Month: December 2016

An anti-Christmas message as Turnbull government richly rewards its own; wages war on the rest of us.


While Australia anxiously awaits Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison’s ‘most Yuletide Economic Forecast Outlook, or MYEFO, due Monday, one in eight of us can’t afford to pay the power bill. Even more alarming, 730,000 children in Australia and rising, The Australia Council Of Social Service, (ACOSS) reports, live in poverty, worrying about their next meal. Yet the agony is over for former Tasmanian Liberal MP, Andrew Nikolic.

Nifty Nikolic receives a Christmas gift from Federal Attorney-General Senator George Brandis, as the nation’s First Law Officer plays Santa; dumping a sled-load of plum jobs in the time-honoured way our ruling caste looks after its own, nurturing and protecting, shielding its less fortunate members from hard times.

A similar rush of benevolence overcame the Senator just before July’s election when he doled out a hundred appointments including a $370,000 PA position to Liberal Party donor Theo Tavoularis, a Queensland Solicitor, who one defended the Attorney-General’s son, Simon against a charge of damaging property.

Brandis is in a flat spin. Perhaps he may not be with us for the New Year. PM “Truffles” Turnbull, it is whispered, will get stuck into a Cabinet re-shuffle shortly after Christmas pudding. Could our First Law Officer, an elite member of our political caste, end up in the Old Dart; a type of Botany Bay manoeuvre in reverse? And how does London feel about it?

Current Australian High Commissioner to London, Alexander Downer, since 2014, a US sycophant and our longest serving and least effective former foreign minister, is reported to be “privately furious” at any notion Brandis replace him. The Downer dynasty scion stands on his hereditary privilege. Not only does “he wish to finish his current three-year term”, he ought to get at least one more. At least. After all, he argues, his father, Sir Alexander, (Alick) was a High Commissioner to London before him. Breeding will out.

“Shut up, you foul-mouthed bitch.”

Downer was overheard in 2007 to tell Penny Wong: “Shut up, you foul-mouthed bitch.” Promoting his party’s policy Things That Matter, in 1994, he got a laugh by suggesting footwear traders might know the policy as Thongs that Matter but lost his audience and subsequently his leadership with when he went on to quip that violent, abusive husbands might refer to the policy as Things That Batter.

Even Brandis would struggle to match Downer’s way with words; equal his unparalleled diplomatic charm. Or is there, then, a High Court in Queensland with a vacancy with his name on it? Rumours abound. But who would take his place? Match his wit and wisdom; his passion for human rights? His advocacy of a repeal of 18C because “people have a right to be bigots”. His capacity to mislead parliament over his dealings with his Solicitor General?

Who can forget his justification for a $15,000 bookcase? He was Arts Minister at the time, he argued, which meant he was also minister for books. Then there’s Brandis’ unconscionable bullying of Gillian Triggs; his attacks on her credibility and that of the AHRC.

“It is the role of the Australian Human Rights Commission to promote tolerance, not to encourage a culture of grievance,” he replied to Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane’s advice that the AHRC is available to consider complaints by Aboriginal Australians about Bill Leak’s racist cartoon depicting an Aboriginal man who does not know his own son’s name. Brandis will be a hard act to follow.

At least, Nikolic’s in like Flynn. He gains a seven-year place on The Administrative Appeals Tribunal, a body pledged to inclusiveness and diversity, where he will review Commonwealth government decisions on immigration and welfare. Despite lacking any legal qualifications for the position, as a “senior member” – and it’s Brandis’ call- he will enjoy a total remuneration package of between $304,790 and $362,070, with a base salary of at least $222,500. It’s a pittance for the work involved but it will help augment the former Brigadier’s handsome army pension.

“…accused of trying to start a brawl…”

Nikolic’s win will be applauded by the people of Bass who harbour a soft spot for the hard right former career soldier despite his being clearly, falsely and maliciously accused of trying to start a brawl with Victorian Labor MP Rob Mitchell in Federal Parliament in June 2014. If not du rigueur, muscular diplomacy was certainly an idea embraced by Liberal higher echelons. Five months later, his boss threatened to shirt-front Putin.

During the 2014 misunderstanding, Labor MP Anna Burke sought clarification from then Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, asking “Is it appropriate for members of the Government to be inviting people to a brawl, to come on over to the other side of the chamber and have a bit of a biffo?” while Tasmanian Labor MP, Julie Collins saw Nikolic’s behaviour as ” aggressive”.

A distinguished former Speaker, Labor MP Anna Burke is also a Brandis’ appointment to the Tribunal and, despite not being made a senior member, will, doubtless, soon enjoy new opportunities to be mentored by Nikolic. He has a lot to contribute. He fought hard and long during his brief but rewarding incumbency over such issues as whether the ABC news or Sky TV should be screened in the parliament house gym, reports Labor Senator Helen Polley in her first year report card on the tyro MP for Bass, a seat with its fair share of battlers and a volatile political history.

When, unaccountably, Nikolic failed to keep his seat last election, despite bravely facing down complaints he did not want to speak to community groups with opposing views, he bore his misfortune like a trooper, blaming the loss of his seat in a 10.6 per cent swing against him on the left-wing GetUp! for “running a dishonest, nasty, personal campaign”.

Happily for the nation, the former MP can now apply his prodigious personal and professional peace-making skills to the resolution of conflict in his work on the Tribunal. In the interim, Tasmanians trust that Nikolic will honour his campaign pledge, backed by PM Malcolm Turnbull, to fund University of Tasmania $150 million to set up a new campus in Launceston.

