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.



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