(Submitted to Tasmanian Times.)
Senator Lisa Singh’s re-election provides a rare beacon of hope in a week clouded by injustice, ignorance and petty recrimination as the nation is shocked by ABC Four Corners’ expose of child abuse within the juvenile detention in the Northern Territory and disappointed in PM Turnbull’s decision not to endorse Kevin Rudd’s nomination for the UN Secretary-General a mutually demeaning betrayal which Barnaby Joyce blames upon the Labor Party.
Labor is of course totally to blame for the shock news of the week announced by the AEC Sunday morning – which is that Labor’s Cathy O’Toole has won Herbert, a turn of events which MSM have spun as unlikely in an echo of the Prime Minister’s ugly election night victory speech at Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel in which he claimed the coalition would have “a solid majority”.
O’Toole’s victory means the government will have 76 seats in the House of Reps with Labor and independents 74, making management of the 45th Parliament a challenge, especially if the Coalition provides the speaker and leaving the government’s legislative programme highly vulnerable to the views of maverick MP Bob Katter and other independents.
The Herbert news is softened, Sunday, with warnings the LNP “is considering an appeal to the court of disputed returns” as if it’s not a real win or as if a subsequent Herbert by-election would buck all precedent and not punish a government in a climate of declining popularity.
Essential Research this week shows Labor increase its two-party preferred polling, to record a lead of 52-48 over the Coalition. Media spin aside, Turnbull would be foolish to try his luck.
As with Lisa Singh’s win over the odds in Tasmania, many Australians will be celebrating O’Toole’s victory in Herbert as a win for the ordinary voter in an election in which the government campaign rested on tax cuts for the wealthy and with little for anyone else but a vague promise of a stability which it has no means to deliver.
Unemployment in Townsville, Herbert’s heart, has almost trebled to 13.9 per cent, 2011-16.
A triumph of people power over an ALP machine which had relegated unaligned-left Labor independent Ms Singh to an unwinnable number six position on the ballot paper, the senator’s victory is also a call for action on climate change, asylum seeker justice, racial equality and religious tolerance, all of which are endangered in other events of the political week.
A blast of anti-Muslim, One Nation-type dog whistling erupts Monday from the office of Eric Abetz who endorses the bigotry of staffer Josh Manuatu’s defence of Sonja Kruger’s ban on Muslims as,
“A great article from a member of my staff on why we need an open and frank discussion on the future of immigration.”
“Open and frank” is code for closed-minded prejudice and cloaked xenophobia and wilfully misrepresents his staffer’s desire to restrict Muslim immigrants because of their homophobia and discriminatory beliefs and cultural practices against women. In brief, – as Max Chalmers puts it, “Muslims must be discriminated against in the interests of advancing tolerance.”
Open and frank discussions are of course breaking out all over the nation while the phrase threatens to overtake our “national conversations” about tax so keenly favoured recently.
After talking frankly and openly with former Liberal candidate Pauline Hanson, the Prime Minister refers reporters to the number of people who voted for her. 584,000 Australians gave One Nation their first preference, almost as many as voted for the National Party which received 600,000 first preferences and now dictates the pace and shape of Turnbull’s government.
The PM must get One Nation support for its legislative plans which include the ABCC, a bill which violates such legal principles as the presumption of innocence and which presumes guilt by association. It also needs support for “zombie” economic measures still on the books, largely cuts to services and benefits it calls savings which it included in its 2016 budget calculations.
As former Leader of Government Business in the Senate Eric Abetz sees it, he has the skills and the experience to help but the Abbott supporter has unaccountably been left out of cabinet.
Abetz’s political genius is highlighted in his role in the numbering of Liberal candidates on the Tasmanian senate ballot paper a move which helped former Tourism Minister, Richard Colbeck’s lose his senate seat to The Greens despite receiving nearly twice Abetz’s vote.
Demonstrating his superior analytical skills, however, Abetz maintains blame lies squarely with the grassroots campaign to get Colbeck elected, which he calls “a destabilising campaign” that undermined the message of stability and cost the party five seats.
Destabilising the Prime Minister quite nicely in government, Eric re-joins his fellow Delcons, (those delusional conservatives committed to returning Tony Abbott as PM) who now form a type of puritan choir harassing a hapless Malcolm Turnbull who is already hostage to the Nationals by secret agreement – and nudge the lame duck leader ever further to the right.
The rumbling of Rudd this week reflects – and worsens Turnbull’s predicament. The PM’s failure to honour his earlier commitment to back Kevin Rudd for the UN, now revealed to in several letters which Rudd has duly released to the media, reflects how far he has stymied himself.
