Month: February 2016

Turnbull invites chaos as he attempts to ape Abbott.

mal looking weary


 

As parliament resumes Monday, spectators discover an oddly familiar negativity and intellectual vacuity, not to say a little madness, perhaps even a re-run of that Abbott-era day time TV classic “good government”.

Is it just because Newspoll puts the parties each on 50 per cent, two party preferred? Peter Dutton warns the press: “The prospect of Bill Shorten leading the country is now in play.” Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce calls it a “wake-up call”.  Has Turnbull’s mob dropped its bundle on its first dud poll result? Surely not.

Could it be policy? Never. “Modest, incremental reform” as a killer of a Liberal platform. It just reeks of passion and excitement.

Yet something is seriously awry for Scott Morrison to stand up his pal Ray Hadley at 2GB on Monday.  Ray understands. Being PM or treasurer is harder than it looks; wanting the job and being able to do the job are not the same thing, he says. Thanks, Ray.

Is it Gorgeous George Christensen reading members a text on “penis tucking”? No, that happens at Tuesday’s party room meeting. Morally aroused George claims he clicked on a Safe Schools link to a link to a link on another website which linked to an “adult services” site and that this proves that safe schools grooms young people for paedophiles.

The Queensland MP’s homophobic shock tactic gets the PM to promise to review the program. Assisting Gorgeous George are Senator Cory Bernardi, Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz, Tasmanian MP Andrew Nikolic, Western Australian MP Andrew Hastie and Queensland Senator Jo Lindgren who worry, they say, it could be disguised funding for “minorities”.

Bernardi is moved to decry a Marxist agenda of cultural relativism behind the program but not even George can explain what he means. He’s shocked to hear such language from Cory. The ANZACs didn’t die for rainbow posters in class rooms.

Is the Monkey Pod collective holding a wok-around-the-clock policy stir-fry? No. But there is a hint of monkey madness afoot amidst the cherry blossoms abroad. Veteran cultural warrior, elder statesman and US pet “Tamagotchi” Abbott waits until Saturday to sumo-wrestle China out of our Pacific hot tub. We may trade with China, but Japan is our one true love, he sighs.

Speaking in Tokyo, after a banquet of scientifically killed whale, in his own typically resonant but opaque tribute to Kabuki, Abbott praises Japan and Australia’s “special relationship because it’s not based simply on shared interests, but also on shared values”.

A Kabuki touch also informs Abbott’s view that Turnbull’s “biggest challenge will be to retain popularity” “once he has a credible narrative of his own”. He could have said everybody hates you even when you stand for nothing but he did promise no sniping. The non-sniping, supportive analysis will be published by News Corp soon.

None of these rich pickings from a week in a Turnbull government at work are the cause, however. A fish rots from the head down. Monday’s whiff of the past is our PM aping his predecessor. It is unbecoming and wholly unconvincing but the PM is going the full Tony.

Even his flatulent speech slows as he wanders aimlessly through a week, his only plan to bag Labor’s plot to destroy us by changing negative gearing rules. Is he rattled or has he been rolled? Whatever the cause it’s contagious.

Before week’s end, many MPs race to follow him downmarket. Optimism is swapped for shock and horror. Evidence-based government is nowhere in evidence as the government’s right wing tail wags its mascot junkyard dog. A fear vibe goes viral.

By Wednesday, Cory Bernardi is heckling Bill Shorten during the opposition leader’s conference on Safe Schools, “at least I’m honest, Bill”. And you are a fraud”. The program seeks to encourage acceptance of difference; protect children from homophobic bullies.

Bernardi wants Tony Abbott back as Prime Minister. Badly.  So too do the twenty MPs whose dinner with Abbott this week helps keep talk of a fantasy comeback alive and doubtless nurtures the latent lair in Bernardi.

“At least I’m not a homophobe”, Shorten fires back, lowering further the tone or “raising the Tony”, in a week of ridicule, name-calling and a massive government vote-buying defence spending spree masquerading as national security and patriotic duty.

“I don’t see it as a choice,” Defence Minister Marise Payne tells Leigh Sales, on Thursday’s 7:30 Report when asked why her government is borrowing to spend up to $150 billion to acquire and run twelve new submarines at $12.5 billion a pop over thirty years while denying schools and hospitals the $80 billion they need to keep open today.

Payne does not explain why the cost is now three times the estimate of the government when Tony Abbott was PM. The new vibe helps Payne assert a moral relativism that sweeps defence spending out of scrutiny.

Payne isn’t asked to explain why there is no case for this number. It is just a target from the 2009 White Paper which has just been repeated. We can’t crew twelve subs and Defence probably could only deploy six. Nor is she asked about the consequences of a likely winning Japanese bid tying our defence policy to that nation at the expense of any independence in the Pacific.

Five state of the art $2.5 billion hospitals could be built for the cost of just one sub subsidy. But it’s not just a troubling priority, it’s a huge blind spot in government industry policy.  Submarine building, like all defence spending, involves massively expensive industry subsidies however many Australian flags you cloak it in.

Having closed down Australia’s car industry the government scrambles to tip buckets of money into an industry just because it is marked “defence”.  Few Australians will benefit.

With $31.8 already allocated to be spent this year, defence costs taxpayers dearly for little direct return . Much of the money spent goes into overseas companies’ coffers. The extra $29.9 billion defence spending over the next ten years, just announced, will mostly benefit US multinationals, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon.

Happily, national security enthusiast and Victorian wool-grower, glad-handed Dan Tehan is to be Minister for defence materiel. Multinational reps high five each other. He’ll look after them. So, too will extreme right winger, Tasmanian Andy Nikolic who cruises into Tehan’s old job as chair of the joint intelligence and security parliamentary sub-committee.

Nikolic caused a stir last year when he claimed that civil liberties should be suspended given the national terrorist emergency Australia faced.

Not all observers are enthused. Electric Frontiers Australia is concerned that the former brigadier’s “hard-line” views on national security issues and his “apparent disdain” for civil liberties suggest that he is unlikely to bring a balanced and objective perspective to the work of the committee. Perhaps such critics wilfully miss the politics of the appointment.

Butch does not sit easily with the PM’s original image. Turnbull MKII is an alarming, if not dangerous, departure from his previous hit role as Mr Slick, an urbane inner Sydney sophisticate, equally at ease with an international finance deal or a bloodless knifing. This week, the Member for Wentworth is a hard act to swallow. He achieves a bad parody of a PM who frequently parodied himself.

“Vote Labor and be poorer” one of Turnbull’s turgid slogans of the week appears to be, sadly, a bad Abbott.

Tax reform has collapsed under its own inertia. A skittish backbench has jumped on the table with everything on it causing its collapse . Little remains of any economic policy let alone a tax reform program. Much as Turnbull loves to point out how his love of rail differentiates him from Abbott, states who expect infrastructure funding for railways must give up money for something else.

