Month: April 2015

Widodo dismisses a conflicted and compromised Abbott

 

abbott and widodo


 

Say what you like about Tony Abbott but he’s a bugger to follow. Harder than eating red beans with a pitchfork. He’s always been a lair but now he hoons, fishtails and careers all over the tarmac in his own death-wish demolition derby. Has he finally crashed and burnt on his mission to save ‘The Bali Nine Pair’ Chan and Sukumaran from Indonesian justice?

Shopped by Federal Police who have yet to explain why, the youngsters fell victim to operational ‘information sharing.’ Conflicted from the outset, clumsy, confused, the Abbott government had little chance of intercession later, despite our hope and media hype.

Abbott’s threat to cancel aid, however, served only to harden Indonesia’s intransigence. Now the PM could help himself by answering a few basic questions. Why did we set up a drug bust with a nation with a death penalty? Did we need a favour in return? Is he happy with his negotiation style?

The PM can be abrasive. European leaders should turn back refugee boats; follow his lead, he lectures, leaving Julie Bishop to suggest lamely that her boss was merely offering his experiences for others to consider, adding injury to insult. She went on to contradict him, further shredding his credibility as a strong leader.

Sent in to the rescue no doubt, Katie Hopkins of Murdoch’s Sun, who has called refugees ‘cockroaches’ rose to the occasion if somewhat lowering the Tone.

“Australians are like British people but with balls of steel, can-do brains, tiny hearts and whacking great gunships.”

European leaders are bemused. Yet they can’t help but laugh at the presumption and self-delusion of our Walter Mitty would-be strong man. They see him flip-flop. One minute, we are all washed up; down the debt and deficit gurgler, he wags his finger. Next he’s spending up big like a drunken sailor out on the town but with someone else’s money. Ours.

Funds are so low we must scrap Federal literacy support for school kids; but suddenly Abbott stumps up $100 million we don’t have, to build a memorial to John Monash, which, frankly, neither of us needs – in France. Gallic gratitude to ‘our boys’ aside, the French hardly need another war museum, even, as promised, one just pulsing with interactive, hands-on stuff to help the mindless to reflect.

Let homeless war veterans sleep on the streets. Let battered wives be forced to stay at home with their tormentors. We can’t spare funds for more refuges. Forget John Monash, the Villers-Bretonneux museum is effectively a monument to an inept Australian PM, desperate to boost his image; hitch his wagon to a star. If his wagon were not a sky rocket without a stick.

One moment Abbott’s toe to toe with Widodo next he’s wimped out, settling for a lame, ambassadorial recall for two weeks – a ‘go stand in the naughty corner’ which Indonesia is already laughing off. Being a hypocrite doesn’t help. The PM can go off like a frog in a sock about Indonesian injustice all he likes but he’s connived with Dutton to achieve a Vietnamese refugee turn-back behind our backs.

The Abbott government has allowed asylum seekers of all ages to be raped and one even to be murdered. He’s also earned the censure of both the UN for indefinite detention and children in detention. Censure, too from the rest of the world for announcing we are not to be lectured on human rights. Small wonder Widodo thinks he’s a joke-O. With thousands of Australian-bound UNHCR registered asylum seekers marooned in Indonesia at a stroke of the pen by Australia’s 2014 Sovereign Borders law, moreover, Joko Widodo may well have the last laugh.

No wonder Credlin went missing in action. Or was just run off the road. His formerly inseparable Amazonian chief of staff just vanished after Rupert Murdoch told Abbott to drop her. Silence prevails. Secrecy is in this government’s DNA, intertwined with dirty tricks, slipperiness and its fondness for lies.

Pity. Peta Credlin is a lot easier to look at than her boss. Smarter, too. You can tell she’s been sidelined, sadly, by the PM’s increasingly ill-advised stunts since Rupert’s call; the erratic trajectory of Captain Chaos’ ship snaking this way and that before burning out on re-entry and falling back to earth with a thud. Come back, Peta, your boss is the loaded dog without your leash; your house-training.

Stop squandering money on such luxuries as running the country, employing people, and looking after us, advise the Abbott government’s tanks of neo-con artists. Let them buy their own bloody aspirin and paracetamol! Labor will take the blame for all of this for at least the next millennium while professional shakedown merchants scab the rest from the poor and needy.

Well, not quite all. The elderly need to be helped to empty their pockets; fork over their savings and anything else of value. Otherwise it’s intergenerational theft. Time for another tank of thinkers to rattle the can it carries for our Neo-con LNP.

Pensioners who can’t be put to work at Mitre 10 are to be hit up for their spare change and any coin that may have fallen down the back of the sofa before being forced to give their homes to finance companies. The ‘Australia Institute,’ an oxymoron which bills itself as ‘a progressive think tank,’ will then talk up reverse mortgages, (perverse?) until the elderly cave in completely and hock the family home in terror because they have been conned into thinking they must fund their own meagre pensions.

Yet now, suddenly, miraculously, Abbott can afford more troops for his war-gasm in Iraq; funds to give to arborists and others quick enough to stick their hands out for Greg Hunt’s phony ‘carbon abatement’ scheme handout; a quarter of a billion on nannies; a special fence to keep himself safe in Canberra. The list goes on. The man’s a virtual magic pudding mix-master; a genius when it comes to putting the con in Neo-con or looking after his own ends.

Yet tragically, there seems to have been little cash splashed where it mattered in his latest, dreadful debacle with the Indonesians where events prove the Abbott government has truly run up its own moral debt and deficit disaster, having burned all diplomatic and political capital pursuing moronic three word slogans, enacting laws repudiating all international obligations.

No. Having inflicted calculated cruelty on those to whom we should extend compassion, there has quickly come the point, when the rest of the world will cheerfully tell us to go to hell – however much, we beg their mercy.

