Hey, Hey, it’s Perrottet? Can Morrison survive

“…the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favoured few booted and spurred, ready to ride them…”  Thomas Jefferson

“It’s not just a health crisis, it’s an economic crisis.” Dominic Francis Perrottet, a gangly colt by Gordon Gecko out of Margaret Thatcher in party apparatchik’s blue tie saddle-cloth, a heavily tipped favourite, but up in class, easily beats his lunchtime jogging pal, Planning Minister, pious Anglican and fellow anti-abortionist, Rob Stokes to the winning post in NSW’s forty-sixth premier stakes.

It’s a rigged ballot, after much horse-trading, yet a novelty in a party which hasn’t voted for a leader since 2002. NSW prefers, like La Cosa Nostra, to keep its succession planning simple.

Gladys is a no-show. Is she in witness protection already? Scuttlebutt from “senior Liberals” is that she’ll be parachuted into a safe federal Liberal seat. If ICAC doesn’t send her to jail.

Federal Liberals and Nationals unite behind the terminally compromised ex-Premier, if only to show their hostility to the very idea of the ICAC and air their continued contempt for accountability. As thick as thieves, the saying goes.

Also continuing is Ms Berejiklian’s salary – not her $407,980 as premier but a handy $14000 a month pocket money – as is her ex-deputy’s, the self-styled John “Pork” Barilaro, as you’d expect from two pillars of selfless dedication to the greater good.

Neither has formally resigned yet. Nor has Andrew Constance. Nor need they, until by-elections, costing around a million dollars are held.

To the delight of his corporate owners, bankers and investors, Perrottet immediately pushes the economic panic button. Thanks to our unique media oligopoly, everyone knows that being locked down causes horrendous losses while “opening up” is the one true path to eternal prosperity. But austerity budgeting will do nothing for employment.

Since May, there are 244,000 fewer people in work in NSW while a further 217,000 people report working zero hours last month due to “economic or other reasons”.

To the horror of the PM’s handlers, saddled with an absolute dud in the leadership stakes, aka the PM for NSW, Perrottet, The Premier for Australia, in Laura Tingle’s call, goes rogue; decrees that he’ll abolish caps on overseas arrivals and dispense with tedious quarantine requirements. It’s refreshingly assertive, attention-seeking and an homage to the Ruby Princess. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s a heaven-sent opportunity for comic relief, even if it is egg on face. Libertarian autocrat, King Dom is a whirlwind of free will, divine right or hidebound arrogance – no-one’s quite sure – especially the state’s increasingly casualised, precariat, its baggage handlers and an underclass of overworked, underpaid and contract staff whose lives are consumed over getting enough hours to get by.

A world away, on The Drum, ABC’s leisure class salon, no-one’s booking OS holidays. Yet.

The ACTU says one in three jobs are casual or contract or labour hire and gig workers. Federal government gurus such as the very Christian Porter counter that it’s one in four.

In fact, the ACTU understates the case given our Uber-army of self-employed workers. The true figure is closer to 37% of the workforce or about five million workers.

Denied paid leave, casual employees generally have no guaranteed hours of work, work irregular hours and can have their employment ended without notice, says the Fair Work Ombudsman. But the federal government rejects, out of hand, any suggestion it revive Job Keeper. Or any Dom keeper.

Perrottet’s already lost a shouting match with the PM on the topic in July. Now, Morrison must slap-down the uppity Premier for Australia again. He must lasso the bolter fast.

“The Premier understands that is a decision for the Commonwealth government not for the state government and when we believe that is a decision to make, we will make it in that time”, Morrison issues a pointed, but ineffectual rebuke.

It will be a different story should infection gallop away again, as it has elsewhere in the world, as a result of prematurely easing restrictions. Or importing new mutations.

Already there is a massive miscalculation baked into the Federal Plan or Roadmap, a Clayton’s plan Morrison imposes on premiers and waves in front of the camera. Vaccination rates are never uniform across any state. Perrottet’s grand gesture spells disaster for regional NSW, especially for the state’s rural aboriginal communities.

