Author: urbanwronski

Urban Wronski is an Australian free-lance writer whose work appears regularly in The Independent Australia, The Tasmanian Times and also in The Australian Independent Media Network. He has also been published in Guardian Australia. An acute observer and analyst Urban continues to advocate for a just, tolerant and compassionate society.

Turnbull government fails Australians on jobs and energy.



Super Mal, our super-antihero PM, the down-under “wonder-gunner” blitzes Canberra’s political firmament this week, lighting up the sky with yet another dazzling flash of super-power in “Keeping The Lights on” – a love duet with the BCA and for history buffs an homage to the Liberal Party’s naff 1975 election slogan, “Turn On the Lights.”

In a week where our role in world affairs includes the shameful abandonment of our gulag on Manus Island to our ignominious failure to censure Myanmar over Rohingya genocide and where our embarrassments extend to our Foreign Minister having to eat her words about never being able to trust a Kiwi Labour government, the PM’s energy fix and Michaelia Cash’s jobs windfall are played for all they are worth. And then some.

First, to Turnbull who talks up his NEG, a National Energy Guarantee – a type of energy policy on steroids to judge by its promotion – which promises cheaper, reliable, cleaner electricity. Cheaper? NEG has a way with words:

“It is expected that following the guarantee could lead to a reduction in residential bills in the order of $100-115 per annum over the 2020-2030 period.”

NEG gets generators to clean up their act. No blackouts; keep costs and emissions down. Generators must meet two guarantees; one on reliability and one on emissions.

After that, the proposal gets hazy. Reliability is tricky because coal is “in the mix” along with other ready-to-use sources such as coal, gas, pumped hydro and batteries”. Yet coal is less and less reliable, given the age of Australia’s ageing power plants. Unless it’s running all the time, moreover, a coal-fired plant is inflexible.

Coal fired stations can’t rapidly ramp supply up and down and they are costly to start. Furthermore, high capital costs mean that the less often they operate, the higher the electricity price they need to obtain when they do.

The emissions guarantee, we are told, “will be set to contribute to Australia’s international commitments. The level of the guarantee will be determined by the Commonwealth and enforced by the AER.”

If, as seems likely, the new scheme allows for trading of credits liked to coal generation, the result will be a market in subsidies for dirty energy: “dirty energy credits”.

How it all works is anybody’s guess: no details are available. It’s a Turnbull big picture thing. But for an eight-page thought bubble, a document whipped up in two weeks by a government desperate for a plan B for a flagging Finkel Report, the NEG vibe is just incredible. Huge.

More than a few greenie nay-sayers may be throwing mung bean sandals or waving their Dakota dream-catchers, if we are to heed barking Barnaby Joyce whose tenuous grip on decorum and reality slackens every Question Time.

Won’t the NEG just protect the fossil fuel industry and slow the uptake of renewables? Experts such as Giles Parkinson have not been slow to voice their reservations. Giles mildly ventures that the proposal is:

” … the most ill-considered, poorly detailed and potentially useless policy that anyone can remember – the work of Australia’s so-called ‘energy mafia’ hungry to defend the power of the incumbent oligopoly, commercial interests and their ideology.”

Let yourself go, Parkinson. Tell us what you really think. The Opposition also has some major misgivings.

Labor’s Mark Butler worries: “For Turnbull’s plan to work there would be no new large-scale renewable energy projects and a cut of at least two-thirds to current rates of rooftop solar installation.”

The ESB  proposes a piddling 28 per cent to 36 per cent renewable share by 2030 a means to pacify a Coalition right wing, which already has the scent of victory in its nostrils.

Isn’t the NEG just another back-down? Hasn’t the right wing forced the government to junk the carbon price, reduce the renewable energy target, reject an emissions trading scheme, and dump a clean energy target?

Our PM quickly calls out any such heresy as “ideological”. Reckless unbelief such as this caused the SA blackout, remember? Besides NEG’s been designed by experts. Turnbull savages ABC RN’s Sabra Lane, Wednesday. How dare she (or anyone else) “attack” the “distinguished and expert” Energy Security Board?

Ayatollah Turnbull’s always been a bit iffy about impertinent questions but COAG’s set up a flash new ESB to hide behind. The ESB amounts to five independent experts who know everything. Gold-plated poles ‘n wires R US.

Dr Kerry Schott, former head of NSW and ACT network operator Transgrid fronts the gig, helped by deputy Claire Savage of the Business Council of Australia, a rent-seeking body dedicated to looking after the needs of some of our biggest polluters, a body which, in 2008, warned Rudd that a carbon price was “a company killer”.

Savage is highly regarded but has for the last decade worked as an advocate for big utility companies such as the industry association ESAA, then with EnergyAustralia before her work with the BCA.

Making up the rest of the impartial, independent, business brains trust are the heads of the Australian Energy Market Commission, the Australian Energy Regulator and Australian Energy Market Operator, or, as Sabra Lane puts it:  “… bodies that oversaw the last ten years of disastrous energy policy in Australia”.

Lane’s thoughts are echoed by Parkinson:

The scheme will, ostensibly, be monitored by the same useless regulators that allowed the networks – and latterly the generators and retailers – to gouge consumers over the last 10 years, and enabled them, more recently, to ‘play’ the market for certificates in the renewable energy target.

Our PM’s a gunner from way back. In June, for example, he was still “gonna” introduce a Clean Energy Target. Until it became a test of his leadership. Still going to get water to run up hill in his Snowy Hydro 2.0 pipe dream, though.

Amazingly his Snowy Hydro 2.0, a feasibility study on a massively expensive project at least ten years away is spun as somehow coming on stream tomorrow. A mad, manic delusional optimism seizes the entire front bench.

Turnbull, the disruptor, promises an energy game changer. It’s a masterly performance with report of an Abbott Party Room slap-down.  Josh Frydenberg intercedes. Abbott is a “conscientious objector”. The press gallery drools.

But Mal’s light on for detail. What is the plan? Is “coal in the mix” a sign that this is just another NBN-type hoax? Will coal play the role of copper in the PM’s disaster of an NBN project, devised solely to take down Labor’s?

Dave Donovan argues coal is to Turnbull’s new National Energy Guarantee what copper was to Turnbull’s major debacle; his  underpowered, oversold, over-budget version of the National Broadband Network.

Yet, judging by the saturation press, the PM lays his NEG, a “national energy guarantee” upon a grateful nation. It will, he promises, speaking quickly, cut electricity bills, lower carbon emissions and boost reliability. And look. There’s no modelling. And … that’s not all. The new NEG comes with its own, in-built political point-scorer.

The PM vows without hint of a twitch of upper lip that he will take the politicking out of the energy debate.  Born to silence the right wing and designed to wedge Labor, the NEG is as political as it gets. The rest is hypocrisy.

“How do we break out of these climate wars, of this dreadful cycle of ideological argument — and frankly idiocy or stupidity. There is no other way to describe it,” Turnbull pretends, invoking a thoroughly well-thrashed scapegoat for his own party’s paralysis on energy policy.

The lie that political squabbling is to blame for the Liberals’ own policy inertia, a result of its complete capture by the coal lobby, is repeated so often it is now gospel according to ABC Q&A, The Drum and others in MSM.

Yet, as Naomi Klein says, “It’s hard to tell where the Australian Government ends and the coal industry begins.” Increasingly we are fed the lie that somehow the Liberals’ purity of motive is thwarted by its political opponents’ treachery, especially Labor’s fetish for cheap, reliable, affordable clean energy that won’t destroy the planet.

Equally specious is the lament that squabbles deny our great god industry the certainty it is due; the certainty that is fundamental to investment. As Richard Denniss points out between 2009 and 2015, Santos and its international partners spent $10,000 a minute on a $25bn mistake when they hoped a massive gas export plant at Curtis Island, near Gladstone in Queensland would be profitable. So, too, did two other consortia, boosting cost to $80bn.

Denniss notes: “Australians have been told for decades that “businesses need certainty”, and that uncertainty is a barrier to investing in renewable energy. Unfortunately the gas industry’s inability to predict the future with any certainty didn’t prevent its managers from taking a massive risk with their own shareholders’ money.

Turnbull’s on the same tram. “We’ve got to stop this ideological, theological nonsense about energy,” he preaches to IAG business leaders in Canberra Thursday. This is a time for clear-eyed, hard-headed, businesslike leadership.”

It’s an alarmingly delusional affectation and a well-worn cliché of conservative government rhetoric that only businesses know how to make sound decisions in energy when the evidence from our own gas industry catastrophe alone, a major cause of our own disastrous energy bubble should give pause for thought.

Turnbull must take us for fools if he believes we will mistake his government’s impulsive decision-making (or as he flatters it a “plan”) a proposal whipped up in two weeks without any proper modelling for a clear-eyed or hard-headed policy. It’s another in a long line of capitulations dictated by the government’s industry sponsors.

Yet it is his trademark wild-eyed evasion, Turnbull models in his leadership when he appears on ABC RN.

“Will you guarantee those price reductions?” asks AM host Sabra Lane.

“Well, what I can guarantee” replies PM Turnbull, “is that we’ve got those price figures, those cost figures ‒ in fact, which is based on their estimate of a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in wholesale generation costs ‒ we’ve got that. I can guarantee that the people that are giving those figures are the best informed and the most knowledgeable in the industry.”

No modelling? Instantly, the Opposition pounces in Question Time. Happily, Speaker Tony Smith interprets relevance so broadly as to allow Coalition MPs free rein to indulge in yet another round of Labor-bashing.

The plan is to paint Labor as the party of higher prices in a reprise of Tony Abbott’s pernicious great big new tax on everything 2013 attack on a price of carbon, a stunt which minder, Peta Credlin, now freely concedes, was a hoax.

It’s a work of consummate con-artistry which will continue the “energy wars” on the Labor Party whose reckless pursuit of renewable energy targets, as everyone knows, got us into this mess. Yet Labor fires back.

“In just the last 12 months, the Prime Minister was for an emissions intensity scheme until the Member for Warringah came out against it and he supported a clean energy target until the Member for Warringah came out against that,” Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Mark Butler, says.

“Given reports that the Member for Warringah spoke against the Prime Minister’s latest energy policy in the party room today, when will the Prime Minister announce that he’s against this one too?”

Not only is the NEG a runaway success, the week ends on a high – at least for employment minister, Michaelia Cash and her groupies who swoon over the government’s latest fresh-baked batch of employment figures.

These confirm how hugely successfully it always is in “creating jobs”, the corollary of “growing the economy” provided no-one looks at population growth, hours worked, wages or any other meaningful measure.

“Employment has increased by 371,500 over the last year – more than four times the jobs growth in Labor’s last year in government …” claims Cash, shrewdly manipulating the time period. Over the Coalition’s four years,  only an average of 206,400 jobs have been added per year.

Given, our adult population growth of  293,700 per year over the last four years, jobs have failed to keep up.

Jobs? ABS records reveal that Turnbull and Abbott are the worst economic managers since Menzies. Wages have languished for four years. Conditions decline steadily. A quarter of Australian workers now have no leave entitlements whatsoever.

A year ago, 716,600 Australians had no work at all but unemployment is no longer something the government mentions in public. Nor is it big on admitting a relentless decline in the quality of our working lives. The Coalition presides over record unemployment, underemployment, underpayment and the systematic casualisation of work.

But it’s on with the Cash Show. It’s all vital part of the pantomime theatre of work in which a neoliberal government can worship in the church of the free market, yet take credit for its own benign intervention.

12 months’ consecutive jobs growth – employment at a record high runs this month’s media massage.

Oh, my! 19,800 – in just four weeks! Just look how many JOBS our Magic Pudding policies have cooked up since our last sensational gingerbread bake-off. MSM reporters fall over themselves to toast another Coalition triumph.

An “extraordinary achievement” gurgles Malcolm Turnbull. Best run of monthly gains for nearly twenty-five years. A chum on The Drum obligingly beats up the myth of infrastructure spending the government keeps spinning and spinning as the cause of our workforce suddenly awash with well-paid, secure employment.

Getting in early, Judith Sloan posts a puff piece about how unassailable government employment statistics are. The former director of Santos a firm which deceived the nation about how much domestic gas it would sell off-shore, howls down “ABC talk-back hosts” for spreading doubt about official figures. It’s a dead giveaway.

Of course there are more people in work. There are more of us. What the minister’s orgy of self-congratulation never acknowledges is how jobs are increasingly part-time, casual and insecure.

