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.

Corks pop over Gonski con but Coalition has nothing to celebrate.

 

turnbull and three stooges on energy

Corks pop and peals of laughter ring out over the disco beat of a ghetto-blaster cranking out a Donna Summer number from Liberal offices deep inside Parliament House, safe from the world outside and Canberra’s winter frost.

She works hard for the money, MPs sing along with Donna.  It’s 2:00am Friday before MPs can celebrate a pay rise, a tax cut and a six week break. Overseas holidays, aka tax-deductible study tours, in warmer climes beckon.

All raise a glass to Remuneration Tribunal members, John Conche, Ewen Crouch and Heather Zampatti, for their fair decision to grant federal parliamentarians and senior public servants a 2% pay rise. Years of experience as company directors of banks and investment houses help John, Ewen and Heather achieve arms-length objectivity.

The rise coincides with government’s decision to scrap the deficit levy even though the deficit is still $30 billion. Selflessly, it eases the burden on our highest income earners and lowers the top marginal tax rate to 47 per cent.

Yet many ordinary hard-working Australians will lose their recent minimum weekly wage rise of $22.20, a rise deplored as devastating by the Australian Retailers Association, negated by the loss of penalty rates from 1 July.

Or will they? Our rapidly expanding precariat and those in the trendy serfdom of the gig economy, or a quarter of our workforce face pay cuts of up to $63 for working a public holiday after July 1. Some pin their hopes on gorgeous George Christensen, who even promises fabulous mining jobs in his quest to do something for them.

All talk and no walk, sneers Labor. Coal mining employs 0.5% of the nation’s workforce. Yet a workers’ champion is born as Deadly Duterte fan-boy George crosses the floor to support Labor’s bill to reverse penalty rate cuts.

The bill is lost 73-72, Tuesday but George is hot to trot. Or walk again. His breach of party discipline further wounds a PM so agile and innovative it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll stand for next. Low emission coal-fired power?

The electorate has written him off. Essential Research shows Labor continues its steady lead 52:48. Newspoll is a week late but still shows 53:47 to Labor. One Nation is up a point despite adverse press recently.

Despite his flip-floppery and Morrison’s budget lunge to the sensible centre provoking screams of Labor-lite from the lunatic right and doing more harm than good, our Mal for all seasons has 14 consecutive bad Newspolls to prove his unpopularity. Although he deposed Abbott after 30 bad polls, he now says it’s no benchmark.

Paul Bongiorno quotes polling analyst Andrew Catsaras says a close look at the poll shows that “nothing is happening here”. Gonski 2.0 won’t help and Finkel is a resounding tinkle. Mal’s now as unpopular as Bill Shorten.

Yet it’s not all bad at the top. While Australians’ average income is $80,000, our PM’s pay will increase from $517,504 to $527,852. Barnaby “Bat-poo” Joyce pockets $416,191. Luckily we’ve saved $18 billion on schools.

Everyone’s toasting Gonski 2.0. It’s a brilliant pea and thimble trick to cheat millions of ordinary hard-working Australians, as, Mal’s mob so fulsomely flatters its victims, of their birthright. Yet it’s been sold not only as an increase in funding but a brave new system which is “sector blind and needs-based”. Spin? Marketing genius.

Bugger equal access to education for everyone. Gonski 2.0 subsidises the rich and perpetuates privilege. It locks in federal funding for private schools while poorer states are left to struggle to find the money for public schools.

It’s radical. Epoch-making. For the first time ever, private schools will be guaranteed eighty per cent of federal funding. States and Territories will get twenty. States can find their own money for public schools, with what’s left over from funding hospitals and any other small change they can find down the back of the federation sofa.

Or they can bugger off. The Coalition’s ultimatum to the states plumbs new depths in state-commonwealth relations, trashes Malcolm Turnbull’s 2015 promise:

“ There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls. We need to be truly consultative with colleagues, members of parliament, senators and the wider public.’

Consult? States were presented with a fait accompli. Education Minister, Simon “Bolivar” Birmingham, refused, moreover, to enter into long-term consultations with States on future arrangements. Bugger federalism. States were also excluded from appearing before the Senate inquiry hearing on Gonski 2.0.

In a final tour de force, Birmingham turned to coercion. He threatened to cut funding to public schools if Gonski 2.0 were not passed by the Senate. Only public schools would suffer in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. All private schools would have their funding guaranteed.

Birmo’s bullying evokes Howard’s special deal in 2000 which guaranteed private schools their Gonski 1.0 funding. Funds continued after Tony Abbott cut public sector funding in 2014 two years before the end of the agreement.

Elite winners such as Loreto Kirribilli, Brigidine St Ives and St Aloysius’ College in Milsons Point received more than $5 million a year over the Gonski amount because of Howard’s funding guarantee; safeguarding privilege.

It’s no way to build a new national funding system, however loudly the private school claque may applaud.

Gonski is “the best special deal that private schools have ever had”, writes Save our Schools’ Trevor Cobbold, a former Productivity Commission economist.  But such schools have ridden a winner since 1964 when their pork-barrelling potential was exploited. MPs saw schools as a wonderful vehicle in vote-buying and opened the public purse, ending a century of no support.

