Month: January 2019

ScoMo where’s your trousers? A week of epic failure.

frank-bainimarama-points-to-australian-prime-minister-scott-morrisons-sulu-vaka-taga-as-he-arrives-in-traditional-bula-dress-with-hi

Some think, that the Rationall Spirits flye out of Animals, (or that Animall we call Man) like a swarm of Bees, when they like not their Hives, finding some inconvenience, seek about for another Habitation: Or leave the Body, like Rats, when they finde the house rotten, and ready to fall.

— Margaret Cavendish Newcastle, Philosophical Fancies, 1653


There’s not a dry eye in the house, Saturday, as a weary, teary, Kelly O’Dwyer, MP for Privilege (Higgins), minister for women, jobs and Neoliberal industrial relations, yet still seen as a Liberal “wet” makes her “shock” announcement. Internal polling suggest she’ll get the bum’s rush next election. A ReachTEL poll of about 1000 voters in Higgins published by the Herald Sun in November also indicates Ms O’Dwyer may “lose her seat to Labor on a two-party vote of 53-47″.

But it’s not in the official script which instead re-iterates the epic delusion of the Libs winning the next election.

In between her standard Liberal MP stand-up routine: the talking-point bot, Kel goes rogue, looks up a bit from her notes; talks of quitting for “very personal reasons” which she quickly makes public, using economic jargon. The O’Dwyers want to “grow their family” while there’s still time. In an exclusive in The Herald Sun she talks of a recent miscarriage.

Multiple Joyce, puns The Courier Mail‘s Sunday front page, meanwhile, sensitively reminding readers of the former Deputy-Prime Minister’s fecundity, given having a family is so much more interesting than dull stuff like whether our government’s lack of policy on climate or energy or environment will leave us a nation fit to raise a family in.

Barney’s partner, Vikki Campion is expecting their second child in June, a boy to be named Thomas, after his grandfather. Will Barnaby now quit politics for fatherhood?  Murdoch’s Tittle-tattle rag, The Herald Sun notes “family sources” say Joyce’s four daughters are “furious”. Dad is squaring off, meanwhile, for another tilt at being Nats leader.

ScoMo is frantic. How will his government survive?  Will other rats desert the rotting house? Seer, Samantha Maiden reckons Cabinet colleagues say Julie Bishop is only hanging around to spite Christian Porter who has his eyes on her seat. Blue ribbon Curtin is certain and has more cred than his marginal WA seat of Pearce to Porter, an aspiring Liberal leader.

Some Liberals are happy to see O’Dwyer go. Victorian Liberal Party Hawksburn branch president Thomas Hudson tells The Australian Ms O’Dwyer’s decision could be a “fresh start” for Higgins. “We have been losing Liberal voters disappointed with Ms O’Dwyer’s lack of involvement in the electorate,” he explains. ScoMo counters with fantastic spin.

O’Dwyer is a huge loss. There’s much talk of her massive legacy of tireless work for women and for workers. And banks. Who else but O’Dwyer, a former NAB investment banker, could have fought off a banking Royal Commission for so long? Who else could have drafted twenty Coalition-friendly employer representatives in a row on to the Fair Work Commission? When Fair Work’s president, Iain Ross, recommends only one new appointment, O’Dwyer makes seven.

Who could so stoutly deny workers penalty rates? Women are hit by penalty rate cuts more than men. Director of The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, economist, Dr Jim Stanford, points out that women make up 60 per cent of Sunday workers in retail, and 54 per cent in hospitality, according to current data from Australia’s statistics bureau.

More women are also likely to work part-time. Seventy per cent of women in food and beverage services, and 60 per cent in retail, work part-time, compared to only 52 and 35 per cent, respectively, for men, concludes Stanford.

Quit politics, Kel must, however, even if it means leaving “the natural government for women” without a Minister for Women. Perhaps Abbott could be drafted into another special envoy posting? He has the runs on the board. And time on his hands. Nope, nope, nope? Make that a definite maybe, Tone has a battle on his hands just to win Warringah.

Natural government for women? O’Dwyer’s nonsense comes hard on the heels of her public reflection on how the Liberal Party’s “homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers” image cost votes. Only cynics would conclude that O’Dwyer has been “counselled” into being more upbeat about the toxic culture of the Liberal Party. Surely she has not been bullied into making some sort of unconvincing correction or retraction?  Or bullied out of the party?

At least, Kel gets a gig on the Scott and Jenny show, a special Saturday edition, a post-modern press conference with no questions but with dollops of emotional support from First Lady Jenny Morrison, who is suddenly seen everywhere in public with her husband and lashings of micro-management from minder ScoMo, who smirks and grins vacantly into the middle distance, displaying his nurturing nature in between bouts of affirmative, paternalistic nodding for the camera.

“Supportively” is the word reporters choose, desperately hunting for a term to put spin on ScoMo’s rictus with a tic.

Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them in a Saturday presser.

Kelly is a “great woman who’s done a great job for her country and community” and has “made a great choice for her family”, Morrison gushes over her trifold greatness.

“There is no one I know who has worked harder or achieved more than Kelly O’Dwyer,” ScoMo lays it on so thick and chunky you could carve it. His hyperbole entirely discredits himself and his subject, regardless of his intention.