But you’ll never hear Cash stop to factor in population growth – or any other fact that would help us to contextualise her meaningless statistics. She breathlessly reels off her talking points oblivious to their nonsense. The population increases; the economy expands. Yet, as Alan Austin, notes, MSM is taken in by her spin.

JOBS announcements are what Ms Cash endlessly, dramatically, provides in her role as Employment Minister, a cameo role she effortlessly fits in with her day-job of growing her own property investment portfolio.

As with most Turnbull government roles, her duties are now chiefly theatrical.  Cash applies her prodigious energy to being our national cheer-leader for all hardworking Australians in her indefatigable, virtue-signalling war on job-snobs, welfare-bludgers and other shirkers. It’s a ritual drawing of the battle lines between lifter and leaner.

For those viewers who don’t speak gush, ABC News 24 obligingly runs a synoptic ticker bearing the whopper: “jobs bonanza”, part of its lip-service to statutory fairness and balance.

As with so much else released by the government and especially with economics, the Employment Minister’s press release includes a Newspeak-style mission statement concocted entirely of false or misleading information.

“We are focussed on our plan to secure a stronger economy with more jobs, including lower taxes for small businesses, a record investment in infrastructure, reliable and affordable energy, new export agreements and an ongoing focus on ideas and innovation”.

More jobs? Alan Austin notes there were 711,500 people out of work in September, the eleventh consecutive month the total has been above 710,000, a figure not seen before the Coalition’s victory in 2013, since 1997.

Hours worked per month, the most reliable employment indicator, were 86.17. It has been below 86.5 for 48 consecutive month since the Coalition was elected. Under Labor it rarely fell below 87 even during the GFC.

Cash also delivers the obligatory attack on Labor. Yet under Labor, Australia ranked sixth in the developed world on the provision of jobs. We now rank 16th.

The Minister for Misleading Employment Statistics has an alarmingly over-expressive delivery easily mistaken for liar’s hype.  While Cash is doubtless a boon to even visually impaired lip-readers everywhere – especially those who yearn for misleading disinformation, her performance demands closer critical scrutiny.

Turnbull’s all-singing, all dancing brand new energy policy, is an insult to the intelligence of the electorate. It lacks detail and any semblance of integrity. Beyond its function as a kowtow to the coal lobby which pulls the party’s strings, it is a desperate, flimsy attempt to wedge Labor whilst appeasing the party’s right wing.

Jobs and energy, the two big-ticket items of the week reveal a Turnbull government hooked on hype and spin, an embattled, incompetent and hopelessly corrupted regime whose sole response to its self-inflicted energy and employment crises is to turn up the loudspeaker on the propaganda machine.

It’s a frantic, futile bid for reassurance; as each Newspoll shows, fewer and fewer amongst us are taken in.


A government with no real interest in health or human rights or its people.



“It is hardly necessary to say that the court is aware of the need to give its answers to these references with or without reasons as soon as possible,” declares High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel, Friday.

Kiefel is slapping down brash Matt Canavan’s barrister, David Bennett QC, whose client has changed his story several times after first blaming his mother for making him an Italian. Now expert esoteric Italian legal depositions are tendered.

Bennett, a former Solicitor-General has the chutzpah to remind the court of “the importance of an urgent decision”.

Snapping your fingers for service does not go well in The High Court. The lady’s not for churning,Susan Kiefel makes it clear. Nor is her court.

Ultimately, however, Kiefel succeeds only in bidding up the nation’s impatience in a political week filled with trepidation, the sick joke of Greg Hunt’s health policy “shake-up”, a capitulation to health insurance industry and the prospect of a national, Nationals New England by-election circus starring the incomparable, incomprehensible, Murray-Darling cotton-farmers’ darling Barnaby Joyce.

Politics could be put on hold for weeks, whenever The High Court gets around to delivering its verdict on seven little (alien) Australian MPs’ dual citizenship, should the PM finally decide to prorogue parliament while Barnaby Joyce is re-elected, a safe bet despite a Melbourne Cup field of candidates preparing to stand against him.

Centrelink clients, on the other hand, will be put through promptly, now that the government has outsourced its telephone calls to Serco, helping the international company rebuild trust after its 2013 scandal when it was discovered to have overcharged the UK government for electronically tagging criminals who were back in gaol, overseas or dead.

The government, meanwhile, brushes aside criticism of its Robo-call fiasco. It dismisses complaints made against the system as “third parties … aimed solely at scoring political points”. It’s a line it likes to apply widely to any call for accountability and thinking which informs a lot of its spin excusing its own lamentable failure in energy policy.

Quickly it scotches any suggestion it suspend its error-ridden data-matching Tuesday, while engaging an outside contractor with a dodgy reputation in the UK and in New Zealand. Chin up pensioners: what could possibly go wrong?

Left right, you know the drill. Look over there! Don’t you know there’s a war on? Or one about to go on in North Korea. What could break the Turnbull government’s log-jam of indecision and ineptitude better than a military adventure?

Abroad, in a scene worthy of Apocalypse Now, Julie Bishop jogs the DMZ dividing North from South Korea while urging an increasingly potty POTUS to declare war on North Korea as she dodges questions about Myanmar’s genocide.

Elected unopposed, Australia waits to play its part on the UN Human Rights Council which is waiting for us to condemn the human rights atrocities in Myanmar which Foreign Minister Julie Bishop insists arise from a “security operation”.

The Rohingya are to blame. Look where their insurgency has led them. What bother they’re causing Bangladesh.

Refugees? Rohingya refugees? No here. Not us. 11,000 flee in one day? We “need independent, verifiable accounts”.

Bishop’s outright refusal to acknowledge the existence of the humanitarian crisis posed by the Myanmar persecution of the Rohingya is a shameful demonstration of the Coalition’s complete disregard for human rights.

The Turnbull government’s compassion bypass, its cruelty and its wilful abdication of responsibility under international refugee agreements are an indictment of its lack of moral compass and inhumanity. Instead, its foreign minister falls back on the best hollow clichés her staffers can provide for her.

“Australia will bring a pragmatic and principled approach to working with other nations to find real solutions to complex global challenges,” she says. Elsewhere she is fond of talking of rules-based global order, a catch-phrase of our 2016 Defence White Paper but one which is wretchedly vague and subjective. What if China has its own rules-based order?

In a revealing lapse into Newspeak, on SBS TV Sunday, Julie Bishop claims her government will offer “principled and pragmatic leadership” in the UN Human Rights Council, as if principled and pragmatic are not mutual contradictions. Easy to say. Is she unaware that our pragmatism is on open display in how we treat others such as Rohingya refugees?

“What will it take for our government to draw a line in the sand with the Myanmar military so as not be to complicit in crimes against humanity in our region?,” asks Diana Sayed, Amnesty’s crisis campaigner in Australia.

Bishop may commend her government’s new UNHCR role but nothing can hide our shame on boat turn-backs or atone for the inhumanity of our offshore detention; our neglect of Indigenous health, education and incarceration issues.

Worse, neither she nor Peter Dutton will comment on reports that Border Force is offering to pay Rohingya men on Manus to return to Myanmar and certain persecution. Yet one Rohingya detainee has already reported that he was offered $25,000.  Luckily, threat of war provides distraction. North Korea is not happy with Bishop or Australia.

Pyongyang’s news agency, which our ABC must remind us is “state-run” personally criticises Bishop; accuses Australia of joining the “frenzied political and military provocations of the US” against Pyongyang. It warns that Australia would not be able to avoid disaster if it continues to support the US stance on Pyongyang. Yet does she even know what that is?

Julie Bishop puts on her runners. She warns reporters “little rocket man” may launch a missile next week. Nuclear war could follow, she purrs, or worse, unless we drag Kim-chi Kimbo kicking and screaming to the negotiating table.

Negotiating? Donald Trump, the star of The Art of the Deal or “Fucking moron”, as secretary of state Rex Tillerson, tenderly refers to him, is sulking in his room. The President hates everyone. Another day. Another tantrum.

“We’re totally prepared for numerous things,” Trump baffles media, Friday, in a briefing that is pure Samuel Beckett.

“If something can happen where we negotiate, I’m always open to that. But if it’s going to be something other than negotiation, believe me we are ready, more so than we have ever been.” 

Apart from that, Trump won’t tell. Won’t give his game away. Especially as there is no game – a deception our government, Julie Bishop take a bow, enables. Jim Schoff, former senior Pentagon adviser for East Asia policy, tells The Washington Post that there are no signs that “U.S. policymakers think we’re on the brink of all-out war.”

Nor are there any signs of evacuation of the 28,000 US troops stationed in Seoul or any other civilians in South Korea while, over the border, Kim’s latest speech bags the US but is mainly about economics. North Korean soldiers are getting in the autumn harvest. Civilians are not mobilising. Only Trump and his Australian fan-club are talking up any war.

Long past the brink, mad-dog Abbott makes war on his boss from London. Experts detect another Newspoll in the field. Beyond barking, (Tel-Aviv) Dr Tony attacks his PM and all post-Christian, goat-sacrificing climate change god appeasers from The Old Dart. Climate change is crap. But, hey, if it really is real – and I’m not saying it is – it’s good for you.

Abbott makes a crap speech littered with falsehoods, a rant riven by tortured logic and inconsistencies to a bogus think-tank of coal industry puppets who clap politely in relief at the end. Bernard Keane carefully lists seventeen changes in the former PM’s position on climate change. Julie Bishop says he backed Paris; now he should explain his flip-flop.

Not a whisper from her of her former leader’s flip-flops on health, education or cuts to the ABC at the time.

The budgie-smuggler’s lunacy boosts an uneasy expectancy which falls upon us all, a wary national pessimism born of disappointment and exhaustion; boosted by the dance marathon of the postal survey on marriage equality and Josh Frydenberg’s super-elephantine four year-energy, bugger-the- climate to please Tony policy pregnancy.

In a world gone troppo, an uneasy, existential foreboding bedevils political life; the nation is waiting for Godot.

But no-one’s saying Chief Justice Susan Kiefel won’t put on a good High Court show. The odd cuckoo may even be thrown out of its parliamentary nest, or, indeed, all seven – after hearing One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts at length.

It would be un-Australian, the senator with the epistemological bent pleads, to discriminate between natural-born Aussies and “natural-born Indians” like himself.  It’s a welcome break from his party’s campaign slogans.

Oddly, the High Court expresses frustration with Roberts’ SC, Robert Newlinds, Justice Bell interjects testily: “It is unclear to me where this argument is taking you.”

If you were a betting man – and Malcolm Turnbull certainly is to have let his Deputy PM stay in parliament while disqualified – risking appeals on every decision he is party to, you would have to offer long odds on Roberts.

If Kiwi, Barnaby Joyce, were also deemed ineligible, he’d be a by-election shoo-in for his north-western NSW electorate of New England given his 58% of the primary vote last year. His anti-greenie electorate loves a water-rorting frack-champion, too.  Joyce is a huge SANTOS supporter. He hits the airwaves to plug coal seam gas extraction at Narrabri.

Joyce contradicts a federal government-appointed recent independent expert scientific committee which finds significant “knowledge gaps” in SANTOS’ local environmental impact study. And he does so with impunity. Why?

Is it self-interest? Narrabri is near Joyce’s property at Gwabegar. The Nationals’ leader forked out $572, 000 for two blocks of 1000 hectares in “mongrel country” , fit for goats, the odd migrant flightless bird and not much else, in 2006 and 2008. He had no idea that there was gas just begging to be fracked right under his property.  Amazing.

There’s no chance, he adds, any gas is going to come off his blocks. No chance his pal, John Anderson, gave him the nod – either. Anderson, a former Nationals leader, left politics, as you do, to become chairman of Eastern Gas in 2007, a firm which co-owned exploration rights to the block next door to Barnaby’s. Petroleum licences? You’ve got to be joking.

No chance of the pals’ gas-bagging about fracking. Nah. Goats and bloat mostly. Farm yarns. Land’s up for sale anyway. A  check with the agent reveals not a single enquiry. Joyce tells reporters he’s not going to make a “windfall” on the land.

Local activists say petroleum licences for the whole region depend on progress at Narrabri. Even with Barnaby’s spin, however, or with Fran Kelly’s “model corporate citizen” puff on ABC RN Breakfast, Santos has a poor record in the Pilliga. 20 toxic waste water spills at least have destroyed forest, one aquifer has been contaminated with uranium and other toxic heavy metals. Yet few gas wells have been sunk, so far; it’s the exploration phase of the project.

