In a death-defying acrobatic routine in Canberra this week, the nation’s lame duck PM performs an astonishing back-flip on the high-wire without a safety net in a Coalition Circus show-stopper before a three week break in the slow trick bicycle race that is the 45th Parliament. Pantomime legend, funny money man Treasurer Scott Morrison kids audiences along that his government is not breaking an election promise.
Breaking Turnbull’s “absolutely iron-clad campaign pledge” on superannuation law changes to suit the top one per cent at the expense of poorer retirees is just responsible government. It mirrors Tony Abbott’s “good government” which honoured his promise of no changes to health and education by delivering cuts of $80 billion after a landslide victory.
Its super backdown competes with news this week of Morrison’s failure as Minister for Immigration to notice a contractor add $1.1 billion to its tender to run the gulag on Nauru and Manus when his department suspended public service tender rules in face of our imminent invasion by waves of dole-bludging job-stealing, illiterate immigrants, as Peter Dutton loves to remind us. A confected emergency is ScoMo’s normal operating environment.
“…When you’re in government you have to solve problems, you have to work issues and you’ve got to get to conclusions and that’s what we’ve done today…” explains the Ming dynasty worthy Morrison who demolishes other considerations such as principle, honesty and integrity with effortless ease and more than a dash of self-parody. No-one mentions the massive problem his PM’s double whatsit created in the senate, Manus Island, his NBN or the four banks who hold the country to ransom under government protection. Arch pragmatist Robert Menzies would be proud.
News of Turnbull’s astonishing stunt, naturally earns thunderous applause from high income earners and is the finale to a four day extravaganza which includes omnibus billing, more flogging of dead horse Dastyari, the plebiscite dance marathon and the mother of all fool’s errands, a race to praise Malcolm’s first year as PM.
Not to be outbid in the absurdity stakes, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton pledges to take Australia’s “good UN story” on refugees to the UN next Monday. He recycles the canard that we lead the world in refugee resettlement reprising the old lie that Australia takes the most refugees per capita of any country in the world, so favoured by his idol Tony Abbott.
The lie misrepresents our role in the UNHCR resettlement programme, which takes only 1% of the world’s estimated fifteen million refugees, as evidence that we lead the world in resettling all refugees. It wilfully obscures the 1577, including children, we currently imprison indefinitely in detention centres including on Christmas Island, and the 1296 incarcerated on Nauru and Manus Island. Worse, Dutton’s lie implies that these are not genuine refugees.
“We don’t just provide a refuge, we guide people into a new life; a safe, healthy and hopefully a happy life, ” Dutton boasts in The Australian. “Our humanitarian programmes have helped tens of thousands.” The two thousand incidents of abuse exposed in The Guardian’s recent release of reports by officials on Nauru clearly don’t count.
Nor do those 30 asylum seekers Dutton has put on Christmas Island to enjoy the company of 200 of what the Border Supremo calls “some of the country’s most hardened criminals” at the discretion of the Minister who applies his character test. Two Brigidine sisters report not happiness but fear and despair on the island. “What we witnessed was a group of men utterly without hope, almost all of them broken human beings,” they tell Fairfax Media this week.
Our cruelty is not only wrong it is expensive. This week sees both a Save the Children and a UNICEF report reveal off-shore detention has cost us $9.6 billion since 2013 – more than the UNHCR’s total global budget for programs this year. The reports coincide with an Audit Office report that puts the cost per detainee at $1570 per day or enough to put each asylum-seeker up in a Hyatt hotel and pay them the pension fifteen times over, calculates Fairfax’s Peter Martin.
The Audit Office report shows that not only did the Coalition government breach public service tender guidelines, it created a false sense of emergency to allow it to dispense with proper procedures permitting the successful contractor to add an extra $1.1 billion to its bid without facing any counter-bid. The department of Immigration kept this additional premium secret from then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison who was also not told of the price per head.
Also kept secret is Malcolm Turnbull’s own donation to his party campaign war chest made in the second half of the eight week election campaign although he has volunteered that he chipped in $2 million rather than the $1 million originally reported. It is still a good investment should he last three years. Turnbull is the only PM in Australian political history to have bought his own mandate but, oddly, no-one brings this up as his greatest achievement.
