“It is hardly necessary to say that the court is aware of the need to give its answers to these references with or without reasons as soon as possible,” declares High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel, Friday.
Kiefel is slapping down brash Matt Canavan’s barrister, David Bennett QC, whose client has changed his story several times after first blaming his mother for making him an Italian. Now expert esoteric Italian legal depositions are tendered.
Bennett, a former Solicitor-General has the chutzpah to remind the court of “the importance of an urgent decision”.
Snapping your fingers for service does not go well in The High Court. The lady’s not for churning,Susan Kiefel makes it clear. Nor is her court.
Ultimately, however, Kiefel succeeds only in bidding up the nation’s impatience in a political week filled with trepidation, the sick joke of Greg Hunt’s health policy “shake-up”, a capitulation to health insurance industry and the prospect of a national, Nationals New England by-election circus starring the incomparable, incomprehensible, Murray-Darling cotton-farmers’ darling Barnaby Joyce.
Politics could be put on hold for weeks, whenever The High Court gets around to delivering its verdict on seven little (alien) Australian MPs’ dual citizenship, should the PM finally decide to prorogue parliament while Barnaby Joyce is re-elected, a safe bet despite a Melbourne Cup field of candidates preparing to stand against him.
Centrelink clients, on the other hand, will be put through promptly, now that the government has outsourced its telephone calls to Serco, helping the international company rebuild trust after its 2013 scandal when it was discovered to have overcharged the UK government for electronically tagging criminals who were back in gaol, overseas or dead.
The government, meanwhile, brushes aside criticism of its Robo-call fiasco. It dismisses complaints made against the system as “third parties … aimed solely at scoring political points”. It’s a line it likes to apply widely to any call for accountability and thinking which informs a lot of its spin excusing its own lamentable failure in energy policy.
Quickly it scotches any suggestion it suspend its error-ridden data-matching Tuesday, while engaging an outside contractor with a dodgy reputation in the UK and in New Zealand. Chin up pensioners: what could possibly go wrong?
Left right, you know the drill. Look over there! Don’t you know there’s a war on? Or one about to go on in North Korea. What could break the Turnbull government’s log-jam of indecision and ineptitude better than a military adventure?
Abroad, in a scene worthy of Apocalypse Now, Julie Bishop jogs the DMZ dividing North from South Korea while urging an increasingly potty POTUS to declare war on North Korea as she dodges questions about Myanmar’s genocide.
Elected unopposed, Australia waits to play its part on the UN Human Rights Council which is waiting for us to condemn the human rights atrocities in Myanmar which Foreign Minister Julie Bishop insists arise from a “security operation”.
The Rohingya are to blame. Look where their insurgency has led them. What bother they’re causing Bangladesh.
Refugees? Rohingya refugees? No here. Not us. 11,000 flee in one day? We “need independent, verifiable accounts”.
Bishop’s outright refusal to acknowledge the existence of the humanitarian crisis posed by the Myanmar persecution of the Rohingya is a shameful demonstration of the Coalition’s complete disregard for human rights.
The Turnbull government’s compassion bypass, its cruelty and its wilful abdication of responsibility under international refugee agreements are an indictment of its lack of moral compass and inhumanity. Instead, its foreign minister falls back on the best hollow clichés her staffers can provide for her.
“Australia will bring a pragmatic and principled approach to working with other nations to find real solutions to complex global challenges,” she says. Elsewhere she is fond of talking of rules-based global order, a catch-phrase of our 2016 Defence White Paper but one which is wretchedly vague and subjective. What if China has its own rules-based order?
In a revealing lapse into Newspeak, on SBS TV Sunday, Julie Bishop claims her government will offer “principled and pragmatic leadership” in the UN Human Rights Council, as if principled and pragmatic are not mutual contradictions. Easy to say. Is she unaware that our pragmatism is on open display in how we treat others such as Rohingya refugees?
“What will it take for our government to draw a line in the sand with the Myanmar military so as not be to complicit in crimes against humanity in our region?,” asks Diana Sayed, Amnesty’s crisis campaigner in Australia.
Bishop may commend her government’s new UNHCR role but nothing can hide our shame on boat turn-backs or atone for the inhumanity of our offshore detention; our neglect of Indigenous health, education and incarceration issues.
Worse, neither she nor Peter Dutton will comment on reports that Border Force is offering to pay Rohingya men on Manus to return to Myanmar and certain persecution. Yet one Rohingya detainee has already reported that he was offered $25,000. Luckily, threat of war provides distraction. North Korea is not happy with Bishop or Australia.
