will get to help from Abbott’s Cabinet will be this evening when Julie schmoozes the Mount Macedon landed gentry, rubbing along at sunset in the light of the Rock, sipping bubbly and swapping stories about pony ownership, the cost of good domestic service and the importance of choosing the right investment broker.

As the parliamentary year shudders to a halt, with less than nothing significant or praise-worthy accomplished, the government’s paltry achievements amount to an unparalleled deficit in every dimension, be it moral, intellectual, political, diplomatic or fiscal.   Joe Hockey has blown out the budget deficit by over 50 billion dollars; Julie Bishop’s grandstanding, demanding and attention seeking at the cost of any useful diplomacy has blown off just about every world leader who matters; Hunt, Minister for Environmental denial, Ever Begging to Differ and Direct Action Fairies at the bottom of the garden, has blown all credibility while raising serious questions as to his sanity with his rabid, irrational babbling.

Exhausting all reason in promoting an untried, unproven, unbelievable, direct action scam which pays polluters out of the public purse, Hunt is also a future-wrecker whose breathtaking arrogance and intransigence in interviews is made of the very stuff which has brought his leader down.

Lies about ABC cuts have been the latest to bring Abbott’s credibility lower. Lies are this government’s lingua franca, yet when Defence Minister David Johnston chose to tell the truth about the ASC, very publicly not trusting it to build a canoe, he was immediately put in the naughty corner and made to apologise. It won’t help any future sale of the ASC but then, neither has the government’s clear predilection for favouring Japanese tenders in any future submarine building contracts.

HMS Team Australia, the ill-fated, unseaworthy, ship of shame which plies its wretched human trade under a range of foreign flags, has been on a disaster course since its commission. It is now holed up on liar’s reef, leaking badly and under attack from all former backers including Murdoch’s phone-tapping hacks, and other sundry, craven, self-promoters who daily deal death and misery in international business and finance as they seek to increase their capacity to run the world purely and simply for their own profit. Even Abbott hagiographers have gone on the offensive. The Daily Telegraph recently observed of Tony Abbott:

He is fast proving to be the least conservative leader the conservative side of politics has ever seen.

Now the weather is turning increasingly foul and a cruel sea is rising. The scurvy crew is either drunk or off its face on other substances. And there’s been frigging in the rigging. Narcissists, Morrison and Bishop, totally power-besotted, drunk on self-importance, vainglorious omnipotence and the sadistic excitement of deciding whose chances they can cruel next, have been caught paying a fortune on special Google-me staff whose sole job is to search all media to find mention of themselves.

HMS Team Australia, a ship of shame, has been further disgraced by its captain’s blatant attempt to re-write United Nations Conventions on Refugees so that Australia can perfect its translation of foreign policy into an instrument of torture, locking up the world’s most vulnerable and needy, including the indefinite detention of children.

Throwing cabin boy Hunt out of their double bunk, Abbott kicks ship’s cat, Christopher Pyne. Pyne dashes caterwauling up the rigging. Abbott hears him promising to the winds that he will door-knock every door in his electorate. He will personally let voters know how being indebted for life is in fact a liberating form of servitude for all those who aspire to a university education. Voters will be dancing in the streets with joy, when I get the message out there, he howls into a mounting storm. Yet even that dead albatross around Hockey’s neck could tell any one of them that it’s not about getting the message out. This government has made bad decisions, bad policies, bad choices. More spin won’t help a bit. HMS Team Australia is too badly damaged to put about or limp back to port.

“Lash me to the wheel, Hunt”, Abbott rasps desperately, knowing no other course.

Bugger the barnacles! Abandon Ship now, Mr Abbott, before it’s too late for all of us.

abbott looking nuts

So you just told the crew that you might knock the barnacles off, Mr Prime Minister? Or should that be Cap’n Pugwash? Brilliant! We don’t know who writes your material, even though we taxpayers are paying a fortune in salaries and bonuses, but the latest metaphor takes the (ship’s) biscuit for black comedy. Barnacles!

It wasn’t them? OK, it was that Truth Parrott that so regularly but unpredictably shits all over your outfit. Just won’t shut up, will it? Annabel Crabb first noticed it. Your parrot squawks out the truth at the worst moments, Cap’n Pugwash. Knock off the barnacles, indeed. Best you listen this time.

Where would you begin? Your Ship of Fools, SS Team Australia, worm eaten, listing badly to starboard, almost rudderless, is now aground on Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire Reef and she’s leaking badly while that scurvy backbench crew becomes daily ever more mutinous. Mutinous? Not just the back bench. There’s friggin in the riggin, Cap’n while you’ve been down below.

