Month: July 2015

Abbott rebuffed by Bishop; mimicked by Shorten but COAG love-in leads to refreshing anti-terror release.

coag standing

‘Sod off Tony! Bronwyn Bishop sends Tony Abbott packing, rebuking her pocket PM for his cheek, if not his hypocrisy in broaching the issue of her travel claims. The hypothetical scenario is surely the most likely outcome of the spat of the week based on what we know of each party and given the veil of secrecy our virtual-burqa-wearing government prefers.

Whatever Tone did say to Bron, or he said she said, the outcome is plain.  Their conversation frames another amazing week in federal politics, a week which saw the PM’s leadership and that of his team tested if not bested by the need to walk the talk while the opposition followed suit.

Not content with adopting LNP policy on turn-backs, Labor also borrows the government’s specious rhetoric that it is a life-preserver.  Never mind that it is a lie. Never mind that Liberal spin doctors dreamt it up to disguise their real motive of vote-buying as preventing drowning.

Never mind that it is a grotesquely preposterous pose,, Bill Shorten, but you do need, now it is Labor policy, to explain to the nation how life in indefinite detention in, say, Nauru is a life saved.

Explain to us, Bill, how it saves lives when thousands of Rohingya from Burma and Bangladeshi migrants are stranded at sea when Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand turn back their flimsy boats.

Apologise, Bill, above all, to asylum seekers for the slogan ‘turn back the boats.’ They are not boats that you turn back but people.

Bill Shorten also needs to apologise to Tony Abbott for implying that ‘boats have stopped’ when it is clear we have paid at least one crew of people smugglers to turn back and just last week there was a boat off Dampier. The boats are still coming but we are not told about them. Keeping the people in the dark is part of the government’s art of national conversation, its current talking point obsession.

Despite a Canberra gab-fest of talking points about the need to talk; about how good it is that we are having this conversation, real communication hit new lows. Every MP and her leader was so busy paying lip-service to the conversation buzzword, that trust and respect couldn’t get a word in. Tony Abbott made a captain’s call for something which, by definition, you just can’t call to order.

“We want to have a well-informed and civil national conversation about all these things and, frankly, if we can have a conversation rather than a scare campaign, our country will be so much better off,”

Mr ‘Communications Skills,’ as he is known around parliament, Abbott intoned, achieving all the statesmanlike sobriety and gravitas of a cheap tourist souvenir, a plastic mascot of a man whose pale, taut face and patent insincerity were given unflattering emphasis by a backdrop of garish bunting; another set of spanking new Australian flags.

The Prime Minister’s gift to the conversation was to restrict it. Changes to the tax on super or any review of tax rates for the wealthy were ruled out, leaving leaders only one option to discuss: GST.

Abbott was croaking from the leaders’ retreat at Victoria police barracks in Canberra, a venue which doubtless saved him a travel claim whilst conferring the militaristic touch he favours in his ongoing ‘national security conversation’ a scare campaign he maintains constantly with ill-informed warnings and lurid fear-mongering about death cults coming for every one of us.

To be frank we’ve given up expecting anything real, Mr Abbott. So far, your ‘honest national conversations’ are a blend of crying wolf, fetishising the military and bonkers paranoia. Your so-called White Papers are marketing tools for your agenda. Take away your IPA wish-list and you have nothing to say. You may think you can fool us but you can’t con Bronnie.

Abbott is Bishop’s political bestie and party warhorse but even a PM who puts the con in conversation, gets a charge out her when he waves the red flag of travel entitlements. Bishop does not respond well. Her nostrils flare. Such presumption amounts to lèse majesté. He may as well tell her to take a kerosene bath.

‘Where would you be without Bronnie?’ She cackles. Her support of Abbott enabled his one-vote 2009 leadership victory over Turnbull. It was close. One informal vote was simply marked ‘No.’

Would you still be my PM today without my people? Bishop is queen of the Liberals’ ultra-right wing and, in her own mind, the entire Liberal Party if not the nation. And her aspirations don’t end there.

Unaccountably, in her eyes, she has just been passed over as next Head of the Inter-parliamentary Union. Insiders cite her campaigns against Islamic dress as doing her case no good at all. Still, they could probably do with a queen on Pluto.

A more rational estimate of Bronwyn’s bishopric is that she rules Mackellar and the PM’s neighbouring seat of Warringah; it’s her turf but she’s done him all sorts of political favours even if Douglas Robb had to veto her plan to bank donations into her own political account in the early days. Abbott is indebted to her. She knows it. Some say she’s done quite well out of her mate, too.

Do you realise whom you are talking to? She barks. Her bedside manner wins her few admirers. Gareth Evans says it is easy to hate Bishop at first sight. It saves time later. Many in her own party are similarly underwhelmed by her naked ambition, self-interest and delusions of grandeur.

Rampant egos burnished bright, Bishop and her PM are political birds of a feather; in for the kill – the spoils and little else. Forget policy or the art of governance, it is the thrill of politics as blood sport which binds them, as much as Narcissus within permits. And nests exist to be feathered.

Abbott’s ‘ground control to Major Bron,’ damage containment mission has led him to describe his speaker as ‘a loyal servant of her country,’ choosing words which clearly presage a dame elect, an ultra-monarchist lady in waiting for whom the PM’s controversially revived Order of Australia is tailor-made, most others see her in a different light.

It is Bronwyn Bishop’s loyal service to herself which is her outstanding feature. And being above the rules. No holds are barred for this veteran cage fighter who fights tooth and claw to put her own interests first, second and third. Never one to fight shy, her chutzpah is industrial-strength.

As Downer’s shadow health minister Bishop issued a statement approving tobacco advertising prompting an outcry from the AMA. It was her first day in office.  Her tantrums over not getting her favourite seat can keep commercial flights grounded for twenty minutes.