 

ANZAC makes week a long climb in politics.

lest we forget leunig


A week is a long climb in politics but last week lasted a hundred years. Or so it seemed to most Australians as time warped into an ANZAC wormhole, stopping the nation in its tracks with a heavy bombardment of all things old Digger in a frenzied bout of military nostalgia, myth peddling, sentimentality and falsehood. No expense was spared by a government which had to underfund advocacy groups for poor and needy citizens do desperate was it to find ‘savings.’

Australia’s half billion dollar effort to commemorate World War One will cost more than three times as much as those of the UK helping to cement Australia’s place amongst nations as ‘without doubt the most aggressive of the centenary commentators,’ in the words of one international scholar as reported by UNSW Canberra military historian Professor Jeffrey Grey. We are even outspending the French whose cause to remember is rather more substantial than a nation never at threat of invasion.

Grey’s calculation does not include Abbott’s latest cash splurge, his newly announced captain’s call of a $100 million Monash interactive war museum in France marketed to the nation as a means ‘to immortalise the stories of Anzacs fighting on the Western Front.’ Monash, an engineer in civilian life who specialised in reinforced concrete construction, and who was a consummate tactician, would appreciate the irony in his being honoured yet again in what is another desperate attempt by an Abbott government, under fire from all quarters, to fortify its beleaguered position.

Abbott’s own fetish for militarism aside, his move is the latest in a series by Australia’s conservatives, and Neo-cons to shrewdly promote an ersatz Aussie nationalism to replace an older, truer sense of community or identity, both casualties of selfish neoliberal ideology and the god of the free market. Boosting ANZAC observance and myth-making into an orgy of maudlin sentimentality, is seen in part in the popular phenomenon of the ritual trip to Gallipoli by the young, a travesty of historical remembrance verging on sacrilege and utterly alien to the reflections and the hard won wisdom of those who returned.

‘Let silent contemplation be your offering’, is inscribed on the War Memorial at Sydney’s Hyde Park. Instead we are set to indulge in ‘a discordant, lengthy and exorbitant four-year festival for the dead,’ writes military scholar James Brown in Anzac’s Long Shadow. It is already taking its toll in the lounge-rooms of the nation.

Our plucky young nation’s heroic re-baptism by fire and noble sacrifice proved the feature event of the week. Starring a mythic Gallipoli-born national identity and other false or foreign imports, the performances were gruelling on all sides. Surviving only through mateship, pluck and much wearing of rosemary, Australians at home weathered wave after wave of lounge-room carpet bombing and other assaults by sustained TV ANZAC ‘wraparounds’ led by scoundrels such as ex-Kiwi and former gladiator actor Russell Crowe, whose lack of military understanding and otherwise complete unsuitability is redeemed by his history of throwing telephones and other improvised ballistic devices.

Assisting Crowe was an army of other unlikely recruits, incorrigible grandstanders and up-stagers. There is some good news, however. Despite sustaining massive casualties to truth and despite its post-operative trauma from amateur open-heart and DIY identity reconstruction surgery, the nation is said to be currently in a stable condition, although future prospects are a concern, especially when the nation’s full-scale commemoration kicks in 28 July. Our death cult PM will however doubtless have the odd free trade announcement and terror alert up his sleeve to see us through. This week he set off at a blistering pace.

Abbott exuded Turkish delight as he simultaneously scaled the twin peaks of trade and terror in Ankara, staging a virtual love-in with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who agreed to talk tough on terror. Abbott, in another captain’s call, then damned Turkey with very faint praise claiming windily, ‘it is prosperous, it’s pluralist, it’s peaceful and it’s a stark contrast to the kind of things we see happening in Syria and Iraq right now.’ The facts suggest otherwise, especially to Turkish minority groups but Abbott appears to have been poorly briefed on the truth.

Persecuted Alevi or Kurdish members of Abbott’s ‘pluralist’ Turkey could play the Australian PM a clip from President Erdogan’s last election campaign where racial vilification of his opponent proved a crowd-pleaser if not also a vote-winner.

“You know, he is an Alevi,” Erdogan told crowds in a cynical way while thousands booed “the Alevi Kilicdaroglu.”

Doubtless some fine-tuning of our own racial discrimination act could yet permit similarly ‘robust debate’ here.

Our thirty-third trading partner, Turkey’s economy was also no doubt vastly boosted by Abbott. And the help did not stop there. He promised expert advice, based on his own triumph, to help guarantee Turkey the G20 success Australia enjoyed for when Turkey hosts the next G20 meeting. His host just promised further talks -not to talk turkey.

Abbott thanked Professor Davutoglu for ‘helping deliver’ annual counter-terrorism talks between the two nations, the placement of Australian officials with Turkish police and for advancing discussions on the return of foreign fighters. If this doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, it will certainly amount to a whole lot of falafel. Whatever the case, it will be less worrying than Julie Bishop’s coup of the week, her arrangement to swap intelligence with Iran, a nation which Wilkie warns will only feed us lies and generally stitch us up to its own advantage. But Bishop had other matters on her mind.

Julie Bishop won best in show in Teheran by a short half head with her deconstructed burqa mantilla head un-covering. Preferring as she says to be ‘judged by what I do’ not by any feminist label, her deeds judged her a supporter of the oppression of women. In one half-veiled fashion statement, she antagonised both her host and those who work tirelessly for women’s rights around the world.

Bishop then capped this with a slap-down for her PM in her gloss on his sensitive advice to Europe to turn back the boats following one of the worst maritime disasters in Europe’s history. What the PM was doing was ‘offering up his experiences for everyone else to consider,’ she lied. His pitch was intended for domestic audiences to boost his standing with those ever willing to applaud a stoking of their xenophobic hatred of refugees.

Abbott talked up trade and terror and turn back the boats on his way to grace the centennial Gallipoli landing commemoration with the best oration his turd-polishing unit could pen.

Glossing over the fact that 1915 marks the beginnings of Turkey’s policy of genocide which resulted in the massacre of one and a half million of its population of two million Armenians, Abbott preferred the simpler myth that Australia and New Zealand were forged at Gallipoli which he represented as a crusade for freedom undertaken by ordinary men doing their duty and their best. He lavished a fair bit of praise on our veterans but words are cheap. His government cannot count the number of homeless veterans sleeping rough in Australia today, let alone make some move to provide for living diggers.