Since 1964, the private funding juggernaut has continued apace. We are avidly recreating the colonial system of the 1850s; replacing free and secular education with a system that embeds inequity and division.  Fee barrier aside, private schools are exempt from discrimination legislation and can select students as they wish.

There is no evidence whatsoever that private schools offer higher education standards. Research does show that once you take their parents’ privileged backgrounds into account, students fare no better in the private system.

“We allow people to opt out of a government service and then send us a bill for obtaining the same service from a private provider. We are happy to buy a car for the chap who finds public transport distasteful,” notes Cobbold.

The private system enjoys huge subsidies. Their latest windfall boosts the $12 billion that our proudly “pragmatic” neoliberal government blithely currently lavishes on them. Private schools, in essence private businesses, receive from the federal treasury more than nine times the combined annual budget of SBS and the ABC.

Needs based? Or greed, with at least a whiff of droit du seigneur or good old-fashioned ruling-class entitlement?

Lauriston Girls’ School, for example, with annual fees of $25,000, will get an increase from Gonski 2.0 of $4093 per student over 10 years, while the public school in Tennant Creek, with three-quarters of its students in the lowest quartile of disadvantage, must make do with a paltry $1300 a student over the same decade.

Tanya Plibersek cites , Geelong Grammar, with 70 per cent of its students in the top quartile of advantage, will get an increase of $2309 while Wanguri Primary School in the NT, with a quarter of its student body from Indigenous families, will surely struggle to get by with a mere $565.

And Birmingham’s making noises about not “throwing money” at the issue; expecting more bang for those bucks.

Even worse, the federal contribution is capped. Under-funding is, therefore, assured given that few states ever meet the 80% schools need. In 2016, for example, NSW found 71%, 66% in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, 72%  and 67% in the Northern Territory.

Prospects are even bleaker for Tasmania, which has the largest proportion of low socio-economic students in Australia and where 85% attend public schools. Its Labor Government slashed state funding for public schools between 2009-10 and 2013-14 while the Liberals cut further in 2014-15.

Public school funding did increase slightly overall, because of increased Commonwealth funding but this was outstripped by a massive, five-fold increase in government funding of private schools. It can only get worse.

Unlike Gonski 1.0, there is no incentive for states to increase or maintain their level of funding in order to qualify for federal funds. If anything, under-funding is almost guaranteed.

State and Territory governments already punish public schools by cutting funding by $732, or 6.6%, on average, per student, while increasing funding for private schools by $161 per student, or 6.9%, according to records from 2009-10 and 2014-15, the last five years for which official figures are available.

The bill, which passes the lower house around 2:00am is a wonderful victory for spin and wedge politics. Not only is Gonski 2.0 “the most significant reform to school education in Australia’s history” says another former failed Education Minister, Christopher porkie-Pyne.

The $50 billion dollar MP maintains his seat of Sturt in SA by a dodgy pork-barrel submarine-building contract yet he paints Labor’s Gonski opposition as petty politicking.

Politicking? In 2014 Pyne erased all mention of Gonski from every government website including reference to the original 2011 report. Amazingly, all were re-instated early last month, as Gonski became a sales pitch.

“Transparent, right and fair,” gurgles Turnbull mimicking Tony Abbott, a vacuous three word slogan personified. All hope of any rational, national conversation is torpedoed by MPs whose speech blends the language of advertising with the front bar inanities, platitudes and half-stewed certitudes of some imaginary country pub.

Our brave new political discourse echoes tabloids and shock-jocks to weave a “shallow, facile and ill-informed” world, as Jeremy Corbyn notes. Emotions are massaged as exponents swap headlines and reductive bumper sticker slogans in a caricature of debate. When two-dimensional superficiality triumphs; issues wither and die.

Advertising and propaganda techniques impoverish our “national conversation” about education funding. Slogans such as “needs-based” or “sector-blind” remain unexamined; unexplained. Incessant repetition is provided instead. Gonski 2.0 is just another chance to dumb-down issues, whip up fear and to patronise constituents.

“It will end decades of arguments about the school funding wars,” breakfast TV celebrity, near-sighted Liberal hack, former Education Minister, Christopher Pyne periscopes on Nine. Can Mr Magoo not see that Labor has already declared war? It will fight Gonski 2.0 all the way until the next election; restore every dollar cut.

Opposition to Gonski 2.0 will be wide and enduring. Turnbull’s government will face stiff opposition from not only from supporters of systemic Catholic schools but from a wide group of others dedicated to educational equality.

Teachers, in particular, will not take kindly to what is already seen as an attack on their profession in another part of Gonski 2.0 that has received no real public discussion and been through no real consultation process.

Little comment has followed Birmingham’s plan to include with Gonski 2.0  NAPLAN tests for every year level; annual literacy and numeracy reporting requirements; performance pay for teachers (including student results); a year 1 phonics test; contracts and performance pay for principals; and more Independent Public Schools. These arbitrarily imposed conditions  must be met to access any funding. The implication is teachers are slack.

