Month: August 2016

Scott Morrison’s war on the poor version 2


Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison Delivers the Bloomberg Address
Scott Morrison at Bloomberg business breakfast event in Sydney, Australia, on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg via Getty Images


Where does he get them from? Funny money man, Scott (Black Hole) Morrison, hilariously miscast as Federal Treasurer, is up to his tricks again this week in Sydney talking up recession, budget repair and telling Australians half of us are worthless parasites. It’s back to the future as ScoMo reprises Joe Hockey’s lifters and leaners. It worked so well for Joe.

Morrison’s data is old news, too. In 2014, The National Centre for Economic and Social Modelling (NATSEM) found that half of Australians pay no income tax. Scott Morrison’s had time to digest the trend but he’s feigning shock-horror as he belly-aches about a crisis.

His audience gasps when he pulls a trillion dollar black hole out of his back pocket. He waves it around, like a matador’s cape lest anyone get the idea he’s not serious. We are headed for recession. Gone also are our cute triple A ratings if we don’t knuckle down to budget repair.

Are we up for Budget Repair? One easy $6.5 billion down payment, he tells the crowd. One size fits all. ScoMo’s got legislation on standby, or in the pipeline or somewhere. All Omnibus Bill Shorten has to do is close his eyes, sign his credibility away and we’ll all be saved.

The crowd goes wild. With a few silly charts and digs at Labor’s class war on the rich and privileged, he could be back on the hustings; or replaying his government’s first display of budgetary incompetence. Say what you like about his ham acting, the man’s a natural crowd-pleaser and so versatile moving from utter buffoon to an effortless Pantalone.

A declining income tax take is one of the logical consequences of an ageing society. Morrison refuses to accept that. He’s equally clueless about how government can invest in key infrastructure to stimulate useful economic activity and build foundations for more. Austerity budgeting hastens recession. But there is an upside. He will sacrifice the bludgers to save the rest of the nation. What could possibly go wrong? Everybody loves blood sports.

‘We have to work together to find better and more innovative ways of delivering our services, particularly in areas such as health, welfare and education and human services that delivers for citizens and is affordable and sustainable.’

Note the deft use of innovative and the weasel words service delivery. No one boos. At an invitation only Bloomberg “summit” Thursday, he’s the darling of a fawning flock of fellow fiscal illiterates, bankers, miners and professional rent-seekers. Bloomberg’s infested with HR Nicholls’ fans. Everybody wants less tax and lower wages. They all enjoy a good war on the poor, too.

Jargon aside, the wild and wacky treasurer wants to cut government spending on pensions, schools and hospitals. He’s blind to any alternative. Nor can he see the economic folly of further cutting poor people’s spending power. You can’t have a pantomime without a villain.

He’s got some other funny throwaway lines too. A free trade deal with China is vital to our growth; he tells business types who will make millions just out of funding the shipping insurance. Bilateral trade agreements have never benefited Australian industry. Or workers.

It’s not all bad, though. Some ChAFTA elements may favour Australian winegrowers selling to China, for example. Yet other provisions permit Chinese entrepreneurs with as little as 15% investment in projects over $150 million to bring a totally Chinese workforce to Australia. How will this boost the job prospects, wages or conditions of Australian workers?

Morrison knows how to pick his mark. He’s got no beef with big businesses, a third of whom paid no tax in 2014. His government’s fetish for military expenditure, including $50 billion, at this stage on submarines or $24 billion on Tony Abbott’s joint strike fighters is not at issue.

Equally, the Coalition’s pledge to spend of 2% of GDP or a trillion dollars on defence over the next twenty years at the expense of foreign aid is a wise investment. Government must also subsidise private health insurance by $11 billion per year to give consumers choice.

So, too, $5 billion a year in subsidies must go to mining corporations to create wealth for everyone and not just boost Liberal Party funding. We must continue to spend billions of dollars on ports and railway lines. New mines “need to be competitive”.

Yet no-one could say the coalition is profligate with its business handouts. The half billion needed to keep a car manufacturing alive and 200, 000 Australians in work made no sense to Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott. Besides, car workers can retrain as venture capitalists and prosper in the new knowledge start-up industries sure to sweep Elizabeth and Geelong. Boutique home-office spaces will replace GMH plant at Melbourne’s Fisherman’s Bend.

Killing the car industry will not cause any family to seek welfare payments. Not one of the 200,000 unemployed car workers will be forced to sign on to Newstart. Unlike needy mining corporations, workers receive $38 per day, a pittance which has remained unchanged for twenty years, despite calls by groups such as ACOSS and even KPMG in April this year for an increase because it is not enough to keep a budgie alive.

Blowing a billion a year on offshore detention is OK? Morrison’s $55 million Cambodian Solution resettled four refugees, but has now dwindled to one. Not a word about any of this.

It’s not our banks or mining corporations. Nor is it the mega rich whom we subsidise with tax cuts or those billionaire bludgers who pay no tax at all. And it’s certainly not the $14 billion per year of unfunded company tax cuts his government is determined to put through. It’s the bludgers on welfare who are the problem.

Welfare recipients, nearly half of whom are aged pensioners, are second class citizens and if not he’ll do his best to make it so. A “great divide”, he adds helpfully, comes between us. Overlooking the GST paid by all of us and ignoring government data reflecting a long term trend away from welfare support, Morrison breaks the nation into two: the taxed and the taxed-not. If you’re not paying income tax you’re a worthless, shameful failure.

ScoMo knows all about failure. As Tourism Australia head, his 2006 “Where the bloody hell are you?” sledge campaign cost $180 million and got a lot of laughs but it failed to bring any more tourists to visit us. Morrison fell out with Tourism Minister Fran Bailey and was sacked. Naturally, this meant being paid out of his contract.

