“Going to be a great summer of cricket, and for our firefighters and fire-impacted communities, I’m sure our boys will give them something to cheer about,” Morrison tweets Wednesday, at the Gabba, prompting former Wentworth MP and AMA President, Kerryn Phelps, to reply that it must be the empathy consultant’s day off.
Reading between the lines, the PM is overwhelmed by nostalgia for a simpler, quieter, Boys’ Own Australia where “flannelled fools at the wicket and muddied oafs at the goals” commanded a man’s full attention and respect.
Australia’s Dear Leader is looking forward to kicking back at the end of a big year of getting in touch with his inner totalitarian; denouncing Labor at every turn in a perpetual campaign of hyper-partisan hysteria, union-bashing, evading scrutiny if not accountability and reforming his Party Room. Discussion and debate are all but eliminated.
Now MPs meet to view a PM’s PowerPoint of his latest talking points and vacuous slogans in silence. No smartarse remarks. Apart from his own. Morrison continues to put his foot in his mouth whenever he goes off script.
Something for the burnt-out to cheer about? It’s a shocker. Any self-respecting empathy consultant would run sobbing from the room, in search of another job. A gig with the Duke of York’s media team holds more appeal.
Opportunity beckons. Bond University and RMIT are cutting ties with Pitch@Palace, the disgraced Duke’s business mentoring charity, which once held a business pitching contest every October at Government House in Perth. The UK’s The Daily Telegraph reports that Andrew is no longer leading Pitch which will continue sans royal support.
Ironically, Bond could not recall $50 million stashed overseas when he appeared in Sydney’s Federal Court in 1994. Later, he served three and half years in prison, for stealing $1200 million from Bell Resources’ shareholders. It is the biggest fraud in Australia’s history, maintains Paul Barry. But Bond University still bears his name.
Shocking memory problems also now plague Prince Andrew, former host of Pitch@Palace, who claims he has no recollection of having ever met Virginia Roberts, a seventeen year old, whom convicted paedophile and financial hustler, the late Jeffrey Epstein, is alleged to have procured for his royal highness. His account is hotly contested.
Roberts, now Virginia Giuffre, tells the BBC’s Emily Maitlis the Duke had sex with her three times. The interview will screen 2 December. Giuffre claims Epstein trafficked her to powerful people and then used her as blackmail.
In New York court documents, prosecutors allege Epstein “enticed and recruited, and caused to be enticed and recruited, minor girls to visit” his homes “to engage in sex acts with him, after which he would give the victims hundreds of dollars in cash”. They say that “to maintain and increase his supply of victims, Epstein also paid certain of his victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused by him.”
The Duke insists, in an interview with The BBC’s Emily Maitlis, he was at home after a family party, a right royal pizza with the lot at Pizza Express in Woking? He can remember the day, date and year. It’s a lot to swallow. Never met Ms Roberts, no. Sex? No. He’d know “… if you’re a man it is a positive act to have sex with somebody.”
Naturally, The Duchess of York, a title she may keep as long she does not remarry, Sarah Ferguson, rushes to Instagram to defend her ex-husband. Andrew’s “a giant of a principled man” but after his gigantic train-wreck BBC interview, he may need a little professional help. As could our cricketers – with a very different type of pitch.
With “our boys”, Morrison instantly dismisses women’s cricket as anything uplifting. Australia is number one in the world in women’s cricket but you’d never know it from his utterly thoughtless and insensitive comment.
Does he not know, moreover, that our boys’ ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town, last year, has brought the men’s game into grave disrepute? Cricket Australia (CA) itself is in trouble.
Last year, an independent review found that players live in a “gilded bubble — disconnected, for much of each year, from families, friends and the grounding influence of community”.
CA’s review findings are resonant with meaning for all walks of corporate life and contemporary politics.
