Month: February 2015

Brandis must apologise to all Australians, especially women and then resign immediately.


Australians of all political persuasions have been shocked this week to discover that Attorney General, George Brandis, is not only prepared to enjoin the vendetta waged against Gillian Triggs by a Prime Minister who refuses to know the truth about asylum-seeker children in detention, he also acts as if he is above the law. He set out to ruin the Professor’s reputation. A Murdoch paper obligingly joined in accusing Triggs of being a bad mother.

Brandis has treated the President of the Human Rights Commission, the rule of law and his own duty of care with contempt. It is his job to ensure that the President of the Human Rights Commission can do her job without fear or favour. Yet he is leading the attack. How could he bring himself, his own office and the senate into disrepute with his bully boy behaviour; his playing to the gallery of misogynist galahs such as Senators Mitchell and McDonald? Above all, how and why have we let him?

Brandis’ recent attack on Professor Triggs in the senate estimates committee hearing has prompted heated debate, if not outrage, about the conduct of an Attorney General who has set such a new low for men in public office let alone for the chief legal officer in the land. His disgraceful travesty of decorum has also focused discussion on his role. Brandis is been throwing his weight around as if he were Chris Mitchell, editor of The Australian, the man who runs the country.

George Brandis has redefined the role of Attorney General to make himself one of the most powerful men in the land. His extraordinary powers include his right to know everything there is to know about anyone of us and to do what he likes with that information with complete impunity. Yet until now his public image has been misleadingly low-key, almost bumbling and benign. He even took pity on bigots, that’s how kind he was, it seemed.

Brandis at first seemed everyone’s favourite bachelor uncle. Sure he was a fuddy-duddy who could spoil any party game by insisting on explaining the rules but he was fun. His conservatism and pedantry were irritating but amounted to little more than harmless eccentricities we indulged such was his innocence in the ways of the world; his kindness at heart.

Granted, Uncle George could not explain metadata but this just showed what a good old-fashioned boy he was. Better that you ask someone else; someone not so adorably, wilfully, myopic; someone technologically literate. What’s that? It’s his job to know? Wash your mouth out with soap! This is the Attorney General we are talking about. Next you’ll be expecting openness and accountability. Better not to expect. Expectations beget resentment.

Brandis also appeared a bookish, other worldly figure, nineteenth century Radical throwback in an armchair of some elite gentleman’s club, cradling a vintage port, a blowhard, banging on about liberty, free trade and male-only membership. Fetchingly attractive as this caricature may be it would be too easy to descend into unproductive ridicule or lampoon, although, for some, the temptation is irresistible.  At times, moreover, Brandis appeared to parody himself.

Labor poked fun at Brandis’ joining the boys-only Savage Club of Melbourne; a club much like any other exclusive society which requires a little ritual chest-beating and guttural noises of its members. The club founded in 1894, ‘encourages a flowering of the bohemian tradition’ amongst the elite and doubtless accommodates many who yearn for the stability and certainty of a bye-gone gentleman’s era of empire, servants and horse-drawn carriages.  Even bigotry is tolerable to those insulated and protected by their kindred, their wealth and their great privilege.

Bigotry has pigeonholed George Brandis in the public mind. Other views have their place but Australians mainly see their Attorney General as the man who says bigots have a right to be bigoted although most of us still don’t know what to make of this. In March last year, the Attorney General turned his back, like his PM at question time, on his opponents, enlightenment and fairness; to take the nation with him back to a future of guttural noises.

Brandis would let popular commentary degenerate into a free-for-all; a deregulated, open slanging match. It fits his vision of freedom. It is a peculiar freedom, nonetheless, based on a literal but mindless interpretation of liberty as freedom from any form of state control or interference, a nonsense that the Tea Party’s mad hatters claim makes perfect sense. In diluting the RDA, Brandis was hoisting the flag for his government’s radical, neoliberal cause. He was serious.

“It is certainly the intention of the government to remove from the Racial Discrimination Act those provisions that enabled Andrew Bolt to be taken to the federal court merely because he expressed an opinion about a social or political matter,” Brandis said. “I will very soon be bringing forward an amendment to the RDA which will ensure that that can never happen in Australia again.”

The AG was referring to section 18C which makes it illegal to: “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” because of their race or ethnicity”. Bolt’s columns, personally attacked several Aborigines, disputing their claims to Aboriginality, arguing they did not deserve awards they had won.

Brandis was overruled by Abbott’s captain’s call last August. 18C would stay. The PM said he wanted to keep all communities on Team Australia, implying that 18C of the RDA protected minorities, a position which contradicted Human Rights Commissioner, Brandis appointee, Tim Wilson who argued 18C gave greater legal privileges to some on the basis of race and that this posed great risks to social harmony.

 “There is nothing more dangerous to a multicultural Australia today than the idea that some people have legal privileges on the basis of their race which do not exist for other people.”

Nothing more dangerous? Wilson is unlikely to tip against his boss, yet let’s be clear about where the danger lies. OK, he does come from Queensland. And, yes, he is a senator. But do not be fooled by his presentation. George Brandis is a dangerous man. More than promoting intolerance and curbing multiculturalism, he has effectively curtailed our freedoms. Yet we readily gave him permission.

The National Security Amendment Bill (No.1) 2014 permits spies and ASIO and their subcontractors almost unlimited freedom to so whatever they fancy. Yet it was rubber-stamped by our parliament, making bipartisan support, a new term for almost total lack of scrutiny. Even the senate, entrusted to review new laws for us, gave up any pretence at having the necessary critical faculties and quickly got on board. Former footballer senator Glenn Lazarus’ comments make you wonder how many senators even read the bill:

“I love Australia,” Lazarus declared piously. “I love our freedom. I, along with all Australians, feel that our great country must be protected.” Speak for yourself Glenn. Just do us the favour of reading and referring to the legislation.

As Attorney General, Brandis got us to surrender our rights by telling us we would be better protected against terrorists. The Prime Minister hopped into the same old argument. You remember. We would be giving some rights up so that evil Death-cults could not harm us. After all, we’ve been doing it for years now. To most of us, the deal seemed, fair and reasonable.  But only if you didn’t read it or have someone explain it carefully to you. And who’s got time for that? Besides, who ever really listens to the Prime Minister?