“white welfare villages”

Bass residents, who suffer 17 per cent youth unemployment are thrilled also to hear Nikolic’s mentor, Tony Abbott, tell 2GB listeners this week that major cities are fringed by “white welfare villages” while “people in regional areas would rather be unemployed than work in jobs such as fruit picking and cleaning.”

“This idea that you can be unemployed on benefits in a town where you can’t get fruit pickers…it’s just wrong,” opines the veteran dog-whistler as he puts the boot into the poor as part of his government’s attack on welfare recipients, a campaign which is impeccably timed, as part of a Christmas-themed package of seasonal good cheer with lashings of peace and goodwill. The problem is not the lack of jobs in a contracting economy; or that there may be 19 job-seekers competing for each vacancy, it’s that we have too many work-shy bludgers.

No bludgers on Brandis’ Christmas list of course. All are hard-working worthies, as is Jamie Briggs whose inappropriate behaviour towards a female public servant as a Minister in Hong Kong in November in 2015 led to his resignation and a subsequent electoral rout.

Briggs is now to become director for Moorebank Intermodal Company Limited, a firm created by the Federal Government in 2012 to oversee the construction of the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal in Sydney. It should go well for him unless he tells the terminal it has piercing eyes and kisses it on the neck or shares a photo online without the terminal’s permission.

Bludgers are created when you are too generous with welfare, says Abbott . “We were far too ready to put people on the DSP [disability support pension], with bad backs, a bit of depression and so on.” His insensitive remarks have sparked outrage. A bit of depression?

As many as 2.9 million Australians are living below the poverty line, according to ACOSS, National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) and The University of Melbourne’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA).

The former PM is also keen to keep the pressure up on the current PM whom he sees as a dangerous leftie and who needs to be hounded in the press lest he or his government stray into rationality on climate or heed his own Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel on the need to adopt an emissions trading scheme. Why create new policies when the Coalition gets them already pre-packaged and gift-wrapped from the same think tanks and lobby groups who guide President elect Donald Trump as he busily appoints his transition team. Keep an ETS as a stick to beat Labor.

A former boxer who still thrills to a bit of biffo himself, seasoned sniper Abbott is keen to declare he is not after his PM’s job. He says his former role as “the parliamentary assault” man is “no longer appropriate”. Besides today’s cross-bench are a different kettle of minnows. Gushing with affection for Pauline Hanson whom he describes as “an honourable exception” the veteran exhibitionist revealingly tars the cross bench as show offs.

…love to be the centre of attention…

“Some of them just love to make a spectacle of themselves. They love to be the centre of attention [and] the best way to be the centre of attention is to be making things difficult for the government.” He would know.

“I think that is one of the most inane and stupid things I have ever heard,” sniffs investment guru Roger Montgomery in what could be a response to Abbott’s verdict on Hanson but which is in fact a response to Federal Treasurer, “Hallelujah Brother” Evangel of economic illiteracy, Scott Morrison who underwhelms a Sydney banking and finance mob Wednesday with his message that it’s OK to have a massive mortgage. Good debt is OK, OK?

Are you hopelessly in debt, having to skip meals, medicines and visits to the dentist, just to meet your mortgage repayments? Kick back, relax, your house goes up in value every day. Hallelujah. Unless, that is, the housing bubble bursts. Unless rising interest rates in February force more of us to sell. Or our economy records a second quarter of negative growth, making official the unofficial recession most of Australia is already experiencing, anywhere outside major centres in Victoria and NSW. Or unless Donald Trump makes good his vow to wage a trade war with China and triggers a global trade downturn.

Personal debt is now 125% of GDP, up twelve points since 2013 as employment dwindles. It’s not a good combo. For all Minister for Underemployment and Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash’s breathless ear-bashing, Thursday, her job figures are increasingly hollow, as part-time workers displace full-time in the workforce.

Untroubled by pronouncing trends on one month’s figures alone, moreover, Cash is crusading to elevate “participation”, or the fraught, forlorn task of merely looking for work, as somehow a triumph. Soon the hopelessly under-staffed, under-funded, demoralised ABS will be tasked with recording anyone who ever expresses a wish for a job.

“While the figures showed an increase in the unemployment rate to 6.3 per cent, this reflected a sharp increase in the participation rate to 65.1 per cent in July — the highest level since mid- 2013.” Brilliantly, she deduces that it’s not that people are desperate to seek work out of dire economic necessity, to pay bills, or buy food, pay rent or meet mortgage repayments, it’s because they “feel confident” and are “being encouraged”. It’s that Turnbull government vibe, again.

A disappointment in her role as Minister for Women, earning some to rank her below Tony Abbott who was insultingly dreadful but at least talked the talk at times, Cash appears oblivious to the real issues such as women’s underemployment. “The minister has not yet taken sufficiently seriously the increasing casualisation and underemployment of women in Australia,” Marie Coleman, chairwoman of the social policy committee of the National Foundation Coleman says. Nor is she about to.


…when you fear you’ll lose your home …

For all Cash’s spin, Thursday, November’s job figures show unemployment in Western Australia – and other places hit by the mining slump – is at heights not seen since 2002, a convergence of events that produces mortgage stress, a euphemism for the terrible desperation you feel when you fear you’ll lose your home, despite screaming Scott Morrison’s reassurances that the size of your debt will comfort you. Expect to hear more from Monday’s MYEFO.

Funny things can happen to a Federal Treasurer, however, on his way to MYEFO. Scales can fall from his eyes. The old dry can become the new wet. Anything to make a set of wildly reckless estimates and “absurdly optimistic” projections, as UNSW economist Richard Holden calls them, look less irresponsible. Anything to make it look as if Morrison’s been doing his job instead of peddling discredited fiscal austerity under the guise of budget repair. Or just blaming Labor.

