Month: April 2016

Turnbull has no intention of cleaning up banking.


“Not all bankers are greedy, profiteering, heartless bastards” says the PM, airing his fabled diplomatic charm and finely nuanced business skills after the cheese and port at the Westpac Bank 199th birthday bash, 6 April, “but those who aren’t should blow the whistle on those who are.”

As with many of the PM’s recent homilies, it is a bizarre tack to take. Not that it is all up to the banks themselves to clean up their acts. ASIC MKII with extra funds will help keep our banking industry’s usurers and loan-sharks on the straight and narrow.

Even if it has been a complete failure in the past – and despite being designed to go after corporations and not banks. And under-staffed.

Despite a senate inquiry which found on 26 June 2014 it was not up to snuff and suggested a Royal Commission, a bigger, better ASIC is sold as the answer.

Bankers, under Liberal governments especially, whom they fund most generously, are in a class of their own. Despite doing very little of anything productive, except to make profits out of other people’s industry and trust, banks bask like sharks in the status of an industry. And for the Liberals it is a protected industry.

Turnbull has factored both natural sloth and potected species status into his cunning reforming plan. It won’t all be one great orgy of self-reporting fraudulence. A newly rebooted ASIC will be the tough new (recycled) cop on the block. Or so he says.

ASIC will even get some of its $120 million dollar 2013-14 Budget cut back courtesy of the same government. Overnight, the regulator will be transformed from paper tiger to a bigger, fatter, slower, pussy cat.

The PM, himself, is busier  than a cat watching two rat-holes. His government now, due to its own ineptitude and tactical blundering, has a feral Senate on its hands with two weeks to kill after its “let’s bring back the ABCC” bill was thrown out in a day.

Cross-bench senators may have been turkeys voting for Christmas over their dismissal of the ABCC legislation, but they were focused turkeys. The focus is back on corruption. And anti-Turnbull government with a vengeance.

The Liberals’ cunning plan envisaged weeks of wrangling and nifty anti-senate maverick cross bench bad press for the propaganda mill.

Now the government is forced into a politically embarrassing and potentially disastrous end-game. Labor’s Penny Wong has successfully summonsed Arthur Sinodinos to explain his role in dodgy NSW Liberal fund-raising. This was not part of Turnbull’s “brilliant and audacious” scheme.

Yet the PM is no slouch when it comes to jawboning and droning on about banking reform.

Turnbull will restore $57 million – almost half of the funding cut by Abbott and Hockey in 2013. Half of the several hundred staff it sacked may be re-engaged or replaced. But the PM’s main game plan remains DIY anti-corruption by insider whistle-blowing and a bit of finger-wagging from himself as coach. It’s wet, it’s weak and it’s won’t work.

Unsurprisingly, the PM’s speech does not go over well.  Some of his audience go off like a frog in a sock. The gruntled wunch of bankers at the birthday bash suddenly turns ugly when after dinner speaker, Turnbull appears to acause them of malfeasance and roguery, in the best banking tradition, betraying former colleagues, scandalising them with an unexpectedly blunt, broadside.

Some are outraged at the jumped up former merchant banker. Mortified. Who farted in church? Others voice the proposition  that the PM’s public embrace of banking reform will only confirm to the public that there is a banking problem. Now that is a conundrum.

Doubtless the conundrum of the government’s love of banking problem, a tough love that dare not speak its name,  will be aired repeatedly on the hustings once Turnbull gets the bottle to formally declare his 2 July election date and begin the longest, dunless, least-advised and coyest (so far)  in Australian political history.

The PM does, however, avoid the word ‘scandal’. It can’t be easy. He invokes higher principles – risking  losing or further confusing every banker present. Reciprocity, for example, is surely in order, he thunders given taxpayers once rallied to carry the banks though the GFC:

“… many Australians, as you know, ask today: ‘Have our bankers done enough in return for this support? Have they lived up to the standards we expect, not just the laws we enact?’ Wise bankers, such as your leaders, recognise these questions are legitimate – dismissing them as bank bashing misses the point.” 

The bankers glare back at him with pursed lips. Most must, surely, know by now that the PM is just an ineffectual windbag and hopeless hog-washer but their faces register disgust, nevertheless, at his insolence, his lese majeste. Most note, nevertheless, in the margin of the ledger of their discontent that he proposes no action.

Turnbull’s serve, of course, is all for show. It is aimed less at righting wrongdoing, such as ANZ and Westpac’s current prosecution for illegal home loan rate fixing, than the need to be seen to be doing something about the industry as it is designated today, where the term industry is widely and loosely applied to any form of commercial intercourse including prostitution.