Hell, even Pyne the ship’s cat, deserted his watch, to write submissions about the ABC. That’s right, a submission to his own government! The ship’s cat attempted to jump ship. Or perhaps he believes he’s already on another one.  Or he’s dived in after all the other rats. Cabin boy Hockey is already bobbing around in the drink, furiously treading water, like some kind of human buoyancy marker.

Signaleer Malcolm Rotary Nuts goes on ABC to lie about your lie about not cutting funding. Now, a few days later he spills his guts and calls it a cut. Lies about his lie about your lie about a lie. He’s trying to send you a message, Cap’n.

Ditzy Ms Bishop, your recruit from SS Princess Mesothelioma, just won’t stick to her knitting. At first you liked her style. Tough customer. Hard as nails and as smart and flash as a rat with a gold tooth, she made an early forward showing, when she broke all the rules to toss Steve Bracks out of his NY consular berth to repay a favour for Nick Minchin. Then she yanked Mike Rann home from London eighteen months early in favour of Alexander Downer because Downer was owed a big favour, too.

Downer, you recall, bugged Timor Leste leaders during delicate negotiations on the Timor Sea resources treaty in 2004. Woodside Petroleum did well out of it and returned the favour by finding a position for Alexander afterwards.Through his consulting firm Bespoke Approach, Downer became a paid consultant to Woodside Australia’s largest hydrocarbon company, which stands to make billions of dollars. No doubt you have something similar lined up for yourself with the coal industry.

But once on deck, Bishop has been a shocker. Not only has she insulted every world leader you would want on your side, including China and the entire UN Security Council, she set you up for an Obama Broadside. Stitched you right up. Ruined your G20.

Watch your back Captain Abbott. Forget the so-called death stare. Bishop has her eyes on the main prize. You never even questioned why she was so below decks at the time. Now you know. And she’s up in the ratings. All sorts of favourable mentions including Woman of the year for Harpers and even a push from the Fairfax press is whispering sweet nothings in our ear.

Risky recruit, Cap’n. Can’t say you weren’t warned, though. Wrong team. Not your team. Not only is she one of the Adelaide ‘born to rulers,’ she breaks your own rules about putting women in charge. They are not physiologically suited to the decision making required of leaders, as you have said. And furthermore, fess up, Cap’n: you always knew it was bad luck to have a woman on board, let alone a Twitterbox, even openly on her iPhone during Question Time. It’s not a good look, Cap’n. Sheeesh! You sure can pick ’em.

Barnacles! It’s your Christmas message to the crew Captain Abbott. You are rubbish in the polls. Your unfair, stuck budget festers in the public craw. You send in pin-stripe suited Cormann, your party’s own Heimlich manoeuvre but he just ends up looking like some expensive foreign mercenary or mafia hit man.  But, hey, we will knock one or two barnacles off the ship before Christmas.

If you mean what you say, and that’s a bit controversial at the moment, we assume you have some plan for steering back into port. And someone on board who knows how to navigate. What’s that? Coal-powered? You have hitched the ship to a coal-burning tug. Brilliant!  But you will need a dry-dock, Cap’n. And where will you find one of those, now, Cap’n? You’ve just about exhausted or alienated all your known stocks and supplies. Even Captain Rupert’s hacks are backing off or openly backing another rat.

Forget the barnacles. Abandon ship. Call a double dissolution. Put your money where your mouth is. It’s your only chance to get out while you can salvage any shred of credibility. So you lose the election. That’s the plan. Get a cosy berth ashore in coals, or even oil. Dick Warburton will even set you up with a few names of firms who would love to have you on board. And you wouldn’t have to do a thing. That’s the best Christmas gift of all – to all parties.

Violence against women, Mr Abbott. Your number one priority.

abbott winks


Mr Abbott, you appointed yourself Minister for Women. Why? You have never given a satisfactory account of your self-promotion. Was it to cover your ineptitude, your potential to insult and demean women any time you open your mouth? Or with your mouth shut, just giving a crafty wink? Perhaps you need a memory jog. There are many telling examples but let’s just recall a few beauties.

Remember when you praised a Liberal candidate for her  “sex appeal”; or when you told those women netball players that “a bit of body contact never hurt anyone” or your pitch for the votes of Big Brother contestants “as I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters”?