An anti-Keynesian jihadist, the wild-eyed Morrison, another nut-job whom Michael Pascoe dubs “the Malcolm Roberts of fiscal policy”, brandishes yet another dodgy study, backing his government’s economic reality denial – a “Treasury” report from Professor Tony Makin of Griffith University, claiming that our internationally acclaimed stimulus spending did not help us through the GFC, but was, in fact, a debt and deficit disaster. What we should have been doing is cutting taxes like New Zealand.

Makin is undeterred by the results. Out of all 34 OECD countries, New Zealand was hit with the longest recession. Not to worry that Treasury already rebutted this in 2014. Using figures readily available to anyone with an internet connection, Alan Austin concludes, by the end of 2010, the fortunes of Australia and New Zealand could hardly have contrasted further. Australia’s economy was clearly the best-performed in the world. Stimulus spending works.

Of course it’s possible Morrison has at last begun to take advice or consult economists, such as Richard Denniss of the Australia Institute, or a succession of governors of the Reserve bank or the OECD or the IMF which warns we could lose our AAA rating if we don’t borrow to invest in roads and schools and hospitals.

Yet it’s Liberal Party heresy to claim that any form of government debt is OK after years of Abbott and Hockey howling debt is evil while promising “a credible path back to surplus” a budgetary nirvana where we pretend that the nation’s economy is a household budget to the detriment of investing in infrastructure to meet the needs of a population growing by half a million a year.

“… cut welfare spending …”

On closer inspection, there is no conversion. Morrison is beefing about needing to get bad debt under control before he starts feeding us up on the good borrowings. Bad debt? He’s bashing the bludgers again. In a word, he wants to cut welfare spending, despite it depressing consumer spending further flattening economic activity and increasing social division. Equally, “inane and stupid” is his nonsense about mortgage debt.

Montgomery, who manages $1 billion worth of funds, leads a chorus of experts who explain it would not take much for highly indebted Australians to be caught out, unable to service their financial commitments. Real estate values can and do fall, despite popular myth. You can bet your house on it.

Your investment, moreover, is safe as houses, according to a parliamentary inquiry into housing affordability, which reports this week that it has no recommendations. Labor calls the Clayton’s report a waste of money. Developers delight in the report’s idea that a solution lies in “increased supply”.

Chaired by work experience boy David Coleman, a Liberal MP who has been in parliament a whole three years, the Committee into Housing Affordability says it did not want to mess with negative gearing because it had been such a feature of the Australian tax system over much of the last century, although, in fact, it was introduced by the Hawke-Keating government in 1985 before being suspended for two years, a period in which rents went up only in Sydney and Perth where rental properties were scarce. The Committee tables no evidence for its quaint argument from tradition.

Similarly, the Committee cautions against touching capital gains tax lest it have “a negative impact on the housing market and the broader economy” despite providing no evidence that this would be the case. Stamp duty is “inefficient and outdated” according to submissions received by the committee which could do nothing about this form of taxation because it was “a state matter” an argument based on the wilful denial of reality and history.

Alcohol and cigarettes were also once ” a state matter” but this did not stop the High Court in 1997 from striking down excise duties levied by the states over alcohol and tobacco and relieving them of $5 billion in annual revenue.

“… a twenty per cent decline …”

Let’s not be too harsh on screaming ScoMo. At last he admits that debt incurred investing in infrastructure is a good thing. Makes us wonder why his Coalition government has been unable to take that step under either Tony Abbot or his current, ineffectual clone. The government has presided over a twenty per cent decline in public infrastructure spending. But, hey, who needs roads, schools or hospitals when you can brag that you are on a credible path to surplus?

Who needs cheap electricity? Who needs clean, green energy when we have a coal industry past its use by date to protect? To most rational governments investing in a renewable energy industry is a no-brainer. Yet the Abbott/ Turnbull government has chosen to defy common sense and the advice of experts including those within its own ranks.

Luckily, help is on its way in the form of God’s gift to lip-readers, Michaelia Cash, who talks up a storm about how a teensy rise in unemployment should not detract from the tremendous good news of the participation rate, another piece of jargon which she translates as lots of us are “putting our hands up” for work. That really pays the bills. One month is not significant: the real trend is towards rising unemployment – Roy Morgan says it’s more like 9.2%

Even luckier, Eddie Obeid is sentenced to five years gaol, an event which has ABC News 24 running a banner of his evil while Chris Bowen, Labor’s shadow Treasurer offers some intelligent economic comment. “Is his sentence high enough?”, one young commentator asks a guest, as if we don’t have judges for that type of thing. Obeid’s sentencing is a handy means to smear Labor. No-one on ABC TV joins the dots from Obeid to Arthur Sinodinos.

Happily, Mike Baird has nobbled NSW’s ICAC before it did too much damage to the Liberals and their born to rule party and supporters. As Christmas approaches, it brings daily new evidence of a government not just out of its depth but one which is causing the economy to shrink by cutting spending and failing to invest in infrastructure while doing everything in its power to scapegoat the poor, the elderly, the unemployed.

While its “savings” policies help cause productivity to stall, inequality to widen and women’s participation to decline and as it retreats even further into its double-speak, the Coalition’s sole priority seems to be to look after its own as if driven by some deeper sense of threat into ever more desperate acts of blatant self-preservation; its brazen, grasping, self-regarding, narcissism, the very antithesis of the spirit of Christmas.

Turnbull claims shotgun victory in worst week of his political life.



