Month: May 2016

Woeful Week three campaign confirms Turnbull’s a fizza.


The PM’s “Turnbullian” master stroke, as his early election gambit was hailed by Annabel Crabb, of Canberra’s press claque, barely a month ago, looks more like an Abbott’s captain’s call each week. Media polls, with all their flaws, point to an ebbing of popular support for the LNP and its hapless leader. Around the nation posters depicting Turnbull’s face are appearing with but one word, Fizza.

Fizza is the work of Sydney graphic artist Michael Agzarian who says he is inspired by Paul Keating’s 2007 description of Malcolm Turnbull as a “big red bunger on cracker night … the one you light and then there’s a bit of a fizz but then nothing, nothing.”

Government strategy has advanced beyond dead cats on tables, or tactical diversion and is now officially out of control as flagged by Turnbull’s public rebuke of his deputy, Barnaby Joyce, for provoking the Indonesians.

Joyce may just have been taking his cue from Scott Morrison or Peter Dutton who were encouraged by captain Abbott to thumb their noses at Indonesian sovereignty as they turned back twenty boat-loads of asylum-seekers into Indonesian waters since 2013 without telling anybody, according to Amnesty International.

Joyce should model his gaffes on Scott Morrison’s black holes. The Treasurer has a black hole in his black hole in his presser Tuesday. He starts out with $67 billion and ends the conference with $35 billion by using some creative accounting based on commitments he thinks Labor might be about to make in Foreign Aid. Until they prove otherwise. His Finance Minister has trouble remembering his PM’s name. Yet, somehow, Morrison claims a type of victory.

The entertainment value of the stunt proves a runaway success and quickly earns a twitter cult following. The Cormann Morrison routine takes the award for the most bizarre election side show of the week for its preposterous logic.

It elects to publicly improvise Labor costings which Labor must then disprove using the dodgy ploy, as Gareth Hutchens writes in The Guardian, that any proposition is true until proved otherwise or Argumentum ad Ignoratiam. Labor takes the bait, dropping its $4.5 billion School Kids Bonus and its Pension Assets test.

Carnival barker, ScoMo revels in Labor’s back down and crows over flushing Labor out. What is at stake, however, apart from his own credibility and authority, is costing. The government will not debate what it is vital for the country to invest in. There is no room in this campaign for what we might truly need.

Yet the Coalition knows it can get mileage out of twitting the opposition’s arithmetic. Bill Shorten gets a makeover as Willy Wonka in The Daily Telegraph, the Liberal Party’s free propaganda organ. No-one presses Morrison on the flimsy guesswork behind his budget’s projected revenue which relies on fantasising about the price of iron ore and the amount the government will get out of multi-nationals – let alone the $1.2 billion it says it will “ claw back” from Centrelink beneficiaries and other welfare fraudsters.

The Black Hole tack is effective. Media focus shifts to Coalition territory and away from health where Labor continues to outpoint the government. AMA doctors help. They are mounting a media campaign to end the Medicare rebate freeze. They argue it amounts to a co-payment by stealth. Health Minister Ley admits that she would end the freeze but has been overruled because she can’t find more cuts to Health.

Barnstorming Barnaby Joyce, the Hannibal Lector of LNP’s PSYOP division, (psychological operations) he reckons, is messing with Johnny Depp’s mind. Or so he says. Joyce takes fool’s cap and bells from Peter Dutton this week for his linking of the live cattle trade with asylum seekers. Turnbull quickly issues a denial. If sending in the clowns is the answer, the government is asking the wrong question.

Week three has Seven’s Reach-Tel poll putting Labor ahead 52-48, two-party preferred nationally with respondent-allocated preferences to Labor while others have the two major parties neck and neck or with Labor slightly ahead. The impression, nevertheless, given by the trend of the polls is that the LNP may run out steam given the length of the campaign.

The TV nightly news image of a happy Malcolm Turnbull on the obligatory pollies’ Puffing Billy ride cements his party’s love affair with coal and the age of steam, whence its funding cuts for education and CSIRO, its privatisation of Medicare, its subsidies for miners and its deregulated labour market goal seek to return us with just a hint of a steep uphill track ahead. He seems to like not having to steer, too.

Turnbull’s punt on an early poll before his earlier appeal fades entirely may prove as much of an error of judgement as his backing of a dodgy email from Godwin Grech in 2009 or his indulgence of Peter Dutton’s views that illiterate migrants take Aussie jobs and bludge off our luxurious welfare system, or, more recently, his failure to deliver a high speed national broadband on time.

Unlike the NBN fiasco – and unlike the brave Dr Peter Young, who sought the truth on Hamid Khazaei’s shameful death from neglect on Manus Island, however, there is no national security gag handy.

A random midnight police raid on dissenters, with media accidentally happening upon the scene although it was out of their way and way past their bed times, can help to shut off the oxygen and smear your opponents. But even that’s not guaranteed in this campaign.

Sadly, for the PM and Commissioner Andrew Colvin’s crack team of plumbers, reports of the raid serve only to validate the copious leaks. Further confirmation was given on Saturday in some incredible spin from the Dr Ziggy Switkowski, whose migrant background has not prevented him making Telstra and Kodak what they are today.

Continuing the coalition’s one-bust-and-you’re-guilty approach to justice and doing his bit to brand leakers as thieves, Ziggy broke all protocols to become judge and jury in Saturday’s SMH.

They cannot give voice to their preferred ideology by passing on stolen documents.”

It was, moreover, according to Dr Switkowski, rumourtrage, or the practice of leaking damaging rumours to cause a drop in stock price for commercial advantage. He also portrayed NBN staff as demoralised, something which never happened it seems when Telstra jobs were outsourced to cheaper offshore labour contractors.

Switkowski did not say how he knew that “stolen” documents were seized. Seizures are supposed to be in secure policy custody and held under parliamentary privilege. Unless the AFP-appointed NBN deputy sheriff took photographs.

Switkowski’s extraordinary pitch rivals last Wednesday’s Canberra Press Club debate when Environment Minister Greg Hunt swore on a stack of censored UN environment bibles that Direct Action would never ever lead to any form of carbon trading. Or that we lead the world with our carbon abatement programme. Or that we can afford to pay polluters indefinitely.

Telstra’s stocks are up but it is not due to Ziggy’s broadside or his assurances that everything about the NBN is going according to plan. Telstra’s boost comes from news that the government will outsource Medicare patient details and other sensitive personal data to a vast, impersonal corporation guaranteed to outsource the work to underpaid over-worked operatives in an offshore politically volatile nation with even fewer labour and security safeguards than in Australia.

The NBN’s cost blow-out, its slow speed and its failure to meet its schedule were all spectacularly confirmed in the Keystone Copper to the home raid on Senator Conroy and a staffer’s premises. Abbott appointee, Commissioner Andrew Colvin, who two years ago, appeared on ABC Radio National AM spruiking for the government’s proposed metadata retention and Internet spying laws, refused to rule out the AFP’s abuse of new security laws to trawl through journalists’ metadata

Turnbull of course invented metadata. Now he finds himself spurned, scorned, a hapless caretaker PM whose style is so far distinguished solely by his alarming capitulation to the breath-taking ignorance of his party’s arch conservatives who yet again upstage their leader as a barnstorming Deputy dog Joyce claims that Indonesia re-paid Australia for our ban on live cattle exports by exporting more asylum-seekers.

While even Turnbull has to publicly decry the remark, his belated assertiveness does nothing to halt his slide in opinion polls. Should the downward trend continue, he is on track to overtake Abbott’s capacity to alienate an entire nation well before 2 July. As it stands his net negative approval rating of 12 per cent makes the great white hope now as equally unpopular as Bill Shorten.

Nothing is working. No-one appears unduly fazed by Crosby-Textor’s confected hysteria that Labor is soft on border protection or national security, weasel-words to conceal our calculated cruelty in inflicting punishment on those already driven mad by the trauma of dispossession, enforced exile and despair.

Yet the campaign plan is to publicly parade our lack of empathy; harden our hearts yet again against unfortunate victims of conflict and upheaval. Men, women and children, just like us, no matter how much we try to demonise them, who have risked everything, lost everything, now throw themselves on our mercy in their desperate search for asylum.

Instead of compassion, our leaders have succumbed to a vile sickness; a puffed up triumphalism that we “stand strong on borders,” a stance which demeans and discredits all of us.

If anything is a race to the bottom it is this campaign’s competitive denial of humanity as the LNP seeks out Labor’s Achilles heel, a bizarre state of affairs where to have MPs express compassion for refugees and asylum seekers is deemed a kind of dangerous weakness.

Expect to hear much more from the LNP about Labor’s fatal disunity on punishing refugees and asylum-seekers by means of indefinite, offshore detention in poorly run, unsafe camps. Expect to hear offshore processing, the weasel words for a gulag.

As well as being traitors on border protection, Labor of course, we are told, are economic vandals for tinkering with negative gearing or wanting funds for education and health. While the Shadow Treasurer gives a good account of himself in some dull electioneering masquerading as a debate, the real question of what will sustain us is lost in a flurry of competitive predictions and claims about costs.

