A bad week for Turnbull: Abbott disgraces himself, rewrites history and tests PM’s authority

bishop hackathon selfie

Julie Bishop takes selfie in eagerness to get aboard Turnbull’s tech-savvy bandwagon while the real business of government is put on hold.

‘Get your snout out of the trough, Hockey, you double-dipping hypocrite!’ Nick Xenophon begins the week by tipping a bucket of iced water over the Joe-love-making, speechifying and re-writing of the history of the two long years of the Abbott government.

The new history thrives. Everything that Abbott and Hockey did was on the right track; they just had trouble selling their message and their reforms were blocked by those crossbench bastards in the senate. The deluge of obsequies that marks the dismissal of the failed treasurer barely pauses.

Xenophon uses other words but his voice is a refreshing corrective to Joe’s over-heated fawning, fulsome farewell tributes. It’s also a fair call; uttered with conviction if not sincerity. No wonder, the man has to start his own party.

Naturally, the quixotic SA Senator whose corny stunts incorporate giraffes, mules, goats, dogs and a toy car is accused of grandstanding. He may well be. But underestimating public taste or its attention span never deters this conviction political performance artist.

Nor has it held back the popularity of the rising political star, Czar of the senate cross bench and, most recently, founder of his own political party, TXN. Xenophon is up for a challenge.  He will introduce a law of his own, he promises, if stymied by the Joe-Hocracy.

Word quickly comes back from on high that Joe’s pension sacrifice would, of course, have to be approved by learned arbitration silks and Fair Work wallahs. It would take time. Michael Lawler clearly already has a fair bit on his plate from his bizarre appearance on Four Corners recently. Great call, Nick, but our trotters are tied at the moment, seems to be the message.

Of course, it’s not personal; it’s the principle. Nick Xenophon is anxious lest Joe’s post as Ambassador to the US with its $360,000 annual salary, plus free rent and utilities somehow be seen to endorse double-dipping, ‘leaning’ or otherwise betray unseemly greed, privilege and undeserved reward. The millionaire might compromise himself or his party or what is touchingly referred to as ‘the system’. Oddly no-one else in politics seems to spot the problem.

The SA senator has a sense of humour. ‘I just want to help Joe Hockey fulfil his dream of ending the age of entitlement by Joe Hockey setting an example for the rest of us,” he says, drily. Joe’s ambassadorial golden handcuffs, however, are designed to keep Hockey overseas and out of Malcolm’s face while the PM works out what to do with Abbott, the hydrophobic junkyard dog who appears increasingly deranged. Telling Europe what to do with its refugees is his latest stunt.

Coming out as an antipodean Maggie Thatcher but without the hair and elocution lessons, or the handbag, a rabid Abbott harangues an after-dinner stupor of Tories and other squiffy, port-befuddled conservative ratbags who pay four hundred pounds each to suffer his diatribe. They are shocked by the gibbering madman’s lunatic proposals and his presumption. It quite puts one off one’s port and stilton. They leave muttering that the poor fellow had better see a good doctor.

Seeking a back door into the headlines and, on a quick double-dip of his own, Washington Speakers’ Bureau recruit, Tony Abbott is in London to mouth off about refugees and to urge his PM to commit ground troops in Iraq. Dr Nope whose website ad offers his services for $40,000 and upwards per oration, is honoured, he says, to be invited to deliver the second ever Margaret Thatcher Lecture at a Tory banquet in London. Who better than he to wise up the poms on how to stop the boats? Clearly they needed to toughen up or it would be the end of Europe as we know it.

Referencing Enoch Powell amidst other dog-whistles, Abbott the ten pound pom, himself an economic migrant, warns his audiences against going soft. ‘Misguided altruism” is ‘…leading much of Europe into catastrophic error’. Tough love is called for. Boat people should be pushed back to sea to drown or else forced to return to their persecutors to face the persecution they so richly deserve. The comprehensive failure of a PM proudly claims that Australia has solved the problem thanks to his own true Thatcher-like grit and compassion.

Nowhere in Abbott’s ranting does he cover intercepting vessels bound for New Zealand or other countries and paying the crew to turn back to islands in Indonesia, a tactic which is, however, highlighted by Amnesty International in a move which Peter Dutton said was disgraceful. What he does embrace is the principle of decisive force.

‘As Margaret Thatcher so clearly understood over the Falklands: those that won’t use decisive force, where needed, end up being dictated to by those who will’.  He is not only Thatcher’s soul mate he is psychic. Mr Abbott treats his audience to his own parapsychological intuition of what Margaret Thatcher would have done today.