Forged also in another sense was former failed Health Minister, Peter Dutton’s brutal return of forty-five hapless Vietnamese refugees who were last heard of in police custody in Vietnam. Claiming that Australia cannot possibly be responsible for what happens after repatriation, Dutton took a leaf straight out Scott Morrison’s book.

The worst ex-Health Minister of all time also channelled his guru Morrison in producing a duplicitous tourist video promoting a ‘fast-paced and vibrant’ Cambodia as offering ‘a wealth of opportunities’ to unwary and unwilling refugees who would rather be detained indefinitely on Manus Island where they can be sure of being fed. One third of Cambodia’s population must try to survive on 45 cents a day. Fortunately for the hapless minister, another promotional video upstaged Dutton’s.

Australian paediatrician and former party animal Dr Tareq Kamleh has appeared in an Islamic State video urging other medical professionals to travel to Syria and join the holy war against the West. His transformation into Jihadi despite the billions squandered on security and anti-terrorist intelligence gathering exposes flaws in the Abbott government’s beefed up security regime supposedly dedicated to preventing Australians travelling to Syria or Iraq to join ISIS. Kamleh’s case also opens another perspective on an ‘evil death cult’ world which our government insists on representing only in propagandist terms.

Credibility gaps also yawned in Work Experience student Gregory Hunt’s ‘Stunning outcome’ as he called it of awarding $660.4m in emissions reduction contracts. Hunt has had a huge success giving our money away. His announcement of what is a government grant of taxpayer money to groups who promise to put it towards carbon abatement schemes such as planting trees raises more questions than it answers, especially how the scheme will work when industrial emitters want to throw their hat into the Direct Action ring but the funds are all gone. For the Climate Institute, the first ‘auction’ merely confirms Hunt’s policy will fall short of stated goals.

Environment Minister Hunt who has now already given away much of his funding, pledges that ‘we will meet our targets easily.’ Experts point out that carbon emissions are abating as a result of other more significant global factors such as China’s slow-down and its policy of deploying new power generating technologies. Yet a sure sign young Greg is in trouble is that ‘Greg Sheridan hails Hunt’s success as an election-winner.

Finally, Joe Hockey has differed with his PM over eighty billion dollars he says the states won’t be getting. Abbott has promised a cosy retreat where the state premiers can hold a free-flowing discussion about bailing out Western Australia a state which is now caught short by the mining industry downturn because of its own planning failure. Principle aside, if Abbott could ever get men such as Victoria’s Daniel Andrews to support a bailout, it seems pointless holding a retreat if the Treasurer has taken the money ‘off the table.’

Other hits of an action-packed week include Sussan Ley’s ‘industrial-strength’ review of Medicare to give it ‘better efficiency’ a process started two years ago by Labor but not, Ley claims about finding savings. Instead, as turd polishers have spun it, she is ‘modernising for the future’ and ‘maintaining its integrity’ yet all of us know that she has been told to cut her budget and the only real question is by how much. The last word must go to a writer who saw active duty in the Great War and whose inbuilt ‘crap-detector’ helped him see through the rhetoric of war and sacrifice and all the other weasel words that governments use to get us to part with our money and our lives.

I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.
—Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

The Spirit of ANZAC

ANZAC spirit


The meaning of ANZAC is everywhere this autumn morning in a small, Western District soldier-settlement as a few old-timers rugged up against the cold, huddle outside their dark and draughty hall, its 1960s facade a wall of blank, red brick over the original, 1920s wooden building, once the heart of town.

A chill wind moans and whistles in the stays of the flagpole, slapping the lanyard noisily against the cold steel of the pole. It reddens the noses of a straggle of elderly folk mustered for the ANZAC service, their hats and shoulders dashed with the rain a gusty southerly brings in gusts from up the coast. Pleurisy plains they call it.

‘Dirty weather.’

‘Just as it should be, says Helen McPhee, relieved the gods are scowling. Her eyes are so damaged now she wears huge dark glasses everywhere that give her a basilisk’s stare. At 83, her face is ravaged by a lifetime of punishing physical exertion, outdoors in all seasons, raising stock, crops and children; fighting fires, frosts, droughts and floods.

But her mind is still whip-smart and she gives no quarter. She’s worked as hard as any man all her life, if not harder. Last year she was still breaking horses. Easier than training a husband she says. Her late husband was a hard man even before he went to war. Impossible when he got back even before the whisky bottle got him.

…defying all odds to the bitter end.

A rich American company bought up their farm. An offer too good to refuse, her son told me, before he pocketed the proceeds and skipped out of town to head north into warmth and sunshine. Helen alone stays on, a fighter all her life, defying all odds to the bitter end.

‘It’s not a celebration. When I think of those poor boys who went away never to come back. It’s meant to be miserable.’

‘Gets smaller every year, says Wesley. Numbers are down at the school they say, too. Soon it will disappear altogether.  When the school goes, the town goes.’

A few nod but none feels the need for words. Besides, what is left to be said when everyone has known everybody else forever? They continue their vigil in dutiful silence, as the whole town mourns its fallen, its past and its future.

Forty years ago, things looked up. Flush with funds from a long wool boom and buoyed with all kinds of hopes, local farmers updated their hall with a face-lift. Cannily they built a new façade in a measured flirtation with progress, a prudent, shrewdly frugal each-way bet on the two-faced god of modernity, a tribute to their civic pride and Presbyterian thrift. Nothing was too much trouble.

They carted the old hall across the road, wrenching it suddenly away from its partner of forty years, the old bluestone hotel next door. Progress left conviviality and hospitality behind; divided forever by the highway. The hall now brick-faced with funereal austerity, thrift and civic sobriety stands stiff and aloof across the road a respectable distance from its former neighbour’s joyful debauchery.

…strangers on what is now nobody’s land.

