Illustration: Eric Lobbecke
A muffled thumping disturbs the chamber this Thursday as our PM and his predecessor, in turn, throw each other under a bus, to use Omnibus Bill Shorten’s colourful phrase. Guardian Australia’s Katharine Murphy, who continues to hold a torch for the PM, has never seen anything like it in twenty years of parliamentary reporting. The Coalition is openly at war with itself.
After a two week niggling campaign, Tony (Gospel Truth) Abbott brands Malcolm Turnbull a liar for suggesting the Abbott regime struck a deal last year with Senator David (happiness is a warm Adler A-110 lever action shot-gun) Leyonhjelm. Turnbull counters that the Prime Minister’s Office knew of the deal. It has documents. Pyne, Dutton and Keenan back their PM. Abbott says he’s been “grievously” misrepresented but it’s his flat denial against the word of two ministers involved plus an entertainingly self-parodying denial from Turnbull camp clown Christopher Pyne.
The Abbott-Leyonhjelm deal involved lifting import restrictions on the weapon in return for the Senator’s vote on stripping home-grown terrorists of their dual citizenship but at stake now is Turnbull’s authority; his capacity to maintain what remains of his Liberal leadership. Rightist Michael Sukkar, Member for Deakin, supports Abbott, feebly, saying there is “no strong evidence” for a deal. Turnbull nurtures his inner political death-wish by dithering; he allows two days to pass in which it seems as if a deal is still on the table.
Astonishingly, ABC listeners are immediately treated to National Party’s Troy Grant passionate case that every farmer needs to be able to shoot eight rounds in eight seconds or be overrun by feral pigs. An Adler 110 lever-action rapid fire shotgun is vital to the survival of the entire NSW rural sector if not the national economy. To dare suggest that shotgun might fall into the wrong hands is to cast a hurtful slur upon responsible gun-owners everywhere despite the fact that the Adler is precisely the sort of weapon most commonly stolen according to Gun Control Australia.
Deadly David Leyonhjelm, whose 2014 maiden speech was peppered with references to philosophers such as John Locke, John Stuart Mill and David Hume who helped convince him that no government – indeed, no-one tells him what to do (although he does seem to expect others to fall in line with his views) is a gun nut. A down-under NRA Charlton Heston, to quote Mike Seccombe, Leyonhjelm is full of dangerous nonsense about our right to bear arms and the right of the citizenry to rise up against “over-governing, over-taxing and over-riding ways”.
Leyonhjelm moonlights for the NRA in a video released last year slamming Australia as a “nation of victims”. His view is we’d be safer if we were all armed. “We love the NRA here in Australia amongst us gun owners and in fact we rely on you guys to also help us hold the line in Australia,” he riffs in the clip. In his libertarian view, it is the government which has to make a case for banning rapid-fire weapons – not the farmer or sporting shooter who wants to buy one.
Bikies have the same right. At a rally outside Queensland’s Parliament in late 2013, the Senator decried new laws potentially denying gun licences to affiliates of outlaw motorcycle gangs.
The 2015 deal traded guns for votes, Labor helpfully points out, attacking Abbott’s honesty and exploding the Member for Warringah’s pose of being tough on gun control, which, along with his tough on borders posturing, helped the former PM convince his right wing he could make Australia safe again – or as he likes to put it – protect our national security. Stopping the guns, like stopping the boats, or his puerile threat to shirt-front Putin, however, is pure Abbottry, that specious, empty rhetoric he substitutes for real communication or conviction.
Abbott has no right to claim a legacy of public safety. He made Australia less safe by re-entering conflicts in Iraq and Syria, in a calculated political strategy that had nothing to do with Australia’s national security that would further radicalise some within Australia’s Muslim minority and increase the domestic terror threat. “They are coming after us” he said of ISIS inflaming paranoia increasing anxiety and adding his own note of hysteria to public alarm.
Abbott indulged in dangerous and divisive dog whistling about terrorists on boats. While he sloganeered on protecting our freedom, he restricted our civil liberties and shackled our watchdogs with laws which retain people’s metadata for two years and laws which could make it offence for journalists to report on spying. And he was useless in the Lindt café crisis in December 2014; too busy to speak to Man Haron Monis as the Inquest heard this April.