Some note on social media that ScoMo’s face reminds them of when he stood supportively behind Turnbull shortly before knifing him. Now he hovers, a looming, controlling, sinister presence, upstaging and overshadowing. O’Dwyer’s resignation announcement is not allowed to be a speech. He cuts her off. No questions. He hauls her off-stage.

There’s a lot more to run away from this week. The stench of the Murray Darling Basin scandal continues but despite a Royal Commission and a report from the Productivity Commission – and a wealth of expert advice that the river system is being killed by the extraction of water for irrigation by Big Cotton and other corporate farming oligarchies – Morrison stalls. His tactic is straight out of Yes Minister. He’ll call for more information. Meanwhile, the river system is dying.

“I think we need to look carefully at what is actually occurring,” ScoMo says. “Of course, the drought, as the deputy prime minister has said, has had a devastating impact on what we’re seeing, and there has been a perfect storm of other environmental factors, which has crystallised into the serious fish death that we’ve seen.”

“But before we start ripping up bipartisan agreements that have been very important to how we manage that area, I think it’s important that we inform ourselves more.”

Managing? A neon sign warning of the Coalition’s paralysing inertia and its collusion with corporate agribusiness to the detriment of the small farmer, local fauna, the environment and the national interest, the Murray Darling Basin is poisoned by greed and graft. Naturally, the catastrophe is all too much for ScoMo. Suddenly, overwhelmed by the need to find some high moral ground overseas, our self-declared “Prime Minister for standards” has to flit to Fiji.

A human chameleon, our protean ScoMo, who also moonlights as a lackey of Big Coal, Big Cotton, Big Gina and all other bigwigs of Australia’s corporate oligarchy, has to let China know that the Pacific is our back yard; draw a line in the sand drowning from global warming. So it’s off to Suva to drop his trousers and don a Fijian kilt, the sulu vaka taga.

“We are family”, ScoMo tells Fiji, thawing our diplomatic deep freeze which began with then Head of Fiji’s military, Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s coup in 2006. Bainimarama declared himself Acting President deposing President Josefa Iloilo. In 2007, he reinstated Iloilo who then endorsed the coup and appointed Bainimarama PM.

In 2014 his FijiFirst Party narrowly wins the first election since 2006. Just over fifty per cent of voters turn out.

Now petty despotism is cool again, especially as China waves its chequebook in the region. China is set to quadruple Australia’s outlay on aid to the Pacific region after pledging $US 4 billion in 2017, most of which is accounted for by loans to an eager PNG, according to Lowy Institute calculations. Other nations are not so keen on racking up more debt.

Of course, there are other items on the agenda. We must hush-up Peter Dutton’s stuff-up over Neil Prakash not being Fijian. The subject did not even come up beams ScoMo. In return, Australia will train Fijian soldiers should Fiji be required to defend itself against China, for example – or once again help another local despot seize power in a coup.

ScoMo frocks up in the sulu. The loin-cloth was introduced by missionaries from Tonga in the nineteenth century and was worn to indicate conversion to Christianity. It’s a typically bold if not risky gesture for our seat of the pants PM.

Notorious for his bizarre dress sense, decorum bypass and cornball humour, ScoMo almost veers into blackface. But what is our PM without his daggy dress-ups, his cheap stunts; his desperate attempts to ingratiate? His ear of tin?

A faux-Fijian ScoMo wags the White Man’s Finger; lectures the benighted Fijians on how to deal with climate change. It’s a remarkable stance even by ScoMo’s standards. His government won’t commit to lower emissions, even though this is what Pacific Islanders beg, nor will it commit to renewable energy, as Fiji suggests. Climate change deniers dictate policy. Accordingly, ScoMo’s party has no climate change policy. He rebukes Aussie school children for protesting about this.

Above all, Morrison has a feature role at home as a fossil fuel shill, the only MP to worship a lump of coal in parliament; the only PM to select former coal industry boss and Rio Tinto lobbyist, John Kunkel, as his chief of staff.

“We’re very committed to funds in the Pacific to deal with programs to deal with the impacts of climate change here,” ScoMo patronises leaders in Fiji and Vanuatu and any other Islanders who miss the ABC radio cricket broadcasts along with the odd tsunami warning since Australia stopped its short-wave broadcasts to the Pacific, January 2017. Another round of ABC funding cuts, cunningly dubbed “efficiency dividends” in Newspeak, ended the eighty year service.

Our ABC, claims to be “seeking efficiencies” – of course – and doing Pacific Islanders a favour by upgrading their service. Yet its shift from shortwave to FM transmissions and digital and mobile services, overlooks the reality that in the remote Pacific, particularly Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, there is no access to an FM signal, limited internet and, where internet is available, it is prohibitively expensive. Yet it’s a boon to any tin-pot dictator.

FM frequencies can easily be shut down by a self-appointed prime minister, as Fijians discovered in 2009.

But it’s not just empty rhetoric; linking vacuity with platitude, ScoMo is a master of artful meaningless jargon.

“To address the impact it’s having on particular communities, and to ensure we can put in place programs which protect those communities, and to ensure the continuance of lifestyle and the way of life,” he soars, way past peak bullshit.