Rick Morton reports in The Saturday Paper that the Covid-19 infection rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is two and three times higher than that of non-Indigenous Australians. He cites leaked federal government confidential briefing papers.

The death rate amongst First Nations’ peoples aged 40-60, given low vaccination rates and the prevalence of early onset chronic diseases, is three times that of non-indigenous people.

Now, as the two most populous states, NSW and Victoria, begin to ease restrictions, the woefully low vaccination rates among First Peoples generally and especially in some communities pose a real threat to the lives and wellbeing of those for whom the priority vaccination effort has been anything but urgent.

So much for the PM’s assurances that his pet unicorn, “federal cabinet” and its National Plan would give top priority to the vaccination of our most vulnerable.

A few hours after the Premier for Australia usurps him, the PM for NSW, who spends all week in “coward’s castle”, Kirribilli, letting the Nationals hijack the carbon agenda, emerges to peg back Perrottet, claiming opening up applies only to returning Australian citizens (the same group he promised to have back home last Christmas).

King Dom has another go. He walks back his travel thing a tad. He puts regional freedoms on hold a month or two because of low vaccination rates.

Not to be outdone, Saturday, Morrison announces he’s giving everyone the freedom to buzz off overseas and back. Permanent residents, only, of course.

In just one week, despite his bluster, Perrottet’s sounding as weak and indecisive as the dithering Berejiklian. And every bit as shifty. Neither gives a fig about any duty of care towards anyone.

By Saturday, Perrottet is at it again. All international travellers will be welcome in NSW.

He’ll decide who comes into NSW… besides the state urgently needs a shed load of cheap migrant labour.

Morrison’s utterly gazumped by the young upstart. Never has a PM’s authority been defied so brazenly. Nor his impotence exposed so publicly. Dominic Francis Perrottet knows that Scotty’s all piss and wind. And that he has Sydney business behind him.

Moreover, his pernicious, economic crisis, tabloid scare, helps the state’s latest Great Helmsman to divert from the inconvenient truth of his own controversial role in Treasury.

Perrottet was in the wheelhouse in Captain Gladys ship of fools’ inglorious retreat from Delta, a textbook case in turning crisis into catastrophe. A headless chook ought to be NSW emblem. Or a barbed wire canoe. We’re already all up shit creek as far as national public health is concerned.

Perrottet’s choice peddles a deadly deception. People gasp their lungs out in intubation in a hospital system gutted by gung-ho post-modern neoliberals who’ve defunded public health and privatised just about everything left worth selling. But the Perrottets of this world insist it’s your own fault or a lifestyle choice if you’re sick or must live in overcrowded poverty in a Western Sydney ghetto.

“Privatize everything. Abolish help for the weak, the solitary, the sick and the unemployed. Abolish all aid for everyone except the banks. Don’t look after the poor; let the elderly die. Reduce the wages of the poor but reduce the taxes of the rich. Make everyone work until they are ninety. Only teach mathematics to traders, reading to big property-owners and history to on-duty ideologues.” And the execution of these commands will in fact ruin the life of millions of people,” writes Alain Badiou in Capitalism Today, (2012, 13).

It could be a page from Dom’s secret diary. It certainly fits federal Coalition “policy”.

Not only is the state not coping, but its health system itself needs intensive care after botched neoliberal surgery. The pattern is the same across the nation. All states are infected with the deadly neoliberal virus. Expect ever greater unmet demand, fewer hospital beds, overcrowded emergency departments and longer waits for elective surgery. Our public health system puts at risk the lives of all Australians reports The AMA in its recent analysis, Public Hospitals: Cycles of Crisis.

The crisis was full-blown well before Covid. As for the crisis induced by the Berejiklian government’s failure to respond, the former premier insists she acted on “the medical advice”, yet three months pass before Michael West Media investigative journalist, Callum Foote even gets a reply from her office. Foote simply wants to know what the medical advice was. The Premier’s office can’t tell him.

