Month: November 2015

Australia an utter disgrace in attending Paris Climate talks.

hunt spends up big.png

The UN Climate Change Summit circus in Paris will have to start without Tony Abbott – not that he was going anyway. Not that it needs another clown. He got one Captain’s call right. His successor would also stay at home if he could. He should.

Malcolm Turnbull is impossibly conflicted on climate. He recognised that Direct Action is ‘bullshit’ and called it a ‘policy which does not exist’ in 2009. Now he has to sell something he never believed to a mob who will never forgive him for going soft on saving the world.

Worse still, the PM will look stupid and shonky, something he normally leaves to his predecessor. Perhaps he should take a sickie; he has been looking exhausted lately. Backflips can do that to man.

Turnbull won’t be missed amongst the 45,000 delegates from 193 countries converging on Paris, some of whom are serious. His government has nothing to contribute. Or even less. Indifferent if not hostile to the science, the Abbott/Turnbull government is contrarian on climate. It pays polluters to plant trees and if they don’t promise to clean up their act a bit, pretty please, they face a flogging with a wilted lettuce leaf.

The coalition is soft on targets. Its 2020 emissions reduction target of 5%, if no-one else did anything and 25% if they did, is soft and its 2030 target is a dangerously low 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels, a goal which will do nothing to prevent global warming reaching 2 degrees – which is what Paris is supposed to forge consensus over.

On the other hand, the Abbott/Turnbull government is doing its bit to warm the globe. The LNP has enabled power companies to increase pollution by scrapping Labor’s carbon price mechanism. Its commitment to a greener planet has no better indictment than in its willingness to pay a ‘windfarm commissioner’ $600,000 to indulge complaints about a safe, alternative power source.

Direct action means taxpayers have forked out $660 million already to get farmers to plant trees but Environment Minister Hunt happily let Campbell Newman clear enough of Queensland in 2014 alone to fit the entire ACT inside, a move which cost the federal government 80% of the 45.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas abatement it purchased recently at a cost of $557 million.

But the show must go on. Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop and Greg Hunt are in Paris to keep up appearances; pretend that Australia is doing its bit by meeting a soft target that required no effort whatsoever to slow emissions. Not that it could slow them now if it wanted to.

Much as the Abbott/Turnbull government promotes its Direct Action scam, it will not reduce emissions with its current policies or its current mindset.  Although Hunt crows about having ‘reached our target’, our carbon emissions have been on the increase since 2013.

Other countries know the truth.  Since its scare campaign on what it wrongly called ‘a carbon tax’, helped win it power the Abbott/Turnbull government has done everything it can to stymie any initiatives to curb global warming.

It attacks renewable energy. It is in bed with coal. It supports the Queensland’s Coordinator-general’s plans to extinguish native title, against the wishes of traditional owners, over a leasehold property held by Adani, to allow the international mining company to build infrastructure for its $16 billion Carmichael coal mine.

Vast coal mines such as Adani’s have been approved; climate change agencies have been defunded or rigged. The LNP government subsidises coal miners $4 billion a year and proposes laws restricting green groups’ legal standing to challenge mining approvals and other developments. It has so successfully spread lies about global warming and our role in fixing it that it has lulled much of its population, into complacency.

Secure within the deep pockets of the coal industry, Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has led the charge. The coal lobby’s gift to climate politics, Hunt has the hide of a hippopotamus. And its plan of attack.  Even for a politician, he is oblivious to criticism and inured to any vestigial promptings of conscience. He is above all that, he lets us know. His delusions of grandeur rival Turnbull’s.

Only Hunt could boast of meeting our 1979 Kyoto agreement, famously described by Labor’s Duncan Kerr, then environment spokesman, as ‘a three inch putt’. Australia was allowed to increase its pollution by 8% while requiring everyone else but Russia to reduce pollution by 8%.

On top of this ‘The Australia Clause’, allowed us to include carbon emissions from land clearing.  Only Hunt, moreover, could overlook the fact that Australia’s tactics, and the “victory” they delivered, generated resentment around the world.

We are one of the few countries in the world to have met and beaten our first round of Kyoto targets and to be on track to meet and beat our second round of Kyoto targets.

When not claiming credit where none is due, Hunt is coy about how his Direct Action safeguard mechanisms will work. He refuses to explain. Almost as arrogant and patronising as his boss, Hunt’s style is to simply dismiss all criticism. Who better to negotiate climate change agreements and safeguard our future – in the same way that Abbott was perfect as Minister for Women?

The Incredible Hunt will say whatever he likes; do whatever it takes. Asked about funding his Emissions Reduction Fund beyond the forward estimates, Hunt claimed incredibly that its cost per tonne of emissions saved was about a hundredth that of the carbon tax, absurdly inflating the figure; neglecting to factor in the revenue obtained from a carbon price’s levy on pollution.

Hunt’s boasts include claiming that the world is beating a path to our door to copy Direct Action, an experimental, expensive, government subsidy to businesses and farmers to voluntarily clean up their act. He knows no-one asks him to name one. The UN, on the other hand, can name 36 who think it’s a con. 36 nations tabled some ‘please explains’ recently, including Direct Action’s huge cost.

The Coalition’s policy would see Australia’s emissions rise about 9 per cent by 2020. To achieve their promised range of 2020 carbon cuts of 5 to 25 per cent below 2000 levels, the Coalition would need to spend at least an extra $4 billion to $15 billion by 2020.” – John Connor, The Climate Institute.

Unaffordable, Direct Action is fluffy; unworkable. Big polluters can stay outside the scheme and agree to soft ‘safeguards’, targets based on their greatest releases of GHGs into the atmosphere. ‘It’s like setting a limbo bar at two metres’, says Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper.  It’s also how we set our national target. Reducing our carbon emissions? We are there already with the help of a neat accounting trick.

‘We’ll be able to say that we’ve already met our target,’ boasts Hunt as if curbing CO2 were some kind of game it’s smart to cheat at. As if his audience is stupid. Australia may well be 28m tonnes of greenhouse abatement ahead of what it needs to reach the target of a 5% reduction by 2020 based on 2000 levels but it has absolutely no cause for self-congratulation. On the contrary, it has a lot of explaining to do. Why so low? How does it propose to achieve any target?

Since election, the LNP has dismantled climate initiatives; attacked emission reduction mechanisms. It has returned entitlements to big polluters to pollute for free, while taxpayers must now pay the cost of reducing emissions. It has cut climate and clean energy programs and independent agencies.

Given his party’s hostility and his own compromised position, what can Turnbull offer to any UN conference to foster collective action on global climate change? His party aims to obstruct, discredit, disband, defund or wind up all whose work might help to reduce Australia’s contribution to global warming.  Unable to axe the Climate Change Authority, for example, it is now stacking its membership with LNP supporters and climate change opponents.

These include Kate Carnell who has accused clean energy investments of ‘destroying jobs’ rather than creating new ones, a key plank in the coal industry’s hugely successful propaganda platform which has manipulated the national debate into a choice between clean energy and prosperity.

Now the government must flaunt its duplicity in Paris. Nick Feik, editor of The Monthly says, it will set a 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target at the UN convention despite having ‘undermined every possible mechanism for reaching it.’

Australia will brag about reaching its reductions target while it is actually increasing its greenhouse gas emissions. It will also, according to Hunt, seek permission to use the same accountancy trick; to ‘carry forward’ the bonus obtained in Kyoto, a credit which has helped it to fake its current achievement.

Coalition policy on climate change has been a catastrophic cop-out and a colossal cock up. By scrapping Labor’s price on carbon and its low emissions target, the Abbott/Turnbull government has actually helped Australia to increase its output of greenhouse gases 6% over the next five years based on today’s figures.  Does it believe other nations at the Paris Convention will not notice?

Pitt & Sherry’s CEDEX analysis, shows emissions from Australia’s coal power stations have risen steadily since the end of the carbon tax in June 2014 and are now at their highest level since early 2013. Last year, emissions in the power sector grew by more than they have in a decade, wiping out all gains made by deploying the carbon tax.

Yet Hunt has no interest in the bigger picture; he is there to crow about meeting a target set so low it virtually met itself when it was set in 1979. A slowing economy and other factors independent of government policy have also helped. So, too the figure we had to beat kept shrinking. Total pollution estimates got progressively lower as calculations improved. None of this, however, prevents Hunt from taking credit for all carbon emission reductions. For him it is all about winning the game.

Not, for Hunt, or the new Turnbull, does it matter that our target is too low to contribute to other nations’ efforts to restrict global warming to 2 degrees. Not that we have met our target only by using an accounting trick to carry over credit for curbing emissions we haven’t earnt.  Not that we owe it to humanity to do our full share if not more, in trying to halt global warming.

None of this enters the calculations of the Environment Minister or his government. The LNP game plan is to do as little as it can get away with while trumpeting that it’s meeting targets. Its behaviour is a hideous travesty of commitment to international cooperation. The overweening man-child Hunt’s sense of self, his world, consists of winning cheap debating points based on statistical manipulation at the expense of any larger responsibility or respect for his audience.  He will disgrace us again in Paris. 36 questions already lodged by UN members in April, show many suspect a hoax.