There is no new money. No new plan. Even the PM’s wimpy negative re-gearing is under attack from the same MPs who put the kybosh on the GST. They shrewdly outsource the people’s voice. Private consultants are engaged to make a case to the PM.

Liberal and Labor swap routines. The Government acts the role of a beleaguered, badgering opposition reduced to beating up the threat of Labor’s tax plans. Labor, it screams, would send the economy into “free-fall” in a time of dire national emergency.

Gone now is his pose of enlightened rationality and vision. The member for Wentworth speaks slower, reaches lower as he unleashes his inner junkyard dog. It is not working. Turnbull cannot hope to reproduce all the slavering, captious, capricious negativity of his predecessor, a politician who in 2012 blocked Rudd’s Malaysian solution in order to create a build-up of boat people to enhance his own campaign.

Turnbull could never proclaim himself minister for women to show his macho contempt for the principle of gender equality and to symbolically re-enact the injustice and the exclusion the portfolio seeks to redress.

Nor should he try. The PM is ill-advised to continue his bad copy of a dodgy Abbott original. Why rebuff those who were captivated by his earlier cameo roles? Articulate, sophisticated Super-Mal wowed us all with his urbanity and vision; his difference from Abbott. According to the polls. Yet in parliament this week he mimics Abbott as if his life depends on it. King Canute spots a rapidly rising red tide.

“Labor will ruin us all”, he rants. If we don’t ruin ourselves. Like all bad actors, he is oblivious of how close he is to ludicrous incongruity; self caricature and travesty. His credibility, legitimacy and authority suddenly look very flaky.

It is a bid to bolster the PM’s rapidly diminishing authority over a deeply-divided party, a last-ditch attempt to boost his prospects in an election he knows he must call before 11 November, an election which he is being pressured to hold as early as he can, even risking a double dissolution. Not that all his strays come to heel. Indeed, some seem encouraged.

Gone, all gone, is the PM’s positivity. His airy promises of innovation evaporate. It is out with reason and in with the politics of fear. Evidence based government and respect for the electorate’s intelligence are abandoned in favour of a scare campaign around Labor’s proposal to reduce tax concessions for property investors. Yet the campaign soon falters.

He said they would fall. She said they would rise. Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer pops up on the Seven Network’s Sunrise show mid-week only to contradict her PM’s claim that Labor’s proposed changes to negative gearing would “smash” house prices “like a wrecking ball”.

The government’s new fear-mongering is clearly a work still in progress. Capital gains tax is now also only a definite maybe. Turnbull tells the house Monday there are “no changes planned” before being forced to admit the next day that his government was looking at getting superannuation funds to pay more CGT.

We will all be ruined. Labor’s proposed changes to negative gearing rules will cause prices to rise. No. Our houses will become worthless overnight. OK. It will be bad, anyway.

Whatever else is going working for the Turnbull government, its own cabinet is confused about the PM’s new attacking vibe. The Turnbull who promised evidence based policy and decision-making is now swinging from the same branch as the monkey-pod messiah, Tony Abbott whose absurdly alarmist warnings that Whyalla would be wiped off the map and that a lamb roast would cost $100 under Labor’s carbon tax brought him well-earned ridicule but his campaign helped trash Labor’s hopes .

So far Turnbull’s lowering of his act has only encouraged Bernardi and Christensen and others of the right wing whose participation looks more like upstaging than sharing. Channelling Tony Abbott has won Turnbull no new supporters, brought no greater unity. Their own bizarre preoccupations can only expand to fill his policy vacuum and have damaging consequences. No amount of defence White Paper and reference to external threats can distract us from his lack of effective leadership.

Who needs an opposition? Turnbull is trashing himself and his brand as he flails about wildly at a small target. Experts suggest that Labor’s negative gearing changes might reduce house prices one or two per cent. It is a poor base upon which to build an entire campaign or even part of a campaign.

As he loses control over the right and as he is seen to propose fewer and fewer real policies, the PM’s strategy could deal a serious blow to his re-electability. But it does offer a great invitation to the Monkey Pod nutters to get in on the act.   Expect a carnival of chaos as a PM who can’t even lead his party tries to lead an election campaign.

 

Forget the boats, just stop the lies Mr Turnbull.

 

dutton droopy


 

A Newspoll result suggests that Super-Mal is tanking. It’s panic stations in the LNP camp. Ministers duck for cover. Back-benchers bolt. Like a rat up a drain pipe, our survivalist PM drops policy and shifts his tack to fear-mongering.

Gone is The Better Economic Manager; his treasurer wrecked that role for him by failing to produce any kind of economic plan last week. No new idea after five months makes the innovator claim wear thin, too. Fading badly also is the allure of Mal the closet progressive. What is left? Mal the reactionary who will do and say whatever it takes keep power.

Reactive, embattled, Turnbull returns to the cheap politics of fear and division of the Liberals’ 2012 campaign. It fits him as badly as a pair of Tony’s cast-off speedos but it’s all he has left.

Turnbull MKII channels his inner junkyard dog, howling down Labor for “smashing” the housing market. Peter Dutton follows with a volley of populist xenophobia by defending the illegal, indefinite off-shore imprisonment of men, women and children as the only way to stop evil people smugglers and to prevent drownings. Persecute the victims.

Mal becomes a yapping kelpie cross on the tucker box of the nation’s real estate. Labor’s proposed change to negative gearing rules will drive ‘all house prices down’ he barks. It’s an alarmingly deficient view of housing as solely profitable investment, as it stands, but his clueless treasurer warns that house prices will go up.

Not content to publicly contradict his leader, Morrison also offers an absurd analogy comparing housing with car sales. By Tuesday, he’s on to what he’ll do on credit card interest rates.

The government’s attack exposes its disunity and poor team work, its shallow economic understanding and opportunism. Its attack so far has merely served to highlight its vulnerabilities.

Even Bill Shorten scores a direct hit when he says the treasurer is lost “chasing pixies and unicorns in his top paddock”. It would be funny if Morrison were not about to plunge us into an austerity budget recession. No-one would buy a used car from this man.

We are back to the same nonsense of the Abbott scare campaigns where Whyalla was going to be wiped off the map and a Sunday roast would cost $100 as a result of “a great big new tax on everything”.

We are returned to our heroic war against the “ruthless, organised, criminals” who inspect every utterance on air or in parliament for a sign of weakness to exploit. Compassion to an infant burns victim is out of the question, Dutton blusters. Out also is PM John Key’s kind offer.

Key’s “New Zealand solution” of 150 refugees a year would invite floods of illegals violating our borders via a back door. No chance. Baby Asha must be returned to a camp which medical experts condemn as harmful or akin to child abuse; a camp which breaches international law and earns Australia UN censure for human rights abuses. For only this will halt the vile people-smuggling trade. Only this will give us an enemy.