Incredibly, three months later, Foote receives an email from Kerry Chant dated early June, three weeks before the lockdown on June 23. But that email is not about public health advice in NSW. It’s about lockdown restrictions in Victoria. ICAC could turn its attention to what seems to be a desperate bluff. NSW’s response is dictated by the top end of town’s business interests. Gladys’ mantra about “the medical advice” is a pathetic attempt to evade accountability.

Perrottet’s glib diagnosis of economic crisis gaslights a state so wracked by existential crises, its vital signs are faint. News of a fourth resignation doesn’t help. Rats.

Nor does the new premier’s opposition to laws requiring priests to disclose to police confessions of child abuse. He believes that canon law trumps any state legislation.

Bringing schools back a week earlier without any consultation has teachers’ unions furious. But it does get everybody’s attention. It’s the new realpolitik which holds that a even wilful blunder can pay dividends in generating publicity for a newbie leader.

But is it just to keep himself in the news all week, that Perrottet, announces that NSW will abolish quarantine from 1 November? It’s a calculated act of contempt for Scott Morrison and federal authority over borders that he represents. And more.

Perrottet adds another, crisis to the disaster area that is NSW State politics, a state in crisis in an age of crisis; economic, political, environmental and social. And engineered.

“Crisis, rather than being accidental or episodic – as is too often assumed – has been a regular feature of state practice in the neoliberal austerity regimes of contemporary capitalism,” writes Canadian academic, poet and activist Jeff Shanks, echoing Naomi Wolf’s Shock Doctrine and Anthony Lowenstein’s Disaster Capitalism.

Thursday, Melanie Gibbons becomes the fourth rat to desert a sinking Liberal ship, leaving Perrottet a four-by-election popularity contest crisis.

Gibbons quits her marginal, Western Sydney seat of Holsworthy, to have a crack at federal politics in Hughes – seat of Craig Kelly, climate science denier, anti-vaxxer and Covid quack – the arse end of Clive Palmer’s UAP panto horse; a pseudo-party set up to peddle anti-Labor lies. Help the pro-mining federal coalition buy another election.

But there’s more. UAP now has 65,000 members, which Kelly reckons makes it the largest political party. It’s free to join via a simple online form. The politically comprised AEC says it’s all legit. Meanwhile UAP is joined by an extremist group.

Monday brings news that UAP will turbo-charge its toxic disinformation as Reignite Democracy Australia’s (RDA) top firebrand, Monica Smit, who has Liberal links, is to “join” the UAP.

How good is RDA’s call that all Commonwealth Health Officers be prosecuted for crimes against humanity? Vaccines are deadly? Contact tracing is unconstitutional?

Smit is a rabid conspiracy theorist who says her movement began “in response to the Victorian government’s catastrophic handling of the Covid Pandemic.”

Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA) boasts 80,510 subscribers, a thousand paid up members and an extensive online presence in an algorithm based digital echo chamber in which the deluded and irrational collude in paranoid fantasy, insidiously promoting the growth of outrageous lies, disinformation and bias.

RDA-UAP political interference suits the Morrison government’s agenda and is boosted hugely by Palmer’s funding. Clive’s spent almost $1m already, bankrolling Kelly’s election ads on YouTube. Google’s political transparency report shows that the UAP has spent $878,250 since November 2020, twenty times its nearest rival; over sixty per cent of the total political advertising spend.

The hard right, dry white, Dominic Perrottet’s ascension to Premier is, like Scott Morrison’s, a miracle given Dom’s tendency to treat the state treasury as a hedge fund and his role in the iCare scandal. The Liberals’ Pravda, The Australian, aka Catholic Boys’ Daily, reports Dom’s got the top job only after a deal to make his party deputy, Stuart Ayres, a St Dominic’s College Old Boy and Marise Payne’s man bag. Veteran Liberal powerbroker, lobbyist Michael Photios works the phones.

Fellow “committed Catholic”, the highly ambitious, green energy advocate, Matt Kean becomes treasurer. Ayres’ “Western Sydney profile” seals the deal, and leaves moderates out in the cold.