Remember when you suggested ironing was exclusively done by “the housewives of Australia” Remember when you let slip your own view of male superiority as leaders: “What if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”

Remember when you channelled 1950s moral bigotry with your taunt that Julia Gillard should “make an honest woman of herself”? Remember letting others in your party get away with calling Gillard ‘deliberately barren’? Women have not forgotten. What’s barren is your effort to be any kind of Prime Minister for women. You call yourself a feminist?

You say you are a feminist because you have daughters. Mr Abbott, that’s not how it works. A feminist upholds the cause of equality for women. Of course equality involves change and we know you don’t like change. You have even less of a clue about reform.

So let’s make it even more basic. A feminist stands up for women’s rights. You have done less than nothing. In fact, you have effectively set back women’s rights. Human rights. And your self-appointment as Minister for Women has been a further obstruction.

Let’s take the most basic right, the right to feel safe. We’ll put it in economic terms first to keep it in your comfort zone. You are willing to spend billions on an anti-terror campaign which makes no-one, really any safer. Most of it is for show. Yet you won’t spare a cent on our real terror threat- the terror so many Australian women face daily at home.

Violence against women is endemic in Australian society. The very fabric of our society is infected by it. Apart from the immeasurable, unimaginably hideous suffering, it costs billions in lost opportunities; lost productivity. Women daily must contend with a rampant, devastating disease of epidemic proportions. Yet you won’t lift a finger to address the issue.

Why? Is it less glamorous? Less of a vote-winner? Too hard to get men to change their behaviour? Too long to wait to get a return on your investment? You need to get matters into perspective, Mr Abbott, it is not a matter of thrift. You need to look at the facts.

One woman a week is killed at home. Killed by a partner or former partner.  In the past decade, domestic violence has killed between seven hundred to a thousand women and children. Almost half a million Australian women experience physical or sexual violence or sexual assault in the past 12 months according to ABS data. That’s half a million since you were elected. More than a million have been assaulted physically or sexually by male partners or ex-partners since they were fifteen.

Can you see the size of the problem, Mr Abbott? Can you see how it might dwarf any so-called Jihadist terror threat? Is it any clearer how your own focus on anti-terror measures is an indictment of your priorities?

You are wasting vast resources on presenting yourself as the nation’s macho protector, a make-believe role against an almost totally imaginary foe, while you ignore the real crisis of violence against women at home. Talk about pure evil, Mr Abbott, if you must, but the home-grown terror of domestic violence eclipses any death cult spawned by ISIS.

How many Australians are killed by terrorists? 113 since 1978. That includes Australians killed overseas and non-Australian men and women killed in Australia. You don’t need an accountant to see that you have wasted a fortune on invisibles. What is worse, is that some of this has come at the expense of women’s well-being; at the cost of their safety as a result of cuts in you budget. You have put women in even greater danger whilst splurging billions on what is largely an invented and inflated threat.

Women are often trapped in abusive relationships. Your budget makes it even harder for victims of domestic violence to escape. You cut the single parent tax benefit.  You cut the National Rental Affordability Scheme. Your GP co-payment, too would effectively represent a cut in some women’s capacity to access medical help.

Violence against women is not a simple matter, Mr Abbott, even you must acknowledge that. Its causes are complex and deeply-rooted in the construction of the Australian male psyche, itself a product of powerful societal currents and forces. And there is a lot of work to do here. Yet without asking you to go too deep, you have to start looking at your own behaviour. You have to look at the way your leadership fosters a blokey, matey culture in which violence is condoned if not promoted. You may have got some attention when you made your shirtfront threat to Putin but it’s time for a Prime Minister who doesn’t foster a climate of expectations which says that problems are solved by violence, a climate in which challenges are not a macho contest of wills. Or force. Or power. We need a Prime Minister who is able to contribute to an inclusive and civilised national conversation, a zeitgeist that is not cripplingly narrowed to puerile, gladiatorial contests.

Sometimes, sadly, the job is just too big for the person, Mr Abbott, but a Prime Minister needs to be able to transcend primitive power plays; turn aside from petty competition, self-aggrandisement and vilification of the other. A Prime Minster needs to seek instead to redress injustice and heal division in his own patch; in his own party; in his own heart. And a Prime Minister who is also the Minister for Women needs to turn all this nation’s resources without delay towards the real terror that lurks within. The violence of Australian men against women must stop. Even if you achieve no other, this should be your first priority.

Julie Bishop dives on world stage with attack on Obama.

