I don’t know what I’m doing, but my incompetence has never stopped my enthusiasm. Woody Allen
The nation is spellbound this week as a Turnbull government, long-acclaimed as a leader in mismanagement and dud judgement, breaks all former records in a crop of epic, self-inflicted disasters which begin with a bungled police raid on the Australian Workers Union and ends with an inept government in catastrophic trouble.
First, the government woos us with a shaggy dog story. David De Garis, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash’s bat-eared Man Friday, hears the Australian Federal Police are about to raid the Sydney and Melbourne AWU offices. The AFP have been tipped off: The AWU is about to destroy some ten year old receipts for donations to GetUP!
Instantly, a squad of 30 AFP wallopers swings into emergency receipt rescue formation. No-one gets between an AFP and paperwork in danger. Danger? Incredibly, it turns out the AWU is diabolical Bill Shorten’s old union.
David phones journos. Happily, he gets everyone in time to make the evening news. SKY and ABC have cameras rolling at 4:30 pm just as the AFP arrive. As with all classic comedy routines, timing is everything.
Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash who has a lot on her plate managing her property portfolio as well as growing all those jobs every month, says she took Dave to lunch with Mal, Wednesday.
As the PM’s red teapot is her witness, Dave didn’t say a word about the AWU stunt, much less fess up to having orchestrated the whole damn catastrophe. It beggars belief but Cash won’t budge from her story.
Cash returns to the Senate Estimates Committee where she lies five times that no-one from her office called the cops or got the media on to the AWU witch hunt raid stunt. No-one believes her – clearly the tip-offs have got to senators, too although, by Sunday, Phil Coorey a big Cash man on ABC Insiders, will charge to her defence.
“I can also assure you that my office did not find out about the raids until after they were conducted. It is a very serious allegation that you are making and I refute it completely,” she tells a Senate estimates hearing.
Liberals do moral indignation so well. On the other hand, they do get a lot of practice. Butter wouldn’t melt. Cash’s shocked denial is a haunting performance.
By tea-time, Cash changes tune. De Garis did it, she says. He’s gone off and done it all off his own bat. Not told a soul. Not me. Not the PM. Not even the Daily Tele. Turnbull, in it up to his neck, says Shorten, clinches his complicity by faking moral indignation. It was, he finger-wags, “a very, very wrong, improper act of indiscretion”.
Keeping a straight face, Cash suggests the AFP look into it. Brilliant. The AFP should investigate the AFP. She deploys what Mark Kenny sees as the Sharon Strzelecki defence from Kath and Kim, “I didn’t know”
More credible is the pithy, down to earth Labor Senator Doug Cameron who tells the hearing: “She’s thrown her staffer under the bus”. In the process she has misled parliament, her department has clearly busted the ROC as a political witch hunt, she’s blown the Coalition’s latest Kill Bill strategy and a staffer’s career is ruined.
It may even be the end of the ROC, experts tip. Apart from that, the AWU raid’s a stroke of genius.
What better than an Australian Federal Police raid on AWU offices in Sydney and Melbourne, Tuesday, to blood the ROC (Registered Organisation Commission) the new union-bashing lynch mob on the block, smear Shorten, puts the wind up GetUp! and help disguise Turnbull’s “game-changing” brain fart as an energy policy.
Nothing shrieks “gotcha” like a shot of a burly cop lugging a bulging plastic bag of receipts. Wonderful optics. Get the photographers from the Jihadi mincer plot on to it. They have a wonderful eye for guilty before charged.
Years of images of terror busts have, doubtless, helped soften us up to accept random AFP raids. Yet AFP powers are limited to investigating crimes which fall under Commonwealth laws. Most crime is a state law matter.
In May last year, The AFP raided the home of then shadow communications minister, Jason Clare, and senior Labor Senator, Stephen Conroy in connection with what were claimed to be leaked government documents. Don’t ask what became of the inquiry. The AFP bust like all performance art won’t be rushed liked that.
Then, as now, the Prime Minister rejected any suggestion of Government interference, claiming the AFP operates “entirely independently of the Government”. His assurances ring as hollow as his energy or NBN guarantees – or indeed the heavy-handed, ham theatricality of his patently insincere censure of the dynamic David De Garis.
In a travesty of due process, the ROC says it ordered this week’s raid solely “on the basis of an anonymous call”.
No lawful reason exists for the raid. The documents the government seeks are not required to be held beyond seven years. They were documents, however, which the union was making available to the ROC.
“We were cooperating before we ended up in this remarkable situation yesterday. For our 131 years, there has not been one occasion that the AWU has not cooperated with any investigation and we don’t have any ideas of changing that,” National Secretary, Daniel Walton tells ABC’s AM.
Nor has any law been broken: this is not a criminal matter but just a routine ROC-AFP bust to see that the AWU is following its own rules. No wonder the coppers on camera are scowling.
Attorney-General George Brandis, who is still wiping the egg off his ample face over his disastrous advice to his government over its dual citizenship debacle, adds his own hint that the ROC is a kangaroo court.