Yet he does cut through, judging by the bankers’ anger. No-one in the industry mistakes the PM’s studied indirection. He does not have to spell out how our Big Four dodge tax or give conflicted investment advice or deny insurance payouts and sundry other ways the industry can make its customers suffer, including, as Mike Seccombe nearly summarises in The Saturday Paper:

“the pursuit of small investors who lost their savings through bank-financed fraudulent investment schemes, to foreclosing on drought-stricken farmers who have fallen behind on their covertly restructured loans by minuscule amounts, to colluding to manipulate interest rates.”

There is of course much more but it’s enough to have anyone reaching for his antacid. Labor has helpfully provided Seccombe’s newspaper with four closely typed pages detailing seventy separate acts of financial malfeasance, supporting its case for a Royal Commission.

Yet for the last ten days, the government’s case is that bankers must never be brought to any Royal Commission lest it cause a loss of confidence in the industry. Things are really crook in banking, we know, runs its logic, but let’s not do anything to frighten the horses. Lose confidence in the system. As if there were any confidence left.

The Turnbull lecture is quite a show. The PM calls upon on his sure grasp of banking history and tradition, to say nothing of occasion and convention, to lecture his former colleagues about their fixation with profit and personal gain,.

Yet he  makes it perfectly clear that all he is prepared to do about it is half of sweet Bugger all or this  ritual public flogging with a limp salad green.

Meanwhile, Turnbull and his hugely underperforming treasurer, Scott Morrison, endlessly tell the nation that ASIC is doing a simply marvellous job of holding our Big Four to account in spite of all the evidence now tabled.

Assistant Treasurer and former banking employee, puppet Kelly O’Dwyer maintains there’s nothing wrong in her being sponsored by banks at precisely the time when there is every reason for detachment and objectivity. It’s world’s best practice, surely.

Morrison repeatedly claims in his unique manner, like a racehorse at the gallop, that the regulator has more powers than a Royal Commission, ignoring its manifest failure so far to bring any banker to book, a failure rooted deeply in Westpac’s origins.

Westpac was founded in NSW as the Bank of New South Wales in 1817 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie but it was almost ruined when, in 1821, Edward Smith Hall, its Chief Cashier, made off with half its subscribed capital, none of which was ever recovered. Yet it has never looked back since.

The transfer of funds seems to have done Hall less harm than his reformist political views aired in his newspaper, The Monitor, which put him to jail on charges of sedition until a change of monarch caused Governor Darling to pardon him. Even then, the bank was too big to fail.

And so today, our banks must be protected, at all costs, from themselves and from that low-life Shorten’s plans to call a Royal Commission, plans which would utterly destroy consumer confidence in an untrustworthy bunch of mongrels who are interested, as the PM so aptly puts it, only in profit and personal gain.

Not only would a Commission undermine the reputation and credibility of our banking sector, Shorten’s promise is just another “distraction, a thought bubble”, a sentiment echoed by the Treasurer in a rare display of consensus, his head weaving, his lips flecked with foam .

Shorten replies that the banks have already done a good job on their reputations themselves.

ASIC, both Turnbull and Morrison claim, is already perfectly equipped to do the job although the Senate inquiry in 2014 found exactly the opposite to be the case.

According to Morrison, ASIC has the same powers as a Royal Commission, yet it is set up to look into corporations, not banks and it has a lamentable record of failure.

ASIC has failed to stop banks’ overcharging on credit cards, colluding to fix interest rates for home mortgages or prevent financial planners providing conflicted advice. CommInsure, the Commonwealth Bank’s insurance arm has refused to pay out on insurance claims even pressuring doctors to change diagnoses. ASIC, the corporate watchdog, has merely looked on.

Even the Liberals are divided. Almost immediately, Turnbull is publicly contradicted by eight Liberal MPs. Mackay MP George Christensen, a prominent Delcon, (delusional conservative working towards Tony Abbott’s return) wants a Royal Commission as do a handful of Nats including Warren Entsch and the champion of reform, senator John Williams whose comment echoes the PM’s moral tone.

“We get dog products, dog advice in a culture of profit, profit, profit and to hell; with everyone’s security”

Propping up ASIC is the government’s lame answer to those now on both sides who call for a Royal Commission into banking because of a series of big bank scandals which have led to a crisis of consumer confidence. These critics won’t be fobbed off.

Pretending ASIC is up to the job is preposterous – as preposterous as calling on Australian banking to clean up its act via whustle-blowing. Or that a bit of Prime Minsterial finger-wagging is anothing better than a pea-shooter against a rhinoceros.

ASIC is a failed regulator, already discredited by the 2014 senate inquiry as too “timid”, “inept” and too “gullible” to do its job in an industry, the committee noted, in which whistle-blowers fared badly – before ASIC had its staff and funding cut.