Despite all of her boss’s begging, pleading, blandishments, promises and unctuous entreaties, Bronnie remains steadfast; unrepentant, utterly unashamed and incapable of conceding she has ever done anything wrong be it her $5227 dollar helicopter ride to a Clifton Springs fund-raiser, her $88,204, two week European trip in her failed bid to be head of the Inter-parliamentary Union, or her billing the taxpayer $600 to wing it to Wang to attend Sophie Mirabella’s wedding in 2006.

All of these decisions were right in her eyes, even the $3300 she has spent in transport to the opera in the last three years, because she sees her public appearances as part of her function. Besides we should pay for the privilege of her blessed presence amongst us.  It is only right and proper.

She will never step down, she is emphatic. Her spurned spiritual love child Abbott, handling his rejection manfully, later reports to the media that he has had ‘two long conversations with her.’

Punishment enough, many would say. For either party. Evidently neither gets Abbott anywhere, forcing him to claim victory just in the jaw-boning, a theme he extends also to his failed COAG meeting and leaders’ retreat. Isn’t it just great to be having the conversation?

Nothing you can say that can’t be sung … All you need is talk. Talk, talk, talk. Talk is all you need …

Abbott, po-faced, in his best bodgie impression of gravitas, selects reverse gear on the spin machine. Bronwyn is, uh, contrite and has, uh, apologised for her, uh, ‘serious lapse of judgement’ merely ‘by paying back the money.’ Bronwyn, he claims, with best bestie insight, has learnt, uh, ‘a very salutary lesson.’ She is on probation; a set of gold-embossed luxury limo P-plates is in the mail.

Once again the PM must put lipstick on a pig. Cover up his drubbing. Not even the promised damehood which Abbott dangles before her will cause ‘the Lady Gaga of the seniors set,’ as he dubs her, to budge; her position is as rigid as her incredible chignon.

Bronwyn Bishop, Abbott’s pocket speaker, singing partner and craven crony to whom he owes his leadership and more simply tells him to go bite his bum. Go shave your legs, Tony, she laughs.

I’m sure you have another pollie pedal the public will pay your travel on. Some Iron-ing man event?

Don’t you have some people-smuggling expenses to declare? Time to fix the record about your $9,400 Battlelines book-signing travel expenses you denied then were forced to pay four years ago?

Bishop may not remember to read things before she signs them; she has trouble with MP’s names; trouble articulating due cause to use 94A to eject from the house 394 Labor MPs to six from the government but she understands all about power and mutual self-interest.

The doughty warrior is not over-fussed about appearing impartial or too afraid to rule out Opposition laughter. All is fair in love and war. She knows which side of her crust the butter goes on.

‘Besides, Tone, she purrs into a golden iPhone, I know where all the bodies are buried.’

Will Tony be hurt by protecting Bronnie? Does she ever pay for anything? Thus runs the week’s whopper BBQ stopper in a fascinating seven days of ‘national conversations in which Captain Tosser, Tony Abbott’s congress with the electorate and with the high-flyers in his own party is a complete waste of time, serving only to confirm that without trust, mutual respect, the will to listen, – and a little thing called truth, any call for conversation is just a con.

Abbott’s midweek COAG wankfest con is billed as some kind of summit on tax ‘reform’ meaning state and territory leaders have been set up to fall in line with the coalition’s need to offer the electorate tax cuts next election and grant a rise in the GST but it rapidly comes unstuck when Labor leaders reject the ploy.

COAG then simply wastes time and money viewing presentations on ice and terror before being reduced to blathering on, ‘because it would be remiss of me not to’ about the Northern Territory’s fantasy of achieving statehood before releasing a form of words on terror that is truly frightening.

Why terrorism? The media release peddles a myth to suit the Abbott government’s own jihadist mind set.

“The common element in radicalisation is exposure to violent extremist ideology … Other drivers, such as social isolation, a longing for a sense of purpose or belonging, long-term unemployment, criminality, or perceived political grievances, may also contribute.”

The analysis is skewed, incomplete, false. As Bernard Keane notes, drug use and mental illness are omitted and none of the list above is a key factor save grievances. The last begrudging concession to political grievances must not be properly acknowledged lest these be legitimised. Into this category fit the radicalising consequences of western intervention in Iraq and the effects of Assad’s genocide as in its recent barrel bomb attacks on civilians in Aleppo.

In its national conversation on terror, the government puts up a straw man to enable ludicrous arguments such as Julie Bishop’s Arab Spring thesis to succeed. Western intervention played no part according to the government’s foreign minister, IS sprang up from the Arab Spring. It is ‘a risk greater than rise of communism or the cold war.’ This may provide the means to crank up the terror threat machine but it is dishonest neoconservative propaganda.

COAG does its bit for the myth, too, by issuing a new terror threat scale, in effect, implying that things must surely be getting alarmingly bad to warrant a whole new measure but the real message is that this is a government of mass manipulation not national conversation.

COAG’s true function is to illuminate Mike Baird’s initiative.  His leadership eclipses the PM who has absolutely no idea or interest in any discussion regarding taxation matters beyond scare tactics and three word slogans. A spotty sort of limelight falls on the NSW premier, for showing up the PM, according to Herald but this is hardly any mark of distinction.

Baird is who the politician who made election promises to Watermark farmers he would be taking a personal interest in the Shenhua mine fiasco, a mine we don’t need, don’t want and which should never have been approved. The NSW premier hasn’t been seen in the area since.

Former New England Independent MP, Tony Windsor, sees the Shenhua mine approval as being as big a stoush as the blockade of the Franklin river. On Saturday, he predicts that it may end Barnaby Joyce’s career and sour our relationship with China.

The mine will proceed with the help of our Environmental Minister who continues to act as the obedient servant of a government which is, itself, beholden to Chinese mining interests.

