Month: June 2016

Will Malcolm Turnbull lose his own seat?

For himself, for the nation, for everyone’s sake, he certainly deserves to.

 

ELECTION16 KEATING ALBANESE SYDNEY
Former prime minister Paul Keating campaigning with Anthony Albanese in his electorate of Grayndler at Petersham town hall in Sydney on Saturday, June 25th, 2016. 

“ They are a bunch of opportunistic Trots hiding behind a gum tree trying to pretend they’re the Labor Party,” claims Paul Keating getting stuck into the Greens in his pal Albo’s inner western Sydney seat of Grayndler which the Labor MP has a chance of losing to the Greens. It’s splendid invective, vintage Keating and a marked contrast with most of the language of this dull, passionless, pedestrian campaign.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, it is true, has not held back, denouncing Barnaby Joyce as a sadist and the people who control live export as monsters but his is a rare flash of brilliant conviction amidst the dross of the week’s official campaign speechifying.

Similarly empassioned, addressing 2000 in Double Bay, but minutes away from Turnbull’s harbourside mansion and in the PM’s electorate of Wentworth, former Liberal leader John Hewson accuses the Coalition of being a national disgrace over its failure to put climate change at the heart of its campaign.

Short term politicking from both sides left targets that were inadequate and policies that weren’t going to meet those targets, said Hewson as good a definition as any of the government’s Direct Action bogus climate change policy. Climate should be bipartisan, Hewson thunders to much applause. Only the politicians would disagree. The sitting member headed for Launceston instead.

Launceston, nevertheless, is chuffed Friday when caretaker PM Malcolm Turnbull, turns up to honour a promised prior visit postponed because of the floods. The PM tops Labor’s promises by pledging $7.5 million to the $18.1 million City Heart project, launched in 2014, to “revitalise” the city. It is a fair effort from a PM who risks his own seat feeling left high and dry.

The man who would be Prime Minister is happy just to tick the boxes.
Stick to the plan he says. It is his take on stability, the word he offers as his campaign signature, at the bizarrely late Liberal campaign launch on Sunday where he also comes up with “power-sharing fiasco”, a term he repeats three times and which might also apply to his own Faustian compact with the right.

Turnbull is trusting to inertia and popular aversion to three PMs in as many years, an aversion carefully cultivated with the help of mainstream media, to get him across the line.

…rhetoric of jobs and growth.

The PM is out doing the dull stuff; covering Labor pledges in Bass, an electorate which his party polling tells him is marginal with a history of unseating sitting Liberals, an electorate which has more than its fair share of battlers who see through his government’s rhetoric of jobs and growth.

The median individual income in Bass Coast Shire is $489 per week. In the 2016 March quarter, the unemployment rate was 7.40% and rising.Yet Turnbull’s speech seems to suggest everyone will either get a new job building the new campus or become a university student.

Not much to woo the average punter here but it’s typical of a campaign in which the ordinary Australian is lucky (or not as Duncan Storrar discovered) to get a question out on Q&A or like Melinda the single Mum, who bravely buttonholed the PM in Moorabbin in May by interrupting his small business mutual love fest.

Melinda had real questions about the cost of living and her children having a chance in life but she turned away when she spotted Turnbull’s vast personal indifference to her or any other battler behind that energiser battery smile.

Turnbull’s stump speech in Bass is a fizza, too. And is it wise to take time out from electors closer to home? Shouldn’t he be at least back-chatting Hewson? As a campaigner, Turnbull doesn’t seem to do savvy. His sloganeering is wooden; his fulmination against the dire evil of Labor’s negative gearing and softness on borders is as unconvincing as his fixed grin.

Another $150 million will help UTAS move to a more central Inveresk campus, with a similar move for the Burnie campus. As the PM explains, coaxed into life by the allure of a Latinate abstraction, it means “ensuring Tasmanian cities realise their enormous potential as international hubs for both education and tourism.” You can’t say his speech has a ring to it. More an ear of tin.

…preach the gospel of uncertainty…

Nothing excites the PM more than spruiking potential unless it’s to preach the gospel of uncertainty as he does later that night like some latter day antipodean Heraclitus waxing philosophical in response to a question on Brexit from Leigh Sales on her ABC 7:30 Report.

“(Brexit)’s a reminder, Leigh, of a point I often make: that we are living in a period of rapid economic change, we’re living in a period of volatility and we have to embrace that.”

Only Turnbull can pitch 21st century technobabble while posing as the strong leader of a “rock-solid” stable government able to withstand anything Brexit could throw at it. Only his government has the adhesive: an economic plan which cuts taxes for companies and those on higher incomes.

Sales deigns to challenge him on the reality of his government’s internecine division and self-eviscerating instability, its 17 cabinet ministers, its 3 resignations, its fund-raising fiasco. Not to mention the divisions and indecision revealed in its failure to cobble together a tax reform policy. Perhaps he’s bored her into submission, too. But wait, there’s more.

Turnbull’s even throwing in a set of free trade deals. Post Brexit that is some call. Yet no-one feels secure or loved at home. There’s a week to go but the writing is on the wall.

The PM could lose his own seat; so deep runs discontent in Wentworth especially among its sizeable gay community. Turnbull’s electorate feels abandoned and rejected if not betrayed by their local member’s latest revelation that government MP’s may not be bound by any plebiscite on same-sex marriage. Some commentators suggest the issue may even cost him the election.

Then there’s the wretched environmentalists, all stirred up with Di Natale visiting the Tarkine and Hewson’s rabble rousing greenmail. God knows how they’ll vote.

…yearn for more personal attention…

Gone is Turnbull’s erstwhile popular standing. His local electors now see their MP as merely another politician says Roy Morgan, whose poll of The Greens’ 20 best seats this week puts the Coalition on 41.5%, down twenty points on 2013. Could they yearn for more personal attention than more of the same old stale jobs and growth slogan Turnbull serves up on every occasion?

Or do we get the slogans we deserve? No-one in Launceston or in the PM’s large media entourage presses the PM to defend his government’s proposed policy on higher education in which degrees and diplomas could become prohibitively expensive as a result of tertiary fee deregulation. No point in moving the campus if students can’t afford to enrol.

While technically only a “reform discussion paper” subject to consultation, its tertiary education policy is due to be announced straight after the election. In an attempt to reassure those who accuse it of secrecy, Education Minister Simon Birmingham has earlier claimed that his government has released more details than Labor.

“…there will not be full fee deregulation and … we can guarantee that for at least 80 per cent of students they will operate under a fixed price regime and nobody will pay a dollar upfront…”

Birmingham explains that universities will be allowed to set their own fees for 20% of their “flagship courses” from 2018. Universities won’t get funding from the government for these “opt-in” courses. To prevent degrees costing $100,000, course fees would be monitored by a group like the ACCC. No-one is reassured by any of this. We’ve seen how well the ACCC controls the banks.

Entitled Responsibly Investing in Higher Education, lest anyone mistake access to higher education as a basic human right and to further the neoliberal view that everything is always about investment the (draft) policy is set to delight the privileged and to further entrench privilege.

Not only are student fees likely to rise, the cut-off for fee recovery has been lowered, a sensible and practical step to ensure that no-one is ever free of their HECS debt, even if their income is subsistence level or below as in the case of the Newstart allowance or the age pension.

…staring down a giant mask of himself…

Not everyone in Bass is happy to see the PM and the local Liberal candidate. Embattled Bass MHR Andrew Nikolic proves his own military training useful choosing to fuss over his leader, filling in admirably as Kaiser Mal’s batman while staring down a giant mask of himself, part of a small group of demonstrators protesting about school funding, penalty rates and other real issues.

There are members of the United Voice union, Gonski backers and a papier mâché bobble head lampooning Nikolic, an MP who is no stranger to controversy. He caused a stir recently by refusing to debate a local Greens candidate, preferring candidates who have a chance of winning.

The Liberal campaign has seen the Nikolic gambit developed and refined by justice minister Michael Keenan who has repeatedly refused to debate his Labor counterpart, anti-terror expert Dr Anne Aly, whom he accuses of being soft on national security because once in the course of her job she recommended a terror suspect be given access to an anti-radicalising programme.