Thanks largely to Brandis and his National Security Amendment Bill 2014, officials can now act in total secrecy; break the law with impunity; remain immune from prosecution and having to answer to any court.  As Alison Bevege has written:

“They will decide what they do and to whom and when. They do not have to ask permission. They will choose when to ‘interfere in your life and when they won’t. They can dip into your most private communications and they don’t need a warrant to do so.”

In the context of the unprecedented powers he has conferred upon himself in his NSA, it is little wonder if Brandis has got carried away with his own omnipotence. The result, however, has been to degrade his office and diminish his own reputation. He has revealed an unparalleled oafish ignorance and a total lack of judgement in his attempts to destroy Gillian Triggs. He has demeaned the Human Rights Commission when it is his responsibility to protect it. And in the process of an unwarranted, sustained and orchestrated attack on a woman who has earned her reputation by defending fairness and advocating for the underprivileged, he has demeaned all women and set an appalling example of injustice.

As Brian Burdekin, points out, Brandis has yet to demonstrate that he understands what the role of Australia’s Attorney General entails. He must resign immediately but not before he has apologised to Gillian Triggs and to all Australians, especially women.

Abbott’s attack on Triggs is an attack on women and the human rights of all Australians.


Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, former Policy Director of The Institute of Public Affairs, must be revelling in the Abbott government’s attack on the integrity of the AHRC President, Professor Gillian Triggs, even if few others can. Wilson has leapt at the opportunity to demonstrate what he stands for. Do nothing. Watch others put the boot in. Then pick up your reward.

To the rest of us, however, the attack on Professor Triggs marks a dark new chapter in the descent of the Abbott government as it prosecutes every means available to get its own way and replace Triggs with Wilson. It clearly plans to induce Triggs to resign, leaving the AHRC presidency available to a more malleable, more ideologically correct, less bothersome candidate.  Triggs’ replacement will avoid any real scrutiny; asking of questions or calling the government to account. Wilson would be ideal for the job.

Triggs, however, is made of sterner stuff. After suffering nine hours of unconscionable bullying by senate committee members on Tuesday, the professor has so far resisted all coercion and duress; maintaining both her dignity and her right to continue to discharge her responsibilities. Yet Abbott appears on the news tonight baying for her blood. The government, he says, has lost faith in the commissioner. Lost faith? This could be a protracted foolhardy campaign in which the LNP loses heavily as it so clearly acts in bad faith.

In the process of trying to reduce Gillian Triggs’ resolve, the government has made an ass of itself. And in the process it has revealed its ‘freedom commissioner’, Tim Wilson to be an ass. Above all it has opened up for all the world to see its own, unique, asinine notion of freedom. Wilson’s case is instructive in highlighting the limited sense in which this government understands freedom.

Wilson represents LNP/IPA freedom, a type of neoliberal or Tea Party freedom, a ‘free-market’ variety of freedom which compels him to hang back when common decency alone would prompt any reasonable human being to defend his President.  Triggs has been bullied, belittled and branded a political stooge. Yet Wilson won’t interfere, it seems, on principle.

Wilson has not lifted a finger to defend Triggs. “I support all my colleagues,” he said, when asked if he supported Professor Triggs. “I’m not going to get involved in fuelling the debate around this report.” While long-term arbitrary detention of children is not in anyone’s interests, he says, he supports the government’s asylum seeker policy. But by not getting involved, he condones his government’s cruelty and brutality. He fuels debate whether he likes it or not, precisely by choosing to watch on. Why?

The “free market approach” to human rights ignores existing power relations, an approach which protects human rights for the strong but offers naught to the disadvantaged or the rest of us. It is why Attorney General, George Brandis took a shine to young Tim in the first place. Yet there seems to be more at work than this ideology. Should the attacks lead to Triggs’ resignation, Wilson, the lone neoliberal of all the HR commissioners, stands favourite to get her job. He has the right neoliberal credentials. As the IPA, the power behind Abbott’s throne, dared put it recently, ‘It is comforting that there is at least one supporter of freedom in the Human Rights Commission.’

The government’s furious assault on Triggs may be seen at base as a convenient distraction from the substance of her report, The Forgotten Children, which finds that detaining children breached Australia’s international obligations, and calls for a royal commission and for the children in immigration detention to be released. This reading of events, however, does not take into account Brandis’ orchestrated campaign to get the senate committee to put the boot in.  Nor does it heed the signs of its game plan to replace Triggs with Wilson.

As a distraction, the government’s concerted character assassination on Triggs, is another performance in its theatre of cruelty, so far, comprising an attack by the PM in parliament, numerous character assassinations and a nine hour inquisition of Triggs before a senate estimates review committee yesterday chaired by Ian MacDonald, who was flippant about his damning decision not to read the report with: I’ve got plenty of things to read,’ thereby instantly clearing himself from any suspicion of acting in good faith – and for good measure insulting Triggs and demeaning her inquiry. He also abused his position as chairman to chide Triggs. Women of the senate leapt to her defence.

Keating famously called the senate ‘unrepresentative swill’ but a less flattering low was reached by Liberal Senator Barry O’Sullivan when he boomed: ‘Just thought you would like to hear a man’s voice,’ This moronic, boorish gibe was made when Ian MacDonald, the chair bought into the debate by alleging that Triggs had ‘done nothing’ during the Labor government.  Senator Penny Wright justly objected to the chairman’s attack. To O’Sullivan, however, too many women were talking. His insult to proceedings marked a new low in decorum and respect for women.  Women will find it inexcusable unforgiveable. The spectacle of Gillian Triggs’ ritual abasement by nine hours of bullying into resignation by our nation’s elected representatives degrades all of us. It marks another, irretraceable step in the Abbott government’s steep decline.

Abbott and Brandis’s unprecedented attack on Triggs claims that the HRC’s report on children in immigration detention is partisan and politically motivated. But why so late? Brandis implausibly claims it was not until mid-January that he read politics and partisanship into The Forgotten Children report. He was given the report in October 2014. The government’s accusations and smear campaign bear all the markings of a setup.