“You won’t find an economist anywhere that will tell you anything other than that the most efficient and effective way to cut emissions is by putting a price on carbon.”

Malcolm Turnbull Q&A 5 July 2010


Dark clouds descend over Malcolm Turnbull’s future and over any vestige of hope his government will do anything real to reduce carbon pollution as the worst week of the PM’s disappointing political career exposes the disturbing truth of his utter captivity by the right-wing of his party. His bad week ends not with a bang but a whimper.

“Say it ain’t so Bro,” he tweets his pal John Key, on hearing of the Kiwi PM’s decision to abandon his very neoliberal ship. It’s a message his bestie could easily have sent him on report of his week’s epic failure.

Forced to choose between his Chief Scientist’s advice and an ETS which could help save Australia and the planet from global warming, or appeasing Cory Bernardi and the lunatic right, the PM plumps for keeping the nut jobs on side. It’s not so much political pragmatism as total capitulation. And political suicide.

Turnbull’s monumental failure of ticker triggers a chorus of scorn and disbelief. There is just too much on public record of Turnbull’s earlier passionate advocacy of carbon pricing to leave him a skerrick of credibility. He is too quick, moreover, to throw Josh Frydenberg under a bus.

Turnbull is “the most ineffective conservative prime minister since Billy McMahon” says Kevin Rudd whose record is obligingly besmirched this week by a fake report purporting to come from Treasury which challenges his stewardship of the economy in the GFC. Even Michelle Grattan reckons he’s run up a credibility deficit. Katherine Murphy drops the torch she holds for her PM to tell him he’s “gutless” and “talking crap”.

An expired Liberal leader, resurrected as leader with fanfare, primarily because he was not Tony Abbott, his stocks boosted by the willing suspension of disbelief and the wilful suppression of any memory of his original failure, Turnbull’s prime ministership is beginning to look a bit like the dead parrot in the Monty Python sketch.

“… (the) only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there…”

Nailing the lid on the environmental and economic management coffin, is news that Adani is to proceed with its Carmichael mine, thanks to a generous government coal lobby love-in subsidy, in the form of a $1 billion rail loan from the slush fund created by the grandly titled pie in the sky  North Australia Infrastructure Facility. Who could now heed a coalition which cries poor to make its case to cut funds to health, welfare and education and slash its public service workforce?

And how doubly untrue Sunday, is its claim funding two weeks’ domestic violence leave will damage the great god the economy? As Labor’s family violence spokeswoman, Terri Butler, point outs “It’s domestic violence, not domestic violence leave, that costs our economy and harms our international competitiveness, citing KPMG research that estimated domestic violence cost Australia $13b a year.

In one stroke, the Turnbull government proves it does not give a fig for the environment, global warming or its responsibilities as a world citizen and that it is prepared to tear up any social contract, renounce any commitment to a fair and just society. Let it regurgitate the propaganda of the mining and business lobbies. The Adani approval is a fatal error.

Federal Northern Australia Minister, Matt Canavan, tellingly says it is the “biggest news for North Queensland since the Beatles came to Australia”. Sadly, his government’s view of the environment is also stuck in 1964.

Mainstream media spins outrageous fictions, long disproved, about the mine creating masses of jobs despite Adani’s own testimony in the Queensland Land Court last year of 1464 full-time jobs. “Bring millions of Indians out of poverty” recites Adani Australia chief executive officer Jeyakumar Janakaraj in a bare-faced lie straight from Peabody Energy’s website, a wilful piece of coal industry propaganda which flies entirely in the face of the facts. 84% of India’s poor live in rural areas beyond the reach of the grid. Those who don’t, can’t afford the prices.

Coal is a slayer not a saviour of the poor. One Indian study found that in 2011-12 exposure to pollution from coal-fired power plants killed at least 80,000 Indians and inflicted health problems on tens of millions more. In Queensland, last year, black lung was reported to have returned to the industry, causing the deaths of four miners and potentially putting thousands more at risk. The monitoring system appears to have failed.

Failing us too are our leaders. Nowhere in the national energy conversation is there room for truth. Along with Resources Minister Matt Canavan, Labor Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk ought to be charged with wilful deception. She keenly recycles the mining lobby’s lies of ten thousand jobs. Nowhere is there mention of the adverse effects on the Great Barrier Reef due to the mine’s use.

Nor are miners good tax payers. Energy and resources sectors have the highest level of non-payment. Fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil Australia, Chevron Australia, Peabody Australia, and Whitehaven are among those that paid no tax for 2013-14.

If they can’t be good corporate citizens, bugger the planet. Last year, in a brilliant bit of sophistry, Greg Hunt argued that the global warming achieved by burning the coal exported from Carmichael was not significant when calculating environmental effects.

Nowhere is there any admission that no Australian bank is prepared to fund the world’s largest new mine. The railway subsidy offer is received with great ceremony but Adani is in no state to begin digging. A sense of national leadership in abdication, a commonwealth in disarray is heightened as Australia is torn between appeasing the demands of the declining mining states of Queensland and Western Australia and the needs of the rest of the Commonwealth. Above all is the stench of appeasement at any price.

Crushed by the burden of a nation’s unmet expectations and led on a leash by the rabid right, the weary PM picks his way out of COAG alone, Friday, cursing his self-inflicted, self-funded fate and his overweening ambition for leading him to believe he could be PM at any price. Any price except a carbon price.

Monday begins well, for the planet and common sense. Josh Frydenberg is a model of reasoned moderation on ABC radio, “We know that there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme. We’ll look at that.”