Fiji’s PM, former military dictator, Frank Bainimarama points at the Australian Prime Minister’s nether regions. It is not clear from images published – Fijian press is even more heavily censored than our ABC – whether Frank is laughing or crying. Certainly he manages to work a sense of “You obsequious hypocrite” into the subtext of his welcoming speech.

“Australian coal is killing the Pacific; Australia must not put the interests of a single industry above the lives of Pacific nations battling climate change,” Bainimarama barrels the hapless, trouser-less, Australian Prime Minister. He kindly refrains from bringing up ScoMo’s snub of the South Pacific leaders’ forum last year. Or he didn’t really miss him.

Luckily, despite battling invisible charisma, ScoMo has a fantastic Kanaka 2.0 Pacific Islander labour recruitment scheme up his sleeve. It turns out to be merely an extension of the Pacific Labour Scheme, begun 1 July 2018, but in a fabulous new neo-colonial cultural twist, Fiji will get “a thousand hours of television” – Australian content for three years!

But wait, there’s more, Morrison promises Kanaka 2.0 will help Aussie farmers as well as pay Pacific Island workers so handsomely they can support their families at home. It matters little that after three years of investigation, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) found that many migrant workers are exploited, overworked and underpaid. And bullied.

In 2016, Seasonal workers from Fiji who were paid less than $10 a week, were told by government officials they must return to work for the contractor who exploited them or leave Australia. An ABC investigation then revealed many received little or no pay after deductions while picking fruit and vegetables for AFS Contracting, in northern Victoria.

“Bonded like a slave,” the FWO says in its report, compiled after its Harvest Trail investigators visited hundreds of farms, speaking with workers and farmers. “In some cases a person is virtually bonded like a slave to a particular [labour hire] provider, on the basis they have been told they won’t have their visa extension signed unless they see out the season with them,” says the sublimely named Jennifer Crook, Assistant Director, Compliance and Enforcement branch.

It’s an excoriating report but nothing, however, compared to Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’ free critique. She gives ScoMo a serve over being demoted after punting on Dutton in last August’s Coalition two-horse race to be Australia’s least worst leader. Like most of the ginger group who run Morrison and his government, she fears the Liberals drifting to the left.

Now she also hates the “socialist termite” – a right wing term for those who lean to the left even if they are just adjusting their seatbelts- Morrison for not being Dutton and mourns the loss of her former portfolio and fatter salary.

The former Turnbull Pacific affairs and international development minister, claims it is “disingenuous” for Australia to announce a loans program late last year for island nations while complaining of Chinese “debt-trap diplomacy”.

Concetta vents in an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Fairfax has not yet become solely Nine-infotainment, its rapidly approaching fate. It can still publish the odd piece critical of the government, something you would never get away with in Suva.  Or in Beijing. The gist of her excoriating public attack on her PM is quite fair and reasonable if not authoritative and well-informed, even if, as David Wroe coyly notes, she “breaks ranks”, the rat.

“A region that already owes about $5.5 billion to international creditors,” she says, “doesn’t need to be saddled with more debt.”  Yet selling debt turns out to be only part of ScoMo’s amazing sales pitch.

In a fresh new episode of ScoMo Goes Weird (Again), Morrison tries a bit of self-deprecating and insulting flattery, “We’ve done pretty well you and I, maybe punching above our weight”, ScoMo says ogling Mrs Maria Bainimarama.

It’s a compliment on the beauty of their wives, Jenny Morrison and Maria Bainimarama. How much better looking the wives are than their husbands. How both are in the ugly-bastards-with-beautiful wives joy luck club. What a hoot!

His island jet-away dictator love fest allows Morrison to leave the Murray Darling Basin clusterfuck – an environmental, economic and political catastrophe, a scandal without parallel in the nation’s history, in the safe hands of David Littleproud whose father Brian was Minister for Education, Youth and Sport in Bjelke-Petersen’s moonlight state-brown -paper-bag government and who is related by marriage to John Norman, the operator of Norman Cotton Farming.

What could possibly go wrong? Water Resources Minister Dave’s a great climate change denier and blames the drought, a laughably dishonest fob-off and a wilful misreporting of the detailed reports that have been sent his way. Labor is to blame. ABC News 24 Sunday runs an item which wrongfully implies Julia Gillard wasted $13 billion on a scheme that doesn’t even work.  Next, a lover’s tiff erupts between the Coalition partners, but what’s new?

“The Nats are plagued by scandal, vested with bullies and riddled with incompetence … The one thing they were supposed to be good at were [sic] looking after farmers and they have failed at that. Look at the management of the Murray-Darling,”  says Liberal Party Wagga branch president Colin Taggart,  who adds

“The Nationals are a barnacle on the backside of the Liberals.” Don’t hold back, Col. Tell us how you really feel.

Pity poor ScoMo the most clueless Liberal PM since McMahon. His government is imploding, rotting at the core. It reeks of rotting fish and all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little band of climate change denying, environmental, ecological vandals. There are rats in the ranks and frigging in the rigging aboard HMS ScoMo-go-slow whilst civil war and insubordination breaks out over our aid to Fiji. In Victoria the blokes are crowing over their victory over Kelly O’Dwyer.