‘The valley-wide bioregional assessment process that was initiated by former federal minister Tony Burke has been butchered by Coalition minister Greg Hunt and replaced with a box-ticking exercise of little more than a localised environmental impact statement.’

Trust is something Tony Abbott says we can’t put in Bill Shorten or Labor yet all of his abortive attempts this week to ‘hold a conversation with the nation,’ point to his own government having forfeited trust along with mutual respect. Talk to the people? His government can’t even get its speaker to listen to reason.

Abbott’s failure to rein in even his high-flying speaker friend this week is a fitting emblem of his incapacity as Prime Minister to lead his party in a government which has forfeited all credibility in its fondness for the spoils of office, its arrogance, remoteness and for its dizzy spin.

It has failed to use COAG to corral the states into raising the GST to permit it to offer tax cuts at the next election but it has successfully bumped up its use of the conversation buzz word, removed any environmental brake on foreign coal-mining in the best agricultural region in the nation and bumped out another instalment of its anti-terror gang-show, effortlessly refreshing its anti-jihadist terror death cult threat ideology to buttress its rule by fear, division and truth-suppression.

Shenhua mine approval shafts Barnaby and tears a hole in the nation’s heart while Bishop undoes love child Abbott.

Barnaby in parliament having a moment

‘The world’s gone mad,’ barks Barnaby, Federal biosecurity watchdog and Boo and Pistol impounder, Minister for Agriculture, Member for New England. Or could it be Barnaby has been driven over the edge of reason?

Joyce fails to see Greg Hunt’s outstretched leg.  He trips awkwardly, drops his portfolio and plunges to the bottom of a virtual mine-shaft. It’s all part of Operation Lose Barnaby before the next election which could be any time Abbott gambles on a double-dissolution trigger.

On the nose with the electorate, terror scares not making a difference, the economy going south, gay marriage opening a wedge, a punt looks more and more attractive to a desperate Tony Abbott. An Abbott-Joyce LNP ticket, however, would scare off voters. One loose cannon is too many.

Abbott, Hockey, Hunt quickly tip barrow-loads of bullshit on top of Joyce in the traditional Liberal burying of the politically dead. Barnaby, says Hockey, is an “outstanding” deputy leader of the National Party. He talks shit, sometimes, but it is always patriotic shit.

“Sometimes I don’t agree with him, often I do agree with him, [but] you know what I love about him? He puts Australia first,” he says, returning to complete the section of the TPP which cedes the nation’s sovereign rights to multinational corporations should projects unaccountably be vetoed.

Shifty Hunt gushes brotherly love over Barnaby, whom he believes exists to be patronised, overruled and betrayed. He is a National after all. This is how the coalition forges consensus. ‘We are still buddies,’ he says after his mine approval double-cross.

“I really like him. Like, I really like him,” Judas Hunt damns Joyce with faint praise.

“He is an incredibly decent guy and passionate, and people should be proud to have a representative such as that.” In other words Hunt sees him as a likeable but ineffectual buffoon. Abbott can’t stand the man. And he’s increasingly unpopular with his electorate.

Barnaby Joyce is a sell-out, Watermark farmers swear.  Local Aboriginal people are so furious at their virtual exclusion from the decision they plan to take their case overseas. Hunt, however, claims the mine is proceeding solely because of community consultation. And because state Labor started it. Word is that locals were warned not to get too political. ‘Barnaby would handle that.’ He hasn’t.

A Namoi Valley Independent poll has garnered 4,300 votes. 4,132 (96 per cent) oppose the mine. A social media campaign aims to mount a blockade of more than 40,000 people to stop work. The Shenhua mine decision is shaping to be a major flashpoint.

Tony Windsor wants his old seat back. He would get it too, so well has Joyce alienated his electorate. Farmers are maddened by the LNP’s lunatic economics as much as its lack of support. As Greens Senator Larissa Waters puts it;

‘With the coal price in structural decline, it’s economically insane to be sacrificing valuable farming land for the dying coal industry, especially when we have viable renewable energy alternatives.’

So begins another surreal week of coal-powered politics in the Land Down Under in which Barnaby Joyce publicly attacks a major coalition decision but remains in cabinet; Bronwyn Bishop gets away with not only claiming expenses on a fund-raiser but blowing $5,227 on an 80 km chopper ride, opting for the most expensive copter on offer to patronise her adviser’s mate’s aviation firm. Unrepentant, she has a swipe at Joe Hockey for saying poor people don’t drive. Fairfax publishes details of her overseas travel which portray the speaker as profligate with public money.

Cracks are appearing all over the coalition’s crazy pavement. Yawning gaps appear which have the PM on the hop. Labor says his leadership has failed the test of reining Mrs Bishop in. Or the consistency test.

Unlike Peter Slipper, Bishop is simply permitted to pay back the money.  The former speaker’s $900 Cabcharge conviction, later overturned, looks even flimsier and falsely trumped-up in contrast.

Worse, Abbott’s attack on Slipper in 2012 deeply compromises his protection of Bishop. Back then the then Opposition Leader was full of lofty principle in a judgement now expunged from Liberal Party official websites.

‘The Prime Minister, to uphold the integrity of the Parliament, needs now to require the Speaker to step down until these matters are resolved.  It’s also incumbent upon the Australian Federal Police to swiftly investigate the potentially criminal allegations that have been made against the Speaker.’

Protecting Bronwyn Bishop at all costs but leaving Barnaby in the dark, Abbott backs away from the Shenhua deal to let Hunt ‘stand up for coal’ on his own. Hunt bypasses cabinet and deals Joyce out of the decision to allow the Watermark coalmine deal to proceed.

Prudently, Abbott revokes Joyce’s right to freedom of speech on Q&A and the PM announces his White Paper on Agriculture in Grafton in his minister’s absence. Never know what the man will come out with. Abbott would know.