Frydenberg is merely faintly reflecting his own party’s former policy. The record is clear. “The Liberal Party has a policy of both protecting the planet and protecting Australia. We support, in principle, an Emissions Trading Scheme” trills Julie Bishop in an electorate newsletter, September 2008.

Greg Hunt, best minister in Dubai’s view of world 2015, ever generous with superlative, gushes with praise for St John Howard, Liberator of Iraq, spinning his crafty bet-hedging on carbon tax in May 2008 as visionary , “Perhaps the most important domestic policy was the decision of the Howard government that Australia will implement a national carbon trading system. … We hope that the new government will take up this proposal.”

Federal Treasurer Scott “pothole” Morrison was all for embracing an ETS in June 2009. “There are a suite of tools we need to embrace to reduce emissions. I believe an emissions trading scheme, in one form or another, is one of those tools. Placing a price on carbon … is inevitable.”

Even captain turn-back himself was on board with an ETS. “You cannot have a climate change policy without supporting this ETS at this time,” Tony Abbott babbled in 2009, support the suppository of wisdom now says he never gave. Onya, Tone. Play your cards right and you’ll be back on the PM perch in no time. Dead set.

In the same year, Steve Ciobo, who has since moved on to lead the free trade happy clappers church, was all prophetic vision and pious intent “We want to work constructively because we recognise that in the future around the world in most developed economies if not all there will be an ETS of some sort.”

“We went to the last election with an ETS policy—many have forgotten that fact,” Sussan Ley lectures in 2009. Little did she know then how completely her party would renounce its vision. Malcolm Turnbull has not forgotten. Although his defeat was largely because then, as now, he was unable to unite and lead his team, he still needs to blame his defeat on his support of an ETS. It couldn’t have been his leadership.

Hansard records many other Coalition politicians who were to deny their faith; becoming hypocrites and converts to the Direct Action boondoggle as the price of their loyalty to Abbott; pinning their hopes to their party’s dazzling, rising star in lycra Tony Abbott who won his ascendancy over Turnbull by one vote and sealed it with a crusade against what he falsely called a carbon tax and its supporters in the 2013 election.

With all of its previous advocacy on board, the Coalition’s modern allergy to anything to do with an ETS is even more shocking – and yet another toxic legacy of the hyper-partisan Abbott era where carbon emissions were a stick to beat Labor.

Barely has Frydenberg shut his mouth before the air is filled with shrieks of heresy and the grinding of pitchforks. By Wednesday, after cabinet meets to force him to recant, the early worm is given the bird; Fry-in-hell Frydenberg is forced to retract, rescind and disavow in a Hobart news conference. He ships out to Antarctica, as you do. An ETS, his PM thunders, rising to cleanse the broad church of the Liberal Party from the sulphuric stench of climate apostasy, is dead buried and cremated. Wash your mouth out with coal tar soap.

Craig Kelly, coal fire in his belly, goes on ABC to reprise a Tony Abbott standard about power bills, lamb roasts and a Bee Gees’ inspired song about the lights all going out in old Whyalla. Barnaby Joyce echoes his former master’s voice. Even Turnbull lapdog, mincing poodle Christopher Pyne, yaps in time to the music, nipping the hand that feeds him along with a small army of defence contractors who are laughing all the way to the bank.

It’s all too much for South Australian PM, jolting Jay Weatherill, who publicly rebukes the PM for heading a government “clearly bought and sold by the coal club”. He invokes Turnbull’s commitment to “mature evidence-based policy” communicated “through sophisticated explanation rather than infantile slogans”. He says “that’s all we are asking for here”. Turnbull looks as if he’s made to look a complete fraud and a fool. He has.

Weatherill accuses the PM of ignoring his own Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, and for “mischievous” lying about an ETS pushing prices up. Finkel and others have the figures to show it won’t. Weatherill won’t let up. “Many Australians were optimistic that Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership would provide us with sensible policy debate and action in the national interest. After this week’s events, any remaining optimism has now evaporated.”

The truth clearly hurts. Yet repeating the myths and clichés of coal lobby propaganda will cost more. Weatherill warns Turnbull his job is at stake. “The Prime Minister lost his job in relation to a decision back a few years ago. It would be a great irony if he was to lose his job for a second time being on the opposite side of the debate.” Ouch.

Turnbull’s coal-powered government has been attacking Weatherill for months, assisted by the ABC and led by News Corp’s The Australian, falsely accusing him of setting “reckless” and “ideologically-driven” targets for renewable energy generation which have compounded the state’s massive power outage and threatened the state’s “energy security.” In reality, electricity prices soared when power was privatised and were helpfully boosted by Tony Abbott’s 2013 ten per cent bonus to power companies for investment in poles and wires which has raised costs to consumers by fifty per cent.

Now Turnbull backs into the blades of a spinning wind turbine. Or several. He, again, shows his utter contempt for the electorate. As Bernard Keane points out, “he has ratified an international agreement to reduce our emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2030 and has nothing that will achieve even that unambitious target.”

Less popular now than his predecessor Tony Abbott, when he deposed him, his political credit long spent, a weak, forsaken leader of a bitterly divided Coalition, he further shrinks to a bad Abbott caricature over carbon. His humiliating back-down on just a hint of a discussion paper on an emissions trading scheme, provokes a storm of media criticism and bad publicity. SA talks of going it alone on carbon pricing and Victoria pleads for real leadership. Has ever a Prime Minister been so comprehensively routed?

Monday’s announcement of his government’s long scheduled review of Direct Action which would include a system of baseline and credit carbon permits for electricity generators only is rescinded, even denied by Josh Frydenberg but 36 hours later, an ignoble retreat in panic at the prospect of a party room revolt.