The accusation has been taken up by Julie Bishop who was also once a lawyer but who is keen to pitch in with a denunciation to boost the climate of hysteria so vital to keeping our borders secure.

Assisting with the same mission, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton holds a surreal off water press conference to announce that his government has just turned back boat number twenty eight, a statistic no-one has any way of checking because requests for information are routinely denied on the grounds they are operational matters or details which must be kept secret because their publication would only help demon people smugglers revise their business models.

Psychologist Paul Stevenson who has been an outspoken critic of conditions on Manus Island has been dismissed by email, a better outcome than the Border Force Act 2015’s prescribed imprisonment but still an indication that there is no change to the regime of secrecy which has been part of the militarisation of our duty to show compassion and care for those who seek our asylum, a regime so capably initiated by Scott Morrison under this government.

Morrison has recently made a fool of himself in claiming that he too a rich white male member of the power elite knows what Penny Wong means when she warns of the unleashing of bigotry should the coalition’s plan to hold its same sex marriage plebiscite go ahead. He, too he claims feels her pain.

Whilst his claim is ludicrous, offensive and insultingly insensitive, it is characteristic of the strategy increasingly favoured by members of the ACL and its key exponents such as Cory Bernardi who present themselves as somehow champions of mainstream opinion who are persecuted for their views. Donald Trump takes a similar position with his nonsense on radical Islam.

…a heavily reduced majority..

If Turnbull is indeed to succeed in the July 2 election, it will be with a heavily reduced majority. And slim also seem his chances of dealing with a right wing which embraces climate deniers and fundamentalist Christians implacably opposed to gay marriage.

The shock news of Brexit this week has been claimed by both sides as an argument to win votes. Labor points justifiably to its record of success in shielding Australia from the GFC of 2007-8 while Turnbull invents a stability and record of success at economic management which relies totally on John Howard’s and Peter Costello’s myth-making which has passed into popular perception, with the help of mainstream media as fact.

It is early days to reckon the effect of Brexit although its economic effects both direct and indirect are likely to be deep and enduring, despite Scott Morrison’s best strategic efforts at PR damage control. As always he proves hopelessly out of his depth..

Brexit, moreover, may be read in part as a protest against the disempowerment and exclusion of the poor; a result of the overplaying of their hand by the wealthy elite. It points to some serious flaws in the glass of neoliberal policies including free trade which has caused industry closure, fostered policy which has increased social inequality and led to marginalisation and alienation. It carries real warnings for our power elite in Australia, too. Win or lose 2 July, Turnbull and his government may be in for a rude surprise.

Turnbull fails to lead on Brexit

turnbull Brexit


 

Want to know what Brexit means for Australia? Looking for a bit of leadership from the Prime Minister in response to Britain’s latest financial and economic crisis? Worried Britain will drag us all into a global recession? Don’t ask Malcolm Turnbull. He’s just the Prime Minister.

Tony Jones made the leadership mistake on Q&A when he asked Turnbull why he was soft on same-sex marriage. Why was he pushing ahead with a plebiscite even though he personally favoured a conscience vote?

Turnbull said he was “sticking by the decision the Coalition party room made under Tony Abbott.”

The PM neglected to mention that the party room was augmented with a rump of National Party members herded in at the last minute. His capitulation endorses a flaky evasion. Abbott’s move was nothing more than a cynical stalling tactic.

No update either for viewers that neogitations are currently under way to ensure that members of Turnbull’s government, should it be returned, will be able to vote against their electorates on marriage equality. Senators Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi have already said they will do this.

As Penny Wong puts it “Malcolm Turnbull didn’t give supporters of marriage equality a free vote before the election, but will give opponents of marriage equality a free vote after the election.

What came next is the most amazing concession of the campaign so far. Turnbull is the type of leader to lead from behind. He’s only the boss. “I am the PM but I’m not the dictator,” he said.

“Some people like the idea of prime ministers that ignore their colleagues. I don’t agree with that. I’m a strong believer in traditional cabinet government and that means compromise.”

Now it’s Leigh Sales turn to make the same mistake on Friday’s 7:30 Report. Not that she’s really interested. It is, after all, another opportunity for the PM to campaign. And in the end it’s all about the show. She asks him what it means. Means? He fetches up one fence-sitting word, “uncertainty.”

The U-word has bolted before he realises, to his horror, he mustn’t frighten the horses. Quickly he claims uncertainty as a virtue – and the high moral ground. Who knows where he’s headed? Give him a minute or thirty and he’ll give you the full Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

“ Uncertainty …” he begins, lifting an unequivocal bottom jaw.

Sales looks worried.

It is a vintage Turnbull display. Patronise. Preach. Change gear. Hasn’t he told us to “embrace uncertainty?” he chides, smugly, channelling entrepreneur-Mal, his inner shill, hopelessly addicted to start-up technobabble and all manner of other 21st Century con-artist jargon?

We are being told off for not being quite with it. He’s gazumped us. Everyone can see how embracing his inner uncertainty has worked for Malcolm, the ditherer. Not that he is letting Ms Sales speak. She does try to get to the heart of the nonsense about embracing change by spelling out some of the changes in terms of jobs lost to technology, EU migrant workers and open markets.

I just wonder if that message that you’re making perhaps scares and alienates people?

Turnbull seizes the opportunity to riff on the word immigration in what Sales is saying.

The EU Schengen agreement permitting passport free travel is in his sights. It reminds him to sound like a toddler potty training manual,

“…how really important it is for the Government to be seen to control its borders.”

Borders secure, he’s straight off up the garden path of how his government offers stability, a brilliant economic plan of bribing rich people with tax cuts and its Liberal psychic powers.

I think we could be looking at a period of some uncertainty. And it’s a reminder, Leigh, of a point I often make: that we are living in a period of rapid economic change, we’re living in a period of volatility and we have to embrace that. We have to recognise that we’ve got to make sure that we have stable leadership, an economic plan, stable government, so that we are able to deal with the unforeseen.

Luckily Leigh is not up to challenging him. Turnbull’s government is one big factional in-fight. And it shows. In three years our economy has gone from best performing in the world to about fifteenth place now as a result of internal conflict and utter confusion over ideology and economic policy.

Abbott outsourced most Liberal policy to the IPA leaving himself an incoherent bag of Trump-style US clichés about small government being good for you, a dash of flag-waving rabid nationalism, authoritarianism and the dog-whistling politics of division. Malcolm Turnbull has done his best to pick up all of these but hasn’t quite got them all in the bag. Nor will he ever while Abbott survives.

If Fizza Turnbull were to win the election, on current predictions, his is unlikely to be a big enough victory to give him the authority to command the stability which he claims to offer. Abbott’s already got his dibs on a return to cabinet as Minister of Defence. But wait, there’s more – of course.

Turnbull bangs on about his economic plan. His government’s economic plan is neither economic nor a plan but rather a magic pudding mix that serves up a rich and tasty tax cut for wealthy supporters which somehow trickles down to feed the rest of the nation by boosting productivity and prosperity in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The evidence for stability is just as weak. Since John Howard’s shrewd brew of nationalism, neoliberalism – once called economic rationalism and social liberalism was spoilt by WorkChoices, the Liberal Party at both state and federal level is beset by an existential crisis. Tony Abbott’s false promises to keep Labor’s social program added untrustworthy into whatever the Liberals stand for.

In federal politics, the Liberal Party has given the nation two prime ministers in three years, fifteen changes in the cabinet and a smorgasbord of funding scandals. Right now the word is that the party is struggling to find the cash to fund its last furious final volley of TV attack ads. They could save their money. People will be watching the Brexit fall-out news.

None of this is followed up. Mr Stability Turnbull is left to dip into his usual grab bag of vapid platitudes, Mal-splaining and some special name-dropping for the occasion.

OK, he says, he did contact David Cameron to “console” the British PM ahead of his resignation. But he’s not prepared to share with viewers anything that might have been said. This is a pity. Both have a fair bit in common in terms of their capture by the right wing of their divided parties.

The PM’s message is “nothing to see here,” just as his deputy, Julie Bishop has earlier advised Australians to “keep calm and carry on.” Whistle a happy tune. Don’t mention the class war.