Cricketers, today’s gladiators, see themselves as being part of a “machine that is fine-tuned for the sole purpose of winning”, reviewers tut-tut, deploring CA’s win-at-all-costs culture. Imagine. “The reputation of the game of cricket as played by men has been tainted.” Moreover, CA has an “arrogant, controlling and commercialised” culture which reacts to adversity by bullying or ostracising. In brief, it acts like any other corporate enterprise.
Above all, however, CA lacks accountability to its stakeholders, the public. Its independent report is redacted despite all promise of transparency from CA chairman, David Peever. Nor will it publish minutes of its meetings.
It’s not just cricket. CA’s reviewers could be talking about the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Coalition government or its backers, the banks, especially Westpac, which is also in the news, this week, over twenty-three million breaches of money-laundering laws. Happily, after an emergency meeting, CEO, Brian Hartzer, gets to keep his job.
As do the board of directors and the “senior executive team”. The show must go on. And on. The best the PM can manage is to tell 3AW’s Neil Mitchell and ABC Radio’s AM that it’s not up to the government.
“It’s not for the government to say who should be in those jobs or not, but they should be taking this very seriously, reflecting on it very deeply, and taking the appropriate decisions for the protection of people’s interests in Australia. These are some very disturbing, very disturbing transactions involving despicable behaviour.”
Work experience boy, Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg is asked on ABC Insiders what would he do. Do? “Hard Discussions,” is all he can manage. No-one now seriously believes he has the will or the authority to take a bank to task.
Yet it’s a serious breach and it exposes major flaws in the system. Banks are exploiting loopholes. Anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws have been broken by Westpac, alleges AUSTRAC – on 23 million occasions. This includes failing to adequately monitor the accounts of a convicted child sex offender who was regularly sending money to the Philippines. Morrison says it shows the system is working.
Westpac more generally failed to “carry out appropriate due diligence on customers sending money to the Philippines and South East Asia for known child exploitation risks,” the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre – Australia’s financial intelligence unit and its anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulator, AUSTRAC alleges.
Westpac is unlikely to be alone, writes regulatory expert Nathan Lynch. The story behind the story is industrial scale tax avoidance, the concealing of enormous cross-border payments. Yet it’s not up to the government?
Morrison’s hands-free policy with a bank is in complete contrast to his government’s Ensuring Integrity (EI) bill which seeks even greater state regulation of unions and a further curtailing of workers’ rights to organise.
If passed into law, the provisions of the EI Bill would directly interfere with the rights to freedom of association and independent functioning of trade unions guaranteed by, among other international instruments, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, writes Anthony Forsyth, Law Professor in the Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT University.
Granted, all this could take your mind off the odd bushfire – including the monster in NSW which, at its peak, had a front stretching 6000 kilometres- or from Sydney to Perth. And back. But Morrison is making a grotesquely tone-deaf proposal with “… our boys will give them something to cheer about.” Does he lack all compassion?
Can Morrison, or any member of his government or PMO seriously believe, that those suffering bushfire’s devastation, the six hundred and twenty-three traumatised by losing their homes; all their earthly goods, or livelihoods, or the six households grieving the loss of a family member will be diverted by a game of cricket?
Because nothing fixes broken people in anguish, & blackened communities & animals in pain like random blokes doing something meaningless on an oval somewhere. “Fire trucks anyone?” “Nah, just some cricket thanks” tweets independent researcher and writer, Ronni Salt.
At least the Pentecostalist PM hasn’t repeated his promise to burn for Australians every single day. Yet.
Our “Prime Minister for standards” as Australia’s Prime Buck-Passer proclaimed himself last January, may be a sandwich short of a picnic when it comes to personality, policy or people-skills but you have to hand it to him, he certainly has the gift of the gaffe. Plus a tin ear. Tone deaf. It will prove his undoing.
Cook’s circumnavigation of Australia? You heard it first from The Gaffer. All Asians look the same? Morrison’s cheery “Ni Hao” to a Korean woman in Strathfield, the little Korea of Sydney’s inner-west. Understandable. He’s got China on his mind, after his mid-year monster diplomatic gaffe when he declared it “a developed country”.