The politics of Gonski 2.0 is also part of a rapid decline in the prosperity of ordinary Australians.  Workers’ share of GDP has plummeted since 1975. Then, two-thirds of our GDP was in wages; in 2014 it was just 53%. The gap between rich and poor is accelerating. The richest 1% of Australians now own 22% of the nation’s total wealth.

As the asset ownership gap widens, the rich, of course, have increasing influence. Private school associations enthusiastically endorse the coalition’s new funding model. Yet no-one can explain how it was decided that they should receive 80% of federal funds. Part of the Coalition’s spin on transparency.

Yet one the most remarkable – and distressing features of the Gonski 2.0 con is the success of government spin.

The Coalition has been assisted in its Gonski confidence trick with the support of a compliant media. Its win is paralleled in the other big issue of the week, the flogging of the Finkel Report, a campaign which began with the demonising of renewables after the SA blackout, a cause fearlessly championed by ABC’s Chris Uhlmann.

An Important Announcement on Energy Tuesday is a Gilbertian performance. Coal school quality. On TV everywhere, Matt Canavan, Josh Frydenberg and Malcolm Fraser perform Three Little maids of School Are We.

No-one mentions that Finkel is dead in the water. Instead, Turnbull has a thought bubble:

“It would be good if we had a state-of-the-art clean coal power station in Australia,” Turnbull tells a media conference in Canberra. We could have a reverse auction. (Easy to rig in coal’s favour.) Technology neutral.  Someone asks what technologies could provide “continuous” and “synchronous” power.

Turnbull can talk only of “clean coal”, gas and hydro. Gas, he notes, however, in an aside, would be too expensive.

Solar and wind with battery storage do not rate a mention. Nor do other technologies. No-one recalls that he had the clean coal bug when he was Environment Minister in 2007. Or expects him to account for the $1bn spent on it.

“We are seeing a real change in the nature of the energy market … with more variable sources of energy, more distributed sources,” the PM waffles off somewhere on his own evasive wave-length.

The April announcement that Australia would intervene in the gas market, something catchily entitled” imposing an Australian domestic gas security mechanism” is announced again. It was to have started 1 July but it has been postponed to allow consultations with the sector. It is “immediate action to put downward pressure on prices” which will probably happen next year, if it happens at all.

Best of all, the “limited merits review” which was to put downward pressure on electricity prices is put off to 2019.

The cave in to coal precedes a party room meeting to approve all of Finkel except his main point, the adoption of a Clean Energy Target. No policy. The media show reassures everyone that clean new coal is in there with a chance.

Coalition Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel continues his flawless political performance mid-week as he delivers a thoroughly dull and boring account of his report to the National Press Club. A highlight is an aside when he recalls a quotation from Giuseppe Di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, a text he read to help one of his children with their HSC.

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”. It’s an inspiring quote about adaptation, especially if you see yourself as an enlightened autocrat. Job’s done for Finkel who makes it clear that the ball is in the government’s Dark Age court. There change must contend with the likes of Barnaby Joyce.

A week ago, proudly airing his sublime ignorance on national television, the Deputy PM tells Insiders host Barrie Cassidy:

“I flew in this morning Barrie, it was a beautiful day, not a puff of wind and if memory serves me correct, it was dark last night, so you switched off your coal-fired power stations, how do you switch on the lights?” he said, before adding:  “So it’s just, we’re living in a different church to reality.”

Living very much in a different church is a Coalition which is on target to revise the CET to accept coal-fired power stations. Naturally they will be mythical High Efficiency Low Emission and clean coal even if they will take five to seven years to build. Of course they are expensive. But funds can then be provided at low-interest from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Emissions? Don’t you worry about that. Paris? Non-binding.

The week ends, we are told, with Coalition MPs going away to have a think about a Clean Energy Target after a Finkel Review which is destined to be no more that just another piece of theatre to avoid commitment to clean energy as a means to curb carbon emissions and as a cheap, economic and reliable alternative to coal. If, after four years, the party has been unable to agree on energy or climate, however, six weeks’ break is useless.

Gonski 2.0 reveals a high-handed government prepared to ride rough-shod over the states to impose a funding system which is not needs-based and certainly not sector-blind but one which will only entrench privilege and perpetuate inequality. In media management it has been a huge success and it will save $18 billions on Labor’s model but, in its style and in its substance, it can only leave a poorer and more divided nation.

Turnbull government in crisis as ministers face contempt charges and Abbott stages a revolt over Finkel.

hunt sukkar and tudge

 

A  life-threatening political and constitutional crisis is brewing for the Turnbull government this week as three Ministers of the Crown face contempt proceedings in Victoria’s Supreme Court.

No big deal; just a politically motivated, orchestrated attack on judges for being hard left activists who are soft on terror, while, off Broadway, the Coalition’s out of court settlement of a class action on behalf of all those it detains illegally on Manus Island blows the lid off its regime of secrecy, cruelty and denial of responsibility in a week where federal government with economic management in its DNA racks up a record debt of over half a trillion dollars.