Spare us the moral posturing, Mr Turnbull, you have no intention of getting banks to clean up their act, even if you had the means to achieve it. There is a list, a long list of banking malfeasance to attend to but your latest efforts are as laughably inept as your audacious early election gambit, already seriously unstuck in the senate.

And if a Royal Commission costing $80 million running for two years but achieving nothing was good enough for Labor’s union backers, a Royal Commission into the banking industry, is the very least you could offer the nation – despite your party’s indebtedness to banks for its funding; despite the love that dare not speak its name.

Wronski to resume shortly

Dear readers

Blogging has been suspended recently while I have been in Auckland supporting youngest sister, Linda who has just undergone a major operation.

Linda has now been discharged from hospital and appears to be recuperating well.

Will resume blogging as soon as practicable.

kind regards


Urban Wronski

Turnbull humiliated, descends to finger wagging.

all at sea on china

This budget will not be about a fistful of dollars, it will be about prudence, fairness and responsibility to our future generations,”

So the PM told the Victorian Liberal Party conference in Melbourne this week a gathering to honour John Winston Howard who blew the mining bonanza buying votes while generally ignoring prudence, fairness and responsibility to anyone’s future but his own.

Newspoll has Labor 51 ahead of LNP 49 two party-preferred for the first time this week and is unlikely to respond to Turnbull’s budget hints, while his popularity plummets each week. If only they had a category for best prevaricator, bloviator or most patronising toff.

Publicly humiliated last Friday when a scurvy crew of state and territory leaders angrily trashed his latest tax plan, the PM was affronted by the premiers’ outrageous demands that the government repay the $80 billion over ten years Health and Education funding Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey cut in the 2014 Budget, perhaps with a GST hike in mind, PM Turnbull was quick, this week to claim the high moral ground at the top of the COAG compost heap.

Ignoring entirely his government’s part in creating the funding crisis which is already causing some Victorian hospitals to close emergency wards and ordinary folk to suffer, the PM dismissed the $80 billion as “a fantasy”, although it appears in his own government’s 2014 budget overview:

“In this Budget the Government is adopting sensible indexation arrangements for schools from 2018, and hospitals from 2017-18, and removing funding guarantees for public hospitals. These measures will achieve cumulative savings of over $80 billion by 2024-25.”

Later he led his team to repeat this falsehood and misrepresent the Premiers’ behaviour.

“The reality is … if they’re not prepared to make the case to their citizens through their parliament for higher taxes, they cannot seriously or credibly ask us to raise taxes to give money for them to spend.”

Yet it was the PM himself who seemed less than serious, especially to Tasmania, South Australia and The Northern Territory whose smaller populations would mean they would have to raiser higher taxes. The NT calculates it would have to raise taxes by over 8% to make up for the loss of the tied health and education grants.

Turnbull didn’t care as long as he could paint the states as churlish, uncooperative and immature. He bared his bottom teeth like an anglerfish attracting prey.

“Live within your means,” Turnbull lectured the premiers. A paragon of frugal living himself, his personal commitment to frugal domestic economy includes a Spartan $52 million Sydney hacienda, a lakeside Canberra penthouse, art deco New York apartments, Hunter Valley land holdings and a few lazy million perfectly legally invested in a Cayman Island Trust.

Legal to his back teeth, the PM is not accused of anything but hypocrisy. OK – being hopelessly removed from everyday reality also cuts it. (Just one of his ties would cost you your entire Newstart allowance.)

“Trustafarian” Turnbull’s Cayman Island investments yield income which, he assures us, he pays tax on in Australia, although the whole point of the exercise is to reduce his taxable income. Apart from safety and privacy. One per cent of the world’s population owns half the wealth and they need somewhere special to stash it.

Tax havens are not perfect, however. This week’s leak of 2.6 terabytes of data exposing 11.5 million documents made Mossack Fonseca look a bit ordinary. The world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, it runs 214, 000 shell companies for those, who, through no fault of their own, are born impossibly rich and a few other innocents abroad in the serendipitously named British Virgin Islands. Some of this clientele is now acutely embarrassed.

Plummy, UK PM, David Cameron, has hammed up a series of excuses, beginning with how his shares in his late father’s Blairmore offshore Trust, were just a family matter while the laconic Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, Iceland’s PM simply swiftly hung up his ice-pick.

The ATO will go through the records of 800 Australians exposed by the leak, although down in staff numbers and facing further government cuts which will see numbers reduced by a total of 5000 so far. The Turnbull government is unwilling to put its money where its mouth is on catching tax cheats.

