… It is expected that, on appointment, a judge will sever all ties with political parties. An appearance of continuing ties, such as might occur by attendance at political gatherings, political fund raising events or through contributions to a political party, should be avoided.” National Guide to Chief Court Officers 2nd Edition
An eerie darkness descended upon Canberra last Tuesday as a vast cloud, a loft, a shit-load of Prime Ministerial pigeons came home to roost in such a mass that day became night and the edifices and institutions of our great national capital, its officials and its leaders were rendered ghost-like in a pallid gouache of guano.
A fall of snow dusted everything off, completing the illusion, making white the black heart of the nation and sending apocalyptic shivers up and down the national spine, especially amidst the Canberra Press Gallery.
‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.’
To Annabel Crabb, whose upcoming series Snouts in the Trough, the political class at table, is an eagerly awaited sequel to her popular Kitchen Cabinet, the snowfall in Canberra was an image of hell freezing over, the appointed time when our PM would permit same sex marriage. Abbott finds homosexuality personally threatening, he repeatedly, bafflingly offers by way of explanation as if this is some type of exemption from having to exercise sound leadership. Or tolerance and humanity.
The PM needs to maintain his opposition, forever, however, for it keeps alive his courtship of the right despite wedging him between his party’s social troglodytes and the nation, and at a cost of alienating liberal Liberals and the odd Nat in the coalition. Divorced from social reality, cut off from realists and progressives in his own party, and lacking any real accomplishments to bolster his leadership Abbott is looking increasingly vulnerable. Marriage equality in the meantime has become a hand-reared monster fed by his failure to take the lead.
For the incoherent Eric Abetz, however, perpetually conflicted, confused, muddling through as Abetz only can, gay marriage is both a little thing and a very big thing. Just as July’s rise in unemployment to 6.3 %, its highest for thirteen years with an extra 41,000 officially out of work is ‘positive’ news to him because 38,500 new jobs are being created. The dollar fell in response to the news, possibly because it lacks Abetz powers of perspicacity and discernment.
The Employment Minister did not proceed to say that two thirds of these new jobs are part time. Or that wages are stagnant. All Abetz are off, it seems, if you are out of work. Or looking for a fair and just society where equality, especially marriage equality is not just a hollow promise. Unless, of course, like Dolce and Gabbana, as Mr Abetz observes, marriage is not part of your business plan.
On ABC radio last month, gay marriage was ‘not a high order issue’ the Employment Minister soothed and assured his listeners, in his mellifluous way; yet later it was ‘Look out!’ A human rights disaster is upon us.
Abetz may be granted his ‘disaster.’ Marriage equality has been dealt with so badly by the PM and his government, which leaves the agenda on this issue to its opponents, that it tied up an incredible six hours on Tuesday at the end of which nothing positive was resolved and uncertainty and cabinet division fomented.
Two themes emerge clearly. One is the PM’s power to inflict his will on his party despite there being every good reason for allowing a conscience vote, if only as a sop to those party heretics who hold that he be reasonable or accountable.
Equally clear is that the PM has no intention of law reform in this area. A referendum would allow the issue to be shelved and even defeated if worded as a change to the marriage act rather than approval of same sex marriage. Plebiscite talk is a useful division and diversion while he gets on with ignoring it all and hoping it will go away and allow him to get out the good news on jobs and growth, a two word quinella on a couple of lightly-raced stayers.
Marriage equality was not the only pigeon returning home to roost and catch the PM and his government napping, asleep at the wheel. Abbott’s stuff up was displaced only by another. It is every politician’s nightmare. Were they men trapped in a nightmare they were politicians? Or were they politicians trapped in a nightmare that they were merely men? Would they wake up and find themselves no longer in Canberra and forced to deal with a real world?
The Bronwyn Bishop scandal hung around like a bad smell over the installation of the new speaker, someone called Tony Smith who looks like and at times acts like a discarded early prototype for a Thunderbird puppet. Abbott more or less said Smith was ideal as Speaker of the House because Smith had failed to amount to anything so far in his parliamentary career.
Pyne further polluted the Speaker’s baptismal waters by claiming insanely that Bronwyn Bishop had been ‘felled in most unfair circumstances’ a bizarre but fresh perspective on the theme of innocent victimhood the PM had preferred to anything more factual. Pecking Bronnie on her cheek with a casual familiarity and an unexpected intimacy as he came out of the party room Tony Abbott offered the image of his Judas kiss to the nation’s photographers. He also signalled to the right where his loyalties lay.
Smith doubtless was vastly encouraged by the news that he was there because he was a failure so far and because the previous incumbent had met with bad luck. Never for him, as Scott Morrison’s party room elected man, the captain’s kiss. On the positive side, almost anything Smith does will be better than his predecessor.
It was a week of self-inflicted – if not permanent injury and disfigurement for life. Abbott’s long-running witch hunt of his opponents lost its gloss after beak of the week Dyson Heydon was found to be booked to entertain a Sydney Liberal Party do, while the PM’s crafty equivocation over gay marriage and his ambush of his own party and the resulting fiasco over plebiscite or referendum revealed a kamikaze PM abdicating all pretence at leadership in the face of his own insecurities, prejudices and the loss of support of the right wing.
Dan Tehan’s call for us to go to war with Syria reflects a similar problem. He was on the ABC about it before he’d even asked his boss. Or so he said. Abbott has a habit of unleashing Tehan in times of political crisis.