To be fair Sales does not exactly press the Prime Minister for answers. That’s not her job. Her show’s more of a foot-rub and back-scratch than a quest for information. Hold her guest to account for his promises, his evasions and lies? She can and does ask the odd good question but these tend to be batted away and never followed up. Or Turnbull bloviates and then answers his own question.

Friday he gets away with murder. Turnbull crows that her show had revealed Shorten to be a liar about Coalition moves to privatise Medicare. It is a ScoMo moment, a cheap and demeaning gotcha that does nothing but lower the tone and the PM’s credibity – and insult the intelligence of her audience. Does he imagine we don’t know that he set up a 20-member, $5 million privatisation taskforce which he was forced to cancel at the 11th hour.

And despite his strenuous denials, the outsourcing of Medicare payments went to federal Cabinet.

Turnbull bags Shorten for not putting his hand on his heart, a stunt Sales dredged up in the previous night’s programme and straight out of the Ray Hadley 2GB playbook. It proves nothing but the depths to which political debate has fallen. Sales doesn’t seem to mind to be used in this way. It’s as if she’s happy to be an accomplice in Turnbull’s long-practised evasion of leadership and truth.

Now interviews don’t have to be combative. To help the ABC here are a few of the many questions remaining unasked which could help Turnbull to lead; act like a Prime Minister.

How could the pundits get it so wrong? Is Brexit part of some more deep-seated popular protest against conservative politics; a rebellion against the politics of division, exclusion and increasing social and economic inequality? To Rafael Behr, Brexit sounds,

…more like a howl of rage and frustration by one half of the country against the system of power, wealth and privilege perceived to be controlled by an elite residing, well, elsewhere.”

Are there parallels in Australia? Brexit is the repudiation of its ruling political and economic elite, by half the British nation. Similarly marginalised by a rapidly diminishing share of the nation’s prosperity and excluded or alienated from real political decision-making, manipulated by a conservative mass media could Australian voters be about to make a similar protest?

In the post-truth era style of political interview we will even phrase the questions to help our PM.

Surely we don’t have workers who have lost their jobs, their futures, their feeling of self-worth because of our politicians’ relentless, mindless march towards globalisation and free trade?

Surely we don’t live inside a housing bubble so inflated by our banks that it is impossible for average voters to own their own homes?

Surely we don’t have politicians who are so addicted to neoliberal dogma that the concept of the people has become replaced by that of the consumer?

Surely no politician would claim that the politics of economic austerity will solve everything, while tax cuts for the wealthy and the business classes will ensure that prosperity trickles upward?

Surely none of these are true, Malcolm Turnbull wants us to reassure us. He’s calling Brexit a message of “optimism.”

“In this age of technological change, in this age of the internet, in this age of globalism, why would we remain part of Europe for no reason other than geographic proximity at a time when technology has abolished geography?”

Whatever desperate, far-fetched spin our PM may choose to employ to fend off reality, there is an inescapable sense that the writing is on the wall for neoliberal governments everywhere. What is clear is that the free trade agreements and treaties which underpin the now diminished European Community have been tried and found wanting in Britain and that other nations may well follow.

What is certain, despite everything that our PM has left unsaid, is that Brexit puts the skids under the global financial system. Expect instability, it is true but don’t expect leadership from him. There is no point in his evading responsibility and everything to be gained by taking us into his confidence. But that would require a capacity to take command and an as yet unseen capacity to communicate.

Brexit will prove the measure of Turnbull, the would-be elected Prime Minister.

Playing politics with our very survival

shorten in tassie


Opposition leader, Bill Shorten’s return to Hobart Friday, a record second lightning visit in as many weeks, puts the cat amongst the Tory pigeons.

Not only is Bill back in town again campaigning, when The Australian, Fairfax’s Mark Kenny and the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann have already given the election to the government, the Labor leader whose party “lags in all key marginals” is bearing further promises of jobs and money including a bright new extension lead for Basslink.

Campaign crews report that Labor is picking up votes but only in safe Labor or safe Liberal seats on issues like health and education which won’t win it the election. What is going on?

The latest Fairfax-Ipsos polls which in Victoria and NSW state elections understate the Labor vote put the opposition ahead of the government 51-49 with Shorten maintaining his improved personal approval ratings while the latest NewsPoll, whose new methodology does not confine it just to landlines and is yet untested in an election, has the two main parties at 50-50.

Yet no-one important rates Labor’s chances, although the independents, especially the Xenophon Party in South Australia, get a massive talking up causing Malcolm Turnbull to warn that chaos will result from voting for minor parties – as opposed to the halcyon tranquillity and stability of his own party which has had two prime ministers and fifteen cabinet changes in three years together with an approach to economic policy and tax reform which involves keeping everyone guessing.

It’s the prospect of chaos, “an unstable, chaotic, minority Labour-Greens Independent government as we had before, he maintains, which prompts the PM to put the Greens after Labor on preferences, despite the Gillard minority government (which was more widely based than a Labor-Greens alliance) being highly successful in executing legislation and stable between 2010 and 2013.

The Australia Institute’s latest report shows that the Abbott Turnbull government has performed the worst since the Menzies government on a range of 12 economic indicators including GDP per capita, the unemployment rate, employment growth and the growth of real business investment and intellectual property investment.

Peter Reith, former Howard Minister for babies overboard, balaclava labour on the waterfront, compulsive union-buster and now tragic Liberal Party hack helpfully spells it out on Sky News.

“…what we don’t want is a bunch of wackos out to the left or out to the right …” “Don’t give them an inch. Don’t give them any support.”

Undaunted by any fear of chaos, wackos or a conservative press that is not going to do him any favours, Shorten pledges $150 million to help the University of Tasmania to move its Newnham campus to the heart of Launceston and closer to its students, with a similar proposal for Burnie.

$15 million of new funds is ear-marked for Cradle Mountain – an amount which Labor will double if the Coalition will match it – and other plans for Tasmania including $5 million towards a feasibility study for a second Basslink cable and $500 million should one be required.

The Opposition Leader is “peddling positive policies” sneers News Corp. The put-down highlights an inversion in this campaign. The Opposition proposes policy for a small target government to tear down.

Jacqui Lambie is also critical if cryptic. She says “there are other priorities” which she leaves unspecified while former employment minister, Eric Abetz is put in mind of a wedding.

Labor is “throwing money around like confetti,” Abetz, self-appointed leader of Federal Liberal conservatism, chides, on cue. It does not matter that his government has just promised, in April, a billion dollars of Clean Energy finance to reboot Basslink to “future proof” Tasmania’s energy needs.

The plan is reinforce the myth of Labor as big spenders. No matter that the LNP is outspending Labor two to one on election advertising. Nor that it is spending more than Gillard or Rudd, despite warning of a “spending problem” and urging Australia to “live within its means.”

Government spending as a percentage of Australia’s economic activity is higher now than when Labor governments steered us through international economic turmoil. But confetti?

Is it a Freudian slip? Abetz may soon be back in cabinet if, as some suggest, the LNP is returned with a small majority. Turnbull’s authority over the right would further decline.

Always vigilant on fiscal prudence, due diligence and a close ally of Tony Abbott, Abetz is no stranger to dispute. He claims Turnbull’s coup cost the party hundreds of resignations in Tasmania, a view disputed by Party President Geoff Page.  Page clearly wasn’t looking hard enough.

With Abetz on board, no wonder Reith cautions against supporting any further wackos. The phlegmatic Abetz once dismissed environmental concerns over acid rain, ozone depletion, pesticide use and climate change as “Chicken Little-type hysteria.”

A “toughen-up buttercup” kind of a bloke as employment minister, Eric deplores those who lack his own resolve, as in his address to the Sydney Institute when he shared his distaste for “weak-kneed employers caving in to unreasonable union demands” who then expected him to be a fixer.

More than 17,000 public servants jobs were cut under Abetz’s regime. His bargaining framework banned back-pay and sign-on bonuses. Agency bosses could not use savings and cuts already imposed after years of “efficiency dividends” to justify pay rises.

With this CV and his professional skills, Abetz’s demotion was a loss to the nation, or so he told Fairfax’s Jane Cadzow in March.  Today he gleefully peddles party line hysteria over Labor’s fiscal profligacy. But it’s small beer when compared with a couple of years back when he thundered.

“We are borrowing one thousand million dollars per month just to pay the interest bills on the existing borrowings.”

