Women lose out in Turnbull government’s week of contempt for justice equality and the poor.


Attorney General and pocket Napoleon George Brandis QC, a liability to the rule of law even in a Turnbull government, alienates the entire legal fraternity this week by relentlessly bullying Justin Gleeson, his solicitor-general, into resignation. It’s a turn of events unseen in a hundred years, a departure which robs the office of one of its finest legal minds and strikes a blow at the heart of the solicitor general’s office itself – but our PM’s on to it. “These things happen”, blathers Malcolm Turnbull before dashing  offstage into witness protection.

 Each week brings fresh opportunities for the Prime Minister to go missing in action. The latest Newspoll says PM Fizza is even less popular now than former big cheese Tony Abbott, a Trump admirer, who found time to squeeze amongst some young netballers for a publicity shot, quipping and winking , “a bit of body contact never hurt anyone.” His louche let-down of a successor favours a more hands-off leadership style which is easily if not frequently mistaken by ministers for licence.

Minister for talking about women, Michaelia Cash is able to skip a planned meeting with states with the excuse that there’s “nothing requiring ministerial decision”, apart that is from a summit on curbing domestic violence and announcements that women are to be protected from idleness and double-dipping by cutting parental leave.

 Cash is allowed to pass up a chance to confer with states’ IR ministers about family violence leave or parental leave or to unpack her government’s August 2015 finding that female friendly workplaces may put men off as it was broadly reported –  although the truth is that it found that female friendly policy and practice was OK apart from “male-dominated” workplaces in science, mining and engineering where it may “cause problems”. From this alone it would seem that there’s a fair bit of work to do, Minister.

 The Minister could start with reviewing progress in key areas. In November 2014, The Workplace Equality Agency found 48 per cent of employers had policies on flexible work yet only about 13 per cent have a strategy for ensuring these policies are used by employees who want to access them. While half had a standalone gender equality policy, only 7.1 per cent had a gender equality strategy.

 Instead Michaelia Cash is talking up a storm in all the ways cutting funding will help women  and how domestic violence is a cycle which “must be broken” a process which currently involves a lot of talking and the spending of very modest amounts of funds while $34 million is still slated to be cut from community legal centres over the next three years. No hint officially that causes of men’s violence to women include entrenched gender roles and patterns of male privilege and the sanctioning of violence which current government policies help perpetuate.

 Instead the COAG domestic violence summit in Brisbane Thursday and Friday is geed up by a PM who boasts that the country has “undergone a cultural shift with regards to domestic violence and the momentum cannot be denied”.  It’s not reflected in the rising statistics of violence inflicted by men upon women nor is it reflected in the behaviour of so many of the men who wield power on his government’s behalf: witness George Brandis’ bullying of Gillian Triggs in a senate committee last year or Ian Macdonald’s bullying of Triggs and more recently of Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson.

 Whilst bully-boy Brandis misled parliament twice in claiming that he had the SG’s approval for his citizenship and his marriage equality bills and while he set himself above the law in issuing an illegal directive curtailing the SG’s independence, shit happens. There’s nothing to see here, according to Malcolm Turnbull. “It’s always regrettable when people don’t get on in the workplace.”

 Being replaced before your time is up is also ever to be deplored. Alexander Downer, Australia’s High Commissioner in London, a doyen of diplomatic discretion and good taste, in 1994 stunned a meeting of party faithful by suggesting they change the slogan “things that matter” to “things that batter” to better reflect Liberal domestic violence policy – an area still ill-defined despite this week’s gabfest -but then as now, only encouraged by such humour – is reported in The Weekend Australian to be furious. He’s heard his job is being “sounded out” in a bit of Liberal Party thinking aloud on how best to move Brandis out of harm’s way. But it’s just a tiff between two bigwigs, according to the Coalition. Nothing to see here. Besides, Downer has eighteen months’ sinecure left to serve.

