“The Prime Minister is testing the theory that the best way to resolve a crisis is to be as far away from it as possible,” Julie Bishop tells 150 “prominent” Liberals – in Nine Newspapers’ Michael Koziol’s view – who gather for The Liberal Forum (LF)’s annual, festive, pre-Christmas binge, whinge and back-stab over champers and canapés at former NSW Liberal president; serial company director, Fat Cat Kevin McCann’s, Mosman Gatsby mansion.
Her wicked dig is also an in-joke. Libs always cast Bishop as a “loyal girl” as Abbo aptly put it in 2009.
Bishop could also titillate guests with the PM’s other brilliant “out of sight out of mind” tactic of delaying or refusing FOI requests. How good is Morrison’s, latest attack on transparent government, a war begun by Tony Abbott, now a heroic Volunteer Fire-fighter bigging up his image in The Daily Mail at Morrison’s expense?
The PM, aka Scotty from Marketing, orders staff not to release texts which Drought Envoy, Barnaby Joyce says justify $675 thousand in expenses – rung up as he ventured outside his electorate for less than three weeks to assiduously report on The Big Dry. As with Brian Houston’s invite to the White House, Scotty clams up.
Joyce was demoted for violating Malco’s Ministerial code’s no bonking clause, but to keep Joyce on side, within days of knifing Turnbull, ScoMo bought the support of the former Nationals’ Leader by creating an important job, Drought Envoy with expense account and staff to find out how no rain affects farmers.
Joyce has filed no report. He did not know he needed to. But he “sent heaps of texts,” he tells Channel 7.
“An awful lot of texts,” he tells our ABC. But he’s not showing them to anyone. Nor is the Prime Minister. Barnaby’s insights will remain hermetically-sealed, like the top secret agreement between the Liberals who need the Nationals numbers, come hell or high water. It’s as if some secret Freemasonry is the heart and soul; the life-blood of our can-do Coalition government which is always rolling up its sleeves to set up inquiries.
And stymie others. “I’m not going to tell you what they said, they were directed to the Prime Minister, if he wants to tell you what they said, that’s up to him … I can assure you, I directly sent reports,” Joyce blusters.
Can-do? If it’s OK with the Nats and their Big Cotton, Big Mining bosses, the Liberals can do it. Or not.
The PM’s Office refuses a FOI request for “any correspondence, including text messages and WhatsApp messages” between Joyce and Morrison “regarding his work as drought envoy”. Why? It claims it “would substantially and unreasonably interfere with the prime minister’s functions”. What a crack-up.
But ScoMo’s a no-show at this function. The Big Kahuna is still rushing back from Hawaii as guests arrive. But should the right wing warrior and climate change denier, Dutton dressed up as lamb, even get an invite?
The Liberal Forum runs on pure idealism, unsullied by the Party’s need to please its mining and banking lobby bosses’, its bigamous marriages of convenience to the Murdoch Press – and to The Nationals, its day to day chicanery or its Machiavellian pragmatism. It’s a platonic affair, not a cabal of leadership plotters.
An “ideas group” of pure, if not lofty, intent, formed in secret in 1985 to offset “the conservative tide”, The Liberal Forum‘s noble, clandestine, mission was, alas, rapidly outwitted by “forces of greed and self-interest” recalls former NSW Senator Peter Baume, a small-l Liberal known to cross the floor on issues of principle.
Nowadays, The Black Hand, as wags quickly dubbed the Forum, is like The Cheshire Cat, a creature which has disappeared, leaving only the grin of its good intentions behind. The LF’s reduced to organising social events for what it fondly imagines is the modern Liberal Party’s moderate faction; a species which is much talked about – in awe but never sighted- a type of Sasquatch or Loch Ness Monster, as Greg Jericho so aptly puts it.
Conspicuously missing in action (or “doing a ScoMo”) was any small-l Liberal in last February’s vote on the Medevac Bill. (Before it was so heroically repealed, early this month, thanks to Jacqui Lambie’s secret deal.)
Back in February, not one MP appears from Liberal ranks to be in favour of human decency. Not a word of protest is heard. Not one MP even hints that this niggardly act of humanity was OK, let alone fair or right.
Not a word is heard from any Liberal pleading to help our fellow human beings – all vulnerable, innocent people fleeing war, rape, genocide, political repression and murder. No-one speaks up for those whom we illegally detain indefinitely – an ugly, morally repugnant type of sadistic torture in our offshore prisons.