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The foreign minister said she had met the US secretary of the interior, Sally Jewell, in Sydney before the G20 and outlined “in considerable detail Australia’s commitment and capacity to preserve the Great Barrier Reef”.

“And I pointed out that we were working with the heritage committee and with UNESCO to ensure that the barrier reef remains as healthy and protected as is humanly possible,” Bishop told the ABC.

“I pointed out that mining and drilling and gas exploration are banned by law from the Great Barrier Reef region and that we had acted to prevent the dumping of capital dredge waste in the marine park. Indeed, [environment] Minister Greg Hunt announced that during the World Parks Congress, that we will ban that by law.”

Julie Bishop, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, has lashed out at US President Barrack Obama, reproaching his churlish ignorance, insubordination and bad form. His offence? He voiced fair and reasonable public concern for the survival of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Weak on fact, strong on indignation, Bishop’s objection contributes more dark comedy than any light of reason. Indeed, the more she protests, the more she resembles a Catherine Tate character: ‘How dare he, how very dare he!’

Bishop’s self-parodying protest speaks volumes about herself and her government. Diving into desperate damage control as her government’s domestic standing declines and her own standing takes a hit, her intervention is only likely to make matters worse for both.

Bishop’s nose is out of joint. How dare Obama speak out? Show us up? How dare the US President ambush the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott on his home turf? Then there’s the lapse of decorum: it is such poor form for a mere guest to abuse his host. Poor form, also it would seem to ignore the Australian Foreign Minister’s briefing, even if it did contradict all of the science. He did not know what he was talking about. The US President “overlooked” Australian actions in preserving the reef, she claims, as if correcting a small boy’s homework.

A spirited self-defence is evidently hard at work, at least. The Minister for Foreign Affairs cannot be faulted, at least in her own version of events. Yes and No Minister. Self-justification after the fact serves only to reveal a significant chink in your Armani. The test of performance lies in what is or what is not achieved, not who or what you might claim afterwards is really to blame. Your job is to make it work, not to point the finger when you fail.

Bishop’s over-retaliation has raised eyebrows whilst lowering her own and her country’s international standing. First, it is stretching things to accept that the President acted wrongly or badly. What else was he expected to do? Abbott, as G20 chairperson insulted world leaders as he attempted to limit the agenda, substitute his own agenda and hijack international events for domestic gain, a manipulation which conveyed at best indifference and at worst contempt for the real challenges faced by the world and its leaders. Any leader worth his salt would take a stand. Any true world leader would want to turn attention back to where it belonged.

In Brisbane, Abbott proposed, in effect, a G20 public housekeeping party; a global gathering where he would speak openly of struggling to put his own house in order whilst attempting to sweep climate change under the carpet. It was easy to appear out of order in this parochial context. Even compulsory. Virtuous. All you had to do was show a true commitment to international affairs.  Or behave like a statesman.

Obama’s timely reminder that the reef was in danger of extinction because of climate change contributed, it is true, to his upstaging the G20. Yet it was upstaging by default, simply because he cared enough to speak out on the major issue confronting the world. For this he is to be commended rather than condemned. And there are already clear signs that his words helped refocus the attention of the leaders present. He is to be admired for heeding the call of duty.

Julie Bishop, however, has a more limited perspective. How dare Obama have the temerity to exercise genuine world leadership! Shame Australia’s leaders out of their self-absorption and parochial self-interest. She wants to cut Obama down to size. Her agitation is palpable. What would he know? Whom did he talk to? Who does he think he is? Like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth the lady doth protest too much. It will be her undoing. She is already hoist with her own petard.

Not only was Obama out of order, Bishop alleges he did not know what he was talking about. Worse, he bypassed her.

It is true Obama did not consult Bishop before he made his speech drawing world attention to the dangers faced by this part of our world heritage. Nor should he have. No-one else, it seems, could do it. Least of all his host. This part of her reasoning is also comically self-important.

She tried to tell him. But would he listen? Bishop complains she briefed US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell prior to the address, just to see Obama got his facts right. This, it seems, would have ensured that he left the reef bit out. No doubt she has explained this to her own boss who might have also raised the odd question over Julie’s less than stellar G20 contribution.

Bishop has been forced to quickly sent Obama a bromide in the form of a briefing paper pointing out the error of his ways, reefing him in for his untrammelled arrogance and stupidity. Talk to me first, next time, meathead!