Mercurius Goldstein, a euphoniously named local high school teacher and The Greens’ anti-SANTOS candidate received 2.9% of the primary vote last election.  His party explains it is in it for the long haul and will contest any by-election.

Barnaby’s prospects will be boosted, also, by the fast-tracking of road projects which were funded by Labor in 2013. These languished under the Coalition which is now only too happy to discover some Opposition pork in the barrel.

A close relation to the pork barrel is the $6.25 billion taxpayers provide to subsidise private health insurance, an industry boondoggle introduced by the Howard government in 1999. Pivotal was Howard’s Health Minister, Michael Wooldridge, an entrepreneurial company director after politics, who in 2014 was subsequently fined $20,000 and banned from being a director of any company when a retirement company collapsed in 2011, owing investors $500 million.

Wooldridge was one of five former directors and did not benefit financially from the collapse. In 2016, the full court of the federal court overturned the ban, ruling that much vaunted corporate watchdog ASIC took too long to bring its case.

Preserving links with the top end of town, public health gets a soft spotlight Friday near the putting out the garbage end of this week as St George Hunt capitulates to the dragon; the government subsidised private health insurance industry.

Billed breathlessly as a “major shakeup” of healthcare policy – the biggest changes for fifteen years, the Turnbull government’s “sweeping changes”, offer a huge cut of 70 cents a week to the less than half of us who pay an average $1800 a year for private health insurance – on top of our Medicare levy.

Underwhelmed? Wait. There’s more. Policy holders may now also trade off a higher excess of $750-$1500, individual or family for lower premiums which will still rise by at least four per cent per year. Of course other savings are promised.

Instead of paying on average 119% more for having your cardiac device, for example, fitted in a private hospital, the cost of prosthetic devices to private patients will come down. That’s a promise.

Not only would private health insurers save $1 billion over four years on cheaper prostheses, Hunt claims, the saving would be passed on to customers.  It’s a trickle-down benefit, he’d like to pretend you get in the operating theatre. There’s no evidence of this ever happening. Every year, private health insurance premiums inexorably rise.

Clearly, the Coalition’s better health slogan applies only for the industry.  It continues to wage war on the planet and on public health in its four year failure to come up with an energy policy which even remotely considers public health.

Expect the next week in politics to be brimming with promises of affordable, reliable energy which is what the spin doctors hope will confuse punters who may want to know what we are really doing to meet our Paris targets, weak as they are or to curb the pollution that each year takes lives in towns that host coal-burning power stations .

Research estimates that 24 people die for every terawatt hours (TWh) of coal burnt.

Expect to hear nothing about health risks, or environmental costs or the fact that 95% of LaTrobe valley pollution is caused by coal. Expect to hear about the cheap cost of coal power and nothing about the health costs.

A 2009 Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering report put the health costs of coal-fired power stations at A$13 per MWh of electricity generated from coal (about $2.6 billion a year). Climate change and other environmental costs were not included.

Of course when the going gets tough, there’s always the diversion of North Korea’s threats to nuke us all now that Kim has displaced Bashar Al Assad as international evil monster du jour. Expect great celebration and self-congratulation now that we’ve been elected unopposed to a UN Human Rights Council, even though we’re not worthy of belonging.

Just don’t expect leadership. Or honesty or accountability. The week shows just how far this government will kowtow to vested interests; its great and powerful friends and their lobby groups.

Whatever the rhetoric, in the end, its “principled and pragmatic leadership” translates into the ruthless pursuit of power by any means; by the powerful for the powerful.




















Turnbull’s new security suite puts all of us at risk.

Never get between a premier and a bucket of money, Paul Keating warned. Or a Premier and an anti-terror photo-opportunity, he might add, after Thursday’s huge COAG performance. Human rights and civil liberties alike are trampled in the rush by all premiers to be the PM’s dancing partner in a show-stealing anti-terror two step.

It’s all about “keeping us safe,” Turnbull says, announcing what MSM echo is “a suite of measures” in “a further toughening” of national security laws including the extension of detention without charge to 14 days.

It’s a big thing. No  longer will Australians have to lie awake at night worrying lest the AFP runs out of time to interrogate terror suspects, including ten year olds. Police now have a good two weeks to come up with some charge or other. It’s a huge leap forward in public safety. So thoughtful of the community-minded AFP, too.

Imagine how much safer longer detention would have kept us last July with the Lakemba Muslim meat grinder plot terror crisis where an entire nation went into lockdown while AFP and a swag of other special forces clearly rushed against the clock to uncover a plot to use a kitchen mincer to blow up a plane and/or gas everyone on board with fart gas. No H2S gas was ever found, nor any gas dispersion device. Nor were explosives discovered.

Police can report, however, that the mincer was 7 kg too heavy to be allowed on the plane and that two of the four men arrested following an overseas tip-off have now been released.

In a sensational late update, AFP reveal that Lebanese authorities also allege a Barbie doll may also have been part of a plot to smuggle concealed explosives on-board an aircraft, not that any explosives had been found.  Did the doll also fail the weigh-in check? The Barbie doll plot is not part of any AFP allegations before the Sydney court.

Effortlessly working the Lakemba Four (now two) into his terror shtick, PM Turnbull prepares for his 21st successive NewsPoll with yet another keep us safe routine at the special COAG. Lakemba shows how our security forces can disrupt a plot to bring down a plane, he says. You wouldn’t believe how many plots have been foiled.

What can possibly go wrong? David Marr, on ABC Insiders Sunday, cites the 2007 case of Dr Mohammed Haneef who was held 11 days in the Brisbane watch-house by the AFP under brand new powers that allowed terrorism suspects to be imprisoned without charge virtually indefinitely. Information was then leaked against Dr Haneef.

News Ltd newspapers reported police found “images of a Gold Coast building” and its foundations in a raid on Haneef’s apartment. Investigators were said to be looking at documents referring to the “destruction of structures”. Haneef was one of a group of doctors who had been learning to fly in Queensland, they said.

A year passed before The AFP dropped its case against Dr Haneef, saying there was insufficient evidence to charge Haneef with any criminal offence. In December 2010, Haneef receives “a substantial” compensation settlement in a defamation and wrongful detention case he brought against then Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.

Precedent counts for little in an era of the anti-terror cult, a time where politics runs in the continuous present. In June 2015, then PM Tony Abbott told the nation Islamic state group is coming after us.

Since Abbott, however, the threat of terror is hyped so successfully that according to an ANU poll, nearly half of us believe we or our families are in danger of a future terrorist attack and over half of us would like government to do so much more.

In reality, male partners and police constitute a far more serious danger.

“More Australians have died at the hands of police (lawfully or unlawfully) in 10 years (50 at least from 2006 to 2015) or from domestic violence in just two years (more than 318 in 2014 and 2015) than from terrorist attacks in Australia in the last 20 years,” observed Greg Austin, an international security expert at the University of NSW, last October.

The PM makes no case for the need to extend detention without charge nor does he defend the detention of ten year olds. Instead, he claims on Sky News Sunday, that it’s just business as usual .

‘It is very important to remember that (with) children there is actually no change here. Under our criminal law, children can be charged with committing crimes,’ he tells reporters in Sydney.

But there’s more. The innovative PM unveils Panopticon 2.0, a saucy, if not wanton, invasion of our privacy.

A 21st century digital re-imagining of the eternal surveillance of our convict heritage, Panopticon 2.0 blends an homage to the omnipresent eye of God, with a type of electronic Peeping Tom as it merges images from drivers’ licences with facial recognition software to invade our privacy at all times.

Governments already have massive databases of ID photos from licences and passports. What is new is the sharing and the matching of the data in real-time in what is broadly described as the interests of national security.

The new database will permit real-time access to passport, visa, citizenship and driver’s licence images. Details are vague, however, on the public and private spaces in which mass surveillance will be carried out. The project is a revamp of “The Capability”, a new, improved version of a $18.5 million system, proposed in 2015.

Premiers who just can’t wait to dance on the grave of a just and democratic society are just one scene from a week in our bizarre, hyper-surreal post-truth Trumpian politics, sees our great nation state grow ever larger.

Small government with its red-tape bonfires are now so yesterday. The hairy-chested Stalinist Coalition of today promises to fund coal-mines and even sort out gas companies. It can even roll up its sleeves and shovel coal to keep a dirty old power station like Liddell open. It can certainly keep us all under surveillance 24/7.

Turnbull waves away any suggestion that we’re already suffering toughen-up fatigue, so thick and fast have come the suite of security measures the Abbott-Turnbull government has unleashed on an alert but not alarmed nation.

” … there’s no place for set and forget in any area of national security, but the laws are already very strict”.

Spontaneous applause breaks out  Panopticon 2.0 wins Turnbull instant, slavering adulation while the concerns of the chattering classes are summarily trashed by all those with their feet up on the commonwealth table.

Desperate Dan Andrews, leads a team of premiers in quickly dismissing those who raise the issue of rights. What would such time-wasters know of the real world of Mal the Sun King Canberra’s bubble or his lunar satellites?

“They’re going to talk about the thin end of the wedge and all this sort of stuff. Well, frankly, that talk is a luxury that may be available to them but it’s not available to political leaders in this country,” he says. 

“Notional considerations of civil liberties do not trump the very real threat, the very real threat of terror in our country today. We are going to have to curtail the rights and freedoms of a small number of people in order to keep the vast majority of Australians safe.”

It’s not just talk, either. Last month his government announced plans for new laws that would give police the power to declare special areas where they can search people, cars and houses without a warrant.

From dead-pan Dan there is no inkling that civil liberties belong to us all; affect us all.  And laws aimed at “bad guys” often impact far more widely. The NSW Ombudsman found the 2012 revival of consorting laws to deal with crime gangs actually impacted most harshly on Indigenous Australians and homeless people.

” The criminal face database will affect all Australians, even the most conscientious and law-abiding. Given the extremely low level of terrorism in Australia, it’s likely to merely generate massive ‘false positive’ lists and flood our very effective police and security services with useless distraction,says Privacy Foundation’s David Vaile.

There is nothing remotely “notional”, moreover, about the database nor about changes to law which will extend to two weeks the time anyone, including ten year olds can be detained without charge. Possessing terror instructions and even terror hoaxes are to be criminalised in Turnbull’s toughening up.

Yet Dan’s slogan goes viral. Co-luminary, WA Premier, Mark McGowan almost eclipses Andrews with his rapid study of the finer philosophical bits of premiership by leaving the lot of them to the lynch-mob.

“We are dealing with the civil liberties of terrorists and I don’t particularly care about the civil liberties of terrorists or potential terrorists.”

Yet we are dealing, in the end, with everyone’s civil liberties and whilst much is unspecified about Panopticon 2.0, what is certain is that its mission will creep. Dissenters of all kinds, including those whom this government may define as “eco-warriors”, in reality environmentalists, are in danger.

Already, an eager Cory Bernardi urges the database be used to enhance the Coalition’s war on the poor.

“If we’re going to start gathering data on particular people, I’d like to see that actually happen more in the welfare space as well,” he says, “because I think there’s a lot of people that are ripping us off on welfare and it might be an opportunity to tie in a coordinated approach to identifying individuals who are accessing the welfare system.

The database may even be corporatised; flogged off to the highest, private bidder. Privatisation has worked so well not only in energy. Think Medibank private, TAFE and the privatisation of IT support for government agencies.

Labor is anxious not to be wedged. Bill Shorten makes no fuss despite the opposition leader’s recent study tour of the Korean Peninsula where supreme leader Kim Jong Un has got the mass surveillance thingy down to a fine art.

Instead, Shorten calls for the Coalition gun amnesty stunt to be extended. He wants life sentences for gun-runners.  Exempted, doubtless is our big brother government, which is doing so well out of its secret supply of arms to Saudi Arabia, which has killed 10,000 civilians in its brutal war with Yemen- that it can’t say a word.

The Turnbull government refuses to supply details of its military sales, citing commercial-in-confidence rules, themselves a function of the increasing despotism of a state which pretends its gun-running is a trade secret.

Turnbull tries to wedge Shorten, nevertheless, for not backing mandatory sentencing for gun-runners as if mandatory sentencing were some kind of panacea and not a knee-jerk to shock jocks on Sydney radio.

NSW Bar Association president Phillip Boulten SC says: “There’s no evidence at all that mandatory sentencing ever decreases the amount of crime that’s committed and it has the ability to act unfairly on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.”

Big Fear certainly works on the states – and on the federal opposition, as Labor’s evasion shows.