Now new money is set to close the town. International capitalists have mechanised the farms. Old holdings are joined up into one new vastness by faceless men from other places chasing profits around the globe. Foreign investors put managers and other strangers on what is now nobody’s land.

The town, like countless others has dwindled to a few hundred mostly elderly folk and a few lucky elder sons whose inheritances are still viable provided a man is rich enough to pay for laser-guided machinery and fit enough to farm at night by GPS.

Some, like Helen’s son have sold up and moved out leaving an elderly mother behind for the term of her natural life, a condition written into the contract of sale. You will only get me out of her in a box, says Helen. Kiwi contractors do the shearing now.

Down the road, the march assembles on the little rise outside old Jock’s hardware store. Numbers are down but it’s always like that nowadays. Head boy and girl of the local school and the primary school captains are joined by a handful of reserves, a widow and an old digger for the hundred metre march to lay the wreaths.

Jock gave up the ghost when his wife persuaded him into a retirement home in Ballarat. He was at a social game of bowls just before he left when his partner, Johnny W upset him with a display of high spirits. Stop larkin’ aboot, this is fookin’ serious, laddie!’ Jock’s reproach echoes in the voiced of the dour, determined townsfolk who must daily battle to survive.

Someone has to volunteer …

RSL Tom was never in the services. A former teacher, he says he put his hand up to lead the branch when the diggers died out.  He’s on every town committee. ‘I’m a joiner,’ he says. Someone has to volunteer, especially these days. He does his best but still it seems like filling in.

The toy army lays its wreath, salutes, a bugler plays the last post and Tom recites Binyon’s ode. We file inside to hymns from the 1950s. ‘Melita’ to begin. Jesse McNab tickles the ivories, her powerful forearms flexing, hands rough but still sensitive after a lifetime of chopping wood, mending fences, driving the tractor. Like most of her generation Jesse could do anything from delivering a baby to fixing the brickwork in the chimney. That piano wouldn’t dare not to respond to her touch.

At times, in the old music and the fast-emptying halls you imagine ghosts returning to homes left long ago, now overgrown and empty all over the district. Some are still filled with abandoned furniture and belongings. Uncles, brothers, fathers, mates are recalled into being by the gathering of kin and the singing.

The old melodies test most of us save for a few staunch women elders whose alto voices soar high and pure and still beyond all hardship, hurt and wrong. Purified by suffering and by selfless devotion, their voices fill the vault above us, touching all of us with a true, unyielding testament, a sacrament of song.

How small towns were hit hardest …

Tom speaks. He speaks well of the privations of his boyhood during wartime. He talks of the change in the men who returned. How small towns were hit hardest. He says he places hope in the young people of today. A visiting retired army officer, a professional speaker, gives his views on the meaning of ANZAC, about duty and sacrifice and the folly of war. The captains read the ANZAC ode, stumbling fittingly over foreign place names; as their forbears before them stumbled upon the same unfamiliar places.

None of this talk is as moving or as wise and profound as the women and their song. And none can find words to address a far greater foe, the nemesis of capital investment which reaches effortlessly across continents and oceans, past all borders and boundaries, tipping villages and nations out of their old ways, turning inside out their lives of self-sufficiency, identity and community and a life on the land into the maws of a machine age and the certain uncertainty of an international, invisible market capitalism, a death in life, from whose bourn no traveller ever returns.

Everything they say the ANZACs fought to protect us from, or all they were told or believed they must fight to preserve: our sovereignty, our security, our values, our ways of life are all at stake as a global tidal wave of money threatens to wash old farms with national borders into oblivion. Unless, against the odds, our spirit rallies; unless, somehow we choose not to surrender; unless on this one day in this small place we rediscover what it is we truly stand for.

Hockey’s ‘quality trajectory’ spells retreat as Abbott government fails to manage economy.

hockey looking sour


JOE HOCKEY: We never put a date on returning to surplus. We just need to show we have a quality trajectory, a quality trajectory back to surplus and that we are getting the budget under control. Now, you will see that in the budget…

ABC Insiders 19 April 2015 

 

‘No way’ will the Coalition be ‘putting a date on the surplus’ Joe Hockey roundly declares on ABC Insiders. It is no backflip, the Federal Treasurer suggests. He never set such a date. Yet it’s not what the record reflects.

Last election, Joe Hockey promised a ‘guaranteed return to surplus within one term,’ a promise that voters certainly heard as ‘putting a date’ on the surplus. It was upbeat, it was encouraging and it was ongoing.

Before the 2013 federal election, Hockey not only pledged a surplus in his party’s first year in office but “every year after that.” Voters would have heard him ‘put a date on’ a surplus at that time, too, even if he was quick to step back from his commitment at the last minute.

On the eve of the election Hockey downgraded his pledge of a guaranteed surplus in one term and forever to ‘an ambition’ to be ‘on-track’ for a surplus at the end of Coalition’s first term.

Retreating even further, now Hockey is scuttling away like the white rabbit leaving nothing behind but his ‘trajectory,’ meaning he’ll get Treasury to give us some beautiful figures showing expenditure going down and income rising over the forward estimates. It will look good but Nostradamus would be about as credible a guide to how the economy will perform and what future budgets will be like. Experts consistently got it wrong in the past.

Fiscal consolidation has been abandoned. Why all the stuff and nonsense about a return to surplus when he clearly doesn’t mean it and he certainly can’t achieve it? Is it an ‘in joke?’ Have we missed a punchline somewhere?

Hockey and Abbott are morbid jokesters as far as taxation promises go according to Peter Costello, who should know given the fun he had at our expense with not taxing super and squandering the profits of a minerals boom on tax cuts to buy votes.

Perhaps Joe expects us to realise that he was only making a prank call back then. Perhaps he also, not unreasonably, supposes only a fool to expect his party to keep any of its election promises. Or even remember them?

Perhaps Joe considers that his promise was automatically redacted or cancelled once ‘the coals’ won office and the myth of Labor’s delinquent financial mess, its debt and deficit disaster was trumped up and down the land. After all, this is the government where rhetoric fixes everything.

