Raucous, rowdy and sometimes bawdy, Christmas is upon us in a rush of beery bonhomie and sudden, univited, pressing of the flesh or worse, especially if you are standing under any mistletoe.
Christmas butts into our lives like an MP barnstorming by-electors, all over local punters like a rash; flash as a rat with a gold tooth and a clean, new Akubra who promises to never forget a voter or her needs – unlike the glad-handed candidate’s own dereliction of duty; the neglecting of his or her dual citizenship.
But let not human frailty dim our view of humanity at this sacred, spiritual, time. As Santa Abetz checks that government departments use the word Christmas and not toxic, politically correct “season’s greetings” on their cards, he also scans Canberra poles for rainbow flags, the flag of a hostile nation.
“This particular flag, you will realise, is the flag of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands, that declared war on Australia and you Senator Cormann would understand they did the same as Prince Leonard of Hutt River Province and now this is their official flag,” he tells the Senate.
Let Eric help remind us of our MPs’ unique and precious gifts; their multifarious solicitude for us; the many special ways they choose to reign over us. Do I love thee?, they cry. Let us count the ways.
In the double-dipping spirit of the festive, festering season, a time that wounds all heels; a time when Greg Hunt and other MPs book up $20 K holidays and study tours to us mug tax-payers, then, it is time to give thanks. Let us count the ways our MPs love and serve us by their duplicity, skulduggery and lies.
First! A twisted Christmas cracker bon-mot – a type of misfortune cookie message if you wish. “Some say sincerity is the most important thing in life as in politics. Once you learn to fake that you’ve got it made.”
Faking sincerity is part of the artifice and commerce if not the bitcoin of conviction politics. So credit where it’s due. Has there ever been a government so skilled at dissimulation and deception; kidding us it’s normal? Real? In charge? We have passed peak bullshit, we are now knee deep in reindeer poo.
As the most hyped political year on record spins down from warp speed, old slights and long-nursed injuries erupt; a dumped Dazza Chester festers, Fiona Nash pesters Barnaby to give Bridget McKenzie the arse for travel rorting and re-install herself as deputy-leader. Keith Pitt threatens to quit the party and pig-sticking knives appear on every politician’s Santa wish-list. Why? Time to take stock.
Normalising its abnormalities; its bizarre eccentricities and pathologically aberrant behaviour is the big success story of the Liberals’ otherwise dismal Turnbull experiment; an adventure of unmitigated failure.
We are not alone. Parallels with Pocket Man Trump’s sky-rocketing through the toxic Washington atmosphere to GOP hero abound Down Under. As Dame Edna has it, the similarities are spooky.
Incredible! It’s as if Head Office of international capitalism, Bastards Incorporated, specialists in wage theft, and its Box Office branch, Show Business, with its misogynistic casting-couch grope culture reach all the way Down Under. Who would have thought? No wonder they look snowed under at Christmas.
Business and politics go together like a horse and an Amish wedding buggy. With business help, our Coalition government normalises deviance, excess and even bone-headed stupidity. Thanks must go to all the right wing lobby groups, the IPA, MCA, BCA and all those who work tirelessly against the worker.
As in the US, our reactionaries rule by SNAFU, helped by an MP Amnesty International forbade to wear its badge, Phil Ruddock, tasked with drafting amendments to restore discrimination to the amended marriage act – an act which removes discrimination in the cause of marriage equality.
Also shared with the land of the free and the home of the brave is the Turnbull government’s creepy pandering to the whims of its mega-rich sponsors. Abundant, biddable, migrant labour is one.
In 30 September 2016 nearly 2 million temporary visa holders worked in Australia, an increase of nearly 5 per cent in just one year.
Huge Immigration creates headline GDP growth, yet individuals do not share in the wealth created.
Other Coalition achievements include pimping even cheaper, more compliant, workers to bosses by such means as the new 400 Visa.
The 400 Visa spin is that it is used to “fill talent gaps in the local market” – but qualified Australian applicants have been snubbed in favour of cheaper semi-skilled overseas workers, experts report.
The pattern is widespread. Appearing on ABC Q&A, the Prime Minister claims that migrant workers fill gaps in skills shortfall but recent studies prove that his claim is another blatant lie. It’s been repeated now so frequently by both parties that it’s never challenged. Nor is the former employment minister.