Shorten’s training programme will not cost a dollar. It will supersede the Coalition’s Youth Jobs PaTH programme, a plan to supply cheap interns whose conditions of work and tenure will be at employers’ discretion. Only their $4 per hour pay will be guaranteed to be below subsistence level.

Yet back-bench Abetz is kept more than busy lately. He complains in The Spectator that he is being silenced by the left-wing commentariat as he tries to denounce Islam and Muslim radicalisation, despite his Prime Minister having no problem.

Turnbull does not hesitate to declare last Sunday’s anti-gay massacre at Orlando, Florida the work of a terrorist conspiracy which only his government can protect us all from.

Someone quickly gets on to the PM. After channelling Tony Abbott, Turnbull subsequently recognises the suffering of the gay community in what evidence suggests was the act of an unstable homophobic individual and not a planned attack by any international terrorist organisation despite the gunman’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS and that group’s subsequent claiming responsibility.

Ever vigilant, protective and resourceful, our Federal government is working around the clock to protect us, Turnbull bangs on. He doesn’t mention metadata retention or the recent NBN raid on Labor offices in Victoria or your plight if you happen to be a professional whistle-blower in a detention centre and bound to remain silent or face imprisonment under the Border Force Act 2015.

Nor does he mention the deadly debacle of the Lindt café siege. Nor oddly, does he dwell on the failure of the AFP to protect the nation from another deranged gunman, Man Haron Monis, about whom it knew more than enough to take protective action.

For Peta Credlin, our intelligence systems are hopeless. Credlin, too uses this week to make common cause with Pauline Hanson and former Bob Katter staffer turned Australian Liberty Alliance Senate candidate Bernard Gaynor and sundry other self-appointed Islamophobes across the nation.

“Fair enough, have a Ramadan Iftar dinner at Kirribilli House but if the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Australian Federal Police, the ceremonial branch and the Prime Minister’s own office can’t recognise a hate preacher and exclude him, we have a massive problem.”

Abetz is quick to pick up the dog whistle. “So, why this silence and denial on Muslim radicalism?” He persists, Trump-ishly and continuing the politics of division which underpin Turnbull’s initial ABC News 24 appearance.

What silence? Crikey uses data from media monitoring and analysis company iSentia, to show that the words Muslim or Islam have appeared over twelve thousand times in media in the last fortnight.

A leader in the Abbott government’s failed Royal Commission into Union Corruption, Abetz is as big a fan of leftist conspiracies as he is of the work of discredited waterfront historian, failed state Liberal politician Dr Hal G.P. Colebatch and commends his partisan union bashing account to others as fact.

According to Colebatch, the chaps wearing balaclavas on the wharves in 1998 in one of the most scurrilous union-busting episodes in our history were workers fearing reprisals from the MUA and not scab labour brought in by Patrick Corrigan and Peter Reith after all. Their attack dogs were probably just family pets. What’s certain is that their headgear kept their handlers warm.

Shorten should take his chilly Hobart reception as a compliment. At least the Tories care enough to give him lip. Not so for Liberal Bass MP, Andrew Nikolic, who shuns a local Bass candidates’ country club debate with a Greens candidate on the grounds that the “Liberal Party is not interested in debating other candidates who have no chance of winning.”

Luckily, for Nikolic fans, the Green pulled out. His no-truck-with-losers approach, however, is certain to catch on in other electorates and would be a salutary reform for question time in parliament.

Despite a handy 10.8% swing last election, Nikolic does have a bit of a battle in Bass with some demanding constituents who refuse to see the benefit of tax cuts for companies in an electorate where two thirds earn less than $37,000 a year, unemployment is high and healthcare is a big issue.

When a cut to the pathology rebate was proposed, Tasmania’s head of pathology could not get an appointment to raise his concerns with the retired Brigadier. Nor could local Baptist Church pastor Jeff McKinnon who reckons Nikolic doesn’t listen to people who hold opposing views. Perhaps he’s been mentored by Greg Hunt.

Renowned for his rapier-like riposte and always up for the cut and thrust of debate our Direct Actor himself, Environment Minister Greg Hunt slips out of witness protection to jeer at Shorten for being in Bass under false pretence. Why no mention, Hunt splutters, of the government’s earlier promise of a Basslink feasibility study?  Why indeed?

Hunt is in hiding somewhere on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula since the “clean bill of health” he proclaimed on The Great Barrier Reef has become an electoral liability. He has, however, managed the timely excision of sections on the reef and sections dealing with Kakadu and Tasmanian forests from “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate” a recent UNESCO climate change report which now has no mention of Australia.

Once an occasion for group hugs in the house, Hunt’s reef verdict now rings hollow given warnings from real scientists confirming that 93% of the reef’s coral is bleaching as rising sea temperatures, a product of global warming continue, helped along by our own greenhouse gas emissions which have increased steadily since the government scrapped Labor’s carbon pricing scheme.

Carbon consultancy firm RepuTex, says that Australia’s carbon pollution rose in the 2014-15 financial year for the first time in almost a decade when compared to the previous year.  Australia’s national greenhouse gas emissions are set to keep rising well beyond 2020 on current trends, with the projected growth rate one of the worst in the developed world. No wonder Hunt is in hiding.

Now that climate change is settled, CSIRO’s Larry Marshall, who works closely with the Prime Minister and his government, is able to dismiss 350 scientists most of whom work in climate science, a move which is devastating to Tasmania’s scientific community.

Sagely, Shorten is not buying into that – or any other links, confining himself to the power switch.

“If anyone thinks that there’s a continuous, reliable supply of power between the mainland and Tasmania, I don’t think that is happening,” the opposition leader says.

Labor will stump up half the cost of a proposed $1 billion Bass Strait electricity cable, with leader Bill Shorten confident the project will go ahead. Yet for Erich Abetz, for whom government expenditure is always a cost and never an investment, Labor is making promises the nation cannot afford.

Everyone in government must avoid the elephant in the room of its climate change denial and how its support of coal-fired power generation contributes to changing weather patterns behind Tasmania’s recent crippling lack of rain and the running down of storage dams to record lows.

All Tassie needs is another power cord. Former Liberal MP from Bass, Mr Warwick Smith has already been tapped to head up a feasibility study for an undisclosed fee to be paid out of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the government’s latest milch-cow since foreign aid has been cleaned out.

Spinners, including the PM, support another Basslink connection on the grounds that Tasmania will thrive on the export of its renewable energy. But will it have any to spare? It’s OK now. Hydro dams are overflowing but what if the spring rains fail to come again? If only state and federal governments could stimulate investment in wind and solar energy. Defy the coal lobby.

In Tasmania, in microcosm, are writ the deficiencies of our national energy policy over successive governments. Solar and wind energy resources abound and yet we cannot break away from the fossil fuel capture of the energy market and build up our solar and wind capacity. Last budget, the Turnbull government, cut one billion from Australia’s Renewable Energy Agency.

Whilst Turnbull has distanced himself from Abbott’s war on renewables, in retaining the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, it is only a tiny step back.

Placating the right and its climate deniers at all costs to retain some sort of personal power, Turnbull is involved in a disastrously expensive and ultimately impossible operation.  Who knows how long he will survive? Whatever the outcome on 2 July, however, one thing is certain. We will still be playing politics on climate change; playing politics with our very survival.

 

 

Turnbull sides with Trump and co over Orlando shootings.

 

 

turnbull on Orlando

“This is a vile attack on freedom … an attack on all of us.”

There are people outside our country and some within it who hate the freedoms that we enjoy and would seek to threaten them and undermine them with violence.” Malcolm Turnbull ABC 24


Just before “last call,” around 2:00am last Sunday Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old US-born citizen of Afghan ancestry turned his legally obtained AR-15 type assault rifle and his hand gun on patrons of Pulse a gay bar in Orlando, a place he himself had frequented for three years.

Forty-nine young people in their twenties and thirties, were killed while another fifty were injured in an horrific scene of unimaginable carnage.

Gun violence kills or injures 112 Americans per day and the Orlando shootings were one of 43 in the USA on Sunday yet the event has deeply shocked Americans, and caused many to search for answers, or, sadly, to air pet conspiracy theroies or inflict their dark Islamophobic ranting while similar outpourings and anguish from around the world including of course Australia.