No-one on either side really talks about the Australian economy. The ongoing petty dispute which takes the place of debate is wittering on about costing and twitting about black holes. To rephrase Oscar Wilde, it is about demanding to know the price of everything yet knowing the value of nothing.

The debate is won comprehensively by the IPA and the hordes of other lobby groups that preach austerity and while holding that investing in our future education and health is a scandalous waste of public funds.

Deflecting any real inspection of its record, especially its spending, the Coalition has plumped for the cunning plan of getting its more colourful characters to make outrageously ill-judged, ill-informed and provocative assertions to derail Shorten’s increasingly successful campaign about caring about ordinary people.      

Coalition HQ repeatedly sends in the clowns, a Dutton here, a Joyce there who not only offer catharsis, they can get away with all manner of outrageous bigotry, prejudice and racist nonsense such as Dutton’s claim, supported by his leader, later, that refugees are illiterate and innumerate. 

 Sending in the clowns also diverts attention away from vulnerable topics such as education and health but it is not without certain risks to both sides.

 One risk is that the campaign is stuck somewhere in Australian waters off the Ashmole reef. Discourse degenerates into how we must crush the cruel people-smugglers’ business model. Avert catastrophic deaths at sea by submitting those who beg our asylum to torture. Or we lock them up indefinitely in conditions which cause them to take their own lives.        

 Q&A audience member, Rhys Whitelock, tells Innovation and Science minister, Christopher Pyne, that he was missing the “old Malcolm”. The Turnbull with moral convictions, who believed in climate change and gay marriage without a plebiscite, he says.  

 “I want the old Malcolm back,” he protests. “The old Malcolm who was more socially progressive, the Malcolm who crossed the floor on the emissions trading scheme, the Malcolm who was for marriage equality.” 

 No-one is rude enough to point out that he is dreaming. The old Malcolm is a form of wishful thinking assisted by some shrewd posturing from a man in a leather jacket who would never stoop to mindless slogans about boats.  

Well, hardly ever. When asked during Rudd’s government, by a Liberal back-bencher why he was forgoing bipartisanship on asylum-seekers, Turnbull replied, “it’s all we’ve got.”

Perhaps this time, Australians will show him how much his reply disqualifies him from any kind of political leadership at all, let alone becoming an elected Prime Minister.

Turnbull’s campaign visit spoilt by NBN elephant in the room.


turnbull looking shifty

For all the hullabaloo of the hustings, the black hole ballyhoo, the hoopla and the bloopers, plus a stunning late-night AFP raid on Labor’s Senator Conroy and a staffer who may have been leaked embarrassing proof that his NBN is slow, hugely over budget and way behind schedule, Malcolm Turnbull’s double dissolution election campaign circus is not a total embarrassment.

Unlike his deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, a one man three ring circus, who links our pause in live cattle trading to an increase in refugees and asylum-seekers via Indonesia.

At least sanity has prevailed on the NBN leaks; now legitimised by an AFP raid. No-one would go to all that trouble if the information were not true. At least, also, our national security laws come in damn handy when it comes to clamping down on any political embarrassment. Or getting back at whistle-blowers.

Had the AFP used journalists’ metadata in its bust? Commissioner Andrew Colvin’s reply evoked the case of Dr. Peter Young who spoke out about Hamid Khazaei’s death on Manus in September 2014 only to have the AFP access his phone records. It was a covert if not undercover “yes.”

“I’m not going to answer what operational tactics or strategies we have employed”.

Ironically, despite the LNP’s best intentions, or the operational tactics of wizard consultants, Crosby-Textor, the protracted virtual selfie that is the PM’s electioneering campaign occasionally permits something else to intrude into the frame.

Before the first flush of his popular appeal disappears entirely, something profound, abiding and true appears amidst the campaign trail litter of high-vis vests, sound-bites and talking points; the real features of a nation in distress. Daily, Turnbull is confronted by first hand evidence that puts the lie to his smug victim-blaming slogan that, for Australia, “there has never been a more exciting time to be alive.”

Australia is hurting and it shows. Visiting the marginal south-western Victorian electorate of Corangamite this week, the PM is shocked to discover that local people are driven by despair to take their own lives. No-one interrupts to pursue the elephant in the room of the NBN which in sucking up 56 billion, leaves less for local hospitals.

NBN is Turnbull’s baby and a federal priority which is yet to improve communications or boost employment in Corangamite, although talk does turn to black spots.

Luckily, residents are spared Turnbull’s view that Corangamite will soon be booming courtesy of a “productivity dividend” as his government cuts taxes to businesses and wealth trickles all the way down to the Western District of Victoria. So, too with his abiding conviction that changes to negative gearing as proposed by Labor will cause local businesses to close their doors.

Oddly he chooses to say nothing about how his government’s cutting of Gonski education funding to a quarter of the original commitment, pledged by Tony Abbott last election will mean that it will be even harder for local youngsters to get the level of education they need and deserve. Over-represented in the statistics of suicides are those who have failed to proceed past Year 10 at school.

Instead, the PM promises to “leave no stone unturned.” Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash chimes in with an equally vacuous pledge to do “everything we can as a government” to address the issue.

Of course, like every snake oil salesman, Turnbull’s has a patent remedy to hand. An app or a phone number or some counselling, although, to be fair, the technological fix is proposed not by the PM but by Ian Hickie, co-director of Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre.

Hickie holds that if you are a suicidal young man at 3:30 am in a rural Western District town in Victoria, you need at least to be able to phone a specialist. He is right. Left out of his equation, however, is a $73 million cut faced by Victorian hospitals, this year, which makes it unlikely any doctor will be available, assuming the young man is not in a telecommunications black spot.

What Turnbull can’t fix, because he is part of the problem, is the truth; his party’s neoliberal and “financialisation” policies are largely to blame for the distress faced daily by ordinary Australians.

Tragically, the Labor Party is equally smitten by the ideology of free trade, small government and leaving it to the market, a laissez-faire abdication of fiscal responsibility which has destroyed car manufacturing at the local Ford factory in favour of a free trade god who exchanges the economic and social security of skilled employment in local manufacturing for cheap Chinese imports.

Men and women who have no jobs, no prospects and who can’t pay their bills are increasingly at risk of suicide because of their poor economic circumstances.

Centrelink’s New Start is a cruel hoax. It provides a series of demeaning experiences in return for a life below the poverty line. Mental health issues are not routinely dismissed, beneficiaries report. All job-seekers must endure the dehumanising jobs merry go round in which they are pawns in Australia’s privatised unemployment services sector.

Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at the University of Newcastle, Bill Mitchell points out: there’s been a whole industry of punishment and coercion and monitoring of the unemployed when there’s not enough jobs anyway.”

Add to this a new industry of surveillance, the institutionalised expectation that each claimant is a fraud. Stuart Robert’s recent Task Force Integrity, increases surveillance to “claw back” welfare fraud.

Corangamite and Casey in Victoria have the highest rates of suicide, suffering 184 and 111 suicides in the period 2009 to 2012, while Longman and Brisbane in Queensland, have had 162 and 105 suicides respectively. John Mendoza, director of consultancy ConNetica announces grim statistics he has compiled from Australian Bureau of Statistics and Public Health Information Development Unit data. It’s a cue for campaigners and others to deplore the figures.

But no-one in government, or the Business Council of Australia, or the IPA, or the armies of other lobby groups for lower wages, penalty rates and “more flexible work options” is listening when Mendoza proceeds to explain that the causes of suicide are embedded in the neoliberal ideology which encourages an increasingly casualised, contract and part time work force.

“It’s what the literature refers to as precarious employment conditions – less certainty,” Mendoza explains. “If you want to give people a mental health problem, if you want to raise their psychological distress, what do you do? Dose them up on uncertainty, dose them up on fear.

“That’s what causes mental illness, that’s what gets them to the point they see no other option but to take their own life.”

Quickly the media focus shifts to dairy farmers who have just suffered retrospective indebtedness, surely one of the most outrageous forms of extortion in farming history. Not only has the price of milk halved, dairy farmers are told by email, it is retrospective. The average Goulburn Murray farm supplier now faces a debt demand for $120,000. Some farmers walk off their farms.

A package is announced. Farmers will be able to borrow half of what they owe – if they can qualify for a loan. Up their burden of debt. No-one in government or opposition has the guts to call big business on its “step-downs,” the industry jargon for abruptly dropping its price.

Somehow, with a bit of media skimming, the consumer is to blame for buying on price alone. Not that Coles and Woolworths and the big dairy providers have extorted primary producers by colluding to get prices so low they are sending some farmers broke. Somehow it escapes the free market antenna of a neoliberal government.

Suddenly it’s all about connections as media attention deficit disorder moves to the next big thing. Improving connections would help small businesses and ordinary people, Regional Communications Minister Fiona Nash pipes up with a pledge to give $60 billion to fix mobile phone black spots, a matter of life and death, which it has taken the coalition three years to notice.