Adding fat to the fire, Shadow Attorney General  Mark Dreyfus QC calls on Malcolm Turnbull to explain why he publicly backed Health Minister Greg Hunt, Minister for Social Services, Robo-Claw and the War on the Poor, Alan Tudge and invisible assistant treasurer, Michael Sukkar.

Dreyfus demands Turnbull explain why, the day before last Friday’s court hearing, the Prime Minister “backed in his ministers’ comments, on 3AW, despite knowing this matter was before the court the following day”.

Helpfully he notes the court proceedings could have “potentially serious” results. “It is incumbent on the Prime Minister to explain why he thought it was a good idea to validate the criticisms.”

Turnbull waffles “… in a free society a person is entitled to criticise the conduct of the courts or of a judge,” but this diminishes a concerted attack by three of his cabinet ministers on judges over an appeal which was still sub judice and, therefore, prohibited from public discussion.

Criticising conduct might, at a stretch, include the lads’ orchestrated slagging off at judges for being “hard-left activists”, “divorced from reality,” and conducting an “ideological experiment”

It might still have to contend with the judges’ view that the comments were “unfounded, grossly improper and unfair”, but Turnbull’s gloss cannot, surely, accommodate Michael Sukkar’s slur?

“It’s the attitude of judges like these which has eroded any trust that remained in our legal system …” 

It’s all part of an action packed week of diversion, denial and disinformation. Oh my, Gonski 2.0 will rip $ 4.6 billion from Catholic Schools. But, look over here. Someone’s thrown a dead moggy.

“We’ve got a judiciary that takes the side of the so-called victim rather than the side of common sense,” suppository of nonsense, Tony Abbott pipes up, helpfully, articulating the Trumpish contempt for the rule of law that features in the Coalition’s approach to government this week.

Bugger the humdrum stuff of responsible government when lads can play politics instead.

Best Crosby (dead cat on the table diversion) goes to Peter Dutton’s secret citizenship test, a solution dog-whistling a problem, which is finally revealed to include a written English language test in a nostalgic bid for the official bigotry of White Australia.  Anyone can become a citizen provided he or she has a university level of written language proficiency. And if Dutton says so.

No matter that Australia has no official language. It’ll help keep the Muslims down.

Illiteracy and innumeracy or cultural ignorance have seldom held back any conservative politician, while proposed changes to the law will set up the former Drug Squad detective, an acclaimed model of fairness and openness as final arbiter. He’ll get to decide who becomes a citizen and who’ll be deported. The bill gives Dutton the power to overrule decisions of the AAT.

Creating broad executive powers with minimal review undermines the rule of law, ironically, said to be one of the fundamental values which underpin Australian citizenship, writes Sangeetha Pillai, Senior Research Associate, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Law School, UNSW. Clearly, she fails to appreciate Dutton’s value to the PM.

More changes, in fact, are afoot to increase Benito Dutton’s arbitrary power by bestowing upon him a Homeland Security Department, merging several government outfits such as the AFP and ASIO in our fight against terrorism as the price of Dutto’s loyalty to Turnbull in the climate wars.

News comes this week, however, that the US style mega-department model which incorporates intelligence, police and security agencies is out of favour with the PM who now favours something akin to the bijou British Home Office, whose recent brilliant success in preventing terror, safeguarding citizens and accounting for lives lost in an entirely preventable fire in a high-rise building is matched only by its success in breaking up families in the name of immigration.

Happily, the government has far too much on its plate at present and the decision can safely wait until December when it can be announced when everyone is on holiday. Unlike the despatching of junkyard Abbott who goes barking, frothing mad over Finkel and demands urgent attention.

“Go fuck yourself” Abbott tells Craig Laundy. It’s an “ugly” bust-up, Liberal MPs report, in a three-hour session held Wednesday. All of Finkel is reduced to how we need to keep coal at any cost. Besides, coal is OK now. It’s clean and there’s carbon capture and storage. Low emission coal.

It’s clear this week that if the boys have read Finkel they have not understood a word. The discussion of the blueprint becomes an excuse to air the same stale platitudes and lies. Renewables are too expensive. We will always need coal because it’s cheap and reliable.

Reductive? Utterly deluded? Never. It’s all part of the cut and thrust of the Coalition’s richly democratic, inclusive joint party room; the fabled broad church, where any member can howl another down. It’s Liberal individualism. Abbott’s tantrum will foster party unity and goodwill.

Laundy tries to speak. Abbott prevents him by repeatedly interjecting. A slanging match ensues which leads to chaos. Government hacks speed to brief the Press gallery how it’s just a vital exercise in democracy. The Finkel fracas degenerates into another Turnbull proxy war on Abbott.

There, there, Tony don’t hold yourself back. Tell us how you really feel.  Really? Never mind.

It’s enough to get any boy band back on the road. Cap’n Abbott and the Carbonistas, a gospel rock revival group are all over Canberra airwaves this week. The boys reprise “gimme that coal-time religion” a toe-tapping gospel hymn of praise to blind faith in a toxic black rock as the nation’s true salvation while still maintaining their trademark grievance and sense of entitlement.