An unhappy Barnaby yelps that he’s been shafted by the Shenhua mine approval. Hunt allows the biggest coal mining company in the world to sink a thirty-five kilometre square black hole into the heart of Australia’s agriculture.

But it’s not his fault. Barnaby’s done his bit. He appears, however, to protest too much and produce too little evidence of his labours.

“I’ve never supported the Shenhua mine. I think it is ridiculous that you would have a major mine in the midst of Australia’s best agricultural land,” posts Joyce on Facebook, the one communication medium left him by Wednesday. He blames NSW Labor for approving the project originally. The pass the parcel blame game catches on.

In a dazzling tour de force of virtuoso buck-passing, Environment Minister Hunt, his PM and others duck shove responsibility back on to the state, the law, anywhere but themselves. This leaves Hunt ‘approving’ and imposing conditions on a project which he says he is powerless to stop.

In a cop-out which stretches Westminster responsibility beyond breaking point, Hunt claims he had no other choice, he says, but to agree to the mine based on the advice he was given.

“No federal environment minister could have reached a different decision,” he squeaks before second-guessing the law in a trend which echoes his mentor Abbot’s disturbing contempt for legal process in revoking citizenship.

“With six scientific reports, with legal advice, with departmental advice, any decision other than the one we made would have been challenged and — on all advice that I have — rejected by the courts.”

Joyce is also keen to let everyone know he’s not to blame.

“I’ve done everything in my power to try and stop the mine … I think the world has gone mad when apparently you cannot build a house at Moore Creek because of White Box grassy woodlands but you can build a super mine in the middle of the Breeza plains.”

Joyce is keen to place on record his opposition. But later he swings around to accept his government’s decision because of the safeguards built in over water use. It is a flip-flop which recalls that which he performed when he first opposed, then accepted, Indonesian interests buying Northern Territory cattle stations in 2010. Barnaby, it seems, is a man for all seasons. Sadly, however, the water safeguards argument appear less than watertight.

Former environmental lawyer, Larissa Waters argues that Hunt has no legal option of stopping the mine on the basis of a legally ‘blurry’ water plan without incurring a vast compensation claim. Hunt is using the plan merely to wimp out of admitting that he gave his approval.

Water plan safeguard or not, the Shenhua company has moreover a blemished record in Mongolia where it converts coal to oil. In 2013, Greenpeace East Asia revealed that the Shenhua plant was overexploiting groundwater in the Haolebaoji basin in Ordos, an area of fragile ecology. The organisation also exposed Shenhua’s illegal dumping of toxic industrial wastewater.  But Hunt was us to trust their assurances. And Barnaby appears simply out of his depth.

Former New England Independent, Tony Windsor alleges that the federal Agriculture Minister, has “essentially done nothing” to prevent the mine from getting Commonwealth approval. He threatens to re-enter politics because Joyce has failed his New England electorate on coal. He has a case.

“Part of the process initiated back in the previous parliament, and funded, was a valley-wide Bioregional Assessment process,” Windsor says. ‘It hasn’t been done.’ A Green’s senator unkindly tweets the widely held view on many local farms that Joyce is f***ing useless.

Windsor’s legacy is impressive His ‘water trigger’ legal constraint on mining developments allows the Federal government to pause projects to assess their impact on water use, legislation exploited by Hunt to halt progress on the mine to aid Liberal prospects before the NSW state election.

Joyce did, however, have a point about the giant coal-hole’s approval. Do we really need another coal mine in Australia? Do we want one? Existing mines are losing money after coal’s steep drop in value on international markets. Some face closure. Can Shenhua even pay its way? Chinese economic growth is slowing and prices are the lowest since the GFC and declining.

Even on current prices, big losses appear likely. Whitehaven’s Narrabri and Maules Creek mines nearby suggest that Shenhua Watermark will produce 1.78 million tonnes a year of semi-soft coking coal at a loss of US$20 a tonne, while producing 8.22 million tonnes of thermal coal at a loss of $9 a tonne. The new mine can expect to lose over 100 million in its first year. And it has cost a bundle before any digging has started.

Seven years in the pipeline, the projected open face monster, 4000 football fields in area, has cost its backers dearly. “After eight years, Shenhua has spent $700 million and has little tangible progress to show for this investment in NSW,” the firm’s Australian chief, a frustrated Liu Xiang,​ observed in February before reflecting that his company had not experienced the ease of investment on which our ‘open for business’ government promotes itself.

The mine has not been the straightforward project Shenhua had envisaged with local indigenous groups to appease, hostile farmers to placate and complex legal restraints to negotiate. Success in all of these areas has so far eluded the Chinese firm and more problems are brewing. Environmentalists have begun to take it up the cause against it.

The ten million tonnes annual output expected from Shenhua Watermark is scheduled to continue for 30 years. This represents an environmental threat in terms of its emissions and its impact upon local ecology. Destroyed will be 789 hectares of an endangered ecological community, mostly box-gum woodland, and 148 hectares of other woods.  But it’s Hunt’s captain’s call. Bugger Barnaby or consulting the rest of cabinet. He tries a Bromantic touch.
Greg he tells us he loves Barnaby. Bugger off Hunt. He loves Joyce so much in fact he’s let the Chinese mine coal in the middle of prime agricultural land in his electorate for the next thirty years.

In a Shenhua-Coal-mines-meets-Brokeback-Mountain moment, Hunt claims that a little thing like a massive coal mine could never come between himself and Barnaby yet the furious Agriculture Minister is appears not to be feeling the love.

Theirs was an “incredibly positive, civil relationship”, Hunt insists, leaving his captain to talk up the passion. Barnaby who can’t bear to look at either of them shoots through to Bunbury WA.  Is he done for? Has Joyce been stitched up in this deal? Don’t write him off too soon. Parachuted into the electorate the former Queensland senate scene Barnaby has a lot of skin in the game. Yet his boss would cheerfully tan his hide.