Today, many stellar underperformances later, the Treasurer is even further out of his depth as Federal Bean-Counter than he was waging war on the poor as Social Services Minister. Only the target hasn’t changed. Or the gallows humour.

ScoMo’s a crack-up with his solid gold “taxed and taxed nots” routine. It’s a fair segue from his Hockey’s toxic lifters and leaners. But there are further shocks in store. The other enemy is populism – it leads to evil protectionism and must be shunned unless it involves doubling the cost of submarines by preferring a local build to save Liberal seats in South Australia.

The crowd hiss and boo. Populism also leads to demands for Royal Commissions into banking. Everyone knows that ASIC is doing a fabulous job now despite being cut $120 million in 2016 and having half of this put back to take some of the sting out of Labor’s case.

True, Alan Fels has said it’s too cautious- but what would he know? Granted, Jeff Morris who blew the whistle on the banks’ dodgy financial advice says it’s “ludicrous” to claim ASIC is akin to an RC. So what if in May, Karen Chester found ASIC was defensive, inward looking and risk averse in her review of the Keystone Cop on the beat’s capability.

The Budget Repair routine is done so well that it now orthodox to suppose that the key to prosperity is to cut government spending and that if Labor was halfway serious it would as seek the “sensible middle ground” and capitulate to the government’s demands in a radical round of austerity budgeting and other zombie measures including cuts to business tax.

The Budget Repair bandwagon is built of neoliberal ideological myths and has at its core the populist misconception that a government’s budget is the same as a family budget. Unlike a family, however, it can never run out of money. It issues currency and it is in charge of the Reserve Bank and its accounting arrangements with it and not vice versa as economists such as Richard Denniss or Bill Mitchell, patiently explain.

 If anything, public spending ‘crowds in’ private investment because the private sector leverages off public infrastructure – transport systems, better health and education etc.

We should borrow while rates are cheap to invest in infrastructure to promote growth.

Morrison tries to rationalise budget cuts by an emotive appeal to provide for his children. Seriously. What he needs to do is to explain how lowering standards of public services and boosting unemployment is good for anyone. He should also explain how his government’s dodgy Direct Action on climate change or its war on renewable energy industries which crippled 85% of investment and burnt our solar industry has helped create a safer or more sustainable future. Thousands of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of businesses have closed.

The Budget Repair Scare is a spectacular show however and its comeback tour is already playing to packed houses across the nation. Evil Bill Shorten will be a villain, it is certain, but for the real culprit of the trillion dollar black hole expect more demonising of the poor.

Threatening to steal some of the limelight and also back by popular demand, the NBN show is touring Canberra in a performance which entails Federal Police raids on documents and facilities normally protected by parliamentary privilege.

Whilst Labor’s Shadow Communications Minister Senator Conroy maintains that such raids strike at the heart of our democracy both in endangering the right of parliament to deal freely with information in the national interest, Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus expects all senators to uphold claims of parliamentary privilege over the documents which have been forwarded by NBN workers frustrated by cost blowouts and delays.

When asked on Sunday’s Insiders why, if everything was going so well, should it matter if the leaked documents came to light, an open-necked Prime Minister who may have thrown away his tie in quest of some casual spontaneity to boost his weakening public standing in opinion polls was tongue-tied.

In the end, his claim that the raid has no political links, if it can be taken at face, merely points up NBN’s desire to take revenge on its whistle-blowers. His claim, however, fails to explain how the AFP was given admission to Parliament without the consent of the Presiding Officers. Nor does it explain why the AFP claimed national security was at issue.

The Prime Minister was not asked why Parliament House staff, led by the Serjeant-At-Arms, tried to prevent journalists from seeing and filming the activities of the AFP officers in the basement area of Parliament House as reported by Bernard Keane and Josh Taylor in Crikey.

Labor claims the raids are illegal because the NBN is neither a public authority nor part of the Commonwealth and thus not bound by public service confidentiality protocols.

Regrettably before the 45th Parliament has even resumed, a shadow is cast upon our elected representatives’ capacity to go about their work without fear or favour, while for a second time, following an AFP raid on the homes of Labor staffers in May, a police raid has followed public criticism of the NBN, a project formerly the responsibility of the Prime Minister.

Ultimately the raids must be placed in the context of a government increasingly keen to pursue whistle-blowers over asylum-seeker conditions and treatment such as the leaked reports on the operations of the detention centre on Nauru.  Such leaks reveal abuses of human rights and other miscarriages of justice including the suppression of information which it can be argued is truly in the national and public interest to be made known.





Turnbull government drowning by numbers.

turnbull and homeless man

A fistful of dollars at the ready, our PM stoops to help a man begging on the steps of the Grand Hyatt hotel atop the Paris end of Collins Street in Melbourne, Wednesday. Turnbull is on his way to his first big speech since 2 July but this image may outlast his political career.

The PM’s random act of charity almost distracts the nation from an Olympiad of muggings, misogyny, drug-cheats, beach volleyball and a bankrupt nation prostituting itself for sport.

Tightwad Mal will endure long beyond memory of the Long Tan commemoration fiasco, cancelled at the eleventh hour by a Vietnamese people astonishingly ungrateful to their former aggressor who “liberated” them from themselves, killing two million civilians, following a US-engineered coup in the South in 1963, or PNG’s closure of our Manus Island gulag or Peter Dutton’s paranoid claim that an ABC-Guardian Australia conspiracy is afoot to close Nauru.

Little wonder that show pony foreign minister Julie Bishop appears to be in witness protection.

Yet to register is news of the cost of the gulag. Parliamentary library analysts report Sunday that Manus Island has cost $2 billion or one million dollars per detainee since opening four years ago, plus a few hundred million in last year’s capital costs and the last quarter’s operating costs.