The superbly named Paul Toole gets the Nationals’ leader’s baton when pork-Barilaro does a Gladys and quits before ICAC can separate him from his superannuation. This makes Toole the new token deputy Premier, largely a walk-on role. Expect to see a lot of images of Paul Toole scowling in the background while Perrottet makes it up as he goes along. It’s the federal coalition in miniature. But with more political deaths onstage than the last scene of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Perrottet steps booted and spurred over three rivals, an Olympic standard pile-up- even for the perilously thin ice skating of contemporary Liberal politics. Imagine Steven Bradbury morphing into a predatory, bespectacled, giant stick insect.

Too Kafkaesque? Perrottet’s economic crisis diagnosis is woefully deficient and wilfully misleading. Imagine if this were a Labor government. NSW Leadership Crisis would be all over the news. Or what passes for news in our benighted island paradise, a fully owned subsidiary of News Corp with its retinue of fawning hacks, flacks and Morrison government stenographers.

Instead, Leigh Sales goes in soft on Ita’s ABC 7:30 midweek, letting Perrottet get away with murder.

“I think … Leigh, in relation to the workers compensation scheme in New South Wales. I think, as I have said very clearly in relation to that scheme, the reform was the right thing to do when I was finance minister. The scheme is in a much better place than it was before.”

Some things Perrottet would have done differently? Create an iCare without racking up four billion dollars in debt while underpaying 52000 workers $80 million?

Some subsequently perish. Others just have their lives ruined. But three key iCare executives get a total of $1.2 million payouts. Labor calls for an end to iCare executive bonuses after eight executives share $8 million in salaries and bonuses over two years.

Miraculously, a branch-stacking scandal in Victoria monopolises media attention while Perrottet’s Freedom Day lets you have a beer while you get your hair cut or your nails done, or all three, simultaneously, provided you are fully vaccinated.

These freedoms leave no-one any time at all to heed a terminally, politically compromised Federal Treasury, which confesses Monday, that it blew $40 billion on JobKeeper subsidies to businesses who did not qualify; did not lose a third of their turnover – and not $27 billion as previously reported. No-one cares?

Undaunted, Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce appears on ABC to spruik a further $100 million of corruption in The Building Better Regions fund (BBR) whilst BBR is being audited by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) over whether funding was consistent with the Commonwealth’s grant rules. Talk about contempt for accountability.

The Nationals, a critically endangered political subspecies, who represent five per cent of a gerrymandered electorate, rush to top up the scheme; blow their bags about how much control they have over the purse strings. Brag about a colour-coded spreadsheet.

How good is colour-coding? Such a boon to our innumerate ruling classes. “Get the money out the door” is a Coalition mantra. Shame is dead, buried and cremated. It’s the Morrison government’s biggest achievement.

God forbid that we exercise due diligence, even-handed justice or duty of care in federal expenditure. Any ideal of a democratic commonwealth is corrupted; mired in the stampede to buy votes.

Above all, the celebrity cult sucks the oxygen out of our politics. Hacks rush to gush over how many children the premier has sired. His Catholicism. How he’s only 39.

It’s a hot mess of irrelevancies which displace the cardinal question of the day; how in Dog’s name did Perrottet get the gig?

Is it his scandalous fiscal incompetence, or his Wolf of Wall Street stunt such as punting public funds on stocks, shares, junk bonds, anything bar the 7:30 at the Dapto Dogs, which equips him for the role of NSW premier?

Or like Morrison, has his God spoken to him out of a photograph of an eagle or a parrot or the hindquarters of a bandy-legged budgie smuggler? The suppository of all wisdom?

Such is the bizarre, supernaturalism and magical realism at the heart of our polity: a Trumpian adulation of celebrity leaders who betray us with their venality, their narcissism and their gobsmacking incompetence, while they bleed us dry.

Rivals, Berejiklian and Barilaro flee the ICAC, a body booed by Murdoch hacks, while Andrew Constance is lured out of the comp by shonky Morrison’ promise of a safe federal seat in Gilmore.