All the Medevac Bill proposed was that MPs agree to get all who are sick, or driven mad to a doctor. Twelve people have died in offshore detention to date. Coroner Terry Ryan’s inquiry into the case of Hamid Khazaei showed that he died as a direct result of the Australian Government’s refusal to follow medical orders.
Similarly, not one moderate protests last February’s gaming of parliamentary process by extending question time in order to avoid a vote on a Royal Commission into disabled care. But they do know how to party.
A former Liberal deputy leader, whose deputising was also near invisible, Ms Bishop wows the crowd when she mocks Scott Morrison as a PM who disappears just when we might need him. How good is her aim? But has Morrison become just another political joke? Is the king-tide of Liberal support now fast running out for “miracle” Morrison, given his calamitous captain’s call to holiday while Australia burns?
Chins wag. Heads shake. There is much clutching of pearls. ScoMo’s snafu is generally held to be a monumental cock-up, except by News Corp’s Peter Van Onselen, who believes that Aloha Morrison has erred “while still on a honeymoon of sorts”. But, then, Van Onselen did predict a stonking Labor victory in May.
For most others, however, Aloha Morrison’s now a hopeless joke. (Hawaiians use Aloha both to greet and farewell.) Will “met his Waikiki” also enter the political lexicon as a colossal failure of judgement? Will Morrison’s dereliction of duty in time of crisis, be the only thing voters remember at the next federal election? Is Miracle Morrison already morphing into a political liability in the view of many nervous Liberal MPs?
But, let’s be frank, our Bronte bogan, the bad dad-joke who plotted day and night to get himself installed as PM over Turnbull’s politically dead body, but who didn’t have a clue what to do next, would still be the butt of derision even if he hadn’t cruelled Julie’s run for the top job or double-double crossed her pal, Malcolm.
Since becoming PM, Morrison’s wasted an inordinate amount of time and energy avoiding doing anything. At least Bishop gets in touch with her small-l liberalism by being cover star of Financial Review’s LUXURY Magazine September issue in a photo shoot. But it’s not all glossy photographs of Bishop rocking designer frocks and gowns. The former Minister for Women (2006-7) explains how she uses fashion for politics.
So this is what small-l Liberalism has come to? A photo-shoot in the exclusive LUXURY fashion-mag?
Julie loves a party, too. The former corporate lawyer knows how to have fun, as we all know, from her taxpayer funded trips to the Portsea Polo in 2016, a year when she racked up $1.2 million in travel expenses to her 2011, Reddy family celebrity Indian wedding in Hyderabad, a frugal, three-day event involving ten thousand guests, an intimate group of Indian politicians, Bollywood stars and a swag of international fashionistas. Bishop, Barnaby Joyce, Teresa Gambaro flew over in Gina Rinehart’s private jet.
But not back. Waggishly, Bishop billed tax-payers for a $3445 flight home to Perth from Hyderabad because, although she concedes she did attend the wedding, she was on a “study tour” which involved her in fact-finding, high-level trade and investment discussions with local energy and infrastructure potentates.
Bishop’s droll humour precedes her career in politics. In the 1980s, she worked as a solicitor for Wittenoom building company CSR, fighting workers’ claims and successfully delaying payouts to victims of asbestosis.
As Peter Gordon, whose firm Slater and Gordon won an historic class action for the workers in 1989, recalls, Bishop, then Julie Gillon, was a barrel of laughs, “… rhetorically asking the court why workers should be entitled to jump court queues just because they were dying.”
As a junior lawyer, Gordon had been told that it was too hard to run a case for negligence for someone with an asbestos-related cancer because “the victims died too quickly”. With his senior partner’s support, Gordon successfully approached the Court to fast-track the process “for interlocutory processes, discovery and interrogatories” to make sure victims got a trial in their lifetime. It was a hard-won decision.
Peter Gordon recalls, “We had to fight even for the right of dying cancer victims to get a speedy trial.”
Robert Vojakovic of WA-based Asbestos Diseases Society says Bishop “had a take-no-prisoners approach”.
Bishop is out of politics now but her legacy lives on in Morrison’s malignant narcissism; his ruthless ambition. His hyper-partisanship. And beyond.
Not only is the office of PM and Cabinet re-fashioned in his own Machiavellian image, his government has further cowed the public service into serving the party rather more than the people. And its Big Kahuna.