Luckily Manus Island centre is now amicably closed, it is announced mid week. PM O’Neill and Minister Dutton concoct a face-saving press release. Peter Dutton declares “no-one” of the 854 men “will ever be resettled in Australia.” His face contorts with fury for extra gravitas.

Where will they go? PNG has no safe environment. A Kiwi offer is knocked back. While half of the men have yet to be processed, 98% of those who are have been pronounced “genuine refugees” and thus cannot be repatriated for risk of “refoulement.” It is a ticking time bomb under the Turnbull government placed there by its juvenile predecessor which was equally unwilling to allow reality, compassion or humanity to spoil its political game.

Another bomb ticks Sunday, when Turnbull breaks his election promise to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, a device Tony Abbott, grasped to evade responsibility. It can’t be this year, explains Scott Ryan who blames the AEC, clearly a superior power.

Kelly O’Dwyer comes on Insiders to repeat the talking point and tell Labor it has to support its omnibus zombie legislation of savage cuts because it promised the people in the election.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the PM would be on the back foot over all of this.

Instead, King Midas in reverse, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, whose quest for fiscal surplus is an epic journey of heroic misadventure through pantomime, farce and monster show, is forced to defend his gift of five dollars to a homeless man, against Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s wishes.

It was, he says, “a human reaction.”

Beggars should be ignored says Doyle, a former State Liberal Opposition leader and model of privileged self-righteousness. Handouts merely encourage them. It’s a pernicious myth based on wilful ignorance of the causes of homelessness and matches our asylum seeker stupidity.

Yet the nation’s attention is piqued less by the PM’s errant act of spontaneous charity than by the wad of notes he withholds in his other hand, an image captured by an AAP photographer. The millionaire cheapskate look will not reboot the hapless PM’s rapidly flagging career.

Ignoring beggars comes naturally to Turnbull as the last COAG fiasco shows. Indeed, it’s part of his cost cutting quest. The PM wants states to beggar themselves to meet their own education and health expenses. Raise your own taxes, he cries. The move would shrink federal government and induce crisis as states fail to fund schools and hospitals. It’s his one big idea.

CEDA would approve. Exercising his humanity aside, the PM is in Melbourne for The Committee for Economic Development of Australia, one of a push of powerful busybodies who lobby for government handouts on behalf of itself and other wealthy beggars. It has a lot of clout.

So powerful is CEDA that it gets reported uncritically as if it’s above media analysis, as in the 1970s when it led an attack on unions and argued government should cut workers’ wages.

CEDA’s call for lower wages became an unarguable case eagerly taken up by the Hawke-Keating Labor government which cut wages and restored profits as part of a neo-liberal restructuring program. Corporate taxes were cut by 16 per cent from 49 to 33 per cent; the top personal income tax rate was slashed from 60 cents to 47 cents in the dollar.

As a result, wages’ share of GDP fell from 61.5 per cent of GDP to less than 55 per cent, or a transfer of $50 billion from workers’ pockets to the wealthy elite. Now that’s a handout.

Today CEDA’s calling for massive cuts to government spending. These are above cuts already taking place and the claw back of pensions from the poor and elderly under former WA Treasurer, now Federal Social Services Minister, Christian Porter who makes this week’s news for having squandered his state’s mining boom, causing WA to beg for more GST.

The poor are made to pay in other ways, too. Removal of the clean energy supplement will leave Newstart recipients $3.60 worse off, which saves the government 1.25 billion which is now funding board walks, picnic tables and other giveaways in its marginal electorates.

And by not cutting the 3.2% deeming rate (the way it over estimates the 2.5% interest pensioners are receiving on Commonwealth bank senior saver deposits, for example), the government is able to pocket the difference.

The CEDA show is typically a safe gig for the Coalition as is evident in the non-existent security. It’s less auspicious for careers. Assistant Treasurer O’Dwyer wowed the committee in February, before being demoted. The PM is, however, about to be mugged by reality. It’s an occupational hazard in a government in retreat from the will of the people; takes refuge in secrecy and denial.

“For fuck’s sake, close the bloody camps,” shouts a woman. Startled, Turnbull is made painfully aware he is no longer alone on stage. Someone turns his microphone off before he’s even got to the bit in his speech where he warns against a growing sense of disenfranchisement. The protestor waves a placard spelling it out: FFS Close the Bloody Camps. Suddenly the place is swarming with protestors, each wearing a home-made press label. They are chanting.

“For God’s sake, Malcolm, close the fucking camps.”

The people locked up on Nauru and Manus don’t even get five dollars from the PM. As a woman captive on Nauru explained to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch researchers,

“People here don’t have a real life. We are just surviving. We are dead souls in living bodies. We are just husks. We don’t have any hope or motivation”.

The business-suited ratbags who disrupt the PM’s CEDA speech actually do him a favour claims, The Australian’s Paula Matthewson who questions the calibre of his advisers. We would never know, otherwise, that Turnbull was even making a major policy speech to warn us of a

“populist politics that denies reality — hiding under the doona hoping the real world will go away”.

A government which fails to heed the will of the people may count on a rude reminder. The Melbourne protest also calls attention to the government’s secrecy and its evasion of accountability in a week where Science Minister Greg Hunt is asked on Q&A how many CSIRO scientists have been sacked. Abdicating all ministerial responsibility, Hunt is able to reply with:

“I’ll leave someone else to go into the history.”

We must respond to Hunt’s invitation. The numbers are: 110 climate scientists in Oceans and Atmosphere divisions with similar cuts to the Land and Water division. Staffing in Data61 and Manufacturing divisions will also be slashed. 350 jobs will go over two years.