Ms Nash appears oblivious to the fact that before he toppled Tony Abbott as an act of civic duty because he owed it to the nation to bestow upon us his superior skills as an economic manager, Malcolm Turnbull was an under-performing communications minister who has failed to deliver on his NBN promise to build a better, cheaper faster network sooner than Labor.

NBN costs have blown out to $56 billion. His NBN has taken twice as long and double the cost to deliver half the speed promised. Yet, as the AFP raid last week makes clear, or its inspection of Peter Young’s phone records, the Turnbull government is quick to invoke national security law to deal with the political embarrassment of being held accountable.

If the neoliberal Liberal Prime Minister’s visit to Corangamite will do little to assuage voters’ real concerns, let alone ease their suffering, his NBN and his government’s approach to whistle-blowers will do even less for their peace of mind.

Stop the rabid nonsense about asylum seekers, Mr Turnbull.

turnbull looking weak


NBN Bust! A brief, grainy, almost noir, news item, with not much action and an eerily silent soundtrack screening repeatedly on national TV Thursday night wins feature of the week, Le chat mort or the dead cat award, in the Federal Election campaign, the latest episode of the long-running Canberra political soap opera, Days of our Knives, (M for mature audiences only.)

Despite – or, perhaps because of its murky production values and its publicity shy team, NBN Bust! goes viral. Like the NBN itself, it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Welcome to week two of election 2016, a no-holds-barred contest between the best campaign consultants dodgy “Free Enterprise” fundraising institutes’ money can buy – and all the rest. Winning is everything. Stakeholders in commerce, industry and media are major players. The public, if it’s lucky, gets a bit part. Unless, like Duncan Storrer, it dares speak truth to power.

Cue no mood music. The flickering images on your screen could be a drug bust, a crackdown on 457 visa over-stayers or just another of the regular round-ups of “the 501s”.  These are the Kiwi citizens we routinely repatriate to New Zealand via Christmas Island under section 501 of the Migration Act, a courtesy extended to “non-citizens” who hold a “substantial criminal record,” entirely at anti-Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s discretion. Lucky he’s an “outstanding Minister.”

One thing is clear. Along with indefinite detention and blowing the whistle on aid workers who word up asylum-seekers to self-harm, Kiwi repatriation is all part of the “outstanding job” Dutton is doing to keep us all safe in our beds, our places uncontested in employment and dole queues.

Clipping Kiwi’s wings – aka operation flightless bird–  is but one of the reasons the Border Supremo is singled out for praise by a political leader pledged to consensus and dialogue, a PM who promised to be a reasoned alternative to Tony Abbott’s obsession with shock-jock politics.

After successfully seizing the leadership last August, Turnbull stepped all over Tony Abbott to step up to the plate. He was determined, he suggested. Determined to rid us of the cheap, demeaning, dehumanising illiterate political sludge of boat-stopping slogans, to say nothing of unbridled pragmatism and messianic delusion. Or such was his promise.

Yet before even a second week is over – and with forty days and nights of campaigning still before him, the caretaker PM is morphing before our eyes into Chief Border Enforcer, PM Malcolm Abbott. Expect a made to measure bomber jacket any day. Tony’s won’t fit and besides, he’s keeping his.

Turnbull says the raid is news to him, he’s just the PM and the NBN was his baby for nearly three years before that. No. It’s not a government stunt. How dare anyone impugn the AFP! He can’t explain how so many members of the media were up out of their beds past midnight and just miraculously appeared upon the scenes of the busts. Not that anyone asks him. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence.

Whatever it is, NBN Bust! needs to eclipse the black hole of entropy that is the coalition election campaign. A slew of opinion polls point to a steady rise in the PM’s unpopularity. For the first time now as many respondents don’t approve of him as do, while the Coalition’s overall political appeal continues to slide as voters tire of jobs and growth sloganeering.

A ReachTel poll, published Saturday in The Herald Sun, suggests Labor could clinch the seat of MacArthur held by Liberal Russell Matheson 51-49 per cent on a two-party preferred basis. Roy Morgan echoes this trend on a national scale.

A dead cat on the table is required. Coalition campaign consultants Crosby Textor use this curious term for a big distraction. “Drop the dead donkey, let’s heave a dead cat on the table.” (Abandon news no-one wants or needs to hear; create a massive distraction.)

Highly skilled, even if it says so regularly itself, the Crosby Textor consultancy has helped Boris Johnson to victory twice. Its team includes at least one former Liberal party bigwig and a pollster who rose to meddle in campaigns in the UK and NZ.

In a controversial decision to award a knighthood for political services in 2015, David Cameron made Lynton Crosby a knight. “Arise, Sir Dogwhistle,” critics wrote.

Doubtless his partner, Campaign strategist Mark Textor, was up for a downunder knighthood had not Tony Abbott cooked his royal goose with Sir Phil of Australia’s knighthood. Mark Textor does boast of putting the following in Abbott’s mouth:

“We will stop the boats, stop the big new taxes, end the waste, and pay back the debt.”

What could possibly go wrong? Taking full credit for Tony Abbott’s amazing success in 2013, Mark Textor wants more satisfied customers. He calls quickly for a big distraction, or two. Wrench voters’ attention away from the Coalition’s flop of a trickle-down economic plan based on cutting taxes for the rich.

Upstage wily Bill Shorten’s successes with health, education, unfreezing Medicare rebates and a full frontal shopping mall snogging from an over-enthusiastic admirer.

A skillfully televised Federal Police raid on the Melbourne office of shadow Communication Minister Stephen Conroy and a Labor staffer suddenly interrupts normal transmission across the nation. Whodunnit? Why? What are they looking for? (Apart from any leakable notes Conroy may have nicked from the NBN committee.)

The show is an absolute mystery to a great many members of the government, most of whom seek out every available network TV camera to exclaim over how they know nothing. Federal Police Commissioner, Andrew Colvin kindly calls a press conference to assist with all enquiries. He tells media the government had been told nothing by the AFP. You can tell he’s not lying because he’s a policeman in uniform.

It is all utterly unbelievable. A human sacrifice is required. Uncommunicative Communications Minister and Minister for cutting funding to the Arts, Liberal Party chief philistine Mitch Fifield, puts his hand up after a few days.

Fifield ‘fesses up. He knew all along but chose to keep it all to himself, a disclosure which his PM, who is pledged to open, consultative cabinet government and team play in general, swiftly publicly endorses. But will the nation recover?

Images of nocturnal AFP operatives entering premises are disturbing. The cinema noir shabbiness of one busted property positively shrieks for a spot of negatively-geared landlord attention, or a boost in overnight expense allowances, serves above all to confirm in the public mind that the ALP are a shifty mob who inhabit a squalid, run-down set from Underbelly.

It does not matter that the raid sought to recover documents already widely and enthusiastically leaked to the media. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, an out of the loop NBN campaign spokesman calls it intellectual property theft, a theft which, somehow, he hints broadly, imperils, (if it were not already a public laughing stock) the entire NBN project.  Or imperils every journalist who has received a tip off. Or anyone who exposes the mountebank in Turnbull.

Nor does it spoil the plot to know that Senator Conroy had sought to table in parliament NBN leaked documents, which reveal that the NBN is lagging well behind schedule, has a massive cost blowout to $56 billion, nearly double its original projected cost – and is facing technical difficulties.

What is a bit messy is that the whole business reveals Malcolm Turnbull’s utter failure as communications minister and the man who invented the Internet to do what he said he would do – create a better, faster, more reliable and cheaper alternative to Labor’s NBN.

The NBN bust upstages an otherwise thoroughly eventful political campaign in a week in which Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton makes inflammatory and irrational anti-immigration claims that refugees are illiterate, innumerate and about to take Australian jobs while they also languish on welfare and are a burden on Medicare. Thousands rise up overnight in remonstration – from all walks of life. But not in the government.

Dutton’s comments are endorsed immediately by the Prime Minister who publishes a wheedling justification in The Age next day in which he makes the absurd argument that our multicultural society depends on secure borders. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also rushes to defend a minister whom the PM declares to be an outstanding Minister of Immigration on the grounds that we’ve had 600 weeks of unsuccessful people-smuggling operations.

It is just the type of distraction – almost-  Crosby Textor recommends – a Textor-book tactic. Or it may even be a little too refined. Textor seems to adhere to the Phineas T Barnum adage that no-one ever went broke underestimating public taste. Or xenophobia.

Meanwhile, the reputedly outstanding Immigration Minister has little or nothing to commend him in the running of his portfolio. Uneasy with inquiry or the Westminster system of ministerial responsibility he either refuses to answer questions, on operational grounds or because they will encourage the demon people smugglers to refine their business model – or he gives misleading answers.

Last week the Federal Court of Australia found that Dutton, exposed Abyan, an asylum seeker, to serious medical and legal risk by flying the woman from Nauru to PNG to terminate her pregnancy, despite this procedure being illegal in PNG. The asylum seeker became pregnant after being raped while in detention. Dutton is now legally required to fly Abyan to a country with the necessary medical expertise and equipment to safely perform an abortion.