Did Europe which receives more refugees in a week than Australia has ever experienced in one year have anything to learn from Abbott? Abbott is happy to lie about Australia’s experience and his part in it. He exaggerates the numbers and claims falsely that it was his policies and not Kevin Rudd’s which were a turning point. An abject failure as PM, he is terrified by his rapid descent into irrelevance. History must be re-written to save him from infamy and ignominious obscurity.

‘The second wave of illegal boat people was running at the rate of 50,000 a year – and rising fast – by July 2013, when the Rudd government belatedly reversed its opposition to offshore processing; and then my government started turning boats around, even using orange lifeboats when people smugglers deliberately scuttled their vessels.’

In fact boat people arrivals peaked at 20,587 in 2013 when Kevin Rudd was PM. They then fell quite dramatically after his ‘Malaysian Solution’. Yet the Abbott myths prevail, nourished by many who should and do know better.

ABC journos such as Fran Kelly continue to help Malcolm Turnbull out by fostering the spurious, and utterly discredited ‘counter argument ‘ of tough border protection being a deterrent. Annabel Crabb happily indulges Morrison’s downplaying of his own cruel indifference if not hostility to refugees by glibly claiming it was just something that had to be done. Turnbull, himself pretends to be open-minded about Abbott’s embarrassing display of stupidity and his insubordination.

‘Tony has given great service to the nation’, he declares, smiling indulgently. That entitles him to say anything he likes, anywhere he chooses, even if it does rather trash our reputation overseas and reveal my total lack of authority.

A claque of Liberals brandishing selfie-sticks claims Turnbull’s attention. Liberal hopefuls are all a twitter for innovation now that technology is back in place of religion. Selfie-obsessed Julie Bishop is hell-bent on upstaging Wyatt Roy and all other 21st century cognoscenti in the Turnbull twitter-verse. The growing back-log of real work is postponed or added to as our leaders take photos of themselves in a rash of hackathons and other technological idolatry.

Bishop’s ostentatious innovation testifies to the emoji-princess’ agility in embracing Turnbull’s New Age 21st century government which, it is said, only ‘digital natives’ like Roy can ever truly understand. For the rest of us, the promise of more technology in our lives is a distractor from a PM who has done little so far to justify his ‘disruption’ but rule nothing in or out. His ministers communicate no clear plans but must tell us that everything is on the table.

The Turnbull government is still-born. Overwhelmed by opportunities, it is also paralysed with fear it may offend any of the ‘Loony Tunes right’, as Keating terms the coalition’s conservative rump. He is seen to shape his pitch to his audience so readily that his own position is impossible to discern.

A hostage to the deals that helped him seize the leadership, Turnbull, the elusive human chameleon, drops hints of plans or simply tells each party what he thinks they want to hear. In reality he is going nowhere. At worst, as in his energy policy, he is going backwards.

The week sees the former renewable energy advocate now out shamelessly flogging coal. He even dips into Abbott’s Peabody press kit, a mine of misinformation and arrant nonsense, with its ‘clean coal’ fraud and its missionary position promises to lift India out of energy poverty.

The PM is a blend of blandishment and lofty superiority. All conflict can be resolved if we approach things rationally and not from an ideological perspective is his patronising mantra. All we need is to be agile, flexible, and ‘disrupt’ old ways using all this beaut new 21st century thinking that helped create silicon valley; in other words behave like software engineers, become a silicon society. Only Julie Bishop and Wyatt Roy take him seriously.

In Julie Bishop’s 21st century hackathon thought bubbles become policy, a process Tony Abbott frequently favoured, often with disastrous consequences. Upstaging Roy, her innovation policy ‘hackathon’ will, the wannabe wonkette claims, ‘generate new policy ideas to help develop Australia’s economy into an innovation powerhouse’.

So far she and her InnovationXchange has hacked or hatched the passport in the cloud, a paperless 21st century concept for DFAT which will be such a blessing to Rohingya boat people, Syrian refugees and all other impoverished, dispossessed souls forced to flee their homes at short notice.

Paperless passports make sense only to the state. Unless you have faith in the state not to lose or confuse your records or to have trouble retrieving your data or just plain refuse to know you if you are trouble-maker.  In this case you are delusional and probably should stay at home and lie down in a darkened room.

Unlike Julie Bishop’s DFAT mob, some of us are not so upbeat about trusting the state to always act fairly; on its citizens’ behalf and with their best interests at heart. Fortunately, our nation’s technical capacity to do all this innovation does not exist, but don’t blame the previous communications minister. Turnbull sooks whenever anyone finds fault with the NBN. This week, however, the NBN went public with its latest stuff-up.

The NBN company has just divulged that it had to buy in 1800km of brand new copper cable. The extra $14 million, must not be seen as a cost blowout or an oversight. It will be money well invested to ensure that the Fibre to the Node technology model preferred by Malcolm Turnbull’s agile, 21st century Coalition Government will actually work.