Cory Bernardi, his courage up after three months in New York observing the UN and the rise of Donald Trump, spearheads the attack calling his government’s plans to consider some form of ETS, “one of the dumbest things he had ever heard”. From Beastie Boy Cory Bernardi, that is saying something.

Sunday, Cory’s all over the media protesting that Centrelink is authorising polygamy, by making payments to Muslims with several wives. Miranda Devine and Peta Credlin quickly leap on the Muslim-PC-welfare bashing bandwagon. “Just completely ridiculous” barks Belgian Shepherd Mathias Cormann, the alternative is a single parent payment which is more expensive than a partner payment. But it’s about the Islamophobic dog-whistle not the cost to the budget. Imagine what these gurus could do if 18C were repealed.

Environmental warrior Bernardi echoes Trump in calling for Australia to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, “for the good of the country”. He also falsely claims the move would drive down power prices, a line coalition members are queuing up to repeat in the most recent set of government post-truth talking points.

“Hardworking Australians”, as Turnbull likes to divide us, are left to wonder who is running the country, a puzzle which is not eased by the release of figures showing a quarter of negative growth, a contraction in GDP of 0.5%. By cutting public spending and failing to invest in infrastructure, Scott Morrison is depressing the economy; sloganeering about jobs and growth yet delivering neither. He pretends the news is a surprise.

In an admission, surely, that his government has been asleep at the wheel for the past four years, he candidly calls the bad figures as a “wake-up call”. What he means is that Labor should get behind the corporate tax cuts, an imperative which is somewhat undermined by the release this week by the ATO of figures which show that a third of companies paid no tax last financial year with QANTAS heading the list.

Who is in charge? It’s “The Cory Bernardi government” runs a popular tweet as Turnbull’s right wing masters, yank him ignominiously into line with their climate-change denying, coal-industry serving and anti-Labor stance. We won’t meet our Paris climate change targets, Chief Scientist Alan Finkel warns COAG, and avoiding an ETS will add $15 billion to the cost of electricity, over a decade, but our government plans to do nothing about it.

Instead, in another capitulation to the Nationals, COAG agrees to import the Adler shotgun. A press release Friday, stresses “heavy restrictions” in an indictment of the Federal government’s evasion of real leadership and effective decision-making unrivalled since its backpacker tax fiasco last week.

The seven-shot model Adler A110 is restricted to professional shooters prompting howls of outrage from the shooters, fishers and farmers party yet the five-shot model is re-classified B, from A where it sat alongside air rifles, yet still putting a semi-automatic shotgun within the reach of a wide sector of the population. Experts attest to the ease with which this model can be modified to an eleven-shot without reloading weapon. Somehow, Turnbull tries to spin the result as a good thing.

‘This is the first time the national firearms agreement has been strengthened in this way in 20 years,’ he tells reporters.

Turnbull is not alone in his humiliating carbon back down. Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is forced to deny from Antarctica that he ever suggested emission trading schemes, despite clearly announcing this Monday in foreshadowing his government’s proposed review of energy policy scheduled for 2017.

It’s “an extraordinary, gutless capitulation” writes Turnbull admirer Katharine Murphy. Frydenberg’s lie is quickly exposed by ABC TV and radio news which replays recording of the Minister’s Monday media release.

Help is on its way. Pauline Hanson’s recent flying visit to Launceston confirms reports that One Nation plans to expand into Tasmania. Although her party invariably votes for the government it is nice to offer the people of Tasmania the illusion of choice. Interviewed in her bathers, as she subjects the Great Barrier Reef to her empirical testing, only 1300 km south of where the coral is bleaching, she is a model of lucidity:

“We are being controlled by the UN and these agreements that have been done for people’s self-interest and where they are driving our nation as a sovereignty and the economics of the whole lot,” Hanson tells an adoring media in her best, incoherent, manner. Please explain? You can’t. But it makes as much sense as current flip-flop, appease-the-right-at-all-costs, post-truth coal-lobby Coalition policy.

Despite win-spin, Turnbull government ends week in chaos and contempt for the people.


“A bunch of bong-sniffing, dole-bludging, moss-munching, glue-guzzling, K-Mart Castros are again vandalising Parliament. And stopping other opinions being heard.” Queensland LNP senator and PM’s Assistant Minister, James McGrath, sneers at twenty members of the Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance who disrupt Question Time mid-week with a plea to end the punitive detention of the 1300 innocent men women and children held on Manus and Nauru. “Close the bloody camps now,” they urge. Even worse, WACA is back next day abseiling down the building with a banner; putting red dye in the water feature.

For a moment, the government is flummoxed; shocked to hear the people they represent speak up, out of turn in parliament. Yet no-one heeds the message. MSM turns not to the protesters’ concerns but how best to keep the people out the people’s house. Democracy is under attack, squawk Shorten and Turnbull in unison. Only The Greens applaud the protesters. But nothing happens. To those suffering the torture of indefinite detention in the open air rape camp on Nauru and on Manus, the government’s Christmas present is the cruel hoax of false expectation of resettlement in the US, a prospect which recedes daily in the wake of news of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team opposition.

Turnbull is typically conflicted. Earlier, he seemed cautious about a proposed $60 million security upgrade to parliament house which includes 2.5 metre high barriers. “We have always got to make sure the people’s house… is as open and accessible as it can be and we try to get the right balance there,” says the leader of a government whose secrets and lies over Manus and Nauru include making government operations off-limits to journalists and criminalising whistle-blowers.

