“Despite the light at the end of the tunnel, the journey ahead will not be smooth.” Wang-Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister.
China’s philosophical Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, dips into the fortune cookie jar, this week, for a homespun mixed metaphor to sound a diplomatic note of caution, when, in an extraordinary turn of events, North Korea agrees to meet South at the negotiating table.
Wang’s multi-layered killer riff also wraps politics at home from Barnaby Joyce’s “grey area” paternity, to the fracas in Tasmania as “slick” Willy Hodgman’s Liberals sensibly announce their policies after winning the election, thus sparing Apple Isle voters the Sisyphean agony of choosing between parties according to policy manifesto; promises made to be broken.
Shoot first. Ask questions afterwards. Even Tasmanian nasty party veteran, Eric Abetz must be shocked by the state Liberals’ Willy-nilly approach to democracy. Returned Premier Hodgman openly admits that 200 of its 300 policies were released after election day. Yet he’s claiming an electoral mandate even for policies which were hidden from voter scrutiny.
Fast-talking Michael Ferguson, Tassie Liberal campaign manager and master of spin, claims his party simply had too many good ideas. Of course. The “sheer volume of policies released during an election campaign makes it impractical to widely promote all of them during the campaign period”. Or explain them. Or get them to Treasury on time. Or cost them.
Treasury documents, released Wednesday, reveal that Hodgman has opted to follow Barnaby Joyce’s example of improving a party’s electoral appeal by not costing new policies. Tassie Liberals win a Barnaby award for most un-costed election commitments.
Showing contempt for evidence is one way the National Party’s former leader once rallied his party. As shadow water minister, in 2010, he said he’d use for toilet paper, the Productivity Commission Report on water recovery for the Murray Darling Basin.
Insufficient time or information leaves Tasmania’s Department of Finance unable to assess 161 Liberal pledges. Joyce, readers will recall, billed the taxpayer $40 million to move an entire government department, appropriately a regulatory authority which deals with pests, without even what is fondly called “modelling” and despite the wishes of the staff.
This week, the wonderfully named David Littleproud, Minister for Agriculture confirms the move will continue, despite the discovery that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority will spend nearly $1 million on leasing and fitting out its temporary digs in Armidale for more staff, as it prepares to move into its permanent new home by mid-2019.
ACT MP Gai Brodtmann warns that the move “has cost the Australian taxpayer $26 million already and is likely to cost the Australian taxpayer $60 million”.
A mere 42 staff, including nine scientists have left the APVMA since Barnaby’s brainwave and Dr Parker, New CEO of the regulatory authority claims most have been unable or unwilling to travel north from Canberra, the original location of their workplace. Nothing to see here.
Less is heard this week from industry groups who have complained that the authority is unable to cope with its workload, but Ms Brodtmann reports that the move is opposed by industry groups and peak associations, including CropLife Australia, Animal Medicines Australia and the National Farmers Federation.
The vibe was right; the pork barrelling perfect. Bugger the key stakeholders. Too much consultation simply spoils the populism. So, too does the over-sharing of personal details, as Joyce discovers to his cost.
Barnaby’s intimate affairs may be the new wet patch of national politics. Monday, Joyce calls yet another public, press conference to keep his life private. The paternity of his partner Vikki Campion’s child, he says, is a grey area. Joyce is a dead, buried and cremated man walking.
How quickly, the gold rolls off the “rolled gold promise” he would survive as Nationals’ leader.
Already regretting her rolled-gold pledge is Nats’ Deputy, Bridget McKenzie, whom a well-oiled Joyce (“I wasn’t drunk”) once publicly admired in a late night senate session,
“Madam acting deputy president McKenzie, you are looking wonderful tonight,” Joyce said at 9:00 pm July 2012. “You are a flash bit of kit in this chamber; there is no doubt about you.”
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, last Thursday, it must be remembered that Barnaby rounded off his compliment by asking McKenzie to “roll with me on that one”.
Impotent, “inept”, but as yet unrolled, Liberal leader, Turnbull, meanwhile, wears his PM’s hollow crown uneasily. Eagerly awaiting Newspoll number 30, Abbott reminds him he will need to show due cause why he should remain Prime Minister, next month – if not sooner.
Michaelia Cash, darling of Western Australia’s hard right, continues to cause grief with her “brain-snap”, or attempt at debate by personal innuendo and slander but Turnbull cannot afford to lose her support. His contortions to keep her onside, on board, or behind a white-board have been pure high farce and highly damaging. If only he could white-board Abbott.
The white-board parodies a government which boasts it is open and transparent. Damaging also is Turnbull’s brain-snap defence of Cash. Betraying his need to support her at any cost, he absurdly accuses Doug Cameron of bullying. At least the dud GDP figures can be hushed up.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), reveal real GDP grew by 0.4% in the December quarter of last year. Even the best spin can’t disguise a drop over the year to 2.4%, below what the government claims is the economy’s potential trend growth rate or around 2.75%.