“Its job is to enforce the law and if it finds the law has been breached, then its obligation is to pursue that,” Brandis, our legal Mr Magoo, tells Sky News. No law has been breached? The government does not care.
So what if the AWU says it’s happy to share the documents? It has already made them available to Dyson Heydon’s Trade Union Royal Commission, an $80 million witch hunt into Bill Shorten which spawned the ROC concept?
Nobody in a post-truth, Trumpian world is bothered by evidence any more. As the Productivity Commission’s rules this week, on its yen to change GST distribution, “An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.
It is an alarming trend – even if the phrase is a gift to the t-shirt slogan industry. The title of the Commission’s report – ‘Shifting the Dial’ is a clue to our brave new government’s desire to march to the beat-up of a different drum; its rush to tune out empiricism in favour of a more pliant metaphysics; the vibe, the smear and the spin.
Equally alarming, as Mark Kenny notes, is the tally of Turnbull government ministers who have entered the plea of ignorance as their defence and who have freely admitted, as coal puppet Matt Canavan does, after blaming his mother and updating his story several times, that they were prepared to stand for election and to bank the 300-400,000 salary but that they weren’t fussed checking whether they were eligible for the job.
“For … institutional conservatives, the trashing of basic parliamentary and ministerial standards through these events is even more depressing. Having lawmakers deploy the ignorance defence fundamentally erodes the power of law, and materially weakens the very project of parliamentary representation.
At the ministerial level, it renders the sanction of executive resignation hollow, by allowing a minister to simply stand with everyone else, among the great unknowing. This lack of knowledge and basic curiosity makes a mockery of the accountability mechanism central to the Westminster tradition.” He writes. And then there’s the lie of spin.
Spin? Anti-worker Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash, insists the ROC will just subject Unions to the same rules as company directors. Sure. Every day we see directors of banks, mining companies, casino operators and betting agencies being raided by AFP officers and sundry men in suits just to help accountancy teams with their filing.
Like extreme vetting, an AFP raid on your archives is positively therapeutic; a type of clerical, colonic irrigation or a form of shock treatment. Or both.
In fact, the ROC has markedly more extensive investigative powers than Fair Work, the power to lay criminal charges and impose financial penalties harsher than those applicable to businesses under the Corporations Act.
Slater and Gordon caution that ROC and supporting laws represent a significant attack on the rights of unions to self-govern. Imposing a dedicated regulator focussed squarely on Unions is an attempt to ensure that Unions are focussed on compliance with costly, unwieldy regulation at the expense of organising and representing members.
ROC aids and abets union bashing. Former shonky jobs figures shill, Senator Eric Abetz, a veteran GetUp! foe takes time out from fighting safe schools, same sex marriage and encouraging gays to come out as straight, Sunday, to explain that if the (perfectly legal) GetUp! funding “was proved inappropriate”, it raises serious questions.
” … finally issues relating to potential trade union corruption are being taken seriously and thoroughly investigated,” he says “Honest union members have the right to know that their money is being spent correctly.”
Proved inappropriate? Since 2010, Eric, who is convinced the organisation is a Greens/Labor front run by George Soros, has reported GetUp! unsuccessfully to the AEC and the ACCC. It is disingenuous to continue the smear given the publication of clear refutation by both bodies. But Eric has a record of being fast and loose with facts.
On a local radio station last year he argued that GetUP! should have its charity status revoked.
“If an organisation becomes involved in the political debates, they shouldn’t be allowed to get charitable donations — which means tax-deductibility — in circumstances where the political party against which they are campaigning cannot get that sort of tax-deductibility and charity status for their donation.”
Sadly, for the senator’s rapidly dwindling credibility, GetUP! Is not a charity.
Issues relating? While they’re after the GetUp! paper work, the police seek evidence of a $25,000 payment made by the AWU to Mr Shorten’s election campaign in the Melbourne seat of Maribyrnong in 2007, and another two payments to campaigns in the seats of Petrie (Queensland) and Stirling (WA).
Unions legitimately support Labor candidates but the raid helps create suspicion of criminal misconduct.
No-one will worry it’s a stunt. All that matters is that Shorten be smeared, somehow, because the AWU openly and legitimately donated $100,000 to GetUp! when the Opposition leader led the union over 10 years ago.
The law is now on side, too, thanks to nifty Nick Xenophon and dreadful Derryn Hinch’s vote in May. The ROC, a double dissolution trigger last election, is nothing less than a state attack on workers.
AWU national secretary Daniel Walton calls the raids “an extraordinary abuse of police resources”. “It is clear the Registered Organisations Commission has been established, not to promote good governance, but to use taxpayer and police resources to muckrake through historic documents in an attempt to find anything that might smear a future Labor prime minister,” Walton tells AAP.
Wages stagnate, work becomes increasingly deskilled, part-time and casual while inequality becomes more deeply entrenched, yet the Coalition responds by attacking working people, their representatives and the many volunteers who give their time to be delegates and to generally support unions in their work.
Unions are already covered, moreover, by the Corporations Act, and lately by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Now the Coalition has imposed a third tier of union oversight. While it claims to be after union corruption, the government is interested in union governance; donations and superannuation funds.