The Federal Court also found that Australia owed a duty of care to the asylum seeker, a finding that may have broad ramifications for offshore detention.

One bright spot. Dutton seems big on military drill. He certainly has been happy to continue Scott Morrison’s militarisation of a government department which should be an extension of our humanity, our duty to provide help to refugees and other displaced persons.

Instead Dutton administers a militarised Border Force where families live in fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night.  Uniformed Border Force guards are there with vans and dogs. In Darwin and in Melbourne in the middle of the night, guards in riot gear invade rooms and drag people out to waiting vans for transfer to planes to Nauru.

Women and children are forced to strip in front of guards and to shower without doors. They are given special clothes for the plane journey back to Nauru and escorted up the stairs with guards on either side.

In an open letter to Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton in New Matilda, Liam O’Loughlin writes

Omid Masoumali spent three years imprisoned on Nauru for fleeing persecution in Iran. Last week he was told by UNHCR officials he would remain on Nauru for another decade. Soon after, he doused himself in accelerant, yelled “This how tired we are; this action will prove how exhausted we are. I cannot take it anymore”, and set himself on fire. Waiting in agony two hours for a doctor’s care, eight hours for morphine, and 22 hours for medical evacuation, Omid suffered cardiac arrest and was dead upon arrival in Brisbane. He was 23.

And what was your response? Charge Omid’s family $17,000 to return the body to Iran. Sedate his wife, deny her a lawyer and refuse calls to family. Then try to persuade her to return to the country from which she’s fled.

Much could be said about Dutton’s signal failure to respond humanely to the tragic self-immolation of those in his care on Nauru but his assertion that detainees were being coached in self-harm by refugee advocates is surely sufficient evidence alone that far from being outstanding, the Minister should be relieved of his portfolio. Or accept the verdict of Tim Costello that offshore detention is not only punitive as an intended deterrent, it is torture.

Those who remain in Australia are made to suffer. For two years Dutton denied 24,500 asylum seekers detained in Australia the right to work or volunteer. Even those who may be released into the community continue to suffer as is attested in the tragic last words of Khodayar Amini, who, fearing a return to detention, burned himself to death in bushland around Dandenong.

Khodayar Amini, left these parting words:

“My crime was that I was a refugee. They tortured me for 37 months…Red Cross, Immigration and the Police killed me with their slogans of humanity and cruel treatments.”

Many eminent Australians have taken issue with Dutton’s diatribe against refugees since last Thursday. On balance it appears he spoke off his own bat and not as a dog-whistler, orchestrated by the Crosby-Textor campaign of a coalition government determined to win at any cost and realising as Malcolm Turnbull said of the asylum seeker issue in 2008 “it’s the only thing we’ve got.”1

With its flash campaign strategists at the coalition campaign helm, bipartisan support on the cruelty of offshore detention and with little else resonating with the electorate, expect more of the same desperation; the primitive tribal beating of the anti-immigration drum.

Unless of course, the vast majority of ordinary Australians who are decent and humane at heart get their politicians to stop the nonsense and bring those suffering in offshore camps immediately to asylum in Australia.

  1. Back in 2008, while he was still opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull was tackled in his party room over his ramping up of the boat people issue. His predecessor, Brendan Nelson, had agreed with the Rudd government’s dismantling of the Howard-era Pacific Solution. Nauru was closed. But as the boats began to trickle back, Turnbull was asked by a backbench Liberal why he was passing up the chance to restore the bipartisanship that existed on refugees before Howard torpedoed it in 2001. In the face of a still dominant Labor government, Turnbull responded: “It’s all we’ve got.”

Paul Bongiorno The Saturday Paper 21 May 2016

Goodbye fearless leader. A desperate Turnbull plays the Tony Abbott card of hate.


Man overboard or not, the government’s election campaign is all going to plan. Perhaps that’s the problem.

border patrol malcolm turnbull

Every top conservative political campaign, these days, embraces expensive, designer-consultants. Accordingly, the Coalition reaches for top shelf Crosby-Textor ready-made, off-the-peg, four-point election campaign template with dead cat on table. It’s world’s best practice with a dinkum Aussie link: Abbott’s victory in 2013 hugely increased demand for their consultancy services. They made their name with a boat-stopper.

Yet his campaign plan may prove Turnbull’s undoing – and the nation’s – unless of course, the electorate welcomes another term of Tony Abbott whose grandiose delusions saw him invite all national TV networks to his local campaign launch last Sunday just to let us all know that he is clearly preparing for a comeback. Mr Abbott is assisted in this endeavour, as in many others by recently appointed Sky Pilot, his former Chief of Staff Peta Credlin.

Unless the PM’s leadership gear-change gets results, he knows he’ll be back in opposition under leader Tony Abbott.  The sober truth dawns on Turnbull and his minders this week. Suddenly the suave, urbane Q&A leader takes off his leather jacketand puts on the twisted snarl, the feral hysteria of the xenophobe.

The caretaker PM reverts to an Abbott-style appeal to primal fear. Anything to cling to power. This week, Malcolm Turn-back-the-boats’ joins his Immigration Minister to play the fear and hate card of “stop the boats and repel all sponging money-sucking terrorist and in bed with unions refugees. But he is yet to win a trick.

Crosby-Textor offer a simple, four point plan. Five if you count the cat. But it’s not working – so far. Hammering economic competence, national security, immigrant-bashing and hounding Labor, may have worked for David Cameron, Boris Johnson or even Kiwi John Key but the formula is yet to lift the fortunes of a maladroit Malcolm Turnbull.

Labor has successfully painted his Economic Plan as a tax cut for rich people. Morrison’s budget, only yesterday, it seems being touted as a key to election victory, is an abject failure. On current trends the government appears set to hand Labor a victory on a plate if the party’s nose-dive in popularity as suggested by Essential and by Gary Morgan’s latest poll continues.

Support for the Coalition in the latest Fairfax poll remains at 51-49, yet when the 1497 respondents were asked who will receive their second preference at the ballot box in July, the difference between the Coalition and Labor drops to 50-50.

Yet, as Thursday’s AFP raid on Senator Stephen Conroy’s Melbourne office and the shabby chic home of a Labor staffer reveals, there is always the trusty Crosby-Textor dead cat on the table strategy to distract the punters from all your other stuff-ups. Look over here!

Yet even the trusty deceased feline routine appears to have backfired on Turnbull. It risks raising the ghost of Godwin Grech when events conspired to compromise Malcolm Turnbull’s judgment. Then, too Turnbull acted precipitately in rushing to proceed with the damaging nonsense of utegate.

The timing of the AFP-NBN plumbing expedition, a last desperate turn of the wrench to stop endless NBN leaks, in particular, is just too convenient. It fits the Turnbull camp’s cunning plan to paint Labor as being soft on national security, in bed with CFMEU and high taxing high spending (if you overlook the existing government’s record blowout.) But it does raise some tricky questions.

Why did a complaint which NBN laid last December take until week two of a train-wreck of a Liberal campaign to manifest itself into a raid? And how could it not know about it? As Bill Shorten put it, how could the NBN, a government firm, not notify its boss that the raid was imminent?

Suddenly it was back to a Coalition of sealed lips and secrecy. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann evaded the question three times when asked if the government pressured the NBN into referring matters to the AFP for investigation.

Yet mud sticks. Mainstream media have had a field day with the presumption of guilt, while the IPA’s comment in Crikey sees the raid as a body blow for Labor.

Police raids to smear our opponents. Secrecy. Denial. Is this the nation we have become?

Leigh Sales took the biscuit for dead cat impartiality and death stare when she challenged Tony Burke to repeat his outrageous suggestion that the AFP had been tipped off by the Liberals.

Offstage slightly a Melbourne Cup field of Liberal politicians rushed all available open microphones to clap hand to heart and swear denial of all knowledge of any AFP raid, thereby confirming that someone said something to someone but now, hey, the cat was in the bag.

AFP Commissioner, the boyish Andrew Colvin, an Abbott appointee who battles to get by on $700, 000 a year and who even looks a bit like a real policeman if you don’t listen to what he says, admitted that the AFP would have got their hands on some confidential Labor campaign stuff, too, but not to worry, his boys were born professionals and besides, like Turnbull’s fate, the seized documents were sealed until after the election.

With the drop of the dead moggy, however, comes the risk that the stench of Turnbull’s dud NBN is now dead centre of the campaign, thanks to the AFP’s spectacular – but alarmingly short on specifics on the warrant – intervention.

Whilst Commissioner Colvin mouths reassurances, the AFP can hardly be seen as a safe pair of hands. In 2013 AFP operatives left plastic explosives were left in a bag at Sydney Airport at the end of a rigorous dog training session. Last year, AFP lost thirty controlled items as they term them including munitions, body armour, bullet-proof vests, Tasers, batons, handcuffs and night-vision goggles. A similarly deficient audit in 2009 points to an ongoing problem.

Above all, the NBN raid or fishing expedition smacks of desperation. Gone is the sophisticated PM who would reason and explain. Back is the Abbott style leader who operates in secret who will do anything it takes to gain political advantage.