According to “Intelligence”, which only a Dutton cannot see is an oxymoron, there are forty thousand asylum seekers queued up waiting in Indonesia, he warns on Fran Kelly’s RN Breakfast.

Ms Kelly can’t ask him how he knows or if his intelligence is anything like the intelligence which permitted Mans Monis access to the streets of Sydney. It is an “operational matter” or some other top secret matter. Dutton is, forever, absolved from all ministerial responsibility and accountability. His job is to present badges to the Border Force militia, his heroic private army:

“…since Operation Sovereign Borders has been implemented by this government, we have been able to stare down the threat from people smugglers. Not one death at sea has been reported over that period. We have the ability to turn back boats where it is safe to do so, and it is the policy of both government and opposition in this country to continue regional processing, because we know that it works in stopping the boats,” Dutton responds to Adam Bandt’s question in parliament Monday.

Outside the Dutton universe of assertion, we know no such thing. UNHCR figures indicate that boats increased in 2014. What changed was the honest reporting of them. Nor are we permitted to know, such is the secrecy of Immigration. What we do know is that we are being sold some very old, very bad lies. Worse follow.

Dutton will not be “blackmailed” by a year-old child, he thunders in parliament Monday. Asylum-seekers would self-harm if that route led to Australia, he tells MPs. Supporters of Asha are moved to make public hospital records to disprove his scurrilous claim that her mother burned her in a bid to be taken to Australia.

Dutton’s despicable dog-whistling evokes Howard’s lie about babies being thrown overboard, a lie that helped him win an election assisted, as he was then, by our nation’s newly anointed UN human rights envoy, Philip Ruddock.  Not only has the coalition lost its composure, it must jettison all vestige of credibility and respect, as did Kevin Rudd.

Rudd dusted off Howard’s people-smuggling target. In 2009, he declared that people smugglers were the “absolute scum of the earth”. Tony Abbott saw it as an “evil trade”.

Demonising people smugglers helps us look the other way; pretend that when they embark on their perilous journey, our refugees’ focus is solely on the logistics of resettlement, and not their desperation to leave behind persecution, torture or threat of death. It is a cruel, cynical manipulation of the truth.

Dutton keeps the old lies coming. Those who assist refugees are ruthless organised criminals, he says. Blog writers and others online use Baby Asha to raise their media profiles, he claims.

Fran Kelly asks his response to AMA Brian Owler’s view that to return babies to Nauru is child abuse. Continuing off shore processing is his answer, dignifying his government’s inaction with officialese ‘processing’. What he means is we continue to be cruel to refugees, vulnerable victims of traumatic dispossession and alienation who have a legal right to seek our help and protection.

We set out to teach them, instead, to expect persecution and neglect at our hands. They can expect mental and physical danger; violence and deprivation. All this and more is necessary to send a message to a non-existent enemy, the demon people smugglers. We even lie about who runs Nauru, too.

The Nauruan government does that “process”, Dutton lies. Nauru simply rubber-stamps whatever Australia wishes as our fact-finding senators and others have discovered in their attempts to visit these prisons in their search for the truth.

There is a big risk to the government in its reactive defence. The case of Baby Asha has gained the nation’s attention. She has become a cause in which the government’s threadbare authority, its lack of good faith has been exposed like a raw nerve.

Dutton’s defence, moreover, may have worked in the past. Now, it serves only to illuminate his government’s moral and political bankruptcy. For Malcolm Turnbull whose reason for being was to represent something better than Abbott; a man who presented himself as the embodiment of reason and reform, the case of Baby Asha may conspire with other events to deal him a serious blow.

Asha’s suffering coincides with Scott Morrison’s public failure to present a plan for anyone’s well-being or continued prosperity. It is a massive double deficit for a Liberal leader leading into an election in which he must ask people to trust him and his team. The tactics of fear and division may not work as well this time around. In the meantime, forget the boats Mr Turnbull, just stop the lies and the prevarication. If you’re not up to it, there’s always an early election option to retirement.


 

baby asha

 

 

How can I help you win today? Turnbull and Morrison’s politics of fear and division.

 

MALCOLM TURNBULL FINANCIAL SYSTEMS REVIEW

“How can I help you win today?” Clay Nelson, US salesman and Morrison’s mentor.

Journos sulk balefully as Federal Treasurer Morrison wastes everyone’s time at Wednesday’s Press Club lunch. No-one’s up for yet another game of pin the tail on the donkey as Liberal government policy briefings have become.

Scott Morrison’s fended off the press before. His career is built on non-responses. As Sovereign Border Enforcer, Supreme Commander Brush-Off Morrison ruled any useful question out of order by militarising immigration, a tradition capably founded by Liberal PM John Winston Howard who in the Tampa crisis started the pernicious myth that refugees are our enemy. We have been at war with asylum seekers and ourselves ever since.

Happily for our PM it’s open season on demon people-smugglers, many of whom are refugees themselves. The vile, evil scum cop yet another salvo from a Turnbull determined to show he’s not soft on border protection – whatever that is.

PM John Key, who seems to be in the country for some Mal-pal pyjama party says NZ will take 150 Manus and Nauru detainees every year but he’s over-ruled. “There’s an enormous case-load”, says Julie Bishop, adding a nifty bit of jargon on Sunday’s ABC Insiders where affable Barrie Cassidy’s soft questioning helps her get her enormous lie out. As Foreign Minister she must know what a whopper it is. Europeans facing millions of refugees, shake their heads in utter disbelief.

Bishop repeats the equally preposterous government claim that decisions can only be made on a case by case basis despite UN rulings that our entire indefinite off-shore detention scheme itself is illegal.

Not that we are making any decisions. Unspoken, but always implied, the official myth of “processing” hides our practice of punishing refugees simply for fleeing persecution. So far, Turnbull is in lock-step with Abbott over the political necessity of the wilful denial of our own humanity. His Prime Ministership not only disappoints, it diminishes us all.

People smugglers must be discouraged, the PM honks, his silver tongue now a jarring klaxon of fear-mongering. Negative gearing also cops a blast because it would ‘smash housing values’. Unlike the fall in values which will occur as a result of the recession his neo-liberal treasurer wishes upon us with his economic illiteracy and his austerity mindset.

Immigration staggers under its “caseload”. In the meantime, any one of the babies and children in Australia may be extradited back to Nauru without notice, thanks to a nifty “reform” to our “processing”. Baby Asha is surrounded in a Queensland hospital by a group of protestors keeping vigil. A baby needs physical protection from an immigration bureaucracy that we somehow turned into a power-drunk, unaccountable quasi-police force.

Doctors’ organisations, even state premiers offer refuge to the babies and children but Turnbull is not about to go soft on border protection, even if it is a nonsense founded on unlawful policy, a capitulation to hysterical xenophobia and the politics of gutter nationalism.