Perhaps, again, we just didn’t read the fine print as we failed to see the strings attached to Abbott’s ‘no new taxes.’ Huckster Hockey’s phrase this time is beguiling. Could he be invoking the rise of ‘quality:’ the rich and the privileged as ‘trickle-down’ economics ensures their ascendancy over everyone else’s decline, in a ‘quality trajectory?’ Or has he gone completely ballistic?

Certainly the Hockster’s trajectory conflicts with the PM’s. Only last month Tony Abbott said it would ‘take five years to achieve a budget surplus.’  One of them has to be telling porkies. Could Joe’s ‘quality trajectory’ refers to all the dodging and weaving he’s been doing to dodge his own Prime Ministers as well as all his own promises of a return to surplus?

‘We just need to show we have a quality trajectory back to surplus.’ If only it were that simple, Mr Hockey, you would be dancing in the street and blowing kisses to Wayne Swan across the chamber. Swannie certainly had extra virgin quality in a winsome budget trajectory. So, too, did the now failing South Australian economy have some fine figures in its budget forecasts. But a beautiful set of figures cannot stop the ever changing game of a real economy making you look like a mug.

Time to fess up, Joe. Your party made impossible promises which ignored all reasonable probability, all reality. Ignored trends in terms of trade and export earnings: boom commodity prices were always going to return to normal. An ageing population? People were always going to grow older. Local manufacturing has never looked flash. Then you had to drive the car makers out of the country. How could this help anyone put the brakes on the deficit?

Come off it, Mr Hockey, any fool can forecast smaller deficits with surpluses around the corner or over the horizon of the forward estimates. But the economy always has a mind of its own. Like Sam Goldwyn’s verbal contract, a quality trajectory isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

‘Putting a date on the surplus’ sounds increasingly like the parlour game of pin the tail on the donkey. There are other similarities. It is a game, for starters and participants must wear blindfolds. You play it at kids’ parties. No wonder you are begging off now that the ‘grown ups’ are in charge, Joe.   

Tragically, for all parties, the more party-pooper Joe Hockey opens his mouth the less we pay attention. We tune out, turn off, leave the room, do the dishes or weed the garden; anything to escape his empty bluff and bluster; his punishing injured, self-righteousness tone; his petty, political point-scoring.

Bluffing that you are curbing corporate tax evasion by setting up talks with Britain, ‘a plan to have a plan,’ to take mutual action doesn’t cut it, Joe. Even Sam Dastyari has achieved more than that. Blustering that Labor buggered the budget by not playing ball won’t shake off the sense of unfairness your government created all by itself. By contrast, squaring off to snatch tax-deduction status from environmental groups looks politically motivated and only serves to underline how soft you are by contrast on the big end of town.  

What’s that? You tried to do too much too quickly? Spare us. Show us what you’ve done about tax instead of peevishly correcting claiming to beat Costello to voice bracket creep concern. None of your petty excuses will help you rebuild your authority; your program of ‘reform’ is just a joke, Joe.

Of course, a lot more would have to change before we could take the morbid jokester Hockey seriously. It’s not impossible, but it’s a big call now. Something to say and the means to say it would be a good start. So would telling the truth. And having a real plan.

Instead, however, the treasurer continues to serve up a swill of half-baked Neo-con rhetoric, porky pies and baloney boosted by the odd piquant dash of jargon be it ‘disintermediation’ or ‘quality trajectory.’ In the coalition’s far-right fantasy, wages must come down so that opportunities may be created and wealth can trickle down. No matter that wages are at a record low. No matter that inequality is growing. The party’s wealthy backers in business must be appeased.

The coalition’s record of economic management since it misled voters into electing it is in tatters.  His ‘quality trajectory’ is but the latest whimper of retreat as Hockey backs away from commitments he should never have made; promises he could never deliver as he discovers to his cost, he must deal with the real challenges of an economy in downturn; his own credibility in tatters; his government’s political capital all now well and truly spent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abbott government a morbid joke according to Costello.

abbott and costello


“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


‘A morbid joke,’ Peter Costello’s considered view of the Coalition’s failure to match its ‘lower, fairer, more effective taxes’ promise, is a term with wider application. It fits its entire period of office. Despite Tony Abbott’s pledge to mend his ways in February, to be more consultative, his government continues to make a fool of itself and the mug punters who elected it. Witness how Peter Dutton’s illegal secret mission to repatriate Vietnamese asylum-seekers has become our latest national fiasco now that word has got out, confirming to the world that Australia’s immigration and border protection policy to be run by cowboys and morbid jokesters.

Breaking its word, retracting and redacting willy-nilly, it flip-flop-flouts even Abbott’s own ‘absolute principle of democracy,’ trashing every promise which helped it gain office.  Opinion polls show an increasingly alienated electorate as the PM and his government seem daily defeated by the challenges of day to day government, stuffing up even a simple COAG meeting, let alone winning any hearts abroad, making its pre-election pretensions to integrity and unbroken promises a morbid joke indeed.

Rattled by his near-spill early in February, Great Helmsman Abbott, spirits buoyed to find himself still in the boat, any boat, let himself get carried away with profuse displays of contrition. Contrition comes readily, too readily, to the politician and failed trainee Catholic priest who is on record for preferring to act first and apologise afterward. Weak and irresolute at heart, stubborn and vindictive by nature, as in his withholding 3 billion of infrastructure funding from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews who has sinned by opting to develop public transport, he is a goat in sheep’s clothing.

The new, reformed, consultative, Abbott is still running off at the mouth. It gets him into trouble. His remark to Angela Merkel that ‘fear and greed’ were driving our China Policy, a pithy off the cuff quip in another context has come back to bite him on the bum. Similarly, his rash promise of good government escaped his lips before his brain was fully engaged, but it has set him an impossible target.

‘Good government’ may have been a parting ventriloquist’s trick by chief of staff Peta Credlin, or a captain’s call. Whatever the explanation, it amounts to a desperate and costly move to buy time. Ultimately, moreover, the gesture only raises some further tricky questions about his leadership. Would he know good government if he fell over it?  Would his track record encourage anything but disbelief?  What did it mean for all that had gone before?