What is at stake, Bernard Keane points out is Abbott’s ego. The facts don’t fit his macho image. “It doesn’t fit the hard man image, the image of the prime minister who trashed civil rights and threw money at security agencies to fight terrorism, the man who attacked Muslims for failing to talk about the peaceful nature of Islam, to be seen as having connived at a deal to allow high-capacity shotguns into the country.”
Is Abbott lying about the Adler? We’d be foolish to expect truth. In 2010, Abbott explained that unless you had it in writing, you’d be unwise to believe him. As it turns out, Abbott is contradicted by the evidence: an email from his office, sent 15 August 2015, published by Paul Bongiorno in this week’s The Saturday Paper supports Turnbull and Leyonhjelm’s version of events.
“We confirm that ministers Dutton [Immigration] and Keenan [Justice] have agreed that the government will amend the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 to insert a sunset clause of 12 months into the recently amended provisions which ban the importation of lever action shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than five rounds.”
Leyonhjelm, nevertheless, carried out his side of the deal which was to “vote against the Labor amendments to the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill”. It was a straightforward trade of a gun for a vote. Now, the former Liberal, who resigned from the party in 1998, in protest over John Howard’s gun control laws, is threatening to pull the pin on his support for the union-bashing ABCC legislation despite his reservation that the bill infringes civil liberties.
The PM’s public slap-down of his predecessor may cost Turnbull his ABCC legislation. Even those few Australians yet unpersuaded by the patronising arrogance of a Coalition who reign over us by birthright and by force and such other means as are from time to time necessary must applaud the Turnbull government’s wondrous capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Not that applause is necessary. Those who dissent from its plans are dismissed as too stupid to know what’s good for them such as the Coalition’s dream of a deregulated, causualised, de-unionised part-time workplace, already on its way, glimpsed, for example, when backpackers and their tax appear up for discussion in another fiasco or when Seven-Eleven is revealed by Fair Work Australia to have worked its employees twice as long for half the going pay rate.
Fair Work Australia’s fresh investigation 27 August follows an ABC and Fairfax lead but a frenzy of union-bashing erupts this week to assist with the passage of the ABCC in another orchestrated attack on organised labour and the rights of Australians to a fair wage and decent conditions. Although barely 15 per cent of workers are union members, the ILO reported in October last year, 60 per cent of Australian workers are employed under conditions that were collectively bargained for, far above the rate of many countries with higher union densities.
The week begins so promisingly too. A faction-riven Coalition rabble is somehow marshalled by comical cat-herder Christopher Pyne. The government lines up the crooked CFMEU and nasty Bill Shorten in its sights. It guillotines debate to get its ABCC bill rail-roaded through the lower house. Labor is allowed to speak once. You don’t need democratic debate when you have an election mandate. Pyne gags that everyone’s views have been heard before in the two previous failures to pass the legislation, despite the presence of new MPs who have never spoken on it. Malcolm Turnbull accuses Bill Shorten of being in debt to the CFMEU and shows a video.
But it all goes bad by Wednesday and ends in catastrophe with the Prime Minister shooting himself in the foot, destroying any vestige of doubt as to his political ineptitude by helping get Tony Abbott back on to the ABC’s 7:30 Report (bumping unhappy deputy Liberal leader, Julie Bishop) on Wednesday night. Tony clearly believes he is once again a contender for the top job even if he forgets to say he stopped the boats.
The week should have featured a virtuoso performance by immigration intellectual Peter Dutton doing a number on the ABC; rebutting the Four Corners expose of cruelty and child abuse on Nauru by shooting the messenger: calling the whole programme an orchestrated litany of lies and accusing the ABC of being “on a crusade against government policy”.
Why? Dutton’s raving: “because they hate the fact that we’ve stopped boats and they believe we should have open borders and they’ve turned themselves into political operatives,” – adding for good measure, in some alarming former drug squad code all his own, “drinking the Kool-Aid”.