Some big company names have surfaced already: Wilson Security, which runs Australia’s offshore detention facilities with extreme prejudice towards those within, is shown to be still linked to Thomas and Raymond Kwok who were implicated in a Hong Kong corruption scandal. Thomas Kwok was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for bribery.

The Greens have the temerity to call on the government to terminate Wilson Security’s contracts, a case which was strengthened by reports that the firms’ guards had beaten children, a fact which Peter Dutton told ABC’s Mark Colvin was just peddling unsubstantiated rumour and was part of a conspiracy of advocates: “I think these people are being used as pawns, frankly, by some advocates in Australia.” A day later the report was verified.

The odd big corporate name has already popped up in the Panama Papers. BHP Billiton is revealed to have been warned by Mossack Fonseca’s compliance division to get its act together or get out. Its governance controversies meant that it was high risk and needed to produce extensive documentation.

BHP left the firm instead, doubtless to seek another off-shore firm with a lower doc approach which will enable it to continue to pursue those frugal, thrifty practices which so inspire our Prime Minister.

Turnbull’s preaching of thrift sits oddly with his government’s own extravagance. From $153 billion when Abbott assumed office, net debt is now $279 billion a rise from 10 per cent to nearly 17 per cent of GDP. Axing the carbon tax, its hobby horse, has cost over $7 billion per year. Direct Action will cost $1.5 billion over three years.  Its White Paper promises to “increase the defence budget to reach $42.4 billion, which is two per cent of GDP, in 2020-21.”

Happily there is another IPA plan. Education Minister Simon Birmingham confirmed this week he will continue to deregulate tertiary education, thus helping those who can afford it to go to university, further entrench educational inequality and ensure more young people will be living beyond their means. Look forward to $100,000 degrees.

The burden of unpaid HECS has been positioned in the news this week as a way of making us feel sorry not for the students who can’t get jobs to pay back their loans but for the government which holds all of this debt.

No wonder it proposes to get students to repay loans faster and lower the income threshold whilst it may remove HECS access for TAFE students, entirely. Despite its lip-service to its innovation agenda, it talks of raising University entrance standards. It is axing 350 CSIRO scientists, gutting the climate science unit and backing out of funding schools.

Fittingly, debt-ridden Victorian student protesters interrupted yet another Liberal dinner in honour of the architect of much of our current social, political and fiscal mess, St John Howard, who came to power twenty years ago with the slogan “for all of us” a form of words whose meaning his government spent years refining.

Howard changed the basis of federal funding for private schools to enable well-established, well-endowed schools for the privileged to attract millions more from government funding, accelerating the drift away from state schools and helping create, “for the rest of us”  a residualised system, less and less equipped to provide equality of educational outcome with its favoured, private neighbour. The trend will accelerate under Turnbull’s school funding proposal.

Howard’s welfare-to-work policy pushed single parents and Australians with a disability down to the lower Newstart allowance, a saving which benefited older, upper middle class punters.

Howard’s introduction of The Job Network, alone, stripped one billion out of funding to help long term unemployed. His Work for the Dole scheme echoes the Turnbull government’s view that it is only your attitude that holds you back, whether you are a dole bludger who refuses to look for work or a state premier who wants to fritter the kitty away on indulgences like health and education but who won’t get out there and raise your own bloody taxes.

“Live within your means,” is music to lot of public ears.  Even Ombudsperson for Small Business, Kate Carnell, is heard gurgling sweet nothings over her boss’s hard line with the states, although it did not stop her urging the PM to cut company taxes, despite The Panama Papers confirming that the biggest struggle faced by many companies is how to sock away its profits. Expect company tax cuts in the budget.

Continuing the moralising, BHP’s spin off, Whyalla steel-maker Arrium which began with a 1.2 billion debt from its parent was roundly condemned by many for its “poor investment decisions” namely its decision to mine iron ore as well as make steel, which in reality like those of the government itself consisted of misreading the end of the mining boom.

“Fiscal vandals” and “not adults” sneered Tony Abbott’s pet pen-pusher Greg Sheridan who is also Australian Foreign Editor, appearing on Q&A Monday, helping the government promote its superior tone.

Greg might have been talking about the banks who have moved swiftly on Arrium to recoup what is likely to be 65 cents in the dollar on the $4 billion plus the little South Australian miner and steel-maker owed the Big Four. After flogging the bankers with a limp lettuce leaf, the PM backed off, helping Bill Shorten steal a march by announcing a Royal Commission into banking should Labor come to power and labelling Turnbull’s tax plan double taxation.

To be fair to the PM, his cunning plan was not his own but an IPA leftover. Yet even Tony Abbott had seen fit to leave it well alone leaving Malcolm Turnbull with the need to pay back his tormentors and to lead an increasingly skittish government once more into the breach this week by claiming to have won a strategic victory.