‘1990 is an internationally common choice for base year of 2020 targets, but Australia choose 2000 instead,’ said a question from China. ‘Australia further indicated that the 15 per cent and 25 per cent conditional targets are based on the level of international action, especially from advanced economies … This ambition level is far below the requirement that Australia set out for advanced economies. Please clarify the fairness of such requirements.’

Apart from it not playing fair, scientists warn that Australia’s target is a Clayton’s target. It is too low to enable Australia to make any ‘credible’ contribution to reducing global warming, says the Climate Change Authority, a body the coalition would have abolished had it not been blocked by the Senate. It is a hoax. Australia’s carbon emissions are once again increasing. Energy and emissions analyst, Reputex, forecasts Australia’s actual emissions to increase by 6 per cent by 2020 on today’s figures.

Today, however, the Environment Minister relishes the prospect of wasting everyone’s time at the UN Climate Change Convention. His form of words will allow him to pretend that Australia is doing its bit for humanity despite the reality that under his government, emissions have increased after it scrapped Labor’s ‘great big new tax on everything’.

Yet taxpayers will have to pay the 2.2 billion allocated to his Direct Action a scheme to subsidise landowners and landfill managers. Taxpayers will also have to find the 6 billion foregone as a result of scrapping carbon pricing.  The world will have to bear the impact of Australia once more increasing its carbon emissions as power generators pollute freely and targets are contemptibly low.

Meet our targets? Unfortunately for all of us, his Paris audience will see Hunt’s claim for what it is: a cheap confidence trick from a shonky salesman for the coal industry.  Whatever feeble emissions target the incredible Hunt may have confected and ‘met’, it will not disguise how the LNP government continues to turn its back on the environment and its responsibilities as a global citizen to keep its backers happy and for short term, political gain.

 

 

 

 

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No. It’s Super Mal!

turnbull alighting from plane

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No but look out below!  It’s Super Mal, the man of tomorrow. Faster than a speeding spill ballot, more powerful than a runaway train of thought, the supersonic ‘small l Liberal’ super hero and man of Chinese steel rockets into the stratosphere, unlike the plummeting spot price for iron ore and other commodities we, poor sods, have yoked our futures to, courtesy of the myopia of his post-modern political class and its minders.

The lofty, big-noting Mal is in his element. From on high this week he eagerly anticipates captive audiences everywhere while he mediates god-like between heaven and earth. And the twitterverse. Back and forth he flies, much like his government’s yes-but-no policy on Chinese investment in Australian real estate, or its stop- start-stop on renewable energy or its two faced environmentalism or its hypocrisy over calling corporate tax evaders to heel.

Federal environmental policy is not so much conflicted but exposed as a sham when it comes to protecting Great Barrier Reef. Legislation enacted November 12 restricts sea dumping and port expansion in the Reef heritage area. Yet days later, the government welcomes the expansion of the coal seam gas (CSG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) industries.

It is as if these operations will have no long-term adverse impact on climate change and on the reef’s survival. Equally, Environment Minister Hunt fails to factor the impact of burning its coal into his granting permission for Adani’s Carmichael mine. We have to go on using fossil fuels, the PM reminds us, ‘they are part of energy mix’ as he tries to jawbone the myth of clean coal into reality.

Similarly we must go on helping our billionaires to keep their tax affairs secret. Their pockets are so deep that both sides of politics fit snugly inside them. So keen is our ‘tax reform conversation’ government on helping billionaires and multinationals hide their true worth and any other information that would help ensure Morrison’s ‘fairer tax system’ that it kills its own bill which would have required multinationals to file financial statements and made more transparent their dealings.

Exposing their true worth would bring real danger of kidnapping, it was said, not that it would enable them to pay their fair share or as Turnbull puts it ‘give back’. Of course the bill went.

Safe from kidnapping, billionaire Mal trips the light fantastical modern world political stage, flexing his ego, wearing his need to be liked like an emoji love heart on his sleeve. Terrorists disrupt and displace the neo-connerie on the agenda at the G20 in Antalya Turkey, replacing it with windy rhetoric about security, a sudden change which adds to his lack of ease. It doesn’t matter that 30,000 have been employed just to make sure the venue is secure.

Turnbull observes other new boys manage their first-day nerves. Trudeau the hot new Canadian PM, enters every room with a wave of acknowledgement, never checking for fans first.

Yet Mal gets a good trot at home. Reporters fawn, complains Gerard Henderson on ABC Insiders who must have his customary dry right whine about our lazy, biased press and their cohorts of left-leaning luvvies. He calls Peter Dutton to get the latest on the ABC-Fairfax jihad, the immigration minister warns us about. The truth is a leftie conspiracy.

Fawning doesn’t last, of course. Like Julie Bishop, Wyatt Roy and the rest of the PM’s future fawning claque, it is based in fakery and fashion-mongering. Endlessly looking for true love is a tiring, bruising and ultimately fruitless quest but no-one has ever told Mal you can’t win them all over. Nor has anyone told him to go play with his Lego and be quiet, either.

Mal’s love affair with the sound of his own voice comes to the fore on tour. Mal needs to blow his bags, harangue or ear-bash even more than the average politician. Quite a bit more. Buttoned down DFAT staff look edgily at one another at touchdowns. Who knows what he will say or do?

The terrorist attacks in Paris and subsequently in Mali effectively hijack much of his planned talking points yet provide an opportunity for Turnbull to differentiate himself from his ‘destroy the evil death cult approach of his warmongering predecessor.

“Plainly, when you look at Daesh or ISIL, its base is a Sunni population that has felt disenfranchised or oppressed in Syria, and with very good reason, and also has felt left out of the new government in Iraq,” he says, preferring a political solution, a stance which mirrors Obama’s thinking at the time which is to say the President will soon give way to those urging armed invasion.

So far, despite all opportunities and expectations, ‘Zelig’ the human chameleon, Turnbull has not revised his position on what is widely called ‘the war on terror.’ We are in dangerous times for subtle, nuanced or profound understanding. Armies of knee-jerks approach on all quarters. And a Turnbull talk-about could happen at any moment.

The PM is notorious for his urge to improvise a public speech out of the blue, anywhere, any time. Bugger the  DFAT itinerary, he can spot an open microphone from ten thousand feet. His eye in the sky, his minder, the lynx-eyed Lucy wills Mal to just shut up.  He won’t, of course. It’s who he is.

‘It’s never been a more exciting time to be alive.’ Big Mal bravely embraces a risky theme in a world awash with news of terror strikes, suicide bombings and the profound and abiding horror of the slaughter of innocents. ‘Never a more exciting time to do anything’, gushes our 21st Century Candide, in a monomaniacal rapture over how we live in the best of all possible worlds. He bores audiences into submission with another stump speech replay.

The words ‘excitement’, ‘agility’ and ‘disruption’, the jargon of the merchants of change tumble from his lips wherever he goes, remarkably from a man who professes to abominate slogans.  Apart from talking sense on Syria, each stop of his journey further confirms Turnbull’s status as master of the breathless yet meaningless platitude, the cliché rhapsody.

‘The Asia Pacific region is the most dynamic in the world,’ he flatters wary Asian business and political types and travelling cliché weary hacks and other hangers-on. They look back, eyes as bright as bicycle lamps and with every dynamo whirring. It makes a change at least from his predecessor’s habit of conferring instant bestie status on every national leader he met.

‘Turners’ is clearly sleep-deprived. He may even be hallucinating. He denies that Darwin is used by our navy, a picayune mistake which causes friction between the PM and Obama, a complication he or his staff ought to have noticed before selling the port to the Chinese. DFAT was probably too busy with its innovation hackathon to notice or care. Gossip about Port Melville being prepared for US military use grows.

Lucy Turnbull endures, without indulging her husband, in her constant monitoring of his public persona. Her guard is always up lest a darker, deeper part of Mal surface to bite off his hosts’ and all their minions heads. She has met the enemy and it is not ISIS. She frets when the PM works for 36 hours straight. What is he thinking? When Mal gets tired he gets testy.

Madly impressing John Key, Mark Kenny and ‘Barry’ (only to his mates) Obama, Mal the Mouth from the South Pacific puts himself about shamelessly. Obama flirts back with a joke, about how no-one speaks to the Kiwis but after the Christmas Island riots and with a boom mike on, Turnbull, is clearly stumped for a funny comeback. Perhaps it’s the jet lag and the lack of sleep. Key is a role model, he says. Dead pan. Obama aides crack up. It becomes the lead story on New Zealand news.

The land of the long white shroud is ecstatic. New Zealand has been noticed for being ignored. It’s one up from being rubbished by Australia. John Key, naturally, laps up all compliments and milks this for all it’s worth in a big-noting comment in which knocks news of a tourist helicopter fatality and high winds in the North Island off the top two spots in The New Zealand Herald’s ‘Most Popular’ column.

Taking time out from accusing the opposition of supporting murderers and rapists for suggesting deported Kiwis have rights, a line which Dutton also runs up the flagpole, Key is a happy little satellite of love.