Xenophon’s gibe will be as lost on Hockey as metadata is to Brandis, just as speed will be lost to the weakest link in a network that seeks to marry ageing copper with optic fibre. Turnbull is stuck with Abbott’s legacy in many policy areas; its NBN was more of a debating point than a workable concept. FTTN owes its existence to merely to being the Coalition’s cheaper – and slower -alternative to Labor’s national broadband network proposal. Regarded as a ‘nonsense’ by experts, who argue it will put Australia behind the rest of the world, the NBN claims it can marry fibre with copper to produce a high speed network. Politicians’ appeals to tax the top end of town fairly have more chance of success.

Not to be left out of the ‘national conversation’ Immigration Minister ‘Nutso’ Dutton attacks Amnesty International for ‘an ideological attack’ which is ‘beyond the pale’. How dare the do-gooders question Australia’s forays into people-smuggling!

What Dutton doesn’t do, is deny the payments were made. Nor does Julie Bishop, despite the government’s denials in June. Amnesty’s report of refugees being kicked, threatened with being shot and being put to sea again with just enough fuel to get into trouble expose the lie that our ‘tough border protection ‘is all about saving drowning.

News that Australian charities are forced to pay a multimillion dollar bond to prevent employees speaking out about conditions on Nauru broke after Dutton’s angry response to Amnesty. Doubtless the news will help convince Amnesty and other do-gooders that the Australian government has nothing to hide in its Border Protection practices.

Despite being found wanting on every level, Dutton provides a rich veneer of make-believe to the alternative reality TV show that is our national political life, a mission capably continued Tuesday by member for woolly Wannon, dynamic Dan Tehan who was on the Frank Kelly show on ABC radio defending the indefinite detention of children.

What Tehan’s case was or if he had one was never clear but what could be made out was some bleating about John Howard’s policies, how hard it is to get things right and the need to make best and fairest example of all hapless victims of misfortune who stoop to enter Australia through ‘the back door’.

Tehan was flogging some new ‘tough on terror’ tactics. The Federal Government, he says, is considering a raft of tough new counter-terrorism laws, including legislation to slap control orders on teenage terror suspects. Whilst this has nothing to do with refugees, he likes to mention the two ideas together because it helps the popular myth that asylum seekers and refugees are likely to be terrorists until proved otherwise, a principle of our recent anti-terrorist laws.

Members of Australia’s parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, chaired by Mr Tehan travelled to the UK, France and the US to inspect other nations’ back and front door locks, a task which could not possibly be performed by 21st century communications technology but which required all-expenses paid extensive overseas travel.

What impressed them most, according to Dan is the way secret courts in the UK could really get to grips with terror suspects, behind closed doors, undisturbed by the rule of law and because they were free not to disclose their sources. While human rights advocates complain that secret courts deprive defendants of their fundamental right to see and challenge all the evidence being brought against them, Australia would not find this so much of a problem, now that we’ve ‘reformed’ our anti-terror legislation and given our refugee policy has made it clear to the world that human rights policy wonks in Zurich are not going to tell us what to do.

Our government continues to expand its vigilance over human rights, according to George metadata Brandis, addressing a DFAT event, this week. He was spoilt for choice for examples but luckily settled on simple Tim Wilson’s appointment which he said had helped “enlarge the scope and focus” of the Australian Human Rights Commission. And its payroll. Wilson’s 300,000 a year position was created by Abbott as a political tactic, intended as a bulwark against the left-wing Gillian Triggs whom he wanted to shame and bully into resignation, with all due respect, of course, for her human rights.

The week saw federal politics awash with a toxic nostalgia for a past that never was from politicians who never really were who they claimed to be, some of whom continue to do great damage to Australia’s reputation and future prospects by public displays of such inane stupidity as our former PM recently got away with.

Abbott and his key ministers, moreover, found themselves dwarfed by the challenges of government let alone the complex but urgent issues of climate change and economic management in a time of declining prices for our commodities and global economic downturn and great uncertainty.

Turnbull cannot afford to stall much longer. He cannot sustain, forever, the momentum of the novelty of his not being Abbott and his capacity to speak whole sentences. The naïve trust placed in him will rapidly turn into a crushing burden of disappointment.

The PM’s authority is being tested. His credibility rests entirely on his capacity to govern, not his personal popularity or his intelligence. The latter were never in doubt. The former requires much more than indulging the darlings of the right while trading in yesterday’s political currencies such as coal and tough border protection while pretending endlessly to the fiction that nothing is being ruled in or out.  The table with everything on it will collapse under its own weight.