Less was said of his cunning plan to back out of funding state schools while vowing to continue to fund the privileged private sector. The PM himself hammed it up on TV pretending to have discovered something he archly called “clarity”. By this he meant he had tricked the state premiers all into revealing their true positions. He knew where they stood.

Turnbull’s rout had become a magnificent victory by Monday, according to Turnbull himself who presented his defeat as a “moment of clarity” that revealed the states “lacked the stomach for reform” and must “live within their means”.

It was a line which Joe Hockey, looking on fondly from his comfortably refurbished, palatial ambassadorial residence in Washington wished he’d had the guts to use.

Industry Minister Christopher Pyne was everywhere Thursday boasting an $80 million contract to buy Arrium steel to build roads would save Whyalla from being wiped off the map, although it needs $4 billion. Only exports can keep it afloat. The SA steel-maker was forced into voluntary administration by banks who are sensitive even to their modest exposure to mining suddenly want their $4 billion back and their own administrators installed.

Arrium, previously OneSteel and a former BHP subsidiary, set up with a 1.2 billion debt, is a casualty of falling commodity prices, cheap Chinese imports and an LNP industry policy confined to closing down car makers and Ardmona while finding billions for submarines it won’t build locally. It last traded at 2.2c and is worth $65 million.

As he jetted off to China where he could offer a few pointers of his own on the Chinese Premier’s cultivation of a Maoist cult of the leader’s personality Turnbull would spearhead another massive invasion of 1200 SME business types dwarfing the record 350 who invaded Indonesia last November when Douglas Robb was in the top Trade job.

Once again our army of business types is intent on landing a deal with a nation which requires little from us but which must be allowed to sell us ruinously cheap steel and which is staring down the barrel of an imminent recession it will inevitably share with all the rest of us.

However well it may airbrush its official statistics, China’s economic growth is faltering. Luckily our former Trade Minister and special envoy Douglas Robb has a cunning plan to cash in by servicing the political elite’s well-being.

“First it’s their diets, then it’s their health care, and then it’s ensuring their kids’ education. These are our strengths.”

Let’s hope the Chinese don’t look too hard at our government’s domestic health provision. Let’s hope the Chinese don’t look too hard at our government’s domestic health provision. Or its contempt for education. Or what we know of Chinese medicine.



A blast from the past for the pro-nuclear Turnbull government.

julie and poroshenko


The week in politics was rocked by the disclosure that the NSW Liberal Party was, once more, in a spot of bother. Public-spirited to a fault, the Prime Minster then leapt nobly into the breach, diverting the nation’s attention from the Liberals’ deepening crisis and taking us all back to 1942, with a bizarre last-minute proposal that states levy their own income tax because they are clearly wasting federal funds on health and education.  Luckily, it was one IPA proposal that Tony Abbott had overlooked.

Lobbed like a grenade into an already hostile COAG meeting of state premiers who, Colin Barnett aside, want him to return the $80 billion his predecessor cut from hospital and school funding, the proposal either blew up in his face or it was a cunning tactical move to paint the premiers as ingrates and nay-sayers – depending on your choice of spin doctor.

By Saturday Shorten had him on the back foot calling COAG a “humiliating farce” forcing Turnbull to snarl that state premiers could never ask federal government for any funds ever again. Having rejected his best offer, (made without a scrap of documentation), they are to stop snivelling about going broke and take whatever further cold cuts and other stale leftovers from the IPA menu are fed them in the May Budget.

Now it has his number on cut-throat competitive federalism, Labor has been quick to exploit both the mean spirit of the PM’s less than innovative proposal and the hasty manner in which it was made, an urgency, Mr Turnbull has explained which was brought on by the draft cabinet document being leaked the previous day.

Not only is his COAG leadership looking uninspiring, however, the PM’s anti-corruption-in-construction election plank is flimsy in the light of the evidence of corruption surfacing in the NSW ICAC into Liberal funding which suggests most of his party’s funds in that state came from prohibited donors.

Funding is big in the NSW Liberal Party HQ ending the careers of many state politicians including wine buff, former Premier Barry O’Farrell. The outfit not only runs our most populous, most powerful state, it is an incubator for those born to rule federal politics, such as Bronwyn Bishop, whose every waking moment is dedicated to keeping the streets of McKellar safe from ISIS.

Bronnie’s former mentor, local hero and darling of the NSW right wing, IPA apostle Tony Abbott soldiers on bravely juggling his valuable advisory work in Ukraine with his many international speaking engagements because of his need to “make a contribution”.