Back in the swim of things after his spectacularly ill-judged top-secret trip to Waikiki for a bit of quality time with his girls and his AFP Close Personal Protection squad, our roving PM takes time out from the rigours of defending his going AWOL by penning a blistering op-ed in The Daily Telegraph denouncing “reckless” and job-destroying proposals to cut coal coal-mining. He also takes a top photographer to Sydney’s Bronte Beach to snap him in his speedos for the press drop his boffins in the office make in crises of image management.
“Charcoal-black budgie-smugglers,” The Daily Mail’s Tita Smith gushes.
ScoMo in speedos? The image conjures up a Lucian Freud nude – but our PM and his team of turd-polishers will go to any length to reassure an anxious nation that a PM who claims in his national apology that our nation’s clergy engaged in “ritual sexual abuse” of children is just a normal bloke. Even if he’s full of bull-shit.
Or even because of it. Australians love a tall story. It may help explain our nation’s weakness for Coalition election pledges. The coal industry employs less than 0.4% of the Australian workforce while its royalties contribute just 2% of revenue to the NSW and Queensland budgets – and that’s before the payment of subsidies. This week, our miners are hit by biggest thermal coal price plunge in over a decade. High coal prices cannot continue; Morrison’s Trumpista diplomacy has alienated our best customers in China. They are now buying less from us and more from other sources such as Mongolia in reprisal. Nice one, Trump fan-boy.
Morrison’s claim that we must choose between coal or prosperity is worse than nonsense. He’s just parroting coal lobby spin. Modelling shows we’d have just the same or better GDP growth with no mines. And with the damage done by his government’s diplomatic anti-China charm offensive, his rhetoric is even more vapid.
Yet with no coal mines our climate would be less overheated. Less likelihood, then, of catastrophic fires.
Fires destroy 4.6m hectares, across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. They burn with a ferocity and on a scale we’ve never seen before yet there is no hint that the government will acknowledge the link between the catastrophic fires and global heating. The PM makes a token concession.
Volunteer firefighters in NSW will be able to apply for up to $6,000 in compensation from the Federal Government, Morrison announces. Up to? Only NSW? Despite the cunning lack of clarity in the Coalition’s pledge, right on cue, there’s a howl of protest from Murdoch media, forever vigilant over the nation’s purse-strings and always eager to publish a government drop or spin story. And put the boot into unions.
“All prime ministers try to manage the media but Morrison is an extreme example. He is shameless about his use of favourites, whether individuals or outlets. The government regards The Australian as its bulletin board for announcements, frets even conservative Canberra Press Gallery veteran, Michelle Grattan.
Morrison’s offer is immediately denounced as against the “spirit of volunteerism” by Victoria’s CFA chief Steve Warrington. “We are always keen to explore opportunities to manage and reduce potential financial burdens on our members. However, it is my view and that of the CFA board that paying volunteers in general terms is not in the spirit of volunteerism,” he tells The Australian‘s Rebecca Urban.
A chorus of hard right commentators including Peta Credlin howls down the proposal. Incredibly, the same “spirit” nonsense is invoked. Worse, it’s a slippery slope. Credlin reckons there’ll be a rush of other applicants with their hands out for money. Imagine how we’d go to rack and ruin if we paid people for the work they do.
I’m a community volunteer. I can attest to the small fortune that local communities save governments with an endless series of fund-raisers, the donation of labour and the seeking of donations. At our Christmas community dinner, we helped raise $5000 to replace the chairs in three classrooms in the local primary school.
Chairs our state government is too tight-fisted to supply are part of the walnut and the thimble trick of global budgeting where the state shrugs off its responsibility leaving local principals teachers and school councils to do the hard unglamorous yards allocating forever shrinking funds to classroom and other programmes.
Imagine how our system would fall apart if we had fair and adequate government funding. Each federal education budget sees a further decline in real terms, although the Coalition loves to boast about total amounts spent. Population growth does that for them. In reality it’s always a per capita cut for the average kid in a state school. Greater hardship for working families. And support services increasingly harder to access.
Private schools continue to prosper but that’s all about giving parents’ choice as John Howard, pretended. Choice? Only for those who can pay. In a captain’s call, Howard also introduced poorly paid chaplains that schools must also raise funds to support.
What Credlin and Howard are about is the politics of division, where the wealthy prosper while the poor go begging, even though each spin their cuts as encouraging locally raised funds and community-building.
Decades of neoliberal management and federal funding cuts in education departments have seen countless rural schools become dependent for essentials on the “spirit of volunteerism“. Most teachers I know buy classroom materials out of their own increasingly casualised and contract salaries. Or go begging.