Busted by an unsaleable dud budget predicated on the economic witchcraft of trickle-down economics and the willful over-estimation of iron ore futures and lumbered with a mob of mad right wingers who can demand failed former employment minister, Erich Abetz gets a post in the next cabinet, or which allows a Peter Dutton to spill his guts, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull has resorted to the dead cat stunt so early, it is clear that he even he knows he’s in trouble.

Turnbull can bleat “jobs and growth”, “keeping Australia safe” and other mutually demeaning, slogans to an ever more sceptical public until the Murray-Goulburn cows come home but no-one is fooled. Let him publicly delude himself that cutting taxes for the Liberal Party’s rich backers will magically grow the economy or that Australians feel that their government is keeping them safe – especially now that some Border Force officers are now under investigation for allegedly working with crime gangs and drug and tobacco smugglers. Throughout looms that issue of his judgment.

Who persuaded Turnbull that negative gearing is a good stick to beat Labor? Or that Peter Dutton needed to be publicly commended on his record as Border Supremo MKII? Dutton was recycled from a poor performance in the Health portfolio after his predecessor, Scott Morrison went barking mad up river like Colonel Kurz in Apocalypse Now and had to be made treasurer.

Our innovative PM has dropped his bundle. He’s ditched his pious piffle about jobs and growth and opportunity, a pitch which as they say is “failing to resonate” with the electorate in favour of a primitive hysteria, a back to the future fear of invasion by refugees, a Tampa MKII or 2013 (stop-the-boats).

Evading comment on his Immigration Minister’s recent performance on Sky where clearly a pumped Dutton threw away the dog-whistle and barked himself, Turnbull would have us believe that “Nutso” Dutton is an outstanding minister. Outstanding. Why, we have not had a successful people smuggling operation for 600 days. (Surely a success would have evaded detection?)

Naturally, a world beset by refugees is now beating a path to our door in envy of our regime of offshore detention where asylum seekers are assessed promptly and dealt with humanely.

Of course, our off-shore detention policy has had its moments. PNG has recently told us to leave Manus Island and take our asylum seekers with us. True, we have nowhere to take them because no other nation will take them off our hands and we have promised not to bring them to the mainland. But that’s a mere operational detail. Dutton will nut something out.

Is Turnbull being pushed around by the rabid right wing of the party? It would explain his accommodation of his Immigration Minister. Head of the monkey pod faction, or self-styled Abbott government in exile, the Delcons, Peter Dutton is indulged, even praised for his illiterate, incoherent and utterly baseless assertions that most migrants can’t read or write in their own languages or are innumerate but somehow steal Aussie jobs. Or sponge off Medicare.

Or did Turnbull put Dutton up to it? Is this a classic dog-whistle to those in marginal seats who share similar prejudices? Or is it simply, as Mick Young put it when faced with choice between a conspiracy and a stuff up we should go with the stuff up?

The timing suggests the latter. One moment Turnbull was in Darwin being photographed attractively against the deep blue of background of a freshly painted Border Patrol boat posing as our sovereign nation’s macho protector and the next day butch Dutton was all over the airwaves after a Sky interview with Paul Murray 18 May that took issue with the Green’s proposal to take in 50,000 refugees and also managed to work in Labor and the CFMEU.

“There would be a huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that …”

Turnbull has a piece in The Age the next day in which he tries to sanitise junkyard Dutton’s latest offering, defending an utterly indefeasible rabble rousing performance with a piece of pure sophistry and wilful denial of the facts which contends that we have such great multi-culturalism because we have strong borders.

Putting the political chimera of multi-culturalism aside, the PM is asking us to pretend we don’t have very porous borders where most of our asylum-seekers arrive by plane. He repeats the same false imagery that Australia is somehow under threat of being swamped by an invasion of refugees, saved only by the brave boys and girls in Border Patrol.

It’s all part of the Crosby-Textor approved narrative of external threat. Not spelled out is the elephant in the room – the supposed deterrence effect of an offshore regime of punishment and the barbaric cruelty of indefinite detention. The PM preserves Dutton’s subtext of irrational fear and intolerance with a specious “just stating the facts” slant on the Immigration Minister’s remarks. Perhaps he hopes to get a tick of approval from his party’s Delcons.

Fat chance. Abbott-faction cheer-leader, Peta Credlin mocks Turnbull nightly on Sky, critiquing his performance. Her ritual humiliation of the PM has so far reminded us that a proper politician, a proper campaign leader would never have cancelled the Westfield walkabout with Fiona Scott no matter how insulting her public lack of loyalty.

A leader with bottle would never have campaigned on his own in WA just because he got the huff over the local candidate’s faking his CV or his repeating Erich Abetz’ line that gay marriage leads to polygamy.

Less than two weeks into his marathon selfie of an extended election campaign, Turnbull’s campaign is a train-wreck. The Delcons are laughing at him. The voters are bored with him, impatient with his grandstanding ineffectuality, resentful of his allegiances to the top one per cent, critical of his capture by the right. No wonder he’s dropped his bundle. Desperate to impress voters on some score, he resorts to the Tony Abbott card of hate and fear.

Turnbull’s first week a train wreck in a campaign derailed by some home truths.

turnbull train and bag


When the going gets tough on the campaign trail, Australians discovered last Wednesday, the tough may just get up and leave. Golden dummy spit award this week goes to caretaker PM Malcolm Turnbull, former Siberian gold prospector, barrister, property investor and sometime man about western Sydney who left town hell-bent on rescuing a nation from reckless spending on health and education, lower house prices, a bogus Labor tax on carbon and other dark forces of unreason including misty-eyed sentimentality for asylum-seekers.

It was a hell of a call but he would rise to it. On week one of his union-busting, work interning, corporate tax-cutting election campaign proper, the PM was out to convince an increasingly sceptical electorate – and anyone else who might show up to his show down – that he has the ticker to win.

Turnbull positively thrives on high stakes conflicts. Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer and he once threatened to kill each other over the takeover of Fairfax in 1991, according, at least, to Annabel Crabb’s 2009 Quarterly Essay.

Yet sometimes the plan is too big for the man. When media took more interest in whether the local candidate, Liberal MP Fiona Scott, supported his deposing of Tony Abbott and voters wanted to talk about his cuts to education and his plan to cut taxes for the rich, he asserted decisive, unequivocal leadership. And pulled the pin.

When the chips are down, the PM showed the nation, he can turn things around. Or, himself. At least, he may be counted upon to wimp out and catch the next train back to his minders and his mansion in Sydney.

It began not so badly. “This seat (of Lindsay) is absolutely critical for the future of Australia”, he declared, his tone aloft with a touch of overstatement if not big-noting, self-importance. Clearly, there was a tad riding on his pin-striped shoulders as they rubbed up against ordinary working class commuters so taken by his common touch that some had no idea who he was.   It was to prove a political train-wreck of a whistle-stop.

Carrying a designer hold-all referencing a bookie’s shoulder bag, a smartphone and bearing a fixed grin which rivalled the rictus of a Patagonian tooth fish, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, as ever, more mouth than trousers, rapidly collapsed into bathos when called on to explain exactly how why Lindsay was a bellwether seat.

“It’s critical because if we hold this seat, then we will be returned to government, and then we will be able to carry out our national economic plan,” he claimed, baring his bottom teeth in a gesture common to seasoned politicians, merchant bankers, carpet-bagging insurance touts and other roles he has played effortlessly in his past lives.

Most of Turnbull’s electioneering follows this pattern. Not that he’s underprepared. Turnbull’s man bag is big enough to house a whole library of classic texts including his well-thumbed Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War and a huge vat of his feed-the-rich trickle-down magic pudding tax mix .

Turnbull’s Tardis of a carry-bag must also contain a vast National Economic Plan, another historical borrowing, lifted from the political genius of George W Bush and supply-side economics whence comes the classic Jobs and Growth, a timeless slogan which accompanied the destruction of the economy of the richest nation in the world.

Hapless cabinet secretary and PM’s confidante, “Amnesiac” Arthur Sinodinos may also have been in the bag; an accidental stowaway given his urge to crawl cat-like into confined spaces, a natural and understandable behaviour, given ICAC – and now a senate committee – still demand he explain what he’s forgotten about illegal donations to the NSW Liberal Party.

Yet none of this was visible to the untrained eye. A model of cultivated charm and passable insincerity, Mr Turnbull blended awkwardly into the built environment, whose needs he no longer tends so assiduously since Jamie Briggs fall from grace has seen the Cities etc. portfolio dumped with him. He slumped over a smartphone, his thumbs blazing to scotch unwarranted media interest in his fondness for offshore companies. If only a start-up would develop an app to deal with nosy journos.

Re-assuring those Australians who were alarmed to discover that their nation’s PM was once again associated with Star Mining, another offshore company set up to solely to evade tax, Mr Turnbull said that there was, again, nothing to see here. Happened way back in the 1990s. Never made a profit and if it did it would pay tax in Australia. No-one asked why it was not set up in Sydney, then.

