Creepy Clown hysteria sweeps the nation, this week. Almost trumping The Donald, CC’s upstage AFL trades and eclipse politics. Is it a cult? Is it a craze? No-one thinks it will end well. Police beg copy-cats to end “this dangerous and stupid trend.” While reported sightings may distract us from assessing clown-prince Turnbull’s government’s performance, however, the Creepy Clowns illuminate far more than they obscure.
Take LNP Senator Ian MacDonald for example. He’s a standout as Pozzo, Samuel Becket’s bullying clown modelled on the Keystone Cops character, in the Senate Inquiry side-show into megalomaniac George Brandis’ misleading of parliament over his subjugation of the solicitor-general in his government’s push to politicise our public service. And the Great Grimaldi, himself, would be delighted to own as his protégé the hapless, petulant, incompetent Mal Turnbull pathetically playing someone he can never be: anyone but himself – let alone another clown.
Turnbull’s first hundred days are a bungling reprise of the shtick of Coalition “Auguste” clown, Tony Abbott: union-bashing, poor-trashing, pro-coal, anti-welfare, education and environment in a government paralysed by division, its PM led “like a dog on a lead” by the right. Playing politics on marriage equality, its plebiscite hoax which would promote homophobic attacks while postponing legalisation is finally exploded this week in a type of anniversary gift, by Labor, The Greens, three Xenophons and Derryn Hinch. Turnbull’s regime sinks to Abbott-era depths in NewsPolls. Luckily, Eric Abetz has an innovative solution.
Come out of the closet, urges perennial unicorn chaser the agile Abetz, who blames media bias for not celebrating or honouring people who “come out” and switch from a homosexual to a heterosexual lifestyle. Abetz, one of four remaining Tasmanian Liberal Senators fighting for attention in Federal Parliament, is banking on a grateful media, free at last to give heterosexual Australians who have come out straight the attention they merit.
Abetz is also keen to share with reporters his completely rational, objective and measured conspiracy theory that there has been a campaign under way since the 1970s to deconstruct marriage and rob it of its meaning. He is there to launch a book with the most innocuous title Stealing from the Child: The Injustice of “Marriage Equality” by Australian Marriage Forum president David van Gend, a book that promises to lay bare the “breathtakingly subversive redefinition of marriage” and expose the “genderless agenda” that comes with genderless “marriage”.
“His call to celebrate people turning from gay to straight is just the latest line of attack against gays in long political career that bears all the hallmarks of a religiously-fuelled, personal moral crusade,” writes James Norman in the SMH. Yet overall the media has framed its reporting of the plebiscite along government lines. It is Labor which is said to have “scuttled the coalition’s plan” for a plebiscite
Reading Abetz ‘s views, is to be confronted with direct evidence which contradicts his PM’s comments in parliament this week that waive aside the reality of entrenched and active bigotry which is well-funded and politically powerful, with an airy “trust” in the Australian people to be nice or the specious argument that it is “only a minority” which is likely to suffer homophobic abuse.
Whatever his personal beliefs, Turnbull himself is beholden to a powerful and intolerant minority whose prejudicial influence upon a community he says he supports he cannot blithely wish away any more than he can will himself into any real control over the disparate, divisive and defiant elements that have ruined his own authority and legitimacy.
A hundred days in office, certainly, have not seen the Coalition develop its parliamentary skill. “There has never been a more chaotic government, there has never been a more chaotic parliament and there has never been a leader of the house that has had to endure humiliation from his colleagues on such a regular basis,” Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke tells Parliament after Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer votes against her own government, endorsing a bill amended by Labor, which calls upon the Government to close tax loop-holes and increase transparency.
Labor’s Jim Chalmers attacks O’Dwyer’s history of lapses: “Given the Minister for Revenue can’t answer basic questions about her legislation, contradicts the Prime Minister on house prices and negative gearing and was the original architect of the Census disaster, can the Minister please a very interested House about what other spectacular policy achievements lie ahead, or is this the high point of your brilliant career?” he says. O’Dwyer can only head upward from here.
Not all is flagging; Petti-fogger General Brandis rogers the Solicitor-General while Turnbull gets into bed with One Nation. Pauline Hanson is helped on to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network which exists in order to “inquire into and report on the rollout of the national broadband network”. Numbers have been boosted from 7 to 17 members this year but doubtless it will be vital to have Pauline and her vast technical expertise on board.
These are top-quality performances. Either professional clown is up to Trump or any other international pick-up artist in sophisticated seduction or the vital matter of consent.