Furthermore, the claims are clearly false. Any objective reading reveals the HRC report to be equally critical of both Coalition and Labor governments, over their treatment of children in detention. If Brandis has a legitimate gripe about the timing of the report, he hasn’t articulated it in any proper way, preferring to buy into Tony Abbott’s outright attack on Triggs’ integrity.

As a ‘Freedom Commissioner,’ Wilson might be expected to voice an opinion on the blatant attempt by the PM and the Attorney-General to curtail Triggs’ freedom to report her findings without fear or favour. Yet he has said nothing.  Some comment is warranted, even mandated, even if Wilson cannot bring himself to defend his president from the government’s attacks on her integrity and impartiality. Yet there is silence from his quarter. Tim represents this government’s new breed of human rights watch dog; a lame, tame, toothless pup waiting to be thrown the next doggie biscuit.

Every dog has his day. Wilson would be happy that the words political and partisan were not being applied to him. He was given his current five year job as Freedom Commissioner by an AG and a PM who created it for him in December 2013. Why?  Balance was required, as George Brandis explained:

”The appointment of Mr Wilson to this important position will help to restore balance to the Australian Human Rights Commission which, during the period of the Labor government, had become increasingly narrow and selective in its view of human rights.”

What Brandis chose not to mention was that earlier in 2013, the IPA had called for the Human Rights Commission to be abolished, a point Shadow Attorney Mark Dreyfus quickly raised on news of Wilson’s appointment.

“How can Mr Wilson possibly undertake the role of a Human Rights Commissioner when it’s obvious he has such contempt for the Commission itself?” Dreyfus said. “By appointing Mr Wilson, Senator Brandis has sent a strong signal about exactly the kind of blatant political agenda he wishes to pursue as Attorney-General.”

Imagine the phone call from George Brandis. No need to put in a job application; no need for any interview; just let us know and we’ll take care of all the rest, Tim.  Duties? All you have to do is keep our end up, Tim. 18C has to go. Triggs ditto. Hang in there and you are a real chance for her position. And by the way, we will start you on $322,000. What young upwardly mobile Liberal party member wouldn’t have surrendered their membership to embrace such an irresistible opportunity?

Wilson’s inaction is an indictment of himself and his government and adds to the ugly spectacle of an orchestrated government attack on the independence and impartiality of one of its most distinguished commissioners. It is above all a warning to all citizens of how our Team Australia government deals with criticism or dissent. Above all it says dreadful things about its view of the status of women. Should the Abbott government game plan succeed, the teeth will have been pulled from the Human Rights Commission, leaving a pliant lap dog in the service of the government, pretending to protect the nation’s human rights while it fawns all over its master.

Abbott’s security statement provokes greater insecurity, instability and hastens his own political decline.

111 abbott security statement

Six furled Australian flags all but upstaged the Prime Minister, in a finely judged setting as he mustered all the statesmanly gravitas available to him by place and occasion, when he took the podium at AFP headquarters in Canberra on Monday to make the most of his hugely over-promoted occasion to ‘deliver’ a national security statement.

Short of donning Menzies’ eyebrows or the power-walking trackie daks of his predecessor, mentor, fellow khaki-tragic and man of steel, John Howard, Abbott’s presentation and choice of venue left no stone unturned. Bugger the parliament. His statement was too big for the conventional venue; his mission too lofty to be spoiled with shots of an ugly, uncooperative Opposition, however bipartisan they might be on national security.

Abbott chose instead a much more impressive theatre equipped with quasi-military Federal Police insignia. He set a Personal Best for flag counts and power bills. The atmosphere, like the lighting was electric. You could almost feel a national conversation brewing. Every member of the audience eagerly anticipated having needs and expectations met. His stage management was spectacular.

Abbott stepped up and out as our nation’s defender. Supporters waiting with bated breath were to be not to be let down by their plucky little battler’s public appearance and his words were perfectly pitched to them.

Straight up, Abbott let it be known that he will never be played for a mug. He presented himself as a leader who, despite his worrying domestic and foreign affairs record so far and his historical unpopularity with voters is a man of action. He is not going to muck around with the Daish death-cult or any other terrorists. He would triumph, he implied, by his bearing, his flags and his oratory, over overwhelming odds. There was a touch of Gallipoli spirit and more; a backs-to-the-wall, last ditch attempt meets shirt-front in the tone from a PM unafraid to lead with his chin.

Others found his speech disquieting. Abbott used the occasion to promote ‘Australia’s fight against terror,’ a seriously flawed conception of contemporary terror, its causes and its circumstances. He announced a crack-down on dole-bludging, overseas-Jihad-joining Australian citizenship, as if home-grown terrorists were not the issue. He promised tougher penalties on hate speech in a flip flop with his earlier opposition to 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Finally, he told Australian Muslim leaders to lift their game if they were fair dinkum about Islam being a religion of peace. Each element of the speech may be seen as contentious while those who follow the PM for his capacity to make gaffes, quickly awarded him a perfect score.

In ‘Australia’s fight against terror,’ Abbott offered a simplistic misrepresentation of a complex phenomenon. We are ‘at war with terror’ according to his loose rhetorical analogy, yet, as with the war on drugs, the war on crime, the war on poverty, and other such historic formulations, the campaign is conceptually flawed.

‘Australia’s fight against terror’ is a meaningless phrase. Terror is a tactic or a strategy, not a person, state or organisation. Fight against terror, moreover, gives a misleading image of a unified enemy awaiting to be defeated only by a military means. As with last week’s White House summit on ‘violent extremism’, at which AG George Brandis represented us, we are defeated by such wilful imprecision.

Abbott hopes his war scenario will sway ‘ordinary Australian’ listeners to give him their support, support which the nation has increasingly withheld or withdrawn because it doesn’t trust him or his government’s policies. It is not an unreasonable hunch. Ironically, however, part of Abbott’s problem is precisely his reductive, oversimplification of issues: his preference for talking in bumper sticker slogans; his overreliance on the banal. Some commentators dismiss Abbott’s tactical discourse as evidence of low intelligence, however it must be seen for what it is, a conscious strategy from a politician who would rather appear simple and earnest than, God forbid, too intellectual.