Star Mining, later Star Technology, generated an eighty per cent return for Turnbull and his partner Alan Doyle and the venture may be placed alongside his play in Solomon Islands logging concessions. Neither of these entrepreneurial ventures merit a moment’s reflection according to the PM in a report to the AFR because there was “no suggestion of any impropriety whatsoever.”

Nor should there be. Yet there is always the matter of principle in the embrace of means to evade tax and elude questions, especially from a PM who leads a party preaching transparency and accountability. And there is the matter of the public good. Shareholders keen to learn what became of Star Technology’s major asset of $100 million, would be stopped by one phrase “Controlled entity not required to be audited under British Virgin lsland requirements.” Its major asset was never audited.

Awaiting Mr Turnbull were the legendary charms of member for western Sydney seat of Lindsay, Fiona Scott, whose sex-appeal is on public record thanks to previous PM and chick magnet Tony Abbott. Scott, who has an MBA, has done things as a marketing manager for Westfield that doubtless have changed the face of Penrith.

Scott also left her mark when she suggested in 2013 that asylum seekers were causing road congestion and hospital delays in western Sydney, a call which Tony Burke awarded silliest comment of the election campaign.

All of this was ignored by reporters who were keen to air the matter of Scott’s treatment at the hands of the Abbott faction, or the Delcons, who have branded her a traitor for her support of Turnbull in the leadership ballot.

Irritated by questions seeming to require the candidate to revisit not only his knifing of Tony Abbott but the vexed matter of cabinet leaking, Turnbull turned on his heel and abruptly cancelled the rest of the walkabout. A planned visit to Westfield Penrith was abandoned. Turnbull’s act upstaged any campaign rhetoric. He sent a vital message about his own need to engage with the people only on his own terms to all keen democrats on the trail.

Peta Credlin, enjoying her new post as agent provocateuse or chief Delcon rear gunner on airship Sky swung into action. She deplored his walking away from his planned walkabout. Very helpfully, she highlighted Turnbull’s chief credibility gap: the great wall of wealth which insulates the PM from the people.  To Credlin, walking away from the walkabout was unthinkable.

“If it’s known that you were going to do a street walk in Penrith, the last thing you want to do, Mr Harbour-side Mansion, is look like you don’t know and you’re not welcome in western Sydney.”

In her opinion, Turnbull was not up to snuff. If Scott wasn’t pump-primed, they should have moved the visit. Logistics expert, campaign veteran and HR talent, Ms Credlin was very clear what she would have done in the same position, even more stage management, which may shed some light on why Tony Abbott was elected with less policy detail than you could jot on the back of a QANTAS ticket for two to the south of France.

Itching to make a bid for silliest 2016 campaign comment, Dawson’s George Christensen used social media to throw his weight around about the millions of Syrians who would flood into his electorate and take Aussie jobs.

“I’ve advised the Assistant Minister [for Multiculturalism] that the Mackay region won’t be able to handle an influx of refugees given the state of the regional economy,” Christensen wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. He seems to have accepted as true an urban myth about a workers’ camp in the town of Sarina. Sarina is in the neighbouring seat of Capricornia, about 37 kilometres south of Mackay.

The myth that refugees are a burden also fails to match the reality. Nhill’s economy, for example, is booming since 2010 when 200 Karen refugees from Burma settled in the Wimmera, a small agricultural town in Victoria which is located half-way between Melbourne and Adelaide. Other sources such as ABS figures indicate that migrants are more likely to be in work and less likely to be on welfare than Australian residents.

Yet gorgeous George did get something right. Christensen confirmed the power of certain right wingers over the PM. Turnbull did not pause to tell the National MP to check his facts but instead took time out from his lunch at The Athenaeum, a club for wealthy white blokes. He indulged George’s Scott-like delusion about being overrun with refugees while glossing over the MP’s lack of respect for process or his leader’s authority, claiming the MP’s:

.“… concerns lie in the lack of jobs in the area due to the downturn in the mining construction boom.

What he’s saying is because there aren’t a lot of jobs around, it’s better for refugees who come in the humanitarian program to be located in places where there are more opportunities for work.”

Amazingly asylum-seekers became Labor’s problem when on Tuesday North Queensland’s Cathy O’Toole, Labor candidate for Herbert was reported to have attended protests about her party’s immigration policies three months ago.

The Australian was delighted to report that O’Toole had “derailed Shorten’s campaign” and published a comment from Peter Dutton on how this indicated that Labor would be a hopeless government when it came to border protection.

This is in stark contrast with his own government’s brilliant record, roundly criticised by international humanitarian agencies and the UN which now includes an urgent need to find somewhere for those in ‘open detention’ on Manus Island, a centre PNG wants closed.

Recent reports of asylum seekers’ suicides in response to their punishment by indefinite captivity abuse and neglect in poorly-run off-shore “processing centres” which form a type of gulag for which neither party will accept responsibility.

After fifteen years of the politicisation of our humanitarian responsibility to refugees it is bizarrely, according to a range of mainstream media, Labor which must get its act together in the first week of an election campaign which is all about Turnbull’s need to get himself re-elected before his dwindling popularity vanishes completely like the Cheshire cat leaving nothing but a toothsome smile behind him.

Asylum seekers were not an issue for the 100 swinging voters who declared to Galaxy that they were undecided at the leaders debate staged by Sky at the Windsor RSL Friday. The event plays to the myth that voting is compulsory and that Australian elections are decided by voters exercising a rational choice between sets of policy offerings from parties they remain open-minded about.

Given that we are far more likely to vote for a party we have an allegiance to surely we could dispense with much of the theatre of the election show in favour of having our candidates face more open and direct questions from voters. The current media product appears calculated to alienate, especially younger voters.

In fact, if last election figures are a guide, many Australians have already voted by opting out of the system as Michael Taylor points out.  1.22 million which includes 400,000 young people, nearly half of all eighteen and nineteen year olds who did not bother to register to vote last election.

Young people are the most unrepresented. Half of all 18-year-olds and a quarter of 19-year-old Australians are not yet enrolled to vote in this election a total of 350,000 votes that will not be cast by young people in 2016. About 608,000 Australians 25 years and older are also not enrolled. Already there are a million marginalised, missing voters or almost six per cent of eligible voters who won’t be going to the polls.

Although it doesn’t fit the plot of mainstream media’s Election Show, most Australians are doing it hard. While powerful business lobbyists press for tax cuts for businesses and the abolition of penalty rates, average Australians are increasingly excluded from participation in a free and just society; enjoying the fruits of their labours.

ACTU president Ged Kearney sees a:

“deliberate shift away from a full-time, secure employed workforce to one that is precarious and underemployed. It’s part of the process of financialisation: moving all the cost and responsibility for employment away from the employer and the state and onto the individual.

So eventually you have a workforce that has no paid leave, no sick leave, quite possibly no workers’ compensation. Workers are insuring their own equipment, which they’ve bought. And many of these people are precariously employed, so they don’t have the benefit of knowing that they’re going to get an income week to week. It builds a very shaky house of cards.”

In the meantime, Turnbull’s long campaign off a short runway continues leaving him to cling to powerful backers and vested interests while treading carefully around the reptilian brain stem offerings of the party’s right wing. Shorten’s Labor Party which has not completely turned its back on its origins in the trade union movements of the 1890s is presenting itself as a people’s party which is pledged to invest in health and education.

The most eloquent and most profound voice of the week, however, is that of Melinda who approached the PM with an economic plan for all Australians  as he left a business in Moorabbin to tell him:

“The cost of school is going up and up and up and yet we’re not getting any more money and now you’re going to take the family tax benefits away. It’s not just single mums you’re hurting,” she said.

“Give them [our children] an opportunity to make something of themselves, please.”


Turnbull Show collides with reality; coalition suffers massive setback.

Duncan Storrer

The government has lost the plot with its election agenda. After conning the Governor General into granting assent for a double dissolution with the fiction that its blocked ABCC legislation was mission critical, the PM has since dropped the issue in a bid to sell his economically innumerate and unsaleable budget, another work of fiction, in a change of tack which is engaging the community in ways that can only further hurt his fast-receding election prospects.

Turnbull’s first tack, however, is to normalise the use of off-shore companies to reduce tax. Defending his role as a company director in an offshore company set up by Mossack Fonseca on the dubious grounds that “it certainly would have paid tax in Australia if it had paid any tax at all”, he unerringly puts his finger on the problem that such companies are set up to minimise tax.

Now that Turnbull has given the green light, Ordinary Australians across the nation are now promising that when they, too, set up their next Siberian gold prospecting company, they, too, will choose an offshore company to help them pay tax in Australia.

If his offshore argument prevails, Turnbull will have no trouble peddling the preposterous lie that cutting company taxes and income taxes for the less than a quarter of Australians who earn over $80,000 does not amount to simply rewarding his party’s wealthy backers.