Off the hook, huckster Hunt recites Coalition Border Force spin. 1200 people, “1200 beautiful souls,” he extemporises, “drowned.” How little each soul means to his government is seen in the way it destroys the lives of survivors in concentration camps. No-one challenges his hypocrisy.

Hunt could add in a spirit of scientific objectivity that between 400 and 700 are estimated to have drowned under Coalition governments. He’s a model of misleading and false information.

“Why call a Royal Commission into the abuse of children in the NT and not into Nauru?”, asks Jones. Master of the non-sequitur, Hunt replies that “it was the right decision” and waffles, somehow suddenly coming out with the Little Children Are Sacred Inquiry of 2006, coyly clipping its full title. Next some mad bastard will suggest the RC include all states, especially Queensland’s Cleveland Youth Detention Centre whence reports of abuse surface this week.

The inquiry into child sex abuse was a model of cultural insensitivity and a massive intervention which heavily regulated Aboriginal people’s lives without consultation, leaving them ashamed and angry, yet Hunt is riffing to avoid answering the question about Nauru. Jones repeats it.

Human talking point Hunt can only repeat the line that each of the reports “will be investigated,” adding to Peter Dutton’s false claim, rejected by Gillian Triggs, that these are old and trivial cases. As a despairing Linda Burney observes, “it’s almost as if humanity doesn’t exist.”

Science is scarce, too. The ABC’s Q&A Science Week freak show Monday night is an insult to empiricists everywhere as well as cheap and tacky television, yet it performs a community service in warning of the end of the world as we know it – and those reality denying, utterly unscrupulous political opportunists who would lead us there.

Up and down, like a turd in the surf at Bondi, bobs the unsinkable Hunt. His work is done as Environment Minister and so he’s on to Science. Drownings at sea have stopped, he recites, yet all that’s stopped is the reporting.

In Q&A we are also treated to a public service preview the 45th parliament’s vibe, in a reality TV show format featuring Tony Jones’ quest to ridicule One Nation Senator-elect Malcolm Roberts whose pathological inability to understand climate science, like the government’s resistance to the case for investing in renewable energy generation, is disturbingly irrational.

Incredulously, Jones asks Roberts to repeat his rejection of science. Q&A has somehow morphed into The Biggest Loony or an episode from Micro-Mind, (a series still in development.)

Luckily for the camera, celebrity physicist Professor Brian Cox, has two graphs handy.

His graphs, which depict global warming increases tracking rising carbon emissions, are instantly dismissed by the senator, whose senate seat rests on seventy seven first preference votes. The data’s manipulated by NASA, he says, as if such a fraud were even achievable.

The world stopped warming years ago, according to One Nation. Vested interests such as wealthy Jewish bankers are lying about it to make money out of carbon trading. It’s a UN plot to take over the world. Yet whilst it may be good tabloid TV, it is unwise and unfair for Jones to punish just Roberts for all his decerebrate rigidity with a rubbishing.

Faith based science, such as Roberts professes, if we take the Rothschild-NASA conspiracy theory out of it, is still wildly popular amongst Coalition MPs, a third of whom still believe Tony Abbott got it right when he said that “climate change was crap.” And a wanton disregard for empiricism extends right into the Turnbull cabinet.

“There is still a level of uncertainty about the impact of carbon emissions on global warming” says our new Resources Minister who says the monster stranded asset that is the Adani Carmichael mine will be “an incredibly exciting project for Australia.”

Strangely missing from the programme tonight, fantasist Canavan has also called for funding of climate change sceptics amongst scientists. Yet when a coalition climate change committee met to hear both scientists and change deniers, many MPs simply walked out on the scientists, a response not a long way from Malcolm Roberts’ own deeply flawed approach to enquiry.

Greg Hunt, Clayton’s Minister for Science is also on the show for a bit of light relief and to help point up the difference between the government’s position and that of a real nutter. Like his government’s commitment to curbing carbon emissions it’s too small to make any difference.

Not all of Hunt’s contributions are coherent but “not on my watch” is clearly his mantra unless it is merely one of those generic Coalition talking points. Eat your heart out, Clark and Dawe.

No good quizzing Hunt on whether Tiwi’s refuelling port, built without permission, has anything to do with an oil spill seen in Darwin harbour. Not on his watch. But his leader’s on the warpath. “Heads will roll,” the publicly humiliated PM repeats but he’s still banging on about the census.

The Coalition’s acutely under-staffed and chronically underfunded ABS collapsed like the donkey in the Tales of the Hodja whose master reduced its diet, “Everything was going so well and now, just when I taught him not to eat at all, the donkey died.”

It is clear that the ABS census fiasco is just one consequence of neo-liberal cuts to government spending and the underfunding of critical infrastructure. Yet there’s no time to explore the bigger picture. The donkey died. Heads must roll to shift the blame away from himself and his own government. We look forward to the slowest head count since Joseph led Mary on a donkey to Bethlehem.

Heads will roll? In 1984, the interception of an undeclared Paddington bear in cabinet minster Mick Young’s luggage was once enough to cause him to be stood down. The nation awaits on tenterhooks, agog with expectations of ministerial accountability and corporate responsibility.

In the meantime a government which takes its science lite, is drowning by numbers in a sargasso sea of weedy crackpot climate change deniers and wannabe ministers whose portfolios will never fit them, competing to disavow responsibility while hot-eyed neoliberal zealots in CEDA and other tanks of thought lobby crawl shamelessly to the top end of town.

Buffeted by external forces as China’s credit bubble shrinks and export earnings flop, the decks of the ship of state are crowded with madmen pretending to be crew spouting Hayekian nonsense about cutting government spending and balancing the books.