‘I’ve been around President Obama for a long period of time and I think he is a really good genuine guy, and I think the friendship we have got is genuine so it would be disappointing if he didn’t say that but it’s very nice that he has.’

Just like Key, the power junkie in Turnbull also gets a buzz out of just being around the most powerful man in the world but Mal’s magical mystery tour involves more than this. Woody Allen says 90% of success is just showing up. Turnbull must put in a show; keep up appearances, even if he must spruik his earnestly unoriginal, preppy 21st century carpe diem vibe.

Turnbull, a Mal-come-lately, is yet an arriviste, a parvenu atop the Down Under political dunghill and he well knows it. His purchase is still precarious despite the fawning opinion polls which ask the wrong people the wrong questions and perpetuate the myth that he’s some kind of popularly elected president. He must answer to his party’s mongrel expectations.

As assiduously as he greased the slippery pole to the top with promises to run backwards on climate change and other 21st century hot-button realities to woo the wary red-neck rump of his party, Turnbull’s whirlwind tour is ultimately a shameless self-promotion. He will caress, cuddle and kiss as many world leaders as he decently can, before they all give him the cold shoulder over coal at the COP21 Climate change talks in Paris.

Mal’s speed-dating barn-storming charm offensive is partly a pre-emptive strike at critics both at home and abroad. He must continue to swat away domestic bot-flies such as Tony Abbott who has reverted to typeface in the one thing he is half-way good at, tabloid, gonzo, boots on the ground anti-terror, fear-mongering journalism. He contradicts his PM’s foreign policy from the Daily Telegraph, a sniping at his leader only Gerard Henderson can defend. It is also a challenge to Turnbull’s power that will not be solved with another bull session on team work.

In what is widely reported as a ‘slap-down’, the PM reminds the incredible budgie smuggling Hulk and the rest of the nation that a political settlement in Syria is better to aim towards than another abortive invasion no-one can afford and which will help ISIS recruiting propaganda.  Let the US go hard on invasion, our inveterate ‘future embracing’ evangelist urges audiences worldwide to ‘seize the day’ not choke the living daylights out of anyone ungrateful for colonisation or western multi-national exploitation.  In the meantime he is content to help Greg Hunt to bugger our tomorrow.

Hunt and Brandis continue their ‘lawfare’ jihad by defunding environmental groups while Coalition senators vote against continuing the legal rights of environmentalists to challenge the minister’s development approvals. Siding with the minority of submissions, the Environment and Communications Committee votes to go ahead with the repeal of laws which allow environmental groups to mount legal challenges to government-approved development projects.

Some countries, he knows, will howl us down for this. They already hate our Direct Action scam which pays people to plant trees and manage landfill but does nothing to curb big polluters even if it does keep the LNP’s mining industry backers on side. Let them remain benighted in their ‘ruling in, ruling out’ ways of yesterday. They just haven’t got the vibe.

There are many ways of dealing with climate change, he says smugly, it’s just that ours happens to be totally untried and unworkable, a complete con. We continue to do everything we can to appease the coal industry. It’s who we are.  OK we may worship the top end of town a teensy bit but our idolatry of those who push us around just makes us and our inane twaddle about our freedoms and the free market so fashionably retro.

Knowing that he may well be told to shut his coal hole, especially over the need for clean coal to ‘be in the energy mix’, our agile PM is buddying up with every pal available before Environment Minister Hunt’s bullshit hits the fan. Wisely, he backs out of a climate change stand-off with the US and Japan, agreeing to cut funding for dirty coal-fired electricity by billions of dollars a year.

Turnbull’s charm offensive seems to be working. He scores a return invitation to visit the Obamas early next year and a bromance blossoms with Fairfax’s Mark Kenny who observes with mounting excitement how the PM embraces change. Even the Kiwi leader has his socks knocked off.

‘He’s a bolter’, beams a nimble John Key, New Zealand PM and fellow multi-millionaire whose own Olympic agility in the back flip has kept him in power for three consecutive terms.  No slouch himself, Key gets straight to the heart of the matter. ‘I reckon he’s there for a long time.’

Key rushes his ‘Unwelcome Home Bro’ law through the Beehive, New Zealand’s humdinger unicameral parliament. The legislation has civil libertarians and human rights activists up in arms.  It mirrors Donald Trump’s call for a database of all US Muslims to be set up to track their movements.

Key’s new law follows his failure to sweet-talk Australia out of repatriating Kiwi troublemakers. Instead, Dutton’s deportees will be met at the airport by a team of NZ police, corrections officers and social welfare agency workers to have their fingerprints and DNA samples taken. The deportees, many of whom have grown up in Australia, and all of whom have served their sentences, will effectively all be put on parole; punished twice for the one offence; made to carry the stigma of being second-rate citizens all their lives.

Deportees are reject Kiwi migrants. Some are former jail birds who fail Peter Dutton’s ‘character test’, but many are not his stereotypical murderers or rapists and have achieved his beloved ‘convicted criminal’ status for minor offences. Yet all are levelled by the democratic deportation process. A knock on the door in the night leads to their finding themselves on a plane bound for Auckland via Christmas Island as if in the CIA’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ of political prisoners.

Asylum seekers are not on the agenda of Turnbull’s meeting with Joko Widodo, an arrangement which spares both parties the tedious repetition of LNP policy on how important it is to be tough on asylum seekers because it prevents drowning, an absurd, indefeasible and palpably false position. It is also falsely held that the cruelty of offshore detention has stopped the boats. What has stopped is the reporting. Yet this was not the case on Christmas Island this week when one boat was a hundred metres off shore. Locals could see it and wanted to help.

Official reports of the arrival focus on the vessel and not its cargo of lives with their hopes, their fears, their human frailties. ‘A boat carrying asylum seekers was intercepted close to Christmas Island on Friday, the first to reach Australian waters since June 2014.’

‘The boat made it within 200m of Flying Fish Cove before it was boarded by Australian officials’, according to Island sources. Then it was towed back out to sea, allowing no test of sea-worthiness, in an act of callous inhumanity which shocks locals and puts the lie to all the rhetoric about saving lives. Yet no-one expects Turnbull to do more than follow his predecessor’s course.

The pole Turnbull climbed to become PM is greased with resentment for environmental regulation and prejudice against refugees and asylum-seekers. Turnbull is only too well aware he’d quickly slip down again if he halted the government’s war on green groups or the nation’s war on asylum seekers. Or is seen to go soft on anything the hard right want him to leave alone.

As his over-long oversharing whistle-stop self-promotion tour journey on the world stage continues, our PM looks increasingly trapped. He is caught between his own facile infatuation with the fashionably fluffy rhetoric of the futurists and the demands of the hard right to keep everything the same as under Tony.

He is caught between his need to cut a dash on the world stage and the need to settle his authority at home. No longer will success on the world stage automatically win him points at home. Or strengthen his authority. He needs at the very least to remind his predecessor that he is bound by the party like any other member.

 

Kitchen Cabinet keeps us in our places whatever may be on the table.

albo and pyne thumbs up in KC

 

Annabel Crabb’s Kitchen Cabinet is a voyeur’s delight which starts with a saucy two course proposition. I’ll show you my dessert if you show me your ‘mains’. The intimate exchange of menus, the home swum yabbie and the odd bottle of Chateau Plonker is the entrée to a behind the scenes expose of rich white men (mostly) of our political class who have built careers on manufacturing and maintaining their public images; men who have had their off duty switches surgically removed at birth. Camera or no camera they are constantly, forever starring in their own shows, while we are kept in our places.

Most MPs are born performance artists and many overachieve assiduously in creating and presenting selves spun entirely from their own bullshit. Some like Pyne are all gong and no dinner; all mouth and no trousers. But modern politics became just another branch of show business long ago.

Still Crabb’s little show sticks to its shtick; its promise that something, if not anything profound or noteworthy, will be revealed in the mix as MPs do a twirl with a wooden spoon or whisk a bit of froth about.  Cue earnest, direct questions from Annabel. She catches a new Nova as the hard mother slaps down her daughter’s malingering as she paddles the damper.

Of course some MPs are just not up to it. Albo and Pyne faff around like men who have just discovered the existence of the apron until someone competent takes the work off them.

Crabb says the show aims to humanise politicians. Now that would be an achievement. Instead it is more PR for pollies, an attention seeking species for whom too much exposure is never enough. Especially when there’s image rehabilitation to do. Morrison the monster of Manus Island, the most loathed minister ever is quick to seize the day even if the best he can manage is to faff about with lies about needing to act tough to deter people smugglers. Crabb should play him a clip of his bullying of Gillian Triggs.

While it takes the lid off to reveal what’s cooking in the pollie’s pot, Kitchen Cabinet embraces gender stereotypes and supports the patriarchy of the rich white narcissist, born to reign over us, while the rest of us in the under classes drool and dream on, our voices unheard, our needs ignored, our noses pressed to the sweetshop kitchen  window.

