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.