Constance. So promising a name, so quickly waylaid by the whiff of a chaffbag of cash.

Perrottet proclaims himself “first family premier of NSW”, an award he selflessly gives himself in his inaugural speech.  Hugely cheered by Dom’s posturing, doubtless, are families suffering because injured or sick workers were underpaid in the state’s iCare workers’ compensation scheme scandal.

iCare nearly collapses under Perrottet’s mismanagement, making a $4bn loss.

Taking on the unions to cut public servants’ pay, or freezing nurses’ wages, similarly, is always a family friendly career move. As is not consulting teachers’ representatives.

A dry, right, family guy Perrottet seeks to distract us from the elephant in the room, his own fiscal incompetence and the sudden, rapid, decapitation of his government.

Liberal leadership may have taken a fatal hit but Perrottet’s kept his powder and his Thatcherite  economics as dry as they were in his maiden speech.

“I strongly support the principles of free markets. I oppose plans for more social engineering, more welfare handouts and the continual obsession with our rights at the expense of our responsibilities,” Perrottet declared in 2011.

It’s vacuous, hypocritical, cringeworthy, neoliberal cant. Did an IPA hack write it for him? All parties are social engineers as The AIMN’s John Lord so capably shows.

As state treasurer, Perrottet helped former Premier Gladys Berejiklian ensure that Sydney’s elite Northern Beaches received four times the amount of lockdown support from fellow social engineer, Morrison a defender of the rights of the kleptocracy to help themselves to funds diverted from the poor and needy or unvaccinated battlers on the Death Star Victoria.

Middle-class welfare, the genteel euphemism for tipping buckets of money stolen from workers into bosses’ Cayman Island accounts is the class act of our economic theatre for the last fifty years. The myth of trickle-down makes the reverse Robin Hoods of Coalition economics public heroes. At least in their own echo-chambers.

Workers starve as billions of dollars are gifted by Frydenberg and his government’s subsidies to fossil fuel corporations and private insurance shysters. Naturally, one of Perrottet’s first moves is to announce a “package” of funding and other measures to help the struggling business classes.

Perrottet is perfect successor to Gladys in a state which is run by business for business.

Dom’s cranking up the economic crisis because he’s just shunted Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant off-stage in the state’s daily Covid Punch n Judy Show with its ritual case tally, fatalities and finger-wagging. Saturday there’s no show at all. Bugger the medical advice, King Dom’s in charge now.

We’ll miss passive-aggressive Gladys’ ineffectual pleading. Imploring people to follow the medical advice which she never divulged because it never existed. And the way she could still bag Victoria. Her outbursts of petulance when journos expected answers.

On ABC Insiders, recently, a sage says shooting the medico messenger is part of a general return to elected representatives. It’s a revealing comment from an embedded press, given the extent to which those self-same representatives, including our federal Health Minister, just love to hide behind “the medical advice” until there’s a political point in ignoring public health experts. Now it seems to be open slather.

The myth of an economic crisis caused solely by lockdown; of liberty curtailed by dictatorial Labor premiers out to sabotage a nation’s economic well-being is one many lunatic absurdities created by a Murdoch-led media which endanger public health.

Yet it sells well – at least with the hired help who turn up outside the CFMEU, who keep building workers safe, before blocking the Westgate Bridge, scene of one of the worst industrial accidents in the history of construction, an industry notorious for injury and shoddy work practices which ruin or cost workers’ their lives.

Urging states to open before restrictions have done their work is madness. Yet Perrottet is a more than eager accomplice. He’s in competition with his let ‘er rip PM, the latest avatar of Scott Morrison, ever a work in progress.

Goodbye dullsville; hello Gladesville. Make way for an up-beat, corporate, kleptocratic patsy, who like his predecessor has all the libertarian rhetoric about granting freedoms off pat while acting like a petty tyrant, arbitrarily bringing Freedom Day forward for his own political gain. We’ll know in a week at what cost. If we can trust the data.