Penny Wong’s appearance, it is true, broke the unadulterated run of blokes while former Hockeyroo Nova Peris added a piquant dash of her own dream time nightmare as she related acts of her own and her mother’s tough motherly love with a good Magpie Goose plucking thrown in to level any of her ABC hostess’s vegetarian pretensions.

Crabb expresses amazement at hearing that Peris experiences more racism at home than anywhere abroad. Cue the quick cut to the bush baklava with rosella jam. The script is under strict instruction to keep it fluffy.

A privileged sneaky peek into the knives of the rich and famous for the nosy parker and the name-dropping social climber in all of us, the show, nevertheless crosses all sorts of boundaries. And it’s such an easy meal, all pre-packaged, no-fuss, instant mutual appreciation. Just sprinkle with wittering superficial pleasantries and banalities.

‘Soo interesting, Scott’, whether it is chopping, stirring or chewing and talking at the same time, Annabel models that faux politeness where one simply must not give offence.  Or expect one’s guests to feel anything but comfortable. Some of us would like the former Border Patrol heavy to report to The Hague to answer for his abuse of human rights. Crabb is happy to keep it down to a story of no soap, no towel in the hotel room on the Island of Serendip.

So you were in Sri Lanka and they gave you less than full room service? So convenient. No mention is made of the turned around asylum seekers washing up, delivered back to their persecutors in bright orange fibreglass Australian return to sender capsules on Sri Lankan shores. Don’t bring a thing. No mess. No-one even has to do any washing up.

Of course it’s far more. For starters, it’s an enchanted beanfeast. Effortlessly, instantly, we cross an impossible threshold; trespassing freely, swapping any guilt or sense of intrusion for the vicarious pleasures of watching. A magic window swallows us up, devours us whole with an illusion of intimacy and belonging in a world just like our own but with a better class of condiment and brand of cutlery.

KC enables us to imagine, fondly, for twenty-nine minutes that we have every right to be where we don’t belong. We make believe we have a standing invitation, always welcome to join Annabel’s kitchen table of powerful friends. Except that we are not and never will be welcome. Kitchen cabinet peddles the preposterous and transparent lie that we are welcome at our masters’ table.

In reality, Kitchen Cabinet re-enacts our exclusion from power and privilege. For all our vicarious enjoyment of the faux intimacy, we are being given the bum’s rush. The Brits have perfected this in their marketing of their royal family as somehow essential to the social picnic despite the royal ‘firm’s’ vast wealth, its parasitic entitlement and its history of predation and dispossession.

We are conned into believing we have every right to be in Annabel’s kitchen. After all, the camera persuades us, Annabel is on intimate terms with all the high and mighty. Of course they act human. They let her rub in the lard a bit about their poor scone skills or their kitchen gaucherie and fess up about some part of their own innate human silliness.

Does one tie an apron at the back or around one’s embonpoint? Albo wonders, a boofhead when it comes to apron strings but engaging us all with his disarming lack of kitchen smarts; his crafty lack of guile.

We are permitted to indulge our fantasies about being powerful or interesting or famous or even on a level peg with the famous pollie for thirty minutes. The illusionist sets out with a clean napkin over her granny basket and leads us up the garden path in another episode of the same fantastical fairy tale, the greet and eat.

KC co-opts its viewers into the rarefied world of the political class pretending to be normal; posing as perfectly ordinary people. It is not too far down the kitchen passage way to imagine they are one of us. And vice versa. We recall the mansion we inherited along with Mal as he shows us what his father left him. Of course he does it in that well-bred off-hand way favoured by the filthy rich indicates.

A mistress-piece of illusion, Ms Crabbette’s feast purveys the outrageous lie that behind the bastard in front of the camera is a loveable and harmless one of us. It is as preposterous a lie as the proffered image of a cute and fluffy Morrison or a wise and witty Pyne.

Along with the twaddle of the fat-free low carb lo-cal dialogue KC serves up a recipe that does vastly more to sustain our political classes’ privileged places at the table than it does to appease the hunger of the rest of us for a fairer share of the national pie. This is not to have a go at Annabel who does what she does well. Just let’s not be confused about what it is she’s serving us along with her self-saucing pudding.

crabb looking meaningful

Terror in Paris, the work of the devil or a reflection of something worse?

not afraid


In January an army of Islamic extremists razed the northern Nigerian village of Baga, killing as many as 2,000 people – mostly women and children who were unable to flee the attacks. The incident was not reported widely in the popular western press. No collective international outrage was confected. Instead news of the atrocity quietly, quickly, disappeared into the obscenity of our indifference. The media’s failure to even bear witness to the tragedy in Nigeria casts into sharp relief its hysterical obsession with the recent Paris terror attacks.

News of the attacks is quickly swamped by a tsunami of interviews with survivors, experts, authorities and other talking heads. Vengeance upstages understanding; eclipsed is the light of reason, our human need to make best sense of events. Of course it is all too much to take in. Our point of view is hotly contested. Scapegoats block the view-finder. As does the grand dame herself. Paris, the city of light is a formidable celebrity in her own right.

For Francois Hollande, it is self-evident that the attacks were ‘committed by a terrorist army, the Islamic State group, a jihadist army, against France, against the values that we defend everywhere in the world, against what we are: a free country that means something to the whole planet.’ No evidence is required but, remarkably a Syrian passport turns up. It is a fake.

The forged Syrian passport found near a terrorist’s body gulls the Daily Telegraph into saluting Tony Abbott for his prophetic warning as the Murdoch newspaper continues its own campaign against refugees and asylum seekers.

‘Former PM Tony Abbott warned IS terrorists are hiding in a flood of refugees.’ The Tele knows how keen its readers are to find evidence to suit their prejudices. It can’t stop to see if the evidence is real; it has a duty to its readers to be speedy. Besides it’s a free kick for Tony from the newspaper’s endless supply of Abbott-idolatry in its mission to serve even a dud conservative leader at the expense of the truth.

Political types fall over each other with chest-beating promises to ‘bring the culprits to justice’. Francois Hollande makes threats of ‘pitiless’ reprisal. Or ‘Merciless’, depending on your journal du jour. Military types urge leaders to put ‘boots on the ground’. An agile Malcolm Turnbull channels his godly inner crusader, decrying the attacks as ‘the work of the devil’ undertaken by ‘enemies of freedom’, his features display a public, pious outrage.

‘The home of freedom has been assaulted by terrorists determined to attack and suppress freedom not just in France but throughout the world,’ the Prime Minister says grandly, adroitly demonstrating that not only does he have the US narrative off pat, as a loyal, freedom-loving Francophile, the heart on his sleeve is bleeding.

‘This is an attack, as President Obama has said, on all humanity.’ Clearly no local factors must cloud his focus. Or his portrait of an ungodly global jihad that can only be met by force of arms and the upliftingly resolute public singing of La Marseillaise.

Before anyone knows who exactly is responsible, France has bombed a Syrian city. A massive ‘airstrike’ by French jets on an ISIS bastion in Raqqa is played up, feeding some primal, populist narrative of retaliation. Satisfying it is, indeed, it seems, to show the world that you can just go out and kick a few heads. All of which is exactly what ISIS wants to hear. It feeds their myth of persecution by a hostile, infidel, unjust West and boosts recruitment.

For Western allies and lackeys of the US, such as PM Turnbull, the nature of existence is to be engaged in a crusade, a religious war in the name of the freedom god, against an infernal foe.

‘Protecting Australians, protecting freedom, is a global struggle for freedom against those who seek to suppress it and seek to assert some form of religious tyranny. A threat in the name of God, that is truthfully the work of the devil.’

Nonsense is spouted about democracy itself being under attack; the city of Paris showing valour, resilience because that’s what democracies do. Ignored is the reality that the Parisian poor are a permanent underclass, who share a life of grinding deprivation and hopeless misery. The poor people of Paris are, moreover, part of the wretched 8.5 million French citizens who must eke out a bleak existence in grim poverty excluded by class, race and religion from any of the delights of the city of light or the grand promises of the revolution.  Marginalised, alienated, dispossessed, by a neocon corporate state they are a fertile recruiting ground for extremists offering some kind of hope.

Suffering and resentment are the birthright of fourteen percent of France’s population. Despite their President’s assertions, Liberty, equality and fraternity are an ironic, cruel joke to those who lack the resources to provide for their daily needs and who daily must battle prejudice and persecution just to survive.

In a recent survey into prejudices against the poor, seven out of 10 surveyed believed that it is easy to receive benefits, the survey found, yet the truth, as ATD Quart Monde points out, is that officials demand up to 100 documents for an application. 68 per cent of those eligible for the basic unemployment benefit do not receive it.

For all the posturing, however, for all the grandstanding and the indulgent backgrounders featuring ‘Paris on edge’, or citizens ‘being strong’, by bravely going out drinking together in spite of everything, we are no closer to knowing what is going on. Further still from understanding it. Everyone is happy this way. Easier to point the finger at outside agencies than to acknowledge that terror begins at home.