The PM chooses to present himself as a plain-spoken man whose black and white reductive formulations will resonate with plain-spoken voters too challenged by the exigencies of modern existence or other factors beyond their control to embrace depth or complexity in news or current events.  It’s very close to the pitch of the shock jock and the tabloid with whom the PM and his government are closely allied but it has proved a two-edge sword. Whilst it reinforces the prejudices of the converted it alienates all others. Underestimating the intelligence of the average voter or appearing to underestimate it is a fatal error for Abbott or any other Australian political figure.

Australians are more than intelligent enough to see that the government’s promise to make it tough for home-grown Jihadists to stay at home contradicts the nation’s recent UN pledge to do all it can to staunch the flow of foreign fighters. The electorate has no problem, moreover, understanding that presenting terrorism as a type of border protection matter ignores the burgeoning growth of the home-grown terrorists educated in extremism by readily available online material.

First comes profound disconnectedness and alienation amidst young Muslim Australians. This paves the way for indoctrination. Sadly this marginalising has accelerated with the formulation of the war on terror. There is every reason to believe that the PM’s speech on security will continue to have the opposite effect. Already his public chiding of them for not doing enough about extremism has caused expressions of outrage from Muslim leaders. Muslim leaders say his statement is the “last card” of an embattled leader who is using dog-whistle politics to “inflame racism”.

It is expecting too much of the public to expect it to believe that tinkering with citizenship will diminish rather than merely frustrate radicalised, under-privileged members of marginalised groups.  Intervention must begin much earlier. Yet with the divisive tone embraced by the PM, in calling out Australian leaders of Islam to speak out in condemning violence he has surely forfeited much needed support and played into the hands of those who feel persecuted or singled out.

The backlash will not revive Abbott’s waning political career as he or his advisors may have hoped. More importantly, it is not good for our nation, a nation which embraces tolerance and multiculturalism with far greater success than almost any other.

In the end, the PM’s ‘important statement’ on Monday reveals more about his desperation to shore up his own failing leadership through the politics of division and fear than his capacity to lead Australians to a more enduring harmony, stability and security. It will provide a means to further alienate those within our Muslim and Arab communities whom he needs to reassure. He reveals himself as being prepared to sacrifice the greater public good for the sake of his own survival.

Morrison ‘The Fixer’ jockeys for position as Abbott hits the canvas.

morrson haughty

‘… you can’t go around with unfunded empathy here,” Scott Morrison told ABC radio beginning the coalition’s second week of ‘good government’ on a cautionary note during a whirlwind of media interviews.

Poster boy for the ‘Abbott Spring’, a flowering of libertarian values and the cutting of red tape, Scott Morrison, as always was right across Textor’s ready-mix talking points, even adding value of his own by promoting his own value. He was, he proudly reflected, with typical self-effacing modesty and humility, ‘a problem solver,’ the sort of minister who ‘got things done.’

Late in 2014 Coalition ‘pin up policy delivery boy’ Morrison ‘got things done’ by supplying children of asylum seekers on Christmas Island with mobile phones to ring Ricky Muir to pressure him into supporting sweeping changes to immigration law. The changes give the minister sweeping powers while refugees’ access to justice is blocked. The new laws limit appeal options and retrospectively apply TPVs, preventing asylum seekers, including those accepted as refugees and awaiting visas, some for five years, from ever gaining permanent protection visas.

Muir believed he was getting children out of detention on Christmas Island. He would doubtless be horrified to learn that he traded away the futures of so many others. Nauru still contains 211 children in detention. No TPVs have been issued, despite the passage of the controversial legislation which flouts Australia’s international obligations. Muir was the unwitting pawn of Morrison, ‘The Fixer.’

‘… what I’ve always tried to do – in whatever role I’ve been in – is I’m there to try and fix a problem. That’s what Tony, I think, sees my key role in the government as being,’ Morrison added later in the day, exclusively, to a Fairfax scribe, although he may have alluded to this with SkyNews and possibly hinted at the same with Alan Jones and one or two others.

Morrison’s record includes creating problems, for example in his patchy career in tourism when after Howard’s win in the 2004 election, Hockey made his crony Morrison head of the newly created Tourism Australia $350,000, an unsuccessful appointment which ended in an agreed separation of $300,000 largely because of his arrogance and lack of skill in reading the political scene.  According to Board members Morrison ignored advice, withheld data, was aggressive and intimidating, and ran Tourism Australia as if it were a one-man show. His slogan, nevertheless, is ripe with resonance today: ‘Australia, where the bloody hell are you?’

The electorate which has formed its own view of Morrison may struggle with the latest makeover. Morrison the boat-stopper is a ruthless pragmatist whose fanatical application to duty includes contempt for everything else including the rules that govern nations in the treatment of asylum seekers, human rights, the rights of the child and UN conventions.  It has also included wilful, irresponsible myth-making that other nations such as PNG and Nauru are responsible for the operations of Australia’s asylum-seeker camps in which men, women and children are cruelly made to suffer to send a message of deterrence, or, as Morrison puts it, a message that ‘the sugar is off the table.’

‘Sugar-off’ Morrison refused to answer questions about ‘on water asylum-seeker matters’ as if we were at war and he contemptuously preferred secrecy to the honest and open accountability required by the Westminster system. With Abbott’s blessing he proceeded to militarise border protection. He spent like a drunken sailor administering his portfolio, happily splashing millions on orange boats into which hapless asylum seekers were decanted only to be sent back to their persecutors and or hostile neighbouring countries. The plan is to spend $8.3 billion on offshore and onshore detention over the next 4 years.

Manus Island and Nauru, the most punitive forms of detention receive priority funding. It costs $400,000 a year to keep an asylum seeker in offshore detention, $239,000 to hold them in detention in Australia, below $100,000 for an asylum seeker to live in community detention, yet only around $40,000 for an asylum seeker to live in the community on a bridging visa while their claim is processed. Morrison talks of unfunded empathy, as an expert in fully funded antipathy.

In other governments Morrison’s behaviour would have marred his career prospects irretrievably. His bullying of Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs in the Human Rights Commission investigation into children in custody was reprehensible, even if the theme was scandalously continued this week by his Prime Minister who lambasted the author of the Forgotten Children report as reprehensibly partisan.