Captain Abbott loves his ‘passionate’ and ‘committed’ loose cannon so much, it seems, he wants Warren Truss to stay on. At least that’s the whisper from some Liberal MPs. If Wokka gives it another term, another nematode resistant replacement National leader has time to be bred up out the back of the tractor shed or behind a silo.

In the meantime, Abbott’s banned Joyce from appearing on Q&A. He’s launched the White Paper on beefing up Top End agriculture without him. Joyce is on a flight to WA when Abbott visits NSW to spruik ‘beef roads’ and other top end infrastructure spending to boost our live cattle trade, a trade which has just slumped with Indonesia’s 80% cut from 200,000 to only 50,000 in its imports.

The PM insists on radio that the cut is a ‘one-off’ despite Indonesia’s government plans for self-sufficiency whereas to our Agriculture Minister it is a trend which could see our Indonesian live trade cease quite soon. As an ABC report would say, its future is ‘unclear. ’What is clear is that the government needs to make up its mind what is going on before Barnaby heads to Jakarta to sort it all out. Even clearer is the question mark that is hanging over Joyce’s handling of his portfolio. And over Greg Hunt’s career after his capitulation to Alan Jones.

“I will do something today that I have never done before, that I am not required to do by law. I will make a public commitment,” Hunt ventures to salvage some credibility after his savaging on Jones’ radio show.
Hunt is bullied into this promise by Jones who shouts at him that he is wrong about where the Shenhua coal mine would be located and everything else on his Thursday’s breakfast show.

Yet Hunt’s crafty commitment is no concession at all. He is just going to palm Jones off with a water report. And hasn’t he said he was powerless to stop the mine going ahead? Hunt turns his attention to a shirtfront he can win and attacks the CEFC. All is fair in love and war after all.

Hunt claims his government’s attack on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is fair. His directive to the CFEC to drop ‘proven’ technologies like wind and solar is just a little house-keeping to realign the green bank with its original charter, he lies.  All Labor’s fault. Labor set it up to fail.

Hunt says he wonders what all the fuss is about. According to him, the CEFC is charter bound to invest in untried technologies that would send them broke and save the Abbott Government the democratic hassle of negotiating with a hostile senate to abolish it.

At the end of the week the coal-powered Abbott government is in a spot of bother with a mine nobody really wants, the greenies hate and which no-one can make pay. Joyce has been shafted along with New England’s farmers who foolishly trusted their MP to represent them. Renewable energy industry investors are left in uncertainty as the government flicks the off switch on the CEFC. Hunt has stitched up Joyce and anyone else who trusted him to act like an Environment minister, independent of the pressures of fossil fuel interest groups.

At day’s end Bronwyn Bishop, appears, in her mind, a Valkyrie hovering over the fray, transcending petty politics and mere mortal rules with lofty impunity, secure in her master’s protection and her power to decide who lives and who dies in battle. Including if only accidentally a collaterally damaged Tony Abbott.

Shorten’s Royal Commission show trial reveals Abbott government contempt for justice and democracy.


The Bill Shorten show trial, an ‘eagerly anticipated’ or hugely oversold piece of legal theatre played to packed houses in Sydney midweek thrilling sell-out audiences with its stunning production values and its convincing performances – especially from Shorten who stoically underplayed himself in the role of a man on trial for his political life.

Shorten’s trial was a timely treat for a nation which could relax in an old-fashioned lynching, boo the union villain and take time out from the pressure of the daily threat of an ISIS attack, ‘coming after us,’ asylum seekers invading our sovereign borders and Gina Rinehart’s new Roy Hill Pilbara mine never making a profit.

Iron ore dropped to $44 a tonne on Thursday and investment bank Citi predicts an average of 38 for the last quarter ten dollars down from the price Joe Hockey locked in to his last Budget calculations. But in Sydney it was on with the show. And what a show it was!

Commissioner Dyson Heydon exceeded everything you could ever hope for as the sinister but charismatic Grand Inquisitor and the show held its packed house spell-bound as a pale Bill Shorten gulped enough glasses of water to flood a Beaconsfield mine while top Sydney silk, Inquisitor Jeremy Stoljar justified his 3.3 million dollar fee by cutting his ‘unreliable witness’ down to size by craftily avoiding any allegation in favour of inviting Shorten to assent to it in principle. Shorten, of course, could not agree but the trap had been sprung.

‘Do you agree with this proposition: it would profoundly weaken the bargaining position of the AWU if in negotiating with the company about an EBA, that company is at the same time making a donation to the then national secretary’s political campaign? Do you agree with that?’ Jeremy Stoljar had Shorten on the ropes.

And not before time. ABC News-readers, not to be bested by other media vigilantes, were breathily speculating on a yet to be discovered ‘smoking gun,’ a Sherlock Holmes clue. That Holmes solved crimes by logical deduction is something quite overlooked in our rush to judgement of a man who has committed no crime, except, perhaps that of being Bill Shorten and just not seeming up to much – rather than up to too much. As, Robert Conquest observes: ‘Every organization appears to be headed by secret agents of its opponents’.” 

Commentators lead us to assume, as we all must, that Old Bill is guilty simply by virtue of his appearing before Mr Heydon. If they don’t find that gun this time, they will call him back until they do. Guilt is easily presumed if you are called before a Royal Commission, especially such a lavish production as the TURC, the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption.

Commissioned by waving an open cheque in front of lawyers, in this case from George Brandis’ former employer Minter Ellison, the Coalition has helped legal eagles feather their nests to the tune of 17 million. The Bill killers will make a right royal killing of their own. The TURC could blow $80 million by 31 December when it reports.

