Turnbull’s terror bust raises big questions over his government and his leadership.

yellow and blue afp

Riotous splashes of daffodil – Petals on a wet, black bough, cheer a bleak Lakemba Street, in the flare of an OB TV van’s lighting, while the sounds of big diesel heaving and the grinding -peep-peep-peep of a garbage truck in reverse greet the nation Monday as it wakes to a motley squad of glum Teletubbies sifting rubbish. Who are they?

Surely it’s not our jolly AFP, out to fit up another Labor NBN leaker? Colvin’s cowboys? It’s all a visual riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, all rolled up in sodden copies of the Bankstown-Canterbury Torch, ever at hand to take care of any Lakemba household’s potato-peelings and discarded jihadi bomb components.

Sproule St’s canary-kitted bin-pickers are an establishing shot in a post-modern apocalyptic story of four Muslims, a halal meat-grinder and a fart gas plot. Fittingly, this week’s freak-out anti-terror squad is not in camouflage grunge. Last week’s gas masks, machine guns and assault vehicles yield to a form of Bananas in Pyjamas rig.

Oblivious to all hysteria, the wallopers seem part of a slow dance routine. Cue Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers.

The week’s wondrous political theatre includes a piece to camera in a brilliantly improvised disaster narrative – “one of the most sophisticated plots“…  ever attempted on Australian soil” – (we’ve had none before.) And what a ripper plot it is.

Four Men and a Mincer is a televisual feast. Every tidbit is filled with suspense and wonder. Fart gas? Wood scraps – errant Kebab skewers, perhaps? Brother, Khaled, planned to fly to Jakarta, terror capital of Indonesia?

Unknown to the airline, the police and even his brother, Mr Khayat packed a military-grade bomb, concealed in a kitchen meat mincer, in his brother’s check-in bag”? Bro didn’t notice the extra weight?  His bro’s teary farewell?

And “how very dare he”, as Catherine Tate says, not notify police or at least Etihad airlines, his carrier of choice.

In a novel twist the bomb or “IED”, (acronyms boost legitimacy), is Australia’s first FIFO explosive. “Authorities”, a term which helps convey authority, (together with breathless hyperbole and a total bypass of scepticism or hint of critical thinking), report bomb ingredients were flown from ISIS in Turkey, and delivered via the recently retired $4.8 million dollar gunpowder-runner Ahmed Fahour’s Australia Post. In another first, our terror goes postal.

FIFO clinches it. Terror fans today all know, full well, how ISIS has fiendishly ingenious ways of achieving the impossible – possibly disguising the explosives in a cunningly re-purposed receptacle such as a pressure-cooker. It’s extraordinary, moreover, that no traces of Semtex or C4 seem to have been found despite extreme “scouring”.

But wait. As luck has it, The Daily Telegraph a terror-organ hot-wired to Coalition HQ, is on hand to record a major discovery. OMG. Just as well the plot was foiled. Could’ve been Australia’s 9/11. Sharri Markson has a moment.

“Officers, dressed in yellow plastic jumpsuits, meticulously went through each garbage bag, going through avocado skins, beer bottles, egg shells and fast food wrappers before finding the flight receipt, which was ripped and soggy,” Markson records. Kerbside developments are relayed in relentlessly prosaic detail. Terrifying.

Soggy? NSW Commissioner Mick malaprop Fuller uses “forensic” to stress how well his men scour the area.

As befits any witch-hunt, there is no right to privacy. Nor is any presumption of innocence extended by The Tele which helpfully provides photographs, names, addresses and maps to assist rubber-neckers and vigilantes.

Nothing is left to chance, however. Neighbour Kate Harrison swoons.“There must have been at least 40 riot squad police with huge guns.” Massive swarms of police help reinforce the myth of our “probable” terror threat; the diabolical cunning, the fiendish “sophistication” of our enemies, the Lakemba jihadis, one of whom didn’t notice the sudden extra weight as a heavy home-made bomb disguised as a mincer made its way into his hand luggage.

Spin-off of the week is won by the tall tale of the travelling mincer. Top Cops, boost airport security whilst maintaining peak paranoia, by taking an each-way bet. Yeah. It was yet to pass metal detectors, they say, before being rejected because it was too heavy to be allowed on the flight. Yeah. Nah. Our systems didn’t fail us.

Sophisticated? Imagine the scene. “I know you say your bastard brother always packs the family travelling halal mincer for you, but I’m sorry, Mr Khaled, you either remove that IED from your bag or we can’t let you on board.”