Morrison’s use of children as bargaining chips to persuade the senate to allow him to rewrite Australia’s international obligations is one of the lowest points in our history as a nation. Yet Morrison was promoted to the new super-ministry of social security with childcare added in. And, now, behold. Sugar-off Morrison is departed; Sugar-on Morrison, aka The Fixer arises in his place.

Morrison recreation of himself as ‘The Fixer’ is an incredible makeover given that he is a big part of the problem. The coalition is paralysed by a self-inflicted existential crisis in which good government consists of avoiding the next leadership spill. Morrison has stirred into the brew his own special blend of arrogance, duplicity and secrecy.

Fixing the Abbott government’s inability to govern is beyond anyone. Even the egomaniacal Morrison with his ‘can-do’ humble artisan pose cannot repair the mess. Undaunted, The Fixer continues to blitz the airwaves and print media opting to fix his own future first as his government falls daily further apart. A shattering of irreparable Humpty-Dumpty fragments.  And unfunded empathy, according to Doctor Morrison.

The Abbott cabinet’s pathology has long intrigued experts. Tentative diagnoses include endemic narcissistic personality disorder, paranoia and dementia pugilistica. Yet now Morrison has now cleared it all up. Unfunded empathy is the villain, eroding the foundations of good government; clogging the arteries of the body politic.

As always, it is common sense, once it is pointed out – especially on talkback radio. You wouldn’t do a favour for a mate without sending him the invoice for your services. Society would break down completely. It’s the same with politics, evidently. Morrison, a man for all seasons, is a man of the times.

Morrison is on a mission. Important news about pensions must be aired. ‘We need a deep national conversation.’ In reality he was standing up to be counted in LNP party leadership stakes, sticking his head up over the parapet again now that his mate Tony was on the skids. The former Immigration Minister, who put children into indefinite detention and defended this by arguing that incarceration was better than drowning was keen to show everyone know that he was a moderate who would be handy when the next spill took place. This would be either next week or the week after by all accounts. Not, of course, that he would challenge Abbott. Of course not.

On 7:30 Morrison archly pretended to Leigh Sales that he did not know the difference between challenging his leader and being drafted. Craftily he would keep his powder dry, or so he thought. It was quite a transformation from hard-nosed bastard to fluffy bunny in the blink of an eye.

Morrison’s pretext was also unconvincing. Pensions? He announced a minute change to deeming rates which meant that those pensioners who already had a bit of money might be able to have a bit more. Of their own money. Important news? No-one else would have had the chutzpah.

What a windfall! Pensioners across the nation have been partying hard, kicking on into the wee hours after learning that their deeming rate will be increased. Some are now hot on the phone booking luxury ocean cruises, buying investment properties, bonds or just having their teeth fixed as a result of the massive $80.00 boost to their annual pensions.

The extra $1.53 per week would come in very handy in all sorts of ways pensioners happily agreed and they would all be guaranteed to overlook the fact that the government was taking the same amount off them by indexing pensions to the CPI and not to wages.  They will ignore completely the chatter about including the family home in any future assets test. In the real world, however, it will be very tough for the new kid on the Centrelink block.

Apart from getting himself noticed, the rebirthed, rebadged softer Morrison has to get in early if he is to convince pensioners that they should take a cut to their indexation because it is too hard to tax high-earning superannuees. For a man who can talk under a tonne of wet cement, Morrison must now convince a more discerning, wiser and mature audience that will not be bluffed by his verbiage. Above all most are struggling to get by and will not take kindly to his wielding the knife on their already paltry allowances.

Unfunded empathy? Breakfast listeners choked on their cornflakes at his latest phrase. Whatever you may think of Morrison, he is a natural spinner. A national conversation was to be had soon, he bull-dozed over the top of each jock. Conversation? Bullshit Morrison has never had a conversation in his life. Empathy? He doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Watch closely as he jockeys for power within the chaos of a party he has helped to destroy. For as sure as ‘unfunded empathy’ is an abomination newly revealed to us all, the rise of Morrison will be even worse.

Hockey says he is doing the heavy lifting but Australia can’t wait to drop him.

hockey with abbott staring at him

‘I think the nation is ready for a conversation about our future.’ Joe Hockey, Australia’s hapless treasurer, fingered the ‘conversation’ trope reverently as if it were a worn rosary bead. Hockey exuded paternalistic concern and affable superiority. As ever, he knew what was best for us. It was as if Dad had noticed one of the kids needed a haircut or a clip over the ear for wasting grocery money on sweets. His actions, however, show rather less concern for future generations. By December the Abbott government will have doubled Labor’s debt.

Regrettably the Treasurer could not provide any real rationale for our nation being ready to talk about our futures. The dog ate his homework. He had been hoping to lean heavily on the government’s intergenerational report but its release has been held up by the political chaos rife in the party. Now his case was missing but, typically, that wasn’t holding him back. He was pressing on with the business of good government. He explained this to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.

“I am doing the heavy lifting for my country,” Hockey said. “I am going to keep going because that’s what people say to me on the streets, ‘keep going, Joe’, and I am keeping going.”

However flatteringly he may choose to portray himself as the virtuous laborer in the vineyard of ‘reform’ for the media, the results paint a different picture of the Treasurer. He’s a gunner. Last year, for example, Hockey had promised the IGR (Intergenerational Report) by the end of December 2014. Its postponement means he has broken the Charter of Budget Honesty Act. The tax reform white paper is also overdue.  These will form the basis for the “deeper conversation with the Australian people” that ‘gunner’ Hockey proposes to have with us.

Before bowling us over with the logic of IGR’s statistical trends, the Treasurer and his government would do well to ensure ‘the fundamentals are in place’ for a genuine dialogue. There is a lot of ground to make up. A first step would be for the government to demonstrate that it is genuinely interested in dialogue with the electorate. So far it has been simply driven by neo-liberal ‘dry’ economic ideology, an ideology that is imposed with the help of scare tactics and fear campaigns. Ideology not dialogue is what keeps Hockey and his government going.

