Were politics reset in keeping with the times, the parties would concede that it is not a contest between social democracy and a capitalist free-for-all, or “the light on the hill” and “the forgotten people”, or even conservatives and progressives, but one in which the ghosts of organisations that once had some claim to represent these passions compete to prove themselves the superior financial managers. Don Watson
Attack of the Labor Zombies: “Review of Labor’s 2019 Election Campaign”, the ritual killing of Bill Shorten by hungry ghosts, premiers nationally, this week, six months after Bill’s political death, a fate which the commentariat is still finalising for him despite his promising to “hang around” for another twenty years.
Karen Middleton scoffs at Shorten’s pledge. “He’ll be in his seventies”, she sighs, on ABC Insiders Sunday. Bill will be 72. Four years younger than Joe Biden. Elizabeth Warren’s 70. Billy Hughes served for 51 years; died at 90 before he could get around to thinking about retiring. But it’s not about age.
It’s … the chutzpah. “He’s got to win all those elections.” Shorten won almost a five per cent (4.99%) swing to Labor in his Victorian seat of Maribyrnong, last election. Next he’s at fault for making his twenty-year pledge before the review comes out to help others decide his future for him.
How very dare he get in first?
MSM is consumed by the review; the review of the review and any excuse at all to kick Bill Shorten.
Kill Bill has become a national sport since Tony Abbott contrived to make “Bill Shorten” a pejorative term, a project taken up shamelessly by Malcolm Turnbull and with glee by bully Morrison.
Interviews with Morrison normalise his bullying, as Dr Jennifer Wilson argues, in analysis of the PM’s manic scattergun barrage of bullshit to cover his running away from the question guerrilla tactics.
Julia Banks quit parliament after only a term because of the level of bullying during the leadership spill.
What’s even more alarming is the subtext that Morrison, miraculously, got everything right. Scapegoats help with that. It’s a by-product of reducing party politics to the popularity of the leader, part of our brave new age of populist personality politics where policy and reasoned argument count less than spin and image. And Morrison’s fevered hyper-partisanship makes Tony Abbott look like a peace-maker.
Albo offers to accompany Morrison to NSW bushfire areas, he tells Fran Kelly, Sunday. His offer is brushed aside. Something about not getting in the way of “the rescue effort”. Later media images show Morrison, alone, comforting victims, as he did with his drought series of visits, grandstanding on grief.
But Labor doesn’t seem to have got the memo that there’s a war on. Blending psychic surgery with forensic post-mortem, Labor eviscerates itself for a ritual cleansing. Bares its soul. And then some. The Review … is an unparalleled, almost naive act of faith. No wonder it gets everyone’s attention.
But why? Is this orgy of over-sharing prompted by some rush of utopian socialism which only true believers can call into being? Or is it folly? It’s unique, says ABC’s Laura Tingle, her take on “brave”.
“That’s very brave of you, minister. An extremely courageous decision,” as Mr Appleby would say.
Yet Labor’s purpose, beside officially defining what went wrong, is to draw a line under its defeat.
Fat chance. Just because closure is a tabloid TV victim’s top buzz-word doesn’t make it achievable. Somehow, there’s something for everybody because, you know, Labor lost. By Sunday’s ABC Insiders, a narrow loss morphs into a rout. Labor can’t even pass its own post-mortem exam, Fran Kelly implies.
It’s not easy. Former Keating speech-writer, Don Watson, notes that Labor’s changing constituency increasingly includes service-sector employees, lower-level managers and healthcare workers, as the middle class itself is changing. Labor’s review even detects an influx of woke, affluent, graduates in Southern states, whom, it contends can afford the luxury of idealism. It’s a dangerous hypothesis.
“Since university graduates, on average, earn higher incomes and have more secure jobs than those without tertiary qualifications, they are more readily able to think about issues such as climate change, refugees, marriage equality and the rights of the LGBTQI+ community.”
But a few rich grads didn’t win Labor any seats, Emerson and Wetherill are quick to note. And if your idealism or concern for justice and the survival of the planet is in proportion to your wealth, heaven help the rest of us. Paul Keating reckons Labor lost because it failed to understand the “new middle-class”.
New? Watson sees a class with no ideology nor even consciousness of itself as a class. Being new it has “no roots beyond its self-interest”. He hopes Morrison hasn’t already press-ganged it into Quiet Australians, another bogus, Silent Majority.
But who needs analysis? Nuance is banished from our national conversation. Labor’s review simply has to make Bill the villain. You can’t trust Bill Shorten. It’s the old Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison melodrama.
