Petty, vindictive, political bastardry, the signature theme of our bastardised, post-modern, dog-eat-dog politics, erupts far and wide this week, from magical fabulist, US pseudo-President, mob don, Trump, to our mock-populist, One (White) Nation’s Pauline Hanson, who each abandon key political deals at the last minute. Consternation and chaos ensue.
Leaping into the fray, Canning MP, sandgroper, Handy Andy Hastie, conducts a surprise attack on his own Prime Minister. Doubtless, Hastie’s five years in Afghanistan equip the former SAS officer well for the mortal combat, cage fighting, mud-wrestling and sundry other contests vital to any Liberal MP’s advancement. He is certainly combative.
‘I have no problem with people coming after me, but just make sure you come after me and not my family’ Hastie threatens in 2015 in case anyone asks about his family and his fascinating, fundamentalist religious views.
And on matters relating to his military service, Hastie, an Abbott man, is with Peter Dutton, Angus Campbell or Scott Morrison who kept secret his ordering of boat turnbacks in not talking about “operational matters” – as if, somehow, our nation is at war; as if such information threatens, rather than strengthens, the national interest of a democratic state.
Hastie is later cleared of any wrongdoing when a soldier under his command cut off the hands of Taliban fighters in 2013. In 2015, Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop offer gushing endorsements which make interesting reading today.
“We want you in Parliament,” Bishop says. “You are an outstanding Australian who deserves to be elected in the seat of Canning and we will do whatever we can to ensure that our Parliament, our country, has the benefit of your skill, leadership and expertise.”
Parachuting Hastie into the safe Liberal seat, it was believed, might even save Tony Abbott from a Turnbull challenge.
“He has fought for our country in the field and he will fight for our country in the Parliament. Thank you Andrew for making yourself available for this important form of national service,” Abbott says his military fetishising, boundless.
While the mutilation or mistreatment of the bodies of the dead is a violation of the laws of war, the soldier involved has never been disciplined. Inquiry transcripts published by The ABC in 2017 have led to public outcry and conflict between defence personnel. Some contend the incident is evidence of a “drift in values” among Australia’s Special Forces.
The soldier cut the hands off three dead EKIA (Defence reports depersonalise the dead with the acronym, EKIA – enemy combatants killed in action)- in order to be able to identify them, it is claimed, although then Captain Hastie wasn’t at the scene. Yet a commanding officer’s approval would be needed, to authorise such an action army experts attest.
Similarly Hastie was “just making up the numbers”, explains military expert and war criminal John Howard, in 2015, in another operation in which US troops accidentally killed two Afghan boys, firing on them from a helicopter gunship.
Right place, wrong time? For Hastie the incidents are a test of his fortitude and his patriotism. “I’ve seen these things and I’ve had to have the strength of character, integrity and honour to deal with these incidents and serve my country.”
“Who dares wins” is the SAS motto. Yet when Hastie blows up his own PM this week, Turnbull and his committee are blind-sided. Or is it shock and awe? Under parliamentary privilege, anti-communist Hastie denounces one of our government’s benefactors, Chau Chak Wing, accusing Chau not only of being a communist but a corrupt communist.
Chair of Federal Parliament’s joint intelligence and security committee, (ISC) Hastie, is testosteronic Tony Abbott’s star 2015 recruit. As befits an Abbott man, Hastie lobs a grenade into his own leader’s tent, fragging Turnbull, under parliamentary privilege, while spilling the (classified) beans on billionaire businessman Chau Chak Wing a Chinese–Australian wanted by the FBI for co-conspiring in the bribery of a former UN president. Chau has never been indicted.
All hell breaks loose. The Turnbull government fears all is lost in its mission to repair its increasingly rocky relationship with China. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who is always “doing an outstanding job”, according to her PM, whose government continues to plunder her budget and hasn’t read her Foreign Policy White Paper, is putting finishing touches on her communique after failing to patch things up with China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi in Argentina for the G20.