With no moral rudder, a captain who cannot plot a course beyond the one-per-centers nor command a crew, the ship will be lucky to stay afloat until Parliament resumes.


Turnbull government in diabolical trouble.

Dutton looking nuts


Barely a month after being sworn in, the Turnbull government is in diabolical trouble: its census, sensationally botched; its gulag on Nauru suddenly exposed in 2000 documents leaked to public view while Tony Abbott makes trouble for his equally inept successor by condoning hate speech inflaming a body politic well-infected with prejudice and dissension.

Legacy issues also loom large. Barnaby Joyce says he is moving an entire government department to his electorate while George Brandis refuses to let anyone see his diary, despite the Federal Court’s advice, after failing his appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Will the diary reveal he consulted no-one before slashing legal aid funding? Showing it would be too much work for himself, he says, a case he will take to the full Federal Court at our expense.

Barnyard Barnaby Joyce moved the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to regional New South Wales to boost his election prospects without his Prime Minister’s approval.

Trouble is brewing, however. Two thirds of the staff would quit, according to their union. There is also the cost. Relocation will cost $24.1 million and potential redundancy up to $10 million.

But let’s be fair. It is easy for a newly-elected Coalition government to falter as its first, feckless steps towards being in charge lead it to betray its election promises as it seeks first to please Gina Rinehart, her IPA and others. Scott Morrison is already watering down the changes to superannuation tax concessions his party took to the election to protect the wealthy. What’s the odd broken promise among friends?

Conservative governments must look after their backers, the banks, News Ltd, King Cronulla, Alan Jones, The Minerals Council and other industry associations, special interest groups, plus the six hundred or so professional lobbyists for the rich and powerful who run Australia without being required to declare who funds them. It’s a full dance card even if you’re hot to trot.

Nor is it uncommon – given its rush to get governing- and a PM who wants to “hit the ground doing”, for the odd detail to be overlooked – such as the picayune need to first govern itself or to do the irksome due diligence required to ensure first pick royal commissioner Brian Martin is, indeed, retired, as George “My Secret Diary” Brandis wrongly claimed.

Martin may well have been seen to be conflicted by His Honour’s employ in the NT Justice Department or his daughter’s work as a justice adviser to the NT Attorney-General in 2011.

 But nothing – not even the Abbott mob’s sublime incompetence can match the Turnbull’s government’s capacity for catastrophic decision-making; its eagerness to dig its own grave.

The Coalition’s e-census is just such a black hole; an unmitigated disaster for all concerned, the ABS, the public and the PM. It will help to torch whatever remains of Turnbull’s credibility.

Boosted as a secure online survey, an oxymoron which just happens, for the first time, to contain your name with records to be kept for ninety-nine years, the online census is suddenly hugely compromised mid-week along with the government as its on-line triumph of cost-saving efficiency is revealed to everyone as almost as much of an costly fiasco as its NBN.

  Like the government’s week in politics itself, the census fiasco is one of those theatres of engagement where nothing goes right. A series of failures to communicate and to plan its implementation effectively means that the government’s census is resented as an invasion of privacy before any of its many technological shortcomings are taken into account.

Were ministers over confident or was everyone conned by IBM spin doctors again? It conned the Queensland into a $60 million online solution that cost that government $1.2 billion to fix before it could enable health workers could be paid properly among other functions. Not that this deterred Hockey and Abbott from giving IBM the nod with the ABS Census contract.

They were certainly complacent. In three years, the Coalition assigned no fewer than three ministers to the census. Current chump, Michael McCormack has three weeks’ experience to draw upon to manage the disaster, a process which entails boasting how well everything is going and how everything is safe and that no data was compromised despite what the experts claim.

No-one will step up to take responsibility but its failed census is a massive own goal for the Turnbull government before the other team has even taken the field. Its promises and reassurances, exploded, the PM and his team have shredded their credibility and trust.

Adding to the disarray, MPs publicly carp and bicker over what went wrong, whose fault it is – even whether the cyber-attack comes from within Australia, as Christopher Pyne asserts on Friday, or the USA as other ministers and the PM have claimed. Finger pointing continues.

Could we be heading for another AFP raid on Labor staffers’ homes in the small hours with full media presence? Will the minister dismiss reports of failure as “unsubstantiated allegations?”

Uncertainty rules. Even by the week’s end no-one knows whether the ABS will have the seven million responses it says it needs to make the $470 million exercise “statistically significant.”

Time for agility. Whatever went wrong, or however much, Turnbull is quick Thursday morning to tip buckets over the ABS and IBM; both of whom earn his rebuke on commercial radio for not being prepared. Like a peeved school headmaster, he says he is “bitterly disappointed” by their lack of preparedness for an “entirely predictable” attack. Or whatever it really was.

Should we be so paranoid? Mick Young famously advised that when there’s a choice between a conspiracy and stuff-up; go with the stuff-up every time. Applying Young’s Razor, it is likely that the website was not designed to deal with six million, simultaneous log-ins and crashed. This does not preclude some suspicious activity also taking place but it does rule out such feverish speculation which has led some to blame the Chinese.

It’s an ill wind, however. The failure of the website has been a boon to the paranoid and has boosted the climate for wild and often bizarre speculation nurtured by some Coalition MPs on Safe Schools or marriage equality, or climate change and surely adds a few more dingbats to a drama that is just begging to be dubbed our mature conversation on irrational hysteria – soon.

Melbourne University cyber security expert Suelette Dreyfus is even prepared to name names. She detects the work of “Chinese citizens unhappy about Australian swimmer Mack Horton calling his Chinese rival Sun Yang a drug cheat.” Settle down. Patriotic geeks who follow sport?