He may even convince us that the cuts are funded by the $4 billion to be gained from tax evasion clampdowns. An ATO already down 4,700 in staff since the coalition came to office will retrieve billions from wealthy and well-resourced multi-national company tax evaders. 1300 extra ATO workers will be recruited or rehired leaving a workforce depleted by only 3,400 and a tad demoralised, to say nothing of the loss of specialised knowledge.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the PM holds that lowering business and personal income taxes is not only an act of economic genius, it’s an inspired form of social service whereby everybody gets richer in the end. Malcolm’s magic pudding mixture, moreover is freely available.

Amazing similarities link Scott Morrison’s economic plan with an almost identical failure in the United Sates. Jobs and growth even recycles a George W. Bush campaign slogan. It’s either reality-defying chutzpah or a perverse determination to copy abject failure. In other words, it’s standard LNP political leadership.

In 2003, Bush’s 10-year ‘economic plan’ was for “jobs and growth.” He cut taxes. His “Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act” followed his 2001 cuts, the effects of which were disastrous. Between 2001 and 2010, US national debt grew from $5.8 trillion to $13.5 trillion.
US Federal revenue fell, from 20% of GDP in 2000 to 14.6% in 2009 while unemployment doubled; from 4% to 8%.

The US economy is not our economy. America doesn’t have Australia’s dividend imputation scheme which allows many of our companies to pay no tax, a fact missed in the coalition’s spin. Yet Morrison and Bush share the fundamentals: grow the pie. Cut taxes and create wealth.

Of course this is all a ruse to hide the fact that the election’s timing is all about Turnbull. The PM must rush to the polls before his cosmetic popular appeal wears off completely like fake tan in the pool. He has no economic plan. Nor has he ever demonstrated the means to negotiate one. All his attempts to forge budgetary consensus fell off the table because he failed to accommodate key stakeholders. Or made outrageous offers to state premiers. Now he’s simply going through the motions equipped with some second-hand slogans.

Yet he’s done us all a favour. Turnbull’s long and slow election campaign is extraordinary for the way reality has so quickly broken through the spin and the stage-management. What was predicted to be a dull, hard slog has quickly become an engrossing spectacle.

Pundits primed us to be bored; to quickly tune out of a long, dreary election campaign. “Nothing to see here”, said our fourth estate mavens and media magnate mouthpieces who eagerly pre-package our perceptions, provide take-away conclusions and pre-digest our thinking for us.

How wrong they all were. A week into its long-running schedule, the election campaign’s Truman Show with its scripted informality and over-directed spontaneity has been upstaged by reality. The budget’s economic plan is a resounding belly-flop. In a long, slow campaign, ordinary punters keep getting into the frame, arguing with “Mr Sydney Harbourside mansion”, as Peta Credlin dubs the PM, on screen. Social justice threatens to re-claim the field.

Our attention has been attracted to real people and their lives. “Nothing to see here,” the Coalition’s favourite all singing – all dancing chorus of denial and deception is upstaged by a real world of people demanding to be heard.

The terrible spectacle of manifest inequality, the reality of a wealthy nation riven by a selfish elite, driven by greed and declining commodity prices to ever greater exploitation of the powerless has its vast, cruel indifference every day exposed by authentic personal stories of real suffering. The mind-numbing, reality-denying, thought bubbles of election trail windbaggery are punctured by a succession of real life cameo appearances from real people.

Instead of the treasurer’s message of mindless optimism in ever sharper relief appears the rapidly widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. The true enemy of productivity is upstaging the slogans, the scare-tactics and the stigmatising of the poor. What’s happening?

Duncan Storrer sticks his head up. The part-time driver from Geelong says he has a disability and left school early yet he has a pearler of a question for Ms Kelly O’Dwyer. For all of us.

For a while it looks like a bit of a Zaky Mallah moment. All three hundred thousand dollars per annum of Walkley Award winner Tony Jones’ salary, hovers in the balance as Chairman Jones appears unsteady, unsure which way Duncan is heading.

Few on the panel speak the language of the poor, it is clear. Apart from Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS, few seem aware of the poor, their plight or their rights. Few seem to care.

Assistant Finance Minister O’Dwyer, elite Presbyterian Ladies’ College alumna and member for the ultra-blue-ribbon electorate of Higgins, Jones knows full well, does not, normally, have much truck with the likes of Duncan. He need not have worried. O’Dwyer utterly misses the point of his inquiry, anyway, in a long-winded response about business.

“I’ve got a disability and a low education, that means I’ve spent my whole life working for minimum wage. You’re gonna lift the tax-free threshold for rich people,” Duncan says. There are at least 800,000 Australians on a disability pension, despite tightened eligibility – and about one third of the nation’s workforce is part-time.

O’Dwyer, who appears unprepared to encounter a low-paid disabled part-time worker, let alone one challenging the coalition’s tax policy, sounds almost Prime Ministerial as she wobbles off topic in a long-winded bit of Mal-splaining, clearing up less and less as she goes on.

“It’s about balance,” she ends hopefully, like a junior debater who has a phrase or two put by for emergencies.

Duncan Storrer shakes his head. It is about fairness, decency and humanity and the whole audience knows it. And it quickly turns to being about democracy.

Storrer refuses to be slapped down on Q&A, because of his low income. Business big-wig Innes Willcox sneers at him for daring to speak out when he pays next to no income tax. Duncan puts him right about being a GST paying tax-payer. He has every right to be heard.

Others are upsetting the campaign apple-cart. Melinda, a single mother confronts Malcolm Turnbull about education costs in the Labor-held Melbourne seat of Hotham. He fobs her off with empty campaign rhetorical reassurance when the only Coalition’s only plan for schools is to scrap Gonski funding after 2017, much of which is targeted to disadvantaged schools.

“Our expenditure per student in state schools, like your boys’ schools, has been rising rapidly, far faster, than the state governments’.”

“That’s not what the schools are saying”, Melinda replies.

“Give the kids a chance, give them a fighting chance please,” she says.

Of course such incursions of reality into campaigning are rare and heavily guarded against. Reprisals are common. And vicious. Already the Murdoch press has done a number on Duncan, sending Caroline Overington of The Australian to interview Duncan’s son over what a dead-beat druggie dad Duncan really was. His story is not so easily trashed.

Over 73 days the appeal of a second-hand failed economic plan, a record of three years of failure won’t add up to match. The squalid spectacle of a desperate struggle for self-preservation by a party of privilege well past its use by date will be no match for the competing discourses of real Australians whose daily struggles to survive eclipse in eloquence and depth the mindless slogans, the deception and the lies of The Turnbull Show and its stage-managers.

Another endless, fruitless week in the Turnbull Show.


Giving a new spin to Ambrose Bierce’s view that politics is the conduct of public affairs for private advantage, Tony Abbott surges above a pack of hopeful contenders to set the seeking of advantage as a key theme of the week in politics on Wednesday night as other MPs past their use-by-date are farewelled.

The former PM gives retiring Ian McFarlane a helping hand send-off by calling for someone with an ear close to the ground, say in mining or anything to do with good old-fashioned non-renewable resources to give a former non-renewable resources minister an honest job.

McFarlane’s scrapping of the mining tax was a “magnificent achievement” he says of a move which cost his budget bottom line $3.3 billion despite collapsing commodity prices and mining companies’ massive use of tax deduction.

“I hope this sector will acknowledge and demonstrate their gratitude to him in his years of retirement from this place.”

Yet it is not mutual back-scratching or jobs-for-the-no-longer boys, so much as Abbott’s untimely off the cuff story about donations that furrows Liberal brows.

Abbott’s extraordinary anecdote stars NSW senator Bill Heffernan as his moral guardian, in an uplifting fable guaranteed to sour Turnbull’s rapidly declining election prospects. The sly junk-yard dog makes his sabotage seem almost accidental. No sniping or undermining to see here.

The “climate change is crap” and “coal is good for humanity” heroically independent former PM shares a past moral dilemma of his own when as a young MP “a well-known millionaire” gives him $5000 in cash. Happily all ends well when Abbott has the presence of mind to call “The Heff” who tells him to give the money back.  At least Abbott knew better than to bother his confessor George Pell.

At 72, Heffernan, a farmer-charmer from Junee has won shed-loads of fans with his timely, nurturing and freely dispensed advice. Heff’s gems include telling Senator Nash to “blow it out her backside” and, infamously, accusing Julia Gillard of being “deliberately barren.”

Heffernan’s gem-encrusted parliamentary speeches and asides mean we are spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting any single winner. Yet his spontaneous “Fuck that’s risky shit” comment to a committee about planes making cross-landings should serve as warning to his former leader’s foray into political donations so close to an election campaign.

How long Abbott agonised, or why he agonised at all, are questions now firmly in the public mind, as are further speculations once believed to be thoroughly hosed down about banned donations to the Liberal Party in NSW. The Electoral Commission is still withholding $4.4 million in public funding until the party formally discloses the details of some big donors.

Last week, wily Arthur Sinodinos attacked a senate fund-raising inquiry committee for not consulting him first before demanding that the important figure appear to answer questions.

Last month, the NSW Electoral Commission stated that the Liberals used the Free Enterprise Foundation to “channel and disguise” donations, including from banned donors, before the 2011 NSW election.