Morrison’s a total non-event. The Abbott/Turnbull government is under the spotlight and it looks unprepared for anything. No policy after two and a half years of hints and teases and everything on the table. Of course everything is on the table if you are unable to make a decision. Until you have to take GST off the menu. ScoMo’s giving no-one any copy. No hook, no headline. Only the cartoonists and photographers, as usual, have any fun.

The Treasurer infuriates some journos. He will cop heck from AFR’s Laura Tingle, you can tell, well before she gets to her feet. She rebukes him for saving $80 billion and spending $70 billion and or being silly enough to boast publicly about it. Alan Jones tells him the next day “he said nothing”. What was that all about?

“Backing Australians in our transitioning economy” is its clumsy title yet ScoMo’s speech aims to divide us just as surely as if he’d called us lifters and leaners. “Picking winners” is what he’s really up to.

“Australia is rapidly becoming a nation divided between those who pay taxes and those who have taxes spent upon them,” he says in what he calls his ‘candid’ and ‘upfront’ meaning covert, divisive dog whistle style.

He means we’d be so much better off without the bludgers. We’ll make the losers pay. He boasts about the $80 billion cut from health and education as evidence of economic governance instead of what it is, social vandalism. He mutters about $100 billion wasted so far on housing assistance for the needy. If only the nation would grow up, get out of bed and get a job.

No-one, not even Liberal cheerleader Chris Uhlmann would expect candour from this man but why must we always be wrong to expect fairness? Innovation is patently just this government’s latest hoax. We get the same tired old evasion and clapped-out sloganeering that is Morrison’s trademark animated only by the odd hint of his pleasure at increasing social division like a crafty bowler picking at a seam.

“A nation divided…” is one of ScoMo’s clearer statements in a miasma of spin in which he will, he says, share the ‘economic and fiscal context’ of his thinking. This is not the budget, he notes helpfully. Instead we get a series of clichés about China, nothing at all about the fiscal collapse of much of the EC our next biggest trading partner, some hollow boasts about job growth and his barren old hokey standby of “transitioning” the economy.  Even China our biggest trading partner is “transitioning” its economy and it’s looking good for tourism. WOTF?

China is frantically trying to manage an inevitable economic slowdown while at the same time it must wrestle with a credit bubble that somehow just happened. No-one trusts official statistics. Yet while experts disagree on details, all agree that China’s capacity to manage its economy is doubtful. Instead, it looks increasingly ham-fisted and desperate. George Soros even thinks this looks like the GFC of 2008. But reality does not intrude into the eternal sunlight of Turnbull’s mindless optimism. We are in the best of all possible worlds – provided he can squelch any electoral backlash.

ScoMo is clearly unable to announce a 50% rise in the GST, because Turnbull’s got cold feet. His trepid PM has just pulled the pin on any tax increases. Liberal backbench “bed-wetters”, as ScoMo calls those worried by the prospect of rapid political oblivion, are up in arms. Turnbull rushes out treasury figures about productivity. A GST rise does not do much for productivity. Nor does the tax mix switch, which sounds almost kinky amidst Morrison’s limited pitch.

The tyro treasurer is really struggling.  For Bob Ellis it’s the worst presentation from any treasurer anywhere in five hundred years. Apart from the graphs, his fulsome praise for his team – “it’s always a thrill to work with Matt Cormann”- his rugby forward drop of the shoulder and the thing he does with his jacket button, Morrison has nothing to offer. Zilch. Nada. Zip. Zero. Another dry patch in the five month policy drought of the Turnbull ascendancy itself not a new government as Leigh Sales reminds ScoMo but a government two and half years old with no economic plan.

ScoMo knows a story is a public speaker’s best friend. He’s no public speaker. He praises Clay Nelson, an American salesman in an aside which sums up “what he and his government are all about”, he says. Then he gives us another slogan.

Clay’s tale has alligators in hunting cabins, a practical joke simply begging public endorsement, but it pays tribute to something for every Macca’s drive-through and Centrelink customer service cubicle  ” How can I help you win today.” Even Chris Uhlmann looks bored. Later, newspapers background the man in the anecdote. Seriously. Perhaps they, too, sense they missed something.

Scott Morrison’s hokey story does say a lot about himself and his budget. He’s right about that. It’s about winners and losers. The winners are those who are out working every day. Scott is trying to help them by reducing their taxes. This will make us all richer as a nation because of something he calls a productivity dividend. A what?

Richard Dennis who shows how politicians use jargon to exclude us from understanding economics has warned us. Productivity dividend is our old friend, Mr Trickle-down.  Trickle down is a discredited theory that holds that a nation’s prosperity may be increased by increasing the fortunes of the wealthy. It’s Morrison’s tax plan in a nutshell. It’s helped foster inequality and injustice all over the world as well as in Australia.

As a speaker, Morrison can’t bat. Can’t bowl. But like many a con artist he can’t resist a cricket analogy. This budgeting business is, he says, is more of a test match rather than a big bash. Perhaps he’s stalling for even more time. His government, certainly appears utterly unprepared for either type of match or anything else involving preparation and a plan.

Whatever he intends by this the treasurer needs to be reminded he can forget cricket when lives are at stake. Voters don’t need yet another sporting analogy. Or a folksy story. They want and deserve a treasurer and a government which can govern fairly and honestly in the interests of all Australians.

It’s not about winners and losers, Mr Morrison, your job is about nurturing a genuinely democratic society that has mutual respect and equality at its core an Australia with the desire, the political will and the capacity to take care of everybody.

Our human rights trampled: the Tim Wilson story.

brandis and wilson.jpg


 

“In just two years, Tim Wilson has single-handedly reshaped the human rights debate in Australia. He has restored balance to a debate which had previously been dominated by the priorities and prejudices of the Left.” George Brandis

Wow. Our Tim of the IPA was really a super hero, all along? And we only ever saw him as a Liberal Party stooge? No application. No ad. No interview. Just a tap on the shoulder from AG George Brandis. And a word in his little pink ear.

“We’ve a top job for you Tim: “Freedom Commissioner”. Hang about a bit. Make the odd speech to the press club about Magna Carta. Do a Tony Abbott with indigenous peoples. Prance around. Get your photo taken a lot. Get your top off. Go on The Drum. Play your cards right and you could be our next President of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Who knows what the future may hold? Gillian Triggs can’t go on for ever with her Leftist agenda, holding the government to account over human rights abuses, child imprisonment and off-shore detention. My secretary, Chris Moraitis may just pop around. Offer her a job in another government department. Tell her she’s lost my confidence.”

The above dialogue is fiction and conjecture, of course, just like Brandis’ rave reference for his protégé. Tess Lawrence writes well about how he really got his job. Unlike the rest of us, Tim was lucky to have been one of a favoured few as the political playing field was tilted back towards the wealthy at the expense of the deserving; at the expense of everyone.