Less in doubt is how far our Attorney General will go to conceal his affairs. Brandis refuses to supply his diary as requested under FOI by Labor’s Mark Dreyfus, who wants to check that Brandis consulted any community legal services before he axed their funding two years ago.

The 2014 budget slashed $6 million from community legal centres, along with $15 million from legal aid commissions and $43 million from advocacy services. A Human Rights Law Centre (HLRC) report argues that such decisions were “undermining the nation’s democracy.”

Brandis has argued, unconvincingly, that sharing his diary is too big an administrative burden and will interfere with his workload, a case the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has rejected. An unhappy Brandis is now appealing to the full Federal Court, at a cost $30,000. As Richard Ackland observes, it is an expensive way of hiding information; especially by a man in charge of our freedoms.

Freedom is of course just another word for nothing left to lose to those who come by sea to seek our asylum. By Friday, the government faces calls to widen its NT inquiry to include asylum seekers on Nauru. Resourcefully, three non-government organisations send legal advice to the commission, showing that it could examine incidents of child abuse on Nauru.

Its NT Royal Commission containment operation fails utterly as the uncovering of the truth about Nauru prompts experts to uphold a responsibility the government would rather duck. Real leadership is clearly called for.

Luckily, others are keen to lend a strong right hand. Rapprochement already over, Eric Abetz helpfully tells Turnbull that a real cabinet would include himself and his mates Kevin and Tony.

Former Employment Minister, Abetz, who once helped ensure no Tasmanian was out of work, has also more recently been able to help keep them out of Cabinet. The self-appointed head of the Apple Isle’s arch-conservatives assisted with the booting of Turnbull supporter and former Tourism and International Education Minister Richard Colbeck into an unelectable position five the ballot paper.

Outrageous, unfair but topical amongst some embittered Liberals this week, is the harsh but fair view that Abetz helped Tassie Liberals lose all three of their seats in the House of Reps.

Always keen to keep himself relevant, Coalition junkyard dog, former Minister for Women and Gillard witch-ditcher Tony Abbott, gives a talk to the Samuel Griffith Society in Adelaide on Friday regretting opposing Julia Gillard’s government’s proposed Malaysian solution in 2011.

A “gobsmacked” Stephen Conroy says sending 800 asylum seekers with Malaysia in return for 4000 genuine refugees would have made both Manus Island and Nauru centres unnecessary.

A late addition to the programme of the society which aims to defend the Australian Constitution against all who would attempt to undermine it, junkyard Abbott keeps a straight face as he deplores hyper partisanship even helpfully offering his public support to those cross bench nut jobs who want to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Dog-whistling on 18c, or George Brandis’ “right to be a bigot,” brings comfort to bullies and lovers of hate speech who maintain its exercise ignores all power relationships and assumes erroneously and dangerously, as former vet David Leyonhjelm and another nutter on the senate cross bench put it last Sunday on Insiders that offence is “never given it is always taken.”

Just to test, Mark Kenny calls David Leyonhjelm a “boorish, supercilious know-all with the empathy of a Besser block,” recalling an episode of The Chaser in which the libertarian told satirists to “fuck off” when they exercised free speech to challenge his hypocrisy.

Leyonhjelm takes offence easily. Thin skinned or not, he’s sure to heed Abbott’s whistle.

 Abbott’s dog whistle will also stir up enough of the rest of the rabid right wing pack in the Coalition to worry Turnbull lest he overdo his mission to achieve good government. In brief, he lets Turnbull know he is coming after him. And he gets some assistance from on high.

Liberal Party commentator du jour, world’s most profligate treasurer, a self-proclaimed expert on fiscal restraint, budget balancing and sweet-talking Pauline Hanson and other cross-benchers, Peter Costello bobs up on Four Corners to join Abbott’s dots.

“I don’t think, you know, Tony plans to be a backbencher for the rest of his life.” Costello adds ponderously, greatly enriching Monday’s Four Corners open-ended investigation entitled Man on a wire, how much longer can Malcolm Turnbull survive? Not that Abbott survived long.

Abbott met the demands of office with a quick surrender. As Niki Savva has detailed, he abdicated command to his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin whose petty despotism, combined with her PM’s own innate lack of leadership and poor judgement, conspired to quickly lose him his Prime Ministership, but not before setting its own record of ineptitude in a dump of dud decisions including cutting $68 million ABS funding and leaving it with no head for a year.

A decimated ABS is publicly upbraided for its e-Census stuff up by a duck-shoving PM in damage control. “Heads will roll,” he says, a phrase with chilling international resonance.

 Bill Shorten maintains the e-census fiasco is “gold medal incompetence: but it’s probably not wise to crow, especially for an opposition leader who is unable to respond to this week’s leaking of incident reports showing cruelty and sexual abuse inflicted on those who came begging our asylum whom we choose instead to lock up or expose to abuse and send mad on Nauru.

Shorten calls for an independent child advocate, doubtless in the heat of the moment unable to recall Gillian Triggs’ name or her National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014.

Turnbull and Dutton deny “unsubstantiated allegations” as they call the 2000 official incident reports of responsible officials, detainees and other eye-witnesses on Nauru, saying the government would review the reports to decide what action should be taken, but not before Dutton tells media “only twenty of them are urgent.”

Later Dutton goes completely overboard in blaming the victim and in continuing the Coalition line that asylum seekers are illegals and therefore anything they say is illegitimate, by claiming that some have “self-immolated” or self-harmed in order to reach Australia.

It’s a line that goes all the way back to October 2001 when John Howard lied about babies being thrown overboard. He closed Christmas Island port to prevent independent observation.