Teach her to suggest they are misogynists and bullies.  Next up: how to stop ScoMo parachuting another dud woman into Higgins. Rational spirits are flying out like a swarm of bees as chaos reigns in Morrison’s misgovernment. If he’s got any sense he’ll go for a March election – linger longer and other rats will surely quit the rotting house. Or rat on him.

Cry Me a River; the Murray-Darling is being destroyed by ignorance and greed.

roo at menindee

A stench of putrefaction wafts over a troubled nation, this week, all the way from the tiny, dusty, outback settlement of Menindee, in far west NSW. Mass media is full of shocking images of an horrific mass fish kill in the millions and distressed, hapless, trapped wildlife; hopelessly mired in the deep mud of a dessicated  Lake Cawndilla, nearby, confronting Australia with the catastrophic failure of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, (MDBA), a $13 billion lemon.

The MDBA’s failure is a metaphor for our nation’s ruling elite, who, like Trump, inhabit the eternal now and are in politics solely to look after big cotton, big mining and their other corporate sponsors. Bugger the science. Bugger the future. Just like Trump, Melissa Price, our own climate change denying environment minister has mining connections.

The environment can look after itself.

Or not. Set up by the 2007 Water Act to rescue the basin’s fragile ecosystem, by returning water to the ailing rivers, the MDDBA, its conflicted, compromised and corrupted, dark angel, instead, is achieving “perverse outcomes” – jargon for making things worse. It is, as some locals suggest, as if we’ve put mother in a home notorious for elder abuse.

Evasiveness, secrecy and deceit, experts testify, are part of the rotten culture of the MDBA – a test case in good policy stuffed up at every turn; a clusterfuck from foundation to nearly every stage of its implementation. It’s almost (apart from the policy) in the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government DNA. Except that Labor had a spanner in the works, too.

The MDBA is  “a fraud on the environment”, Royal Commission lawyers declare, on the other hand. Put simply it has not merely watered down a noble plan whose rational aims are enshrined in The Water Act of 2007 – it has subverted it.

The Water Act 2007 recognises that too much water is being extracted from the river system and seeks to reset the balance between the amount required for human consumption and the amount needed to sustain the environment. By 2011, however, as the Royal Commission will find, The MDBA seems to have subverted the intention of the act with the support of key National Party figures including current leadership rematch contender, Barnaby Joyce.

Psst… No-one says nothing. The 2017 Royal Commission is due to report in a few weeks, but it’s stymied by states and authorities’ refusal to cooperate. Had the banks behaved in this fashion during the Hayne Royal Commission there would have been an uproar. Not so rotten in the state of Renmark, South Australia, alone, agrees to give evidence.

Unimpressed, Counsel Assisting, Richard Beasley S.C, an eminent specialist in environmental law notes, acerbically, in his summing up for the Commissioner, Brett Walker S.C., that the state governments’ submissions were,

“..either totally unhelpful or not particularly helpful.”

The MDBA itself excels in chutzpah and contempt by writing to the Commissioner saying it is unavailable because it is “busy”. Our finest scientists, on the other hand, provide the commission with a wealth of expert, testimony.

“Systematic mismanagement, cover up and maladministration has undermined the proper implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan”, Maryanne Slattery, a Senior Water Researcher at The Australia Institute sums up.

“Implementing the Plan for political expediency, without transparency or accountability by the Murray Darling Basin Authority, has resulted in a fraud of a Basin Plan. It has benefited big irrigators, at the expense of everyone else, including Aboriginal people, regional communities, floodplain graziers, small irrigators and the environment.

MDBA has ignored the science it was set up to apply in favour of pleasing its political masters. Now, the fish kill creates a big stink for both major parties but especially for Barnaby Joyce, former Minister for Agriculture and Water resources, who is on record boasting publicly to farmers in a Politics in the Pub-demonise a Greenie session in Shepparton, Victoria of how his mob, heroically, was able to take the water meant for the environment and return it to agriculture.

“We have taken water, put it back into agriculture, so we could look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show basically sending you out the back door, and that was a hard ask,”

Former Director of National Farmers’ Federation, Mal Peters, claims Joyce tilted the Murray-Darling Basin Authority towards irrigation interests over the environment when he was agriculture minister. It may be impossible to tilt back.

Joyce is popular with irrigators for killing off water buybacks and substituting subsidies for efficiency, effectively government handouts but efficiency reduces the run-off back into the river system with predictably disastrous effects.

Above all, “hard ask” Joyce insists on his rhetorical triple bottom line which gives economic and social needs priority over environmental; subverting the environmental aims and the entire intention of the Water Act.

“It’s a public relations sound-bite made up by the Basin Authority” says Counsel Assisting Beasley. There can be no trade-offs between environmental objectives and socio-economic ones, as the environmental objectives of the Act are subordinate to Australia’s international environmental treaty obligations. We are committed to Ramsar, a treaty to preserve wetlands, which takes its name from the small Iranian town where in 1971, the agreement was drawn up.

The Productivity Commission, notes in its recent report available in draft form – (its final report is with government on the understanding that it will be released in 2019) that cancelling buybacks has resulted in more than doubling the cost of water savings. The commission concludes that the current progress on implementing water efficiency measures “gives little confidence” they would be completed by 2024, as planned. But when will the report be released?