Bishop reports “very warm candid and constructive” talks. Wang Yi says the two nations “encountered some difficulties”.
“If Australia sincerely hopes that the relations between the two countries will return to the right track … they must break away from traditional thinking, take off their coloured glasses, and look at China’s development from a positive angle,” Wang adds. Our government’s foreign interference laws are not being received well in Beijing.
Yet, as Bishop suggests in her incoherent Foreign Policy White Paper, we must be prepared to go to war with China, if it can’t observe something US policy wonks love to call, “rules-based order” a code for the status quo in Asia. We have just realised how powerful and determined China is. The problem, notes Hugh White is what are we going to do about it?
All the White Paper can offer is the naff bumper sticker slogan of “a new mix of co-operation and competition”.
Last December, Turnbull took up the diplomatic megaphone to declare that the Australian people would “stand up” against meddling – a phrase evoking Mao Zedong and insulting his successors. As The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy writes, “Language like that fuels the Chinese nationalist narrative of a century of humiliation.” Beijing wants an apology.
Worse, our great and powerful friend, the US is underwhelmed by Hastie’s breach of classified information and is less likely to trust our ISC with its secrets in future. Ms Bishop’s “outstanding job” looks curiously like yet another spectacular Turnbull government failure. And in one short week, we’ve alienated our two greatest trading partners.
Is Hastie over-hasty? Has he ruined, forever, our kowtow to Zhongguo, (China)? Is our Sino-Australian love-hate relationship now impossibly conflicted by our love of Trump; our Australian crawl, the latest act of ritual abasement in our historic US-Australian vassalage? Or is Handy Andy simply urging his nation not to go soft on Sinophobia?
Or have we been set up by US spooks eager to foment discord; see the fur fly between the koala and the panda?
Whilst he told neither his PM nor his committee, Hastie did tell an ASIO operative “in a speculative way” before he blew the whistle on Chau. It’s as if he’s been set up by the Abbott-Dutton hard right faction. Or its supporters.
The Turnbull government is caught with its pants down. Worse. Hanson blabs. One Nation has been wooed with promises of a petrol resource rent tax hike. It’s kept mum in the hope it will garner enough Pauline Hanson One (White) Nation (PHON) votes to pass its enterprise tax plan, a $48 billion hit over ten years to its revenue and a sugar hit to business, which will do nothing to boost wages and less to lift productivity but will do everything to raise workers’ taxes.
Hanson is stung to discover the May Budget meets few of her other bucket list demands such as lower migration which currently is “destroying our standard of living and way of life”. And where’s her Health Card for self-funded retirees? Her new coal-fired power station for North Queensland, home to some of the biggest solar plants in the country? Her gas pipe line from west to east coast Australia? And there’s more. So Hanson goes for her fourth company tax position.
She’s happy with all but the last stage – but she’s got a long list of needs that negotiator Mathias Cormann must satisfy.
Pauline’s script is fabulous: “The people of this country want leadership. They want honesty and they want trust. And I have to do that job.” Voting regularly with the government, she styles herself “a senator for the people of Australia.”
La Hanson is a martyr to her lofty principles and her mangled syntax: “(in) all good conscience I cannot look back in time and think I could have made a difference and never did anything about it”. No? There’s always room for a fifth position.
Hanson’s veto may give Turnbull just the excuse he needs to drop the unpopular tax and further ammunition to attack Labor’s capacity to cost its own promises. But will his government’s corporate sponsors let him?
All bull-dust and bastardry aside, Hanson evokes the spirit of our time and helps to lead us in our “universal descent into unreality”, as US writer Benjamin DeMott noted of his own nation’s zeitgeist, sixty years ago.
