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.