Delaying the release of the report will also effectively curtail discussion as business interest and lobby groups have pointed out. Other commentators have suggested that the delay is in part due to the need to rewrite the tax paper to meet Abbott’s change of heart over any extension of the GST. Regardless of the cause, the result is to guillotine debate. Good faith has not been kept.

Conversations are founded on honesty, trust and mutual respect, Mr Hockey. Your surplus promise was not a good start. You promised: ‘we will achieve a surplus in our first year in office and we will achieve a surplus for every year of our first term. ’Broken election promises, meltdowns at the top, your government’s flip-flop policy changes mean that you have some huge repairs to make to your credibility before you can begin to engage in real dialogue.

Real dialogue is possible only when each party knows where the other stands. Right now it seems that you and your PM are not on the same page. Tony Abbott’s all for easing back from the ‘tough measures’ as you call them. But you are on the other track. You are not budging from austerity, despite its dismal record overseas. So which is the correct government policy?  Is it ideologically dry or a little bit wet as a sop to the voters? A man cannot dance at two weddings with one behind, Joseph. If you want a national conversation you need to tell us where your party stands. And you need to tell the truth.

Honesty went out the window with your next act of duplicity, your debt and deficit drama. You wanted to scare us into accepting your ideologically driven budget agenda, an agenda which would have resulted in higher unemployment and a slowdown in the economy. This flea-bitten, threadbare pantomime warhorse needs retiring, Mr Hockey. It’s an embarrassing fake. Debt is not an issue in itself. What counts is the ratio of debt to GDP. On that we are in rude good health.

Last week you claimed that Australia will owe a trillion dollars by 2037, a figure based on our ‘current debt trajectory.’ Top marks for doing your best to crank up a scary big number, but it’s not this figure that matters. It never has. What matters is the ratio of debt to GDP.

Government debt is now about 20 per cent of GDP, a ratio it has maintained historically. Since GDP grows nominally at around 5 per cent a year, the debt to GDP ratio stays unchanged if debt also grows by 5 per cent. In brief, the budget is near enough to being in balance that it is not worth worrying about. Yet you happily terrify the population with the spectre of ruin. Is that good government? Responsible economic management?

Years ago, Joe Hockey enjoyed real celebrity credibility with a regular spot on the Sunrise Show. Hockey played the genial buffoon to his frenemy Kevin the nerd in a show full of blokey, jokey bonhomie and other televisual small change. There was a lot of stirring and kidding along between the chummy pair with the odd low calorie political point thrown in. For a moment they both looked like fixtures but John Howard wasn’t happy at Joe’s fraternising with the enemy and in the end Kevin got caught up in an issue of honesty and integrity.

The sun set on the ‘Joe and Kevin Sunrise show’ nearly eight years ago when Rudd’s false dawn created a stir. Rudd rang the producer to pull the pin. The public was kicking up a fuss over his involvement in a plan by the show to stage a false dawn service broadcast from Vietnam on Anzac Day. Rudd saw it as threatening his credibility and honesty.

It was to be all downhill from Rudd’s false dawn. After some brilliant work from his team protecting us from the GFC, micro-managing control freak Rudd went on to stuff up government, set back the Labor cause and ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle,’ mangle the vernacular.

Hockey began ranting about the ugliness of wind farms.  Once in power he was banging the drum for big ticket ‘reforms’ which would penalise the poor but help wealthy interest groups towards amassing even greater wealth.

Better for the nation had they both stayed on Sunrise. Kevin grinned his heart out, dumbed down his act and pulled his punches. Joe carved out a role as the nation’s boofhead goodwill ambassador. He was going places then. He was a shoo-in for a big part in a children’s show had he put the hours in. Whatever made him put his hand up for a job he could never do.  A job he for which he lacks both qualifications and experience? As federal treasurer he makes a great former TV bit-player. He could have had a real career.

Hockey could have got a gig as host on the Price is Right or some other minor celebrity game or virtual reality show which left the contestants to do the maths and count the money. He was a natural for the role of unassuming ordinary bloke with less to him than met the eye.

Now his job has bested him; now he has revealed his allegiance with the big end of town; now he has shown he is an ideologue whose policies favour the elite, Hockey’s popular appeal has vanished. His party will dump him along with his leader when Abbott’s next major stuff-up forces it to finally come to its senses and turn to politicians who have more than cosmetic appeal.

Hockey can call for a conversation all he likes but he has forfeited his part in any real national dialogue with his duplicity, his scaremongering and his ideologically driven campaign for austerity measures that preserve the privilege of an elite at the expense of the rest of society.

Above all, conversations require trust and mutual respect. Honesty is vital. This government and its treasurer have destroyed the very foundations on which to build any real dialogue with the people. It is no use promising to patch things up or to restart let alone invite us to a chat about our future, Joe, when your government’s fundamental underpinnings are rotten at the core.

Abbott acclerates his steep decline as he sacks Ruddock and further trashes his own record.

11 Abbott ears

Like a fart in a pickle barrel the Federal Coalition reverberated from crisis to catastrophe in a woeful week in which everything went wrong again, perhaps its worst week yet, a week which began with the PM’s rude April Fool’s-Valentine card Monday’s ballot on his leadership where he made history by narrowly beating off a challenge from an empty chair to his Friday last minute sacking of Father of the House Ruddock while proclaiming profusely his undying friendship and esteem for his mate.

Hate mail from former supporters continued unabated. The Daily Telegraph’s Samantha Maiden, dubbed Peta Credlin ‘the nation’s first female Liberal Prime Minister — unelected, mind you — that we never knew we had.’ Credlin, was, however, Abbott’s ‘one unmoveable chess piece,’ he said, besides, she was far too powerful to be a PM, although he was keeping her out of Cabinet and the advisors’ bench in the House while the fuss all blew over. Bugger Ruddock. Credlin was loyal.

‘Not the right move,’ Julie Bishop bristled and archly briefed the media that Credlin was ‘a powerful figure’ who was ‘full of opinions’ and her boss was ‘a smart man’ who could join the dots. Flattery will not get you everywhere, however and Bishop accordingly threw in, for good measure, her character assessment of her boss, made to his face in a full and frank screaming match earlier.