When the fires came for our place in regional Western Victoria, our local volunteers did a wonderful job. But if it hadn’t been for Elvis the giant Erickson S-64 Air-Crane, our little cottage in the woods would have gone up in smoke. Our neighbour M who is a former CFA chief gave us a video of Elvis dropping fire retardant on flames which licked across the dry grass, set fire to the trees, shrubs and fence-posts to within metres of our dwelling.
Three times the fire came and went; driven by high winds that switched north, south, north as they do in this area. After each wave of fire, local CFA volunteers, farmers with tanks on utes came to put out spot fires as ancient river red-gums along the road erupted into flame and century-old fence posts and battens caught fire.
The 2015 bushfire began in a vineyard, almost certainly started by a gas-powered bird-scaring device. I could see the smoke from our letter-box at the end of the street a kilometre away at lunchtime. I didn’t like way the wind was bringing it straight towards us. By the time I’d driven home it was time to leave. But you don’t just dash out. We had time only to pack up pets and a few essentials. We had to leave the chickens.
By 9:00pm the fire had burned more than 3,500 hectares. We stayed at our daughter’s place twelve kilometres away until we thought it safe to return. No way to tell if our place had survived. Just a line of cars crawling bumper to bumper. Each being stopped while ID was checked. Preventing rubber-neckers. Checking our destination. No time for police or CFA or SES to set up clear lines of communication to residents.
It is impossible to describe how it feels to drive through the smoke along your unsealed road while trees and fencing blaze. Or how it is to discover your gate posts are on fire but your house looks quite OK amidst a charred front garden which still has shrubs and mulch on fire and trees on the fence-line are burning.
The smell of eucalyptus leaves mingles with acrid smoke from the remains of your watering system burning.
We were lucky. Our house was spared. The fire came up within metres of the front and side. Thanks to the skill and sheer hard work of local volunteer fire crews and the expertise of our next-door neighbour. But Elvis was the star. Without the help of a leased US helicopter and its professional crew, our home would have been lost.
Now I note there is no sign of Elvis. Not for three years. No sign either of Morrison meeting with experienced fire chiefs who want him to get the gear to fight fires that in a few short years have rapidly grown into monsters. Heed the science of global heating. Invest in new equipment to cope with the new inferno.
The Coalition won’t offend its sponsors in the mining lobby or risk further internal friction by admitting there is a direct link between climate change, the genteel euphemism for catastrophic global heating. Nor will it imperil further its precious surplus, achieved partly by a contemptible underspending on NDIS. Because, in the end, the ideology of outsourcing has long usurped the desire to meet peoples’ needs. Exercise duty of care.
Wise up, Morrison. Global heating has wrought a terrible new type of bushfire. Cut the subsidies to miners and private health insurers; buy a few less F35s and submarines. Put the money into fire-fighting equipment that’s up the task of the monster bush-fires we have helped to breed.
Much fun has been had at Morrison’s expense over his unconscionable decision to leave Australia in flames while he took a secret holiday in Hawaii – and his scurrilous decision to blame the trip on his family. But it’s no laughing matter. While the Liberal Forum may make fun of the PM, his decision shows an arrogance, a lack of compassion, an alarming disconnection from reality and dud political judgement.
Worse, however, is his arrogant dismissal of former fire chiefs who call for a summit on the bushfire catastrophe. Morrison’s government is unwilling to listen. He can holiday in Hawaii but he can’t find the time to sit down and hear out those whose only motive is to help him save Australia from burning?
His Prime Ministership and his government are more than monumentally incompetent. Morrison’s intransigence and sheer perversity in preferring his own poor judgement to the advice of experts is dangerous.
As the year draws to a close some things stand out. The saga of the Medevac Bill reveals a government entirely devoid of humanity and human decency while the PM’s decision to embargo any text message that might have been sent from his faux drought envoy Barnaby “boondoggle” Joyce signal a government that has absolutely no intention of being accountable, whatsoever.
Instead it delights in thumbing its nose at democracy and transparency; turning its back on expert advice.
Above all, as the Liberal Forum annual gathering at Kevin McCann’s pad in Mosman last week so powerfully attests this is a government that has betrayed any ideals it may once have had in favour of Machiavellian pragmatism to keep itself in power for power’s sake and to serve the interests of its powerful corporate backers. It is not just a degenerate form of its earlier self; it is in a dangerously dysfunctional state of decay.