Abbott’s promised ‘good government’ is still nowhere to be seen. Dog-whistling racists in Reclaim Australia, fear-mongering over terrorist threats, ice epidemics and debt, repatriating Iranians to face almost certain persecution or secretly permitting corporations to explore our marine national parks for oil, his government continues to alienate the electorate with its poor decisions, its dismal performance.  Good Captain Abbott may have narrowly avoided capsize in February but his government has plumbed new depths rather than change course. Chaos, chicanery and ineptitude proceed apace on his watch.

Peter Dutton today praises new laws before the Senate which would enable asylum seekers in detention centres to be bashed to death. Costello mocks Hockey openly on the treasurer’s failure to achieve its slogan of fairer, lower, more effective taxes. Our ‘national conversation’ on taxes is pre-empted by a PM appearing on national TV to overrule any calls for increased taxes. As leader of a government that is ‘not ruling anything in or anything out’, the ‘good captain’ Abbott appears destined to forever cause more chaos and confusion.

To cap it all, the piece de resistance of its reform, the fruit of its herculean heavy-lifting, is to be ‘a dull budget.’ This is possible, Abbott and others claim, because of the heavy lifting that was done earlier in its wildly successful first budget, ignoring entirely the seventy billion extra in debt its actions have cost us so far.

Perhaps a dull budget is all that may be expected from a dullard government so decisively defeated by the challenges of government that it appears completely out of its depth just past the half-way mark; not waving but drowning. Dullness may be all the Abbott government can manage but dullness will not help it survive.

Business groups have gone ballistic. ‘The last thing we need as a community, and as a business community, is another year of paralysis and doubt about what the Government can do,’ bellows the Australian Industry Group’s Innes Willox, another disappointed by the PM’s apparent lack of budgie in his smugglers.

The times require a bold budget! Business leaders urge, wanting a government to hold their line, repay their support. But audacity is a function of mendacity alone in Team Abbott. It could rain a sky of Kate Carnells to rival Magritte’s Golconda, before any boldness will be seen or as long as Captain Abbott must fight desperately to cling on to the helm.

Let Kevin Andrews pretend that his failure to name the leader of ISIS, our enemy and Anti-Christ, western civilisation’s nemesis is inspired by anything other than a senior moment or the product of a cultivated ignorance and blind obedience according to the dictates of a devotional faith.  Explain it away as ‘operational matters’ all you like, Mr Andrews.  To anyone else it is manifest incompetence.

‘Know thine enemy’ is a first principle in Lao Tzu’s treatise on the art of war but our Minister of Defence prefers a different strategy. Ignorance is bliss. Military intelligence is after all long held to be a contradiction in terms. Let our PM and his ministerial Kevin-in-chief continue to box outside the thinker.

Andrews’ ignorance symbolises our blind terror-alert state in which urgers tell us Armageddon is expected tomorrow at the hands of our vast invisible, unnamed enemies of state who hunch over Facebook, Twitter and other anti-social media in Lakemba and other suburbs near you being groomed by IS recruiters for investment as Jihadi suicide bombers.

When reality seized him by the scruff of the neck, as it has so regularly in his chequered career, it suited the PM to strike a penitent pose. Yet so far,  we witness nothing but more of the same bad practices from a battle-shy team led by the same bad, ‘Good Captain’ Blatherskite, Tony Abbott, the narcissist’s narcissist obsessing endlessly over his own survival, compelled, as ever, to put everything else last. Camouflage survival politics all you want with fear, Mr Abbott, we see what you are up to.

The Abbott government resorts more and more to panic button politics in a futile attempt to bolster its waning authority and legitimacy. We endure determined attempts to put the frighteners on us at every opportunity. Look over there! Look out behind you! Look anywhere but long and hard at us, it begs in a dreary procession of alarmist reports, data retentions and militaristic impulsivity.

Insecurity is contagious, crippling. Faced by a desperate existential crisis, largely of its own making, the Coalition has resorted to a hastily compiled survivalist’s grab-bag of old political tricks including fear-mongering, sabre-rattling, and appeals for the electorate to tell it what to do, please. Its backflips, concessions and its elevation of indecision to polity as seen in Hockey’s mantra: ‘we are not ruling anything in or anything out’ combine to reveal a ‘good government’ which is so bad that it is embarrassing; alarming.

It is also alarming, even to itself, as can be seen in its repeated calls for ideas or ‘conversations’ which mask an indecisive, conflicted government which lacks the will, the skill and the political fibre to do anything beyond struggle to survive. Wedged by its business ‘supporters’, such as the amazingly ubiquitous Kate Carnell, apparently oblivious to falling iron ore export prices and other economic challenges who demand self-interested ‘reforms’ of wages and conditions under the pretext of greater productivity and an increasingly alienated nation, the government is caught between a pile of rapidly depreciating rocks and a hard place

Despite the obsequious Murdoch press and its biased Newspoll, there has been no dead cat bounce in the opinion polls. The only modest rally came when those polled believed a leadership shuffle was on the cards. Clearly, the key to halting the Abbott government’s spectacular popular decline is to get rid of Abbott. Yet it has no-one in the party with the bottle or the ticker or the foolhardiness to challenge the leader. Who would, or could, seize the wheel of the LNP juggernaut?  Overladen with lost wolves in sheep’s clothing it veers alarmingly all over the road in its own demolition derby, before rushing downhill, irrevocably toward oblivion. A dull budget could be the Abbott government’s ultimate morbid joke, should it lead to a double dissolution.

Going after Multinational tax avoiders proves taxing business.

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Fancy a ‘double Irish sandwich with Dutch associations?’ Or is it all double-Dutch to you? You’d be in good company if it is. Apparently some of the biggest corporate heads in Australia are mystified too. Or so they claim. Yet on the menu in Canberra on Wednesday are combinations straight off the menu of a New York deli. Chaired by the dashing Sam Dastyari, our plucky little senate committee is attempting an impossible and dangerous, if not death-dying manoevre as it sets about tackling the top end of town over corporate tax avoidance. That’s where the double Irish scheme gets airplay.