Some gaffes suggest a malignant narcissism. In 2014, something more than a compassion bypass was evident in Morrison’s hostile response to allegations that underage asylum seekers on Nauru had been forced to have sex in front of a guard, and that women were being told to strip in exchange for showers of longer than two minutes.
Morrison announces an inquiry into the allegations but adds that the review will also look into whether the allegations had been concocted. In the meantime, he will remove ten Save The Children staff from Nauru?
“Making false claims, and worse allegedly coaching self-harm and using children in protests is unacceptable.”
They are “employed to do a job, not to be political activists”, Morrison makes his own false claims in a written statement, repeated verbatim at his press conference. Political activists? It’s a damaging and false slur.
Later the Immigration Department, he heads is forced to admit that there is no cause for the staff members to stood down. “No reason to cause doubt to be cast.” The review results in full compensation being paid.
No censure or penalty is imposed on Immigration Minister Morrison, who goes on to become Treasurer.
As Treasurer, Morrison is questioned by Barrie Cassidy on ABC Insiders. Typically, Morrison denies all responsibility for his error of judgement, his fabrication of a damaging slur. He is as intractable as a mule. Morrie the mule.
“I drew no conclusions on the material that had been presented to me at the time.”
Cassidy tries to hold him to account. “Well, yes, you did.”
“No, I didn’t, Barrie.” He tells Cassidy to go back and check the transcript. Cassidy: “I have.” Shrugging aside all ministerial responsibility, denying any personal accountability, Morrison resorts to the Nuremberg defence:
“I did the job that I had to do in that situation, just as I am doing the job now as treasurer …”
Under pressure, this week, Morrison retreats into climate science denialism, a tactic which John Hewson hazards in The Sydney Morning Herald is “doubling down”, a phrase which originates in blackjack. If you are confident of winning after being dealt only two cards, you can double your bet but may take only one extra card.
High risk can yield high reward in blackjack. Figuratively, the phrase means to “to engage in risky behaviour, especially when one is already in a dangerous situation.”
Doubling down is now applied to any fit of intransigence. Hacks abuse it trying to explain the equally bizarre behaviour of Morrison’s mentor Trump who is now totally consumed by his own impeachment. Gone is all pretence of a Presidential role. He emerges from his obsessive monitoring of coverage only to whinge to his aides.
Or he doubles down; repeats his allegation that it was “Ukraine not Russia”, a political interference conspiracy theory which nobody is buying. Even Republicans have trouble with it. In desperation, in a phone call to Fox, Trump admits he demanded a quid pro quo from Ukraine, tantamount to a public confession that as US President he resorted to extorting another nation to support his own political witch-hunt of Joe Biden’s son.
Doubling down can be admirably bold or woefully foolhardy. Morrison’s resort to a palpable lie about Australia’s contributions to greenhouse gases shows a contempt for his audience’s intelligence that will be his undoing.
“To suggest that with just 1.3 per cent of global emissions that Australia doing something differently — more or less — would have changed the fire outcome this season, I don’t think that stands up to any credible scientific evidence at all,” he tells ABC radio the following day.
It’s a nonsense response you might expect from a Craig Kelly, not a Prime Minister, deeply flawed in its logic and at odds with the evidence. Imagine if all the “little polluters” continued burning coal – worse, expanding their coal mining as Australia proposes. Or just be honest with the facts, Morrison.
As AIM writer, Kaye Lee, explains, “in 2016, we were the fifteenth biggest emitter in the world. If we don’t have to worry about our measly contribution, then neither do 180 other countries including the UK, Turkey, Italy, Poland and France, all of whom have smaller emissions than us, and I am not talking per capita.”
As for the evidence, RMIT’s fact check, for example, estimates that Australia’s domestic emissions plus the emissions embedded in its exports added to 1,712 million tonnes in 2016. This represents roughly 3.6 per cent of total global emissions for that year, the latest reliable figures for global emissions.