Dr Finkel has winkled out Malcolm Turnbull’s opponents en masse in what may be another crafty manoeuvre in our wily PM’s crafty plan to establish his leadership over Tony Abbott. Whatever his plan, the “sensible centre” is rendered insensible all week by Old King Coal and his chorus.

What is too silly to be said can be sung, Voltaire once observed, but even he did not foresee the Coalition’s holy coalers, its mad right-wing. All croon such complete nonsense in response to Finkel, a fudged blueprint for the future that ignores new technologies and cheaper renewables, that they reveal a damning incapacity to engage in any responsible, rational or informed debate.

Cult claims, moreover, show breathtaking levels of wilful ignorance and brazen deception. Just one example will suffice.

“Coal is by far the cheapest form of base load power,” Abbott cons 2GB listeners on Wednesday, recycling Peabody fossil-fuel propaganda. The problem is not base load but peak load but Abbott wouldn’t know the difference. Nor does he seem to know that even Finkel concedes networked renewables are more than capable of supplying cheap, reliable base-load power.

As for cheap, experts forecast a doubling in electricity prices if new coal-fired stations are built while coal is no longer seen as a form of base load even in China.

Last year China’s State Grid’s R&D chief Huang Han dismissed coal’s claim to be an indispensable source of “base load” generation. As the network operator builds out its clean power sources, coal-fired generators could only serve as “reserve power” to supplement renewables.

Incapable of little more than sloganeering, the vacuous Abbott’s role in the climate wars is to set a back-marker in our national conversation. After decades of paralysing, time-wasting “debate” the government can then achieve a compromise; build a few coal-fired power stations itself. The media is full of constructive suggestion on how the politics should be taken out of energy.

Both sides need to come to a sensible compromise; adopt at least half of government idiocy?

Coal? As even a failed former Health Minister, impossibly indulged by his crafty mentor John Howard, Abbott should know, coal poses one of the most significant health issues of our time.

While mining, transport and burning must be included in any cost calculation, coal imposes an incalculable cost on the health and well-being of those whose lives are affected, if not ruined by pollution, economic losses and environment damage to water sources, land and food production.

No-one on Coalition megaphone 2GB will challenge Abbott’s blatant lies but they could also point to huge costs in climate change and extreme weather events caused by coal burning.

Cheapest? Costs of coal are soaring across the globe. All published studies indicate that the true cost of coal is much greater than the market price. There’s complete consensus. Coal is crap, Tony.

Energy ministers and other coal lobby lackeys typically pretend coal is cheap. Yet its real costs are passed on to the long-term budgets of other departments. Even our Chief Scientist admits this.

In a Senate estimates hearing at the start of the month,  Alan Finkel noted: “The actual cost of bringing on new coal in this country per megawatt-hour is projected to be substantially more expensive than the cost of bringing on wind or solar.”

Abbott has not read Alan Finkel’s work. Nor will he. His mind is made up. He and Russell Broadbent are convinced, moreover, that any emissions-lowering policy will boost power prices.

Abbott and his Carbonistas show a Malcolm Roberts’ level of scepticism on climate change.

When Senator Roberts asked if it were a scientist’s role to be sceptical, Alan Finkel replied: “All the scientists I know have a healthy degree of scepticism, but healthy is an important word there.

“You have to have an open mind, but not so open your brain leaks out.”

Doing the coal lobby’s bidding involves a type of lobotomy but the Coalition has been at it for some time. Denying reality in climate change is another proud tradition which goes back to St John Howard who squandered the entire proceeds of a mineral boom while weaseling out of any real responsibility for the environment or climate.  It’s never been serious about either.

Half of Alan Finkel’s panel may be well be power corporation representatives but pandering to vested interests in energy is a long-term trend for us. In 1997 we took an industry lobby to negotiate Kyoto. As Sarah Gill notes we “comprehensively cheesed off” the European Union by demanding a free ride and, after almost derailing consensus, we refused to ratify Kyoto after all.

Gill makes the case we out-Trumped Trump in dodgy deals on climate change. Kyoto was set up for nations to agree to reduce emissions yet Australia secured permission to increase them by eight per cent. By including emissions from land clearing, we were able to inflate our 1990 baseline by 30% which made our 2012 target impossible to miss.

Direct Action dweeb Greg Hunt was fond of crowing about how we’d meet or beat our target, which amounted to 0.5% of our 1990 emissions yet our absolute emissions are rising. In 2020 they will be higher than they were in 2000. How’s that for emission reduction?

Greg’s Direct Action scam doesn’t get much airplay these days and Greg’s been shunted sideways to Health where he’s got us all on side with his declaration of love for private health insurance and how we could learn a lot from the US Health system. We’ll all heed his warning, too, on how the recent Senate easing of rules for medicinal cannabis for terminally ill patients could be fatal.

Yet Greg has voiced no regret at wasting $2.23 billion on a scheme that paid beneficiaries to plant trees that may have been planted anyway while relaxed land clearing laws in NSW and Queensland wiped out any of the gains. No apology. We understand. Taking cheap potshots at the judiciary would make big demands on your time.  In the meantime, emissions continue.

As Reputex reported, last year, “the rate of annual emissions growth continues to outpace credits contracted by the [fund].” In other words, DA did less than sweet bugger all to stop polluters.