Malcolm chokes on the sulphurous stench of his 28th consecutive bad Newspoll, a modern medieval Hell’s mouth, which, this week, even devours his precious but irrelevant preferred PM lead. He drops eight points. Now he’s statistically equal to Bill Shorten.
Since 2016 the government has lagged behind the opposition by 6.6 per cent on average. The Turnbull experiment is a failure.
Even Turnbull must concede that a thirtieth dud poll is inevitable, next month. “Senior Labor figures” are said to be calculating on facing another Liberal leader, next election. Nothing for it but once last fling at being Super-Mal. Mal gets his office to call Greg Norman to be Robin.
As he dons his tarnishing Super Mal outfit; the showman in Turnbull senses a last chance to pose as a super statesman by wringing exemptions from the president’s dumb 25% tariff on steel 10% tariff on aluminium – that is if no-one at home notices that US tariffs won’t make much difference to our industries. We don’t export much of either metal.
What we do export, moreover, is covered by the Australia United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSTFA) our much-vaunted dud Trade Agreement with the United Sates.
Dynamic Dan Tehan rushes to air Friday informing ABC RN listeners of his mission to save Alcoa’s Portland aluminium smelter, which is in his electorate. He neglects to say that the business is a basket case, propped up only because the state and federal government use $250 million of tax-payer money to pay the smelter’s electricity bill.
Of course, there’s more. Now concessions have been granted –or appear to have been granted, Trump expects Australia to “join the US in sending a signal to China about the South China Sea”, or play chicken with the Chinese Navy, an option favoured by new US ambassador to Australia, Pacific commander Harry Harris formerly of Guantanamo Bay.
It’s a high price to pay for concessions which appear to have been unnecessary and which, in any case, won’t protect us from the effects of a trade war between China, USA and the EU. Turnbull’s stunt may prove a pyrrhic victory; another example of his poor judgement.
Another fan of poor judgement, Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, pops up on Sunday’s ABC Insiders to spruik US lickspittle, John Howard’s, dud trade agreement with the US as the best thing since smashed avocado. Yet three years ago, ANU research confirms that the Australian Free Trade Agreement, (AUSTFA) is a lemon. But how would Steve know?
Everyone on Insiders is too polite to ask the Neoliberal blowhard what’s happened to the wondrous free trade deal with Indonesia he promised a year ago. Ciobo’s work on our Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA), which began in 2016, is a game well into extra time, as negotiators add an 11th round in December, its seventh extension after negotiations in November failed to finalise any deal whatsoever.
Ciobo’s lies about the benefit of AUSTFA are unchallenged. Ciobo even drops the name of the Liberal party’s patron saint, Neoliberal Saint John of the double-cross of Tampa, the un-Fair Work Commission, cheer-leader of the illegal invasion of Iraq Howard, Amen, as geriatric living proof that AUSTFA is a good thing. It has, in fact, cost us billions.
Shiro Armstrong Co-Director of the Australia-Japan Research Centre at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU notes the agreement diverted Australia’s trade away from the lowest-cost sources. Australia and the US reduced their trade with the rest of the world by US$53 billion and are worse off than they would have been without the agreement.
Praise for AUSTFA is “complete and utter nonsense on stilts” to purloin Nick Clegg’s recent dismissal of Julie Bishop’s proposal of a UK-Australia free trade (FTA) which would be “value-added” by creating a bridge whereby the Old Dart could become eligible to belong to another impending disaster, the TPP.
The TPP will enable companies to exploit “temporary workers” brought from overseas, says the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which slammed the deal on February 21. It also warns that the agreement also allows foreign companies to sue Australian governments for making decisions, such as the plain packaging laws on cigarettes.
Never to be outbid, our Prime Minister, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull echoes Wang’s cryptic warning. “There have been many false dawns”, Turnbull responds. He should know. His epigram avoids trains, tunnels and journeys but unwittingly voices his own political epitaph.
Turnbull doesn’t mention false claims. The week witnesses a bizarre tussle as three nations compete for kudos in wrangling “rogue state” North Korea to its senses. Things turn ugly.
In a shocking three-way heist, China, snatches credit from the US which snatches credit from South Korea, which cops a lot of stick, for painstakingly setting up its first talks since 1953 with North Korea’s Fatboy-Kim III, as Kim Jung-un is known, in Chinese cyberspace.
The breakthrough results from South Korea’s hard yards. Despite US opposition, President, Moon Jae-in has laboured long over his courageous personal diplomacy in search of peace.
Moon’s initiatives include high-risk ventures: he hosted Kim’s sister and a chorus of cheerleaders for the Winter Olympics. He defied US opposition to his mission. And a senior delegation sent to Pyongyang, gets a terrific surprise to find their dinner host is Kim.
Moon will meet Kim next month on the south of the demilitarised zone, a brutal reminder of when the US divided North and South Korea after dropping half a million tonnes of bombs on the north. Chemical weapons and Napalm were included in a “long, leisurely and merciless” bombing campaign killing three million people, about half of whom, were civilians.