With no opposition in the field, legal experts are left to explain the reality. Party-pooper Deakin University criminology lecturer Adrian Molnar warns Fairfax the database of driver licence photos, amounts to “mass undifferentiated surveillance that can be used regardless of innocence and no participation in a criminal activity”, warning that such a measure “runs dangerously close” to breaching the legal principle of probable cause.

“It’s just quite simply unnecessary,” adds Nicola McGarrity, UNSW terrorism law expert. Dr McGarrity argues existing laws already allow people to be held pre-charge for up to eight days.

There are no instances she is aware of where an “extra six days would have made a significant difference in making a prosecution or preventing a terrorist attack”, she says

But the states love it. They fall over each other to eagerly leap aboard any public safety bandwagon.

The PM is love-bombed Thursday, at the COAG show, where a tumult of “furious agreement” and “violent agreement” ensues, sighs NSW Liberal Premier, Gladys Berejiklian even if she refuses to let Turnbull have his way later with her state over fracking. She tells him what he can do with his non-ideological energy pragmatism.

If the COAG meeting is intended to lead to agreement on fracking via solidarity on law and order, it fails.

Apart from the onset of another Newspoll, why all the fuss? The day before, in a letter to Liberal supporters, the PM effortlessly counterfeits a false connection between the mass shooting in Las Vegas and Australia.

“The tragedy in Las Vegas is a reminder that we must be relentless in our efforts to protect Australians in crowded places so that we can go about our lives safe from harm” 

To Guy Rundle, what is remarkable is the absence of concerted pushback. The new laws were announced after almost no consultation and at the prompting of the AFP and ASIO.  Big brother has made himself a lot bigger and there has been very little backlash, despite some concern over ten-year-olds in fourteen weeks’ detention.

For Bernard Keane, however, there is a palpable contrast with the ” deathly silence that accompanied the government’s introduction of mass surveillance of our phone and internet use”. Keane believes there are signs of a “welcome stirring of media and community opposition”.

Certainly the government needs to be challenged on what problem its new Panopticon 2.0 is intended to solve; how its latest “suite of security measures” are anything more than a tub-thumping exercise timed to coincide with News Poll data-gathering to artificially boost the stakes of one our least popular leaders in our nation’s history. It appears to be hastily contrived with few if any real safeguards to the nation’s right to privacy or civil liberties.

There is some hope. As Katharine Murphy notes, The ACT has a Human Rights Act enabling it to impose additional controls on the sharing of facial recognition data with Canberra.

Consequently the ACT has an intergovernmental agreement stipulating the ACT “will allow access to its data via the face identification service for the purposes of national security and community safety only”.

Whilst “national security” and “community safety” are broad, the agreement also acknowledges “the importance of human rights, specifically the right to privacy”.

It’s a small step, but without it, the agreement to share surveillance data reached between federal and at the special national security meeting on Thursday represents a serious threat to a free, democratic and open Australian society.


Turnbull’s fake gas crisis upstaged by Dutton’s cruel diatribe.

dutton looking up



“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” … “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”  

Through The Looking Glass

Thunderous applause reverberates up and down the nation this week as the High Court releases its reasons for allowing the Turnbull government to do as it wishes with the $295 million slush fund it has put by for postal surveys and other unforeseen national emergencies and crafty evasions of parliamentary democracy.

What constitutes an emergency, the High Court reasons, is essentially the government’s call.

The decision puts a bit more muscle in the increasingly powerful executive arm of government. The court rules the Coalition may spend its contingency fund on almost anything it sets its tiny heart on, provided the Finance Minister can claim it’s an emergency, unforeseen at the time the budget was put to bed.

Unforeseen? Matthias Cormann has sworn an affidavit that in May the idea of a postal survey, the nation’s Clayton’s plebiscite was not even a glint in aspiring Prime Minister Peter Humpty Dutton’s eye.

But does any government’s lack of awareness or planning constitute an emergency?  It does now.

According to the court’s gloss on section 10 of the Appropriation Act No 1 2017-2018 (Cth) it’s the Finance Minister’s call. An emergency happens whenever, like Humpty Dumpty, the minister is “satisfied” there’s an emergency. In other words, it’s an utterly subjective test or, as lawyer Michael Bradley says, a legal fiction.

While the urgency of the postal survey is patently bullshit in the literal sense of the term, in the legal sense it’s entirely defensible. The minister being satisfied that it’s about to rain, and having good political reasons for saying so, permits him or her to spend our money on umbrellas — notwithstanding the clear blueness of the sky. 

It’s a huge win for government by spin, the messaging that now upstages, if not entirely usurps our political leaders while shrinking our national discourse to fit the front bar of some western Sydney pub.

“Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery,” Marshall McLuhan predicted in 1972. He foresaw the rise of “propaganda, not in the sense of a message or ideology, but the impact of the whole technology of the times”.

“The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favour of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.”

Turnbull may have some way to go on his own project but it’s a work in progress.

McLuhan may also have oversimplified the transfer of power but spin is certainly king this week.  Whether the ABS is the right body to carry out the government’s survey, as Coalition blowhards insist, still seems highly contentious.

For many it’s a bit of stretch to contend that a postal survey of people’s views involves the collection of statistical data. Yet The High Court rules that the survey data has a sufficiently close relationship to topics such as marriages, law and the social characteristics of the population on which it already collects data.

The precedent is set for a government to spend as much of its slush fund as is expedient while the court signals a flexible approach to how far it will permit government to interpret what its agencies can do – and as Michael Bradley suggests, opens the door any number of issues being decided by postal survey.

Perhaps the Finkel Clean Energy Target that is proving such a headache for Malcolm and the Monkey Pod, his merry band of sniping, climate change deniers, could also be decided by voluntary, non-binding plebiscite.

Monday sees the PM call another of his fearless tough talks with gas company CEOs where he’s able to parlay to a grateful nation the terrifying news that the shortage will be far more dire than predicted given the companies’ fondness for selling our gas offshore. The same scare campaign was run in 2014. No-one calls deja vu.

No-one mentions the twentieth straight News Poll disaster in a row. Labor extends its two-party lead over the Coalition to 54-46%. The Turnbull government would lose 20 seats if an election were held tomorrow. But Turnbull’s a black belt in gas-baggery. Shock, horror, Victoria could run out gas tomorrow. If you’re gullible.

BHP Petroleum chief Mike Yeager told journalists in 2014 that there was plenty of gas available in the Bass Strait, and it could supply Victoria, NSW, and even Queensland, “indefinitely”. The Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss notes that gas production on the east coast is up 20%, largely because farmers have been unable to prevent fracking for Coal Seam Gas in Queensland. There is no shortage. The problem lies in the marketing.

Rather than admit that it’s the Coalition’s beloved free trade that sees our gas being sold off-shore to the highest bidder, or admit that the solution lies with renewables, Turnbull must find scapegoats, namely the states and environmentalists. And Labor.

There’s no show without Punch. Turnbull fills his performance with name-calling his nemesis. “Blackout Bill” is to blame for everything in the power game.  “Brownout Butler” is also a villain. It’s testament to the PM’s ear of tin and the show biz principle that no-one ever went broke underestimating popular taste. And to his desperation.

By Wednesday, he’s got Kiwi Barnaby in tow to let us know it’s all sorted. Super-Mal saves the day. Of course he puts it more poetically, given his tough negotiations have wrung concessions, or so he claims, out of the hard-nosed captains of the gas industry.

Turnbull seems to have a deputy who’s running dead. Some cynics suggest that, with Kiwi’s dual nationality threatening his eligibility to even be an MP, that he’s been sidelined from negotiations. Companies could hardly be bound to an agreement signed by a resources minister who shouldn’t be in parliament. Turnbull talks it all up.

“They have given us a guarantee that they will offer to the domestic market the gas that was identified as the expected demand shortfall, by AEMO, in 2018,” he says – in his Turnbullian way of not saying very much at all.

At least he’s leading by example with the recycling. Bernard Keane notes in Another Day another Gas Conference, it’s an almost verbatim repeat of his message of “gas in our time” which the plucky little PM delivered 15 March.  No-one at the presser calls him on it.

AFR’s Angela Macdonald Smith shows the PM’s boast is hollow. There’s still the same gas volume available as there was yesterday but it’s at prices industry says it can’t afford. Triple the tariff. The electricity forward price in the eastern states edges up $2 a megawatt hour on Wednesday afternoon after Turnbull announces his gas deal.

Insiders, clearly, expect gas prices to rise under the government’s Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, not to fall.

Turnbull promises another meeting next Tuesday which involves executives signing something. It’s all about his not having to “pull the trigger” of curbing gas exports.

Luckily, Turnbull can fall back on Labor-bashing. It’s all the fault of the states which ban fracking. Especially the LABOR state of Victoria, (can anyone labour the word Labor quite like Malcolm Turnbull?) which sits on “enormous stores” of conventional gas, a palpable lie which the PM is keen to make true by Goebbels-like repetition.

Turnbull’s assertion that the state is awash with gas just waiting to be tapped is at odds with the facts. Energy market experts and the Victorian state government point to a 2015 parliamentary inquiry which shows that whilst the state has large reserves, they are in Bass Strait.  Victoria currently exports Bass Strait gas to Queensland.

No proved or probable onshore gas reserves exist in Victoria despite the issuing of many exploration licences.

At best, there may be up to six months’ supply, says The Geological Survey of Victoria, which estimates that up to 110 petajoules of conventional gas could be accessible, subject to a comprehensive geoscientific investigation.

Party-pooper and Victorian State Treasurer, Tim Pallas, offers to put the PM’s DIY gas crisis in proper perspective.

“Malcolm Turnbull might want to pretend that this has got something to do with an unknown and undeclared gas resource in the state of Victoria,” he says. “I think it has a lot more to do with an enormous resource that is being shipped offshore.

Not so fast, Tim. The PM insists that it was Luh-hay-buh that began the folly of permitting our finest multinational companies have carte blanche to exploit our resources to export gas. Yet it was, in fact, honest John Howard.  Export controls on gas were lifted in 1997 by a PM eager to win a long-term Chinese contract. It worked? Too well.

With typical, self-effacing modesty, the great power-walker was so chuffed with his 2002 $25 billion LNG deal with China, he called it “a gold medal performance”. Yet it locked in prices based on 2002 lows, a feature of the deal which would mean that by 2015, Chinese customers would pay a third of the price Australians were paying.

Somehow, a contract clause which allowed the price to rise in line with world pricing eluded a consortium of hard-headed, hard-hatted North West shelf oil business types which saw two “local” companies, Woodside and BHP Billiton join BP, Shell, Chevron and a combination of Mitsui and Mitsubishi.

In 2007, Howard crab-walked away from all responsibility for his dud deal – because of his daft neoliberal ideological mindset that such matters are best left up to the market.

“I would never encourage the idea that governments should negotiate LNG prices,” he said. “At no stage was the Australian government directly involved in pricing issues in relation to the $25 billion contract.”

The lie of the week is that old chestnut that the more gas that is drilled, the lower the domestic price. The reality is that any new gas supplies will be sold on a market which links all of Eastern Australia and which is driven by international prices.

A related lie given much airplay recently is that the “energy crisis” is the result of too much politicking which radio and TV sages nod, interferes with business’ sacred need for certainty. Uncertainty is a barrier to investment.

Seriously? As Richard Denniss details, between 2009 and 2015 Santos and its international partners blew $10,000 a minute on a $25 billion mistake, building a gas export plant at Curtis Island off Gladstone, a plant which today is worth billions less than it cost them. Two other consortia did their dough on building similar plants alongside.

Add in WA and NT and the total gamble amounts to $200 billion of the gas companies’ shareholders’ money. No wonder they are keen to gouge consumers today.

A bipartisan approach will fix everything, surely, commentators cry. In the meantime, the government is doing everything it can to use its manufactured crisis to wedge Labor; paint Labor somehow as the party of higher electricity costs. It’s all going to come to grief when consumers get their next bills. But at least it buys a little breathing space.

It’s sleeves rolled up and on with the job from a PM who oozes practicality from every presser, a leader whose pledge to “get on with the job of governing” inspires Peter Dutton’s team to pay $25,000 to a Rohingya refugee on Manus to return to certain persecution in Myanmar.  Dutton refuses to confirm the man’s testimony on ABC 7:30.

The Immigration Minister is keen to deal himself back into the national conversation. And a gas diversion would be handy.  He puts the boot into refugees bound for the US.