Mateen was known to the FBI but Director, James B. Comey Jr., says that there had not been any indication that the massacre was part of a foreign-directed plot. Undeterred by reason or empiricism, mainstream media outlets are quick to make the same link New York Post which ran a headline “ISIS vs the US.”

In Australia, conservative media pet commentator and Senate candidate Pauline Hanson appears on Sky News as a terrorism expert, despite not knowing the difference in meaning between Islam and Muslims. And dogs as it turns out.

Although Mateen claimed allegiance to ISIS, evidence suggests that the shooting was a hate crime; the action of a disturbed and homophobic young security guard who was deranged and abusive according to his former wife, who had alarmed his colleagues with his past talk of violence and his homophobic hatred.

Leaders’ comments feed Islamophobic sentiment. For President Obama the massacre is “an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been concerned about,” with a gunman who was inspired by radical material he found online.

No mention of course of Mateen Snr who believes homosexuals will be punished by God and who reports that his son was sickened by the sight of gay men kissing in public. Mateen Snr’s a regular sort of guy who likes to dress up in army uniform and post videos on social media campaigning for Afghanistan’s presidency although the poll closed a year ago.

Also campaigning rather less than successfully is Australian caretaker Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Like Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump, Turnbull is eager to exploit the tragic event as an opportunity to electioneer.

Rather than reach out to the victims in their suffering or acknowledge some of the tragic event’s deeper complexities, the PM is quick to resort to the over-played anti-terror card he has picked up from his predecessor, Tony Abbott.

“We stand in solidarity with the people of the US as they stand up to this terrorist, violent, hate-filled attack,” he says despite clear evidence that the tragedy is already causing deep divisions to appear in the US such as those between Democrats arguing for gun control and Republicans who focus on ISIS.

It is, Turnbull says, “a vile attack on our freedom” In this he aligns himself with Donald Trump who is proposing to ban immigration from nations with known terrorist connections. Turnbull may have come out as a feminist recently, but he wants us all to know he’s not soft on terror. He knows what’s going on in Orlando.

His sentiments are echoed by racist populist and celebrity politician Pauline “Please Explain” Hanson who may win election to the Australian Senate on 2 July. Hanson has released a video in which she uses “the latest terrorist attack,” as she calls it, to her political advantage.

“We have to take a strong stand against Muslims,” she says. A little further into her mind excursion, she compares the 1.6 billion adherents of Islam to dogs. Muslims, like pit bull terriers are dangerous. Neither ought to be allowed.

Malcolm Turnbull is no demagogue but he does manage to deliver a plausible Lynton Crosby, tough on terror, dog-whistling scaremongering script on how the senseless slaughter of at least fifty people in Orlando means that terrorists are after us because “they hate our freedom,” a meaningless but inflammatory phrase favoured on several public occasions by his predecessor.

The PM’s freedom-protecting performance plumbs new depths. Worse, his eagerness to identify yet another offensive by the forces of evil – to whip up xenophobia and Islamophobia is a disturbingly inappropriate and inept response to a tragedy which calls for empathy and compassion.

On his first attempt at a statesman-like response, he has no solidarity, no common cause with a suffering community. He cannot even bring himself to acknowledge that the killings took place at a gay night club, a lapse quickly brought to his attention, yet one which it is impossible now for him to rectify.

Nor is his public record on gay rights anything but disappointing. While the PM is happy to be photographed in his best causual pink shirt with participants in Sydney’s iconic Gay Mardi Gras, he is not prepared, despite his earlier pose as a progressive, to advocate for gay marriage.

He cannot even protect Safe Schools, a voluntary resource to support the teaching of tolerance of gender difference and diversity of sexual orientation which is now all but shut down by his right wing colleagues. Nor is he prepared now to call the violent and extreme homophobia inflicted upon the innocent victims of gay bar in Orlando for the hate crime that it is.

The PM’s narrowness is disturbing. Alarming. But then, it’s meant to be. “Our way of life,” that homogenous, monolithic entity of football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars is at stake.

Our way of life? In reality, of course, we are a diverse nation with a myriad of affiliations, allegiances and cultural backgrounds, a million and one ways. But there’s nothing like a quick pogrom against the outsider to unify us; help us rally around the flag in an ersatz, sentimental mindless nationalism.

Some of us now drape ourselves in Australian flags, cover our faces and proceed out into the street to jeer, punch and kick to Reclaim Australia.

Turnbull’s comments are calculated to inflame the sources of the type of violence seen in Coburg, Melbourne between anti-racist and anti-immigration demonstrations recently where men kicked grappled and punched each other before being separated by police in riot gear.

Investing in division pays political dividends for conservative parties. Whilst George Brandis’ amendments to 18C of the Racial Vilification Act 197, may have failed, hate speech still has more than its fair share of supporters in this government. It’s a handy tool for petty demagogues, provided you don’t mind the damage it causes.

So far the PM’s actions have been a shamefully cynical attempt to exploit the suffering of those who were injured or killed or their friends and families for his own narrow political gain. He can boost anti-Muslim sentiment along with all manner of other bigotry and appear tough on border protection in one.

He did this earlier this year, to much international censure, when he publicy warned Europe that the Syrian refugee crisis may be exploited by terrorists. Perhaps this explains why we have accepted only a handful of the Syrian 12000 refugees Tony Abbott promised to accept last September but which now turn out to be only those 1-3 % of Syrians who are members of Christian minorities.

It takes time, as the head of the Refugee Council has pointed out in disgust to cherry-pick the right type of refugee.

Turnbull must appear a strong leader at all costs. Those Australians who must daily endure prejudice, ignorance and hostility, whom he has a duty to protect can expect to suffer increased intolerance and Islamophobia, state-sanctioned by dog whistle.

Clearly the aspiring Prime Minister cares more for his own campaign than for the victims or for all those who now in this lucky country must pay the price of his incitement of racial hatred and irrational fear of the other.

Like Tony Abbott before him, he never stops to consider the damage his senseless inflammatory remarks may have on individuals and communities in Australia, especially in migrant communities and in all the other many places our social fabric is already stretched to breaking point.

Campaing experts, such as Lynton Crosby recommend fear. A bit of hysteria about the imminent invasion of ISIS, as in Tony Abbott’s disgraceful “they are coming for us” makes us lean towards voting for a conservative candidate in the polling booth. But it also runs the risk of backfiring.

Doubtless Turnbull was just following orders in his Orlando nonsense. If Malleable Mal is putty in the hands of his homophobic right wing, Lynton Crosby will be irresistable. Yet Turnbull does himself and his campaign cause no favour to allow his campaign director’s penchant for cynical fear-mongering to sway his own reason and judgement.

But, then as we saw with Godwin Grech, and as we saw recently with his social media video homage to his father Bruce, an embarrassing and demeaning special pleading that we would look more favourably upon him because of the poverty and maternal deprivation he suffered as a child.

Despite it being a pre-requisite for any kind of leadership, Judgement is not Malcolm Turbull’s strongest suit. Nor it seems is assertiveness.

While you won’t hear Pauline Hanson complaining nor any of the other Islamophobes standing for the senate, helped by the double dissolution Turnbull had to have many other more reasonable Australians are daily disappointed in Turnbull.

Voters had hoped for a more enlightened statesmanship from Tony Abbott’s successor, a man who promised reasoned dialogue and consultation only to be fobbed off with business as usual from his government which, as his cynical and wretchedly inadequate response to the atrocity of Orlando shows, is all too keen to continue his predecessor’s politics of intolerance, fear and division.

Turnbull wades around deep water.

turnbull happy in tassie

 

Wading around deep water in Launceston last Thursday, were Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman and federal Liberal MPs Andrew Nikolic, Brett Whiteley and Eric Hutchinson, who turned up to ensure that the PM did not spoil his visit to the Onion Isle by getting out his depth on climate change and rashly linking global warming with the devastating floods.

Turnbull rebuffed Bill Shorten’s shrewd offer of a bipartisan visit. Launceston was thus blessed with two successive media circuses, although they visited different flood-struck areas. Yet, despite the mud and the wheel-churning, it was spared the impression that Shorten was Turnbull’s equal. Or an alternative Prime Minister.