Tony’s contribution in Ukraine is a paid position on President Poroshenko’s International Advisory Council. Poroshenko assured him that all his council members are “an author of economic or democratic miracle in your countries.”  Tony’s noble ideals surely would have commended him, too, had Poroshenko been pressed further.

Renowned for its pursuit of the noblest ideals of community service, public discourse and intellectual inquiry, the NSW Liberal party, suddenly, is struggling to account for $690, 000 of its own funds. Or access any of their $4.4 million war chest, until they can tell the NSW Electoral Commission who gave them the money.

The NSW Liberals seem to have overlooked or misunderstood the disclosure rules in the exchange of money for influence popularly known as fund-raising. As a result, its funds have been frozen by the Electoral Commission headed by Justice Keith Mason, a former president of the NSW Court of Appeal who is not all fazed by Arthur Sinodinos’ threats of legal action over its “flawed” report that has led to media outlets labelling him corrupt.

“A cherry on top of a compost heap” in Paul Keating’s recent assessment, whose “greatest risk is that turns into a sultana,” Malcolm Turnbull has rushed to his cabinet secretary’s defence with a form of words which Arthur must find vastly comforting.

 “My understanding is that Arthur Sinodinos has said he was not aware [of the banned donations] and he has done so at the Icac hearings, which were some time ago.”

While $4.3 million may not be much personally to Turnbull or many other party members and small change to some of its bigger sponsors, it would be nice to have these funds on hand especially with a bit of an election coming up. Turnbull is peeved because the process is damaging to his rapidly weakening election prospects.

Not only does the banned donors scandal besmirch the pristine Liberal brand, along with the Mantach scandal, it casts a shadow over Arthur, “I don’t recall” Sinodinos who has made it clear, many times, that he knew nothing of his party’s arrangement to collect illegal donations. An aide will be employed to find his car in the carpark and to remember where he lives. He is unlikely, on the other hand, take Simon McInnes’ lead.

Simon McInnes, NSW Liberal Party financial director admitted to the ICAC that his party hid the identity of property developer donors and companies who “sought privacy”, by means of “The Free Enterprise Foundation,” a trust set up to receive such donations, but says he “thought it was legal”. McInnes has since resigned.

The ICAC has also been told by senior party fund raiser, Nick Nicolaou, that Arthur Sinodinos was present when the Free Enterprise Foundation was proposed as a way of accepting funds from banned donors.  Natasha Maclaren-Jones, party state president, has testified to Icac that she asked Mark Neeham, party secretary, for a list of donors on November 9, 2010.

Neeham responded that, “Arthur went through the list today with key ­members of the finance committee”. The initials “AS” appear beside 36 potential leads which he was to follow up. Maclaren-Jones herself told ICAC, “I left the detail of fundraising and the contacting of donors to Arthur Sinodinos and Paul Nicolaou and others.”

Sadly for Arthur, his seven page letter to the Commission requesting his name be retracted has been spurned. Justice Mason refuses to retract reference to Sinodinos, even adding that the “arrangements” Sinodinos was involved in “provided the factual and legal matrix upon which non-requisite disclosure was made by the party”.

Also unaware of financial irregularities, albeit in his fiefdom the Tasmanian Liberal Party, former Workplace Relations minister, real estate zoning expert, Eric Abetz, knew nothing when it was revealed that its treasurer Damian Mantach had been fiddling the books. Abetz, was, however, on the ball when it came to Godwin Grech.

The arch conservative Tasmanian senator, a paragon of modesty and commitment to public good who regularly reminds his PM publicly of the folly of trying to rule without himself or Tony Abbott back in cabinet, took time out from his gruelling crusade for reinstatement. In a recent Fairfax interview, Abetz bucketed his current Prime Minister with another timely reference to his poor judgement in the Godwin Grech affair. Ever the noble and loyal servant, Abetz claims to have taken the rap for Turnbull.

Luckily, the equally public-spirited Tony Abbott is busting a gut to get Mal re-elected, he says, or something similar, announcing his brilliant scheme to bus himself around the marginals, gifting his services to Liberal victory.  The failed PM is clearly in it for the long haul, despite the Australia Institute’s polling that shows a majority of Australians want him to quit politics.

A gift that keeps on giving, Abbott  has so far received a series of firm but polite refusals from the likes of Scott Morrison and Christopher Pyne who say they would prefer to do their own campaigning, especially on education funding which will be a key issue.

If you cut funding, you get better results according to the Education Minister pointing to recent data from Tasmanian schools. On this logic, the nation eagerly looks forward to the day when federal government will cut all funds to all schools entirely including private schools enabling all to lift their standards.

“We are not wedded to the full Gonski” claimed the PM tossing off another arresting phrase highlighting his unswerving commitment to equality of educational opportunity. He reassured private schools that they would continue to get their money as part of his government’s unswerving commitment to the needs of the elite.