His pal, Sydney radio host Ray Hadley feeds Dutton the line on his regular Thursday that a photograph of the group published by News Corp this week “looked like a fashion show on a catwalk in Paris or New York”.

“They’re economic refugees; they got on a boat, paid a people smuggler a lot of money, and somebody once said to me that we’ve got the world’s biggest collection of Armani jeans and handbags up on Nauru waiting for people to collect it when they depart,” Dutton dog-whistles in reply.

‘Somebody once said to me the world’s biggest collection of Armani jeans and handbags was up on Nauru waiting for people to collect it when they depart,’ he adds with the shabby “somebody once said” hearsay tactic or utterly unsubstantiated assertion.

Was that someone Pauline Hanson? Doesn’t the Minister have a responsibility to find out the facts? Stick to facts? Dutton’s favourite line is interviews is that he deals in fact; leaves the commentary to others. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as is evident in his comments about refugees taking our jobs and our welfare.

Dutton’s monstrous lie is as despicable and as damaging in its own way as Turnbull’s lies about gas. Firstly, the refugees have been subjected to Australia officials’ degrading, invasive and protracted harassment fondly known as “processing” with additional “extreme vetting” by US authorities.

Extreme Vetting is a mysterious process yet to be fully explained but it is likely to be highly invasive and have scant regard for human rights. The Wall Street Journal warned in April that it could involve tourists from Britain and other countries visiting the US being asked to reveal mobile phone contacts, social media passwords and financial data.

That Turnbull’s government acts the ever obedient servant to the Trump administration and religiously repeats its rebuking of “rogue state” North Korea won’t help.

Some commentators even fear The Donald will hear the Immigration Minister’s comments and the refugee swap deal will fall through. Not to be misheard or misunderstood, Dutton repeats himself in London, adding a thank you to the President.

‘We have been taken for a ride, I believe, by a lot of the advocates and people within Labor and the Greens who want you to believe this is a terrible existence,’ Dutton says.

‘These photos demonstrate otherwise. People have seen other photos in recent weeks of those up on Manus out enjoying themselves outside this centre, by the beach and all the rest of it.’

Erick Jensen, The Saturday Paper’s editor takes up the “all the rest of it” wondering what Dutton means. All the rest of the rapes, the suicides, the deaths, the days without sanitation?

Perhaps it’s the makeshift tents in which children have lost their childhoods. Perhaps it’s the women denied abortions or the pregnancies produced by rapes.

Perhaps he means the self-immolation or the murder by paid guards. Perhaps he means the mental anguish, the loss of hope, the calculated destruction of a few thousand lives for the sake of political gain.

The UN has condemned our offshore detention camps. Experts have testified that indefinite detention in dangerous and unhealthy conditions amounts to torture. The biggest condemnation and contradiction of Dutton’s glib slur, however, comes from his own government’s admission of culpability last June when the Australian government agreed to the largest human rights payout in our nation’s history.

A class action in the Supreme Court of Victoria on behalf of 1,905 asylum seekers and refugees held at the Manus Island detention centre from November 2012 to December 2014 was resolved on the eve of the hearing, for a reported $70 million.

A payment of nearly $37,000 dollars, on average, for each detainee is to compensate detainees for physical and mental injury caused to them by the government’s failure to provide clean and safe water and food, shelter to protect them from heat, rain and insects, essential personal items such as clothing, shoes and toiletries, adequate and hygienic medical and dental facilities, hygienic bathing and toilet facilities and protection from violence and assault.

The slur of “economic refugees” is part of the vocabulary of hate speech of those who seek to demonise refugees and deny their claims on our compassion. A decent Immigration Minister would have stopped Ray Hadley in his tracks. Instead, Dutton colludes with him; lying on air to demonise those whom he is supposed to protect; even trying to play cheap wedge politics. His comments will cause irreparable harm.

Similarly, Julie Bishop has been evasive on every occasion where she’s been asked when Australia will take Rohingya refugees who are suffering extreme persecution in Myanmar where security forces are engaged in a campaign of genocide ill-served by the 1990s euphemism ethnic cleansing. Bishop calls it “a security operation”.

Bishop has said that “independently verifiable sources” are required as if the facts are in any doubt. Worse, her government continues to provide military training and support to the Myanmar government.

“This engagement allows Australia to promote the role of a professional defence force and highlight the importance of adhering to international humanitarian laws and norms” a spokesperson says. Pious piffle. No evidence of reality, Ms Bishop, whatsoever.

Appearing on ABC Insiders, Bishop even chooses to portray events as “a security operation” between a Rohingya army and the Myanmar army. Does she mean The Rohingya National Army, last heard of in 2001?

Or does she have some other insurgent group in mind? Whatever, her aim the effect is a distortion of reality as cruel as Peter Dutton’s.

Dutton and Bishop, of course, follow Tony Abbott who simply declared it was safe to return Sri Lankan nationals, claiming the civil war in their homeland had ended and their country was “at peace”.

In 2014, a boat carrying 153 Tamil asylum seekers was intercepted at sea by Australian customs vessels and returned to Sri Lanka. Another boatload of 28 Sri Lankan nationals was handed over to Sri Lankan authorities. Reports of torture followed.

In 2014, the Abbott government deployed 11 ninety seat Chinese made orange fibreglass lifeboats, which cost $46,000 each in asylum-seeker turn-backs to Indonesia.

Then Head of Operation Sovereign Borders Lieutenant General Angus Campbell confirmed in January 2015 that 15 boats carrying 429 asylum seekers were forcibly returned to Indonesia and Sri Lanka since the operation began.

Later, a “multi-million dollar deal” to have 10 custom-made wooden-hulled “alternative transportation vessels”, resembling Asian fishing boats were built in Vietnam.

Abbott was in breach of international law and the UN Refugee Convention to which Australia is a signatory.

Julie Bishop echoes Tony’s “Nope, nope, nope” – Abbott’s 2015 response when some 7000 Rohingya people and Bangladeshi migrants were stranded at sea after Thai authorities closed a popular trafficking route out of Burma and the people smugglers jumped ship, leaving their human cargo to starve.

Questioned on ABC Insiders, Bishop says she thinks Peter Dutton meant “those found not to be refugees” – implying that there are “Armani refugee” bludgers cluttering our luxurious detention centres. Those who have not been afforded refugee status, she hints, are somehow fair game.

It’s an appalling gaffe from a Foreign Minister who must know that asylum seekers rarely have documentary evidence that strongly supports their claim for protection.

Tough on borders as always and following rave reviews for its gas company bargain, this week, a re-run by popular demand of its popular farce, the Coalition turns from disguising its lack of energy policy to bullying states into coal seam gas mining.

It’s process that could only be improved by sending in the army according to Liberal Party elder statesman Dr Tony Abbott who urges Turnbull to invoke “defence powers” to deal with a gas crisis totally of the Coalition’s own making.

What could possibly go wrong? On current form, the High Court may even accede, especially if the government were to work the word “emergency” into its scare tactics.

Abbott headbutt stops nation.

abbott headbutt

It’s the head-butt that stops the nation. Tony Abbott is nutted by Astro Funknukl Labe, a 38 year-old North Hobart DJ. Labe, a barista, bartender and post-punk anarchist who bears a passing resemblance to The Young Ones’ Vyvyan Basterd, pretends to shake the former PM’s hand Thursday afternoon. Then he head-butts him.

All of Australia is stunned. 2GB even interrupts its call of The Marriage Equality Handicap, to bring us the victim live.

The Marriage Equality Handicap, a weight for age stayers’ event, is the two horse race the fourth estate has cleverly fashioned from the Turnbull stable’s postal survey; a crafty evasion of any call to use parliament to democratically reform homophobic John Howard’s quick and dirty Marriage Amendment Act 2004 by legalising same sex marriage.

A 2GB pulpit helps Abbott extract maximum political mileage out of his assault.  He puts the boot into all Yes supporters.

“There is no doubt that there has been some ugliness as part of this debate but I regret to say that nearly all of it seems to be coming from one side and that is the people who tell us that love is love,” he intones with a straight face despite what he says is a “… very, very slightly swollen lip” … It  (is) pretty clear that this was politically motivated violence.”

In the eternal sunshine of the irony-free national discourse of talk-back favoured by our modern leaders, no-one rings 2GB to ask why he’s not using his forum to do something about real violence, for example violence towards women.

Given his new-found concern for violence, his hatred of Turnbull and his kamikaze political instincts, Abbot could well use 2GB’s reach to deplore the way Turnbull’s budget locks in all his own 30% cuts to domestic violence services.

The budget also makes massive funding cuts to women’s legal and housing services, which help women escape violence.

On average, at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia. One in three women has experienced violence by the age of 15.  One in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence.

Yet the former Minister for Women, typically, opts to play the victim, lie about his assailant and cheapen debate.

It’s a golden opportunity for Abbott to wrap himself in the self-righteous mantle of tradition worn by so many of the No camp while smearing those who want equality with the lie that its supporters are violent anarchists or worse.

“Traditional marriage” is a furphy. Fluid since time immemorial, its definition is continuously evolving. Federal Liberal Party President Nick Greiner, observes on ABC’s Lateline, “Marriage is not the same as it was a century ago. The Marriage Act has been changed 20 times since it was introduced by the Menzies government in 1961.”

Above all, Sean Kelly points out, Abbott can reprise the monstrous lie that Yes supporters are some organised gang.

In This is not a Horse Race, Kelly notes how Yes supporters are portrayed as a homogenous group who must beg the power elite for their human rights. They may be granted marriage equality but only if they ask the mob nicely.

Yes campaigners, moreover, are patronisingly cautioned whenever any untoward event occurs. “This is not the way to win the campaign” go the finger-waggers of the fourth estate. Yet the No case is free of such censure, Kelly writes: 

There’s plenty of criticism of the arguments Lyle Shelton et al are running, yes. But when yet another aggressively homophobic flyer is distributed, or a Yes campaigner is assaulted, where are the crowds of talking heads saying this is how the No campaign will lose? Saying the No campaign will never persuade middle Australia with violence, or intolerant language?

While Abbott bangs on about how the handlers of the Yes pack should bring their dogs to heel, the well-oiled wheels of justice don’t skip a cog. Anxious lest The Onion Isle’s reputation be besmirched, or North Hobart property values go south, Tassie Police contact the victim before mounting a man-hunt in a drag-net operation for his elusive assailant.

More overcome with grief than Hamlet’s mother, Malcolm Turnbull calls to be there for his nemesis via mobile phone. He even gets Tony’s pal, Andrew Colvin of the AFP, the Liberal Party’s private police force, on to it. God help us if anything should happen to the nut who is single-handedly sabotaging his Prime Ministership; destroying his career.

Equally solicitous is Tasmanian Liberal king-pin, “Kaiser” Erich Abetz who harbours fears marriage equality will lead to people marrying bridges or the Bruny Island Ferry. Abetz, who, in 1994, campaigned to keep homosexuality a crime in Tasmania and who damns media for ignoring gays who come out straight, sees the incident as a sign of ugly intolerance.

” … yet again, another example of the ugliness of the “yes” campaign, the slogan of “Love is love” is unfortunately shown in practice to be intolerance, not wanting people to be able to have their point of view, hold their point of view.” 

For Abetz, it’s another clear sign of the way in which freedom of speech is being systematically denied not only to George Brandis’ bigots but to all others in the No camp. It’s a common delusion amongst right wing nut nobs.

The Guardian’s Isentia research reveals Lyle Shelton of the murky but well-funded, Australian Christian Lobby gets more media attention than the three leading yes campaigners combined, new analysis shows – despite the no campaign protesting it is being “silenced”.  Equally alarming is their claim of systematic persecution, and underdog pitch.

Rodney Croome AM, Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman, confirms Astro Labe is not connected with the state’s pro-gay marriage campaign. He stresses,

“There’s no link between (Abbott’s) attacker and the marriage equality campaign over and above a lapel badge.”

Yet by Saturday, a busy Eric Abetz tells media that some ‘yes’ campaigners appear to support Labe’s actions on social media.  Worse, The National Union of Students LGBTI group’s meme of the postal vote survey with the photo-shopped question “Should Tony Abbott be head-butted” appear to endorse Labe’s actions.

Gratefully, The Australian runs this fake news of Labe’s link with the Yes campaign, adding only an “Eric Abetz says”.

Astro Labe, meanwhile, is incensed by Abbott’s wilful disinformation. The blood-nut wants to set things straight.