For despicable nonsense Dutton can’t be topped but pop goes the word weasel Scott Morrison who is quick to try diminishing the legitimacy of the reports with a spurious distinction. Although the reports are objective records of those actually involved in the camp he claims,

“It’s important to stress that incident reports of themselves aren’t a reporting of fact; they are reporting that an allegation has been made of a particular action.”

On his first day in office Turnbull promised ” … an open government, an open government that recognises that there is an enormous sum of wisdom both within our colleagues in this building and, of course, further afield, echoing the Liberal Party promise before the 2013 election to “restore accountability and improve transparency measures to be more accountable to you.”

What we get this week instead is a lame duck Prime Minister ducking for cover at every opportunity unable to take charge of his own party let alone meet the challenges of government.

Nothing to fear but fear itself in Turnbull government’s week of chaos and confusion.

terror suspect


A month after claiming victory, a hollow boast in the best of political times, two weeks after PM Turnbull urged all MPs to “hit the ground doing”, our would-be Coalition discovers its narrative of good government is unravelling faster than the business plan for Shenua or Adani’s Carmichael mine.  If our PM has a plan, why does Scott Morrison contradict him publicly all week?

Stray threads from its ripping fabric of heroic deliverance catch in the wheels as our P-plater PM, always an accident waiting to happen, despite his stylish Isadora Duncan silk scarf – backs the Liberals’ Ming charabanc out of a tight parking spot into the path of Kevin Rudd’s UN Humvee.

What follows is a week of dangerous affectations, avoidable collisions and self-inflicted injuries including a mob of tin-foil hatters on the senate cross benches united only in their mission to repeal 18C of the Racial Vilification Act. As One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts explains “people are afraid to speak up on tax Islam and the economy,” not that this has ever stopped him.

Banks and backbenchers all over the road quickly bring our lame duck PM to a halt after being side-swiped by a runaway Royal Commission into as little as possible in NT’s juvenile justice system. Young Greg Hunt is sent out to redirect traffic wearing his brand new eye-catching science minister’s jacket which is clearly several sizes too big for him – as befits a clown suit.

After three years of funding cuts, the destruction of scientific careers and inestimably valuable research, the Federal government, keen to spin good news where there is none, executes a stunning back flip timed surely to coincide with the opening of the Rio Olympics or to distract from the week’s mess or the one third of MPs who refuse to accept that climate change is real.

Labor’s Kim Carr is outraged. He says Hunt’s claimed $37 million is in fact to replace $249 million that the Parliamentary Budget Office says was the consequences of the government’s budget cuts,’ The government’s 15 new climate jobs, comes after it has taken 75 climate jobs out of the CSIRO, part of the 300 jobs taken out of the CSIRO as a whole.

Quick off the mark as always, Tassie empiricist and exponent of the link between breast cancer and pregnancy termination, Senator Eric Abetz voices his concern that new Science Minister Greg Hunt’s “reversal of policy on CSIRO climate research is based on science, not ideology.”

The Senator is to be commended on his vigilance and must continue his empiricist’s mission to demand his government de-fund its National Wind Farm Commissioner into the non-existent harm caused by wind farms and put the $205, 000 salary into real research.

CSIRO’s new Climate Science Centre in Hobart, will proceed as announced in April although climate science research will still be significantly under-staffed and could find a use for the funds which could be augmented by the termination of the $5 billion in fuel subsidies and tax concessions so generously extended to the multinational companies engaged in mining.

Eric’s bickering echoes the dissension in the Turnbull government’s cabinet over Rudd abruptly nipped in the bud with a dud captain’s call. Where now is stable, consensus government, star of its grand narrative in which it publicly deluded itself it  – and conned not a few others – that it would heroically save the nation?

In its place is chaos and confusion. The Rudd stuff up has everyone wondering if Turnbull will last out the year. The party’s hard right bully boys begrudge him three months grace before he’s spilled. No map at hand and beset by chaotic decision-making, Turnbull’s badly shaken team is already picking fights and playing up four weeks before the 45th Parliament sits.

In the meantime, the oxymoronic NT government may have failed to get its nominee Brian Martin QC up as Royal Commissioner but First Minister Adam Giles is still able to combine dark humour with light relief as he adds helpfully that Dylan Voller has not escaped torture entirely and that the spit hood and chair await him as any other prisoner now that he is in an adult jail.

“A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its prisoners,” Fyodor Dostoevski’s voice of experience reminds us, a point Brian Martin raised in 2002 when David Hicks, was locked up and tortured in Guantánamo for five years before being released without charge into Australian custody where he could still remain had the government’s Counter Terrorism Amendment Bill (No. 1) been in force then.

The proposed Bill, which attracts bipartisan support and is somehow spun as a good news story this week, amends the control order scheme to apply to young people from the age of 14 years, with some restrictions, and introduces a new offence of advocating genocide. No-one questions that the new offence is about two hundred years too late to protect the indigenous Australians.

Dostoevski’s clearly lost on Attorney General George, lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key Brandis or First Minister Giles and his “tough on crime” followers who advocate increased sentencing and eagerly demand prisons where even children are made to suffer. 

Giles, whose CLP faces oblivion in the NT election on 27 August, takes a leaf out of the federal playbook and blames Labor, despite his government introducing in April the barbaric means of restraint in the Youth Justice Amendment Bill 2016 which notes in its second paragraph how,

“In recent years, children in custody have become increasingly violent, dangerous and irresponsible,” although it fails to provide any empirical evidence.

The law authorises increased unspecified restraint, or the use of further coercive force on children leaving the means at the discretion of the Commissioner of Correctional Services.

It’s a recipe for disaster, however well it may play in the politics of law and order according to Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, “I think these institutions poison everyone they touch,” he tells Australian reporters earlier this week.

Schiraldi’s stint in charge of Washington D.C.’s juvenile corrections program revealed a system in which abuse was not merely enabled but embedded.