Turnbull’s Australian people are free to marvel at the architecture, listen to Question Time, even take a selfie, provided they don’t get fancy ideas about inspecting policy, expecting accountability or, God forbid, voicing their outrage about our government’s human rights abuses on Nauru. The new, you-beaut, security measures are voted in on Thursday in what constitutes the government’s biggest victory all week; part of its drive to curtail, if not outlaw, the impertinence of political dissent. Oddly, no-one from the repeal 18C brigade leaps forward to defend the protesters’ freedom of speech.

The right to protest has long offended the Coalition, especially should it impede oil rigs and coal mines. Australia’s offshore oil regulator is censoring documents about BP’s plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight because environmental campaigners could use the information to “oppose all drilling activities” there. If they could understand them. The plans, it tells Greenpeace, who requested details under FOI, are too “technical” for the public to understand. Yet the FOI Act states that government agencies cannot consider whether releasing information “could result in confusion or unnecessary debate”.

Accountable to Energy and Resources Minister Josh Freydenberg, The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority told a senate inquiry in November that BP’s application “was still in play” and the company could sell its right to drill to another company if its application was successful. NOPSEMA, which is said to be reviewing its transparency is our gatekeeper for information which in all other OECD countries is a public document.

Similarly, Attorney General George Brandis aims to change the Environment and Biodiversity Act to restrict green groups from challenging major developments under federal law after Adani’s Carmichael Mine was challenged on environmental grounds in what Brandis attacks as “green lawfare.” Labor opposes any such change.

Its gang-bashing of Bill Shorten, rudely interrupted, a rattled government scurries out of the House by the nearest exit, leaving only its supercilious sneer behind, a dysfunctional, discombobulated Cheshire cat, its lily-livered leader cowed in yet another humiliating retreat. Later, safely behind an ABC microphone, Turnbull urges reprisals. The protests, he thunders, are an appalling “denial of democracy” … an affront to the Australian people. Unlike Coalition asylum seeker policy or an ABCC which makes it harder for construction unions to protect workers who risk their lives to earn a living.

Construction sector fatalities rose between 2005- 2012 during the last ABCC. On historical data, Turnbull’s reintroduction of the ABCC will cost another ten deaths a year, calculates Bernard Keane. As it stands, big companies can “get away with murder”, says CFMEU Queensland District President Stephen Smyth. Mining giant Anglo American pleads guilty this week to disregarding safety obligations, causing the death of worker Paul McGuire at its Grasstree mine, North-West of Rockhampton. The company settles with a paltry fine of $137,000.

While concessions to cross-benchers by a government desperate for any kind of victory mean that the heavily amended ABBC bill amounts to a re-badged Fair Work Building and Construction according to Andrew Stewart, University of Adelaide employment law expert, it still empowers Michaelia Cash to impose on Commonwealth contractors, a new building industry code of practice. This will spread to other major construction firms. The code will strike down Enterprise Bargaining and prevent “virtually everything” unions would seek to negotiate.

Labor sticks to its post in Parliament at least when the government clears out fearing the protesters. It’s a brief respite in the LNP’s war on Bill Shorten. A succession of MPs are howling down the Opposition Leader, rubbishing his union history and accusing him of post truth politics and lying before trumpeting its own fiction that passing its bastardised ABCC bill and resolving its backpacker tax fiasco are somehow victories; vital to running the country and not just desperate political expediency, critical only to saving Turnbull’s bacon. Parliament is given over to hysterical denunciation and personal attacks. Like a bad rash, the madness of “Good Captain” Abbott’s regime flares up again.

Even Laurie Oakes is disgusted. The government’s conduct is “grubby, unedifying, unpleasant. A week of brinkmanship, horse trading, and undisguised cynicism.” The Coalition’s unrelenting kill Bill invective is primitive, shrill and eerily reminiscent of March 2011 when Tony Abbott stood next to a sign urging “ditch the witch”, near another sign reading “JuLiar Bob Brown’s bitch”.

An ugly undertone of misogyny enters as Liberals itch to ditch Kimberly Kitching, Labor’s recent appointment to a casual senate vacancy by repeating unsubstantiated allegation made in Tony Abbott’s $46 million Heydon Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption 2014. The smear was made during the long witch hunt into unions which led to only one criminal conviction but provided many a handy stick to beat Labor with all this week.

“The Leader of the Opposition deliberately parachuted into the Senate Kimberley Kitching to become Senator Kitching, who is alleged to have fraudulently filled out the safety tests for six union leaders in the Health Services Union,” Pyne crows, labelling the new senator a “Captain’s Pick”. Pyne, the mouth that roars, hyperventilates with confected outrage.

Parachuted into a portfolio he might not stuff up, Pyne is currently fighting a turf war with Marise Payne who refuses to tell Senator Labor’s Kim Carr who is the senior Defence Minister in a partnership which has yet to be clarified, Labor Senator Don Farrell points out, more than three months after Turnbull’s government was sworn in, despite ABC reports of duplication and confusion from Defence and industry.

In July, Turnbull promised something better. “I believe they want our Parliament to offload the ideology, to end the juvenile theatrics and gotcha moments, to drop the personality politics.” Instead, he has presided over more of the same, subtly undermined by his patent insincerity, his own, inner lack of conviction, achieving a hollow, stagey theatricality; a bad, toothless, flea-bitten, parody of Abbott’s junkyard dog.

The government line is that Labor is not the Labor Party of old; the party of Hawke and Keating but one ruled by militant unions and bosses who exploit their members. It’s a high-risk strategy which invokes invidious comparison between Fizza Turnbull and two real Prime Ministers. Further, “hard-working Australians” may not be wooed by Liberal nostalgia for a time when neoliberal Labor PMs traded off workers’ wages and conditions for companies to increase their profits; increasing inequality, vastly shrinking union membership and eroding Labor’s traditional support-base.