TURC’s season is certain to be continued. Funds flow freely in the Coalition’s class war. No fee is too high in the war on Labor and the vast underclass of poor needy and vulnerable the party still pretends to represent. No price is too high to buy eternal coalition rule. It is certain that the commission will run longer rather than shorter. Abbott, no doubt would relish a commission in perpetual session. Yet it damages the Inquisitor also.

Happily forking out nearly four times the sum it begrudges its campaign against family violence, the Abbott government’s priorities and values were also very much on show in the commission. It did not disappoint. A nine hundred question duet between Stoljar and Shorten was followed by a Busby Barkly orchestrated chorus of cabinet ministers who came on just to kick Bill. Yet each paraded a brazen hypocrisy and risked drawing attention to their own malfeasances along the way.

Julie Bishop quickly sank her slipper into Shorten calling on him to fess up over ‘secret side deals’ that were ‘not to union members’ benefit.’ Her smear would do more damage were it not for her own ‘secret side deal’ to keep three days’ silence, misleading parliament over Man Haris Monis’ letter not making the inquiry into the Martin Place tragedy.

But forget merely conspiring to mislead parliament. Shorten’s deals were just too horrible to specify and so utterly unlike the deal Bishop struck to protract proceedings defending CSR Ltd against claims by miners and workers who had contracted asbestosis.

As she explains, “rhetorically asking the court why workers should be entitled to jump court queues just because they were dying” could be construed as ‘legal theatre’, not truly reflecting on herself as a person. Theatre? Theatre of cruelty, perhaps, Ms Bishop.

Shorten’s use of union support to help himself win the safe Labor seat of Maribyrnong or deals he did with some big firms to make the workplace work for all parties, or in implementing enterprise bargaining, on the other hand, are true horror stories, according to the coalition which hints that there is so much more to come out.

Eric Abetz, does horror well. Snatching himself away from Pandora’s Box and the nightmare of polyamory rampaging through once respectable suburbs or Tassie’s Channel Highway life-style blocks should gay marriage be legalised, our Minister for unemployment and government Senate smear-leader, delighted loyal fans with his scariest Dalek-speak as he put the boot into Bill.

‘Most people would be horrified by some of the evidence exposed through the royal commission,’ monotoned Abetz, vastly helping national conversations about Bill’s guilt by saving the average punter the bother of finding out the real details and preserving energy for kicking.

Eric can’t wait for the commission to drill down to Bill’s unpaid public library fines and what he lets into his recycling bin. Elaborate? No. Persecute! Exterminate! ‘Most people want him gone.’

Spokesperson for most people, ebullient under-thinker and glad-handed tax conceding Pollyanna, Bruce Billson was keen also to spike the national conversation with a Bill-killer pub test analogy about a car salesman’s commission.

“I think what people are really interested in — imagine if you had a trusted mate buying a car for you, trying to get you a good deal, then you find out your mate is getting a sling from the man who is selling the car, that’s just dodgy,” he told his party’s Channel Nine mates.

Dodgy deportation deals? Billson counted shrewdly on viewers forgetting yesterday’s weather let alone being able to remember last week’s story about his successfully lobbying Immigration Minister Vanstone to overturn the deportation of a Calabrian underworld figure, Joe Madafferi.  Besides it never happened, he explained. The AEC is happy. Go away.

Flouting police advice that Madafferi posed a danger to the community, Billson and a couple of his Liberal mates put in a word with Amanda. Nothing dodgy here, just a trail of big donations to the Liberal Party leading to the successful reversal of Madafferi’s deportation. Vanstone has recently said she was led to believe that Madafferi had gone straight.

Much Bill-kicking of this nature followed, lessened only by the absence of those many party members on holiday during the winter break. Many others subbed for them. Anne Henderson on The Drum linked Bill with the ‘really bad’ CFMEU. Give it time and he will be just another Kathy Jackson in the popular mind. Her case has cropped up helpfully in the same news bulletins. No longer is she the darling of the right, the ‘lion’ lauded for her work in dishing dirt on Craig Thompson when the Abbott government needed her.

High and low kicking notwithstanding,TURC’s current season is sure to be extended yet again into 2016 to permit the commissioner to drop his Shorten-ordure from a great height all over Labor’s election campaign which Bill is now by no means certain to lead. Mud sticks.

Of course, not all of us welcome the diversion. Most are still coming to terms with our taxes being used to pay people-smugglers. And the silence that has ensued.

It is alarming just how quickly this ‘creative’ bit of border enforcement, as Abbott describes it, has been redacted from the national agenda.  What could be next? From the same heart of darkness comes the TURC witch hunt.

The Royal Commission into unions is a disturbing show trial, not merely because, as it is luridly billed, its mission is to ‘shine a light into the dark and dirty underbelly of unionism,’ its adverse findings on organised labour predetermined. It is also a cynical attempt to distract and divide. This is not to pretend that there are not questions to ask of some elements of the union movement but we already have established democratic means to achieve this. It is also less about Bill Shorten than what Abbott’s series of commissions represent, a pox on our democracy.

TURC destroys reputations, demonises unionists and distracts from the coalition’s utter failure to function as a government. Out of touch with Australian society and out of its depth in the world, the coalition is as unprepared to countenance gay marriage as it is to heed warnings that China’s stock-market bubble would one day collapse. Attack is all that matters.

‘Cut to the chase,’ Chief Witch-finder Heydon interjects, unhappy with his witness having so much to say for himself. If this ‘unprecedented intervention’ as Labor describes it, shines any kind of light it is on Heydon himself and his skill in timing his cut perfectly for the evening tabloid media for a ready-made headline that Bill was an unreliable witness.

Bill Shorten discovered, to his cost, that Commissioner Heydon is not to be mucked around on day two of his testimony; his second long day in the witness box. It was a low point in a long week of misrule in which the Coalition tried again to dim the lights of scrutiny and accountability in its quest to remake the ABC into a government propaganda arm while it underplayed its responsibility for maintaining an orderly functioning democratic society, promoting hysteria and blind fear of terror instead in order to disguise its manifest failure.