News Corp prefers a shifty, shorthand, “dud leader, dud policies, dud strategy”, summation which bears no resemblance to the subtler findings published by Dr Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill who chair Labor’s inquiry. But given Murdoch’s stranglehold over our media, it will soon become gospel truth.
Paul Kelly, The Australian’s editor at large, wilfully misrepresents the report. Eagerly, he invents a turf war. Two Labor constituencies are at war with each other. Father Kelly fears for Labor – a fear which Fran Kelly and others put to Albo. How can Labor possibly bridge the gap between blue-collar and gown?
“The Labor Party now resembles two rival constituencies fighting each other — their origins embedded in the party’s past and its future — a conflict that extinguished Labor’s hopes at the May election and a chasm that nobody knows how to bridge,” Kelly fantasises. But it’s never had any trouble in the past.
Rupert’s troupers can’t labour Labor’s factionalism enough. It diverts from Coalition disunity. All is not well, for example, in Cockies’ Corner. Nationals Deputy Leader and Minister for Agriculture, Bridget McKenzie, “couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery” one MP tells ABC’s Lucy Barbour.
McKenzie is under pressure to perform; step up to the plate or step aside. Pauline Hanson’s taken all the credit for saving the dairy farmers and the PM seems to own drought the relief compassion show.
Barnaby Joyce is still agitating for promotion despite spending $675,000 for only three weeks in the field and not providing any reports as special drought envoy. But as media keep the focus on Shorten’s failure and the myth of Labor’s imminent decent into civil war, the Morrison miracle spin gets a further tweak.
(By the magic of implication, the current struggle between Nats and Libs – witness the spat over who owns the theatre of drought relief, or the Liberals capture by climate change denialists – means the Coalition with its three Prime Ministers in six years, rivals The Mormon Tabernacle Choir for harmony.)
Not the Puritan Choir, that’s another, evangelical, faction led by Mr Probity, Stuart Robert, architect of the Turnbull assassination plot. But all is forgiven. He’s repaid $37,975, only $8000 shy of what he had previously claimed as ‘residential internet expenses’. Streaming Christian TV from home is not cheap.
Be fair. Stu’s wife, Peoples’ Pastor Chantelle, can’t run her Pentecostal online evangelism without a decent broadband connection. Robert also says he’s returned a brace of gold Rolex watches, he and his wife – and other Coalition MPs received in 2013 from Chinese instant noodle billionaire Li Ruipeng.
Robert, Abbott and Macfarlane thought the $250,000 worth of watches were fakes, they say. As you do, whenever any oligarch tenders a token of his esteem in expectation of a return favour. Or perhaps not.
Or perhaps you do – if you’re an Australian MP seeking favour. Robert resigned from Turnbull’s ministry when he breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct on a business trip to China for Nimrod resources in which he somehow gave his Chinese hosts the false impression he was in China in an official capacity.
In 2017, Robert’s eighty-year-old father, Alan, discovers that he is a director of one of his son’s companies and that his son has used his Dad’s address on one of his businesses. Without telling him. The private company in question is doing rather well in winning government contracts, until then.
You won’t catch Robert or Morrison holding any public review. It’s against their religion. Look at the trouble Morrison’s mentor Brian Houston is having just complying with NSW police investigation. He’s refusing to answer questions about his father’s child abuse. The tactic seems to be working perfectly.
Frugal with the truth, lest Satan strike you whilst your guard is down, God’s hot-eyed warriors know when to keep stumm. Just as they know that God put coal underground for our blessing and just as they are happy to burn for mining while awaiting the rapture, believing they will be saved by their faith.
Thou shalt not fear fossil fuels preaches Pentecostal Pastor PD King in The Christian Post.
Yet Robert’s god-botherers and coal warriors are not symptoms of deep division in the Coalition. Nor are Tim Wilson, Dave Sharma, Jason Falinski, Katie Allen, Angie Bell and Trent Zimmerman who sign on to parliamentary friends of climate action, “a safe place away from partisan politics”, which has Greens, Labor and cross-bench supporters, only to snub their very first meeting 14 October.
But not all MSM scribes are bluffed. Do what Father Morrison does: walk both sides of the chasm at the same time. Granted, “Shut up and eat your peas, dad is talking” is Morrison’s leadership style, as The Guardian Australia’s Katharine Murphy astutely discerns, but don’t let a paternal despot pull the wool.
“… look at Morrison, who manages to walk every side of every street simultaneously and talk out of both sides of his mouth and suffer no apparent penalty.”