Top of the tree is Bad Christmas Fairy, Michaelia Cash who got the Australian Federal Police to raid the AWU and ensured it was televised in order to embarrass Labor leader Bill Shorten who as a AWU former secretary may have authorised donations to GetUp! – a perfectly legal practice. More on this later.
We are a polite political audience. No-one laughs at our leader’s campy costume or hammy acting. Malcolm Turnbull can tool up in his RM Williams gear to the set of the New England by-election dressed up as a Collins St farmer but no-one howls the poseur down. Instead, photographers adore the Brokeback photo opportunity of Mal and Barnaby in matching cattleman’s Akubras and beer goggles.
Josh Frydenberg “puts out the trash” Tuesday hiding an enormous carbon backflip by quietly announcing that international carbon credits are now included in Australia’s energy policy. No-one makes a fuss.
Similarly no-one really protests at our Treasurer’s biznomics, the pseudo-economic belief that what’s good for big business is good for the economy. This week it’s cutting taxes to increase company profits. And peddling the thought bubble of Snowy 2.0 as if it were a commercially viable, practical, plan.
Our ABC and MSM are full of buzzwords and phrases such as “making industry more competitive’, a mantra Ross Gittins notes, means granting concessions to make chief executives’ lives easier.
Why do we put up with it? Does familiarity breed consent? Are we the boiling frog in the parable? Have we become inured to the incompetence of a government which turns crisis into catastrophe?
The incredible saga of Senator Stephen Parry’s silence is an instructive example of normalisation. Bizarrely, as if the issue had never arisen in a Senate he led, Parry kept mum about his dual citizenship.
Odder still was how Parry defended himself by claiming he had confided in Mitch Fifield. And others. None of these told Turnbull or George Brandis. None counselled Parry to dob himself in to the High Court along with other seven MPs and senators. Clearly he was hoping to lie low until it all blew over.
Lying doggo worked well for Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz who may have been a senator 16 years before he repudiated his German nationality 9 March 2010. MPs can count on our losing interest.
Are we numbed by the repetition of sundry acts of ineptitude or aberrant behaviour? Bernard Keane suggests a parallel with America’s normalisation of dotard Donald Trump, the monster man-child.
Of course, crises arise daily. Barnaby’s bastardy, this week, in booting from cabinet his National Party critic, Darren Chester, seizing his Infrastructure portfolio for himself as payback for Chester’s opposition to Matt Canavan’s candidacy as deputy Nationals leader, is not the ticket to party cohesion.
Riskier is Joyce’s dumping of assistant minister to the deputy leader Keith Pitt allegedly for criticising his leader’s extra-marital affair. The MP is threatening to quit the party, losing Turnbull his slim majority. Expect a Nationals leadership spill in the new year.
Regardless of outcome, however, Pitts and Chester are part of the regular rash of crises which threaten to expose divisions behind the uneasy mutual self-interest that MPs claim is party unity.
Yet a number of forces help hold even a bad and unpopular government in power. One of these is the normalisation of oddity or the ways we come to accept strange behaviour as normal.
In the US, voters hope that Trump will turn out to be just a regular president after all – or at worst one who is held in check by his minders, while in Australia the press is primed to prompt us at every turn of the imminent resurgence of the small L Liberal or the Turnbullian political genius.
Each week Mark Kenny predicts a reset – or even a renaissance. It’s an exercise in fatuity. The Turnbull dud we see is the one Turnbull we will get. There is no political maestro waiting inside to break out.
Annabel Crabb invented “Turnbullian” to praise her hero’s super-savvy but abortive double dissolution. abrasive, incompetent right wing Turn-bully. It is set to become a synonym for poor judgement.
Yet we come to see such poor judgement and other aberrant behaviour as normal. Voters tend to blur what is ‘desirable’ and what is average into a “single undifferentiated judgment of normality”.
Adam Bear and Joshua Knobe of Yale University, who have studied normalisation, argue in the New York Times that, as Trump “continues to do things that once would have been regarded as outlandish,” these actions are not only being seen as more typical – but also more normal. It’s the same here.
Our perception of normal doesn’t separate the normal from the ideal. So, as Trump or Turnbull becomes more familiar, he becomes more acceptable to those who initially disapproved of his actions. He may be heading towards 30 bad Newspolls but his personal approval rating tells an equally important story.
Along with our acceptance of oddity however, leaders also use strategies to normalise their abnormality.