Joyce, Morrison’s government, the states and the authority itself show true leadership by keeping eerily shtum.

Hilariously, ScoMo, our chameleon PM becomes “Prime Minister for standards”, he declares, at the end of the week, as he cynically but shrewdly comes up with another spectacular diversion; a truly cunning stunt. Sunday, our own political head prefect decrees, that Australia Day citizenship ceremonies will be compulsory. And formal. No flip-flops.

Not only must councils run ceremonies for new Aussie citizens on Australia Day, they’ll have to hold another on 17 September. But watch what you wear. ScoMo’s bold new citizenship shindig has a dress code. No thongs and shorts. In brief, you can become an Australian at a citizenship ceremony only if you shun Australian casual national dress. It’s bonkers, but it has to be to distract from the biggest stink of the Coalition’s odoriferous last five years in office.

Bill Shorten sniggers at ScoMo’s cynical ploy. “You sort of know when Australia Day’s coming up don’t you, when a couple of weeks before we get the annual conservative outing to put politics into Australia Day,” the Labor leader tells reporters in Melbourne Sunday. “It’s what the conservatives do to keep their base happy.” As do the reactionaries.

Edicts and bad odour are no novelty to our nation’s history. Menindee also felt the full force of government authority on January 26 1935 when, during the first rally against Australia Day, twenty-give Aboriginal men were nicely told if they did not perform the role of ‘retreating Aborigines’ in a re-enactment of the First Fleet, their families would starve.

Echoing Morrison’s current concern for a good show, officials were to recruit the best singers and dancers and take them back to Sydney to perform. Their women were terrified. Ngiyaampaa elder Dr Beryl (Yunghadhu) Philp Carmichael, born and raised on the mission, was only three at the time, but her memory of the fear in the community never left her.

“Whether they were taking them away to be massacred or what, no-one knew. The community went into mourning once they were put on the mission truck,” she recalls.

Menindee is a richly resonant site, historically, politically, ecologically and countless other ways including our vast, interminable, inscrutable legacy of heroic colonial stupidity – and our forbears’ barbarous cruelty to Aboriginal peoples.

In the light of Morrison’s decree on the observance of Australia Day, another typically vacuous, bogan slogan which reveals his ignorance of his nation’s history, (“I think people want Australia Day to be Australia Day, it’s for all Australians”,) it is timely to acknowledge the testimony of Edward Wilson who wrote in The Argus, 17 March 1856,

“In less than twenty years we have nearly swept them off the face of the earth. We have shot them down like dogs. In the guise of friendship we have issued corrosive sublimate in their damper and consigned whole tribes to the agonies of an excruciating death. We have made them drunkards, and infected them with diseases which have rotted the bones of their adults, and made such few children as are born amongst them a sorrow and a torture from the very instant of their birth. We have made them outcasts on their own land, and are rapidly consigning them to entire annihilation.”

Menindee unwittingly played its role. The first town on the Darling, Menindee is the oldest, European colonial settlement in western NSW and was the advance base for Burke and Wills’ 1860 expedition, a grand folly half-cocked, a noble failure, which, not unlike the MDBA, or the Morrison government, set out before its instructions were finalised.

Today, the putrid smell of decomposing carcasses of millions of golden perch, bony herring and Murray cod drifts up over the Darling River bank and into Maiden’s Menindee Hotel whence on 19 October 1860, Robert O’Hara Burke and his third in command, William John Wills, set out into terra incognita; their fatal expedition and the beginning of the end; a shocking new chapter of disease, dispossession and genocide for the traditional owners of the land.

“It opened up the way for the pastoralists,” says Joshua Haynes from Newcastle, a director of the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Traditional Land Owners Aboriginal Corporation -, “and the moment someone took up ownership of the land we could be moved on, or disposed of, just like a kangaroo.”

After the pastoralists came the irrigators; cotton and wheat farmers who took both water and land. “Without the river, us Barkandji people, we are nothing. We’ve got no land, no name, nothing. This is our lifeblood, this is our mother,”

Barkandji Elder “Badger” Bates laments in a letter read in NSW parliament by Independent MP. Jeremy Buckingham.

After waiting 18 years for their Native Title to be acknowledged, his people watch the Barka (Darling river) dry up.

Menindee, today, is thus, the site of a massive environmental disaster, a site layered with all the historical associations of dispossession, alienation and worse; of Burke and Wills grand folly, now overlaid with the folly of irrigated agriculture, unsustainable – environmentally and economically not only here, but throughout Australia. Add a failure of political will.

Big irrigators with big party donations have recruited politicians of all persuasions. It’s a dramatic, tragic reminder in microcosm of how poorly governments of a corporate state have mismanaged energy, environment and health for example when too much power resides in a few massive corporations and oligopolies. Yet we don’t lack in ideas.

In 2006, a meeting of western NSW mayors, chaired by local state MP Peter Black, voted for the Commonwealth to buy the 96,000 hectare Cubbie Station, in southwestern Queensland, the largest landholding in the nation and also the biggest irrigation property in the southern hemisphere, enjoying rights to 400,000 megalitres of water, equivalent to all the water licences downstream in north-west NSW, but it was sold to a Chinese-led consortium. It’s a scandal.