Upstaged almost, but equally impotent and deluded, is our own Mad Man Mal. Like Trump, he is another hapless Gatsby ,trapped in the fantasy of his own self-creation, who gets his independent Australian Electoral Commission to tell his independent speaker, Tony Smith, to declare, on Thursday, that Super Saturday, a series of super Section 44 by-elections, will be held on 28 July, a date which clashes with the final day of Labor’s 48th national annual bun-fight.
“No judgement”, as Paul Keating famously dismissed Malcolm Turnbull, is confirmed Thursday, as his pet Speaker and IPA member, Tony Smith, calls a Super Saturday of five by-elections in Braddon, Longman, Perth, Fremantle and Mayo, to conflict with The Australian Labor Party’s National Conference scheduled for 26-28 July.
Labor is in uproar. It’s “a disgraceful indictment” on the government and “stinks of interference … with the independent electoral commission” howls ALP National President Mark Butler.
Granting a nine-week campaign period, however, secures no certain advantage to the Coalition. In fact, it seems to repeat the dud political judgement that nearly cost Turnbull’s government victory last election.
When the going gets tough, the Coalition goes to water. The party that saw no need for a royal commission into child abuse, a mob which howled down calls by The Greens, Labor and others for a royal commission into banking, completes a hat-trick in responsibility abdication, this week, by pretending there is no water-tight case for a federal ICAC.
Attorney General, Christian Porter, tells Labor shadow Mark Dreyfus that there is no “persuasive evidence” that current methods of tackling corruption are insufficient. Even for a Turnbull government, which denies climate change, gender equality and which can cynically misrepresent the Uluru voice from the heart as a bid for a third parliamentary chamber instead of an eloquent, cogent case for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal peoples, it is a staggering denial of reality.
Contributing brilliantly to the national conversation which Liberal party weasel-wordsmiths are having on merit versus gender equality quotas, a ruse favoured by conservatives desperate to defend the status quo, Senator Jane Hume wins token bloke of the week for her attempt on Monday’s Q&A to ingratiate herself with her party’s patriarchy.
The Liberal party is particularly fond of touting “merit” as the reason it cannot take affirmative action to redress the dearth of women among its ranks. The Coalition has but 13 women MPs in the lower house; four fewer than John Howard had in his first term in 1996. Howard, Pru Goward, Head of the Office of the Status of Women, told us in 1997 was surrounded by strong women “and it doesn’t bother him a bit” and he knew all about feminism from his daughter.
While some of Howard’s best friends were women, Senator Jane Hume on Q&A on Monday tells women hoping to become Liberal MPs to simply “work harder” to get pre-selected; win seats. Equality can also be fixed by “being nicer”.
Wild applause breaks out across half the nation at this immensely helpful suggestion while The Guardian’s Georgina Dent attacks the specious merit argument.
“If merit is an entirely fair and effective mechanism then, it must hold, that men are simply better company directors, chief executives, judges, surgeons, professors, pilots, politicians, leaders, bureaucrats, principals and lawyers than women.”
There is some evidence from the US that the elevation of reality TV show host Donald Trump to the Oval Office of The White House has inspired women to run for office and to get out and vote. If it’s true, it may prove his only positive achievement in a presidency which he has contrived to demean since his inauguration.
News this week that Trump has broken off his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jon-un should not distract us from the fact that the summit was never his in the first place. It was a meeting neither Trump nor his advisers were remotely prepared for. Instead, it was something he hijacked; a process instigated and nurtured by South Korean president, Moon Jae-in – with most of the hard yards being done by Im Jong-seok, a former prominent student democracy activist who is now President Moon’s Chief of Staff. She must have worked hard and been nice to a lot of people.
The US descent into unreality continues apace. An increasingly erratic, paranoid Trump, desperate for any diversion from the inexorable progress of investigation into his collusion with Russian interference in the presidential campaign – a two-pronged process into obstruction of justice and collusion led by ex FBI Chief, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, falsely accuses The New York Times on Saturday of making up a source in an article about North Korea.
The source is, in fact, a senior White House official addressing a large group of reporters in the White House briefing room.