The wider realities of the Abbott/Turnbull government’s sustained attack on the vulnerable; its programme of disempowerment and neglect of the poor and disadvantaged; it eagerness to heed the needs of the privileged are a continuing story. Scott Morrison used a Press Club talk this week to bash welfare recipients for being a burden to those out earning money and a drain on productivity.

How productive was Wilson? What did he ever do for anyone but himself? Brandis is skimpy on evidence of Tim’s super powers after what reads like a hazy, lazy rehash of his appointment release. Let’s face it there is no evidence. Just a damning, resounding silence.

Lawrence makes a good case that the best thing Tim’s done for human rights in Australia, is to resign. The Commission will be a happier workplace without him.

Sadly, however, the damage is not easily repaired. Wilson’s appointment came at the cost of a disability discrimination commissioner. Graeme Innes’ term expired in July 2014 and was not, given the cost of Wilson’s appointment, renewed.

Graeme Innes said at the time, given 45 per cent of people with disability lived in poverty, and rates of employment for disabled Australians were 30 per cent lower than those for their counterparts with disability, ”I could mount an argument that people with disabilities are a threatened species.”

The fate of the discrimination commissioner is paralleled by other cuts to the vulnerable in our society. Under the Abbott/Turnbull government, Community Legal Centres suffered funding cuts of $50 million, helping silence the voices of the disempowered; excluding the poor and disadvantaged from decision-making.

You might expect a Human Rights Commission to act as an advocate for those who can’t look out for themselves. Not Tim.

He’s certainly a quiet worker. You don’t hear a peep out of Tim on human rights abuses. He does speak, however, at Liberal functions; cheques payable to Liberal Party of Australia. Brandis defended him in the senate.

In WA, dissent is being outlawed in a bill which seems certain to be enacted into law. Three UN Special Rapporteurs – David Kaye, on freedom of expression; Maina Kiai, on freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and Michel Forst, on human rights defenders – slam the whole bill.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Prevention of lawful activity) Bill 2015 creates vague new offences of “physically preventing a lawful activity” and “possessing a thing for the purpose of preventing a lawful activity”. Both offences carry serious penalties of prison of up to 1 year and a fine of up to $12,000. In certain circumstances, the penalty for preventing a lawful activity can rise to 2 years and $24,000.

Did Wilson, our human rights Martin Luther, also add his protest. Get real. Freedom Boy, as Richard Ackland calls Tim, has a much more urgent and personal agenda. He sees a future for himself within the Liberal Party, an invisible political bias which Brandis, doubtless, easily overlooked when the AG appointed him Freedom Commissioner. Bias would damage the commission’s reputation for independence.

Wilson is going into politics. It won’t be a long journey. The safe Liberal seat of Goldstein has wealth and privilege written all over its tickets on itself. Just the ticket for Tim, he reckons. Yet if our left-busting, debate reshaping, Freedom Boy, (as Richard Ackland dubs him) Tim is to win preselection he needs all the help he can get. And then some.

The blue-ribbon electorate of Goldstein includes the well-heeled suburbs of Brighton, Bentleigh, Elsternwick and Sandringham, suburbs not noted primarily for their human rights activism despite being named after feminist and suffragist Vida Goldstein.

One of the biggest Liberal branches in the state, Goldstein does expect a high-profile and influential member. Retiring member, Free Trade maven Andrew Robb raves about Georgina Downer, whom he notes, is a woman. Tim, he says, carefully, would “also” be an excellent candidate.

Tim, himself, sees his chances differently. A young man with a taste for lavish expenditure, he has never lacked in either ambition or over-self-promotion. Besides, he needs a job. He’s quit his $300,000 plus job as Human Rights Commissioner after only two years in the five year appointment. Perhaps he thinks he’s a shoo-in. The way he sees it, he would be employed and the people of Goldstein would have him. It looks like a win-win. Or does it?

Georgina Downer, a former Minter Ellison lawyer and diplomat, unsurprisingly sees the Goldstein preselection as hers to win while the electorate expects a cabinet minister at least or a well-connected candidate. Switching her attention from the Menzies electorate, where Kevin Andrews has elected not to retire, Georgina is a bit of a late entry and is described by some as an outsider and lightweight. Still she has been lucky in the past.

Ten years ago, when her father Alexander Downer was foreign Minister, Georgina, then a 25 year old with a third class Melbourne Uni honours degree beat 300 other candidates to win the prestigious A$100,000 PA Chevening postgraduate scholarship to study in Britain, despite failing to attain the ‘upper second class degree’ stipulated on the award’s application form.

No-one of course is suggesting that Georgina was not selected fairly, or that the process was anything less than rigorous. It does, however, strangely recall how Tim got his job as Freedom Boy, a curious story in itself yet one which deserves to be better known so clearly does it illustrate the Abbott/Turnbull government’s contempt for human rights. Wilson began by bagging the outfit he was later to be appointed to.

Wilson criticised the commission, and called for it to be abolished. A month later, he alleged it was “missing in action” for not lobbying louder for freedom of speech, in the wake of a court decision against Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt and his claims about several high-profile “light skinned” indigenous people. Who could be more perfectly suited to get a call offering him a job as Freedom Commissioner?

Wilson’s story illustrates a government prepared to turn away from those in most need of help. It is happy to fund its ideology of entitlement and to protect privilege at the expense of its fundamental obligation to provide for every Australian regardless of wealth, status or background.

Wilson also reflects a political elite which rules with callous disregard for the disadvantaged. It heralds a new era of cruelty and injustice where government can splash funds on a so-called “freedom commissioner” to serve its own narrow political ends, while it denies others the necessities of life. Wilson’s silence on WA’s new anti-demonstration laws suggests it, too, would silence those who speak truth to power.

Tim Wilson’s tilt at politics and his career so far, shows a government redefining and debasing human rights to condone its subsidy of the greedy and the powerful at the expense of the poor, the needy and the weak.

In the end such a cynical redefinition will cause it to forfeit popular respect and trust as well as any claims to legitimacy as a government of the people by the people.

 

 

 

Scott Morrison divides nations with his economic thinking.

scott morrison looking mad


 

“Australia is rapidly becoming a nation divided between those who pay taxes and those who have taxes spent upon them,” Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison says late in what he assures us will be a ‘candid’ and ‘upfront’ Press Club address in Canberra, Wednesday. Instead we get the same tired old evasion and sloganeering that is his trademark.

“A nation divided…” is one of ScoMo’s clearer statements in an hour in which he will, he says, share the ‘economic and fiscal context’ of his thinking. This is not the budget. Instead we get a series of clichés about China, some hollow boasts about job growth and his barren old hokey standby of “transitioning” the economy.  WOTF?

Transitioning is not a transitive verb. There is no argument that the economy is in transition. Yet, somehow the government wishes to claim leadership for looking on idly as the bottom falls out of commodity exports, for example, as if this were somehow the natural scheme of things. Revenue is down, down, down. Yet no revenue problem exists, Morrison bizarrely insists.