Indeed, Coalition MPs appear challenged to find any achievement at all to mark The PM’s first year in office. Most instead settle on competing to tell the most outrageous lie while an oleaginous Josh Frydenberg admits his boss has been “a good friend of mine” before praising him as ” a very successful Prime Minister.”
A rising conga line of suck-holes is utterly upstaged, however, by George Brandis, a toad in pinstripes, who puffs his pal Malcolm into the equal of Sir Robert “and the great John Howard;” “one of the great Australian prime ministers”, praise so nauseatingly unwarranted, so patently untrue that even Howard The Great must set the sycophant straight.
“I think those sort of comparisons at this stage in Malcolm’s career are a bit unfair and premature,” Howard tells ABC radio. Fresh from recording his own two part ABC hagiography on his idol and fellow philistine, Pig Iron Bob, helpfully scheduled this Sunday, Howard is quick to cut Turnbull off at the knees. “The most immediate thing he can do in emulating Menzies is to successfully go to an election with a majority of only one and increase his majority.”
Ouch!. No matter how bad it gets Malcolm is still the leader, team player George Christensen ventures helpfully.
Others outside the parliamentary party also see Turnbull as a fizza. A D+ is awarded by 50 business leaders, former Liberal politicians, academics, economists, administrators, lawyers and lobbyists who grade the PM for the AFR Weekend. Turnbull has failed to translate our joyous excitement over his rolling of Abbott into any action at all. Nor has he hung on to that surge of popularity. Even Newspoll reports that what it coyly terms satisfaction levels with the Prime Minister are down six percentage points to 34 per cent since the July 2 election.
Yet there is no shortage of vacuous, self-interested puffery from Liberal MPs to inflate the PM’s party balloon this week.
“This Turnbull Coalition government has much to do and much to get on with — indeed, that is the business of government. We get on with it,” pronounces maiden Liberal Senator Jane Hume in a gesture of utter absurdity. As her 18th Century namesake David Hume advised, a wise woman proportions her belief to the evidence.
Senator Hume, a former bank manager who currently works for a superannuation fund, with absolutely no conflicts of interest, wins biggest whopper in a week of lies and desperate dissembling. The Coalition government has nothing to do and less to go on with. There is not even an agenda for the senate, Monday. Everything grinds to a halt forcing Liberal Senators to filibuster, fidget or even pedal backwards as they frantically try to stay in the saddle until Question Time.
Government senators pad out their speeches to twenty minutes to stretch things until Question Time. Bridget McKenzie back-handedly grabs a chance to call Nigel Scullion a “deep thinker” despite appearances and to praise a colleague from Tullarook but the National Senator can’t recall his name or place, “Andrew, it will come to me she says.” Party amnesiac, Arthur Sinodinos grins infectiously. George Brandis government leader in the senate is, once again, missing in action.
What follows is strangely edifying. Whilst having senators speak without prompt or preparation produces some of the most tedious, trivial if not excruciatingly inept speechifying in history, it also provides a privileged peek into a government upper house consciousness unsullied by thought, reflection or wretched talking point. In this space also, Pauline Hanson makes the second maiden speech of her career, calling for Muslims this time, to go back to where they came from. This is our country, our land our lifestyle, she says. “Take advantage of our freedom” and leave.
Greens senators stage a walkout yet Michaelia Cash embraces the One Nation leader to remind all of Turnbull’s one true legacy, a cross bench of misbegotten populist monsters. While One Nation owes its much of its revival to the PM’s double dissolution fiasco, its members also faithfully reflect the way the Liberal Party continues Howard’s tradition of gleefully dog-whistling up the bigoted, the racist and xenophobic amongst us to achieve its political agenda.
George Megalogenis in Australia’s Second Chance traces migrant bashing to 1840 when Horse Tray Yah was threatened by 4000 orphan girls, economic migrants seeking asylum from persecution and Ireland’s Great Famine. Since then it’s been the turn of other groups to be vilified and persecuted, as Annabel Crabb cheerily notes in The Age as if the idea that this too will pass may somehow comfort or compensate victims of state sanctioned abuse. Or right any wrong.