 Clear to everyone is that Brandis must go. His actions represent an unacceptable and gross infringement on the independence of the Solicitor-General and he has “crossed a key line of integrity”. He should follow the Solicitor-General’s resignation with his own, says Australian Lawyers Alliance National President Tony Kenyon. Alternatively, he can continue to wreak havoc in a Cabinet which has more than its fair share of mavericks, especially on the vexed issue of energy.

 Nuclear fusion is the energy of the future. And it always will be until we can harness the heat and power of a fusion reaction. Greg Hunt, Minister for Innovation and Science, is, however, unfussed by mere practicality. Former Direct-Action carbon con-man, “my job is done” Hunt spruiks nuclear fusion as if it’s just around the corner, on Fran Kelly’s ABC Radio show Monday in his weekly own-trumpet-blowing solo. It’s how the world’s greatest minister keeps himself relevant.

 After its hatchet job on renewables after SA’s blackout, the Coalition’s mantra is that we need practical, reliable, secure energy. Greg’s listening. What better than the fantasy of nuclear fusion?

 Creating an abundance of safe, clean energy by fusing two hydrogen isotopes was first envisaged by English physicist Arthur Eddington in the 1920s. The concept excited Australia’s Mark Oliphant in 1933 but until we can find a way to harness a reaction as hot and fierce as the sun’s, we will always be thirty years away. Nuclear fusion is an area where we don’t even know what we don’t even know making it the perfect choice for an Abbott-in-drag government where wilful ignorance is a badge of honour. Nowhere is this better seen than in policies affecting women.

 Turnbull says he backs family leave “as a father and husband” before declaring it all a mystery to blokes. “In so far as men can understand these matters, we are absolutely understanding and sympathetic,” he says, misrepresenting key principles of equality and basic workplace entitlements as areas for male approval rather than simple human rights while his government slashes funding. The arcane mysteries of justice are just something to puzzle over as men decide what’s best for working mothers.

 Cutting parental leave, we hear this week, will combine with an absence of affordable child-care, to help grateful mothers back into the workforce to resume bonding with colleagues; properly leaving baby to frantic grandparents. Although the government enjoys confusing what is a workplace entitlement with welfare, one thing is clear. Shameful double-dipping will cease forthwith – or in nine months’ time as an indulgent Prime Minister exercises his seigneurial discretion. Australian women will be overjoyed that the Coalition’s eagerness to get them back into the workforce is almost second to none. On OECD statistics, our government’s paid parental leave is now lowest in the developed world outside the USA.

 Cuts will also fix our scandalously lavish Newstart handouts which sap initiative and prevent unemployed Australians from breaking out of their “inter-generational welfare dependency”. Five job-seekers already contest every single vacancy which is typically a part-time, casual, poorly paid job. Women are increasingly over-represented in part time, casual work.

 Yet clearly job-seekers are not trying hard enough and must be blamed or shamed into work. Federal Treasurer screaming Scott Morrison is on to something Friday when he says “it’s a crying shame” that thousands of welfare recipients would “have to take a pay cut” if they were to get a job –  but no-one mistakes his call for his bidding up the minimum wage.

 Morrison is mad keen to boost the myth of indulged welfare bludgers. He reckons 43,000 parents were high on the hog enjoying at least $45,000 in benefits last financial year.  The Australian Council of Social Services is left to counter that the true figure is fewer than 1900 households. Morrison says nothing about trimming the $1.8 billion welfare a year we pay to subsidise a dependent coal industry. Yet he is heard screeching that Green “lawfare” must stop. Protestors cost jobs.  Otherwise lies ruin, warn Black Hole Morrison and the increasingly shrill Minster for Resources, mining industry shill, Matt Canavan.