Unwilling to prune dead wood such as the disturbed Minister for the Northern Territory, National (in Canberra) Senator Nigel Scullion, a politician who travels with three loaded guns beside him in his car and unwilling to make hard decisions, the PM has constructed a cabinet which is too big and too over-upholstered with blue-tie conservatives to help him make the hard decisions.
Unable to reach consensus on Rudd, Cabinet refers the decision back to the PM who must now break his word to the former Mandarin-speaking PM, a move which he hopes will appease the Right but which cuts his Foreign Minister and deputy party leader Julie Bishop adrift and which is likely to encourage the right to further test his authority while ensuring Rudd’s undying enmity.
But hold the tomato sauce! Rushing to the rescue is none other than resident mutt-catcher, Deputy dog Barnaby Joyce. In a breath-taking redefinition of ministerial responsibility and collegiate decision making, Joyce exculpates his government from the decision to not endorse Kevin Rudd in his bid to nominate for secretary general of the UN, by pointing out that the decision was in effect made by the Labor Party, a group which has also erased Whyalla from the map, put lamb roasts up to $100 and saddle Australia with debt and deficit disaster forever.
Joyce calls on Australia to blame Labor for Rudd being dudded out of getting endorsed by the Coalition government Cabinet. It was all Labor’s fault because there were “… a whole range of reasons articulated by the Labor Party themselves” which disqualified Mr Rudd from the job.
Apart from his amazing logical loopiness, Joyce sets a new low in political assassination which an MP is clearly now only as good as the invective of his worst opponent on a bad day. It is also an end of the bipartisan tradition in which Australians supported their own in international forums.
There was a hint of this when Steve Bracks was abruptly recalled shortly after the Abbott government came to power in 2013 – and before he’d even had a chance to do lunch as Australia’s consul-general in New York by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who said Labor had been “arrogant in not consulting” the then opposition on the appointment.
Tanya Plibersek was prescient when she protested
“It is telling that the first act of an Abbott government is to play party politics in international affairs.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same with stable Coalition government.
Much less newsworthy a betrayal than a busted Rudd, because it involves the plight of ordinary people, is Christian Porter’s failure to honour the Coalition’s undertakings to protect low income people and to increase unemployment benefits, a promise which it gave to ACOSS and other groups at The National Reform Summit in August 2015.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter is beating up the $5 billion he says he will be able to take back from Australians who receive Centrelink payment as the government moves to soften its stance on super to appease the IPA and other powerful opponents on the right.
Porter’s full of euphemisms for bullying the poor, the needy and infirm using phrases garnered from corporate jargon such as “data-matching recipients”, “increasing disclosure requirements”, “reviewing” – read refusing – support to disability support pensioners, reducing carer payments and halting carbon tax compensation for new recipients.
None of the Minister’s bold new plan to punish the poor has been subject to any form of consultation, despite the government promising this a year ago at the summit. All that’s offered by way of explanation is a Social Services spokesman who says that legitimate recipients have nothing to worry about.
For ACOSS’ Cassandra Goldie, however, the government’s approach is ill-conceived.
“At the absolute minimum, given that we are talking about some of the most vulnerable people, the government should be sitting down with the community sector which has the direct experience with this system to make sure that its plans won’t create really harsh outcomes for people,” she says.
Apology there may be none but there is, as always, no end of feeding the chooks this week; breathless press release and media blitz has long usurped communication or listening.
Man of climate action, Kooyong Mitsubishi Colt, Josh Freydenberg, races into all available news studios mid- week, tooting his horn. He flashes his lights and spins his wheels for renewable energy in a Targa Rally damage control stunt that may easily end up a demolition derby.
Mr Coal, as Andrew Bolt flatters the younger fossil fuel fan, is clearly out to counter cynical criticism that he is not the man to clean up our act in energy at least. Fittingly, he seems to have left his “strong moral case for coal” somewhere in his party’s vast lost luggage repository.
Churlish onlookers object that not even “world’s best minister” Greg Hunt, who wowed the socks off the 21st Century energy Emirs who run the petro-chemical state of Dubai, could do justice to both energy and environment and that Freydenberg’s joint portfolio was conceived in spin.
Attempting to juggle both will inevitably lead to his dropping one of them, says Bernard Keane, although this does not take into account the way Hunt greeted news of his demotion.
“My work is done,” said the world’s greatest minister, thus leaving Freydenberg little to do on the environment other than perhaps to lock up, switch the lights off and put the bin out.
Cynical listeners to the Freydenberg spiel, observe that the new environment combo with the lot minister is loud in praise of renewable energy while fracking all credibility by simultaneously endorsing coal seam gas extraction.