The  media will keep this choke-hold on us before serving up the ready-made facile interpretation and shallow analysis which best fits our prejudices, our brief attention spans, our impatience with complexity and depth. We won’t have to think too hard and we can pack up our critical faculties right away. They won’t be needed. They won’t be appropriate.

Questions abound. Why did seven men open fire on completely innocent civilians? Who were they acting for? Did French intelligence know but fail to act? Were they independent locals, as seems most likely or were they instructed by ISIS HQ as the popular press has already decided – with a little help from its friends? Yet what is modelled, what is packaged is a case for war that it is unpatriotic to inspect.

A former NATO Supreme allied commander admiral James Stavridis says ‘there will have to be boots on the ground in Syria to destroy ISIS.’ Just as there had to be boots on the ground to get Saddam Hussein out of the way so that Iraqis could ‘transition to democracy’. And what if our crusade succeeds in destroying ISIS? Whose boots will hit the ground to deal with the group that pops up in its place?

France’s swift reprisal on Raqqa is scripted by Western media eager to exploit our preference for simple narratives. It looks remarkably like the type of bombing it has been carrying out for a month now but you won’t hear ‘More of the same pointless, ineffectual bombing’ as the headline on the news. Despite 2500 sorties in the last month, our air attacks seem to be making very little impact on ISIS in Syria. Yet it’s cost the Pentagon $5 billion so far and counting.

The G20, it is reported, will be a rallying call for world leaders to denounce terrorism, another reassuring solution in search of a problem. ABC’s Barbara Miller gives us ‘a city on edge’ while another host chats with witnesses, bystanders and onlookers. An avalanche of ‘feel-bad’ popular media provides the moral outrage to suppress our critical faculties; to recruit us in the campaign against a radical group itself the by-product of our own rush to judgement in Iraq 2003.

Calling ISIS the ‘work of the devil’ downplays our own hand in its creation. When the West was on its last crusade in the Middle East Twelve years ago, we were easily manipulated into falling in with a US foreign policy itself serving the needs of big oil rather better than any other deity.   Crying havoc and letting loose the dogs of the media war urgers serves us ill as a civilised people who have as much right to the truth as to our own humanity.

Spare us the saturation bombardment of media stories, interviews and other products and packages. Just focus on reporting exactly what happened. All we need is the evidence. Let us make up our own minds about the all the rest. Or we are simply fighting one form of barbarism with another.

­

Malcolm Turnbull takes his show on the road.

turnbull and wodowi dance


After playing to rave reviews from local audiences, our innovative, one man show, ‘A Malcolm For All Seasons’, is touring Germany, Turkey, the Philippines and Malaysia via Jakarta where it is an overnight sensation.

No-one flings small change at Turnbull while shouting ‘here’s your Tsunami aid’; he appears neither to offend nor insult no-one although there is a tense moment when he and Jokowi remove their ties. The last time a local politician and his pal were reported getting their kit off in public, both he and his driver ended up in prison.

In February, Malaysia’s highest court upheld a five-year prison sentence for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on a sodomy charge thereby crushing any viable political opposition to its Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia since 1957.

Power still resides with the party’s chairperson, Megawati Soekarnoputri, as she reminded Jokowi publicly, in April, at his party’s congress. He owed his presidency to her support, she said, ignoring her own links with the military and neglecting Washington’s active support including helping discover unflattering things about his opponent during the election campaign. These matters aside, it’s a fair call.

‘It goes without saying that the president and vice president must toe the party line,’ says former president Megawati, daughter of Indonesia’s late founding president, Soekarno, publicly demonstrating once more her power over Widodo whose pre-election reputation for probity had earned him Mr Clean.

One of a tarnished Widodo’s first acts of office was to mount an assault on Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission, the KPK, dashing his supporters’ hopes. Mr Clean became Mr Weak. Praising the efforts of successive Indonesian governments to clean up corruption, Andrew Robb reckons they are now on top of it. Yet the police chief Widodo installed was one of those listed by the KPK for investigation.

DFAT secretary, Peter Varghese, goes one better, bravely claiming one of the ‘seminal developments of the past two decades is the success of Indonesia’s democracy’. Too many hackathons can destroy a man’s perception and judgement.

Protectionism is the current Indonesian line to toe in trade. Jokowi has been busily raising tariffs on more than a thousand items and looks around anxiously to see if Turnbull has brought Free Trade power ranger Andrew Robb with him. Next week? He laughs politely at Turnbull’s invitation to join the TPP. English cannot convey the subtlety of his refusal. In Bahasa Indonesia there are at least 12 ways to say ‘No’ and many ways to say ‘Yes, but I mean no’.

Indonesian has raised its import tariff on meat from 5 to 30% to protect local business. Turnbull wants a clear commitment on the live cattle trade which Indonesia is not prepared to give. Populist, protectionist Jokowi, who is riding a wave of disappointment in opinion polls, is hoping, at least, to absorb some of Turnbull’s fabled charisma. An official trails the profusely perspiring PM through the market with a roll of paper towels.

Trade Minister Robb will follow with a mob of around 400 hopefuls and hangers-on next week. Our largest trade delegation to Indonesia ever is not a Turnbull ‘innovation’ nor the result of any Wyatt Roy/Julie Bishop hackathon, but an onslaught originally scheduled for March. A postponement was thought prudent while Widodo had an Australian or two to execute. Whether these state-sanctioned killings improved the image of the president or his leadership, as he hoped, or not, imports continued to fall, despite his signal that a tough guy was in charge.

Indonesia’s imports last month totalled US$12.96 billion (S$17.7 billion), 17.4 per cent lower than the same month a year ago. Two-way trade between Indonesia and Australia was just $11.8 billion in 2014. New Zealand with a population of four million is our bigger trading partner. Even Andrew Robb admits that Australia has 360 businesses in Dubai yet only 200 in the whole of Indonesia. The ASEAN region has a population of 620 million and an economic output of US$2.5 trillion, yet it accounts for less than 5 per cent of Australia’s total outward foreign investment. Perhaps Turnbull can trade on his novelty. It’s a tactic which is still working at home.

Indonesians marvel at this suave ‘bule’ (white person) who favours Canali and Salvatore Ferragamo. How different he is to the closet yobbo and notoriously eager trouble-seeker Tony Abbott.  How couth, how handsome, how very agile. Unhappiness with Australia, however, still festers over Abbott’s high handed dismissal of phone bugging of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Indonesian diplomats see Turnbull as just a new head on the Abbott python.

Aggravating the strained relationship is Abbot’s asylum-seeker policy with its turn backs and its secrecy. It was a  bad idea of his to link tsunami relief aid to a plea for clemency for two Australian drug dealers. Turnbull’s new image may be refreshing but there remains a lot for the new Australian PM to put right.

Naturally, the Malco Jokowi show, subtitled ‘resetting the relationship’ is a huge success with the two craven self-publicists and attention-seekers who quickly establish a common bond based on both being businessmen and both being weak leaders doing the bidding of powerful right wing vested interests. Both know a bit about the local plantation timber industry. Both leaders have domestic economies heading for recession. Both have a lot of catching up to do. It is the first bilateral meeting of leaders of the two nations since the April executions of the Bali Nine duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Turnbull has a rich history of relationship building to draw upon in ‘re-setting Australia’s relationship with Indonesia’. ‘He’s a prick,’ says Nick Whitlam. His partnership with Whitlam ended badly as did his relationship with ‘Diamond Jim’ McClelland who sees Turnbull as a bowel motion. Deploying his more restrained bedside manner, Dr Brendan Nelson diagnosed a narcissistic personality disorder.

‘He says the most appalling things and can’t understand why people get upset. He has no empathy.’

He’s a turd,’ said former Labor senator Jim McClelland. ‘He’s easy to loathe, he’s a shit, he’d devour anyone for breakfast, he’s on the make, he’s cynical, he’s offensively smug …’

With such testimony on the public record backing him to the hilt, what could possibly go wrong for Turnbull? His wealth? Quickly the talk turns to how furniture tycoon millionaire Joko maintains his image as a humble man of the people, a theme to which an openly perspiring Turnbull warms immediately only to discover himself on his feet as his host sweeps him up in a ‘spontaneous blusukan’ which turns out to be a walkabout to a batik factory where adoring crowds go wild for a touch of  his outstretched hand. Blusukan is from the Javanese for getting into something messy.

‘Blusukan’ is the secret of my common touch, Mal, beams Jokowi. They are in the Tanah Abang Market, once a notorious hangout for criminals, not too far from the National Palace. A man is on hand to dab the Turnbull face with a paper towel made from pulped virgin rain forest.

Turnbull reprises his party piece, warbling about ‘exciting’ times prompted by innovation and technical disruption while a batik worker’s recent evidence in an enquiry into worker exploitation eloquently supplies some of the real context of doing business in Indonesia.

‘It takes four days to nglawong (wax) a piece of batik cloth,’ said Sukemi, a traditional artisan, adding that she received Rp 50,000 (US$3.50) a day as a seasoned worker in the industry. An established batik company, can sell the same piece of cloth for up to Rp 2 million.