Pyongyang’s news agency, which our ABC must remind us is “state-run” personally criticises Bishop; accuses Australia of joining the “frenzied political and military provocations of the US” against Pyongyang. It warns that Australia would not be able to avoid disaster if it continues to support the US stance on Pyongyang. Yet does she even know what that is?
Julie Bishop puts on her runners. She warns reporters “little rocket man” may launch a missile next week. Nuclear war could follow, she purrs, or worse, unless we drag Kim-chi Kimbo kicking and screaming to the negotiating table.
Negotiating? Donald Trump, the star of The Art of the Deal or “Fucking moron”, as secretary of state Rex Tillerson, tenderly refers to him, is sulking in his room. The President hates everyone. Another day. Another tantrum.
“We’re totally prepared for numerous things,” Trump baffles media, Friday, in a briefing that is pure Samuel Beckett.
“If something can happen where we negotiate, I’m always open to that. But if it’s going to be something other than negotiation, believe me we are ready, more so than we have ever been.”
Apart from that, Trump won’t tell. Won’t give his game away. Especially as there is no game – a deception our government, Julie Bishop take a bow, enables. Jim Schoff, former senior Pentagon adviser for East Asia policy, tells The Washington Post that there are no signs that “U.S. policymakers think we’re on the brink of all-out war.”
Nor are there any signs of evacuation of the 28,000 US troops stationed in Seoul or any other civilians in South Korea while, over the border, Kim’s latest speech bags the US but is mainly about economics. North Korean soldiers are getting in the autumn harvest. Civilians are not mobilising. Only Trump and his Australian fan-club are talking up any war.
Long past the brink, mad-dog Abbott makes war on his boss from London. Experts detect another Newspoll in the field. Beyond barking, (Tel-Aviv) Dr Tony attacks his PM and all post-Christian, goat-sacrificing climate change god appeasers from The Old Dart. Climate change is crap. But, hey, if it really is real – and I’m not saying it is – it’s good for you.
Abbott makes a crap speech littered with falsehoods, a rant riven by tortured logic and inconsistencies to a bogus think-tank of coal industry puppets who clap politely in relief at the end. Bernard Keane carefully lists seventeen changes in the former PM’s position on climate change. Julie Bishop says he backed Paris; now he should explain his flip-flop.
Not a whisper from her of her former leader’s flip-flops on health, education or cuts to the ABC at the time.
The budgie-smuggler’s lunacy boosts an uneasy expectancy which falls upon us all, a wary national pessimism born of disappointment and exhaustion; boosted by the dance marathon of the postal survey on marriage equality and Josh Frydenberg’s super-elephantine four year-energy, bugger-the- climate to please Tony policy pregnancy.
In a world gone troppo, an uneasy, existential foreboding bedevils political life; the nation is waiting for Godot.
But no-one’s saying Chief Justice Susan Kiefel won’t put on a good High Court show. The odd cuckoo may even be thrown out of its parliamentary nest, or, indeed, all seven – after hearing One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts at length.
It would be un-Australian, the senator with the epistemological bent pleads, to discriminate between natural-born Aussies and “natural-born Indians” like himself. It’s a welcome break from his party’s campaign slogans.
Oddly, the High Court expresses frustration with Roberts’ SC, Robert Newlinds, Justice Bell interjects testily: “It is unclear to me where this argument is taking you.”
If you were a betting man – and Malcolm Turnbull certainly is to have let his Deputy PM stay in parliament while disqualified – risking appeals on every decision he is party to, you would have to offer long odds on Roberts.
If Kiwi, Barnaby Joyce, were also deemed ineligible, he’d be a by-election shoo-in for his north-western NSW electorate of New England given his 58% of the primary vote last year. His anti-greenie electorate loves a water-rorting frack-champion, too. Joyce is a huge SANTOS supporter. He hits the airwaves to plug coal seam gas extraction at Narrabri.
Joyce contradicts a federal government-appointed recent independent expert scientific committee which finds significant “knowledge gaps” in SANTOS’ local environmental impact study. And he does so with impunity. Why?
Is it self-interest? Narrabri is near Joyce’s property at Gwabegar. The Nationals’ leader forked out $572, 000 for two blocks of 1000 hectares in “mongrel country” , fit for goats, the odd migrant flightless bird and not much else, in 2006 and 2008. He had no idea that there was gas just begging to be fracked right under his property. Amazing.