There were two Australian bids on the table, both more generous than the $240 million winning bid, as the ABC’s Stephen Long reported on Radio National’s PM programme in 2012. At the time Fairfax’s Ann Kent puzzled,

“There is something odd about Australia. Our politicians expend huge resources and even more hot air wrangling over how to exclude a pitifully small number of legitimate Asian and Middle Eastern refugees from our shores, while they allow, almost without a murmur, the purchase of Cubbie Station, the largest landholding in the country, comprising a number of properties the size of the ACT, by a consortium headed by a Chinese enterprise, Shandong Ruyi.”

What’s not odd is the all too familiar way authorities rush to scapegoat. They duck and weave to evade responsibility. In this popular political pantomime, it is forbidden to admit the role of climate change or of disastrous mismanagement.

Officials are quick to claim the fish are killed by a toxic algal bloom but locals say the primary cause of the catastrophe is poor water management and irrigation agriculture. The drought and algal bloom are secondary stressors on a system which has failed to use water specially allocated to protect the foundations of the river’s aquatic ecosystems.

“Droughts would have contributed to the blue green algae outbreak,” says Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW,  “But the river droughts are happening more often and they’re more intense as a result of the irrigation industry in the Darling diverting water from the river over the last 10 to 20 years.”

Leading scientists agree.

The NSW Irrigators Council would have us believe it is all about the drought. It isn’t. It about taking too much water upstream so there is not enough for downstream users, and the fish,” says Professor Quentin Grafton, UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance.

What would Grafton know? He’s just a scientist. In the media show which follows, it’s all the fault of the drought of course. In a rare display of synchronised swimming, Agriculture and Water Resources Minister, climate change denier David “don’t give a rat’s” Littleproud, ducks for cover, as does his counterpart, NSW Primary Industries and Water Resources Minister Niall Blair in a hilarious visit to Menindee, where he is seen in a boat speeding past a group of local protestors – only for safety reasons, of course, a technicality which local police do not support.

Unsafe at any speed, The MDBA has, of course, long been warned by scientists that things are hotting up in the basin; hotter periods are lasting longer. Climate change can happen very rapidly and abruptly. Even to denialists.

NSW Labor wants a special inquiry into the ecological catastrophe – as if there’s been no Royal Commission. They want a commission or an inquiry to determine why the Liberals and Nationals sought “changes to water rules that reduced river flows and allowed the over-extraction of water by lobbyist irrigators who were National Party donors”, while ignoring warnings from the Wentworth Group of Scientists and local communities.

Professor John Quiggan has the last word by reminding us that irrigation never was the solution. He notes that agricultural economists recognised long ago that the environment in Australia, especially in areas like Menindee, was not suited to irrigated agriculture. Yet, as he wryly notes, the converse recognition, that irrigation schemes are often disastrous for the environment, came much later. Or as in the case of the MDBA, or the National Party not at all.

The stink from Menindee ought to be enough to bring down any respectable government. On the other hand, it is clearly capable of distracting the Morrison government into outrageous, ill-considered and divisive stunts like his new edict for Australia Day.

In all the fizz and the fuss over the fiasco that is the MDBA debacle, not to mention the frenzy of finding scapegoats and blame-shifting and just plain lying it is worth taking a longer, broader view especially as Australia Day approaches, albeit still on the 26 January. Above all it is worth recalling the rights and the role of the traditional owners of the land and their suffering both past and present – for it far surpasses, in all dimensions, the losses of the corporate cotton farmer.

Women are the forgotten people of the modern Liberal Party.

linda reynolds and old scomo

Often, when good women call out or are subject to bad behaviour, the reprisals, backlash and commentary portrays them as the bad ones – the liar, the troublemaker, the emotionally unstable or weak, or someone who should be silenced …” Julia Banks, former Liberal, now Independent MP for Chisholm.

Julia Banks’ resignation speech is eerily prophetic. Spooky. In a flash, this week, a pack of Liberal women call her a liar – in effect. Worse, at least one of the women, Senator Linda Reynolds, is a victim of political bullying herself. So she says – but she’s happy for ScoMo to sort it all out. Naturally, he’ll pass it all on to an “independent” review.

In September, he told the party room the federal executive “would consider how they will take steps to ensure there is a rigorous and confidential process to deal with concerns and complaints from party members, including members of parliament”.

But he’s also declined to take any responsibility for the bullying, a dead give away, or, reports Fairfax’s Latika Bourke, to back allegations of bullying against female MPs during the leadership spill. His cop-out, his abdication of any kind of leadership, is that “both men and women were subjected to intense pressure during the episode”.

Even more alarming, is the way Reynolds quickly finds another MP to undermine Banks’ testimony with disinformation, an evergreen propaganda technique which can only further weaken our democracy.

Banks doesn’t know what she’s talking about snipes MP for Corangamite, Sarah Henderson. “In my view, being lobbied for votes does not constitute bullying,”

Henderson deploys the classic bully technique of invalidating the victim’s testimony by misrepresentation and selective misquotation.