‘You are you own worst enemy, Tony’. In Tuesday’s joint party room meeting, those present had Credlin in their sights when they brought a motion to sack any staffer who ‘backgrounded’ against a minister. Nothing was said about a briefing backstab, Bishop had noted on her legal notepad.

Dumping Ruddock was all about fostering stronger bonds with the backbench. It was renewal, Abbott explained, thankfully avoiding using the reset button image but fooling no-one. He had knifed Ruddock last thing Friday, as he and Peta put out the trash and tidied up the office. Ruddock had not whipped up enough support for his leader in the spill.

It was a novel, perhaps, dangerous interpretation of the role of Chief Party Whip and risked conflating party with leader but at least the new boy Scott Buchholz would have a real whip to crack even if many saw him as a National Party hick in origin and for sundry other reasons would have no real dealings with him.

Rabid Abbott flatterer Tasmanian MP Andrew Nikolic has also been elevated to government Whip. Nikolic, an effusive supporter of the Prime Minister since entering Parliament in 2013 would be guaranteed to nurture the views of all fellow sycophants as he skilfully forges consensus between backbench and leader. His promotion should also clear up some of the delay in news of dissent reaching the ears of the PM, a problem which appears to have bedevilled his administration lately.

The PM’s use of ‘renewal’ really meant reverting to a ‘command and control regime’ with bullying as required, for example in his hysterical attack on Gillian Triggs for daring to publish a report critical of his government. She was a shameless political partisan, he bellowed and he later got Brandis to send round a message boy telling her she should resign, another alarming precedent in ‘good government,’ as it was a complete breach of etiquette.  Malcolm Fraser stuck up for Triggs and deplored Abbott’s bullying in the press. ‘Stronger bonds’ meant more bullying: he would put those backbench bastards on a tighter leash. The old junkyard dog was back and bigger than ever.

Whilst the shafting of Ruddock caused uproar, it was not enough, in itself, to be the ‘next big mistake’ a cabinet member had predicted would terminate Abbott’s leadership and the message to move on was put out by Rupert’s new friend Julie Bishop who proclaimed on the Tuesday: ‘Leadership challenges are so yesterday.’ Or tomorrow. Some insiders claim that 47 votes for Turnbull could be counted now with others accruing as the PM’s latest captain’s call alienated the party.

Popularity plummeting, party unity unravelling, policies in tatters, the Abbott government proceeded to struggle to govern itself, let alone govern the country.  Its messages were a flip-flop flapdoodle of contradiction, inconsistency and lunatic denial. Its cabinet members were confused and dazed; its backbench bolshie.

‘Must cut government spending,’ Hockey spluttered but Abbott had tax cuts, jobs and undisclosed family-friendly bribes in mind for the budget. Higher education costs or some of them would be discounted in a predicted ‘softening’ of unpopular policies.

Pyne turned his considerable energy to kicking the standards can and would also kick a few heads to see that beginning teachers were literate and numerate or he would personally confiscate their chalk. The government’s only plan was to keep repeating inanely that it had a plan. Where was it? Where was party discipline? Sack the whip?

Some see The Whip’s dismissal as scapegoating. Incapable of responding to its leadership crisis the LNP opted for an easier target and shot the messenger. Cadaverous, slow moving Party Whip and longest serving Liberal MP, Philip Ruddock, is clearly pacing himself for the record books. Only ‘The Little Digger’ with a 51 year stint, stands between Ruddock and the record books. Hughes was also not very tall attesting perhaps to the longevity of smaller targets.

Many cannot forget nor forgive the bloodless Ruddock’s stint as John Howard’s Minister for Immigration where babies were said to be thrown overboard among other whopping lies to demonise asylum seekers arriving in leaky boats. ‘Turn back the unworthy illegal queue-jumping bastards’ became a popular talkback line and has since cemented into a bipartisan policy, excluded only by Section 18C from official documents.

Yet this ritual bloodletting has only weakened the patient. Outrage is mounting amongst emotional party members who equate Ruddock’s despatch with the slaughter of the water buffalo in Apocalypse Now as an unforgiveable act of gratuitous cruelty. Abbott, doubtless, would be Kurtz in this scenario. Regardless of his ‘tough on boats’ history as a Howard heavy and for many, because of it the worthy time-serving Nestorian Ruddock enjoys some standing as a type of counsellor and mentor. Feelings are running high. Abbott’s latest poorly judged captain’s flick may prove his final undoing as he struggles to do anything at all successful in the dog days of his Prime Ministership.

Cabinet members bicker. Parliamentary debate degenerates into denouncing Labor in a desperate last-ditch bid to win back credibility by its rattled leader. ‘I can beat Bill Shorten,’ boasted the PM on Monday. The nation’s naysayer’s naysayer is incapable of interpreting the results of his leadership spill motion beyond a signal to go back on attack. Yet a week earlier, at the Press Club, the leader was promising a new era of consultation, collegiality and candlelit suppers. No wonder the LNP eyes its crazily erratic leader warily, wondering if it is now is the right time to put its slathering junkyard dog out its misery before it sinks its fangs into another postman or woman.

Abbott’s promise of good government proves hollow.

abbott spill

‘Good government begins this week,’ promised the Prime Minister revealing intact his gift of the gaffe despite his ‘near death experience.’ Abbott’s face wore a rictus more rueful than repentant. The spill had diminished his authority. ‘He would last only as long as his next big mistake,’ as one of his ministers put it. Abbott had bet shrewdly on his party’s reluctance to make any leadership change. The other options were just too hard. Prudently, however, he also bought more votes with a promise to build submarines in South Australia.  The promise of a tender later evaporated into a competitive evaluation, a form of words that puzzled everyone.

It was always all about power with Abbott. He’d never been popular, even pretending to make a virtue out of this but his new record low of a net minus 38 was straining his relationship with his colleagues who now, overwhelmingly, see him as a liability even if they fail to agree on what to do about it.

‘The wood is on me to change,’ said the PM, favouring a sporting metaphor as he promised to change at the National Press Club last week. To have the wood on someone is to know their weaknesses, and use them to your own advantage. Typically, he gave no detail of his changes, beyond promising to be more ‘collegiate’ and ‘consultative.’ It could have been a parody. Abbott has never shown any practical understanding of either word in his political life.