All is calculated to steal the nation’s gaze away from the government’s Murray-Darling $13.5 bn water scandal, its NBN disaster, its energy policy failure, news of record carbon emissions, its marriage equality snafu, the revelation of un-renounced dual citizen-fifth columnists lurking in its midst, the leaking of the PM’s duplicity over our refugee deal, the CBA bank’s money-laundering for drug syndicates and other self-inflicted crises and catastrophes.

Self-inflicted? In another of its brilliant reforms, the Abbott government made AUSTRAC, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre financially dependent on the same mafia it was supposed to keep honest. It moved AUSTRAC in 2014 to what it said with a straight face was ” a full industry-based funding model” which meant government funding would be replaced by an industry level. As long as AUSTRAC kept in sweet with the banks.

But look over there. No. Not our shameful abdication of responsibility for Manus. Not the farce of a non-binding, non-compulsory postal plebiscite, certain to be served upon the nation, Tuesday. Not The Great Equivocator Malcolm Turnbull’s slapdown over his resolute evasion of constitutional recognition for indigenous peoples – that’s too ambitious” even though – or, perhaps – because Labor is proposing it. No. It’s a Lakemba-terror. Look out!

Of course it’s not all meant to drive us to distraction. A well-executed terror scare helps us embrace our political leaders and reinforce their need to frighten us further. As experts point out, it is not clear-cut, however, although evidence suggests a terror threat can benefit right wing politicians, especially election candidates.

To create maximum consternation, a mincer is pressed into service as the engine of an “Islamic-based” plot. An inspired choice of device, “mincer” bolts the exotic to the domestic right in your own kitchen. Inventive? Sinister. Not only is ISIS coming to get us, as Abbott warned, our household appliances are not what they may seem.

There is a teensy evidentiary problem. No-one has been able to find the Kenwood in question. Happily, habeas corpus no longer holds up our streamlined anti terror laws. Mostly it’s straight to jail even if you only have a dumb plan. Yet it’s deadly serious. The attention to detail in costume alone signals a bin squad that means business.

Yellow plastic terror-proof cover-alls contrast vividly with blue kitchen gloves, blue plastic bags and the cerulean blue tarps everything in the bin is tipped out on. It’s more than a visual feast to lift a nation’s spirits, it’s a religious ceremony, the ritual elevation of the AFP into a priestly class.

Almost up there with ASIO, our AFP hierophants are blessed with supernatural powers to divine all manner of evil.

And keep us safe. The saffron vestments help cement the deal. A buttercup cop in a surgical mask upends a gun-metal grey garbage bin. Voila! But take heed, political deviants and dissenters. Our moral, metaphysical, if not spiritual, guardians sift rubbish with all the unhurried, unsmiling thoroughness of a gang of Mumbai rag-pickers.

Four Men … is a high-stakes, top-quality attention-grabbing drama, a long, suspenseful, terrifying stake-out.

Lethal. Yairs. Top cops tell us how an exploding mince-maker could bring down an airliner in a setting of utter suburban dullness, a plot device and a location so humdrum it takes the banality of evil to a whole new level.

Worse, Channel 7 rants, in more, explosive, revelations. It has wind of a back up plan to launch a Hydrogen Sulphide or fart gas attack on a public transport network system in Sydney. Is there no end to Muslim perfidy? But, wait, something’s on the nose. Of course, Seven has just re-releasing an AFP press release – and it’s a bit whiffy.

The gas is toxic in sufficient concentration but the volume required, Professor Greg Barton, who enjoys regular media billing as a Deakin counter-terrorism expert, argues, rules out any carry on luggage. You’d need a truckload.

And it’s only talk. AFP deputy commissioner of national security Michael Phelan reveals that a second terror plot was “allegedly being discussed by the accused”. Yet even this can be dressed up as scary. The men discussed “… building of an improved chemical dispersion device,” Phelan claims. It’s enough, moreover, to get you charged.

For News Corp’s Sharri Markson, who relays an anonymous minister (not Peter Dutton) the real terrorists are Tim Wilson, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Dean Smith and Warren Entsch who are agitating for a conscience vote.

“Today we need to be talking about terrorism and the fantastic work our agencies have done — but instead, because of these saboteurs, these suicide bombers in our own party, we’re talking about same-sex marriage.”