Ultimately, the retired Chief Justice will never shine any kind of light into anything that matters to the people at all so powerful and entrenched are the ‘dark and dirty dealings’ of the coalition’s black spot approach to ‘good government.’ Let minors suffer sexual abuse on Nauru a state which has degenerated into a one party dictatorship which has abandoned the rule of law. Let women be forced to trade sexual favours for hot showers. Our government just makes it illegal to tell.

Yet, perhaps, after all a light of sorts is indeed cast by the commissioner on the government’s willingness to abuse its power. Even to Cory Bernardi this is wrong or ‘power creep,’ as he calls it, meaning not his bully of a PM but a process whereby government executive power steadily usurps the rule of law.

Has Bill been killed or merely grilled? His reputation has been seriously damaged and his career may never recover. The bigger question is what is also being done to the rest of us.

Abbott visits Singapore but his government stumbles in a world of darkening economic skies.

abbott in silly hat

Parliament rose for a six week winter break last Thursday amidst whispers of an early election and a delegation on the wing to Singapore, led by a PM in search of Asian investors, clutching his northern Australia white paper that is his government’s vision for an economic powerhouse and ever keen to boost free trade and other links with Australia’s fifth largest trading partner.

By the week’s end, however, the PM’s junket was over as his party split over gay marriage; Greece was set to split the EU and Chinese share-markets continued a three trillion dollar nose dive, a decline unseen since 1992.

A senate inquiry documented an orchestrated coalition conspiracy to mislead parliament over Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis, suggesting that Abbott and his cabinet misled Parliament and then attempted a cover-up, actions which warrant calls for the conspirators to resign.

End of entitlement rhetoric was further exposed when it was revealed that Tim Wilson, George Brandis’ hand-picked Human Rights Commissioner, racked up $70,000 in expenses in his first year in office, making a total tax-payer bill with salary and allowances of over $400,000 for the Abbott government’s appointment, made, as Brandis put it, to shake up the status quo. The money put into this walking political gesture would be far better spent invested in reinstating former disability Commissioner Graeme Innes whose commitment is such that he continues his advocacy work unpaid.

Overall, it was another impossible week for a PM who vowed once that he would like to keep politics out of the newspapers.

The PM’s week had begun promisingly enough but it quickly went bad. Relaxed and comfortable in a like-minded regime with wondrous public order, clean streets and cheap as chips all you can eat Yum Cha, Mr Abbott fearlessly led the Australian delegation to an island nation fabled for its hard bargaining in the midst of global uncertainty and impending crisis. But they saw him coming.

‘Put your money into our top end,’ said Tony Abbott. Incredible development opportunities abound.

Savvy, cashed-up Asian speculators kept their hands in their pockets. Abbott offered a pipe dream not a project you could commit to. A library of studies over the years by respectable scholars exists to support their caution. Undeterred, flanked by WA and Queensland premiers, Abbott touted the Top End as a huge investment opportunity.

Granted the PM was short on details but it made little difference to his audience. Abbott was politely ignored by local investors who prefer to buy real estate in our capital cities. Rural stations appeal also. Currently Singaporeans are our third biggest overseas buyers of Aussie real estate.

Presentation made, the PM’s went for the common touch. A good sport who enjoys making a spectacle of himself, he delivered in a carefully managed people-meeting event. A public ‘Aussie BBQ’ staged in his honour, saw him in an apron holding tongs and wearing a silly headpiece of red and yellow balloons.

However much the air-head gear suited him, the BBQ backfired when angry, hungry Singaporeans discovered that being ‘open to the public’ meant open only to those with tickets. A compromise was achieved whereby a few ticketless souls were let in to enjoy the remnants, after the ticketed had eaten their fill, in a rare display of trickle-down economics at work in broad daylight.

Detoxing and reforming terrorists was next to get a hammering as the PM jawed his way through a tour of Khadija mosque, an outfit which claims to de-radicalise jihadists and other hotheads who look as if they need straightening out.  Abbott admired Khadija but said it wouldn’t work at home.

Very little of the virtual police-state that is Lee’s Singapore would work at home but at least the PM was able to get the terrorist theme into reports before, in a heady moment of over-sharing his pathological fear of the abyss overcame him.

Revealing more of his own inner being than he realised, as he spoke straight from the heart,

“I was very pleased to see their confidence that it was possible to turn people back from this dreadful, dreadful abyss,” he said. “Because the more people succumb to that, the worse the abyss that all of us could face in the years and decades to come.” He should know.

Patronising his hosts for their conviction, Tony Abyss relaxed, happily in the embrace of an autocratic state run on dynastic lines, a haven and a place of respite where he could shake another strong leader by the hand while taking a breather from domestic politics and the taxing business of running a bodgie government, something no foreign despot can help him with and where his past sins of omission and commission will inevitably undo him.

No-one could pester Abbott for a few days to account for his actions or his government’s mistakes while economic recession edged closer and Australia’s forgotten people expected leadership if not an honouring of commitments in matters ranging from constitutional recognition of indigenous people to a commitment to a carbon emissions target.

His spin-doctors came up with vital goodwill and trade benefits but the PM was thankful to find a nation which wouldn’t laugh in his face or question him about paying people smugglers, violating human rights or his evasion of responsibility on climate change and gay marriage.

Happily for Abbott, homosexuality is illegal in Singapore. No-one popped up to quiz him over the lethal split on gay marriage in coalition ranks or how he has wedged himself against popular opinion by his own stubbornly held prejudices. As David Marr says, it could be his undoing, akin to Howard’s obdurate refusal to make an apology to indigenous peoples for the stolen generations.