Who knows what Dutton’s been drinking but Thursday, The Border Enforcer is inspired to a piece of performance art which links bikies, The CFMEU, Bill Shorten and Labor with the high price of apartments and the fact that decent young Australians can’t afford to buy a home.
Meanwhile, in a senate committee, veteran plot-spotter Eric Abetz tells Michelle Guthrie she’s been captured by the leftist conspiracy which runs Radio National and infects the rest of the ABC. Tenderfoot Liberal Senator Jane Hume dismisses the Four Corners Report as selective. Where are the refugees who were happy with their lives on Nauru? She wonders if “all we heard on this program were the representatives of Save the Children and Amnesty (International) and the stories they wanted to tell, and selected stories from the young people on Nauru?”
Eric Abetz wonders if ABC reporters are not siding with activitsts.
Way to go Senators. Show us all the fun side of indefinite open detention, ABC, on 21 square kilometres of abandoned guano mines, a ravaged moonscape of an island the size of an international airport. Report on the joys of living with the daily fear of assault in a failed state run by a corrupt oligarchy with a corrupt police force, where 90% of the population of 9,000 are jobless and suffer extreme levels of diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Have the senators read The Moss Review (2015), the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Nauru Detention Centre (2015) or the Report by Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru (2016)? These reports document endemic gender-based violence systematic abuse carried out on Nauru against asylum seekers and refugees, abuse condoned by the Nauruan and Australian governments. Rape, assaults and indecent assaults are an inescapable part of life on Nauru and the government knows it.
Central to Dutton’s regime is the precept that refugees are to be punished for not drowning by being locked up in a hell-hole on Manus or Nauru, as Julian Burnside notes. The UN has recently confirmed that Nauru is one of the world’s worst in a report presented by doctors and officials from the United Nations’ refugee agency, to senior immigration department staff 11 October.
Dutton and his 82 communications staff provide no response to the UN’s investigation. He has successfully prevented or discouraged anyone but The Saturday Paper from reporting even on the leaked report. Instead he deploys the Coalition’s favourite ploy: attack the messenger, as it did when in August The Guardian leaked case notes of 2100 actual investigations.
In a masterpiece of spin, the Minister then accused The ABC and Guardian Australia of ‘trivialising’ grave issues ‘by trying to promote the 2,100 reports as somehow all being serious when they’re not.’ Dutton also falsely accused Save The Children of leaking the reports. It’s a quality response as might be expected from a Minister with 82 communications staff, 22 of whom are dedicated to its “24/7 media operations”, including social media.
Immigration also had eight non-permanent communications staff earlier in the year. It paid Talkforce Media more than $225,000 for training after its Operation Fortitude fiasco in Melbourne last August – on top of $1 million on external media monitoring staff and another $7 million on public relations and internal communications staff.
Will the PM survive his showdown with Tony Abbott? Will the party now break down into two armed camps, the right wing troglodytes affiliated with Abbott versus the Trotskyites who lean towards Malcolm Turnbull, a PM in the words of Kate McGregor on The Drum recently more of a progressive Labor leader than a conservative? Will Leyonhjelm be wooed by another deal?
What is certain is that Fizza Turnbull will continue to face challenges to his authority as his incapacity to lead, his instinct for poor judgement, his capacity to turn crisis into catastrophe is daily revealed to be a liability to the interests of his party’s big business backers; an impediment to the Neocon agenda of the IPA and other powerful lobby groups. Julie Bishop is staying out of things, appearing on an ABC story about sportswomen as befits her feminist inclinations – you can bet she won’t be backing equal pay -and keeping herself nice for when Turnbull needs to be knifed.
Meanwhile the ABC will continue to be derided and defunded and accused of bias whenever it dare report the truth instead of doing its job as the government’s cheer squad. Whether the over-hyped ABCC bill passes or not, the government will not ease up on its war on workers while the gulags on Nauru and Manus will not go away, however much the government invests in their denial. Like the rotting prison hulks of yesteryear they are a reminder of how badly a nation can go wrong when it prefers the politics of cheap populist hysteria over humanity; tries to hide from its own conscience; its moral responsibility.