Murphy’s amused by Morrison’s hypocrisy in his illiberal lecture to the mining mafia last Friday week in which he threatens yet another new clampdown, (number 84 and counting) on the civil liberties of illiberal protesters who are exercising their right to boycott businesses who collude with coal-miners to extinguish the planet. She believes he just says this sort of stuff for effect and hopes nobody notices.
Also hypocritical is Morrison’s message that he’ll do everything for coal. Only a few days earlier, he makes a billion dollar grant to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). Abbott tried to close down the CEFC along with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), a move Turnbull reversed.
Morrison’s CEFC grant will help fund new transmission infrastructure to help clean energy access more of the national grid. Next he agrees to help underwrite the main NSW-Queensland interconnector.
Murphy rightly asks why Morrison is able to shape-shift every day of the week but Labor is excoriated for selling out when it tries to straddle two constituencies. Worse, it must get a real leader, like ScoMo, the actor playing the daggy suburban Pentecostal dad with the Stepford wife, a man we can all identify with.
Shorten’s unpopularity has more to do with his crucifixion by News Corp and its lackeys including, sadly our ABC, than any political reality. Labor’s review concedes, however, that damage has been done.
Labor’s review sums up Labor’s loss as a combination “of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader” – a verdict, writes ANU’s Frank Bongiorno “which belies the sophistication of the report as whole”.
But everyone in the gallery – from Michelle Grattan to Mark Latham – gets to twist the knife. It’s a massive pile-on; way more popular, than Melbourne’s Spring Carnival. Bagging Labor’s failings easily upstages the Melbourne Cup, the race that barely slows the nation, our increasingly anaemic, ritual national blood-sport. Besides schadenfreude is surely part of our tall poppy syndrome.
But like the curious incident of the dog in the night time, nowhere is there mention of News Corp.
“The Murdoch media didn’t merely favour the government over the opposition. It campaigned vigorously for the return of the Coalition. And it is a vast empire, with a monopoly through much of regional Queensland, for instance. It is hard not to see in the review’s silence on this matter a clearing of the way for a future kissing of the ring of the familiar kind.” Frank Bongiorno writes.
Everyone wants to wag the finger; tell Labor where it went wrong and by implication how Morrison’s miracle campaign was so inspired – when in reality it was almost totally negative; long on disinformation and attacking Shorten’s character – including the Daily Telegraph’s attack on his mother’s integrity.
A review of the Coalition campaign? Nasty, brutish and short on policy beyond the promise of tax cuts. The $1080 tax cut may have bought a few votes but it is proving a total failure as a fiscal stimulus.
The retail sector is in its third year of per capita recession. While Frydenberg and Morrison seek to explain it away by online sales, as Alan Austin notes, the ABS figures include online sales.
“Retail sales for the September quarter came to $82.6 billion, up just 2.48% on the same quarter a year ago. With inflation at 1.7% and population rising 1.6%, that is a decline in real terms relative to population. So the sector is now in its third year of per capita recession.”
Luckily Labor Zombies … is a sell-out performance, upstaging the government’s own show, “Geronticide! Hell ain’t a patch on the ways you will suffer in God’s Waiting Room; dying of abuse and neglect in our private aged care homes”, brilliantly scripted by commissioners Lynelle Briggs, AM, and Richard Tracey, AO, in their three volume Interim Report into Aged Care …, “…a shocking tale of neglect”.
Everything’s apples with aged care with just a few rotten fruit spoiling everything. Besides, Morrison says there’ll be more funds by Christmas. He can’t say how little. No-one would expect his government to have been briefed so soon, given that it’s only Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison’s sixth year in government. Expect Santa Hunt and Morrison to stuff the announcement in a stocking late on Christmas Eve.
In the meantime, despite the commissioners’ finding that commodifying aged care is the core of the problem, the Coalition is proceeding with its plan to privatise the staff who do the assessments.
Amazing new efficiencies will follow; such as we’ve seen in the NDIS, where $1.6 billion is being saved by shunting disabled Australians on New Start instead. Private enterprise is a miracle of profit-driven efficiency. And care. No funds will be wasted on gratuitous compassion or humanity. Or spent in haste.
“We are six years into the rollout and we have heard of people waiting two years for a wheelchair, so it needs concerted attention,” says Kirsten Dean from disability advocate group Every Australian Counts.
Expect the reforms to raise the bar; reducing the number of our elderly folk who qualify for homecare “packages”, which are already very limited in scope and difficult to access even at their most basic level.