As Sukemi’s evidence suggests, doing business with Indonesia will never be the plain sailing favoured by ‘big picture’ Prime Minister Turnbull or his Trade Minister Robb but will involve a lot of nitty gritty hard graft and local partnerships. Hobart boat builder Incat would like to supply ferries and patrol boats to help Widodo achieve his goal of building maritime infrastructure. It sees $500 million of opportunity. Yet the Indonesians are interested in the skill transfer which may be obtained from a joint production in Indonesia.

University of Indonesia (UI) International relations head, Makmur Keliat responds neatly to Turnbull’s agenda of economic ties, terrorism and undocumented migrants, by expressing his country’s main hope that together, the governments can come up with an international and ‘innovative’ mechanism for handling the heavy flow of asylum seekers.

‘No country can handle this issue alone. Australia should be willing to cooperate with Indonesia in this case, instead of letting it burden Indonesia alone.’

With a trade relationship bigger than the Indonesian, New Zealand is also bothered by our Border Protection and off-shoring practices. The riots on Christmas Island, Peter Dutton seeks to reassure us, are caused by ‘hardened criminals, murderers and rapists’. What the challenged Immigration Minister fails to add are that these ‘criminals’ have served their sentences but have refused to be deported to New Zealand. As Bronwyn Bishop says of ambassador Joe Hockey, Dutton does say some funny old things. Or so seems to be the view of his indulgent party.

The rest of Australia would like to know why it is such a good idea to lock those Kiwis refusing to be deported up with refugees. Dutton, naturally is not going to explain and ruin the business model of the deportee. Doubtless it is also an ‘On Christmas’ and an operational matter. Yet unless we are at war with New Zealand and we have forgotten to tell the Kiwis, our government ought to quickly deal with what threatens to be more than a blip in our trans-Tasman relationship. Already Dutton has helped to create a major diplomatic furore.

Peter Dutton and Eric Abetz join forces late in the week when it is clear that loyal Liberal Party deputy Julie Bishop was exchanging little more than emoji messages to Malcom Turnbull, a situation which leads to an effective question in the house from Tanya Plibersek.

‘It’s not just Labor saying Julie Bishop has questions to answer about her involvement in the stalking and bringing down of a prime minister,” she tells reporters. ‘Her own party are saying she has questions to answer, that it’s plain that she was up to her neck in the bringing down of Tony Abbott.’

In a touching show of bipartisan support for her historical record, the Labor Party obligingly reproduces evidence which has been deleted from the Foreign Minister’s website. Ms Bishop is forced to confirm her top adviser was at what she coyly calls a ‘drinks’ evening where the decision was made for Malcolm Turnbull to challenge for the leadership. While the public appears to have little appetite for this disclosure, it does reveal something of the tensions still part of the fabric of that fabled ‘broad church’ the Liberal Party, a term reserved to cover the inherent contradiction at its base between those who fight tooth and nail to keep things as they are if they can’t turn the clock back to the 1950s and those who are up for a bit of a change. Even if they are not prepared to commit themselves publicly to the nature of that change.

The week begins with reform monger, taxation ethicist and reformed former on-water terminator the totally revamped and made-over Annabel Crabb approved soft and cuddly Scott Morrison lecturing reporters on how important it is to get past ‘what has been for the last eight years, the time of gotcha politics and rule in and rule out’.

What this means precisely is anyone’s guess but let’s call it for now, at least, Turnbull’s 21st century agile, innovative, creative evasiveness. While Paris for good reason, may not prove the venue for the next round of climate change talks, the Australian delegation will be well-equipped by combining, as it does surely in its Treasurer, its Environment Minister and his Prime Minister, the new evasiveness with the old flip-flop. Commitment is so yesterday. Next thing you know, you are all tied up in accountability. Eternally keeping all our options on the table makes us a resilient and agile nation. Just don’t pin us down to anything. This is the message of the Turnbull Show on its world debut.

Higher taxes, higher spending all part of Turnbull government’s plan to look after the wealthy.

joko and malco

‘This government will deliver Australia’s economic future because only a Coalition government can. As Liberals and Nationals, sound economic management is in our DNA. We’ve done it before and we are doing it again.’

Tony Abbott National Press Club address 2 February 2015.


Every LNP government and its wealth-struck PM loves to brag endlessly that it is a ‘better economic manager’ which will always keep taxes lower than any Labor mob. Conservatives are born with an auditor’s pen in their mouths. They brag shamelessly about their mythic fiscal genius, or their capacity to make the nation’s fortune as they have single-handedly made their own. They venerate the wealthy and love to boast about ‘truly understanding business and finance’ and how it is in politics and life you take your chances and you talk them up.

Now with two legs of its race over and a late change of rider the Coalition is talking up its prospects of victory over the full distance, hinting at a ‘full term’ election, meaning one as late as possible next year. Suited by the longer journey, but with a novice jockey in the saddle the coalition is, nevertheless, daily, positively ‘Turnbullish’ about its prospects of victory.

The innovative and agile Mr Turnbull used the B word on Thursday to suck up to the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo. As former businessmen, they understand business. The economy, meanwhile, goes to the dogs. It doesn’t help that both Joko and Malcolm are essentially weak men, beholden to more powerful invisible, conservative factions. Even less helpful is our practice of dumping refugees on Indonesia in terms of providing a good foundation for renewing mutual trust and goodwill.

Foreign Minister Marsudi has been blunt, saying only that ‘Australia knows what its obligations are under the Refugee Convention’. She means that she doesn’t like the way we break them. Each party is determined, nevertheless, to get on famously with a trade relationship that is really quite insignificant in the wider scheme of the economies of either nation.

It pays to advertise, of course. You can’t fault self-promotion either. Like self-interest, at least you know it’s real. Yet increasingly, it seems, the nation is less accepting of LNP neo-conmen. A recent Essential Research polls, for example, shows that Australians are at last starting to challenge the myth after generations of torpid acceptance of deception. Disillusionment seems to be the one big legacy of Abbott and Hockey’s economic cocking-up.

Australians are not alone in their history of blind faith and misplaced confidence in conservatives, however. A naïve trust in the Tories to look after the money extends across the western world, despite all evidence showing that what Tories do best is look after their own money. Assiduously. Self-promotion and Tory self-congratulation come second equal.

The Coalition’s hoax was going to be exposed sooner or later. Reality can do that. Let it continue to claim ‘a mandate’ for ‘tax reform’ or ‘budget repair’ just because it won the last election. Everyone knows Labor made itself unelectable, with a bit of help from Rupert and the boys at the IPA. Coalition claims reflect no more than its own superiority complex and its fetishising of the economy. OK, also throw in for good measure, the LNP’s s compulsion for confecting history and its addiction to bluff and bluster or simply making stuff up.

Smirking is in LNP’s genes. Despite their assertions, which feature Peter Costello’s conceit that handling the economy is like driving a finely calibrated race car, the LNP in government has a cruder track record of high taxing and high spending with some very poor performances. As Costello himself told his former PM’s biographers, ‘the Howard treasurership was not a success in terms of interest rates and inflation’. Interest rates, in fact, reached a peak of 21% while inflation peaked at 12.5%. Yet you won’t find these achievements venerated by the Liberal National Party spin machine.

Propaganda, aside, the LNP’s actual historical record is dismal. When the times were good, it spent like a drunken sailor letting the good times roll with no thought of tomorrow.  PM John Howard had the good fortune to come to office at the same time as the resources boom yet he lacked the good sense to plan for its inevitable decline. Now the Abbott/Turnbull government faces terms of trade which are down 30%; reflecting revenue from resources which is down 50% from its peak in 2011.

John Howard was also spoilt by much lower household debt. Today high real estate prices have helped to push Australia’s household indebtedness to a whopping 134% of GDP; the highest in the world. Let LNP dries and diehards prattle all they like about cuts to services or as they call it ‘Budget repair’. Let them busy themselves preparing to levy higher taxes on every householder or as they call it ‘tax reform’.  Today there is a lot less to squeeze out of the old tea bag.

Howard and Costello sold off the farm to pay off debt. It was not cutting spending and raising taxes which enabled them to achieve a surplus, they sold government assets. Between 1996 and 2007, these sales brought in $72 billion which not only ‘paid down the debt’ as Costello liked to gloat, it wiped it out entirely with $16 billion left over.

Flooded by corporate tax income from the mining boom and the proceeds of government asset sales, Costello risked being awash with money. In the end the treasurer set up his Future Fund which absorbed some of the nation’s embarrassing excess liquidity. Ultimately it would fund public servants’ superannuation and of course provide Costello with ongoing employment post retirement from politics. Further bragging rights were guaranteed in taking credit for the performance of the blue chip fund, although New Zealand’s has done better. How the world has changed.

So far, however, the changed realities have not produced any adaptive behaviour even from the new, ‘agile and innovative 21st century’ Turnbull government. Blind panic and denial seize LNP politicians and advisers. Unable to make any adaptive changes to a new set of external realities, they retreat into their rhetoric. What better to crawl into than the old, now internationally discredited, basket trap of austerity measures?

