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.