The PM was resolute. Bugger the pre-election caretaker convention of equal access to information and consultation on important decisions. It was only day 34. There was an election dance marathon to be won. Policy to be got out.

As both major parties waltzed around the elephant in the room of the coalition’s bogus climate policy, the PM spoke up to stop anyone joining any dots between the disaster and climate change, before anyone brought up the clear global trend of increased Intensity of rainfall with climate change.

They were too late. In response to one journalist’s question that we would see more storms of this nature with climate change, Turnbull generalised and obscured the link. “Larger and more frequent storms are one of the consequences that the climate models and climate scientists predict from global warming.”

If only we could get rid of those models and those scientists, we’d be OK. (The Coalition’s working on it.)

“…you cannot attribute any particular storm to global warming,” the PM continued arrestingly, obscuring the point the reporter was making, “so let’s be quite clear about that. And the same scientists would agree with that.”

Encouraged by his PM’s form of words, but picking up on only some of them, embattled member for Bass, Andrew Nikolic, a highly vocal climate sceptic in parliament who enjoyed a key role in the slashing of our Renewable Energy Target (RET) went further. No-one would be “silly enough to try and link a single event to climate change.”

No-one is arguing for simple causation

Of course they are linked. No-one is arguing for simple causation. Climate Change Council scientists warn that global warming and rising sea levels are major contributing factors to the kinds of storms that recently caused so much damage to the East coast of Australia.

All extreme weather events have a climate component. A warming atmosphere has a greater capacity for carrying more moisture resulting in more intense rainfall and floods. Accelerating sea level rise also increases the impact of storms in coastal areas as witnessed recently at Collaroy.

Professor Lesley Hughes explains the heavier rainfall. “These east coast lows, while they’ve also been around for some time and often deliver intense rainfall, are occurring in an atmosphere that has about 7% more water vapour than it did fifty years ago. This increases the risk of more intense rainfall.”

What should be bipartisan is an understanding that our only choice is to stop burning coal and embrace renewable energy. This election is the last chance we have to get serious about our climate change policy. Yet there is nothing to see here from either major party in this Clayton’s election campaign, despite some urging from the sidelines.

Some ratbags will got to any lengths to spoil a disaster zone media opportunity even with our beefed up national security and metadata retention laws, including the Border Protection Act 2015 which makes it illegal for professionals to speak out about conditions in detention centres, a law which some doctors have chosen to defy.

And so it proved in Sydney later that day. A British television crew ambushed the PM as he left the American and Australian US Studies Centre tenth annual benefit dinner, a black-tie function in Sydney where Turnbull had been insulting the intelligence of his audience by repeating the lie that he had to call the election because of vital ABCC legislation blocked by the senate which his government needs to restore the rule of law.

“Australia’s actions were illegal..”

Jonathan Miller, Channel Four Foreign Correspondent, wanted to know if the PM was alarmed by the recent spate of self-immolations by asylum-seekers on Nauru and whether he agreed with observers that Australia’s actions were illegal under international law. The PM is reported to have stone-walled the BBC reporter.

He would have been just as forthcoming had he been asked about the government’s position on PNG, a failed state whose PM enjoys our loyal support despite evidence of considerable popular unrest and unconfirmed reports of police shooting protestors. The ugly spectacle of our support for a corrupt regime because our government needs desperately for Manus Island detention centre to at least remain open is one which with bipartisan agreement seems to be swept to one side. Just as with the gulag on Nauru.

Nothing to see here. As in the days of the Tampa crisis, when John Howard refused point blank at a press conference to reveal the source of his categorical assurances to the Australian people that SIEV-X sank in Indonesian waters and that the drowning of 353 people was somehow someone else’s responsibility.

Turnbull had just come from praising John Howard as the gold standard in his own cabinet government and singled out Arthur (Amnesiac) Sinodinos for his architectural virtues in two governments. A pillar of the Howard government, Sinodinos, he said is “a flying buttress in mine.”

Perhaps this curiously phrased praise will cause a restorative flow of blood to Arthur’s head and enable him to recall the answers he was unable to provide the ICAC concerning his role in setting up The Free Enterprise Foundation which was established to permit property developers to make illegal donations to NSW Liberal Party funds.

The NSW Electoral Commission continues to withhold $4.4 million in public funding from the NSW Liberals until it formally discloses who donated $693,000 to the party via the Free Enterprise Foundation before the 2011 election. If Sinodinis is Turnbull’s flying buttress, however, in foreign policy the US is Australia’s anchor, the caretaker PM declared dipping into maritime analogies on Thursday, despite Malcolm Fraser’s view that it was a ball and chain.

…a strategic captive of the US…

John Howard, set up the US Studies Centre, according to Turnbull on Thursday because he ‘…understood that the United States is the irreplaceable anchor to the global rules-based order, an order built upon shared political values and common economic and security interests.’ Yet for Malcolm Fraser in his book Dangerous Allies, ours is more of Stockholm syndrome relationship. Australia is “a compliant partner, a strategic captive of the US,” in Fraser’s view.

To those perverse few who still see Malcolm Turnbull as a type of enlightened and progressive rationalist, a “small l” Liberal, his sycophantic embrace of Howard and the US Alliance in Sydney this week may be a rude shock. On the other hand, the latest Reach-Tel suggests a 2 point increase in Turnbull’s popularity which will, no doubt, be taken as a vindication for his release last Sunday of a brief Facebook video which asks us to accept him, perhaps even to let him lead us, because of his poor, deprived childhood.

“How poor was my childhood” could be the start of some competitive bidding from other political hopefuls and millionaires although it could be argued that Gina Rinehart, a major backer of the IPA which is enjoys an extraordinary influence over Liberal politicians both in and out of parliament, has already set the gold standard.

Her ABC Australian Story documentary appearance in 2015 reinvents her father, Lang Hancock, as a noble and heroic Aussie battler and devoted father. His stoic and selfless determination to fly out on endless self-punishing mineral prospecting odysseys over the Pilbara enabled him to reap obscenely large profits from the sale of minerals extracted from lands far below which did not belong to him, as if this were somehow his just reward. It was an astonishing piece of hagiography even from a loving daughter.

Similarly, the Turnbull video is ostensibly a tribute to Bruce, a father to whom he owes everything. Yet below and even on top (- a part of the surface gloss) is a calculated bid for our sympathy from a politician whose ruthless ambition is well documented.

… see the mythic reinvention as a quest…

The spin is defended by Karen Middleton and others who see the mythic reinvention as a quest to present a more authentic Malcolm to his adoring fans. Besides, her argument goes, Bill is doing the same type of thing.

True, there are images of Shorten’s mother, a former teacher, in some publicity material canvassing us to vote Labor because education matters but it is a long way from the PM’s recent desperate pitch in which he reinvents himself as some sort of ordinary battler. It’s an ill-judged bid for sympathy and the women’s vote which Turnbull’s been advised he will need.

Some offer a blunter appraisal; if you have to make a video like that, you are admitting you are in serious trouble. The feminist bid just smacks of desperation and will backfire when it is measured against the poverty of the PM’s achievement on behalf of women.

Coming out as a feminist is not a new thing in recent Liberal prime ministers, but it still has some novelty value. Turnbull the feminist was unleased on an unwary electorate this week, raising some very awkward questions about a Liberal Party leadership which as Annabel Crabb notes, only the men are feminists, because the women don’t want any label which might get some of the unreconstructed males still left on front and back bench offside.

…where there is a war on women…

The nation now awaits Turnbull to respond to the promptings of his feminist sensibility and release all those women imprisoned on Nauru where there is a war on women. If he really wants to be a leader, he will bring home all the asylum seekers and refugees immediately. At home, he will pushing for equality in workplaces. The gender pay gap of $277 per week between women and men’s average weekly earnings will vanish at one stroke.

What is increasingly apparent, however, at least to some in the Labor camp, is that the caretaker PM is content to “run down the clock” to the election. He is just playing a dead bat, happy to sacrifice ten marginal seats if it brings him the office of elected Prime Minister that he covets. Or that Bruce would have wanted for him. Certainly his failure to turn up at a Sky News Peoples’ Forum debate on Wednesday, a “long-standing invitation” made him look flaky. Or scared. Or both. Or perhaps, he just couldn’t be bothered.