The corporations send their big boys and girls. Sam’s eight member team sensibly brings some back up. Morrison is nowhere to be seen despite his offshoring credentials. Fifty-seven senators are participating, even if we are yet to hear from more than one or two. Yet the senators who do have speaking roles are good value. Christine Milne, for example, picks up a corporate suit and tie on Freudian slip on Thursday. The CEO waffles about making the law.

‘That’s what you meant to say,’ ‘make the law,’ she crows. It is a rare epiphany. Any moment now, the tax caper will spring open under pressure like a jemmied safe or as Milne guesses the correct combination. She throws Bermuda black hole in after the Double Irish with Dutch associations for good measure. Sam jokes about her use of language and talks it up but in reality Milne’s spray is a pea-shooter against a charging elephant.

Sam is a flash dresser. With his blue ties and his suits and hair-cut like a hairdresser’s model, you could easily pick him for a Liberal. It won’t stop him being on the predators’ dinner menu himself, however, if he doesn’t watch himself. The senate team begins by flicking their towels at the IBM, News Corp, Google and other corporate bullies as they climb out of the fast lane at the reserved part of the public pool.

This is just for openers. Sam and his team have crafted a fiendishly cunning plan to get the suits sitting opposite to ‘fess up to how they avoid so much tax and other loaded questions. The tension is electric.  Spectators crane their necks but they may just be getting in touch with their stockbrokers.

Is this a stunt?  The quixotic Dasher and his crack team now dive headlong into the murky waters of off shore havens.  They swim willy-nilly like minnows amongst sharks. Their fate is frightening to contemplate. In the process, however, Sam utterly shows up Joe Hockey who often says things about chasing big tax avoiders, his party’s mates, but is yet to do anything except to protect them from being named.

Joe is such a blowhard the wind he creates would fair blow the milk out of your cup of tea but nobody’s bluffed. Anyone can see which side his bagel is buttered on.  Now he’s wedged. The public expect him to go after multinational tax avoiders despite all his waffle about disintermediation and how the modern world of finance has all gone global.  The committee’s crafty subtext is to do him down, shut Hockey up forever but you won’t find that in the official title.

Dasher’s committee is refreshingly entitled, ‘An inquiry into tax avoidance and aggressive minimisation by corporations registered in Australia and multinational corporations operating in Australia.’ Milne reckons the Double Irish sandwich is the key to it all.

Essentially, the sandwich reduces corporations’ tax bills by channelling profits to Ireland, then on to the Netherlands and thence back to Ireland. The scheme is allegedly used by Apple, Google and other multinationals operating in Australia to reduce tax. It saves them a fortune. Off-shore tax havens include Singapore with its tax rate for big corporations of 5 – 10%.

Google’s local tax bill, for example, amounted to a mere 15 percent of its $46 million Australian profit in 2013, half the Australian going rate of 30 per cent.  Factor in $2 billion in local advertising generated online which is ‘booked’ in other countries. Bear in mind that local earnings are likely to be talked up by corporates to advantage as tax deductions in the haven. Top this up with the  $4.5 million Google happily pockets in R&D tax breaks and it is fair to say that the corporation does very well out of Australia. As do so many multinationals.

If it sounds unfair, that’s because it is, but the gutsy senators can bang on all they like about corporations avoiding their fair share of tax. Their opponents’ refrain is that everything multinationals do with tax is legal, ‘hey, no-one is breaking any law.’ Yet they have tax lawyers so sharp they can calculate how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. Legal? Everyone including the ATO knows that what is legal is a matter of fine interpretation.

No-one raises the bigger issue of the alarming percentage of our income we happily put into the multinationals’ pockets. Money spent on tech is money taken out of other sectors of the economy. Our fetishising of communications technology also has huge social and emotional costs and consequences. One of these is the off-shoring of our consciousness and our identity. They suck our brains out. Policy-makers would do well to heed all dimensions of the beast, but for now the senate confines itself to a rather naïve and simple question about the use of tax minimisation schemes.

Sam’s team hits a rough patch when it has to furiously tread water, clearly struggling to stay afloat in the deep end with so much testimony from corporate suits that is meaningless. Unsurprisingly, not one corporate boss runs to help the senators or throws in a life preserver. The multinationals’ explanations are way too hard for anyone except a tax lawyer to follow. The News Corp. executive sneers, saying their tax is legal and far too complex for you to understand. You begin to worry about Sam’s strategy. Nuanced it ain’t.

Loaded questions merely invite denial and worse. Imagine you are a CEO of a company like Apple, known for using the scheme, you will profess complete ignorance of the term. You will also throw in some bullying for good measure because you don’t get to be a narcissistic corporate psychopath without throwing your weight around and making others feel stupid, insignificant and at fault.

The big knobs hate pollies. Politicians are contemptible because the bloodsuckers and leeches are not out in the real world, the sacred workplace, nobly and virtuously growing businesses and creating opportunities for wealth to trickle down. They are on the tit of the government payroll. Just ask Sarah Palin. What would they know?

The Double Irish proves a high point of the senate inquiry as Sam gives his first day’s summing up. It’s not exactly a David and Goliath contest, but the corporate advantage is staggering. The big fish give fishy answers to some fairly dud questioning. Straight man, Tony King, head of Apple Australia, responds to Christine Milne’s half-cocked loaded question by claiming not to know what a Double Irish is despite it being recognised world-wide as Apple’s main tax structure. What a crack-up. Yet the local representatives are not what they once were. They are now more like agencies of the main firm, protecting intellectual property, and other dodges than the snarling man-eaters of Packer’s era

King does let on that his company buys iPads and iPhones from overseas operations, and resells them locally to be, then taxed on its local profit. Why he thinks this worth mentioning is anyone’s guess but it does contribute to the corporate team’s signature ploy of showing the senate team up as a bunch of ignorant, impertinent, time-wasting dimwits.