But look over there! Crippled by crushing welfare debt? Embarrassed by your nation’s quick whip round to give big business a bit of a handout? Fear no more. Worry yourselves sick, instead, over cyber-attacks. The nation is treated to a frenetic tap dance from Dan – “close the doors they’re coming in the (MS) Windows ™- Tehan.” The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Cyber Security, executes a frenzied buck and wing in tribute to his government’s need to spy on us, keep our data and lie about it, hyping “cyber” terror, xenophobia and paranoia in this week’s coalition circus Oz.
Deadpan Dan, enhances his tap-dance by unfurling something called The 2016 Threat Report, the work of professional fear-mongers, The Australian Cybersecurity centre and revealing chilling news: the intelligence service of an unnamed country hacked into our Bureau of Meteorology last year. No! Next we know, our weather will be on Wiki-Leaks.
But wait; there’s more. Tweaking things a little, Dan says the ACC warns public servants of cyber-devastation in three years – (He must mean government departments still in operation after Coalition savings and efficiency dividends.) –
The report, however, clearly states: “…it is unlikely terrorists will be able to compromise a secure network and generate a significant disruptive or destructive effect for at least the next two to three years”.
It don’t mean a thing if it aint got that spin. Desperate Dan milks further applause with a coy revelation. Reassuring us all that he will not sit idly by while we become victims of international cyber-crime, he reveals that Australia has (gasp!) cyber offensive capacity. Pressed for details of this creepy secret weapon, Dan tells Kim Landers on ABC Radio he can’t say because it wouldn’t be secret. Be alert, not informed. Mum’s the word. He also refuses to name any names about our cyber attackers although his vacuous drivel next day in party propaganda organ The Australian calls them ISIS.
“When it comes to, when it comes to intelligence matters there’s a long history of us not publicly broadcasting what we’re doing in this area,” says the little Aussie bottler. Indeed. Add that history to Border Security’s selective catatonia, targeting of whistle-blowers or mad King George Brandis’ two year, $50,000 tantrum over refusing Labor his diary least it confirm he cut arts funding without consultation – a word very much in the air Friday in a senate committee set up to help O’Sullivan and MacDonald bully Justin Gleeson the Solicitor General. The duo give him the Gillian Triggs treatment for daring to challenge King George’s megalomania or his lie to parliament that Gleeson was happy to be shafted.
Mad King George claims, like a schoolboy debater, that the whole sorry business is a matter of definition. He waves his dictionary, a pocket Napoleon brandishing his pocket Oxford. He misses the mark. The net effect is more of a sulky Humpty Dumpty. He’s decreed that all who seek the Solicitor General’s advice must have the Attorney General’s permission first and he’s told Gleeson afterwards, a process he claims is consultation.
“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
By Friday, the latest chapter in megalomaniacal George Brandis’ self-aggrandisement, his misleading of parliament, his attempt to sideline the Solicitor General in a radical and unprecedented diminution of the second law officer’s authority had been trivialised into a “breakdown.” It is as if the two are naughty boys who ought to have their heads knocked together – a view favoured in the ABC’s framing of the conflict in its news bulletins and on The Drum which gets its name from the wrong part of a washing machine. It’s the filter that collects all the fluff and lint.
Barry O’Sullivan and Ian McDonald abuse Solicitor General Justin Gleeson SC because he took a phone call from Mark Dreyfus during the election, surely a communication entirely legal and within his role. Was he consulted about being demoted to Brandis’ subordinate? Was he happy about it? No and no. Expect Brandis high-handed abrogation of power to be overruled by the senate in due course. The Attorney General’s original instructions tabled in the senate are a “disallowable instrument” and can be overturned by a Senate vote.
Until then, Gleeson will disregard what he believes is an unlawful instruction. Expect the framing to continue, however. The media prefers us to see a brawl, a face-off, a feud, a tiff that distorts and distracts from Brandis’ naked power grab.
A Newspoll published Monday shows the Coalition once again trailing Labor 52-48 two party preferred as Turnbull’s lame duck government clocks up an underwhelming one hundred days in office. Its vaunted omnibus bill merely enables it to pass savings slated in Abbott’s first dud budget but it has achieved some dangerous union-bashing as the senate passes its amendment to the Fair Work Act to ban the inclusion of certain “objectionable terms” in enterprise agreements covering workers employed by a “designated emergency management body” (such as the CFA). Clauses requiring management to consult with the relevant union are considered “objectionable”.
In November last year, CFA management was rebuked by a senate committee for refusing to supply vital information into the operation of its training college at Fiskville, where trainees were sent after the site was found to be contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals. Fiskville was finally shut in 2015 after a cancer cluster was discovered among those who lived and worked there since the 1970s.
