Double D is all the buzz in Canberra this week as a Malcolm Turnbull shrewdly deflect a bit of media attention away from Niki Savva, The Trump Show or Rupert and Gerry’s nuptials. The PM looks exhausted, uneasy. Is he well? Has he been reading something which disagrees with him? “Government poll plunge, says a headline: voters drift away in disappointment”. Surely not?
The Pell show, whose brilliant superstar never knew what was going on either, or could not recall; a natural leader who asked no questions and who took neither initiative nor responsibility to protect anyone but himself was always going to be a hard act to follow.
Big Mal doubles down. He coyly hints at early July, using the words “working towards”. It is a week of such nebulous certainties from a government of definite maybes. Turnbull’s drawn, weary face increasingly betrays his hesitance, his indecision and timidity. As PM he is our most brilliant ditherer. When reporters bravely question the uncertainty, the unwillingness to rule out idle speculation, the indecision he just says bafflingly:
“It’s a great story.”
No indecision, whatsoever, is shown by Victorian Liberal President Michael Kroger, however, who leaps straight into bed with the Greens. Liberals could enter a “loose arrangement” with the Greens ahead of the forthcoming federal election, he says adding the Greens are “not the nutters they used to be”. Say what you like about his bedside manner, at least he’s not shilly-shallying when picking his date.
31 different election dates have now been offered by a government which came to power promising clarity, economic leadership and adult government. Russell Broadbent calls a 2 July election date “the longest suicide note since the Roman Empire”. He’s lost his marginal Victorian seat twice and sees “only negatives from a campaign that long”. But the hares are already away.
An adult Peter Dutton jumps the gun to tell ABC radio listeners Labor will raise rents, lower prices, “bring the economy to a shuddering halt. The stock market will crash”. Dutton is immediately accused of channelling Tony Abbott leader of the Monkey Pod faction who continues to swear he is doing everything he can to see that a Turnbull government is re-elected despite all evidence to the contrary.
Could it be, as Niki Savva warns, Abbott is back to what he does best: wrecking governments? Or is he, as Peter Reith contends, hell-bent on bringing down Turnbull at any cost? Both of these notions have a grain of truth in them but the blame game is always a trap if only because of its false assumptions. Let us not forget that Abbott’s bad policies ultimately brought him down.
Turnbull has inherited most of his predecessor’s bad policy baggage and he’s captive to the hard right. Even without Abbott’s destabilisation campaign, Turnbull is batting on a sticky wicket. Even if he had the world’s best cabinet or party room, he would still be lumbered by unpopular and unworkable policies on climate, marriage equality and defence binge-spending. Adding or perhaps multiplying these vulnerabilities are his lack of any economic plan, Budget plan or taxation policy. Now factor in his poor decision-making.
Turnbull’s self-sabotage tops any list of threats. If Abbott’s monkey pod yahoos are aiming to wreck the joint, the PM is already doing some useful self-demolition on his own. What’s the story? Where is his narrative or his strategy? Turnbull the great communicator remains mute; so conflicted on what he stands for that trivial speculation about the date of the election eclipses all else. He is shaping to take the record as Prime Minster who spent longest as a man in search of a plan – any plan.
Turnbull is putting undue pressure on Unicorn Morrison and his rookie team with a 3 July election. Chances of embarrassing errors increase as the tight budget deadline is brought forward even a week.
His slogan about the need to bust union corruption and power is a weak case for the ABCC and an unlikely election winner in the context of news of ANZ rate rigging or revelations that the Commonwealth Bank’s government-subsidised health insurance arm has scammed policy holders including forcing some doctors to alter their diagnoses to avoid payouts to the sick and vulnerable.
CFMEU secretary Dave Noonan even cites Dyson Heydon against bringing back the ABCC. “Even the Heydon Commission Final Report points to the conclusions of the 2014 Productivity Commission Report which says there is no credible evidence that the ABCC regime created a resurgence in construction productivity and that its removal has had a negative effect.”
Although he talks as if we can all bank on bucket loads of improved productivity because the economy is “transitioning”, Scott Morrison shows he still has no clue what he is doing or how the economy works, while Turnbull appears to be “doing him slowly” as Keating put it.
Will the PM beat the Abbott and Hockey Budget Show ratings by bribing our higher earners with tax refunds in an economically unwise move which none of us can afford? Will he tinker with super? Will he fudge the budget with income from legislation yet to pass the senate? Nobody is talking.
At least it gives reporters another chance to get their mouths around the words double dissolution, a delicious attention-getting confection which few could ever explain. Experts differ on whether it will confer the government control over a new senate. What is certain is that haste increases the risk of error.