Proving once again that there is less to Bishop than meets the eye, her rebuke is typically insubstantial. In fact it is pretty fact free, embarrassingly flawed. Like many of her government’s recent attempts to explain situations, it bothers little with science or logic. But it makes revealing reading. Compelling, too, not only if your taste runs to a farrago of lies, disingenuous assertion and misplaced indignation at being upstaged by someone with a real concern for the future of the world and the means to make a difference.

Bishop’s case is countered by leading scientists who point to rising temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide in the oceans. Massive bleaching and destruction of fragile ecosystems will result.     Mr Obama was “right on the money”, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, said. “He was stating a fact.

“We have one of the jewels of the planet in our possession and we should care a lot about climate and he wasn’t getting that from our leader [Prime Minister Tony Abbott],” Dr Hoegh-Guldberg said.

Seldom stooping to let facts get in the way of her argument, Bishop’s petulant remonstration sets out clearly once again for all the world the wilful ignorance of her own party, the limitless arrogance of her own personal position and the status of both as terminally endangered species.

The current Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is also deputy leader of the Liberal Party, and the only woman permitted in the Abbott government Cabinet, has greatly disappointed with her failure to acknowledge the best efforts of those who are committed to dealing with climate change as a world priority. Her recent efforts have hindered more than helped anybody.

Her performance is all the more deplorable for its wilful distraction; amounting to an almost criminal neglect of other pressing international issues such as the unequal status of women, violence against women and any practical plan towards redressing the world-wide trend away from inclusivity and towards further marginalisation and discrimination.

Starting to clean up our own backyard would be perhaps too parochial for our globe-trotting Foreign Minister but it is a sound first step for implementing wider reform.  Immigration is a bridge too far, no doubt, but the latest bill before the senate will make us the pariah of the international community. Alternatively, she could try closer to home. A ‘robust discussion’ with Colin Barnett, her home state premier, about his decision to close around 150 Aboriginal communities would be a useful place to start.

Of course, this would involve rethinking her own approval of the scheme. It’s another Federal cutback which the nation never got to vote on last election. WA has chosen to make Aboriginal people refugees in their own country because the Abbott government decided to cease funding for essential services in remote communities. As part of the cabinet discussion around that decision, she could explain how this is leadership rather than something we should all be deeply ashamed of.

Julie Bishop, you had the chutzpah to rebuke Barack Obama over the Barrier Reef when he was clearly in the right. Surely, then you have the wherewithal to stand up to your Prime Minister when he is clearly in the wrong. Begin to assert your independence where it may do some good. Tackle Abbott over all those areas of policy in which Australia is reneging on its responsibility to its own people to say nothing of its international obligations. Tell him he is wrong about climate change and that you need to conserve your energies to fight injustice, inequality and ignorance at home before you can take another single step on the world stage without making yourself and your government an even greater international laughing stock.

Abbott government announces major cuts to ABC funding; lies about election promise.

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Abbott and Turnbull collude to deny election promise.


“It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.” Tony Abbott 2011

Tony Abbott is a bare-faced liar. On the eve of the Federal election he promised no cuts to the ABC or the SBS. His words were:

“… no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS”.

It was a catchy slogan designed to inspire trust in his government’s agreement to respect areas of the Australian economy and society vital to the national good; essential to every Australian’s quality of life. It sounded fair and reasonable. What fools we were to trust him.

Forgotten, it seems, was his very own warning against our trusting a word he said. Overlooked, it appears was his own, earlier inner truth parrot’s candid admission of his innate dishonesty. The truth parrot that so often queers his pitch by suddenly squawking the inopportune truth, told the nation that whilst Abbott might say one thing, that didn’t mean Abbott wouldn’t just do the opposite.

Or did we simply not believe him? There is every chance that he was simply disbelieved by the fair-minded and good-hearted who gave Abbott’s blathering the benefit of the doubt. No doubt many decent folk who could not believe their ears, yet kindly put it all down to another Abbott episode. Abbott’s own confession that he could be fast and loose with the truth raised only one public eyebrow.

His Liberal party already had form in this area. This sophistry. John Howard confessed to making core and non-core promises. Now under Howard’s junior successor, the distinction gets even worse. There are real promises and Abbott promises.

Helpfully, keeping a straight face for national TV, Abbott volunteered the tip that voters should get Abbott promises in writing if they intended to believe them. The rest might be tricked up to look good in the show ring but are headed straight for the abattoir afterwards.

This week, barely a year down the track, a track that is treacherous under foot; slippery, steep, strewn with hazards, litter and rough under foot, Abbott’s failing government announces a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of cuts to ABC and SBS.