A Victorian government inquiry has found that “The CFA withheld test documents that confirmed the site was unsafe, yet insisted publicly that everything was OK” according to United Firefighters Union head Mick Tisbury and has criticised WorkSafe and the Environmental Protection Authority for their poor oversight of Fiskville. Yet, workers, paid and unpaid will continue to be at risk as a result of a massive union-bashing campaign driven by Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV), the Murdoch press and the Liberal Party. The issue has been successfully framed in the media as one of noble volunteers being at risk of thuggish union control. Our lawmakers even seem to have heeded the rhetoric.
One Nation’s vote was vital in getting the CFA Volunteers Bill through the senate Tuesday even if they don’t seem to have a clue what it’s about. Party empiricist, Malcolm Roberts calls the matter an issue of freedom versus control: “The control mechanism proposed is an EA [enterprise agreement] that gives union bosses the right to dictate the daily operations of the community-based rural fire brigades,” he says; talking through his tin-foil hat.
Doug Cameron points out it’s the opposite: “Career fire-fighters who place their lives in danger to protect the community are entitled to documented, enforceable health and safety conditions in their enterprise agreements,” Senator Cameron told the chamber. “The volunteer fire-fighters union, basically, want power and control. There is no doubt about that.”
Nor is there any doubt about Donald Trump. Australia heaves a sigh of relief this week as Tony Abbott rates Donald Trump’s policies as “reasonable enough,” while he concedes that the Republican candidate’s views on women are “gross.” Abbott cherry picks for praise Trump’s “cutting tax” and “boosting foreign policy”, neither of which are more than banner headlines in The Donald’s policy-free platform.
Elder statesman Abbott, Bronwyn Bishop and John Howard’s political love-child and suppository of all knowledge, icon of the Liberal Party’s hard-right rump, former PM and Minister for Women, is keen to open another split between himself and Turnbull by defending Trump against the unfair bad press the Republican presidential candidate has been receiving lately largely over his pickup artist tips and lies spread by women claiming he abused them.
Allegations of misconduct against Trump are false, Campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks explains. They are all part of a “political attack designed to tear down Mr. Trump,” and nothing to do with his policies which include building a wall across the United States to keep would-be immigrants back where they belong, an eerie echo of Abbott’s own Sovereign Borders fantasy and with as much feasibility.
While Abbott may be merely attempting to dog-whistle conservatives and to provoke Turnbull, he is displaying a Trumpish lack of judgement in parading his own glass house of boorish ignorance, social incompetence and political ineptitude. Rat cunning is no substitute; nor will it fund a comeback. Turnbull loses the judgement challenge, however, responding by asking if Abbott has read Trump’s views against Free Trade. Abbott by then doesn’t need to.
Keen to make rating The Donald a proxy war between right and moderate Liberals, NSW’s Parliament’s Upper House passes a motion which censures Trump for being a revolting slug.
Doing its bit for the Turnbull government’s desire to re-heat Abbott’s terror hysteria to distract, divert and divide us, home-grown terrorists are being bred in Goulburn’s Supermax prison, “Australia’s toughest jail,” investigative journalist Chris Masters sensationally reports on Four Corners. Two sixteen year olds, it reports later are arrested for planning a terrorist attack. Not content with promoting fear of renewable energy, the national broadcaster is further able to boost its usefulness to government by adding xenophobia and Islamophobia as it claims our best prisons are breeding “the worst kind of terrorist”. Be alert and alarmed.
Ignorance, superstition and partisan political spin appear increasingly part of the mix as our ABC re-interprets its “innovative and comprehensive services” to include many feel-good stories during the week about how coal-mining really has a future in the country now that the coal price is up. Interviews with community business people celebrating news that the Collinsville mine in Queensland’s Bowen Basin help put the case that coal-mining is really about local jobs.
Similarly, Resources Minister Matt Canavan is heard deploring BHP’s decision to pull the pin on oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight muttering about the ugly edge of green activism. Green activists, it seems, have been “swilling champagne” while people lost their jobs.
The ABC’s coverage of the SA blackout which scapegoated renewable energy reliance as the cause is a good example of how a dominant frame, once established, can exert a long-lasting influence over media coverage of a particular event, writes Ben Eltham in New Matilda. So, too with the simplistic framing of the week’s reports on coal into a choice between coal-mining or jobs.
Has it really taken only ten months for the Turnbull government to morph completely into the Abbott government on the environment and on energy? Are we really prepared to abandon everything we have gained in environmental education and awareness, everything we have learned about fossil fuels and climate change or the effects of mining on the environment, everything we have learned to accept as our international responsibility to curb carbon emissions that we can allow our state broadcaster to ally itself to a political party which is captive to the resource industry and oblivious to any real concern about the nation’s future.
Don’t you love farce?
My fault, I fear.
I thought that you’d want what I want…
Sorry, my dear!
And where are the clowns
Send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here.