It’s just about Tony Abbott, the f***king worm that he is … “I’d had half a skinful and I just wanted to nut the c**t…”

It’s a gut feeling. His nutting of the budgie-smuggler is not a response to the Liberal MP’s anti-same-sex marriage fear campaign but more an expression of the visceral disgust he feels on sighting the most unpopular PM for twenty-five years. He’s not alone. #nutthecunt trends on Twitter. Now he’s upset by Abbott’s deceit and his wilful manipulation.

“How dare he start politicking and making it about marriage equality just because there was a sticker on my jacket?”

No-one pays the party-pooper any more attention. Why spoil a good story by checking to see if it’s true? Everybody knows those Yes campaigners go too far. Just as everybody knows too many renewables in the mix caused SA blackouts. By Sunday, Barrie Cassidy will ask Tanya Plibersek if she is getting nervous about the prospects of the Yes cause.

Abbott, meanwhile, is not to be blamed for judging a Yes campaigner by his sticker, nor is his assailant’s physical violence to be in any way condoned – yet nothing excuses the budgie-smuggler’s brazen deceit.

Seizing a chance to discredit all those in favour of reforming his saintly mentor’s law, he proceeds to verbal his attacker.

Abbott claims Labe says ‘You deserve it because of all the things you’ve said.’

Oddly, Abbott’s companion at the time, a member of his office, cannot recall Labe saying anything about marriage but the time this fact appears, a false impression has been expertly achieved. And exploited for all it is worth.

The nation, North Hobart included, has never seen anything like it – back to back the Two Musketeers, Abbott and his loyal batman Abetz valiantly do battle with the dark forces of marriage equality, an evil which threatens to extinguish religious and all other freedoms in an insidious assault on western civilisation as only Dr Tony Abbott knows it.

In January, Abbott, the elder international statesman called for Australia’s $40 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority to be cut and suggested the Australian embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem. Out of the blue, he received his honorary PhD from the University of Tel Aviv six months later, making him Australia’s first honorary Zionist Dr No.

Toxic Tony’s doctoral citation, unaccountably, however, skips his major achievement, his help in creating a mindless hyper-partisanship or opposition for its own sake while adding to a noxious “aggressive political environment” which Paula Matthewson suggests helped create the very climate which makes it more likely that a young Astro Labe would think it legitimate to physically attack a distinguished former Prime Minister. Or a climate where climate-denial is OK.

It’s not all political, some, at least, derives from Abbott’s own short fuse. Certainly his career suggests anger management issues. David Marr reports Barbara Ramjan’s testimony that in 1977, after she beat Mr Abbott for the presidency of the Sydney University SRC, he put his face close to hers and punched the wall either side of her head.

Similarly, Abbott’s threat to shirt-front Vladimir Putin defines his leadership. Whilst it was just tough talk, the former PM’s taunt suggests a temperament more in keeping with amateur boxing or the brain-stem reflex of his North Hobart head-butt than with the more cerebral reaches of international diplomacy or, indeed, any other form of statecraft.

Abbott’s biggest legacy is his rule of fear. Best exemplified in his hysterical, xenophobic, public theatre of cruelty and inhumanity of stopping the boats, it has many spin-offs. Credit for our current energy crisis, for example, is due in large part to coal-lobby poster-boy Tony Abbott. His carbon tax fear campaign, with its great big lie that none of us could curb carbon emissions without paying a fortune for our electricity, lives on in Turnbull’s fear of even a CET.

Not to be discounted, however, is the issue of his character. As an AIMN writer put it in 2014

‘… because we are looking at a litany of instances of lying, deception and bad behaviour over a long period of time, he [Abbott] simply doesn’t have the essence of character which is one of the main ingredients in the recipe of leadership.’

Abbott is still lying and deceiving. On Sydney radio this week, in a major new offensive in his war on Turnbull he offers listeners the bogus choice between reliable, affordable energy under the Coalition and unreliable, expensive energy under Labor. It’s nonsense but all he has to do, he reasons, is wedge his PM to get a crack at the leadership.

He would vote against the government; cross the floor, he boasts, if Turnbull dares bring in a Clean Energy Target.

Paul Bongiorno sees Abbott’s play as a reprise of 2009 when Turnbull tried to trick the Liberal Party Room into accepting  Labor’s carbon price, its carbon pollution reduction scheme. All it took was for the party’s climate change denialists to revolt and for one Liberal to muff his vote (an informal NO) and Abbott became Accidental Prime Minister by one vote.

In The Australian, Abbott throws the gauntlet down,

“As for the Finkel-recommended clean energy target, it simply must be dropped. It would be unconscionable for a government that was elected promising to scrap the carbon tax and to end Labor’s climate change obsessions to go down this path.” 

Scrapping the so-called carbon tax has helped boost emissions by 3.4% – as coal fired power has ramped up, although some renewable generation increased under the RET, according to the Australian Conservation Foundation citing data based on the National Greenhouse and Reporting Scheme.

Despite promises of a carbon tax repeal rebate, its abolition has also contributed to soaring electricity prices – another Abbott gift to the nation. His government, followed John Howard’s in colluding with power companies to gold-plate poles and wires in order to benefit from generous federal subsidies and infrastructure investment guarantees.

In Sydney, for example, household use by volume is down 22% over the last six years. Yet customers are faced with a 127% increase in the cost per unit of electricity. It’s due to a regulatory system which guarantees network owners a return on capital investment for the next 100-200 years – a type of federal incentive to price-gouge consumers.

It’s one of the greatest rorts in our nation’s history. Yet the best that Turnbull can do is to get power companies to mail us with details of minor discounts on their massively inflated prices. The gas companies, we are told repeatedly are going to do something to help sometime soon.

And Abbott is helping to block the road to any progress towards a transition to renewables that is an extension of another of his signature policies, his war on renewable energy investment to the nation’s great cost.

John Hewson estimates Abbott’s attempt to close down the renewables industry saw investment fall by about 80 to 90 per cent and 15,000 jobs lost. Around 40,000 jobs were lost due to Abbott and Hockey’s Ideological opposition to retaining our auto industry even though government subsidies were small compared with what is lavished on defence.

Implacable opposition is the key to Tony’s recent Tassie trip. He’s not in the marriage equality stakes for any other reason than to stir up trouble for Turnbull. And he does this by cranking up the fear with his great big new agenda.

“There is a big agenda here for many of the people behind same-sex marriage. This is the thin end of the wedge, that’s why we should think long and hard before we vote and I certainly think the only safe course is to vote ‘No’.’’

Granted, Abbott may well be personally invested in keeping Howard’s 2004 Marriage Amendment; he claims to feel “threatened by homosexuality” but his motivation is to do his best for the NO campaign as possible is inspired by the damage a NO could do to Turnbull.

Bernard Keane’s peek at the psychology behind Abbott’s conservatism Inside the Terrifying Mind of Tony Abbott traces the former PM’s oppositional defiance1 to a fear of change undermining a hierarchy which gives him dominance.

The fear of losing dominant status is shared by many of Abbott’s Parliamentary Monkeypod Room companions a phobia which may explain a range of maladaptive political postures including climate change denial.

One upshot of the condition is that Abbott and his cohort are good at exploiting the politics of fear – because they know fear so well. Fear, of course, is just a genteel word for terror. Certainly in terms of his rise to power and his campaign against his Prime Minister this week, it is Tony’s Terrorism from within not any mythic radical Islamic threat which represent the real threat to Turnbull’s government. A strong leader would not tolerate such open insurrection.

His Tassie tour de force this week illuminates the deposed former leader’s fanatical devotion to his cause as much as it reveals Turnbull’s impotence; his unctuous desire to appease his insatiable aggressor. It can only end badly for the PM.

If his wildest dreams come true and Abbott, aka Dr No, helps engineer the postal survey’s failure to recommend marriage equality, Turnbull’s political career may well be over, as Paul Bongiorno suggests.

Yet the PM is in serious trouble already as his capture by his party’s right wing rump, coupled with his own inherent incapacity for judgement erodes what remains of his fading legitimacy and authority as leader, a process nowhere better seen than in the party’s fatal division over energy.

While a NO result would defy current opinion polling, it is not impossible. Whatever the outcome, what is certain is that the week marks a peak in Tony Abbott’s pathological war on renewable energy and on his Prime Minister while in a pincer-like movement, his subversion of the case against marriage equality has him leading Turnbull by the NOES.


  1. Oppositional defiance is my phrase not Keane’s.

For readers who would like see further comments, This post also appears in The AIMN

Abbott headbutt stops nation.


Turnbull government marks two years of inertia, paralysis and failure.

cash looking loopy and screeching

“It’s been two years of great achievement … But above all it’s two years since I became prime minister building on the outstanding work of the Member for Warringah. And what that has done is delivered strong jobs growth.”

Malcolm Turnbull marks two years in office with a tribute to his nemesis Tony Abbott; a falsehood set in a farrago of lies.

Great achievement? Don’t mention the NBN. The ABCC was adulterated to buggery. The Gonski 2.0 con a $22 billion cut for education. Media reform? A path for Rupert The Sun-King to gain even more power. Strong jobs growth? The unemployment rate is stuck stubbornly on 5.6%. Over 730,000 people are out of work for more than a year. Every one of us is working fewer hours.  Most Australians are steadily getting poorer while the rich and the very rich prosper.

But in our Orwellian political arena, up is down. Back is forward; black is white. Our PM, the most over-promoted, least-attractive, poseur in our political history, leads his underwhelming, overweening parliamentary jeer-squad over the top.

Embracing their inner lout again this week, MPs set about bullying AGL, defaming “shifty” Bill Shorten and throwing such a hissy fit of denunciation, eye-rolling, finger-pointing, mocking, crowing and hectoring of demon Labor, as they can muster to divert from their imminent mugging by a host of scandals, self-inflicted crises and policy failures.

Gavin Hanlon, our most senior NSW water wallah resigns two months after it is revealed that he offered to share confidential government documents with irrigation lobbyists. Of course it’s nothing to do with our Water Minister, Kiwi, Barnaby Joyce. Not even a federal matter. And, Oh my, just look over there. Shorten’s telling lies again.

“We have seen this all before, because the Leader of the Opposition has a pathological pattern of behaviour to deceive, to falsify and to mislead the Australian people …” crows Josh Frydenberg rightly disputing Labor’s claim that NSW power prices would rise by $1000. Yet Liberals warned of $100 lamb roasts and Whyalla disappearing off the map, if carbon emissions were to be priced, in a carbon tax scare which Peta Credlin and Tony Abbott now freely admit to inventing.

Team Turnbull’s plan is a back-to-the-future attack on Labor as the party of high electricity prices in a re-run of Abbott’s astonishing success, yet it’s unlikely that NSW consumers whose bills Frydenberg claims increase by only $300 will feel upbeat – especially given that the privatisation of electricity was sold to them as a way to lower power tariffs.

Its ABCC scandal, on the other hand, is electrifying. Nigel Hadgkiss, their “tough new cop on the construction beat” confesses he published false information about site entry. He did not bother to read it, he says. Restoring law and order to building sites by appointing an industrial cop who breaks those laws himself would cause most ministers to reflect.

Not so Employment Minister, lip-readers’ friend Michaelia Cash despite being hoist by her own petard appears entirely unrepentant. Ms Hard Cash wins this week’s Government own goal of the week award. And Stand by Your Man award.

Ms Ready Cash tapped Liberal pal Hadgkiss to head the ABCC when she knew that he had broken the Fair Work Act himself.  There was no cabinet appointment process just a lousy $426,160 a year  She tells the senate that she first learned about Nigel’s behaviour in October last year but her office quickly modifies that to “learning of the allegations”.

“Merely because behaviour is alleged in a court process does not make it a finding of fact,” she shrieks on Thursday.

It’s a sobering thought, given forty-one, thirty year old unsubstantiated allegations about Lionel Murphy are released by Federal Parliament to help divert from pressing scandals and to help assuage the Coalition’s insatiable fetish for bashing Labor activists even after they’ve shuffled off stage left.

Never to be outdone, indignant that there is no posthumous Royal Commission into Murph, Merry Gerry Henderson eagerly puts his boot in also just to put aside for a moment The Australian’s sterling contribution to the respectful and mature hatred so consuming the national mood in what the government so fondly calls the same sex marriage debate.

Gerry finds 41 serious allegations to salivate over but allegations they remain. It’s a point The Oz, oddly, seems to lose sight of.

Perhaps Coalition MPs, too could bear Ms Cash’s distinction in mind when next they rise to repeat the Chiquita mushroom allegation or any other from two years of unproven allegations against Bill Shorten in the TURC.