Forget “transitioning”. What is his government is actually doing to foster new enterprises, apart from impeding a renewable energy sector its fossil fuel sponsors wont’ let it help? Farewelling a car industry its ideology won’t protect?

The TPP, will, of course solve everything by setting up “generations of prosperity”. A late question as to why the productivity commission has been denied evaluation of the TPP is dismissed in another ScoMo smart remark that his government does not go in for “rear view analysis”.

The truth is that the benefits of the TPP are likely to be either miniscule or negative. Our USA FTA, for example, diverted trade from lower-cost countries, cutting our trade with the rest of the world, it is estimated, by $53 billion.

What the treasurer does manage to make clear is that he wants to cut income tax for a lucky group of wage earners he is “backing” while cutting back on government spending for everyone. Pensioners, welfare recipients and other bludgers are especially in the gun. The best bits are left until last and only then divulged under questioning.

Despite all the innovative hype surrounding his government, Morrison is flogging some very old ideas.  Joe Hockey’s “lifters and leaners” are clearly still part of the Liberal mental furniture as Morrison drags out the old austerity line that the government has to spend less on everything but especially on welfare.

“Buckets of money” are not available he says repeatedly as if the states, for example, were being scandalously reckless in requesting enough funds to pay for hospitals and schools after being cut $80 billion from forward projections in the Abbott government’s first budget.

Morrison evades Lenore Taylor’s question on how states obtain the funds to avert a looming crisis in health and education by saying we are all sovereign governments. In other words, states can raise taxes if they must, but the federal government “is not about taxing and spending”. It is a shameful capitulation to cheap politicking.

“I don’t run the other governments” he says betraying an immodest but never deeply concealed view of his power in the federal government. It’s his “upfront and candid” way of saying states need to raise their taxes. He bullshits that he is a “federalist”.

Is this petty trick his best shot? His government will cut its spending in order to get its budget back into surplus. States have to fend for themselves any way they can. No-one asked him if this were wise in the face of a looming global slowdown, if not a recession. No-one challenges the politics or the economics of austerity.

Discrimination and the politics of resentment are ugly ideas from anyone at the best of times but when times are tough, it behoves national political leaders not to be seen to foster division. ScoMo’s backing himself in. Bugger anyone else.

Equally unattractive is the tea party bias against taxation. Yet Morrison continues to claim against all evidence that rising tax rates are ‘job-destroying’ simply to justify cutting taxes for the wealthy while welfare recipients must expect to have benefits even further reduced.

Morrison’s this-is-not-the-budget speech is cagey and evasive on policy but generous to a fault when it comes to meaningless sloganeering such as “how can I back you in today”‘ which, by way of a clumsy personal anecdote, is his message for the nation.

Australians who are “out there earning” would win his government’s backing. Those millions of decent and worthy non wage-earning saving and investing Australians deserve less support.

Backing winners and bagging losers emerges as central to Morrison’s vision, a vision which he calls:  “backing Australians and our transitioning economy”. Who writes his stuff? His talk promises to ease taxes on worthy wage-earners who are “transforming and transitioning” our economy while the $11 billion he says goes on housing assistance is very clearly a drain in a less than upfront aside to his reply to 2CCC’s question about housing supply.

Otherwise the treasurer is ideologically bound to repeat the tired old myth that housing affordability is merely a matter of supply and demand despite the work of ratings agencies such as Fitch or the ABS suggesting otherwise.

Despite giving himself a boost as a ‘plain speaker’ Morrison is dull, opaque and cloaked in generalities. His pet analogy of how a government should handle a nation’s economy is embarrassingly hokey and wilfully misleading. It brings back memories of other conservatives in the position like Peter Costello who would offer the spurious analogy that the nation’s economy is like a household budget and must not spend more than its income.

When all else fails, Morrison badmouths Labor, a little too eagerly

Devoid of any announcement on GST, Morrison has no real material to offer. Instead he fumbles an austerity budget plan that depends on a couple of meaningless slogans.  ABC’s Chris Uhlmann gives him a boost in introducing him as the kind of guy who did what had to be done. “Stop the boats, they said and he did”.

Many watching recall today is the anniversary of 23 year old Iranian Reza Berati who was bashed to death on Manus Island in circumstances which Morrison has never given a candid or upfront account of, despite being the minister responsible at the time. Perhaps Morrison could be given leave to attend to unfinished business before he is not responsible for even further unspeakable suffering in his name.

Cabinet picked, Turnbull grins, spins in nightmare week from hell.

turnbull doing a grin and spin

 

“Ministers and assistant ministers are entrusted with the conduct of public business and must act in a manner that is consistent with the highest standards of integrity and propriety.”

Malcolm Turnbull Statement of Ministerial standards 20 November 2015.


 

There’s never been a more exciting time to be my Cabinet-Valentine, coos Malcolm Turnbull, a ministerial speed-dating app flashing late into the night on his golden iPhone.

It’s the one time in his career he can get people to say yes without reservation, although some old hands beg to differ. Everybody knows everyone finds the PM’s pitch irresistible, ABC Insiders’ guest The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy “hack-splains” on Sunday. He could “sell ice to Eskimos”.

Notwithstanding, Murphy’s “hacks-planation”, Turnbull’s spin is wearing thin. The week attests to the PM’s failure to persuade, discern or negotiate. His cabinet has not lasted six months. He can’t sell a bigger GST and he can barely control Scott Morrison, his treasurer, a bull at a bigger tax gate, with his eyes on the main prize. Now he is in damage control, plugging gaps, plying the snake-oil and repairing the façade of unity by extolling the virtue of growth.

‘An organism that stops growing dies’, he says in a spray of facile spin and grin, “growth is good”; ignoring cancer.

Oddly, despite being freshly ordained World’s Best Minister by the Emir of Dubai, at the behest of an appreciative petrochemical industry, Environmental Pollution Minister, Greg Hunt, who has put in a cheeky bid for Trade, does not receive even a text. Nor does the agile Erich Abetz, Former Employment minister who just knows his country needs him. Somehow The Mercury is moved to protest that “no Tasmanian is included in the new cabinet”.

It’s not true and it unfairly raises expectations about representation when the PM must meet other needs such as rewarding supporters and appeasing an angry and destabilising right wing.

Incumbent Tasmanian Cabinet member, Senator Richard Colbeck of Devonport, Minister for Tourism and International Education and assistant Minister for Trade and Investment since 2015 is somehow missed in the tally by the once-proud Tassie paper. He is from Devonport. Perhaps a trade visit to China to raise his profile is in order. Once he’s fixed the rogue colleges fleecing foreign students with bogus degrees.

“orderly, respectful government”

The PM could use a fixer. Having seen fifteen changes since promising “orderly, respectful government” in September, Turnbull must be hoping for better luck now as he woos a few hapless over-ambitious, under-qualified younger men and several token women into accepting cabinet positions they have no hope of mastering in the six months before the election. Some have form.