Not another agenda hi-jack! Markson’s “minister” (not Peter Dutton) pretends that government can’t possibly talk about more than one thing at a time. It’s an indictment, to claim our elected representatives can’t “fart and chew gum at the same time” (as Johnson said of Gerald Ford) but it’s now a Coalition orthodoxy; a standard evasion.

Do we really need to baste the carcass of an open society in its own juices by gushing praise over police, paramilitary and other agents of coercion? Haven’t we valorised anyone in uniform enough already? What we need to acknowledge is how well anti-terror laws and terror bust theatre help conceal the terror of the state.

Our draconian security laws threaten our open society. As The MEAA points out we have criminalised the truth and suppressed the right to know. Despite George Brandis, Barnaby Joyce and company, it’s the state whose terror laws are “law-fare” – not the protests of environmental groups which the government seeks to silence.

Michael Forst, UN Special Rapporteur, last October criticised The Turnbull government for its bill to prevent individuals or organisations that have engaged in environmental activities in the past two years from challenging decisions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Others have instanced our Border Force Act 2015 which can put you in jail for two years if you reveal anything about Manus or Nauru. Too bad if this cuts across your professional obligation to report physical and mental harm.

But the Coalition has not been content just to outlaw whistleblowers and suppress dissent. It deploys its own terror. News “breaks” this week that 38,000 Centrelink pensioners receive “Taskforce Integrity” letters from the Department of Human Services which bear an AFP logo to help instil fear. The letters, sent late July, warn often terrified recipients against deliberately withholding or providing false information to dishonestly collect payments.

Since 2015, DHS has sent over 85,000 letters with AFP logo to welfare recipients in nine national locations. Should any  government put the frighteners on its most vulnerable?  ACOSS head, Sandra Goldie, is in no doubt,

“It is completely inappropriate for the government to send letters to income support recipients with the Australian Federal Police logo asking if their details are up to date.” “These letters are threatening and completely disregard any mental health issue the person may have.”

Yet, distressingly, the issue attracts little MSM attention and despite its Robo-claw debt recovery debacle, the government is determined to press on with its standover tactics and its efforts to shakedown pensioners to find the small change down the back of the couch while allowing 36 per cent of large companies to pay no tax whatsoever. Oxfam calculates multinational tax avoidance costs Australia $6 billion in revenue every year.

No-one on the Tele, nor any another MSM recalls that it was a “relaxed and comfortable” John Howard in 2004 who took it upon himself to change the Marriage Act to exclude gay couples. Nor that he did it without plebiscite.

True, there was a bit of a fuss when he also proposed to ban same sex couples from adopting children from other countries, but he was able to abandon that part of his “reform” in his hope of quickly wedging Labor.

He wished, he claimed, “…to  make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament…”

In fact, as he did with school chaplains, arch-conservative Howard imposed his own prejudices on the nation, pausing only to insult us that he had read our’ minds for us. In this sense, he planted an IED of his own that his indulged disciple, Tony Abbott, our accidental Prime Minister, was able to augment with a bomb of his own.

Losing control of an unruly six hour party room meeting stacked with Nationals dinosaurs and desperate to head off a conscience vote, Abbott got his then deputy PM Julie Bishop to propose a plebiscite. It was a word which Wokka Entsch reckons he never heard. Yet it put a time-bomb under Turnbull which is ticking louder by the day.

In a secret, special “emergency” meeting of the Liberal party room scheduled for next Monday, Turnbull  will continue his mission of open and transparent, cabinet based decision-making government by trying to engineer a solution which will preserve his confidential, Faustian compact with the National Party.

What has upset the conservatives is news that WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith wishes to introduce a private member’s bill in favour of a conscience vote in parliament. Planning of this was leaked when last June when in a kiss of death, Christopher Pyne overshared his view that a bill would be introduced “sooner than everyone thinks.”

It was not so much the assertion itself which had Liberal die-hard rightists spluttering but his allied claim that the left-wing of the Liberal Party had taken over a vision calculated to inflame the passions of the Abbott, Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews and the ten or so “Deplorables” who like to style themselves as conservatives.

Michelle Grattan who knows people who know people in Canberra believes the five amigos have unleashed an existential battle which goes to the heart of Turnbull’s leadership, a locus, itself a vexed conundrum. Like some reverse terror group, those pro a SSM conscience vote, she says, have engineered an “extraordinary implosion”.

It won’t come to a fight. In typically assertive fashion, the PM’s made it clear that he won’t lead or embrace a position himself. In truth he doesn’t have the political capital to do much else – and even less authority.