St John Howard, patron saint of Liberal reactionaries blazed the trail by importing from the US, “pluto-populism” a strategy of deploying social conservatism – along with a sanctimonious religiosity – which as Mike Seccombe explains helps distract ordinary Australians from their economic pain.
Currently we are hearing about the need to protect religious freedoms, another term imported from the US, or the need for a debate about his issue as if it were anything more than a diversion and distraction.
Pluto-populism has been a GOP strategy in the US since Ronald Reagan. It involves a super wealthy elite who have systematically learned to manipulate the electorate to their advantage. Its key feature is to use democratic processes to establish an authoritarian, autocratic power over the people.
It was deployed in Latin America; it is at work in Trump’s America and it is at work in Australia, too.
Recent events in the brilliant career of former employment Minister, Michaelia “Union-bash” Cash reflect how the Turnbull government’s jihad on organised labour aka “union thuggery” confer a self-righteousness which help Coalition MPs set themselves above the law.
An extraordinary AFP raid on AWU headquarters in Melbourne, Tuesday 24 October, ostensibly to find receipts for donations to GetUp! (ten year old recepts which not required to be kept and which were never a legal matter) leads to a televised raid a type of TV show-trial of Bill Shorten’s former union after David De Garis, Cash’s senior media adviser tips off all available media. His boss lies about his actions.
De Garis, 34, is rewarded for breaking the law with a job as media and communications officer at AHA in WA. Far from censure, Cash is promoted this week to Minister for Jobs and Innovation, a mega-portfolio.
What Turnbull risks is that in rewarding Cash, he is tacitly signalling the extent of his own investment in the plan. Her promotion, surely is indirect evidence, that he or his office was the author of the illegal raid. As with all of Turnbull’s cunning plans this one also blows up in his face Wednesday.
As lawyers Maurice Blackburn report, key parties involved in raids undertaken by federal police on the offices of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) will have to hand over documents and correspondence, after the Federal Court this morning dismissed applications by Michaelia Cash, David De Garis, Mark Lee and the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) for subpoeanas to be set aside.
The documents had been sought in October and the case illuminates the Turnbull government’s contempt for the rule of law. Along with normalisation of abnormality or delinquency goes the application of pluto populism, a powerful attempt to recruit public sympathies for government propaganda that unions are thugs who engage in criminal conduct.
Similar strategies are deployed to deny Aboriginal people their rights to be part of a bona fide consultation process. The PM dismissively rejects an indigenous voice to parliament by misrepresenting an appeal for constitutional recognition and inclusion as a demand for “a third chamber of parliament”, and “a latecomer proposal” that Noel Pearson says he agreed to in June 2015 .
“This was not what was asked for, or expected,” he told the Referendum Council at a meeting in July.
Yet the Prime Minister’s claim is now received wisdom for MSM.
And as with the dangerous fantasy behind the normalisation of Donald Trump, a stroke of genius is to dress-up what is essentially a mean and sneaky Howard government 2.0 with the natty leather-jacket of the pseudo-Liberal Malcolm Turnbull while his government lurches ever further to the right.
This week’s cabinet reshuffle sees any coalition MP who’d voted for marriage equality dealt out of any promotion by their riverboat gambler Prime Minister. The reshuffle stacks the cabinet to the right.
In panic at Hanson’s One Nation Party’s appeal in rural and regional Australia and its prospects of losing vital Queensland seats in the federal election to be held most likely mid-way next year, Turnbull has bowed to expediency and allocated cabinet positions to Queenslanders not on merit but on territory.
It’s all working brilliantly. Company profit is surging twenty per cent. Wages and working conditions are the worst they’ve been for decades. And the push is on for Mal to grant business more tax cuts.
Why? With dividend imputation and other concessions, the average effective Australian company tax rate is 10.4%, yet with the passing of Trump’s tax cut bill this week – a bill which will cost America $US2 trillion over ten years, but will net him millions personally, our business lobby wants us to do the same.
Quack Treasurer Scott Morrison, the Malcolm Roberts of the economy, this week tries to con us into thinking business needs even lower taxes. Keep competitive. Few bother to contest his nonsense. Stop Qantas flying overseas?
Yet too many of us have been groomed or coerced into complying or simply suckered into submission.
Now we don’t even raise an eyebrow as our Coalition government, a Westminster kleptocracy run by mining, finance and big pharma oligarchs stops faffing around and appoints Ugly Peter Dutton top dog in cabinet, as head of super ministry of Home Affairs. Dutto’s more powerful now than his own PM.