“I suspect no federal government would retreat from funding and continuing to support the non-government school sector because there would be a concern that they would not get a fair go from state governments,” the Sydney Grammar School alumnus explained, clearing the matter up nicely.

Also clearer by the day is Turnbull’s sensible decision not to discuss too much with Scott Morrison who was out contradicting his PM by claiming states’ taxation power would not cause any overall increase in the tax base, because states would not be allowed to increase their income tax surcharge to meet higher health and education costs. Turnbull announced the opposite view, concluding that in the end, such discretion, goes to the central logic of the change which is to make states responsible politically for funding their own schools etc.

“I’m a cautious sort of fellow,” said Morrison in response to Leigh Sales’ question to him over the alarming rift between the two but stopping short of asking him who leaked the cabinet tax proposals to COAG on Thursday.  Morrison’s caution is, of course, legendary as refugees on Manus and Nauru whose incarceration is officially part of a glacial paced processing already under way when he was Immigration Minister.

Rash acts of humanity and compassion could easily backfired on all us, according to Peter Dutton this week when he confirmed that Australia would not be rushing to process Syrian refugees in case they may in fact turn out to be terrorists.

Speaking at an international refugee meeting in Geneva, whose organisers were hoping might evoke offers from nations such as our own to open their doors and take more refugees, Dutton dashed hopes by declaring that governments need to tighten their borders and quickly send home migrants not in need of protection.

Whilst milking its act of compassion as evidence of its achievements, the Abbott Turnbull government is clearly dragging its feet when it comes to honouring its commitment to alleviate the suffering of those dispossessed by Assad’s regime. Only 29 refugees out of the much heralded intake of 12000 have been re-settled in Australia.

All of this means that Julie Bishop is exceptionally well placed at the moment to make a case for nations to open their doors and their hearts to the biggest humanitarian crisis currently facing our world. We expect to hear any moment of a compassion breakthrough despite all evidence to the contrary.

Ms Bishop is attending a meeting of fellow attention-seeking busybodies and a few others in Washington DC for the Nuclear Security Summit, where, in an attempt to divert us all from our real duty and responsibility to humanity, world leaders are discussing how to protect uranium and plutonium from falling into the hands of terrorists. There are fifty countries and four international organisations attending the summit who have managed to get the phrase dirty nuclear bomb into the news by raising the prospect that terrorists might make one.

Ms Bishop’s solution to both the challenge of our international responsibility and our contribution to security and its time and place is a stroke of genius. We will be selling plutonium to Ukraine. Making her announcement on April Fool’s Day, the month of the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown Bishop also has the chutzpah to be attending what is supposed to be a nuclear security summit.

President of the nation which gave the world Chernobyl, Petro Poroshenko can’t stop laughing. Ignoring the Espoo Convention, an international framework agreement around what is termed “transboundary environmental impact assessment”, he is just a hands on kind of guy. Call it cutting corners if you like, he’s just doing what it takes to keep his reactors running and is clearly poster boy for our yellowcake cheer squad, the Minerals Council of Australia.

Of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors, four are already past their use by date with six more to follow by 2020.  Australia has suspended uranium sales to Russia but now sees fit to deal with Ukraine where two thirds of the nation’s nuclear reactors will be dangerously obsolete within five years.

None of this was mentioned by Ms Bishop who is also keeping quiet about her government’s ignoring of the UN Secretary-General’s call for Australia to have a dedicated risk analysis of the impacts of the uranium sector. Ignored also is our own Joint Standing Committee on Treaties which last year cautioned against the Turnbull government’s controversial deal to sell our uranium to India. Both deals reflect the extent to which the government is prepared to put it’s the interests of the Australian mining above all other considerations, including international stability and safety.

Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann speaking on ABC Insiders Sunday has blamed the Gillard government for the economic mess his government finds itself after 927 days in power.

A star jaw-boner, Cormann dazzled audiences with his references to policy levers, trajectories, fiscal gaps but no-one thought to ask him how a government flash as a rat with a gold tooth when it comes to economics jargon could have taken so long to put together a coherent policy package or fail so spectacularly to come to agreement over its taxation plans. Or be so short-sighted on matters of legality be it raising funds at home or its international obligations to refugees and nuclear safeguards.



Turnbull shoots himself in the foot at COAG.

coag - turnbull bloviates while Baird listens


The “courageous” Yes Minister idea of getting the states to raise their own income tax to cover state schooling and health has exploded in Malcolm Turnbull’s face. Not only was the proposal canned by the Premiers at today’s COAG meeting, it has wounded the lame-duck PM in his waddle-up to an election for which he is daily looking less prepared.