For a divided Coalition at odds on energy, education, environment and marriage equality to name a few, policy debate yields readily to dirty pool. It’s week of defamatory personal attacks on Sponge-Bob Bill Shorten whom the PM jeers, is “Melbourne’s greatest sycophant, one of the union movement’s great sucker-uppers.”
Worse, in that perverse projection Turnbull favours, Shorten is one of Labor’s “hereditary union princelings”. “Not everybody has a privileged ride to power through a union job,” he sneers, baring bottom teeth.
The politics of sledging is a legacy of junkyard dog, Tony Abbott, whose grasp on any policy is, still, at best tenuous and whose sole, intelligible claim to remain leader, was that he could “beat Bill Shorten”.
If only politics could be reduced to a boxing match between the two leaders. If only we could sucker punch the entire Labor mob. Kill Bill with one knock-out punch. The team is working on it. Sadly, Rupert Murdoch’s rags have far less influence now.
Gutter politics are almost eclipsed, however, by the Coalition’s secret strategy to deal with Friday’s High Court verdict: complacency and entitlement. Ayatollah Turnbull, as he is known to his former fellow merchant bankers, has let his ego do the talking. You can tell he’s still personally outraged at the court’s lese majeste.
This was not the plan. Now he dithers for two days about whether he can trust Julie Bishop to act PM.
A High Court wowed by the PM’s parliamentary chutzpah ,”… the High Court will so hold…” was meant to clear Kiwi Barnaby and as many of the remaining six dual nationals as it cares, leaving himself and Lucy free to jet to Israel where he could pose as an international statesman and explain how the charge of the Fourth Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba in 1917 allows Australia to lay claim to founding Israel.
“The capture of Beersheba allowed British empire forces to break the Ottoman line near Gaza and then advance into Palestine, a chain of events which eventually culminated in the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948,” Australia Post said in 2013 It’s a popular new reimagining of the past to give Israel another link with Australia.
Clayton’s Deputy PM Julie Bishop will now hold the fort. She can deal with the backlash over Turnbull’s decision, announced Wednesday, to reject any plea for a constitutionally recognised voice to parliament. Cabinet rejects The Uluru Proposal five months on from the historic constitutional summit in Central Australia.
The Uluru statement is a rejection of symbolic constitutional reform in favour of a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament, which would sit outside the parliamentary structure but provide advice and consultation on issues and legislation affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Establishing a Makarrata commission with a view to establishing a treaty, or treaties, between Indigenous people and Australian governments is a second, vital component of the Uluru statement.
As Paul Daley notes, the rebuff is a slap in the face to “all the linguistically and culturally diverse urban, regional and remote communities that comprise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia”, a breach of trust and a rejection more pointed by making the announcement, from on high, in cabinet on the cusp of the PM’s departure and at a time when parliament is in recess.
Above all it sends a clear signal that the Turnbull government lacks humanity and common decency as much as it lacks vision and leadership. It is by far the biggest failing of his utterly disappointing prime ministership and will be cost him dearly.
Indigenous leaders rightly feel betrayed if not duped. The Coalition has let indigenous Australia, indeed all Australians down first by having no plan for constitutional recognition of its own when it came to power – then by asking leaders to consult with communities to come up with a model – only to reject that model when so much hard work is done. At the very least, it is a consultation in name only, an act of gross bad faith and betrayal.
The PM rejects embedding an indigenous voice in the constitution as “too ambitious”. While The Referendum Council’s proposal for an Indigenous representative assembly, or Voice, is a new concept constitutional change, the PM must acknowledge the extensive and valuable work of the past decade – largely with bipartisan support.
It is a poor thing to say “too ambitious” or that the model lacked detail. A good government, committed to equality and partnership, committed to community works with people to find that detail. It is mutually demeaning, moreover, for Turnbull to retreat to a symbolic recognition.
Turnbull himself is now also disgraced by his poor form in prompting the High Court in parliament to find in favour of his deputy PM in an extraordinary moment of poor judgement when he took it upon himself in Question Time in the House in August to predict – if not lead -the High Court in its judgement. The High Court will so hold what the High Court decides and not what any jumped up Prime Minister may try to dictate.
Similarly, the AFP raid on the AWU reeks of the same poor judgement that indulged Godwin Grech in Utegate in 2009. Instead of blowing up Bill, the PM has effectively blown up his own government. By Friday, gone is his parliamentary majority, two cabinet ministers and any sign of an acting deputy PM.
No-one knows what challenges will be mounted to decisions taken by ministers who were allowed to continue while their eligibility to be in parliament remained in doubt.
Worse, Michaelia Cash has disappeared into WA for a good lie down gifting politics with an open season on backstabbing, bitching and petty vendetta, especially given she’s widely tipped to be next Attorney General.
The week ends with a government in crisis, its credibility in tatters, its majority shot and with serious questions hanging over the legitimacy of its decisions after The High Court rules comprehensively against its brilliant case that for MPs caught in the trap of dual-citizenship, ignorance is somehow an excuse, an argument which is itself indicative a deeper, postmodern malaise in which truthiness displaces truth and all is spin.