Then Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona, “Let them eat junk”, Nash was censured 5 March 2014 by the Senate for pulling a health energy rating website on the prompting of her adviser, Kraft-Cadbury spokesman, Alastair Furnival, who co-owns with his wife a confectionery and soft drink lobbying firm.

Since then Nash has made a healthy comeback. Trust the Nationals, the voice of the farmer, the mining industry and the tobacco lobby to overlook a mere Senate censure. Would either of the major parties been so keen to allow her to enter a leadership ballot?

Would her past actions pass the Turnbull test? MSM ignores the discrepancy between Stuart Robert’s treatment and the judgement meted out to Nash, to say nothing of her remarkably forgiving return to high office.

The Minister is in rude good health. So much so that she promised last week on ABC Q&A to forgo her private medical cover. Concern for the public good has since, sadly, forced her to renege on her pledge because, she claims, her stunt would displace a more deserving member of the public from obtaining a hospital bed. Nash has no problem, moreover, it would seem, with the $6bn taxpayers must pay each year to subsidise private health insurance.

New Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, dobbed into his new job by Robb, however, is no stranger to bed disputes or dog-whistle politics. Labor back-bencher Nick Champion would “slit Julia Gillard’s throat if he could”, Ciobo helpfully added to the public debate on political leadership in 2013, a phrase Peter Reith repeated, albeit with a twist. It is an ugly, violent and disparaging image which cannot help but fuel those predisposed towards violence against women.

Entitlement has raised its ugly head…

Then Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, brushed aside complaints about Ciobo as “merely metaphor”, a dismissal as short-sighted and partisan as his espousal of the right to vilify in seeking to remove section 18C of the racial Discrimination Act 1975. Turnbull’s new trade minister will doubtless expect he is entitled to the same level of support from his new PM. Entitlement has raised its ugly head before.

Four years ago, while on exchange to the US, Ciobo booked into a hotel when DFAT was slow to honour his request for a two bedroom flat for his wife and child incurring a bill of $8000 which he refused to pay. Was his dummy-spit a display of entitlement or the need to “disrupt”? Turnbull has clearly given him also the benefit of the doubt.

Disruptive, suddenly seems a less attractive buzz-word, however, to the PM, now that it is his government suffering the disruption. His promised orderly, respectful, government proves no different to Abbott’s “good government”.

“The government is now so deeply split between so-called moderates and the RW nutters that it can’t decide the time of day”, veteran Mike Carlton chortles. His restraint is admirable given the yawning ocean trench now threatening to swallow up PM Turnbull’s love boat on its extra-virgin, maiden voyage. No need to frighten the horses.

Stuart Robert is thrown splashily overboard but the boat fails to rise. Utterly rudderless, it leaks and lists to starboard. The tax reform table with everything on it must also go. If only someone could lift it! All hands look over the side. Robert’s nob, bobs idly amidst a wet, black crush of ministerial hats afloat a rising sea which laps hungrily along the gunwales of the PM’s ship of Theseus. Like Theseus’ ship, Turnbull’s cabinet has had so much of itself replaced that experts will debate forever whether it is the same ship.

…the PM can hide effortlessly in its shadow…

Stuart Robert has had to go. A bull in a China trade show, Robert is attacked in parliament by matador Shorten and picador Dreyfus . Pass after pass is made. Shorten fans go wild. Finally, he is gored beyond redemption. Nothing can be done, however. The PM has done all he can by referring the matter to its proper place, the desk of Dr Martin Parkinson which looms so big all week that the PM can hide effortlessly in its shadow. Turnbull just looks weak and crafty.

In the end, Robert is given no estocada (final, fatal sword thrust) in a Parkinson’s report which finds him in breach of the code but recommends no dismissal leaving Turnbull with no choice, he claims, but to remove him from the ministry.

Not only has Robert breached the ministerial code of conduct, the Minister for Being in China only on Personal Business has made a farce of question time by eagerly leaping to his feet to rush the despatch box only to decline to answer. All he’s done is helped his mate Marks get a good deal. OK, the Chinese thought he was there as a minister. OK his presence may have helped seal a deal. OK he does have shares in Marks’ company. But how was he to know? It was a trust.

Robert, of course, chooses to say nothing in the house. Endlessly he refers questioners to his previous response, itself a referral to a previous response, in a recursive series of diminishing returns. Surely the tactic will become known as the Robert-Droste stone-wall. His example, however, will prove a difficult legacy for Turnbull to manage. Sadly, clearly, he has been persuaded that the PM would spare him. Keep his word. Yet there is no shortage of help to be rid of him.

Liberal party leaks help Labor. Bill Shorten gives one of his best ex tempore speeches yet, which shows what he can do when he’s given the right material.

Turnbull’s indulgent, patronising smile turns into a fixed, rueful, rictus under the onslaught . Abbott’s faction has all the ammunition necessary to Roberts political overkill. And more. Who can doubt that the MP’s register of pecuniary interests will get another workout soon? Who will be the next hapless accidental tourist?

Perhaps the PM regrets that he has, last week, allowed Abbott a senior advisor for twelve months and an assistant ‘in keeping with the duties of a former Prime Minister’. Such as not sniping. The leaks can only continue.

Old hands sniff an early election. Some think it will be later, especially if the electoral office is to have time to publish the new senate voting rules, if they got through the current senate .

…the first fortnight of the phoney war…

Others hear all the flatulent garrulity of a lower house barely into its second wind in the first fortnight of the phoney war that is the prelude to the campaign proper. Warren Truss is oblivious, having at last handed the National’s tiller to Mr Barnaby.

Many are unsettled by the prospect of Barnaby Joyce being a heartbeat away from being Prime Minister, to say nothing of the yoking together in the show-ring of an agrarian socialist, Sinophobe, climate denier and a multi-millionaire, free- trade-is-my-religion merchant banker. The hayseed and the spiv may not be an election-winning image, it is feared. Christopher Pyne dubs them Yin and Yang, in a novel take on Taoist complementarity.

Wokka Truss, a National Murray Grey, for years forced to sleep uncomfortably on a front bench, is finally, mercifully led out to pasture. Or such pasture as remains after CSG frackers and coal-miners have taken their whack of the family farm.

Veteran blue heeler, Joyce is left as uncontested champion of the paddock and confirms his leadership as Nationals and Deputy PM by yapping a defence of Robert on the very morning of the day Turnbull announced that despite veterinary advice from Dr Martin Parkinson, Robert was to be put down.

The Abbott faction has been after Stuart Robert’s scalp to avenge his betrayal of his former leader, turning at the last minute, it seems, to follow Morrison into the Turnbull camp. Now Morrison is in the gun with Turnbull and with the Abbott factions over being far too bullish over a GST hike that he hopes to ride to victory over his critics. Turnbull is forced to bring forward the issue Treasury analysis which confirms that a 50% GST rise would be an economic downer in case Morrison declares it policy on Monday at the National Press Club lunch.