Helping any who may misread Ms Cash’s public embrace of Pauline Hanson, gorgeous George Christensen, Dawson Pauline-whisperer is quick to tell the Australian that Hanson’s views are “largely those of the Liberal Party rank and file.” It emerges that George arranged a cosy deal with Pauline not to stand a One Nation candidate against him in the last election. Julie Bishop also endorses former Liberal Hanson, cutely saying she does “not agree with all” of Pauline’s views.
Cory barnyard Bernardi is off to New York to observe the UN a body which he, too, along with One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts has called “unelected and unaccountable.” If Cory’s not in bed with One Nation, he’s smoking the same stuff.
Like One Nation Pokémon Malcolm Roberts, Bernardi fears we are “outsourcing aspects of our national sovereignty to unaccountable foreign organisations like the United Nations,” or the Chinese or else hordes of alien invaders from the planet Zorg. Bernardi will be right at home in New York where wacky is normal but surely he will need to be recalled when the party’s Turnbull experiment is blown up by Abbott’s marriage plebiscite time bomb.
Neither Bernardi nor Christensen will have to cross the floor, however, because the Labor party won’t play the game on a plebiscite which was less about seeking the will of the Australian people than about the rat cunning of a Tony Abbott desperate to defeat the do-gooders in his own party room. But what’s a broad church without a narrow, rigid and remote pontifex?
In the interim, national discourse is drowned by disingenuous drivel from right wingers who pretend that government funding to both sides is some sort of equaliser.
The same dangerous nonsense is buried in the clamour of Bernardi’s band wagon to repeal 18 C of the racial discrimination and vilification act and his crusade against safe schools. He and Leyonhjelm certainly know better although the less said about the rest of Turnbull’s freak show of a cross bench the better.
What matters is power. Funding those who already enjoy immense wealth and power is no way to promote anything but bullying and the more effective dissemmination of hate speech. Stripping away safeguards for the vulnerable, the disadvantaged and the marginalised in order to add further to the power of ruling classes is no way to achieve social harmony – or democracy. If only like the PM everyone were rich enough to fund their own campaign.
Luckily our PM has never been too shy to blow his own trumpet. Malcolm Bligh Turnbull has been quick this week to point out what an incredible asset he is to the nation with his genius for economic management. He takes full credit for rubbery figures suggesting business is booming. Like Arthur Sinodinos we must all put out of our minds all memory of the Reserve Bank lowering interest rates to boost a flagging economy or of wages flat-lining for three years at least. If we are not technically in recession we need to have a hard look at the way we measure it.
Our leaders want us to applaud the ABS. Crippled by funding cutbacks, a failure over its census, the ABS coughs up some dodgy figures about GDP being up just as it produces wildly erratic and unreliable unemployment statistics because it is pushed to report on what it can’t afford to count properly. More reliable is the news that a third of us now put off or avoid entirely going to the dentist because we can’t afford the cost.
Luckily birthday boy Malcolm Turnbull will take time out from his first anniversary and being bullied by Eric Abetz, George Christensen and other right-wing nutters who run his government to bask in the admiration of leaders overseas.
Turnbull will dazzle the world with his agile, innovative shtick, his economic trickle-down wizardry, his war on the poor and Australia’s abuse of asylum-seekers’ human rights. DIY two million dollar mandates from the one seat wonder from down under, will go over well, especially after his predecessor’s G20 talk on GP co-payments, his lecturing the UN about how sick we are of being lectured by the UN and his mad plans to invade Syria or to send Aussie troops into Ukraine.
It is Senator Jane Hume and her fatuous speech, however, who sets the week’s tone by exposing her government’s illegitimacy. Despite its overweening arrogance, triumphalism and braying inanity, the Turnbull government cannot disguise the fact that it has nothing to say. It is hopelessly and utterly seduced by the delusion that it is back on top where it belongs; all that it needs now is to talk itself into a government.