“I can’t walk in anyone else’s shoes; I can only speak about my experience. But I can certainly say that being lobbied for votes is an integral part of a political process and it does not constitute bullying.”

No, Sarah. What Banks has trouble with is “supposed colleagues, “sniping” behind her back, spreading malicious rumours and then trying to shut her up by hustling her out of their way with an all-expenses-paid posting to New York. She accuses supporters of Victorian Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger of backgrounding against her.

“There wasbackgrounding that I was an emotional wreck.”

Julia’s experiences deserve to be shared. There is a truth in her simple testimony that the bullies just cannot explain away and a Prime Minister exposed as a gutless wonder.

“The Liberal Party can be proud of its record on women,” Reynolds insists in The Australian. “Reform may be slow but it’s solid,” she claims in a whopper that monsters all credibility. It’s pernicious, too, with its Trump-like, duplicity- its utter contempt for truth. First fake news, now fake views. But how easily are we seduced?

Oddly, only last August, at the time of Turnbull’s knifing, Reynolds was “deeply saddened and distressed”.

The behaviour of some had “no place in [her] party or this chamber”. By contrast, she notes, “I greatly respect my friend and colleague Julia Banks who is an outstanding local member and a woman of great integrity.”

You can’t polish a turd. “Great integrity” won’t help there, either, Linda. The Liberal record is damning.

What is “solid” about a party that only gives female candidates seats they are unlikely to win? What is there to be “proud” of? Last election, only three women Liberal candidates, out of thirty-eight, were pre-selected for safe seats. With Banks’ defection, only 12 of the Coalition’s lower house of 74 are women.

Six may not survive May’s election, given many of the 12 are marginal  – and against record disaffection. News poll has the Coalition primary vote at 35%, lowest in the poll’s history, four months from an election. Labor is on 41%.

Oddly, Scott Morrison is upbeat, riffing about coming back like Whyalla. It’s a whole new trope for him. No-one has the heart to explain that Whyalla steel’s new owner, UK billionaire, Sanjeev Gupta, who’s made a fortune snapping up steel companies in the old Dart, others wouldn’t touch with a pair of tongs, is installing 780,000 solar panels.

Some UK papers report that bankers wonder whether Gupta has “too many plates in the air”, a very British way of hinting – (not that ScoMo or his work experience treasurer would listen) – that the brilliant billionaire whose plans rely on the heavy involvement of key Chinese corporations in Whyalla’s comeback may be a tad undercapitalised.

Whyalla Norrie and Port Augusta, along with Nullarbor and Coober Pedy have some of the highest rates of domestic violence offences in the state of South Australia. Police responses are, however, improving in both quality and promptness – but longer-term support such as mental-health therapy for victims – often falls by the wayside because of lack of resources. For this, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government is responsible.

Tanya Plibersek is quick to instance some other ways the Coalition is culpable. “The Liberals argued against increases to the minimum wage that substantially benefit women … and they also tried to cut around $35m from Community Legal Centres that provide crucial legal services to family violence victims.”

No politician could possibly be proud of the national statistics. There is a war on women. Domestic violence? Try male violence. One woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. Nine women were killed last October, seven allegedly in the context of a current or former intimate relationship.

One in three women has experienced violence since the age of fifteen. Intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk factor for women aged 25-44.

Indigenous women are 45 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women. The severity of the violence is also greater, with higher rates of hospitalisation. Yet for all women, there is no sign of action by government or any authority to effectively deal with the crisis.

Awareness campaigns such as the Federal Government’s Let’s stop it at the start are relatively easy to run and can help increase public understanding but changing public attitudes to violence is the critical challenge. And so far it has proved hardest to accomplish. A key factor, sadly, is the strength and persistence of victim-blaming.

Awareness campaigns are no time to be diverted by those who ask why male victims are overlooked. Men need to become a voice in this fight. Experts suggest that as role models, men’s voices are crucial in calling out violence against women. Any voice. Some campaigns explore holding the general public accountable for preventing.

Queensland’s #dosomething campaign, works along these lines. Similarly, Victoria has its Respect Women: Call it Out campaign. Yet there is no sign of any practical initiatives from the federal government. Just cuts to funds for refuges and advisors.

Silke Meyer, Senior Lecturer in Domestic and Family Violence Practice CQ University Australia writes in The ConversationIn order to make domestic violence everyone’s business rather than an issue solely for women, awareness campaigns need to follow these examples.”

“More importantly, they need to address how perpetrators manipulate victims, their families and their communities, and how we all play a role in speaking out against such violence”.

To the privileged, sheltered, old white males who run the party under instruction from their sponsors and who mould its patriarchal culture, gender inequality is like social and economic inequality. Or like climate change. Or renewable power. Not only does it not exist, or not work, it’s heresy to maintain otherwise.

It’s a threat to their world view, a denialist fantasy which in many cases hasn’t changed since the good old days the MP attended St Ignatius College, Riverview, for example, the exclusive Jesuit day and boarding school on the Lane Cove River, where senior tuition plus boarding fees costs $49,520 P.A. Both Joyce and Abbott are old boys.

There are few signs that their schooling helped them understand or relate to women but there are key events which can help us understand their real attitudes and values. One fertile example will suffice.