…cabinet rejects, failures and other has-beens…

Sweet Custard Bun as he is known in China, Malcolm Turnbull is on full-charm, grin and spin alert all week as party unity is well-nigh destroyed under the continuing assault of aggrieved right wingers, cabinet rejects, failures and other has-beens who cluster around the former Prime Minister in the Monkey Pod Room. Stuart Robert is paid back for his perfidy in defecting from the Abbott to the Turnbull camp in last September

It is a fantastical week in politics. Greg Hunt’s gong for Best Minister in the World is rivalled only by Philip Ruddock’s appointment as Australia’s special envoy on human rights to the UN. Both are upstaged, however, by Barnaby Joyce’s ascension to become deputy PM of Australia while in the background the Abbott faction continues to surprise a beleaguered PM with all manner of sniping, leaking and sundry other forms of creative disaffection and disruption. Saddled with a tax reform agenda it has lost control of and riddled with tensions and rivalries, the Turnbull ship is making very heavy weather of its maiden voyage.

Barnaby Joyce, Turnbull’s nightmare or the Nats gift to Labor

barnaby the dork


 

It’s official, Barnaby Joyce will soon be only a heart-beat away from being Prime Minister.

What is going on? What went wrong with the rumoured Liberal plan to keep Wokka on the payroll until after Turnbull got back in? Will Barnaby even be re-elected, given Tony Windsor’s threat to nominate as an independent who would at least represent his electorate and not sell out local farmers’ by giving their water to Shenhua mining? Is Barnaby the best man to arrest the National’s slow but inexorable shuffle into extinction?

As news of Joyce’s anointment as Nationals Leader filtered out Thursday, a mob of LNP loyalists in the ABC rushed to put a positive spin on the member for New England’s elevation, occasioned neither by merit nor popularity but by old bull Warren Truss’s retirement. Rumours of a challenge proved unfounded and no-one outside the Nationals could explain the process of acclamation or herd instinct which gave Barn the nod in the end. One thing is certain. A Barnaby explanation is unlikely to help.

ABC TV news showed an image of Joyce and Turnbull in profile in the Canberra afternoon sun, hayseed and spiv picking their way across press cables in the grounds of parliament house. It was not a reassuring image; not an election-winning look. The pair are at best an odd couple but many in MSM were keen to give the marriage of convenience a boost. Few bothered to note the different religions of the pro-foreign investment PM and his new keep the bastards out agrarian socialist deputy. It can’t last and it won’t work.

A few, such as Bernard Keane foresee disaster. With Robb’s resignation, Turnbull will lack capable and experienced hands on deck. An embattled PM will have to contend, moreover, with a deputy who is a maverick on fiscal policy and foreign investment. Tony Abbott had to drop him after four months as shadow finance minister. Joyce seemed set on playing the role of fiscal village idiot. Debt was so huge, he once alleged that Australia  would soon default on its foreign debt. Just what you need, really in an aspiring deputy PM.

Someone on ABC’s The Drum gushed that Joyce would certainly get the Nat’s brand ‘out there’, whatever that may be, in an echo of the Liberal mantra. Bugger policy, just get the message out. No-one, however, would quibble with the ‘out there’. Another thought Barnaby said what he thought, unwittingly identifying his Achilles heel. Joyce’s cringe-worthy grandstand over Johnny Depp’s dogs has clearly worked well for him in some quarters. ‘Bugger off back to America’ certainly has a ring about it.

Who knows ‘We decide whose dogs come into this country’ could be an election winner in the way that a similar slogan worked for John Howard after the Tampa crisis. The country’s been barking mad on migration since.

Dubious claims and dog-whistling aside, what seems clear is that the Nationals are now packaged on MSM as a kind of circus who merit a cheer for giving us Joyce, a favourite clown, an outspoken but amiable and benign buffoon who will entertain us as a celebrity in the razzle-dazzle Luna Park of our national politics.  Soft focus; no hard stuff. Jokey blokey.

Little space is made so far in the popular imagination for the real Barnaby whose unabashed populism, his loose grasp of fiscal policy and his capacity to shoot from the lip could well and truly cruel the coalition’s chances in the next election. Now he’s got the job, let’s not over-think the selection process.

Can Barnaby handle his responsibilities? So far most of these would appear to be well beyond him. Veteran cat herder as he may be in the national’s cupboard of a party room, with big Wokka as backup, he may now have to muster a whole coalition or front the despatch box while his PM is overseas innovating, posing for photographs with soldiers or selling off more of the farm, as befits any hot-eyed zealot of the cargo cult of free trade deals, the Liberals’ new evangelical religion.

With Wokka out to pasture, the new bull will need to do the mysterious things that Nats do in the name of leading the party. His critics say he has neither the discipline nor the character. Voting, it seems is rare, but somehow consensus is forged. Perhaps it’s a young-bull old-bull tussle. Even here, while Barnaby has the seniority and the scars to prove it, he may struggle a bit to exert authority given his unpopularity and his volatility. At least there’s only ten of them in parliament to contend with.

While Barnaby’s struggle to be boss of his party mirrors something of the same in Toff’s Corner between Malcolm and the many Liberals who can’t stand the man, his need for approval may also gee up his populist anti-foreign investment and debt rhetoric, heedless of its effect on the economy. Some of these are as well-presented and enlightened as his views on the climate.

“Look … I just – I’m always sceptical of the idea that the way that anybody’s going to change the climate – and I’m driving in this morning and we’re driving through a frost – is with bureaucrats and taxes. All that does is … it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I make you feel guilty so I can get your money and put it in my pocket and send reports backwards and forth to one another.”

Dear old Barnaby, the sheep-wrangling syntax mangler, has some funny old views on a whole range of issues. He’s a cheerful climate change denialist who opposes same sex marriage because a diamond is not like a square. He warned us in 2010 of approaching economic Armageddon. Carbon tax, he notoriously claimed would kill sheep farming.

“It’ll be the end of our sheep industry. I don’t think your working mothers are going to be very happy when they’re paying over $100 for a roast.”

Joyce is also capable of picking a fight in court as when in October last year he accused Tony Windsor of profiteering out of selling property to Shenhua. Windsor threatened to sue.

But let’s not laugh at Barnaby. It’s too easy to rubbish the Nationals as an historical atavism, a party which has long since lost its relevance, party which is in terminal decline. Small in numbers it may be, but those numbers matter to the Liberals. Let’s remember that in 2010 without his leadership of the revolt against the carbon tax, Tony Abbott would never have seized the leadership from Malcolm Turnbull.  Chances are, the way things are lining up, Barnaby could well be the Bill-Shorten-for-PM camp’s best ally.