“I want to put out a call to these farmers; please don’t give up hope,” Senator Pauline Hanson says shortly before breaking down in tears on her old pal, Alan Jones’ 2GB radio show, Friday last week.
Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep off microphone. But no longer need you weep alone, Australia. Help is on its way. No. Not Joel Fitzgibbon’s outrageous suggestion of a bipartisan “war cabinet” approach to drought relief. Drought relief is for ScoMo & Co to pork-barrel; grandstand on grief. The government has no drought relief policy. The last thing it wants is Labor to show it up.
ScoMo ridicules Fitzgibbon in Question Time, an institution now entirely corrupted by a government in perpetual campaign. Vitiated by Dorothy Dixers, Labor-bashing and political assassination by quoting News Corps, the nation’s most powerful political party. Monday, ScoMo quotes Troy Bramston of The Australian on Anthony Albanese’s hopeless leadership.
“A Labor frontbencher told me …” is Bramston’s prelude to back-stabbing Albanese. Trump uses ” people tell me…” When no specific authority or evidence is given, the slur may be mere confection or confabulation. But it is also impossible to refute.
“For a guy who wanted to be leader so bad, and couldn’t wait to announce he was running for it less than 24 hours after the election, he does not know what to do with the job.” A Labor frontbencher?
Sure he did, Troy. Sure. Look. It’s uncanny. ScoMo’s cock a hoop with your “scoop”, first up Tuesday.
Labor couldn’t be trusted when it was in power, Mr Speaker, Morrison scoffs. It’s vital to repeat the one big lie of Labor’s hopelessness with money. As experts now, daily, attest to ScoMo and Co’s economic incompetence and the Reserve virtually begs for some serious stimulus measure, it’s especially important to repeat the lie that the GFC didn’t happen here or that we are still paying for Labor’s mess.
As The Guardian Australia’s Greg Jericho notes, Mathias Cormann now claims absurdly that Labor’s GFC stimulus drove up interest rates and the value of our dollar.
“If interest rates went up due to the stimulus then that meant it had helped improve demand in the economy, which was the whole point.”
Hang on. Help is on its way. Good news this week. Dairy farmers struggling to squeeze out $3.00 an hour in an industry milked dry as de-regulation, duopolies and globalisation lead to ruinous farm gate prices – while many suffer drought and ScoMo photo-ops – rejoice to learn that Pauline Hanson has their backs.
“Give me an opportunity to keep fighting. I don’t want these farmers to give up.”
The plucky One Nation leader heroically battles on at Jones’ microphone before it’s all too much and she’s led, sobbing inconsolably, off-air. But not before a word from her sponsor. Pauline’s “upset”, Big Al explains to listeners, “for the farmers” and exhausted as she “fights the bureaucrats” in Canberra.
Pauline is tirelessly fighting up hill and down dale to get our honest, hardworking, dairy farmers a fair price for their milk, a long-lost cause she shows no sign of understanding.
Fairness would involve the dismantling of global price-fixing and regulating the Fonterra-Saputo duopoly that dominates our milk-processing. (Canadian giant Saputo, which enjoys a monopoly in British Columbia bought out a troubled Murray Goulburn, our largest milk processor in April 2018.) Murray Goulburn had contracted with Coles to supply one dollar milk to 2023.
None of this matters to Hanson’s quest for self-aggrandisement. But Pauline’s plan will entail having Canberra bureaucrats very much on side. And supermarkets. Not to mention Saputo and Fonterra.
“It’s hard to say this but it makes no fucking sense,” sweet-talking Saputo boss, Lino Saputo Jnr admits freely. “$1.10 still doesn’t make sense when you can buy water at $3 a litre, when you can buy soda pop at $4 a litre, when you can buy Gatorade at $5 a litre.” No? Never heard of a loss leader, Lino?
Yet loss-leading supermarkets are not the only bad guys. More than half Australia’s milk is sold overseas. The same neoliberal ideology that has us paying export prices for our own gas works with milk, too.