Rushed decisions are statistically guaranteed to succeed better on average than no decisions, Turnbull must be thinking. Bugger tip-toeing around business and investor confidence. Optimism. Positivity. Taking risks, he drones on. No-one asks him why Tony’s Tradies” magic bullet in the last Abbott budget, set to “turbo-charge the economy,” or so we were assured, was a flop according to a recent report. Was it simply another quick-fix?
The small business package, a mere $5.5 billion over four years, was to be a centrepiece of the Abbott government’s re-election plans. Boost the economy and create jobs, Hockey boosted in a slogan that his successor Unicorn Morrison now applies to everything including breathing and passing wind.
There is no boost. Economist Saul Eslake says that car and retail sales may have risen slightly over a couple of months but nothing was sustained. Less clear is why anyone ever expected it to. No reason was ever given. Perhaps it was part of the magical thinking or wilful self-delusion of the trickle-down theory. Tradies with new utes would immediately burn rubber down to the Centrelink to hire new workers.
In the real world, IMF economists argue that the same investment in pensions, in improving the bottom ten per cent of income-earners’ spending power would be a real boost; stimulate economic activity and dampen galloping inequality. Yet as our Iranian overture this week clearly shows, reality and the Turnbull government are often estranged.
One of the week’s most unreal achievements in political boosterism is news from Julie Bishop that Australia could be on the verge of an Iran asylum-seeker deal, a wondrous tribute to our Foreign Minister’s diplomacy and tact and a great help to a PM dithering over an election date.
All 9000 of our Iranian prisoners are to be forcibly repatriated. Iran is on the verge of becoming really safe for dissidents and minorities, it is thought, although DFAT retains its website warning:
“The Australian Government remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Iran, including the use of capital punishment, in particular for juvenile offenders; violations of political and media freedoms; and discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities.”
DFAT cites people smuggling, terrorism, regional issues and human rights as issues of importance to Australia’s relationship with Iran. Clearly nothing to see here.
Champagne corks are on the verge of popping when the Iranian Ambassador pulls the rug. Luckily Peter Dutton is able to confirm that we still have two former detainees in Cambodia. At $55 million he adds, the plan is working, a prudent investment of $27.5 million per person which the remaining 2000 people now in their third year of indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru look forward to at least the same amount being spent on them. Those resettled on Manus receive $50 per week allowance and must pay for their own medicine.
Is it a flip flop or just another Turnbull government flop? Just how did The West Australian come to print such a piece? It claimed talks on repatriation, a long-running point of contention between the two countries were well-advanced and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was hopeful of a deal next week. Was it a pressure tactic gone horribly wrong? Surely Peta Credlin is not still leaking against Bishop?
Some governments would believe they owed someone at least an explanation but Turnbull regime is just as preoccupied with keeping things secret as its predecessor. Nothing to see here.
Australians are quietly, firmly, pushed away from better security and intelligence oversight. Senator David Johnson tells Labor that John Faulkner’s private member’s bill to improve oversight of the joint committee on security and intelligence will be refused because the situation does not require fixing. It is the first Labor hears of the change of plan.
For new JCIS chair, Andrew Nikolic, since we are at war with ISIS, the public has no right to know anyway. Under its new chair the committee will become a rubber stamp. Turnbull’s government is rejecting improved oversight out of hand. Any supervision now relies on a government appointed overseer and a monitor it tried to do away with in 2014. it could have been worse. They could have called in the IPA. The agile IPA is called in to help the ABC decide its exciting new future.
Those who value what independence is left in the ABC will be alarmed that under its new head, Michelle Guthrie, a Turnbull appointee, the ABC invites the right wing IPA which holds that the broadcaster should be privatised. At least their views are on public record.
“Only privatising the ABC will resolve the public policy failure that sees more than $1bn of taxpayers’ money annually spent campaigning for left wing causes.”
Public policy is not about to fail if Alan Tudge can do anything about it. The newly sworn in Social Services Minister who replaces an unfortunate but enterprising and pro-Chinese Stuart Robert is keen to ensure saving money on welfare while splurging on contractors who scan social media as Centrelink changes its role from support to surveillance agency.
When Australians get to see a budget it will be interesting, once again to note how many billions the government is keen to recover from welfare fraud. Last budget listed over a billion dollars. Less conspicuous will be the cost incurred hiring contractors to catch the unwary fraudsters who may unwittingly divulge income or a change in marital status they have not reported to Centrelink.
Finally, showing that its heart is in the right place, politicians entitlements have been reviewed by the Expenditure Review Committee which recommends no changes. In 2015-2016 our politicians are spending $506m just on entitlements. At $2.2m per MP, this may sound generous to the layman but just imagine where we’d all be without the review. Now we know we are getting a quality product, we can sit back and enjoy the show. After all, we are all paying for it in the end, anyway.