Christian Porter, who as Attorney-General ought to keep Dutton in check, is no match for the Super Minister. Nor can we expect any hint of resistance from a solidly right wing reshuffled cabinet.
Barnaby Joyce also wields extraordinary power – yet we don’t bat an eyelid. Joyce is a deputy PM who has a secret agreement to be boss of the Prime Minister, a deal which the government refuses to reveal even under FOI, a Faustian pact defended by legal genius, former Attorney-General George Brandis.
In typically dazzling forensic manner, Brandis tells an estimates hearing last October the Coalition agreement is a “private document”. “It is not a public document – it is an exchange between two individuals in their capacity as leaders of two political parties, not as public office holders.”
Hypocrisy and cant are normalised, too. A government which professes respect for the High Court and the rule of law, is led by a Prime Minister can praise Joh Bjelke-Petersen not for his brown paper baggery and homophobic bigotry but for his “vision and leadership.”
Vale to the Venerable Senator Flo’s whose timely popping of her clogs in a Kingaroy nursing home this week at 97 provokes such a tsunami of southerly gush and obsequious fawning from Neoliberalism’s knight errant, Sir Malcolm, Prince of Point Piper, it’s fit to make a pumpkin blush.
In an encomium that would embarrass even Trump’s grovelling claque, Turnbull bids for the most nauseating, orchestrated sycophancy yet demonstrated toward an incompetent and corrupt leader.
Instead of polite indirection or even better, silence, a startled nation hears Joh and Flo brought “success” and “dynamism” to the Moonlight State whose systematic corruption and abuse of power is exposed in The Fitzgerald Inquiry of July 1989. Yet Joh’s elevation is nothing compared with Dutton’s.
Border Supremo, Immigration Pooh-bah Peter Dutton’s Trump-like elevation is extraordinary. The only Coalition front-bencher to boycott Parliament’s 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations, Dutto’s achieved singular distinction before, but the tyrant’s rise and rise, via a career of scandalous incompetence makes him not only the most powerful minister in cabinet – but Turnbull’s most favoured.
Now Pete’s anointed King of Bullshit Castle. Our Lord Protector. He is not only most comfortably accommodated – in his bespoke Home Affairs portfolio whose extensive powers would dazzle any dictator, his elevation also seals his extraordinary ascent over the rule of law – a process confirmed when in 2015 his government obligingly made it legal for Dutto to use powers that put him above the law.
As the ABC reported at the time, The Australian Border Force Act, supported by the ALP and opposed only by the Greens, effectively turns the Department of Immigration into a secret security organisation with police powers. Although the Act seems to be directed at Customs operations, it also seeks to regulate and control access to information about asylum seekers in immigration detention.
The week marks Dutton’s ascension to the Coalition throne effectively vacated by Malcolm Turnbull’s failure to exercise leadership. By normalisation of abnormal if not bizarre excess and via pluto populist techniques the Turnbull government is successfully and swiftly taking Australia ever further to the right.
Part of this drift may be an insurance policy. Turnbull attempts to keep in sweet with the right wing which pull his strings. Yet it may also be a reflection of a protean, Zelig-like political chameleon whose political complexion is determined by the group he is with or the last powerful politician he spoke to..
But his “reforms’ are alarming. Home affairs combines the Australian federal police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and border force in a new ministry broadly modelled on the UK’s home office. All this flies in the face of advice from a range of expert commentators.
Gillian Triggs sees the new ministry as “a very serious incursion into the separation of powers, the power of the judiciary to make independent judgments”.
“Over the last few years, and particular during my time as president, we’ve seen this initially quite slow movement, piece of legislation by piece of legislations, that centralises administrative and ministerial decision-making.”
“But the last few weeks are seeing almost a galloping move towards a centralisation of government but most particularly of expanded ministerial discretion without proper judicial supervision and control.”
Beneath its chaotic dysfunction and in some ways because of it, the Turnbull government has been able to normalise its bizarre abnormality whilst at the same time it has used democratic processes to increase the power of the elite in constructing its own Turnbull’s own fortress – bullshit castle, a very right wing, authoritarian government presided over by his Supremo and Lord Protector Peter Dutton.
I wish everyone well for the holiday season but right now I’m dreaming of a Right Christmas.