The semi-slavery of an itinerant and readily exploited expanding migrant rural workforce is the sordid reality behind the backpacker tax which is tricked up in parliament as a favour to rich white tourists. Instead, it is the result of an unregulated underpaid and increasingly illegal cut-throat labour market exploited by farmers and fruit growers to meet the ever lower prices offered them by our dog eat dog supermarket duopoly plus upstart Aldi. The real crisis lies not in the government’s utter incompetence in levying an effective backpacker tax rate, but in our economy’s growing dependence on ever cheaper part time or contract and piece rate labour, a legacy of the neo-liberal Hawke and Keating regimes.

Labor’s Accord with the ACTU removed union opposition to Labor’s neo-liberal “reform” agenda, helping governments to strip away hard-won rights and drive down living standards. Risky or not, however, the Shorten-is-no-Keating nor-is-he- Hawke tactic diverts attention from Attorney-General George Brandis, whose crisis-ridden tenure must surely end soon. Brandis awaits a Senate inquiry into how he directed Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson to argue in the Bell Group High Court case or his role in an alleged deal to dud the ATO of $300 million in 2015. Brandis’ retirement is imminent judging by Turnbull’s perfunctory support. “Of course I do,” he says when Labor asks if he still supports his AG.

Labor knows union-bashing failed the PM miserably last election. And as for harping on about how unfit your opponent is to be the nation’s leader, look how well that worked recently for Hillary’s campaign against Donald Trump. Labor’s most powerful indictment comes from the protesters’ banner outside. It reads “Labor: No opposition to cruelty”

Yet there are some extraordinary if not recklessly indulgent union-bashing performances. Turnbull repeatedly trumps up his rhetoric insisting absurdly that the Labor Party “is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CFMEU”. Barnaby barnyard Joyce goes barking mad and attempts to throw the dictionary at the Opposition leader’s character. Shorten is “swarmy and lubricious.” He reads a scabrous, unsubstantiated TURC allegation until stopped mid-blow job reference by the speaker. Joyce has no problem, however, parroting his PM’s outrageous lie that the ABCC will reduce housing costs, a lie which has drawn censure from The Australia Institute’s senior economist, Dr Jim Stanford.

Stamford, has recently published a report rebutting what he says is the Prime Minister’s “appalling” ideological claim that a tougher construction union watchdog would make houses more affordable. There is no link between construction costs and rising house prices. The property bubble is not the fault of unions.

Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull repeatedly mock Wayne Swan for being the author of Joe Hockey’s backpacker tax. It’s a transparent lie which reveals more about the speaker than the object of ridicule. Turnbull could be talking about himself and his ABCC or his capitulation to his right wing or his Faustian deal with the Nationals to become Prime Minister.

“The hypocrisy of this Leader of the Opposition knows no bounds. He has no regard for consistency. He has no regard for accuracy. He is concerned only with seizing one political opportunity after another—no principles, no integrity, no consistency, no accuracy and no regard for the truth. Except there is one truth we all know about this Leader of the Opposition: he will stop at nothing to pursue his own political self-interest.”

The parliamentary year ends with Turnbull having managed to tidy his sock drawer, says Lenore Taylor. The Backpacker tax which was Hockey’s solution to the debt and deficit disaster so urgent a year or so ago will raise less than a spit in the bucket over four years. Expect instead an expansion in the cash in hand work force. Expect more overworked, underpaid, scammed Pacific Islanders and Malaysian pickers in orchards, vineyards and packing sheds. Getting big companies to pay their tax or getting a fair return from our gas exports which should be worth $400 billion over the next ten years, according to the Tax Justice Network are far more productive tasks which the government has squibbed.

Despite the government “getting on with the job” or “ending the year with a win” spin on a pliant media; despite all the lies that houses will become cheaper in a “win for the economy”, its last week is a tour de force of chaos and crisis beneath the smokescreen of its war on Bill Shorten, its attack on unions and hence the wages and conditions of the average worker. $50 billion’s worth of tax cuts to companies, promised this year as a first priority, can only further increase inequality and divide a society which is increasingly polarised between those few at the top and the rest.

Best SNAFU comes on Thursday. The government could pass a backpackers tax rate of 13% in the senate Thursday. It has the numbers. Instead, it waits to be rescued by The Greens, an inexplicable move which costs it $100 million which will go to Landcare. Pressed (lightly) for an explanation, the PM says he loves Landcare and wouldn’t hear a word against it.

The ABCC, which has never been another cop on the beat, or a tough watch dog, is gutted of its ugly STASI-like powers and is all trussed up like a Christmas turkey with local preference rules, economic benefit strings and such trimmings as Doug Cameron’s hire Australian unless there is “no Australian suitable” for the job clause which has nothing to do with the spirit of the act but which will bugger the 457 Visa and impose more red tape and expense on a body in a bill which was supposed to streamline construction and lower building costs.

In the end the self-styled Fixer, a self-satisfied Christopher Pyne preens. “We’ll do a deal with anybody to get things done,” he says on Friday, making a virtue out of the sheer, unbridled, horse-trading of the government of the turning bull in its last week of the year where doing something, anything, is preferable to searching for the right thing, the democratic thing, the just thing. Not a word about principle, ideal or dedication to the common good.

All tip and no iceberg, to quote Paul Keating, Turnbull’s government for the elite by the elite ends the year spruiking success but all it has to show is a big new security fence.