“This growth is driven by Australia’s largest emitting companies, which have … not participated in the [fund] due to the voluntary nature of the scheme, and the large up-front costs.”

Always careful with expenditure and a stickler for accountability, Captain Kangaroo, Peter Dutton, meanwhile joins Tony Abbott in continuing his government’s attack on the legal system over the momentous decision to award $70 million damages plus $20 million legal costs to 1905 Manus Island detainees in an out of court settlement this week.

Slater and Gordon, Dutton says are “ambulance-chasers”. Labor lawyers.

Abbott madly attacks the presiding judges, for siding with the victims despite the settlement being negotiated between the government’s and plaintiff’s lawyers. Dutton is in denial.

It’s no admission of liability, he claims. Rather, in the parallel universe he and his government inhabit, it is a “prudent outcome”. Certainly, it averts a six-month damages trial in which the  Commonwealth and its contractors would be accused of negligence and false imprisonment.

In the real world, however, it is a momentous decision and a landmark admission of liability which blows the whistle on years of Coalition pretence that Australia’s offshore detention is the responsibility of the nations hosting our camps. It also provides direct refutation of government claims that detainees were well looked after.

Mr Kamasaee, a 35-year-old Iranian, who needed treatment for severe burns he suffered as s child, described his experience as degrading and cruel.

“I came to Australia seeking peace, but I was sent to Manus, which was hell,” he said. “Every day in the harsh sun, my skin felt like it was on fire. I was in pain every minute of every day … I cried every night until I had nothing left.

“This case is not just about me, it is about everyone who has been trapped on Manus Island. Our voices have never been listened to, but today we are finally being heard.”

No compensation can make up for the torture endured by the men on Manus. Now that the legal fiction that they are not Australia’s responsibility has been destroyed, the men should be brought to Australia immediately. PNG warns that it will close the centre permanently 31 October.

Dutton ought to resign immediately for failing his duty of care while the government needs to abandon its secrecy and explain clearly what it intends to do after the centre is closed. As in so many areas of this chaotic government, the plan seems to be to wait and see what turns up.

Backward-looking, ever desperate for evasion and diversion, the Turnbull government is beset with a series of crises. There’s more to it than nostalgia or simple coal-lust. A retreat into the past is the only option for a Coalition government caught with no policy, let alone an environment or energy policy.

It has relied instead on populist posturing on border protection and punitive detention in a regime of secrecy, unaccountability, evasion and bare-faced denial – and it has been caught out.

Time to face the music. Instead, a battle of the bands erupts as the Point Piper Set amps up its catchy Blueprint for the Future: Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market, a concerto fantasy for two conductors in homage to Philip Glass, another innovator, whose music some find challenging because it doesn’t go anywhere.

The Turnbull government’s bastardised Blueprint for a world class electricity system, widely reviled by Carbonistas everywhere as The Finkel Review may fail to provide a political road map to allow an endangered coalition a safe exit from an energy policy highway as intended but it is to be praised at least for highlighting a terminally conflicted and out of touch government devoid of ideas or real plans hell-bent on substituting politicking for policy.

Serious questions are raised over Turnbull’s lack of leadership, finally, in his endorsement of his three ministers’ extraordinary, co-ordinated political attack on the Victorian judiciary. Any democratically-elected government which sets itself above the law; which fails to respect the separation of powers between the judiciary and the parliament forfeits its legitimacy.

There’s a better than even chance, according to some experts that Hunt, Tudge and Sukkar may help it out of its misery.

Theresa May sends message to a Turnbull government of slogans, secrets and lies.

may and turnbull


 

Stunned by what the press insists is a “shock” election result in Britain where, inexplicably, hollow slogans, austerity economics and Sir Lynton Crosby’s fear tactics fail to win the day for Tory crash test dummy, Theresa May, our political world is reeling this week as MPs joust with shock jocks in a knee-jerk war on terror while Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel obligingly offers our fearless leaders another chance to dodge any real commitment to climate change.

Political actors dig deep. Best mystery shopper is won easily by One Nation’s epic failure to yet provide a coherent, credible explanation of who paid for Pauline’s Jabiru, while stunt of the week goes to Adani’s incredible “Green Light to Carmichael” oratorio Tuesday, a stirring, religious work relayed faithfully by media and featuring standout performances from fossil fuel fan-boy Resources Minister Canavan and Queensland coal-lobby groupie, Annastacia Palaszczuk.

The staging of Green Light … reveals just how far faith-based decision-making has usurped reason across our nation and not just in Queensland. Coal worshippers surrender critical faculties for the sublime irrationality of a cargo cult.

Adani cult followers echo Melanesian millenarians who believed that ritual projects such as building a runway would result in the appearance of coveted western goods. Everyone stopped anything else to await largesse from a great silver bird returning to their sky.  Today, we may substitute port or railway for runway, but parallels are disturbing.

A glance at the Adani cargo cult’s articles of faith reveals a supernatural power; the vise-like grip of group delusion.