There’s no chance, he adds, any gas is going to come off his blocks. No chance his pal, John Anderson, gave him the nod – either. Anderson, a former Nationals leader, left politics, as you do, to become chairman of Eastern Gas in 2007, a firm which co-owned exploration rights to the block next door to Barnaby’s. Petroleum licences? You’ve got to be joking.
No chance of the pals’ gas-bagging about fracking. Nah. Goats and bloat mostly. Farm yarns. Land’s up for sale anyway. A check with the agent reveals not a single enquiry. Joyce tells reporters he’s not going to make a “windfall” on the land.
Local activists say petroleum licences for the whole region depend on progress at Narrabri. Even with Barnaby’s spin, however, or with Fran Kelly’s “model corporate citizen” puff on ABC RN Breakfast, Santos has a poor record in the Pilliga. 20 toxic waste water spills at least have destroyed forest, one aquifer has been contaminated with uranium and other toxic heavy metals. Yet few gas wells have been sunk, so far; it’s the exploration phase of the project.
Mercurius Goldstein, a euphoniously named local high school teacher and The Greens’ anti-SANTOS candidate received 2.9% of the primary vote last election. His party explains it is in it for the long haul and will contest any by-election.
Barnaby’s prospects will be boosted, also, by the fast-tracking of road projects which were funded by Labor in 2013. These languished under the Coalition which is now only too happy to discover some Opposition pork in the barrel.
A close relation to the pork barrel is the $6.25 billion taxpayers provide to subsidise private health insurance, an industry boondoggle introduced by the Howard government in 1999. Pivotal was Howard’s Health Minister, Michael Wooldridge, an entrepreneurial company director after politics, who in 2014 was subsequently fined $20,000 and banned from being a director of any company when a retirement company collapsed in 2011, owing investors $500 million.
Wooldridge was one of five former directors and did not benefit financially from the collapse. In 2016, the full court of the federal court overturned the ban, ruling that much vaunted corporate watchdog ASIC took too long to bring its case.
Preserving links with the top end of town, public health gets a soft spotlight Friday near the putting out the garbage end of this week as St George Hunt capitulates to the dragon; the government subsidised private health insurance industry.
Billed breathlessly as a “major shakeup” of healthcare policy – the biggest changes for fifteen years, the Turnbull government’s “sweeping changes”, offer a huge cut of 70 cents a week to the less than half of us who pay an average $1800 a year for private health insurance – on top of our Medicare levy.
Underwhelmed? Wait. There’s more. Policy holders may now also trade off a higher excess of $750-$1500, individual or family for lower premiums which will still rise by at least four per cent per year. Of course other savings are promised.
Instead of paying on average 119% more for having your cardiac device, for example, fitted in a private hospital, the cost of prosthetic devices to private patients will come down. That’s a promise.
Not only would private health insurers save $1 billion over four years on cheaper prostheses, Hunt claims, the saving would be passed on to customers. It’s a trickle-down benefit, he’d like to pretend you get in the operating theatre. There’s no evidence of this ever happening. Every year, private health insurance premiums inexorably rise.
Clearly, the Coalition’s better health slogan applies only for the industry. It continues to wage war on the planet and on public health in its four year failure to come up with an energy policy which even remotely considers public health.
Expect the next week in politics to be brimming with promises of affordable, reliable energy which is what the spin doctors hope will confuse punters who may want to know what we are really doing to meet our Paris targets, weak as they are or to curb the pollution that each year takes lives in towns that host coal-burning power stations .
Research estimates that 24 people die for every terawatt hours (TWh) of coal burnt.
Expect to hear nothing about health risks, or environmental costs or the fact that 95% of LaTrobe valley pollution is caused by coal. Expect to hear about the cheap cost of coal power and nothing about the health costs.
A 2009 Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering report put the health costs of coal-fired power stations at A$13 per MWh of electricity generated from coal (about $2.6 billion a year). Climate change and other environmental costs were not included.
Of course when the going gets tough, there’s always the diversion of North Korea’s threats to nuke us all now that Kim has displaced Bashar Al Assad as international evil monster du jour. Expect great celebration and self-congratulation now that we’ve been elected unopposed to a UN Human Rights Council, even though we’re not worthy of belonging.
Just don’t expect leadership. Or honesty or accountability. The week shows just how far this government will kowtow to vested interests; its great and powerful friends and their lobby groups.
Whatever the rhetoric, in the end, its “principled and pragmatic leadership” translates into the ruthless pursuit of power by any means; by the powerful for the powerful.