“No attempt was made to contact my office to determine my availability before the committee scheduled the hearing on those dates.”

Senator Sinodinos may well have had important stuff such as fund-raising or mentoring Mr Turnbull to do on those days.

Showing that his memory has improved markedly since his last appearance before ICAC, Sinodinos, the Turnbull government’s Cabinet Secretary gives Mark Arbib’s 2010 refusal as his precedent for not appearing. Perhaps he could not recall that Labor’s Arbib was summonsed by a committee, not, as in his case, the whole Senate.  It may not end well for him or his party.

Sinodinos, one of Turnbull’s few close confidantes, did not propose any alternative dates he would be available leaving  Greens senator Lee Rhiannon to comment that,

“What the committee now needs to explore is whether Senator Sinodinos is in contempt of the Senate, considering there was a clear direction passed by a majority of Senators directing him to appear.”

Also not appearing, at least on Tony Abbott’s list of tributes, is Bronwyn Bishop, his ideological “love-mother,” who seems choppered out of her former PM’s love-fest of farewells. Not that she’s about to ask for her money back.

Abbott singles out Ian Macfarlane, Bruce Billson, Bill Heffernan, Bob Baldwin and even Victorian Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson but he fails to pay tribute to Bronnie, his captain’s pick for speaker. It is kerosene baths at fifty paces as Bishop vows revenge.

Turnbull must be rapt to have another Bronwyn vs Tony spat to take the focus off his harmonious and disciplined campaign. Yet an impending Abbott family feud is the least of his problems. Bronnie may even clip her love child’s wings with a timely, well-worded revelation or two.

Without “The Heff” to keep them on the right path and without Ms Bishop’s shining path to guide them, how will our benighted politicians even find their way to the car park?

Happily, PM Turnbull has an app for that – and of course a Comm car and driver for when he tootles over to Yarralumla Sunday with a heart as pure as the driven snow. The ego has landed, scribes report.

Turnbull plans to get the Governor General to collude with him over the transparently fraudulent claim that an early election with double dissolution cream and cherries on top is required to enable the coalition to pass ABCC legislation.

Sir Pete, the Queen’s representative will probably salute the former republican agitator and fall about signing everything in sight. Thank God for the pair of them. Malcolm Turncoat, as they call him in the ARM, needs a break.

After a nightmare week slaving over his government’s Goldilocks Budget MKIII (2016) with its central monstrous lie that tax cuts for the rich will stimulate any growth at all beyond about business owners’ bank accounts, an embattled Turnbull is rattled by a perfect storm of mishaps, cock-ups and the squawking of pigeons coming home to roost.

Bronwyn Bishop’s retirement speech hand grenade doesn’t help the tone.

“It’s not the end,” Bronnie says, a wild-eyed zealot on a vendetta, a little like Scott Morrison who talks all over Barrie Cassidy with outrageous claims about what Labor is doing. Morrison is like a runaway pacer all harnessed up but out of control on ABC Insiders Sunday.

“Labor is playing around with the value of a family home.” Morrison claims that Labor’s proposed reduction of negative gearing will wreck the economy. He shies away from Dutton’s extreme claim of an ASX crash. Yet he has trouble justifying how more affordable homes could cause such damage.

Morrison contests Cassidy’s reading of a transcript of his comments on his removal of aid workers he claimed were political activists who were causing children to self-harm on Nauru.

The Save the Children workers, it is announced this week, are cleared by an inquiry by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss and a review commissioned by the federal government by lawyer and immigration expert Christopher Doogan.

The former immigration minister repeatedly denies the ABC transcript containing his claims which include the following.

The orchestration of protest activity and the facilitation of that protest activity on Nauru, including tactical use of children in those protests to frustrate the ability of those who work at the centre and to deal effectively and safely with those issues.

 Their coaching and encouragement of self-harm for people to be evacuated off the island.

 And fabrication of allegations as part of a campaign to seek to undermine operations and support for the offshore processing policy of the government.”.

Morrison directed 10 Save the Children staff members to leave Nauru in October 2014 after he received “an intelligence report” accusing the group of “encouraging and coaching” self-harm to “achieve evacuations to Australia”. The Daily Telegraph promoted his false allegations.

Morrison’s denial of an ABC transcript is preposterous as is his claim that ordering the workers off Nauru was the action of a minister with an open mind:

“I set up the inquiry that led to these outcomes, and that’s why I set it up, so that we could get to the bottom of what was happening there. I drew no conclusions on the material presented to me at the time.”

All of this is triggered by Cassidy suggesting an apology was in order. Paying compensation would be a concession of guilt to most of us but not in Scott Morrison’s moral universe. Already there is much for Turnbull to sort out if he is to get a clear run at this election thingy.

Turnbull could seek out Cosgrove on the Save the Children issue, given that her Majesty the Queen is president of the Save the Children fund. She ought to hear about any alleged political activism Morrison needed to call out publicly but cannot, will not apologise for. Perhaps a royal commission would be in order.

It’s all looking a bit costly to the PM. Bill Shorten has given a respectable budget reply speech. The campaign to demonise him because of his union background and his corrupt commie mates in the CFMEU hasn’t come to much. Not yet, anyway. Cue the Cossack dancing, carbon taxing home ownership destroying fear campaign.

Yet it is Turnbull who is the pursued. People want figures. Costings -answers – not fudge, flapdoodle and fol de rol. AMA doctors are going after him over his Medicare co-payments by stealth; his tyro Treasurer Scott-Backing-in-Morrison has cost the nation – to say nothing of his own party or his own career, far more than the undisclosed compensation.

Turnbull makes a note to stop Peter Dutton doing the same. It’s too, late of course, even if he could get the former drug squad policeman’s full attention. Or find the time.

On Tuesday, Dutton blames refugee advocates for the suicide attempts on Nauru and Manus, for “encouraging detainees to self-harm” in the hope of getting to Australia.

His comments, which uncannily echo Morrison’s, come after a second refugee, Hodan Yasin, who set fire to herself on Nauru overnight remains in a Brisbane hospital in a critical condition.

Dutton, too, now has his hands full of homing pigeon droppings with his recent not-so-secret repatriation and refoulement of an unstopped boatload of twelve asylum seekers who have miraculously reached Cocos Island on 2 May only to be forcibly repatriated to Sri Lanka where they are promptly arrested at Colombo airport and certain future persecution.

Then there’s the exciting opportunity of Manus. It is reported by Guardian Australia that Manus detainees be sent to Norfolk Island, former “Hell in the Pacific” now that Peter O’Neill PNG PM has made it clear the Manus detention centre must close. Norfolk could be a goer. It worked so well for all parties last time.

To be fair, a key proponent of the use of Norfolk for detention, Natasha Blucher, would prefer Australia to process asylum seekers on the mainland.

“if that’s not going to happen, as it seems from [Immigration Minister Peter] Dutton’s ongoing statements and Labor’s support, I guess this is the second best”.

It’s a week when bad news threatens to wreck all Coalition’s plans. Costs of corporate welfare in the Ten Year Enterprise plan just can’t be concealed any longer when former UBS banker and Abbott appointee to the Treasury, Secretary John Fraser ‘fesses up at Friday’s Senate Estimates Committee hearing, although he refuses to answer more than two questions.

With all this – and the skids of rapidly declining opinion polls well and truly under him – Malcolm Turnbull’s Mothering Sunday drive to Yarralumla to get Abbott knight, Sir Pete Cosgrove is an ever more desperate attempt to get him to collude in a double dissolution and an early election.

Both men know that it’s not about any blocked legislation. It’s sheer expediency. Turnbull’s agile, innovative plan boils down to crash or crash through.

The former merchant banker’s dithering, stumble-bum, utterly bankrupt approach to policy and government is costing the Liberals so much popular support that every week brings compelling evidence they need to hold the election yesterday.

None of this political subterfuge, however, merits a moment’s attention in their breathless commentary as ABC’s Greg Jennett and Chris Uhlmann pipe the GG aboard his Yarralumla bivouac gushing that Cossie ‘always carries his own bags.’

Don’t contact ABC’s Fact Check unit. Turnbull appointee Michelle Guthrie is about to wind up the troublesome unit. Besides she’s got five million of “savings” to achieve. And who needs analysis or critical commentary?

As the week amply demonstrates, the Turnbull government prefers a fact-free following, nowhere better represented than in  Jennett and Uhlmann’s gushing deference to authority and obsession with superficial observation as we go to Turnbull’s visit to the GG live and in real time.

Greg ventures that Sir Pete has probably rehearsed for the big day. Anthony Green goes on to comment on the political and constitutional context. Nobody follows him. So many hours of reporting. Such little sense.

So much more warrants our attention, such as the Climate Change Authority’s report recommending a price on carbon – but that’s been delayed by the government which now controls the majority of members on the authority until after the election.

In a week where a cabinet minister can publicly disavow an ABC transcript of his own words, when a former PM can publicly lobby for a job for a retiring politician or talk about his need to phone a friend over a bribe and where a PM can pretend to have a case for an early election, it is very much a matter of never mind the questions and on with the show.