Ritual chanting displaces communication. The mine is going ahead! JOBS. Thousands of jobs will now “flow” say the faithful. 10,000 jobs, Adani devotees chant. An ecstatic Canavan ups that to 15,000, this week, just because he can.

Reality check. In 2015, Adani’s expert, Jerome Fahrer, ACIL Allen economist, estimated ongoing full-time employment for only 1464 workers and only at the expense of 1,400 jobs in agriculture, manufacturing and other mining projects.

It may be fewer. CEO Jeyakumar Janakaraj, boasts he will fully automate all of the vehicles used in the mine and the entirety of the process from the mine to the port:

‘When we ramp up the mine, everything will be autonomous from mine to port … this is the mine of the future‘

Jobs will be lost as existing mines are put out of business by Adani’s automated, hugely subsidised competition. Subsidising Adani makes our former car industry protection appear a bargain, writes Bernard Kean.

The $320, 000 royalty holiday -which will cost taxpayers $253 million over the next five years – which has recently been redefined as not a royalty holiday at all but an indefinitely deferred payment arrangement – promised by  Palaszczuk’s government plus the NAIF billion dollar loan, means each job will cost taxpayers $900,000.

Part of the Green Light … stunt is a desperate gamble. The stakes are high. The government is already in over its head.

A state government which has invested $8 billion on coal-related infrastructure between 2009-2014, on an industry which provides only 4% of its revenue, may well keep a poker face, but this week’s press release – declaring a business is up and running without funding is a bizarre stunt which would get any local company into trouble with ASX rules.

In reality, Adani is further from opening its proposed monster mine than it was five years ago, while India turns to cleaner, cheaper solar energy and coal profits decline. India plans to be 60% fossil fuel free in energy in ten years.

No new coal-fired power station will be approved in India. Nor would it be economic. A Gujarat power station set to import half of the Adani mine’s coal, now believes it can’t afford to. No wonder nineteen banks have refused Adani finance.

Gautam Adani, however, is content to cynically blame activists, a theme embraced by the august upholders of traditional but doomed faith-based causes supported by our media, especially The Australian and The AFR.  

“We have been challenged by activists in the courts, in inner-city streets, and even outside banks that have not even been approached to finance the project,” Adani claims,

“We are still facing activists. But we are committed to this project.”

Committed? None of Adani’s legal challenges prevent it from acting on its 2014 government environmental approvals.

A fascinating twist in the coal cult narrative come from Kooyong coal-raker, the terminally conflicted energy and environment minister Josh Frydenberg. He’s all for carbon capture and storage. Don’t we know that the world is full of CCS power plants? We had better get our skates on. Build some. Those in the coal cult are immensely encouraged.

It’s another delusion, if not a blatant lie. Although one small, 528 MW third, $5.5 billion over budget, plant will be commissioned, in Mississippi the reality is there are but two massively expensive plants in commercial operation. These compress CO2 to force previously unreachable oil out of defunct wells in an Enhanced Oil Recovery Process.

Never mind that in the process, 30% of the CO2 escapes back into the atmosphere. Never mind that the plant saves CO2 to avoid global warming only to extract more oil which will boost global warming. Never mind the expense. None of this matters to the true believer. Just don’t expect any of it to bear any relationship to reality.

Simon Holmes a Court calculates just to capture all of the emissions of the Loy Yang power station in Victoria, we’d need a plant 13 times bigger than Petra Nova in Texas. With currency and Australian labour rates, but allowing for some economies of scale and ‘learnings’, that could cost AUD$15–25bn.

Luckily, because we live in an eternal present, now that history itself has been effectively consigned to the dustbin of history, no-one asks Josh about ZeroGen our cute, little 2006 CCS plant project in central Queensland.

ZeroGen was a relatively tiny, 390 MW net coal-fired power station which would capture 65% of its emissions.  It received $188 million in grants but after a projected cost blowout from $1.2bn to $6.9bn the project collapsed six years before its scheduled 2017 completion date, scuttling hundreds of millions of public funding.

Josh is on another mission, of course. He’s been ringing his party’s back-benchers to sell Alan Finkel’s cop-out Energy Review which tenderly preserves the pernicious myth that safe, reliable baseload power can only come from coal or gas – and not those fickle wind turbines that ABCs Chris Uhlmann blamed for the SA blackout.

Judging by his appearance on ABC Insiders, Josh has learned to speak softly and stare a lot whenever Barrie Cassidy asks questions:

So the Finkel Review suggests that you can reduce emissions and cut power prices and keep coal in the mix. It sounds too good to be true?

Bazza is right on the money but Frydenberg praises Dr Finkel’s report. In a vain and irritating quest for authority, he repeats Dr Finkel every chance he gets to praise the Chief Scientist.

Josh still pretends that electricity prices are high not because of his government’s Jihadist mission to privatise all public utilities according to the dictates of Neoliberal Ideology, the Liberal religion but because of something he invents called “regulatory uncertainty”.

Then he’s off, demonising alternatives to fossil fuel power generation. Renewables are dodgy, “a less stable system because we’ve failed to properly integrate wind and solar.”