Freydenberg was also last heard boosting a plan to build a $5 billion railway for an Adani coal-mine that would otherwise never attract sufficient investment capital in his capacity as Minister for Northern dreaming, having been persuaded, doubtless, by his predecessor Hunt, the government’s climate intellectual, according to George Brandis, that the project was good to go.
Hunt’s brilliant argument is that emissions produced in the burning of Carmichael coal, cannot possibly be included in any environmental cost equation but then, as the nation was painfully reminded this week they do things differently in the Northern Territory.
Northern Territory Nigel Scullion drives around with three loaded firearms in his car, Paul Bongiorno reports of the minister who once tied to ban the sale of Vegemite in the Top End because dry communities were using it to make home brew.
“We try and do the right thing by youth,” NT First Minister Adam Giles wrote on his Facebook page in April, justifying legalising extra means of restraining youngsters whom it turns out have not been charged with any offence but who are by and large in a detention centre on remand.
In 2010 Giles bid to become correctional services minister was, he said, so he could “put all the bad criminals in a big concrete hole”, even if he broke “every United Nations convention on the rights of the prisoner” as we were to go on to do in our offshore detention centres.
The Youth Justice Amendment Bill was introduced into the NT parliament in April and passed in May defined and expanded the use of violence against youngsters as young as ten years old.
Minister for Justice John Elferink, a former policeman, made the case for the amendment which would also circumscribe handcuffs, waist belts and “other systems by which you restrain hands to waists”, including the use of a mechanical chair.
The “spit hood” was a protective measure with no hint of sensory deprivation for the child whose head it would cover for hours. It would prevent officers from contracting Hepatitis C although the disease is only spread by blood to blood contact. Only in this way could 17 year olds like Dylan Voller be prevented from harming themselves and the good order of NT’s department of correctional services be preserved.
“Nobody wants to see a kid in jail, but nobody wants to see our cars getting smashed up and our houses getting broken in to. That’s it. Had enough.”
“They’re not kids, they’re mini-criminals and kids have to face up to the consequences of their actions,” a colleague offered helpfully.
With this refreshingly classical view of its young offenders and more than a whiff of the lynch-mob vigilantism sometimes called zero tolerance or getting tough on crime, staff at the Don Dale Youth Detention centre in Darwin, a 21st century innovation, a maximum security prison for juveniles, needed only to be supplied with the odd mechanical chair, a few spit hoods, a supply of tear gas, cable ties and they were set to “pulverise the fuckers”.
Fully equipped and sanctioned by the state, grown men could take their charges on personal journeys to reform or retributive punishment or keeping cars and houses safe, whatever their level of understanding of the goals of the NT penal code including their duty of care.
When it is shown on 4 Corners this Monday the video reveals men beating children, hurling them, stripping them naked; tear-gassing them. The footage is not new. There have been two reports on Don Dale. Yet when they are asked no-one in charge in the NT government remembers seeing the footage.
Nigel Scullion is asked by the PM to watch Four Corners but, as he explains in his apology Sunday, he has another urgent family appointment to attend. When pressed, he says he does recall mention of Don Dale but it didn’t “pique” his interest.
Any other Prime Minister would have asked for the minister’s resignation. Instead Malcolm Turnbull who cannot afford to lose another number in the house and who has been stung by accusations that he’s indecisive, consults Warren Mundine and within hours announces a Royal Commission which he makes clear must do its job as quickly as possible.
Against all advice this RC will be confined to the NT and conducted in conjunction with the Northern Territory, in a unique self-policing arrangement.
Who better, then, to appoint as Royal Commissioner than former NT Chief Justice Brian Martin whose previous sentencing includes a one month jail term for a man who raped a fifteen year old girl?
Martin presided over a manslaughter trial in Alice Springs where five men pleaded guilty to attacking and leaving Aboriginal man Kwementyaye Ryder to die in 2009. The men, all in their 20s, received non-parole periods of between 12 months and four years.
NT indigenous groups unite to condemn the Royal Commission as compromised from the start.
“Prime Minister Turnbull has comprehensively failed us,” says AMSANT Chief Executive John Paterson on behalf of the Northern and Central Land Councils and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT (AMSANT).
Deputy Chair Olga Havnen says:
“This appointment is wrong for all manner of reasons, and Aboriginal people in the Territory will not have confidence in the appointment of Brian Martin. As Chief Justice, he sat at the apex of the NT’s justice system. He presided over all judicial officers who sentenced young Aboriginal offenders to detention, and he knew them all; he himself sentenced juveniles to detention.”
The week ends amidst a din of further questions about the Coalition’s new stable, consultative, consensus style cabinet government and the vexed issue of its Prime Minister’s judgement.