Sky News showed its displeasure sending presenters Paul Murray and Andrew Bolt out to condemn Turnbull for his snub. Sky is, however, getting great value out of the Liberals and ought not to be so churlish, especially when recent recruit, Tony Abbott’s former boss Peta Credlin’s stellar performance is taken into account.

Voters don’t like Bill Shorten and don’t trust Malcolm Turnbull according to Credlin’s piece in The Herald Sun on Saturday. Abbott’s former chief of staff has let the nation know that Turnbull is not doing enough to win over uncommitted voters and that the result could be chaos in the senate.

Credlin has a way with words and her freely dispensed advice is doubtless as powerfully motivating to the PM as any desire to prove worthy of the memory of his father’s sacrifice. She has homed in on an arrogance which is perhaps a key part of the caretaker PM’s campaign strategy so far. In her view, Turnbull’s “superannuation changes still tell the Liberal base you don’t really matter because you have nowhere else to go.”

In the campaign so far, the PM has avoided anything of substance while challenges that clamour for real leadership, such as climate change, closing the gulags that are our offshore detention centres, or providing a fair and just society for all Australians, issues which might truly define a worthy political leader lie well beyond his grasp.

His opponent, for all his affinity with the workers and all his rhetoric appears just as imprisoned by the corporate state a compliant partner as Fraser would have it in an abusive and mutually demeaning relationship.

Turnbull does a runner; hands floor to Shorten.

malco and leigh

Eighty per cent of success,  says Woody Allen, is showing up, a point lost on hapless caretaker PM Malcom Turnbull who fails to appear at the second Sky leader’s debate last Wednesday, leaving Bill Shorten to engage with the audience and an empty chair. Hosts Paul Murray and News Corp’s moral philosopher Andrew Bolt are furious.

Murray has email proof that Turnbull promised to be there. The brilliant Bolt wonders if Turnbull was “punishing Sky for hiring Peta Credlin.” (Imagine the ruckus if it had been Bill Shorten who had simply failed to turn up. Or had gate-crashed Leigh Sales 7:30 Report soirée instead.)

As it is, Shorten improvises a forum where he answers questions with some success. Sky News reckons 57% of audience members say they are more likely to vote Labor after hearing from Bill; 16% are less likely. 27% are still undecided. The science isn’t settled on Labor yet.

In the meantime on ABC, 7:30 Turnbull is evading Sales’ questions; sloganeering about jobs and growth.

Is it just another bad call? Turnbull’s dud judgement is legendary. His credibility is yet to recover from his 2009 backing of dodgy Treasury mole Godwin Grech who forged a bogus email about a ute in an attempt to discredit the Labor government. More recently, Turnbull’s home video, a special plea to be taken seriously as a leader because of his childhood deprivation is another execrable lapse of judgement.

Perhaps, the PM’s minders tell him that he is in such dire straits in the popularity poll stakes now that a no-show is better than another poor show.  Or does his nerve simply fail him? He has access to special party polling. Whatever the cause, it is not a good look even if it continues his downward trajectory.

Malcolm “Soufflé Turnbull, is Australian politics’ incredible shrinking man.  After six months of letting down the nation’s expectations, he cannot even show up at Sky to debate Bill Shorten, the least threatening, most neoliberal, bipartisan Labor leader he could hope to encounter.  Bipartisan? There’s never been a time when the two parties have agreed not to disagree about more matters of substance.

Just look at defence, one of the Coalition’s costlier vote-buying stunts, part of its politicisation of the military.

Labor, under Shorten, is happy for the Abbott/Turnbull government to squander $12 billion on F-35 jet fighters. It could have at least queried their reliability. Grounded by the Pentagon because of defects 13 times since 2007, the F35 is a plane which Rand analysts say  “can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run.” No wonder they want to sell them to us.

But Shorten’s Labor does not want to look soft on national security. It is the same with our new giant submarines, which are an absolute steal at $50 billion, and rising, to buy votes for a couple of Liberal seats in South Australia.

Labor’s quite OK for Turnbull and co to blow $50 billion on twelve Shortfin Barracuda Block submarines from DCNS which are concepts; little more than a sketch on the back of a Gauloise cigarette packet. And $50 billion is just the purchase price. You can probably triple that over the life of the vessel, to maintain the fleet. No matter that  we can’t even crew the six crack Collins class subs we have currently.

The navy has problems crewing its submarines. It’s lucky to be able to put just one in the water in recent times. Consequently, it must pay high wages. A spud-basher on a submarine can command $200,000 per year.

Other personnel are paid more in order to compensate for the drawbacks of a life under the ocean wave. Blokes get to risk their lives buried in a big steel coffin-like tube under thousands of tonnes of water for 80 days with mostly only other fellow-isolates for company, although some crews today may include a few women. In February, RAN submariners were paid a $50,000 bonus just for being on board.

Yet, given poor Liberal polling in a key seat or two in South Australia there’s never been a more exciting time to be a submariner.  With a bit of innovative recruiting, or a bit of trickle-down morale boosting, our current three seagoing submarine workforces will magically expand to twelve. An agile, innovative, government could always approach Serco to press-gang a crew or two. Just don’t expect any questions during the election campaign about it.

Perhaps someone in a forum where the PM does show up will ask how many jobs are really likely to flow from our huge investment in the Silent Service. Despite the “Aussie jobs, Aussie steel” rhetoric, about half of a modern submarine’s rig is likely to be built by multinational war profiteers such as Rayethon and Lockheed Martin who will install US weapons systems, to the great benefit of their international shareholders.

Or perhaps someone in government will even make a case for submarines to the electorate.  What do they add to our fleet of surface vessels?  Why not invest the $50 billion in education and health?

There’s still time, too, for a “prudent and responsible” PM who has told us he is “not going to hand out a fistful of dollars” to go over how the $50 billion contract was won.

French company DCNS  is currently under investigation by a French court for bribing Malaysian officials to win their submarine contract in 2002. Here, DCNS employed former Liberal staffer Sean Costello as its CEO for the bid. Mr Costello was chief-of-staff for former Defence Minister David Johnston who was sacked from his position in 2014.

Nothing to see here. Or, at least, Turnbull has nothing to fear from Labor here. Shorten doesn’t want to be an underwater, nanny state wuss. Or soft on massive arms spending binges we can’t afford. No way.

Then there’s Labor’s neoliberal mindset. Shorten’s been sucked in to the local job-destroying vortex of Free Trade. When did you hear him last challenge the Great God Growth? Amen. Bill’s often on about how small government is good and how small business leads the economy. Neither is true but you hear the same spin from the government. No wonder debates descend into quibbling over costings, a black-holier-than-thou finger-pointing.

Turnbull need not fear Labor on asylum seeker issues. Shorten even voted for the Border Force Act 2015 which makes it illegal for doctors and other professionals working in the gulags we call detention centres to report abuse.

Yet there has been a late change. Perhaps Turnbull wimped out on Wednesday because he is afraid to talk border protection now that he has outed himself as a feminist. Questions arise. Just don’t expect Shorten to ask them.

A feminist Malcolm Turnbull has to know that there is a war on women on Nauru. Yet his feminism fails to lead him to act upon this knowledge. Even as a superior economic manager, Turnbull could bring those women home immediately. Close Nauru. Finally, acknowledge that PNG has closed Manus, too. Reduce costs vastly. Help him get us all to live within our means as he so confusingly puts it.

According to last July’s Senate committee hearing it cost $645,726 per asylum seeker during an 11-month period, or almost $2000 a day. Far cheaper to give each asylum seeker free housing, enrol each one in public school. Give each asylum seeker free accommodation on the mainland and save $400. There’d be votes in that – but not from Coalition supporters.

Bill’s even in the race to cut the deficit, or balance the budget, rather than call this stunt for what it is, a ruse invented by Peter Costello, the world’s most profligate treasurer so he could brag about his fiscal prowess, taking all the credit of a mining boom but failing to invest any of it.

Defence, border protection, balancing the books, the two leaders agree on so much it’s not funny. But somehow, Shorten’s got Turnbull running scared.

Granted, Leigh Sale’s 7:30 Report last Wednesday, is no place to hide. His audience is bigger and the questions are tougher –  but the net effect is to appear flaky and evasive. Far too much of the hokey personalising; the you and me Lee first name business so much abused by Hawke. It’s overly familiar and just another transgression the PM’s minders would do well to talk him out of – if he ever listens.