At Sydney University in 1977, an enraged Tony Abbott punched the wall either side of the head of Barbara Ramjan, his young student political opponent, when he was miffed at losing a student representative council vote.  Despite Ramjan’s sworn affidavit Abbott denies the incident. Old pal and Donald Trump fan, The Australian‘s Greg Sheridan supports him. “It was inconceivable”, he writes – and besides “there were no witnesses”.

In the 1970s, Menzies era throwback, Tony Abbott, set the Liberal benchmark on gender equality,

“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”

Abbott’s on-air rubbishing of the Human Rights Commission’s bright idea that women should have equal representation on boards last year, shows he hasn’t changed his views much. When the HRC proposed that company boards work towards a 40:40:20 representation, the Riverview old-boy was outraged. King of wittering talkback 2GB’s Ray Hadley was dead keen to broadcast to his equally threatened old white male fans.

“Obviously we have to give women a fair go, but some of this stuff sounds like it’s just anti-men,” rants Abbot. “There are lots of things we can’t change but one thing we should never do is fail to call out politically correct rubbish.”

The “anti-men” canard may be an expression of Abbott’s own fear of women but even from a former PM, it is a dog-whistle, a covert and inflammatory signal to similarly threatened or misogynistic men to abandon all attempt at reforming their hostility to women. It is a shameful, reprehensible remark.

Proud of its record? When, in 2013, Tony Abbott made himself Minister for Women, a clear gesture of contempt for women in itself, (Michaelia Cash was to be his assistant), he promptly discontinued the Women’s Budget Statement, a measure of accountability and justice which now falls to volunteers to compile.

Gender bias towards men is inevitable in a budget which chooses to avoid explaining its impact on women. In March 2015, Abbott’s government then stripped $300 million from women’s legal services domestic violence advice and casework services and refuges. Some found themselves turning women away who couldn’t pay.

This year, the Coalition does highlight budget measures of interest to women in its 2018 Budget statement ‘Women’s Economic Capability and Leadership’. But it’s not a gender-based analysis of proposed policies, it’s a quick tick-and-flick list of initiatives that may benefit women.

As for reform, a weasel-word now used to denote any change while trading on the connotation of improvement, as in calling tax cuts for the rich tax “reforms”. The Australia Institute finds that men get twice the benefit from the income tax cuts compared to women – because men dominate the ranks of high-income earners. Previous spending cuts mainly disadvantage women because women are bigger beneficiaries of government services.

As for the Coalition’s sainted record on women,  Tanya Plibersek retorts,

Over the last five years, all Scott Morrison and the Liberals have done is deliver policies that disadvantage women. The Liberals tried five times to slash paid parental leave, and called working mums ‘rorters’ and ‘double dippers’.

Not to mention the defunding of women’s refuges and local legal aid centres. As Eliza Berlage writes, “in its 2018 budget the government could map out the costings of a seven-year tax cut package but wouldn’t secure that same forecast period of funding for frontline domestic violence services.

Plibersek could add much more. Household income is lower than it was in 2011. Part-time and multiple poorly-paid or casual, insecure jobs with too few hours now dominate our economy. 69% of part-time workers are women. Of 12.5 million workers in the workforce there are now at least 2 million casuals.

Underemployment, underpayment and even wage theft are becoming the norm for Australian workers and it is women who bear the brunt of the decline in wages, conditions and job security. Most commonly, it is the woman who must seek further casual work to pay the bills – on top of her regular work and work in the home.

Last July, Fair Work inspectors forced business to pay $472,000 to 616 employees after their audit of the hospitality industry in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. 72 percent of businesses had underpaid their employees.

The Coalition has helped keep wages at record lows by such means as stacking the Fair Work Commission with representatives affiliated with employers. Low wages may help boost profits in the short term but in the long term it is a recipe for social and economic decline. Raising wages boosts both family security and the economy.

Banks’ testimony and the accounts of other women MPs bullied during Turnbull’s political assassination, last August, are an indictment on the Liberal party. The women were betrayed; their silence bought by promise of an independent inquiry, as Kellie O’Dwyer insisted, which has ended up as a review. It will go nowhere.

Yet it won’t go away. As the new year begins Scott Morrison must deal with the albatross around his government’s neck. His own neck. Or is he bullying women into claiming there is bullying? Or at least persuading them to collude in the cover-up of a toxic Liberal Party bullying culture by propagandising that women get a wonderful deal?

It’s alarming to see Linda Reynolds, who complained of being bullied in August now leading a group of women who contend, bizarrely against all evidence  that the Liberal Party has done more women than Labor. What pressure are they under? What threats or promises have been made?

How have they been coerced into taking this stance? Or are they, as Jenna Price suggests, victims of Stockholm syndrome, in thrall to their captors and abusers?

One thing is certain. The Coalition’s unfair treatment of women in its own party, coupled with revelations of a culture of bullying and intimidation, if not misogyny, will cost it dearly at the next election. Its failure to craft policy to significantly advance the cause of gender equality and its shameful failure over its five years in office to address the crisis of male violence towards women – beyond raising awareness campaigns is reprehensible.

The truth is inescapable: women are the forgotten people of the modern Liberal Party yet without women’s support, the Liberals will be out of power for a long time.