The meeting was not a total waste of time, however, with a PM throwing states a few crumbs from his federal budget table, a table once cluttered with options but now almost completely bare. $2.9b will be provided to keep public hospitals operating over the next three years. Tony Abbott had scheduled a $7b cut which builds to $57b over eight years.

Yet this demeaning act of noblesse oblige will not repair any of the damage done by the defeat of his bizarre plan to turn back the clock on taxation. Nor will it fix the state’s problem.

Voters are now rightly fearful that Turnbull’s crazy DIY income tax plan is still at the back of his mind. They will wonder what’s up between him and his treasurer. Above all, has once again, blown hot and cold on a proposal in a matter of days.

Not only does Turnbull walk away from his COAG Captain’s call looking unrealistic, impulsive, in brief a bit like Mr Abbott, he’s got egg on his face. It’s not just that Scott Morrison was left out of the loop again, although that’s a bad look in itself.

We wonder about the poor timing of a major tax reform which properly belongs in a second term in office after everyone has had a lot of time to think about it. And we continue to wonder about Morrison, too.

Not only do we wonder at the relationship between PM and his Treasurer; wonder who is doing the Treasurer’s job, Turnbull’s made it clear that his government thinks the states are wasteful with funds and that they regard federal government as a big ATM machine. It’s a cheap shot that will further damage his image as a capable national leader. And it shrieks of lack of trust.

Few were surprised at today’s failure. Banging on about efficiency and how you would be much more careful with money you had to raise yourself all sounds a bit patronising really. More than a bit far-fetched. Stoking competitive federalism by getting states to pay for their own hospitals and schools may appeal to the IPA but, for the rest of us, the proposal is unfair, unworkable and a bit unreal; in Daniel Andrews’ words a ‘thought bubble.’

Andrews was also quick to point out the government was not offering any extra money. If he were really committed to this brainwave, surely Turnbull would have put back the entire $80 billion which Abbott took away from the states’ education and health grants. Then the PM would have had some basis on which to negotiate.

But, in the event even Mike Baird who loves the concept of greater state autonomy, was prepared to tell the PM that his proposal was a dud. No-one except Barnett was in favour.

There was never any additional money in it. Nor was it fair. Less populous states such as Tasmania and South Australia lack the necessary revenue base to pay for the amenities they deserve and are entitled to as members of the Commonwealth.

But there was also a rush of smoke and mirrors from the political fog machines. Health Minister Sussan Ley came out on cue to read her autocue and bang on about efficiency and better targeted health care. It was left to Daniel Andrews to call it for what it was: a diversion from the savage cuts of the Abbott 2014 budget.

WA Premier Colin Barnett was the only one who looked forward to being able to raise his own income taxes but even he spoiled the illusion with wild assertions about wastage.

Airing the old canard that the Abbott government did not really cut $80 billion at all, he suggested the figure was a contrivance of Bolshevik premiers. Like any useful stooge, he had a colourful personal anecdote ready but it proved nothing, apart from his capacity to smear the COAG process.

“There were little private meetings in different rooms as the then Prime Minister and state premiers scurried from room to room and the $80 billion figure appeared. I didn’t at the time ever believe that was a realistic number or that that could be properly funded.”

Barnett added a bit of jargon dropping which didn’t help. Vertical fiscal imbalance is probably best left to the experts. All it did was make him look superior, as if smart people like himself knew that there was a funding crisis all along. All it means is states spend more funds on services they are responsible for than they can ever raise themselves and they have to get the rest from Canberra. If you can’t say it in plain English voters will only deduce you are hiding something.

Where is this mythic wastage? Where it the evidence that any state was on a spending spree before the Abbott/ Turnbull government came to power just to bring them to our senses. Those who shriek “waste” have clearly never stepped inside a public hospital or a state school recently. The casualty department of Warrnambool Hospital is about to close because of lack of funds. Others are in a similar position.

Was the PM really keen on this radical proposal or was he pushed? Bernard Keane believes that Turnbull is telling the truth when he says the leaking of the idea on Wednesday forced him to put it on the agenda. Once more he’s been caught out by an act of insurrection.

Could it be a tactical move? Wedge the premiers so that when, as they inevitably must, appeal for more funds he can reply he offered a solution but they turned him away? It’s a high risk gambit. Certainly, if nothing else, today’s fiasco has blown the whistle on Scott Morrison’s continued assertion that there is no revenue problem but just an expenditure problem.

For Turnbull, today’s failed proposal is a serious stumble which will cost him credibility in the leadership stakes and which will provide Labor with a wealth of ammunition on his government’s pretensions at management let alone economic reform.