Even if the price of milk on the supermarket shelf were to double, the extra profit wouldn’t go to farmers directly as the ACCC found in its 18 month report on the dairy industry last year.
Dollar milk is the scapegoat, regardless. Even those who may be expected to understand how farmers contracts are set by producers play along with this. Yet never in Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie’s howls of outrage (or Drought Minister David Littleproud’s) does either stop to recall that Labor’s policy last election was to set a minimum price dairy farmers can be paid for the milk they produce.
Doubly unhappy is Bridget McKenzie, the Nationals’ “flash bit of kit” (as Barnaby once described his party’s deputy leader during a late night senate debate). Ms McKenzie cops flak for letting Hanson grand-stand as the cow cockies’ saviour. It’s not just a turf war; everyone knows that hand-wringing over drought or flood or farmers being robbed blind by multinational middlemen is the Nationals’ pitch.
Below the topsoil, the post Barnaby-era party writhes in existential crisis. It lacks leadership, identity and others are muscling in on its patch. Things quickly go bad – with a little help from New England. Friday, the Nationals split with their Coalition partner by leaking a $1.3 bn drought funding policy without approval from Michael McCormack – aka Mick-Mack. Scott Morrison is gob-smacked; blind-sided.
So much for the tremendous authority which pundits confidently predicted Scott Morrison was sure to wield over the Coalition after his miracle win. Or is that all spent in gagging and finger-wagging? The National backbench policy committee, which includes Barnaby Joyce, is the author of the rogue policy.
Such perfidy will not go unpunished – but, that it occurs at all – indicates how weak is ScoMo’s hold on Coalition reins. Are the Nats paying him back for crowding them out of his drought-porn photo-ops? Or did Pauline Hanson’s calling them “weak and ineffective” do the trick? The Oz thinks so. The truth hurts.
Extra funding? It’s part of a ten-point plan. This includes setting up committees to oversee who gets their forks into $10m pork barrels, help with boarding school fees and other thought bubbles which will do less to alleviate drought suffering than improve the Nationals’ political identity. Rivals appear, artfully clad in Collins Street bushman’s kit of RM Williams’ moleskins and boots. Topped with spotless Akubra.
Is it identity politics? The Nats argue that their cash-splash will send a message. Or a vibe. It would “appear as an unambiguous package that is clearly labelled Nationals” they claim. Naturally. Nothing shrieks National Party so clearly and plainly as a barrel clearly labelled “pork”. But even a simple lack of ambiguity can come back to bite you in the bum, as the trepid party deputy leader discovers.
Adding to the Nationals’ woes, Bridget McKenzie’s brazen pork-barrelling of grants has rejected 618 applications for community sports facilities. Labor’s sports spokesman Don Farrell cuts to the chase;
“The minister, we now know, rejected advice from her own department, Sport Australia, as to who should get these grants, and she imposed her own favourite grants in their place.”
Above all, despite McKenzie’s promising the ACCC’s recommendation, a dairy industry code of conduct by 2020 – hey – presto -to keep Hanson’s vote, the code will miraculously be available later this year. So far, Hanson seems happy. Early report had her demanding re-regulation of the dairy industry.
Mathias Cormann must be a sweet-talker if Pauline’s being fobbed off with a code of conduct.
How bad are codes? Hopeless -if the PM’s own code for MPs, Morrison’s Statement of Ministerial Standards, tabled last August, is any guide. Gus Taylor just goes ahead and does what he likes. Clearly. Attacking Clover Moore is part of a rational plan?
Oddly, all hell breaks loose. Gus ducks and weaves. Evades all responsibility for the patently false figures in his bizarre letter lecturing Sydney’s lord mayor, Clover Moore on her travel. Tries to claim that the City of Sydney published fake figures on his website. Yep. The old “fake figures made me frame you” defence.