What are we to make of this weasel? A man who wants us to elect him PM who simply walks away from a commitment to debate his opponent only to seek out the masochistic pleasure of a public doing over from his favourite ABC interviewer?  His performance does nothing to reassure his rapidly dwindling supporters. Or to win any swinging voters.

Unable to explain what his government’s National Economic Plan would mean in real terms to an average family with a policeman and a teacher, our caretaker PM falls back on slogans. It’s an uncanny evocation of the interview with Sales and Abbott where the budgie smuggler who also had nothing to declare, repeated as if he were on some cognitive loop: “We’ve stopped the boats…boats…boats.”

But in Malco’s case it is jobs and growth. What jobs? What growth? Sales allows the PM to blow hard about 300,000 jobs created, as if the government directly creates employment. His dominatrix avoids pointing out that under this government employment has been in steady, steep decline since it took office, measured by hours worked.

Alan Austin notes that hours worked per month for the last six months under Labor averaged 88.55. For the last six months of 2014, the average was 86.91. For the last six months on record, up to January 2016, it was down to 85.56. A shocking result.

Turnbull and co love to claim they are creating employment. It is simply not true. Similarly, someone in a leader’s debate could challenge Turnbull on small business. His slogan is that small business is the engine room of the economy. It is driving employment growth.

Except that it’s not. It’s true that a lot of Australians work for small business employing up to 20 workers. It’s 45% of the private sector workforce. And those voters must be courted at all costs. But in the last six years these small businesses have provided only 5% of the growth in private sector employment.

A real leader’s debate is impossible given that Labour and LNP have agreed on so much already. The important stuff. Of course, you would also need a couple of real leaders. It’s too late now to undo the damage Turnbull has done himself by running away from the second Sky debate; jilting Bolt in favour of a speed date with Leigh Sales.

But it’s never too late to stop the nonsense about jobs and growth in favour of some real answers to some real questions such as how soon can we close our gulags on Nauru and Manus?

How about we cut the reckless spending on supporting multinational arms suppliers and submarine builders and invest the funds where they’ll do some good. Health and education would be a good place to start.

If only we could be assured our PM wouldn’t just cut and run. Again.

 

Poor little Malco’s sob story is no platform.

turnbull teary


Signs of desperation are appearing as the Coalition passes the halfway mark in its double or nothing two month campaign gamble which so far is failing to pay off. Labor is level-pegging in the polls while Shorten is ever more popular however much they rubbish him. And no one is buying its great big national economic plan of tax cuts that will fix everything.

Saddled with a superannuation policy it can’t explain and an unfunded $50 billion business handout it can’t sell; an economic plan which simply will not work, its popularity tumbling, the Coalition is resorting to cheap tricks and stunts.

Treasurer, Scott Morrison, has trumped his recent falling into his own black hole trick with an even more embarrassing performance exposing “Shorten’s war on business” and his use of “tax as bullets,” a puerile pantomime scaremongering replete with daft charts on a day reserved for the repatriation of remains of soldiers who had died in Vietnam.

Not to be outdone, Nationals Deputy, Fiona Nash, who last campaign was photographed with “Ditch the Witch” anti-Gillard posters, has attacked a “prehistoric” Bill Shorten for claiming that women do most of the work when it comes to organising childcare.

Yet all this appears reasonable compared to the PM’s crying poor. Millionaire Malcolm Turnbull, whose father was a hotel broker, the boy who was a scholarship student at elite Sydney Grammar, is now posing as a battler from a broken home, a pitch MSM suggest, is a bid for the women’s vote, although they may be confusing his emotive plea with his recent claim to be a feminist.

Or are we being asked to accept that his wretched childhood will cause women to rush to mother him? Never mind that he’s a weak and indecisive political Walter Mitty whose pipe dreams of innovation and agility are no substitute for policy or leadership, we must all take pity on poor little Malco for his dreadful suffering. Whatever the aim, it’s emotional baloney.

Turnbull’s a mug if he thinks we are that gullible. He may well have been unhappy when his mother left and who knows the suffering he went through? The feelings of abandonment? The rejection. No-one would dispute his real loss. Or the pain that may well continue to this day, to say nothing of the damage caused to his self-esteem, his sense of well-being. But just how does wearing his hurt on his sleeve make him any more electable?

In ways he may not understand or welcome, Turnbull is doing voters a favour by tearing up on camera and posting videos of his days with Bruce, his father and his best mate. His behaviour is far more eloquent, more revealing than four weeks of tedious campaign rhetoric of jobs, growth and innovation. His special pleading sounds the alarm in even the most sympathetic voter. This is no way to get elected Prime Minister.

What are we to make of a man prepared to trade his unhappy childhood in a last-ditch plea for sympathy or anything that might bring him victory? The manipulative distortion of the facts is hardly endearing. The poor little Malco story is the latest offering from a very rich and powerful, ruthless man who needs always to get his own way. He will do anything to get it.

Turnbull’s manipulative man-child featured in his last leader’s debate when he posed as a political cleanskin, a tycoon who turned fifty before his idealism, honed by years of deal making, job creating and growing led him reluctantly to public life.

“I did not come into this role as a political activist. I did not come in here as a political staffer.

I came into this role as an adult, at 50, after a lifetime of working, building businesses in many, many areas, creating jobs.”

All of which is a plausible lie. Or if you live in our media bubble of the eternal present which knows no history, admits no past, a place where all claims are true, devoid of any means of disproof. Turnbull has, in fact, been in politics all his life.

From Sydney University’s Liberal Club to his bid for Liberal preselection in 1981, he’s been a ruthless political animal.

In a preselection battle for Wentworth in 2004, for example, he told sitting member Peter King, to “Fuck off and get out of my way.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, perhaps. Although bookies still favour the coalition to win, Turnbull is fading badly at the half-way mark. Recent Reach-Tel polling shows that even in Wentworth there is a ten per cent swing against him. Half of his electorate say they fancy him less now that when he toppled Abbott.

Even worse, he now has the IPA offside. His own party’s policy engine-room, the IPA, has taken issue with his government’s tinkering with super law. Framed as “transitioning to retirement,” in reality, these Costello era rules help rich people to evade tax.

Despite commandeering Liberal policy under both Abbott and Turnbull and having members actually in the senate and in the house of reps, the hugely powerful IPA is clearly prepared to do everything it can to ensure that its backers are getting value for money.

The IPA is the Liberal Party of Australia’s major policy architect, a conduit from corporate will to political decision. Helping investors take the risk out of democracy, the IPA is coy about its backers such as Gina Rinehart or other backers in big mining, big tobacco, big oil, big arms manufacturing Exxon, Shell, Caltex and BHP Billiton.

The IPA’s contribution to Liberal policy is massive, all pervasive and unprecedented.  A powerhouse of Neoliberal ideology and mythology, it helps Liberal governments to privatise and deregulate. It urges war on unions and NGOs.  The science of environmental and climate change is to be debunked and defunded. It advocates cutting business tax and so much more but it is clearly not satisfied with Turnbull.

Determined to squeeze the Liberal lemon until its pips squeak, IPA Director and former Howard government staffer John Roskam tells ABC radio, LNP super changes are clearly retrospective. People write him emails. They are “disappointed, devastated, white hot with anger.” “Hundreds of thousands of Australians have had their plans thrown into turmoil.”

Windy back-benchers quickly pitch in but amidst all the hysteria PM “May-I-Just-Say” Turnbull, “makes it perfectly clear” that the policy stays – at least until they’ve won the election. Will the IPA get its way? If you listen to party amnesiac Arthur Sinodinos or inspect Julie Bishop’s language, “unintended consequences” the backflip is already booked in.

Turnbull’s modest super reform was about all he had got going for him in the way of real policy. Now that has been kicked away from under him he must fall back on his personal following, the central plank of the Liberals’ 2016 campaign strategy.

As he desperately, forlornly tries to reinvent himself in his own image, his popularity in free fall and with a hostile IPA gunning him down, the shadow of the man he deposed, Tony Abbott, the IPA’s favourite son must fall darkly upon his dreams of ever being elected PM.