Koreans remember “the forgotten war”, a war the US lost against largely peasant armies, “forgotten” by the US and Australia only because it went unreported at home. One post-war detail, at least, helps contextualise the view of those who charge Kim with nuclear blackmail.
Nuclear blackmail? From 1958 to 1990, the US stationed hundreds of nukes in South Korea with standard plans to use them in the early stages of a North Korean invasion.
Moon pressures the US to relax its demands for talks with North Korea. He sends his emissary to Trump, Thursday, relaying “an undisclosed personal message” from Kim. It is this initiative which results in The Donald trumping his efforts and claiming all the credit.
Yet Wily Wang Yi is uncannily prophetic. Before week’s end, two desperate imposters, the hopeless, hapless, narcissist Trump and his embarrassingly eager “inept” fan-boy, Turnbull, big-note themselves abroad in desperate attempts to divert impending domestic disaster.
Trump jumps the shark. As his staffers spin the old, tired myth of The Donald’s deal-making mastery, he gazumps the South Korean engineered offer to talk with “little rocket man”, his pet pejorative term for Kim Jong-un, and pretends to propose a pow-wow in May, provided, of course, Kim completely disarms and crippling sanctions stay in place.
Deal-making? It’s just a stunt. Yochi Dreazen sets the record straight in Vox.
It’s not just that Trump hasn’t been able to nail down deals on domestic issues like health care, trade issues like NAFTA, or foreign policy issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s that he hasn’t really even tried, avoiding direct talks with political rivals or foreign leaders and instead preferring to simply sit on the sidelines and see what his aides could come up with.
Sit on the sidelines? Trump slaves night and day over his signature phrases “We’ll see what happens … we’ll see how it all comes about”. Flattery helps. “Uncle Trump” or “Donald the Strong” or “The Commander” his Beijing fans call him. They follow state media in paying tribute to his “decisiveness; his fearless risk-taking”. China has got Trump’s number.
The Chinese play Trump at his own game. The self-proclaimed master deal-maker would rather have a bad deal than no deal at all. Even a compromise allows him to declare a “win.”
“Tell him yes”, “I’ll do it,” The Donald rudely interrupts a trio of South Korean officials, visiting The Oval Office to weigh the diplomatic options of Kim’s offer to talk. Trump has no inkling of what he’s up for. No-one could remotely prepare him for such an encounter by May. But his instinct prompts him to snatch kudos for himself, regardless of protocol. His racism helps, too. Instantly, he usurps Moon’s role; brazenly claiming his diplomacy as his own.
Light at the end of the tunnel may, of course, be an oncoming dragon. Or the devil’s venom, the dangerously volatile rocket fuel, unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH), which China and Russia have obligingly supplied Kim since George W Bush restored trade tariffs to protect the US steel industry in 2002, a calamitous failure, abandoned a year later.
With no dragon’s venom, Kim’s missiles could not fly but that’s not in either Russia or China’s strategic interests. Our US vassal nation rejoices to learn that China has sorted North Korea, even if, as Wang Yi suggests, we may all be in for a rough trot.
Amazingly, the Pussy-Grabber in Chief is able to extricate himself from his duties; tear himself away from getting lawyer, Michael Cohen to put a restraining order on adult film actor, Stormy Daniels, (Stephanie Clifford), who wants to reveal details of her alleged affair with Trump, a fabulous audio-visual performance piece, which may include images and texts.
Juggling the rigours of golf, firing more staff and the other pressing needs of a B-Grade reality TV presidency, including waging a world trade war, simply because, he mistakenly believes it will win him Pittsburgh, Trump stops the show by announcing he will meet Kim.
It’s huge. The Donald’s talk of talks with Kim, “in May, sometime” on a set yet to be chosen is given a standing ovation by local media happy to pretend a meaningless stunt is, in fact, an amazing breakthrough – before any meeting has even taken place.
The Donald is hailed locally as “The first serving president to meet a North Korean leader”. Some of our local politicians from Tamworth to Tasmania will be delighted to see Trump get the accolade before he’s even met Kim Jong-un or without a scrap of evidence to suggest the US President is capable of any intelligent, informed, strategic dialogue.
What do facts matter in a post-truth world? Or a world in which lies are merely alternative facts? Or a world where real statecraft takes a back seat to parochial politics; how it looks at home for Wang, Turnbull and the photo-opportunity, reality TV president Trump?
No-one expects Kim to give up his nuclear weapons, his nation’s life insurance policy. Nor does China want a weakend North Korea on its border.
It’s clear, above all, from Wang-Yi’s cryptic fortune cookie comment that it’s not the light at the end of the tunnel but the long rough journey ahead – the drawn-out, time consuming, endlessly protracted time wasting process of talks that’s China’s real objective.
Upsetting the bad-apple cart, is South Korean President, former student activist and human rights lawyer, Moon Jae-in’s inspiring personal quest for peace and justice against the odds; a rare quest fuelled by principle and ideal in a world where cynical pragmatists abound.
The cheerleaders, whom Moon kindly billeted, over a Winter Olympics, will have long left to go back to their homes in the North, but he could certainly do with some cheering on.