It’s inspiring stuff. Or contagious. Government by bullying, extortion, deception and denial. Only an Abbott-Turnbull- Morrison government could send 6600 menacing debt letters to wrong addresses. When no-one responds, it uses income averaging to raise dodgy debts. Some are referred on to debt collectors.
Professor Terry Carney’s research finds when Centrelink asks for payment of alleged debts or evidence to disprove them, “most vulnerable alleged debtors will simply throw up their hands, assume Centrelink knows that there really is a debt, and seek to pay it off as quickly as possible”.
This week, the centrepiece of its three ring circus surplus-mania, the Robodebt extortion of over a million Australians – of money we mostly didn’t owe – is put on hold pending a class action from Gordon Legal, championed by Labor which is officially launched Wednesday, while Morrison is making his cricket pitch.
“There are a lot of our fellow Australians – single mums, pensioners, people who’ve been unemployed, people on Austudy, students – who’ve been forced to pay up under a regime which, in my opinion, is not validly based in law,” argues shadow Government Services Minister, Bill Shorten, who confirms that a separate class action will continue to argue that the government is “unjustly enriching itself at the expense of social security recipients”.
Government services ought to include “shakedown, outwrestling and exaction. Seven hundred thousand cases may now be opened to review should this single class action succeed.
Also still proceeding, is Deanna Amato’s imminent federal court case, which is due to be heard on 2 December, reports Victoria Legal Aid. The test case will continue to seek a declaration that the debt raised against Ms Amato is unlawful, despite the government’s announcement that it’s giving up granny-bashing and standover tactics in an unparalleled pause in its war on the poor.
It will, it promises solemnly, no longer rely solely on income-averaging to determine debts. No sense that it abused its duty of care in proceeding with an inherently flawed, cruel and unjust scheme which reverses the onus of proof on to the pensioner to disprove the alleged debt. No sense that it will compensate those whom it terrorised.
Some see the abandonment of Robodebt as likely to put paid to any surplus. The truth is that its net benefit never amounted to much any way. Crikey reports this week, debt-collectors have done very well out of Robodebt.
Over $2 billion worth of so-called debt has been outsourced. Yet it’s cost government $534 million – almost as much as the $658 million that has been collected. The model is deeply flawed as Paul Bongiorno observes
“This model of outsourcing government services, which so often sees taxpayer funds being funnelled to some of the government’s biggest friends and supporters, is increasingly problematic. It is operating in the National Disability Insurance Scheme and in the aged-care sector – where, as the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has shown, millions of dollars of public money is going to the private providers’ profits.”
But this time, Morrison The Congestion-buster, can’t blame his office, which is whittled down to a skeletal staff of fifty mandarins -(where one in five is a former coal industry shill) – as he did, last month, when all thirteen pages of the day’s talking points were emailed to the press gallery.
A conversation scripted to reassure us about a prince’s judgement has the opposite effect. A chance to connect the royal family with the modern world reveals that it is marooned, remote and criminally out of touch.
Similarly, Morrisons tin-eared tweet about cricket reveals a PM who is in another world, a malignant narcissist who is pathologically incapable of feeling for others, a would-be tribal leader who has no moral compass; whose energies are invested solely in maintaining power at any cost and increasingly in the politics of division.
As the economy tanks and households find it harder to make ends meet, after six years in power, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has only more coercion to offer the average Australian. And cricket.
Above all, the Robodebt debacle shows a government which has no scruple in waging war on the poor. It has, moreover, connived at diverting funds from schools and hospitals to boost the profits of private providers.
As Christmas, a festival of giving approaches, a cruel and tricky government prepares to further punish workers with a law that is certain to reduce their power to negotiate a living wage.
Yet there is hope for some. The million – plus pensioners who have been caught up in Robodebt may take heart in the fact that the government has been forced to abandon the scheme, at least for now.
Just don’t expect any real reform from the banks under a Morrison government.