Worse, his PM supports Taylor, a serial offender, yet again, refusing to sanction his Energy Minister. It’s yet another sign of weak leadership and utter lack of integrity.
By his own code of rules, ScoMo should at least sack Taylor from cabinet; report him to the police.
Shadow climate minister, Mark Butler, tells an Adelaide presser Friday,
“Instead of the prime minister actually putting his words into action and putting this into the hands of the New South Wales police, he has shown that there is one rule for one group of Australians – cabinet ministers in the Morrison government – and another rule for everyone else, including the journalists who are currently under threat of prosecution for doing their jobs.”
Gus is helped by The Daily Telegraph, which publishes an article claiming hippy, tree-hugging, bicycle-riding, Clover Moore is not merely a progressive and independent pain in the establishment’s bum, a theme familiar to Telegraph readers, the Lord Mayor has been “told by the federal government to rein in the hundreds of thousands of dollars her council is spending on international and domestic travel if she is serious about lecturing Australia on climate change”. It’s madly untrue, of course, but well-timed.
Trump-like, Taylor uses what seems to be a forged City of Sydney council document to accuse City of Sydney council of spending “$1.7m on international travel and $14.2m on domestic travel” for councillors. The real figures are $1,727.77 on international travel and $4,206.32 on domestic travel.
Taylor’s dead cat on the table, distracts from Morrison’s stuff-up: his upstaging of the Nationals’ announcement of the breakthrough on the dairy code, Thursday. Experts warn that ScoMo’s holy surplus may now never eventuate. Or if it does it may come smack dab in the middle of a recession. Bad look.
But a line has to be drawn in the sand. News surfaces, Sunday, that Scott Morrison told Craig Kelly, chair of the Coalition’s backbench energy and environment committee, not to appear on Q&A with his daft graphs that show that climate change is a hoax. So much for Howard’s broad church Liberal Party.
Gagging Kelly is as much an extension of ScoMo’s naturally despotic leadership style as it is his way of “moderating public perception” to use Michael Koziol’s euphemism for the PM’s hiding an inconvenient truth from voters. ScoMo’s keen to conceal his climate change deniers and cover up the fact that they control the black hole that passes for government policy, a course largely determined by the coal lobby.
Kelly was due to wow ABC audiences with his insights on 16 September. A week prior, the climate denier regaled the multitudes who packed into an Australian Monarchists League function with the amazing news that the South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is “floating, not sinking [due to climate change]”, because it was a coral atoll and “a coral atoll actually floats on the ocean”. Seriously.
It’s not clear that Kelly is aware that coral is acutely sensitive to sea-level changes. Or that Tuvalu is sinking. Already two of its nine islands are on the verge of going underwater swallowed by rising sea-levels and erosion. Scientists predict Tuvalu will become uninhabitable in fifty to a hundred years.
Porous, salty, soil is already useless for planting crops while Tuvalu’s water supply is now contaminated by rising seawater leaving Tuvaluans entirely dependent on rainwater. Even the fish are now toxic. Ciguatera poisoning affects reef fish who have ingested microalgaes expelled by bleached coral.
When fish infected with ciguatera toxins are consumed by humans, it causes an immediate and sometimes severe illness: vomiting, fevers and diarrhoea. Someone should tell Kelly and his committee but communicating scientific information is heresy in a government devoted entirely to spin.
Clearly, Morrison doesn’t talk to Mick-Mack, his pet name for his deputy Prime Minister. Mick-Mack is also in danger of being drowned by a rising tide of nostalgia for the good old days when Barnaby ruled.
For the Nationals, another backward-looking party firmly rooted in the past, Barnaby can do no wrong.
Yet it’s not what the historical record suggest. It’s never perfect with agrarian socialism or any other cult. Never ends well. Investigative journalist Jommy Tee sums up a topical part of Saint Barnaby’s legacy.