What could possibly go wrong? Courting disaster is the par for the course with him. Politics, Groucho Marx reminds us, is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

If all goes to plan, the PM will be able to brandish a non-binding, non-compulsory postal plebiscite which could cost the nation $100 million – to reach a verdict which his government can then reject. Malcolm Farr on ABC Insiders Sunday, says he’s charging the tax-payer to come up with a decision which parliament should be making.

In brief, a postal plebiscite is another political expedient; an evasion of Tony Abbott’s initial evasion of a conscience vote which would undo John Howard’s original 2004 political expedient. Bugger what the nation wants.

Polls show majority support for marriage equality. Only about 25% of Australians oppose same sex marriage.

In the end, the issue illuminates how far Turnbull’s need to keep his leadership outweighs all other concerns and how much his need to appease the right of the party leads his government further away from popular opinion.

The secret deal with the Nationals he made to gain the leadership has not been divulged even after FOI requests.  But it’s clear that he’s meant to keep a leash on the liberals in the party while the National party keeps a leash on him.

A joint party room will follow Tuesday where Turnbull will take a secret ballot, banking on the status quo. Whatever the outcome, the Nationals – who have seven times the number of seats as The Greens but less than half the votes – thanks to our gerrymandered political system, will exercise their right of veto, Friday.

In a ray of (setting) sunshine for the right wing, groundhog day for peak stupid arrives Saturday. Craig Kelly is on ABC crowing over the proposed visit of Trump EPA Head and climate change global village idiot, Scott Pruitt. Kelly gushes over the chance to hear Pruitt.

“The head of the EPA in the United States of America is a very high ranking and prestigious position and if he’s got time amongst his busy schedule to come and visit us down in Australia we should welcome him with open arms,” Kelly says.

Nonsense. Just let us know, Craig, if it were you or Josh who invited him. Pruitt does not need our endorsement; nor do we need to hear his stupidity nor his coal-lobby spin. We are being softened up for more coal-fired power stations. On cue this week, PM has been waffling about how ideology must not get in the way of energy security.

By the end of the week, the Turnbull government is in crisis even before parliament has resumed. Luckily a tape is leaked which gives the lie to claims that Turnbull has not talked tough to the US President, Donald Trump over our heroic refugee-swap which will see us clear Manus and Nauru in return for some unwanted Columbians.

He has “held the line” claim MSM applauding our PM’s assertiveness and offering other glowing endorsements his office has press-released them. In reality, the transcript reveals Turnbull’s thoroughgoing duplicity and cynicism. He is unconcerned if the US takes only a hundred refugees as long as the deal appears outwardly to be a success.

The leak is a damning indictment. It provides a privileged insight into a totally cynical Turnbull and his government to whom nothing matters, least of all the suffering of our refugees, detained offshore in conditions and circumstances which amount to torture.

Turnbull’s sole motivation is to cling to power by whatever means present themselves.

Above all the leaked transcript points to the callous inhumanity of our refugee policy. Whatever the outcome of its gay-marriage imbroglio, the Turnbull government needs to bring our refugees home immediately.

Similarly he could make the call for a conscience vote in Parliament and let his opponents be damned. It would require courage but he has absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Spare us the surreal terror scare tactics, the endless hype about security and the dog-whistling of division, Mr Turnbull. For once in your life do something healing.

 

6 thoughts on “Turnbull’s terror bust raises big questions over his government and his leadership.

  1. Urban, you’ve done it again! Very clever, a real delight to read. The US hasn’t taken 1 refugee from Manus have they? US Contingent came over, not impressed, went home early. Turnbull did tell Trump he didn’t need to take any, in that phone call, so it seems Trump’s taken up the offer. And as for the Keystone Cops! Turnbull is a total failure, he gets more and more ridiculous by the day. For Aboriginals a “committee” and lecture about how hard to get a referendum change. Energy blokes tea and scones. Dean Smith? Probably short shrift.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jaquix
      No. Not one refugee – and their team departed abruptly from Nauru prompting JBish to say everything is OK. Doubt very much that the deal – eight months old by now will be anything but a point of contention between the two leaders. A terribly cruel thing to inflict on the men on Manus, though – if you read their comments you can feel the depths of utter despair and sense of betrayal.
      Share your sense of outrage at the patronising dismissal of the constitutional referendum. Shocked by how Abbott set up his own hand-picked council – a move followed more or less by Turnbull. Hardly representative. Certainly not democratic. Very much the big white Bwana, really.

      Liked by 1 person

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