“Don Dale cannot be fixed,” he says. “They need to destroy it, pour salt on the ground and come up with another model that fits the local area.”

Giles, however, believes he’s been stitched up. Territorians should know of his heroic quest.

“Labor have got their hands all over this, I’m the only bloody person who’s got the balls and the guts to stand up and try and deal with it, and I’ll do that every day for the interests of Territorians and kids.”

Giles’ man Brian Martin stands down. He says he does not have the confidence of all sections of the Indigenous community and he is not prepared to compromise the inquiry, despite George Brandis’ blandishments and attempts to talk him out of what appears to be an entirely reasonable and responsible decision. In other ministries, Brandis also would be stepping down.

Royal Commission Mk II, which features two commissioners, former Queensland Supreme Court Judge Margaret White and Indigenous leader Mick Gooda  induces Corey Bernardi to attack Mick Gooda for being Aboriginal in the senator’s weekly “common sense” newsletter to supporters,

“I am most surprised that ancestry seems a more important qualification than judicial experience,”

No-one is surprised, however, at the banks giving the government the finger and keeping most of the week’s interest rate reduction the Reserve Bank hopes will boost our struggling economy.

Busted flat, however, is the Coalition’s conceit that it represents the only economic managers with a plan when not only must the Reserve Bank intervene by cutting interest rates, the banks can take advantage of a weak, government, beholden to them for funding and keep most of the interest rate cut for themselves.

As the Australia Institute’s research in June found  – across a broad range of economic measures, the Abbott/Turnbull government has performed the worst of any Australian government since 1949. Economist Jim Stanford’s report examines economic performance across 12 indicators – including GDP per capita, the unemployment rate, employment growth and the growth of real business investment and intellectual property investment.

We are growing at 3.1% says Morrison – yet while GDP did grow largely thanks to property investment and a rise in export earnings as communities rose -real net national disposable income fell by 1.1% as Bowen pointed out a record eighth consecutive decline – the most sustained decline in our history.

The poor are hurting the most as inequality grows as a result of the government’s decision to cut the clean energy supplement to a range of new welfare recipients. The Turnbull government will drive the poorest incomes down to as low as 32 per cent below the poverty line within three years, according to the Australia Institute’s most recent research.

Being soft on banks doesn’t cut it either. The institute’s paper notes little historical correlation between “business friendly” policies and economic performance.

Rudd’s UN candidacy, “hardly a matter of first importance”, as Turnbull himself observes, blows up into a storm which rocks the whole boat. Leaks appear over night. Deputy dog helpfully volunteers cabinet votes narrowly favoured Kevin 016 but Turnbull is spooked.

Rattled, Turnbull tosses collaboration and consensus overboard. Like Captain Qeeg, he fixates on triviality, forsaking real leadership for impulsivity and a rash of bad captain’s calls on Rudd, the banks and Manus Island.  

How best to deal with bastard banks for not passing on the full interest rate cut of a quarter of a per cent? A chat over a cup of tea and an iced VoVo! Kevin Rudd couldn’t have put it better.

Laughing all the way to and from the bank, NAB, CBA, ANZ and Westpac’s chaps in suits are very happy, they chortle, at the thought of a rorty road trip to Canberra for a chinwag with old pal Mal. Chew the fat with any pack of backbenchers such as the PM may muster.

Why some may even find time to give themselves a public flogging with a limp lettuce leaf. Or defend usury or explain why they must collude to fix interest rates and or lower the odds when they chance their insurance arms by disallowing claims and contesting medical opinions.

Inviting the banks to do lunch with Turnbull in Canberra once or perhaps more than once a year is a much better idea than a Royal Commission says Scott Morrison because it is “transparent”. Above all it will preserve that mythic confidence in our banks which only he can see.

The big four banks enjoy a hold over more than 80 per cent of home mortgages – 82 per cent of the nation’s $937.8 billion in owner-occupier loans outstanding last month and 85 per cent of the $523.8 billion housing investment loans. No-one in government questions this over concentration of investment in real estate in the face of an approaching economic downturn or the wake of a GFC we really never got out of.

If the banks are in need of protecting it is from themselves. If the Coalition’s plan for keeping the banks honest is ludicrously ineffectual, however, it is a gutsy effort when compared with its head in the sand approach to solving its Manus Island dilemma.

PNG’s Supreme Court orders the Australian government to provide a resettlement plan for immigration detainees being held on Manus Island by a 4 August deadline. Border Supremo, Dutton and his PM are all over it. Their plan? Australia simply does not show up in court.

It’s a while since Greg Hunt defended the government’s interest in trading coal with India and other underdeveloped countries on the grounds that it was “not a colonial power.” PNG’s legal team have just been given cause to believe otherwise. 

“His ABC” and other mainstream media help spin Captain Mal’s action as a virtue in itself, in case the PM’s decisions might again prove over-hasty or ill-advised. Otherwise we may get misty-eyed over the need to be cruel to children in indefinite detention or fail to see that Manus is PNG’s responsibility.

Trade minister Steve Ciobo is despatched to Indonesia where he will forge another you beaut free trade deal that his predecessors have somehow missed in the hundred years or so we’ve been trading with our neighbour – an opportunity not spotted by Andrew Robb’s 360-strong trade delegation last November.

Before we can ask why the hurry, we are moved along. Before we have time to dwell on Rudd’s comeuppance, Brandis’ utter cock-up over the Royal Commission or digest the news that the new senate will generally be less easy to manage than the impossible lot Turnbull just tossed out we are hurried along. Nothing to see here.

Or look over there, a 31 year old terrorist has just been arrested in Braybrook. Great to know our stable government is keeping us secure. Nothing to fear but fear itself.