Dom is head of a state that now becomes even more about cheering on its celebrity premier than any social contract, political covenant or civil society. Suffer mere voters who may yet cherish quaint hopes of democratic representation. Or responsibility. King Dom has a bent for autocracy, secrecy and golden parachutes.

With Perrottet at the helm, Icare, NSW’s WorkCover 2.0 almost collapsed. It underpaid 52,000 sick and injured workers, eighty million dollars in claims benefits, as it racked up four billion dollars in debt. Yet it was immensely successful in looking after its executives. Executives collected four million in salaries and bonuses in 2018-19 alone, a parliamentary inquiry was told.

Another $1.2 million helped ease the pain of termination, icare announced, this February, when interim CEO Don Ferguson would depart the government-owned insurer in six months’ time, while group executives Rob Craig and Sara Kahlau were to go sooner.

But look over there! Dom promises more freedoms. By Monday, 11 October he tweaks Gladys’ hopelessly nanny-state plans to let shops and hairdressers reopen to the fully vaccinated and apply a five kilometres-from-home travel limit.

“Hey, hey it’s Perrottet” firms as favourite in the stakes for the title of the new, occasional Covid NSW infotainment which dumps “the medical advice” in favour of appeasing corporate greed.

Our medium, singular, given all outlets sing from the same hymnal, choruses that new King Dom’s a “devout” Roman Catholic with a six-pack of kids. Dom, a Castle Hill Quiverfull denies he’s a member of Opus Dei, but in the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

If he were a member of a secret cult, his superiors would, presumably, insist that he not advertise the fact, John Carmody notes drily. But Perrottet makes his allegiances crystal clear.

Fear not. Dominic’s faith will not affect his politics or his religion; the uber-neoliberal flogging of every public asset he can get his hands on, poles and wires, roads, even the Public Titles Office.

It’s not his family Dom’s talking about. Perottet’s tickled pink to be elected NSW’s new Godfather at The Liberal Mafia’s Macquarie Street palace after self-professed – self-deceiving – “goody-two-shoes” Gladys goes under a bus, bequeathing Dom her Fiefdom of Little Mateship and HQ of The Jolly Bagman as Operation Spicer discovered, where developers make donations to The Free Enterprise Foundation, a Canberra slush fund, which are then washed back into state politics.

Bugger the law. On with the party is the Liberal anthem, fostered by Pepsodent Kid Mike Baird, whose career dipped when, in 2014, ICAC found a swag of Liberal MPs “acted with the intention of evading laws under the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act”.

For ten, the party was over. Not all left politics entirely, some took refuge on the cross benches.

Dom’s not giving too much away when becomes clear that even the Press Gallery knows Morrison called the former NSW treasurer a “fuckwit”.

Others claim he was told to go away. The latest NSW Premier, a gawky, asthenic, bespectacled, geek who lost a mozza on his iCare scam, for which he may yet face the ICAC, is no dear friend of the PM. Not because he’s failed spectacularly already but because he’s a rival and he’s pushy and he’s shrewd. He intimidates the PM.

But Perottet’s not going to break Omertà, the code of silence binding Liberals.

Politicians are like diapers. They should both be changed regularly. And for the same reason. As for the Liberal Party of NSW, its MPs must also contend with Engadine Macca’s syndrome, where our PM involuntarily soils himself over a Rugby League Grand Final in 1997 and must then go on Sydney’s KIIS FM, three years later, to clear up the matter.

Doubtless, Gladys is similarly indisposed on hearing that ICAC is on her case. Perrottet has every reason to expect a call also. In the meantime, he’s humiliated Morrison publicly, with his defiance of the PM’s authority over borders. It bodes not well for either.

Ultimately, the rise of Perrottet is another chapter in the rise of a ruling elite, to whom Morrison does not wholly belong, an elite that exists to promote its own and to serve the interest of its wealthy corporate sponsors. Despite much distraction over the NSW’s new premier, it is not his religion but his dry, right politics that merit our full attention.