And there were other breaks. The PM did not have to follow up Employment and Pandora’s Box Minister Eric Abetz’s comments about same-sex marriage, the Asian century or his slippery slope scenario. Abetz contends that gay marriage would lead to matrimony with animals or union with root vegetables. Not only was he getting out of this; the PM was getting on with the business of government. Achieving things.

Abbott’s achievements included a unique photo-session of his head festooned with red and yellow sausage balloons fashioned into a silly hat. Politics, economics and cultural exchange blended with clowning for the cameras giving the PM at least one thing he does well. It was his crowning achievement.

Bonding with Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s elder son, who looked only slightly less silly, our PM revealed a soft spot for Singapore’s racist, autocratic patriarchy which he admires for its take on freedom, equality and the rule of law. Trade deals aside, calculated or not, his visit to the island state managed to send just the right message home about his prime ministership

Singapore commends itself to the Abbott regime. A totalitarian state with a corrupt judiciary, it has the highest rate of executions in the world, no free press, no freedom of association, unlimited detention without trial and it ranks below Russia in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index.

Homosexuality is a criminal offence. You can be arrested and gaoled on suspicion of being a druggie or an undesirable, just in the first draft of his legislation the Immigration Minister would be able to act on his suspicion that you needed your citizenship stripped if you were a dodgy jihadi dual national such as lurk in our midst the real and present danger of the enemy within.

Enemies of state have no right to speak in the Abbott government’s ideal state and Tiny Tim Wilson our LNP’s Freedom Commissioner was despatched to vent his majesty’s displeasure on Monday’s episode of the ‘leftie lynch-mob’ that is Q&A. The ABC had gone too far and if heads have been slow to roll so far, by the end of the show, Wilson had cause a fair bit of eye-rolling disbelief.

Wilson made a fool of himself and his government by claiming that Zaky Mallah’s freedom of speech was in no way constrained by Steve Ciobo’s threatening to deport him. ‘He did but that does not silence or censor him,’ Wilson volunteered hopefully fumbling for support of his thesis that freedom of speech was not at stake but that Q&A should be ashamed of giving a ratbag a platform.

The audience laughed. Tim had an on-air tantrum and chided his host for twisting his words.

Perhaps Wilson was wrestling to accommodate the ratbaggery of Steve Ciobo, the politician whom the PM and Minister for Women defended in 2012 over his call to ‘slit Julia Gillard’s throat.’ For Abbott, then, it was just a figure of speech.

Similarly, Alan Jones who may have boosted a racist Cronulla riot with his on-air comments and who has said Julia Gillard should be put into a bag and drowned at sea is a guest whom the LNP has no problem with. Highlighted on Monday was just how much the Zaky Mallah incident has become an excuse to bash and intimidate the ABC for doing its job by holding the government to account.

Kevin Andrews, another opponent of gay marriage and the building of Australian naval submarines in Australia and one Alan Tudge who claims to be an Abbott government MP did their bit for free speech by vowing not appear on Q&A. Both aired reservations about the ABC’s impartiality which do not prevent their appearing on shock jock radio which owes its existence to the daily massage of audience prejudices.

Chief amongst these is the myth that the LNP is the better at managing the economy while all evidence so far inspires little or no confidence in its manifest capacity to do more than follow an IPA agenda or the hands-free dictates of neo-con free market ideology, applying nineteenth century laissez-faire economics to a twenty-first century world.   And a lot of hokum.

Bruce Billson, Minister for bovine optimism and the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, is Acting Treasurer for another week while Joe Hockey and his well-travelled colleagues dash abroad on ‘study tours’ and other subsidised holidays while the Greek economic crisis looms and the Shanghai composite index continues to dive at a rate unseen since 1992.

Only a party with economic management in its DNA could put its feet up at such a troubled time. Perhaps the LNP is simply dead on its feet; exhausted by the hard graft of good government, shagger’s back and other bad workplace management practice afflictions and disorders.

All Australians, especially small business-folk in market gardening communities will applaud the elevation of ‘Pastor Bruce,’ as the PM has dubbed him for his evangelical fervour, if not his ministry to family-man and convicted felon Frank Madafferi’s plea for help.

News emerged this week that Billson was one of a trio of MPs who in 2003 or 2004 lobbied then Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to provide a visa for alleged Mafioso Madafferi whom Vanstone’s predecessor in Immigration Philip Ruddock wanted deported because of the Calabrian’s ‘serious criminal past’ and because he posed a danger to the community.

The ease with which generous party donations help secure the ear of the powerful raises serious questions about how Liberal Party fund-raising permits donors access to power as much as it suggests a lapse in the small business minister’s capacity for independence and sound judgement.

Billson’s handling of the effects of the Greek crisis will, of course, be at least equal to the absent incumbent’s manifest incompetence. Joe Hockey’s management of his portfolio suggests that any idiot can manage the free market shop just by leaving the till open and the door unlocked.

The ‘hands-free’ Treasurer paused on his way to the departure lounge early this week to hose down panic with the view that, “Australia’s exposure to Greece is very limited and quarantined”.  RBA’s Glen Stevens said much the same but as Mandy Rice Davies famously put it, ‘he would say that wouldn’t he?

The chance of Greece upsetting the EC apple-cart and world financial markets is not so easily dismissed, however. Nor is it possible to pretend that we are immune from panic in Chinese share markets.

In the end we are left with a government which has abdicated its responsibility for honest and open management in favour of tactics to scare us into submission. Facts are not to be kept from us nor false account tendered. The people have a right to know.

The PM may warn us that ISIS is coming for us all but the greatest danger to the nation’s security is in his government’s willingness to keep us in ignorance; its failure to provide real leadership and economic management. White papers promoting pipe schemes, or stubborn opposition to popular opinion apparent on matters such as marriage equality are no way to govern.

The Abbott government’s scaremongering and tough on terror bluster has cost it the trust, the credibility and legitimacy it desperately needs to survive precisely when the cry of wolf is real.