Above all, Labor Zombies … is a great diversion from the long list of latest revelations of wrong-doing by Morrison’s mob, especially the Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO) censure of the pork-barrel party coalition for its shonky award of funding under its $200 million regional jobs and investment packages.
Conceding it might have a bit to hide, a furtive, federal government chooses to release its ANAO report on Tuesday afternoon when it hopes all eyes and ears will be turned to the track at Flemington.
The ANAO is scathing about the Morrison government’s disregard for advice provided by bureaucrats. It is also unhappy with ways the Coalition chooses to ignore guidelines regarding merit and eligibility.
Untrained ministers took over the process, making decisions on their own, unaided by expert advice. No. Of course, they did not bother to take minutes. 64 of 232 applications were scrapped. A total of $75.9m in funding is declined. Yet $77.4m in requested grant funding is approved to 68 applicants not on the departmental list. Over half the funding is pork forked out of the barrel.
While program guidelines require applicants to declare any perceived or existing conflicts of interest, or declare that they had no conflicts – “no action was taken to give effect to this element of the program guidelines”.
Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results, is one definition of insanity. Yet, when the Coalition rolls out the pork barrel, this week, in yet another round of drought relief; a billion dollar “suite of measures” to its backblock pals, as it grandiose handout, once again, to entice farmers to do more of the same, is there method in its madness? Or is it merely Groundhog Day again?
The groundhog factor cannot be ignored. Mugged by an Anthropocene reality; Morrison’s mob have no idea what to do. No policies; no plans. No future. They can only fall back on past practice. And buying votes. Along with nostalgia, the pork barrel is part of every Coalition MP’s mental furniture; it’s in its DNA.
And craving more of the same old, same old means it’s only natural to look backwards; unerringly repeat the same mistakes of the past. Five years ago, then PM Tony Abbott, and his Minister for Agriculture and Water rorts, Barnaby Boondoggle Joyce, announced – a suite of measures offering financial, social and mental health support. Bingo!
But there is method or shrewd craftiness. Evading accountability for starters. Is there any area of public funding less scrutinised than drought relief?, wonders Bernard Keane.
Australia would still have a car industry and 50,000 secure jobs for a only a third of the amount that the Coalition is prepared to pony up for loans to farmers and small-businesses in drought-affected towns.
But imagine the outcry from News Corp and its claque if workers, or manufacturers, could borrow up to two million interest-free for two years; with no need to pay back the principal until the sixth year.
“Rural communities can’t function without these small businesses – that’s why we’re stepping in to provide this extra support,” Morrison says. But in its Abbott incarnation the coalition government was perfectly happy to deny SPC Ardmona $25 million just five years ago?
Many workers and their families in other sectors would be glad of the support. Manufacturing, for example, lost 100,000 jobs, or a third of the entire agriculture workforce, in the year to August.
But extra support has limits. State schools won’t be eligible for $10m in new education funding announced in Thursday’s drought package, an “elitist and unfair” if not downright cruel decision.
Australian Education Union president, Correna Haythorpe, argues it’s “another slush fund for private schools” on top of the $1.2bn Choice and Affordability fund for Catholic and Independent schools, which Lenore Taylor reports also included money for drought-affected areas.
In its encore, Drought Relief 2.0 “Suite of measures” this week, Morrison’s travelling roadshow hopes, above all, that the hullabaloo will distract punters from its own Drought Response, Preparedness and Resilience a report which it commissioned from top brass Stephen Day, DSC, AM, the very model of a modern Major General and former Drought Co-ordinator-general.
Somehow it must keep us from the light of Day.
Drought is not a natural disaster, it’s an enduring feature of the Australian landscape, reports Day. Yet instead of launching into the droughts and flooding plains of Dorothea McKellar’s My Country – and a staple of The Nationals’ MP interview press-kit, Day breaks with climate-denialist tradition.
“While droughts are normal for Australia, drought conditions are likely to become more frequent, severe and longer in some regions due to climate change.”
It’s plain as Day that we’re responsible for drought, with our love of coal-fired power stations, coal mines and our mania for land clearing. It’s a far less romantic notion than playing the hapless victim – Abbott’s “Shit Happens” philosophy, a helpless victim of natural disaster.
But accountability is apostasy, heresy even in the broad church of the Coalition Party Room and especially to the reality denial cabal in the driver’s seat, to say nothing of the God-made-coal-so-we-should-profit-from-his-divine-providence, Pentecostal push that has a hot-line to the current tenant in Kirribilli House.