God alone knows what game Dastyari’s is playing is but already his team is outclassed; outmanoeuvred, out of its depth. Our Senate Economics References Committee minnows are after some very big sharks. Represented Wednesday were Microsoft, Google and Apple, the holy trinity of the modern technological age. Bringing the big boys in for questioning, however, seems to be the extent of the team strategy. Yet he’s exploiting LNP vulnerability – wedging Hockey neatly.

The plucky senators’ game plan seems on the face of it to depend on lobbing a few random cunning questions such as how much it costs to make an iPhone. You probably need a bit more than this, Sam, before you cause executives to break down and beg us to allow them to pay more taxes as in the current feel-good story about Starbucks being held to account in Britain.

None of the assembled executives seemed to know what it cost to make an iPad. This disappointingly predictable response could have easily been surmounted by a better question about profits. Senators could have used Google to google IHS research that 38 percent is Apple’s total gross reported profit over all its iPads.

On the surface the inquiry seems an elaborate hoax, a futile exercise in mutual duplicity. Our senate wants us to believe that it is going to get big corporations in to fess up to making obscene profits just because they can pocket the money off shore via a thicket of company and corporate structures. Yet no-one on the senate team appears to have done any homework. No-one representing any of the multinationals is going to do them any favours and it is a sheer waste of time asking for information which is already in the public domain. It is like some bizarre new reality TV show, Big boys don’t pay tax. Or Technology just rules, OK? Yet futile show trial or not the political gains will be all to Dastyari for attempting what Hockey is not. In the meantime it is a great show.

Smug omnipotence is pitted against plausible humbug as corporate psychopaths on one side snarl and smirk their contempt for the fumbling, woefully under-prepared, outsmarted senators on the other. It’s a bit like asking the school bully for your marbles back. It is of course a type of public theatre, in which those with an interest in being seen to do so go through the motions of bringing tax evading corporations to account. As if you ever could.

The Meaning of Easter

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Easter Sunday, I struggle to keep up with the Aldi checkout operator. At Aldi they sweep your groceries past the scanner so fast it feels like they hate you. Can’t wait to get rid of you. Zip, zing, zip, they flick your groceries across, like the beads on a Shanghai trader’s abacus.

You cease to exist, you are processed so fast. You blur and blend into the next shopper in the queue. And the next. And so on in a vast, warped, time-space continuum.

Operators ask complete strangers, ‘How are you?’ but so does Mitre, the trained cockatoo at Mitre 10. Don’t waste time trying to tell them. How are you? How ARE you? How are YOU? Every day to every shopper. It must be in the training. This is how they personalise the Aldi experience. You just feel small and slow. Anomie with that, they might as well ask as they flip you their latest catalogue.

And what have you got planned for the rest of the day? Rachel, our regular checkout girl, intrudes, cheerily, brazenly, as if she has every right to know, now that we are deeply bonded in the mystical communion of a commercial transaction, now that we are almost family just by shopping at Aldi. As if we forgot somehow to tell her beforehand or ask her permission or invite her.

No point in taking offence. Rachel doesn’t give a fig. Her casual familiarity masks a total self-absorption and utter indifference to anyone else. That’s how it is with the young in an age of Twitter and Facebook, where friends are people you don’t know and people you don’t know are friends.

Yet Rachel’s question is strategic. She speaks just to fill up her wait time while you are at her mercy; as you scramble to get your things out of her road. Got planned? Rest of the day? Something in her tone suggests you get right out this instant and do it. You  are riled and consider telling her the rest of the day will be devoted to hedonism and nuptial bliss. Imagine. She would ask what religion was that? Or which aisle did you find that in?

OK Aldi, time is money, we hear you wanting to sweep us out of your store. Here, you say. Pick up your groceries and get out! Take your clumsy, clutter and go. You sweep us up, too, along with our little lives; the whole inconvenient clutter, the mess and fuss of our existence.  To be human is OK if you don’t get in the way of the machine. You need to eat. Good. You must buy our cheap food. Good. So does the next customer.  Look sharp before you clog up the works.

They zip things along the zinc counter so fast it’s you can barely get things into your trolley without holding up the whole line of shoppers behind you. Yet something makes you try to keep up.

A woman calls out.  Her cheeky voice and her steady blue eyes are those of a much younger person. She is old and small and frail. The years have cut deep lines into her sunburnt features. She hangs on to her trolley for support like a swimmer about to haul themselves out of the pool, her bob of white hair like a mob cap. You can see by her clothes she is poor. She tells me I am fast and then begins to tell me about her son.

My forty-four year old son is at home. Stays in bed until midday. With his clothes on. Sleeps in his clothes. Got ADD and bi-polar. Been married twice. I feel like saying something but I’m afraid to open me mouth. I bite my tongue. What can do you? Can’t say nothing cause of what you get back. Course I have to look after him. Still. I’m 82. What can you do?

‘That’s not right, I say, thinking most of us would kick him out. Surely he has medication.’

‘Yes, he has medication. He takes two sleeping pills each night to get to sleep.  Sleep he needs to be wide awake to do nothing the next day. And the next.’

There is nothing I can add. Soon the government will cut off his disability pension as they create another underclass of undeserving. He has driven her half-mad already. God knows what she will do when there is even less money to try to live on.

As I return my trolley, I see her outside unloading her trolley into her mobility scooter. It is taking her a long time. She can barely stand and hangs on to her scooter with one hand. She is talking to herself as she struggles one-handed to fit things into the small bag on the front. As she must struggle to fit into her life, the abusive, aggressive mentally ill depressive man-child at home, the cuckoo in her nest, who has no-one else to look after him; nowhere else to go but who must fight her for her kindness; eat her out of house and home.

The church up the road is full of people but they can keep their Easter service. On the pavement outside the supermarket an old woman fighting to keep her balance as she prepares to venture home to look after him; struggling to keep it all together. This old woman and her son. This is Christ.