Cut, cut, cut. Tax, tax, tax.  Does it work? Look at Greece. The key demonstrable effects of austerity measures are to depress economic activity and to help induce recession, yet this is where the Liberal brain is hard-wired. Cutting is an automatic reflex.  Like raising taxes.

Nowhere is this better seen than in Credlin, Abbott and Hockey’s autocratic decision to ‘defund’ schools and hospitals $80 billion over ten years in the May 2014 budget without notice or any pretence at consultation even within cabinet. Hardest hit will be pensioners, concession card holders and disability support pension recipients, who will be expected to pay more to access health care.

Every government job cut, moreover, cuts off the flow on. While 11000 public servants found themselves unemployed last year in the biggest annual reduction since the 1990s, their spending power was also taken out of the economy, spreading the suffering even wider.

Bugger the need to define the problem, it is time, Abbott and Hockey said, for ‘a national conversation about tax reform’, although what they had set their sights on was simply raising the GST. With the GST, it can be pretended that it is really the states who are adding thousands to the average Australian’s expenses in running a household. The Liberals love collecting any tax but my, how they love to collect from the poor!

John Howard presided over the highest taxing government in Australia’s history. In 2004-05 and 2005-06, the tax to GDP ratio reached a record high 24.2 per cent. Howard is the only PM ever to take the tax to GDP ratio over 23.5 per cent. He achieved this on seven different occasions.  Conversely, the only government to keep the ratio under 22% has been Labor, an achievement it repeated no fewer than ten times.

The record shows that the Coalition has been a high-taxing big spending government, especially under Tony Abbott’s mentor and predecessor, Howard, the ‘man of steel’ who duped us while he squandered three billion over eight years in a war to destroy Iraq’s fictional WMD; the PM whose ‘WorkChoices’ aimed to lower wages by individualising employment relations and thereby marginalise trade unions and industrial tribunals.

Howard’s mean and tricky regime was as fast and loose with the truth as his protégé, Abbott. He created the ‘babies over-board’ crisis to manipulate popular sentiment against asylum seekers. He set back race relations and the pursuit of an egalitarian society with his inability to apologise to indigenous people, claiming there ‘was nothing to say sorry for’. Costly as these failings have proved, however, they should not distract us from his profligacy. Howard was the last of the big spenders, whose public purse-strings were, indeed, ‘relaxed and comfortable’.

In 2008, an Australian Treasury study found that real government spending grew faster in the final four years of the Howard government than in any four-year period since the 1990s recession. In 2013 The IMF found that the most profligate government in Australia in a hundred years was the Howard Government.

Financial prudence is also missing from the historical ledger. John Howard squandered the proceeds of the mining boom buying votes for his singularly underwhelming, underperforming government, a government that languished for eleven years and nine months without creating one major economic initiative. Rather than quarantine the economy from the mining bubble, Howard used the proceeds to deliver personal income tax cuts.

Continuing its run of outs, in 2013 the coalition government with ‘economic management in its DNA’, elected Tony Abbott as PM, a politician who professed no real interest in economics and who showed even less understanding. Nevertheless all hands on deck stood by and watched as he arbitrarily cut funds to the states for health and education in his first Budget. His ‘captain’s call’ ensured funds were abruptly cut with no consultation and with no plan for alternative funding.

Now, while bad captain Abbott has been ditched overboard and the LNP is trialling the Great Gatsby as PM, it has done nothing to fix the economic mess it has created in its first two years. Huge stresses placed on the health system are resulting in major hospitals in Victoria for example unable to pay their bills. They must rely instead on Health department letters of guarantee to continue to operate on credit.

Internationally also, the coalition’s claims to economic wizardry are wearing embarrassingly thin. Joe Hockey’s Brisbane action plan was going to get world leaders to achieve growth of 2.1% just by pledging to do so.  It is not happening. The ‘global infrastructure hub’ he promoted as a peer pressure type of solution to low growth is also looking like a con job. After one year it is no more than a website and a business plan.

Conservatives love to lecture us on how the national economy is like a household budget, a comparison, akin to saying that an ATM is like a slot machine because you can put money into both.  Yet even according to their own set of precepts, they seem to have forgotten the duty of government to pay its bills.

What could have caused this public health oversight? Apart from hating Medicare and apart from wanting to push state premiers into agreeing to a hike in the GST, the LNP has been preoccupied with its main mission, the need to ensure that those with money are given every possible advantage to make more.

Now the Abbott government made the right noises at election time. It promised a return to budget surplus, cutting government debt and having a pro-business strategy in its economic policy management. None of these have been kept but there is still a slim chance that it may under Turnbull at least pass a law to allow big business to hide. Surely that counts.

Hiding your balance sheet helps you avoid tax and even the ATO has been keen for big businesses to reveal their financial dealings. It would boost tax revenue. In 2013, the ATO claimed that disclosure by companies with revenue of more than $100 million would ‘discourage large corporate tax entities from engaging in aggressive tax avoidance practices’.

The coalition, however, does not want to embarrass its wealthy mates, whatever it says about its love of tax reform, a phrase which is code for getting low income earners to pay more tax. Hence its beaut new law which it calls ‘Better Targeting the Income Tax Transparency Laws’.

Even as bills go it’s not much of a title but it beats ‘A law to help the rich pay less tax’. For this is what it is. It would come to the aid of up to 1000 of Australia’s biggest privately owned companies, including charity cases, James Packer, Gina Rinehart, Lindsay Fox and 7-Eleven owner Russ Withers, all of whom are in dire need of special extra help from Treasury just to buy their next cup of instant noodles. 

Lobby groups can take the uncertainty and the democracy out of Australian politics and the rich can be very resourceful when it comes to keeping what they have. Enter The Family Office Institute Australia. This lobby group impressed the socks off the Senate Committee.

The Family Office’s submission was quoted all over a Senate report which, incredibly, recommended the government shield privately owned companies with income over $100 million from increased transparency. You never know, you could be kidnapped if people knew how rich you were, explained former apprentice Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to the party room. Yet the Family Office institute has no members. Still it represents what the LNP wants to hear.

Joe always said he had a plan and it was working but he could never tell us what it was. Turnbull also has a plan even if his treasurer Scott Morrison can do nothing but rule nothing in or out. Make no mistake, he will cut taxes and impose a GST if he possibly can. You don’t need to explain your plan if you are an LNP government. Nor do you need a new one, despite your crafty posing and your pseudo concern for fairness. In the end it’s always the same plan.

For all its fetishising on increasing GST, and its obsession with ‘tax reform’ the Coalition will continue the LNP tradition of being a big taxing, big spending government which will do whatever it can to protect the top end of town at the expense of the average worker, the elderly, the poor and all other vulnerable members of society. It’s in their DNA.

A week in politics sees the Turnbull vibe wear thin while Hunt and others are put in dizzy spin.

Greg Hunt in shanghai


We will aim to do more’, a glad-handed Greg Hunt promises the world, having just begun the week by breaking his promise to Tiwi Islanders over Port Melville. ‘Port Oversight’ mysteriously popped up while no-one was looking with not even a nod or a wink at any environmental impact, let alone Environment Ministry permission. The facility will refuel up to 40 ships per week and endanger marine creatures in hitherto pristine waters but it’s all been sorted, thank you. Nothing to see here. Move along. The adults are in charge.

In May, ‘Bluster’ Hunt was up on his high horse, all set to track down the outlaws responsible : ‘if further action needs to be taken, we will take it without fear or favour, no matter where the blame lies’. This week, however, our Federal Environment Minister settles for just giving Port Melville a good rubber stamping. Then he’s off to China to set the rest of the world straight on energy and environmental management. Another week, another mask.

Another mission faces Hunt in global finance hub Shanghai, Tuesday. Our agile Lone Ranger turns keynote speaker at a ‘Future of Energy’ Summit. He spins his government’s ‘positive agenda’ to ‘harness energy innovation, support renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions’, leaving his audience gobsmacked, wondering which Australia he represents. Who is that masked man? Me Tonto.

‘A clean and healthy environment and a strong economy are not mutually exclusive,’ Hunt continues, calling an end to ‘lawfare’ and the demonising of environmental activists. Jaws drop. For two years his government had a coal-fired PM who ceaselessly argued precisely the opposite. At home, his party’s large right climate change denying rump shudders. The dries wet themselves. Brandis has to pour himself another brandy.

Turnbull is full of blandishments about coal being very much in the ‘energy mix’. Expect to learn that we will buy Adani a railway to the newly expanded port at Abbot Point out of the $5 billion northern Australia fund. Queensland has put billions into redeveloping the port despite having its ports only 65% utilised.

Adani coal mate, Hunt, promises the world we’ll cut our carbon emissions even further. Blind Freddy, however, can see we are not really reducing any at present, despite all of Hunt’s statistical nonsense. In his sales pitch for Direct Action, Hunt parades a breathtaking duplicity and an ignorance of simple mathematics. Our reality-defying, back-flipping Environment Minister, brags about Australia’s brilliance in carbon reduction; the genius of his plan.