 Julie Bishop who is keeping herself nice before it’s her turn to knife her leader appears on Insiders to defend Joe Hockey’s $25,000 claim for five months’ baby-sitting expenses. Poor Joe struggles to get by on $360,000 in salary as US ambassador while he double-dips into his $90,000-a-year pension. Yet he must be feeling a bit sensitive about being part of the new age of entitlement because he’s changed his expenses from baby -sitting to extra staff after Fairfax made enquiry under Freedom of Information.

 Bishop who is the Liberal Party’s human Talking Point gives the standard defence that it’s a regular thing for an ambassador or a member of DFAT with an overseas post to have expenses paid glossing over the reality that Joe’s appointment itself is part of the Liberal Party’s special plan for Joe’s welfare, a handout and a handy way to pack the dumped failed former federal Treasurer off out of harm’s way. Hockey, despite what Bishop would have us believe, is not the equivalent of his predecessor, Kim Beazley a political academic with a lifetime of US contacts and a passion for American history.

 While Hockey win best political bludger and Morrison is easily best welfare-basher, Huckleberry Hunt, the huckster’s huckster deserves some sort of award for reminding us that when it’s not putting the boot into the poor or discriminating against women, the Turnbull government has its feet planted firmly in the clouds. Best of all – Hunt’s nuclear fusion diversion is a free lunch. There’s no radioactivity, no carbon emissions and we get into the rarefied atmosphere of the fusion Spiegel-tent free – almost. Hunt gushes over his deal which trades our scientists’ “incredible expertise in plasma and imaging” for free admission to the fusion hucksters’ club.

 Ripping off scientists’ intellectual property to get into a wank-fest is just one way the Liberal-National helps our scientists feel valued. Since 2014, the Coalition has cut $3 billion from science and research helping Australia’s research and development investment to plummet to a 30 year low. Above all Education Minister Simon Birmingham is clear that pure research plays little part in his vision: Universities have to be driven by “what is in the best interests of the student and the need of the national economy” he maintains outlining a narrow vocational perspective for less investment in higher education. Luckily Hunt is budget-minded.

 According to Coalition propaganda-sheet The Australian, Hunt is once (or twice) again a pioneer “it is the first time in 35 years a nation outside the founding nine members has been admitted to the global collaboration to produce energy from fusion … the first time a member has been admitted without paying at least $346m as an entry fee to finance the research and development of a fusion ­reactor. Also a first is his  self-promotion mania. Just how many more feathers can Hunt’s cap bear?

 Equally eager to promote his relevance at any price is Barnaby (horse-feathers) Joyce, Deputy Prime Minister and federal celebrity dog-catcher who is keen to hose down another Coalition fuss over nothing erupting over his attempts to move Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines, an entire government department from Canberra to Armidale NSW to boost his electoral prospects. It has cost the Coalition tens of thousands to keep secret a letter written by Dr. Grimes, which is released by the Department of Agriculture Monday in which he warns Joyce he “no longer had confidence in his own capacity “to resolve matters relating to integrity with you”. 

 Joyce denies causing the head of the department to resign and blames an uppity “rogue staffer” for changing Hansard. He says, less than reassuringly, he’s changed it back again. Launching a desperate diversion Joyce  lambasts Labor for their communist policies such as vegetation management in an address to the National Farmers Federation. The audience which includes the Chinese Ambassador laps up the spectacular entertainment which is surely the prelude to a little more land-clearing.

 We need a bit more farm land. Queensland has seen 296 000 hectares cleared in 2015 while in NSW 23,000ha of vegetation has been cleared for cropping and pasture since 2010 and 59% of this is “unexplained”.

 Barnaby is barking mad again, ScoMo foams at the mouth but the show must go on in a week which also sees some solid ensemble work from a Turnbull troupe dedicated to entertaining its dwindling admirers and performing its heart out to please its mining business and financial industry backers. Bugger the people. Forget rights for women. Right wing bosses must be kept happy with buffoonery in energy, welfare and justice in a Melbourne Cup eve Turnbull Stakes that sees ignorance and folly racing neck and neck with crass stupidity.

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