Greg Hunt similarly is let off the leash, foaming at the mouth without his muzzle. He snaps at Leigh Sales on camera. ‘With respect,’ he snarls, interjecting dismissively, hectoring and contriving in the end only to bully her. Bullying aside, leadership in this government is not just MIA, it is AWOL. Having no plan, no clear direction, and the government circles aimlessly in some kind of holding pattern until it runs out of fuel. Hot air exponents and manic blatherskites such as Hunt are sent out, meanwhile, to huff and puff hot air enough to keep an Airbus aloft.
The long-awaited release of the government’s targets for emissions reductions served to only confirm its rock-solid commitment and capitulation to the coal industry but the occasion contributed a surreal moment of unreality as gushing snake oil salesman and media bulldozer, Greg ‘let me finish, Leigh, Hunt’ talked over the top of everyone in case we noticed that he is comparing apples with bananas. He is clearly bananas.
‘We’ve moved from a minus five per cent target to a minus 26 to 28 per cent. We’re able to do this because of the success of the Emissions Reduction Fund and do this without driving up electricity prices, which is the alternative policy.’
It’s bull’s wool. OK there may be a bit of guano mixed in for binding but the government is banking on its being all too confusing for voters to follow. In parliament this week, Tony Abbott denied ever saying that climate change is absolute crap. Perhaps he was misreported. What he really said was the coalition’s climate change policy is ‘absolute crap.’
Most Australians know when they are being taken for a ride. They remember not getting any axed carbon tax refund on their power bills despite the government’s promises. Or if they did get some paltry refund it in no way matched the rhetoric. Nothing has changed. The nation can see that Direction Action is a big new tax. After all, they are paying for it. So far taxpayers have given $660,297,303 – that is more than a quarter of the $2.55 billion available to the government to achieve less than twenty percent of its emissions reductions target and some five years too late.
Hunt’s ERF ‘success’ is measured solely by the amount of cash handouts doled out by a government silly enough to pay $2.55 billion to those who volunteer to reduce emissions through carbon abatement programmes. These are not new schemes, moreover. Most are pre-existing forestry or land sector, landfill schemes and there is nothing to say that their results would have been recorded without the ERF and under Labor. The big culprits, moreover, such as coal fired power stations go on polluting freely because they are not in the scheme.
There is no cap where it matters; on the emissions of heavy emitters in energy and resource sectors who remain outside the ERF; no guarantee above all that any gains made in voluntary carbon abatement will not be eaten up by an increase in emissions by those industries outside the scheme. It is a con.
But wait there’s more. There are ‘other measures’ and an unexplained ‘safeguard mechanism’ which Hunt will not detail which will supplement direct action’s handouts. This government has no intention of meeting its international obligations; no commitment to reducing carbon emissions. But it is wedded to coal, a marriage less of equality than of convenience.
It was a week in which the federal government inexplicably was badly in need of leadership and a plan. The terror drum had been beaten to death. Industrial relations is a no go zone despite the report of the Productivity Commission heretics that basically our workplaces were in pretty good shape. Refuting business calls for a comprehensive reform of a failing system, the Commission found Australia’s labour market was performing relatively well against global standards. Sunday overtime rates and enterprise contracts were raised but the government does not have the ticker to raise them. Where was Alan Jones when you needed him?
Even the Kill Bill show, that long-running standby with the extended season and an expandable budget was in trouble. Another pigeon, another pile of bird poop. The ‘Prime Minister of the Opposition’s’ negativity and skulduggery backfired spectacularly.
It had seemed a good idea at the time. Setting up a Royal Commission to bully the union movement and to kill Bill Shorten’s political career had, however, as experts warned it would, come back to bite Tony Abbott on his bony but priceless rump. Another captain’s pick had become an own goal.
Dyson Heydon QC, a national hero of jurisprudence according to the PM and worth every cent of his top secret fee estimated to be at least $4 million and who is a sure thing for another captain’s pick knighthood, a veteran advocate of work choices and reactionary polemics in industrial relations found himself unaccountably booked as guest speaker at a Liberal Party fund-raiser in Sydney later this month, thereby jeopardising whatever shred of impartiality was left him after his outrageous attack on Bill Shorten’s reliability as a witness last month.
Heydon seems in no hurry to resign, yet but the unions appearing before the commission are threatening legal action to remove him. In Heydon’s own 2011 opinion, the union case has merit. The Liberal Party fund raiser speaking engagement was not a good look, however much Abbott and co may pretend it was not political. In Heydon’s own words;
“The appearance of departure from neutrality is a ground of disqualification” for a judge. “It is fundamental to the administration of justice that the judge be neutral.”
King Billy, as National Secretary Shorten was known to AWU rank and file members at the time, took a bit of a dip in the opinion polls as a result of the rubbishing the top silk dished out to him but no lasting damage seems to have been done to the ‘Labor-lite’ leader. Dyson Heydon may have even done him a bit of a favour by highlighting the former union leader’s deal-making skills.
Indeed, Shorten’s dull pragmatic conservatism may enhance his career in our troubled, tricky times. A candidate with a charisma bypass just might get a crack at the PM’s job if he can return the favour of not being Tony Abbott to an electorate which voted in the coalition only because it wasn’t Labor. Voters won’t be fussed too much about his politics or his promises as long as he’s not the current mongrel.
We get the politicians we deserve in the end, however and perhaps the biggest pigeon of all coming home to roost was the increasing number of Australians who do not vote. It is estimated that you could fill four federal electorates with unregistered potential voters. Australian Electoral Commission statistics reveal 20 per cent of eligible voters did not cast their ballot in the last federal election. Labor had its lowest voter turnout ever.
If ever Australians needed a graphic reminder of what happens if you can’t be bothered to vote, they should look at the current circus of recycled Howard era rejects and throwbacks in Canberra. Apathy and inertia help in no small way to guarantee any conservatives, however, dysfunctional, their continued existence.