As Minister for Water and Agriculture, Barnaby was responsible in 2017 when the government coughed up $80 million in water buybacks to Eastern Australia Agriculture (EAA), the company where Angus Taylor had been a director and consultant. Eastern Australian Agriculture, a company founded by Gus Taylor made a two hundred percent profit out of Australian water and cotton farms.
Barnaby offered Clyde, a cotton-growing property to the LNP QLD government in 2006. Queensland approached the federal government only to have the sale knocked back by Malcolm Turnbull, then parliamentary secretary to the PM. The federal government deemed the $20m price tag – for both property and water too high, given the water flow’s unreliability and its high price.
Joyce, Taylor and the current federal coalition government have much to explain. This includes:
“Why in 2017, did Barnaby Joyce, as Minister for Water, engineer the purchase of that same water from Clyde at the exorbitant cost of $40 million to taxpayers?”
Doubtless, refreshed after their five week break, our Coalition MPs will rush back to Canberra to clear up the stench of Watergate. Resignations will be tendered. Heads will roll. On the other hand, if Home Affairs top shiny-bum, Mike Pezzullo has his way, people will be jailed for leaking government information to the media.
But at present, it seems, neither partner in the coalition can even synchronise their diaries. Snap! Morrison holds his PM’s presser Thursday, on 2SM Radio.
ScoMo’s broadcast is heard just as the Nats gather at parliament house to simultaneously announce the good news on the code and cheer on the same pitifully small cash grants of $7000 and $13000 to farmers coming off the totally inadequate Farm Household Allowance (FHA) of up to $600 a fortnight.
Centrelink grants FHA to those who can pass its convoluted and protracted application process. Most applicants give up. Of 26,000 eligible households, only 2000 apply.
But of those 2000 who have persevered against all expectation – all will be overjoyed to receive a pittance extra, provided they don’t want to do anything rash like buy feed or replace a set of tractor tyres. See a dentist. Or pay the rates or the electricity bill.
Yet help is on its way. Professional empathy consultants, Futureye, are out in the field, helping ScoMo & Co win hearts and minds; forge its social licence in the bush. It’s not all photo-ops up dry creek-beds and matching green shirts.
Revealed by senate estimates committee questioning, this week, the ever more marvellous Morrison government approach to forging consensus.
Queensland Labor senator Murray Watt asks how Futureye works. Senior Inland Rail project officer Dr Garth Taylor is keen to explain, a rarity in the week’s proceedings where across four committees, ministers and mandarins take hundreds of questions on notice.
“Three key areas come to mind. “One is around empathy, around getting the right tone of voice to deal with landowners along the way … We start with getting the tone of voice right and getting the narrative right, and that leads to empathy. I think that along the way, with the landowners we’ve been dealing with, there has been an appreciation that there has been a more empathic approach taken since the social licence initiative.”
Picking up the $190 million tab to help ScoMo and Co build empathy along the tracks across the backblocks is the Department of Infrastructure’s Train to Nowhere, its Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail Project, a $10 billion boondoggle which is battling to establish its credentials, let alone goodwill. Even the government’s own hand-picked experts told it, the inland rail would never pay its way. It went ahead anyway.
The week ends with Matt Canavan being sent out on damage control. Canavan talks all over Fran Kelly on ABC Insiders, Sunday, to demonstrate his party’s superior empathy. Instead he gives a virtuoso display of gaslighting; arguing black is white. It’s his Prime Minister’s if not his government’s favourite tactic.
Instead of an utter disaster, a catastrophic rout by its own incompetence, in brief in spite of all the damning evidence, we are to see the week as the Nationals’ finest hour?
Finest hour? The reality is that the Coalition is unravelling as the going gets tough,with bad news on the economy that is ever harder to explain away and no sign that any of its carefully choreographed show of concern for drought victims is yielding any result.
Fighting over who gets credit for what is at best a band-aid solution or a PR stunt is not an edifying end to a parliamentary term. Nor does it augur well for the next.