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.