Nor did they sit well with party culture of a conga line of suck-holes to recall Latham’s vivid phrase. Any LNP politician favouring a consultative style may have to change more than himself. What Abbott means is that he will abandon or water down some unpopular policies including higher education, the Medicare co-payment plan and further changes to media. Abbott the politician is incapable of change.

Abbott Mark II has proved no more than Abbott Mark I recycled. His reinvented political self was a con. His ‘near death experience’ simply forced his retreat into a primitive aggression and denial. ‘Good government’ is simply and wholly about his own survival.

Flanked by sundry subdued party members over whom his authority and standing was irreparably depleted, Abbott strode from the party room, determined to ‘put the spill behind’ him. He was ‘getting on with the business of government.’  Besides, he couldn’t stand to look at the traitors. Two thirds of his backbench wanted rid of him. Others voted ‘No’ to stay his execution only because they believed it might seem fairer to the electorate. None rushed to congratulate him.

Howard, the Liberals’ Lazarus, the fabled party comeback king and increasingly nostalgic hero of ‘good government,’ pleaded for his protégé to be given another go. Howard was not, however, the best authority here. He took the same poor advice himself in 2007 when ceding leadership to Costello may well have prevented his party’s loss in that election. Turnbull may be widely disliked but Abbott has few friends left and has exhausted his political capital both within and without the party. It was evident this Monday after the party debouched out of the party room.

Only the pink-cheeked Bruce Billson appeared struck on his leader. He tripped alongside Abbott trying to catch up. Rapidly stepping backwards and sideways, the Minister for Small Business bobbed and weaved as if trying to fall in with his leader’s manly steps in some exotic high speed tango. His features flushed, Billson twisted his neck and lunged alarmingly at Abbott’s face as if he were seeking some type of ‘Kiss me, Hardy,’ opportunity. ‘Good government,’ it seemed, could be built on such encounters.

His deputy, phantom challenger, Julie Bishop flashed a dark look across at her leader. Harsh words had been exchanged the day before and Abbott had verballed her about her lack of support. She hated him for ever and it showed. Her kiss of death could wait. In the meantime, she was turning over a media briefing she would make on the need for Abbott to review Peta Credlin’s tenure.

The PM’s jaw was set; his face drawn like a man digesting news of a terminal illness.  If Billson were seeking to console the PM, he clearly had a lot more work to do. The spill had gone too close for Abbott’s comfort, despite his crafty trimming of dissidents’ sails in bringing the spill meeting a whole day forward and his shrewd locking in of cabinet votes in a type of coercion he claimed was tradition. Abbott was done for. His reptilian brain kicked in immediately ordering him to attack. The key to good government lay in the attack dog doing more of what he did best.

Abbott’s earlier triumphal phalanx of support was gone like the wax from Icarus’ wings in the heat of the spill moment. Before the ballot, a rowdy push had swept him along in a swell of approbation, bearing him on into the cabinet room like a gang of kids in a playground. Now he was all on his own, striding purposefully, briskly, weaving to shake off Billson’s idiot yapping. Abbott looked as if he wanted to push his Minister out of his path. Or punch him. The new consultative collegiality was already wearing thin.  Abbott was coming out fighting. His new good government would be taking no prisoners.

Some distance behind, Malcolm Turnbull sauntered, chin down and focused inward, alone with his thoughts. He affected a studied nonchalance and ironic detachment, his gait measured as befits reflection, one hand dangling wire-framed reading glasses speculatively from the hinge as if he held the scales of justice denied; or a model of an empty gallows.

All his life Turnbull had, like Jay Gatsby, craved acceptance and affirmation. Reason and experience instructed him not to take rejection personally. His heart, however, knew no other way. All he need do now, however, he thought, was wait. The spill result would prove Abbott’s death sentence. He was in like Flynn. It would take three months, tops, surely for his next big stuff up.

Joe Hockey also appeared thoughtful. He was praying that he’d last the week as Treasurer. For good measure, he also mumbled the LNP catechism: Fix the mess that Labor left us in. The government has a plan to cut spending. Australia’s economy is in great shape fundamentally. Recovery involved applying his party’s neoliberal faith-based platform. Harsh measures were required. But now, two competing versions of the liturgy were emerging. Hockey would cut spending. His leader was promising tax breaks. He hadn’t been consulted. Then Abbott had cut him loose in public, refusing to back him twice in a press conference recently. He felt like Abbott’s fall guy.

Overseas, events were making a mockery of the Australian neoliberals’ pretence to understand markets. Commodity prices had plunged. Storm clouds were brewing for the US and the world in a falling oil price. China’s economy was slowing.  Russian faced economic collapse over lost oil revenue and its annexation of Ukraine could wreck things. Yet it was clearly ‘good government’ to ignore all this.

Abbott shouted and mocked Labor in parliament, channelling his inner junkyard dog. Out came the coarse rhetoric, the lies and the gaffes. He stonewalled, he thought-bubbled; he turned Question Time into a time-wasting farce of Dorothy Dixers, denial and rubbishing Labor. He bagged Gillian Triggs for being partisan over locking up children of asylum-seekers even suggesting she give Scott Morrison an award for humanity. He said his government had increased jobs by a factor of three, a cruel lie. He presided over some MPs walking out when Bill Shorten dared challenge his cutting the very funds which may have helped Aboriginal communities to close the gap. He sacked Ruddock, his Chief Whip for not supporting him sufficiently during the spill. Abbott Mark II looked like a testosteronic adolescent parody of Abbott Mark 1.

‘Good government starts every day,’ Abbott ventured in the House, attempting belatedly to retract his earlier gaffe; reset the record. The recovery was clumsy and unconvincing, as with the rest of his makeover. The PM’s promised new, ‘good government’ was nothing more than government by reset button. Its leader would continue to mouth off; shoot from the lip; act first and apologise later, and although neither tendency would help him consult, build collegiality nor recover any popular standing, it would always be someone else’s fault. He would fight tooth and nail for his own survival. Everyone else was expendable. Right now, Joe Hockey was in the gun. Yet, in the end, both were all washed up.