And what a plan it is. Turnbull himself could not have put it better. ‘We will aim to do more’. Cue Bryan Brown as Hunt of the outback, who has now morphed into rugged bush poet in battered Akubra mustering brumbies in the rain. When the vision thing goes blurry, when your helmsman drops his oar, when your team won’t pull together, thank God someone knows the score. We will aim to do more, boys, we will aim to do more!

The nation looks to Hunt to save the day with his fearless future-embracing yet nuanced 21st century manifesto and universal, all-weather platform on everything. ‘We will aim to do more’. Adam Bandt and Richard Di Natale retort in Hunt’s case, less is more. In particular, reinstating a ‘carbon tax’ would add as much to the ‘budget bottom line’ as increasing or broadening the GST, while costing households less.

‘Do more?’ All triumphalism aside, ‘Chutzpah’ Hunt could hardly be doing less about carbon reduction. Doubtless this is why he has been let loose on the world stage to spruik Direct Action, a dodge in which government pays agile entrepreneurs to nimbly plant trees or manage landfill but does nothing to curb coal-fired power generators nor any other big polluter.

At least this government has a clear narrative, even if the main character is a worry and the plot has got whiskers on it. The Australian Industry Group calculates that to meet its target of a five per cent reduction on 2000 carbon emissions by 2020 through Direct Action will cost the government between $100 and $250 billion.

Even less credible are Hunt’s ‘safeguards’ which are riddles with loopholes such as allowing polluters to set their own very generous baseline on their highest levels over the last five years or higher if they make special application. In any event fines are only a last resort and are not envisaged as bringing in any revenue. But that’s not his narrative which has more of a western flavour.

Carbon baddies quake in their boots as Hunt rides tall in the saddle. He’ll bring rogue polluters to heel with ‘safeguards’, he says, but no-one, except Hunt, believes him. Those not persuaded include The Australian Industry Group, investment bank Citigroup and the Grattan Institute think tank. Perhaps they’ve seen the Tiwis.

Yet no persuasion may be needed. A lucky Hunt has been helped greatly by downward revisions in the target. Energy and carbon market analysts, RepuTex, now calculate that actual greenhouse gas reductions that have to be achieved by government policy could be just 50m tonnes. In a special deal with landfill operators, the government has been able to receive a free gift of 16 million tonnes of greenhouse emissions reductions.

What is beyond dispute is that $660 million of Hunt’s $2.5 billion budget has been gratefully pocketed so far by energy carpet-baggers and other new age entrepreneurs ‘seize very big opportunities’ as the new PM promised in his September coup. Many of those on the take, it is true, began their schemes under Labor; schemes that would have continued without Direct Action double-dipping. Or without our tax subsidies.

Equally as certain, moreover, is that the uptake of solar and wind energy, together with the slowing of the economy were masking an increase in carbon emissions since the removal of the carbon tax, a trend which has now reversed according to energy consultants Pitt and Sherry. But Hunt is up to paint a rosy picture and then take all credit. And some. He flaunts his innovative agility with an incredible back somersault on a high wire before 400 hard-nosed global investors, rent-seeking analysts at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference, in Shanghai.

It’s some back flip. Old Hunt did everything he could to abolish the national renewable energy agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation when Abbott was PM. New Hunt, the agile 21st century appropriator, now wants to show them off. He preens and parades them before his Shanghai audience like any proud foster parent. These bodies prove Australia ‘excels’ at climate change. ‘Seize the day’, the PM so rightly says – and anything else not nailed down.

Hunt, an environmental intellectual, according to George Brandis, is one of the poster boys and girls of a Turnbull revolution that is seizing the day all over the show. ‘Freedom Boy’, Tim Wilson, our commissioner of human rights holds a conference about religious freedom but fails to invite Aboriginal or Muslim representatives.  Julie Bishop spends $ 140 million on her trendy InnovationXchange which ticks all the boxes for agility and bean-bags. Beneath the PM’s borrowed robes, his posturing, his lofty rhetoric and his rounded vowels, is the hide of an old goanna. Compared with many of his ministers, however, he is but a babe in arms.

Penny Wong challenges Julie Bishop’s financial priorities. Having cut $11.3 billion from Foreign Aid, how can the emoji-speaking Foreign Minister blow $140 million on an InnovationXchange which has nothing to do with helping people in need overseas? Wong does not ask if Bjorn Lomborg, whom Bishop has shrewdly installed as one of the directors of her trendy exchange also commands a fee. Or Michael Bloomberg. ‘Weather vane’ Hunt strangely makes no mention in his keynote address of the climate change sceptic being on ‘team Turnbull’ but he’s keeping all his options on the table.

Not ruling anything in or ruling anything, a key strategy in Malcom Turnbull’s revolutionary, 21st century approach to agile government by keeping everything on the table is looking more and more like an avoidance of commitment.  The week is notable for its crush of hopeful rent-seekers such as BCA’s Catherine Livingstone who are all over the new PM in the hope he would lower company tax rates. ‘Nothing will stimulate innovation and growth more’, she claims, despite not a shred of evidence. Nothing would be gained, however, if every interest group got its wishes, should the government decide to lift the GST to 15% or expand its base.

What the government wants to do is to lift the GST and offer tax breaks but as Scott Morrison wastes our time repeating, he’s not saying that. Not when you can get others to do it for. National’s David Gillespie says he’s won over by New Zealand which has licked all its economic problems with 97% of goods incurring a GST at 15%. ‘They seem to be going from strength to strength in their economy’ he warbles wistfully again without a scrap of evidence. It’s Turnbull-shit, but that does not deter experts such as Livingstone from repeating the claim .

New Zealand is staring down the barrel of a recession after dairy export receipts from trade with China have fallen and given that, courtesy of El Nino it faces the worst summer drought for twenty years. The elephant in the room, however, is not so much the deluge of misinformation that pours forth from coalition MPs and their media minions and business backers. The elephant is a former captain’s call to cut billions in health and education.

States have been corralled into contemplating a GST hike because Tony Abbott made massive cuts to health and education. It was a captain’s call, done without consulting the states and without any thought given as to how the states would find the $57bn for hospitals and $28bn for schools slashed in his 2014 budget. This fact should at the very least be the table’s centrepiece if everything is truly on the table, a table which is about to collapse under the weight of the spread it carries and the dead weight of an ever-increasing deficit.

On Friday, the RBA downgrades its growth estimate to 2.25% for the current fiscal year.  This could blow out the deficit by a further $11 billion. Scott Morrison clings to his claim that we have an expenditure problem and not a revenue problem. He continues to maintain that any increase in the GST would not be used to boost the overall tax intake. The truth is that the coalition budget is based on some unreal expectations of economic growth and although it has abandoned its ‘credible path to surplus slogan’, its calculations are clearly seriously awry. And it shows.

Of course, a slowing economy with serious structural flaws should not worry us unduly when we have a PM such as Malcolm Turnbull for whom boxes were invented to think outside of. The secret, as he told Melbourne University Vice-Chancellor, Glynn Davies, whom he labelled ‘defeatist’ for not being Turnbullish about commercialising university research. Davies, who rightly observed that our economy does not include the big corporations to invest in R&D. For the PM, this was missing ‘the vibe. You haven’t got the new ­zeitgeist — that is to believe in yourself, have a go’. To the rest of us Davies was simply being realistic; practical.

Turnbull’s own cabinet may be missing the vibe, also. Or just getting it hopelessly wrong as does our treasurer who is out dog whistling for a GST hike to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.  ‘I say, we have got a tax system that is penalising people who are out there making a contribution in the economy. We want to back them and we want a tax system that backs them’ Scott Morrison said as he blitzed the airwaves on Monday in his monologue which he insists is a conversation about tax.

It’s not that we are a long way from everyone else and that have too small a population to sustain manufacturing causing an overreliance on primary produce and extractive industries which puts us at the mercy of falling commodity prices as the world boom in iron ore prices declines.  No. It’s our unfair tax system.

Morrison has clearly not been in conversation with Greens MP Scott Ludlam who challenges the fairness of the 50% capital gains tax exemption. ‘Work for a living, get taxed at the full rate. Play the stock market or load up with investment properties, and half your earnings are tax-free.’ But then, Morrison is simply conveying neoliberal ideology which favours small government and lower taxes for the wealthy. ‘Reform’ in this context, means making the poor pay more in regressive taxation such a GST.

The week sees an incredible change in Karma Chameleon Hunt, our agile environment minister who goes all green and renewable in public in Shanghai but who is still in bed with coal back at home. No change at all, on the other hand, appears in our NeoCon treasurer whose overladen table makes him as much of a commitment-phobe as the PM who having seduced the nation in a whirlwind romance by not being Tony Abbott will not reveal his real intentions.

Let Julie Bishop hold hackathons to her heart’s content. Let Hunt be loud in praise of renewables.  Beneath the din, the clamour of the claque, it is difficult to see or feel the new ‘vibe’ as Turnbull puts it as adding up to more than another conga-line of suck holes frantically currying favour, each determined to deny that in reality their new emperor wears no clothes.