Undeterred and in the spirit of a post-truth week, Cash proceeds to paints Hadgkiss as some kind of martyr,

“Mr Hadgkiss has played a pivotal role in restoring the rule of law to Australia’s building and construction industry, despite relentless opposition and appalling intimidation from lawless construction unions and their political supporters.”

Cash admits to knowing for almost a year, then, that Australian Building and Construction (ABCC) chief had broken the laws he was supposedly enforcing.

He says he thought the laws would be repealed and didn’t bother checking. Why would he? She says she had no proof and besides, he only admitted to the breaches this week.  Why would she check?

In like Flynn, Hadgkiss was immediately appointed, in 2013, by then Employment Minister, Eric Abetz, to head the Fair Work Building Inspectorate. Shortly after his appointment he told inspectorate staff not to correct misinformation to employers that they could direct unions where they could hold their on-site meetings, advice which was left uncorrected for two years, despite warnings from CFMEU and Commission staff.

Hadgkiss admits in a 25 page agreed statement of facts tendered to the Federal Court Tuesday that, in December 2013, he directed his agency to not publish changes to right-of-entry laws that were of benefit to unions. Above all to workers.

The coalition has always claimed that Howard’s ABCC brought a 20% increase in productivity, a lie refuted in Productivity Commission reports. Not only did construction activity decrease, it became more dangerous. Now it’s even worse.

Deaths in construction soared to 19 in the first six months of 2017, equivalent to 38 per year, the worst rate on record. Under Abbott, deaths became more frequent but under Turnbull, the rate at which workers are killed has accelerated.

The fatality rate is even more worrying given the industry’s unprecedented three consecutive years of investment decline under the Abbott-Turnbull government with a corresponding slump in output. The ABCC was supposed to revitalise the industry. Construction would boom once government relaxed the red tape in a new era of deregulation.

Malcolm Turnbull even gave it his best Neoliberal benediction,

“Deregulation, enabling businesses and individuals to pursue their own dreams, their own freedom, is the way to deliver the prosperity upon which all depends.”

Pressed by Leigh Sales, recently to list his achievements, the PM was quick to instance the ABCC. No hint from Sales that construction industry activity or its safety record since Turnbull’s ABCC revival is an indictment of his government.

So, too, is the slump in residential building which headed for a 31 per cent decline according to BIS economics. Jobs? Tens of thousands of construction workers could find themselves unemployed in 2018.

The Australian Construction Industry Forum predicts construction industry could shed as many as 166,000 jobs over the next three years as a deterioration in engineering construction dovetails with the slump in residential building,

It’s a big cloud gathering but Pollyanna Scott Morrison is still inanely braying “better times ahead”. Perhaps he has to. The alternative is unthinkable.

The Cash scandal, together with Stuart Robert’s sensational revelations, would bring any other government to its knees.

Robert is alleged to have made his eighty-year-old father, Alan, a director in his IT service business, Robert International, which he ran with his wife, Dorothy, so his son’s business could continue to receive tens of millions in government contracts.  It also links Robert to GMT Services, an IT business with which Robert says he has “ceased involvement”.

Any normal government would be rocked to its foundations but the Coalition has the answer. More loud shouting. Slurs.

You can’t let Shorten “slither in”. Malcolm Turnbull’s morphing into Tony Abbott with a bigger vocabulary and a better postcode is almost totally complete two years after he hauled the mangy junkyard dog before his own kangaroo court.

Turnbull 1:0  still in his suavely debonair Q&A leather jacket stage, couldn’t tell Tony that, as PM, he was a hopeless joke.

Worse. It was the savage god, the economy, that ravenous beast that made him do it. He had to knife his PM, he said, in his languid, lofty, hollow, vowels primarily, because Abbott was hopeless with budgets and spending. Simply no idea of how to act like an economic leader, or what tie to wear, let alone how to keep a Cayman Island company or trust afloat.

How Turnbull’s Abbott hatchet-job has come back to mock him. The 2017 budget is big-spending and high taxing. Yet the economy is going backwards. Hours worked, to take the single most reliable indicator of jobs created, have been below 85.10 in the 22 months since Morrison became Treasurer and Cash became Employment Minister.

The lowest under Labor was 85.7.

Despite the nonsense about total jobs created – meaningless without population growth, jobs wound up and above all attention to the steady decline in total hours worked, unemployment is stuck at 5.6%.

While profits are at record levels, wages growth hasn’t budged from 1.9%, for the last four quarters is a record low. It helps to put the lie to trickle-down if not the entire corpus of laissez-faire Neoliberal economic theory.  Wages as a proportion of GDP are at their lowest since records began in 1959.

Today, economic leadership amounts only to repeating “our economic plan.” And “strong jobs growth.” Yet, in keeping with all true contrarian experience, every claim the Turnbull team makes about the economy, employment or their goals is refuted by the experts.

Similarly, Abbott’s leadership style was held to be deficient. How, for example, Tony spoke down to the nation. Talk about superficial slogans. “Jobs and growth.” The tosser sounded like a talking bumper sticker. Sloganeering was no substitute for advocacy and didn’t respect people’s intelligence. It was mutual. Witness 30 straight Newspoll fails.

Despite solid progress, Turnbull is still working towards the Newspoll goal but most of the other key non-performance indicators are there. Especially the slogans, arrogance and the autocratic tendencies. This week, in the bullying of AGL, there have been flashes of the Ayatollah, as the imperious Turnbull was known in his banking career.

The power play of the week has been to wheedle cajole and bully Andy Vesey, the CEO of  AGL into an undertaking to keep Liddell, the nation’s oldest, dirtiest and least reliable power station open beyond its 2022 use by date. Or sell the plant to a competitor, a proposal which has curiously been spurned by the company’s board.

No-one would buy a station which AEMO itself says is most likely to cause power blackout and which could consume a billion dollars just to get it back into commission – despite Barnaby Joyce’s claim that he knows of at least two. But he’s not telling.

The Turnbull government, however, has chosen the contrarian path issuing press releases suggesting the AGL board will take 90 days to consider keeping the station open.

In reality, the undertaking allows AGL a number of options including honouring its generation commitment by means of renewables – which was its intention in the first place.

Alarmingly, this week Morrison is not up to speed on AGL. And who knows where Joyce has got his Liddell tyre-kickers from. His place as a National party climate denier is to insist repeatedly that coal is affordable and reliable, neither of which is true but it all helps the Coalition strategy of ditching Finkel’s Clean Energy Target for something that would allow coal-burning power stations to be part of the “energy plan” a novelty in Coalition policy to date.

Expect a CET 2.0 which will have to be appropriately renamed as an ‘affordable energy target”. Whatever the government comes up with it deserves to be known as the dirty or unclean energy target. It will be billed as a product of the cabinet and party room “consultation process”. In other words what Tony Abbott’s mob tell Turnbull he must do.

An environmental, energy and economic disaster, it promises to end Turnbull’s political career.

Yet Abbott’s consultation style was hopeless, too. Nor was he big on “proper cabinet government”. Mostly he got Peta Credlin to tell ministers what they were up to – or how far they were off the pace.  And he made up policy on the hop.

Turnbull two years out is vulnerable on all these counts just as he is hamstrung by his secret Faustian pact with the Nationals. Captured by the right of his party with its climate denial and its opposition to marriage equality he is unable to exert his authority, let alone lead. Further, as Bernard Keane points out, the PM is wedged between the sudden death of neoliberalism, largely occasioned by its inability to sustain wages growth and the rise of populist resentment.

This week a conga-line of ministers turns itself inside out in a series of back-flips on everything including the Paris Climate Accord as the Turnbull circus marks the beginning of its third, surreal, year with an Orwellian tour de force.

“This will be a thoroughly Liberal Government. It will be a thoroughly Liberal Government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.”  promised Turnbull at first. Now he’s intervening in the energy market, lecturing the banks, re-jigging the gas market, even bullying AGL to keep open a costly, inefficient, unreliable, uneconomic coal-fired plant and proposing to build and run state power plants and even a railway to a coal mine or two in the best Soviet command-economy style. He styles himself as a pragmatist but his record is more one of agonising confusion.

In common with Abbott, Turnbull falls back instead upon a political style which is permanently stuck in opposition mode.

“We know that this Leader of the Opposition is shifty and he can’t be trusted,” Coalition junkyard top dog Dutton says.

“The Labor left will not allow a policy which sees boats stopped, deaths at sea stopped, children out of detention.”

Kill Bill is the now the only game the whole bitterly divided government can safely play. No wonder they do it to death. Luckily, our leaders can still rally the nation if not the party’s esprit de corps by making war on the poor, the less fortunate and those who throw themselves on our mercy.

Peter Dutton has just cut financial assistance for up to 400 asylum-seekers across Australia. Over seventy refugees are evicted in Melbourne. Fortunately, Daniel Andrews’ Labor government will provide financial support, food and shelter, “so they don’t starve on the streets” to those now facing homelessness on top of the trauma they have already endured.

The state’s support package follows Andrews’ letter to the prime minister last year offering to take “full responsibility” for asylum seekers who faced being sent back to Nauru. He received no reply.

In another surprise announcement, it is revealed that construction is well-advanced on Manus 2.0 in Port Moresby, of a duplicate detention centre to incarcerate refugees displaced by PNG’s decision to close the Manus gulag.  Details are sparse. Doubtless all has to be kept secret to spoil the demon people smugglers’ business model.

The $20 m building will house men who have been given “negative” refugee status, a category which includes those who have withdrawn from submitting to the cruel torture of “processing” their claims out of fear, trauma or a lack of trust.

“Those people, who total about 200, who have been found not to be refugees are to be moved into an alternative place of detention away from the regional processing centre, given that they have no lawful claim to be in PNG,” Peter Dutton tells parliament.

Sadly, it is always “those people” whenever the government speaks of refugees. Not “our people” as our common humanity would tell us or as international law would confirm. And we have only Dutton’s notoriously untrustworthy word for the adequacy or the legitimacy of the processing to say nothing of its legality under our human rights obligations.

The only possible humane solution is to bring those on Nauru and on Manus home to Australia immediately. Four years of suffering is enough. Apart from petty political point-scoring the government has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Yet such a move does not suit its increasingly narrow, right-wing agenda.

Nurturing Islamophobia and the persecution of minorities is now a mainstay of Coalition politics but in a new low, even for the fathomless enigma that is Turnbull, the week is darkened by the PM’s inaugural anti-Muslim dog-whistle.

“I notice they’re all making a sign of solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood with the Rabia sign there,” he bellows. “They might want to think about that.

Labor MPs are displaying four fingers to indicate his government has taken four years to do nothing on energy policy. It could just as easily indicate it has nothing to show in ending the illegal indefinite offshore detention of men, women and children whose only mistake was to throw themselves on our mercy.

Four years out, the Abbott-Turnbull experiment has so little to show for itself in the economy, the environment, education or any other area of policy, that it may as well take the opportunity of the closure of the Manus detention centre to rediscover its humanity and reverse its opposition to resettlement in Australia of those in off-shore detention.

Time for the PM to give his precious innovation agenda mob a real project. Nothing much else seems to be working.

Turnbull no Pacific leader; nor any leader at home.


pacific island shirt photo

His Pacific Leaders’ blue shirt a size too tight Malcolm Bligh Turnbull winces at the camera like Gulliver awakening to find himself tied to the ground by pieces of thread. He can only look up and the tropical sun prevents him from seeing anything but he knows the locals are hostile.  He has never been more ill at ease in his political career.

It’s the 48th Pacific Islands Leaders’ forum in Apia. Neither the rig nor the gig are a good fit for our little Aussie bwana. Amidst the Islanders, the canaries of climate change, our coal-powered Prime Minister is way out of his comfort zone. Utterly exposed. Now the whole world can see he’s treading water; not waving but drowning.

He’s left Kiwi of the Year nominee, Barnaby, in charge just to stick it to the Labor Party. Anything could happen.

In other ways our PM is glad to leave Canberra. It’s his government’s 19th straight Newspoll loss; the eighth in a row where the margin is at least six points behind Labor. A one-point gain on the last poll is just a statistical blip.

Way things are, Ian Macdonald kindly tells the party room, at least 30 MPs stand to lose their seats next election.

Turnbull’s tight shirt looks as if it’s shrinking, like the emerald isle of Upolu itself, as climate change, helped by Aussie coal, raises sea levels; brings floods, and storms.  The shrinking Samoan shoreline is confronting.