Its dishonesty is breathtaking in this area alone to say nothing of its indecent haste in trashing its record in the other areas in his election eve pledge, Health, Education, Pensions, GST.  It is not the first cut. Federal Finance Minister Matthias Cormann’s announcement of a $256 million dollar cut to the ABC and SBS is on top of a 4.6 % cut already imposed. Who believes the cuts will stop there?

Malcolm Turnbull is quickly despatched to Q&A and 7:30 Report to rescue his leader. Settle us down. Soften us up. The broken promise, it seems is all our fault. We must be disabused of our delusions. Oozing condescension and oleaginous smarm, he patronises everyone, yet all the while smiling indulgently as if dealing with a child who has become fractious over a lost toy at bedtime. His smile, however, reveals piranha teeth.

Mesmerised, horrified, we watch as he sets out to correct our defective memories. Brazenly, bizarrely, Turnbull claims we misheard Abbott.  He has shed the customary leather jacket. His own hide is no doubt, thicker, more protective. With lines worth of Yes Minister, fixer Turnbull wants to soothe things over.

He did not believe the Prime Minister intended to give the impression the national broadcaster would be exempt from any future belt tightening. The belt tightening image is a spin doctor’s clumsy softening of the reality. The belt is already tight. Tighten it any further and it is life-threatening: you risk potentially fatal constriction of the patient’s circulation.

The rest of the case is curiously presumptuous. In an interview on ABC’s 7.30 on Wednesday, Turnbull alleges he and Joe Hockey had made it clear during the election campaign that cuts to address the budget deficit had to made across the board and that “the ABC and SBS couldn’t be exempt and that we would be seeking to address waste and inefficiencies”.

What could this mean? Should we have ignored Opposition leader Abbott’s election eve promise because Hockey and Turnbull had spun a different line.  Pull the other one. So the great gods Turnbull and Hockey had more authority? More credibility? Save us.

Or is Turnbull offering a type of performance art, an absurdist stand-up routine, an homage to Abbott and Costello’s skit Who’s on First? Very funny, Malcolm. We get it. You are a crack up.

Taking the farce even further into absurdity, Liberal Party Belgian Shepherd, Matthias Cormannn simply barks “well, they’re not cuts”. What they are it seems are ‘efficiency dividends.’ Yet, curiously, his master, Abbott was to be believed after all, even if we silly voters get the c word confused with our efficiency dividends. Or vice versa. “The Prime Minister absolutely told the truth. We are not making cuts. What we are making sure happens with the ABC is what happens with every other taxpayer funded organisation across government and that is to ensure that it operates as efficiently as possible,” barked Inspector Rex.

Cormann explained that the broadcaster should not be allowed to dodge efficiency dividends hitting the rest of the public service. “The ABC has been exempted from efficiency dividends for the last 20 years …” Past cuts, it is clear are an illusion, another function of our defective collective memory.

Implied was the clear message: the efficiency dividend is not a way of constraining the ABC from its independence, an independence unique and invaluable in Australian politics and society. Since there are no cuts, there is no way that the Abbott government is paying out on an ABC which dares to tell the truth about a government which continues to tell lies and lies about its lies.

So there we have it. The explanation is Orwellian Newspeak. A cut is not a cut when it is an efficiency dividend. A dividend is not money you get but rather money that is taken away from you. The ABC is not being reduced or diminished. Instead it’s getting a tune up. Its operation has been dodgy in the past but now it will be put back on the straight and narrow. With caring, attentive, nurturing personal trainers, Cormann, Hockey, Turnbull and Abbott, the ABC will be put on a low carb, no fat diet.

In other words, our national broadcaster is under a death sentence. It will be expected to do more and more on less and less. Until it is completely gutted and it expires of malnutrition. The last word is in Wronski’s freely adapted recall of what may have been one of the tales of Nazreddin Hodja.

A mean, rich merchant boasted to his neighbour how he fed his camel less and less each day. ‘Look, neighbour,’ he said. ‘Last night only a handful of barley. Tonight half a handful.’ ‘That is amazing,’ the neighbour gasped. ‘How much money you must be saving on camel feed.’ ‘I know,’ said the merchant proudly. ‘Look at him! So lean and so healthy. He works every day from dawn to dusk. Does everything I say. No complaining.’ The next day the merchant’s camel dies. The merchant is beside himself with grief and anger. He curses and he sobs. ‘Just my luck, said the rich man. Just when I have almost taught my camel to live on nothing, suddenly death comes along to rob me of my greatest achievement.’