Help is needed. Twenty per cent of Pacific Islanders live in poverty and are unable to meet their basic needs.

Unsettling also is the bad vibe he’s getting from Pacific leaders, burned by an endless gallery of rogues; black-birders, corporate pirates, carpet-baggers and other invaders from the south. Above all, his hosts take Australia’s carbon emissions role in global warming seriously. It’s not a political game to these leaders. He looks pained.

This should be Mal’s happy place.  He’s had a big week ranting about downward-pressure on power prices, putting the wind up Blackout Bill and a huge win in the High Court over the constitutionality of Dutto’s delaying tactic. The postal survey is in the bag. Respectful debate is off its leash.

Amanda Devine pens a piece entitled, Fascism has a new flag and it’s a rainbow, in an echo of a Breitbart piece from two years ago. She wins Orwellian double-speak of the week.

Reason, inevitably, flies out the window. Rich and powerful lobbyists such as the ACL whose mystery donors include mining corporations spend up big to create a tsunami of fear that a Yes vote will be the start of a slippery slope which could end with marriage to Sydney Harbour Bridge or the loss of religious and other freedoms.

John Howard, whose change of the Marriage Act in 2004 has helped to make marriage equality a matter to be decided by popular prejudice, helpfully says it’s disingenuous for the Yes campaign to argue that changing the law to ­include same-sex marriage did not affect other rights and that the survey involved a simple yes/no question.

Yet, as former High Court justice Michael Kirby said in August last year,

“We didn’t do this for the Aboriginal people when we moved to give equality in law to them, we didn’t do it when we dismantled the White Australia policy … we didn’t do it in advances on women’s equality, we didn’t do it most recently on disability equality. Why are we now picking out the LGBT, the gay community?”

Howard’s dog-whistling about rights evokes Augusto Zimmerman’s Quadrant view that the welfare of children of parents in same-sex relationships are physically and emotionally at risk. In a not too distant echo, residents in Newcastle NSW receive No case propaganda suggesting that same-sex parents are likely to be paedophiles.

More alarming for the PM and for most Australians but delighting Abbott and the right-wing of the party is recent Fairfax research suggesting support for the No case is growing, while only 65% who support the Yes case appear much less likely to complete their survey. Yet the shift needs to be seen in context of a strong majority for Yes..

Yes voters still make up nearly 60% of the poll, conducted for the Equality campaign by Newgate Research pollster Jim Reed between August 28 and September 6, with a sample size of 800 and a 3.5 per cent margin of error.

Marriage equality is not something the Australian PM can take on the road, especially given that homosexuality is illegal in Samoa but he’s got a lot of good tidings if only they could look past their hang ups with climate change. The forum leaders are astonished that he could waste so much time avoiding the one issue that really matters.

You’d think, nevertheless, he could kick back and enjoy a South Sea Islands Friday happy hour with his Pacific-leader pals. It’s a chance for them to high-five him over the latest “good set of figures” the tiny rise in GDP created largely by government spending? Record profits. Lowest wages. Our economy is the envy of the world, he brays.

A new IMF study shows lowering taxes for the wealthiest 25%, such as the Turnbull government’s $65bn corporate welfare tax cut may stimulate economic activity but will promote inequality. Such cuts never pay for themselves.

But not to worry, we can import cheaper workers. Mal announces an amazing self-help deal for Polynesian job-seekers. Islanders look warily at yet another Aussie con-man. AusAid 2.0? Or return of the blackbirders?

2000 workers from Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru may now spend up to three lonely years in remote parts of country Australia doing poorly-paid low and semi-skilled jobs. And it’s not just hard manual labour, some will work in aged care and tourism. Goodbye backpackers, hello Kanakas 2.0, another brilliant scheme to boost corporate profits, by providing contractors with a stream of docile Pacific labour to exploit in often dangerous, back-breaking work.

Pacific Islanders already throng to work on farms in their thousands, lured by word of high wages. Yet, reports reveal, the reality is near slavery. An ABC investigation found Tongan and Fijian workers were picking fruit in Victoria for $9 a week after deductions for accommodation and travel and work equipment from their pay.

A 22-year-old Tongan national, Sione “Vaka” Fifita, who died after falling ill while fruit-picking, was left for eight days in a caravan park, according to The Salvation Army. Ten seasonal labourers have died in the last five years.

Twenty-two workers tell the Federal Court they often were given no food for entire days, moved from farm to farm without warning and forced to sleep on buses on the side of the road, or on chairs.

Silas Aru was paid $150 for six months work in Australia. Others were abused and threatened with arrest or deportation if they asked for food and water, or about their pay: “Stop asking questions about payment. If you keep asking I will send you back to Vanuatu,” said Emmanuel Bani, the contractor.

No-one from your village will get work in Australia again. It’s a powerful threat to a member of a small community.

A senate inquiry last May heard evidence from Australian unions that exploitation of seasonal pacific workers is widespread. Reports were heard of long hours, up to 60% deduction from wages for board and lodging, excessive hours, unpaid overtime and lack of access to health care. Yet the PM’s announcement is given hearty media spin.

Exploitation, neglect and abuse can be so spiritually uplifting. Minister for Utopia, Michaelia Cash talks of promoting economic resilience and improving livelihoods of ‘the citizens in the region’ as Islanders “access the Seasonal Worker Programme.  Why it will even “pilot ways to lower upfront costs for employers”. You bet it will.

So why so glum? True, he’s missed four days of meetings but at least he’s here in time for the leaders’ retreat.

And the camera. Mal’s shunted to one side, his ill-fitting shirt just shrieking exclusion in the forum leaders’ photo. Worse, the colourful Peter O’Neill ear-bashes him about Manus. Wednesday’s $70 m Victorian Supreme Court settlement puts the lie to the Turnbull government’s fiction that the detention centre is not our responsibility.

Our evasion of duty of care extends to having no plans for the refugees beyond telling them they’ll never come to Australia. One hundred men have been moved to Port Moresby, ostensibly, for specialist medical treatment. Immigration Minister – soon to be super minister indefinite detention Dutton has nothing planned beyond that.

By contrast, in another state response to the failure of commonwealth will and compassion, Victoria’s Andrews government will find $600,000 for the asylum seekers living in Victoria so they “don’t starve on the streets”.

Andrews will also set up means whereby Pacific Islanders working in Victoria can be more carefully monitored and policed in order to end exploitative practices in the state. Yet there is no federal acknowledgement. Especially not from Peter Dutton.

It’s hard to conceive that Peter Dutton could think that forcing destitute refugees on to the street is an acceptable strategy but he spends much air-time this week defending his callous inhumanity while his shock-jock hosts nod along.

On radio 2GB with Alan Jones, Dutton defends the introduction of ‘final departure Bridging E Visa’, claiming that people are ‘ripping the system off’. It’s a cruel stunt which is part of a Coalition attempt to wedge Labor as soft on refugees while dog-whistling Pauline Hanson supporters. Yet it is a singularly degrading experience for all parties.

New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern renews former Kiwi PM John Key’s offer to take 150 men from Manus – possibly more – but the Turnbull government appears implacably opposed to any variation in its punitive detention policy. The dead hand of Dutton denies all compassion or humanity; the access and passage of remorse.

In absurdity of the week, Turnbull manages to insult the Kiwis and all refugee advocates and supporters by maintaining that a NZ solution would offer people-smugglers a “marketing opportunity” for backdoor access.

Worse, like any shyster, our PM doesn’t care if the US takes a single refugee in the much vaunted refugee swap deal, another Dutton disaster. It’s the look of the thing that matters. Last month’s leaked transcripts of his call to Trump make his unconcern shamefully clear.  He makes policy not to govern the nation but to appease his party.

Similarly, he’s unfussed how much Australia waters down any climate agreement Pacific leaders may propose.

Last month PICAN awarded the Australian government the inaugural “Pacific Fossil Award”, for repeatedly trying to kid Pacific island countries that it was serious about helping to slow climate change, while, in fact, making the problem worse by increasing coal exports, as well as promoting the use of coal abroad.

They’ve been kind to us. Ten million Pacific Islanders need our help. They can see what we’re up to.

The Islanders have seen how Abbott dismantled our price on carbon; how he crippled investment in renewable energy. Worse, they have seen how Coalition governments diverted public funds from genuine carbon abatement schemes by pretending that its Direct Action boondoggle was a legitimate mechanism to curb CO2 emissions.

Scott Morrison didn’t even mention climate change in his last budget. The climate change debate has been supplanted by the ‘energy debate,’ in line with world’s best practice in defending the use of coal by ignoring climate altogether and pursuing “energy solutions” instead.

The Pacific has been rising by 4mm per year since 1993. It will inevitably swamp Samoa and other Pacific Islands unless global warming is halted. Mad Mal’s response is to drown our neighbours by increasing carbon emissions – not because he believes in coal but because it fits his selfish political agenda. Talk about make yourself popular.

Island leaders remember last year, too when the PM misled Parliament that Australia’s emissions reduction targets of 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 are “credible and substantial” and ” second only to the cuts offered by Brazil.

His latest ploy to wedge Labor and to win over his own party’s right wing rump is to keep Liddell, Australia’s oldest, dirtiest, coal-fired power station burning.

The week is wasted with attempts to paint Labor as the party of blackouts while the Coalition is determined to roll up its sleeves to keep the power on. This means picking a fight with AGL over its decision to phase out NSW’s Liddell power station, only recently privatised by the former Baird NSW government.

Liddell is the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired plant in Australia. In the view of energy market regulator AEMO, it is likely to cause blackouts rather than supply additional electricity to the grid. Yet over the week it becomes a cause celebre. It will be sold, the government declares. Yet who will buy remains a mystery. It won’t be AGL.

The plant would require at least $1/2bn to keep going but offers investors only five years, operation in a market where profits on coal-fired electricity are harder to make than in renewables.

The crusade to save of Liddell will be a defining point in next week’s debate in the house – just as it stands as a defining point for this government which is so committed to pleasing its coal-lobby sponsors that it has abandoned all pretence at concern with carbon emissions and their role in global warming. No wonder Pacific Islanders see our PM simply as another palagi who is interested only in putting profits before people.

It’s not just home fires burning, moreover, our global warming Coalition promises to help Adani pollute the planet. Back out of Paris. Flunk even Finkel’s feeble CET, a type of Clayton’s carbon price Turnbull is rapidly giving up hope of sneaking past Tony Abbott and his cheer squad of delusional denialists and Minerals Council dupes.

The government pounces upon the Australian Energy Market Operator’s annual Electricity Statement of Opportunities which is released this week and within hours has its own spin on the report which predicts the likelihood of blackouts this summer given the age and unreliability of our national grid. It blames Labor.

What the report really says, the government doesn’t want to admit. It’s an indictment of the failure of Abbott’s war on carbon pricing, his so-called carbon tax that Peta Credlin now confesses was just a stunt. Without such a pricing mechanism, our nation’s progress towards renewable energy sources has been criminally sabotaged.

Equally damning are the ways in which the Abbott and Turnbull governments have discouraged investment in renewable energy generation.  Alternative power sources should be available ready, now, to be phased in as we close the dirty, uneconomic fifty-year old coal-burning plants. Instead, the industry has been actively discouraged.

All of his could be foreseen; planned for. For all its attempts to rewrite history and blame both sides of politics, or even to just blame Labor, it is the Coalition with its coal-based ideology and its failure to develop a clear energy policy or a policy on carbon emissions which is responsible for the energy mess we are in now.

More will be heard of the Turnbull government’s base load fetish; the technological nonsense that a stable power source is only possible through burning coal. Much less will be said about the fetish for the free market and for privatisation which helped it to set up an electricity supply which is either affordable or reliable.

And in the ledger of our international responsibility, our status as global citizens we face a growing deficit as polluters. Tuvalu’s PM, Enele Sopoaga, speaks of hypocrisy, of an Australia which is happy to preach renewable energy and emissions control to its island neighbours but which in practice does the very opposite itself.

“We’re simply seeking for the rights of small island states to survive,” he says.

Oddly, no-one in Apia looks overjoyed to have the big blue bwana in their midst. He has dropped in on the tail end of proceedings as if he still believes it’s the great white bwana, the palagi’s prerogative to be fashionably late.

Better late than never? We can’t even give him that. Leadership is what you do not what you preach. And your priorities. When there’s a clear choice between saving his own leadership and the chance to lead or even save others, Turnbull gives up a whole six hours of his time. Just enough time to announce a new kanaka recruitment drive.