Happily for the coal lobby,  Dr Finkel’s report allows us to have half of our power generated by burning coal by 2030 but he doesn’t say who’s going to build the new ones we’ll need. Nor who will finance them. Nor how this will help us with our feeble Paris targets. Even given his soft sell, Josh is at odds with the review he is flogging. Finkel is clear

“Investors have signalled that they are unlikely to invest in new coal-fired generation …”

Luckily, few people still watch the ABC, increasingly a Coalition megaphone, – and Barry won’t press him on key details. He allows him to claim that CCS is a real possibility for future investment in lower emission technology.

While Finkel proposes a new regulatory framework, his review leaves open the central issue of a CET, a clean energy target, which it says is “a role for government”. No preferred emissions threshold is offered. The stage is set for the coal lobby and its allies to press to raise the bar high enough to permit the operation of current coal-fired plant.

Above all, although he promised the Senate that his review would help Australia meet its Paris agreement and reduce its economy-wide emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2030, The Chief Scientist’s report won’t help.  The modelling Finkel provides for electricity sector emission reductions, 28% below 2005 levels by 2050 suggests a figure about half what it should be. His own Climate Change Authority Report confirms this.

Wages stagnate, consumer confidence is down, unemployment remains high and underemployment is huge. Since his better economic managers came to power with their jobs ‘n growth slogan, Scott Morrison has little to crow about.

Growth has slowed from 2.6% to 1.7%. While unemployment rate may have remained at 5.7%, wages growth has continued to fall below its then record low of 2.1% to an even lower mark of 1.9%.

Yet Morrison is all over the news in an orgy of self-congratulation and oleaginous good cheer this week.

Our Federal Treasurer says our economy is “transitioning” from a mining boom to a more diversified economy. Better times await us. It sounds like a slogan Theresa May sagely rejected. Ross Gittins, moreover, reminds us that mining accounts for 7 per cent of Australia’s total GDP and employs 230,000 people or 2 per cent of Australia’s workforce.

Transitioning is not reflected in investment projections. Mining investment is forecast to fall another 22% next year, and a 6% expected rise in non-mining investment will not compensate. Yet Morrison is mindlessly upbeat.

Despite our government’s worshipping the same neoliberal creed and embracing the same trickle-down tax cuts which bring income inequality in Theresa May’s Britain to 1930s levels, we are nowhere near technical recession here. Nowhere near.

ScoMo, our bullet-dodging Federal Treasurer, juggles dodgy figures to claim that we have overtaken the Netherlands in a record-breaking run of prosperity but only if we misread Dutch data, prefer GDP figures to GDP per capita, confuse job ads with real employment and hope that after mining and real estate, something will turn up.

Alas, Morrison fails to look to Japan. As Saul Eslake shows, Australia would need to avoid consecutive quarters of negative real GDP growth until at least 2024 if it is truly to be able to claim this “world record” as its own.

Greg Jericho also points out Morrison is factually incorrect. Australia beat the Netherlands in June 2013. The Dutch avoided a technical recession for only 87 consecutive quarters. But technical recession is a “dopey” measure. We are being conned. In 1982, Holland’s economy had shrunk by 2.5% in one year even if “technically” it had avoided recession.

Similarly, in December 1991, three months into our golden run, the Australian economy was 1% smaller than it was the previous year. Technical recessions rely on GDP. If we use GDP per capita we have had two recessions since 1991.

Yet these are both arbitrary measures. We may as well use the percentage of working age people in work.

On this measure our record of economic activity is pathetic.

Australia’s economy grew by a whopping 0.3 % in the first three months. Nothing we could do about that, the Treasurer says.  He blames the weather. It could be a genuine world first.

“Weather conditions during the March quarter did affect exports,” Morrison says. … Exports declined by 0.6% in the quarter, detracting from growth … particularly in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.”

Morrison’s waffle does little for the 730,000 Australians out of work and the 1.1 million who are underemployed but our national pride rallies after a full body Reiki massage from visiting US Alliance evangelist James Clapper, whose appearance is part of the total care package conferred upon the nation by our special relationship with Washington.

The most marvellous contribution of Coalition politics to our national well-being, apart from the politicisation of the public service including, now, our Chief Scientist is surely our nation’s US sycophancy, a state of servile dependency on one great and powerful friend given expression by “man of steel”, US lackey and war criminal, John Winston Howard.

“Lying rodent” Howard, as Russell Galt swears metadata pack-rat, AG Brandis called the then PM, was inspired to invoke the US Alliance while flying home post 9/11.

“While high over the Indian Ocean”, he lyrically records, he saw how we could join a “war on terror” proposed by the US. It led us to send troops to Afghanistan, from whence some were destined never to return, and to provoke a wave of international terrorism by illegally invading Iraq on a pretext of seizing WMDs.

Howard, as Albert Palazzo’s recent declassified report shows, aimed to boost our US Alliance, but his big success was simply in helping make Australia a much better target for terrorism, as Paul Keating pointed out last year. It’s been the elephant in the room ever since however much MPs gibber about how terrorists hate our way of life.

Howard’s grand claims are exposed. Enforcing UN resolutions, stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction and global terrorism –  even rebuilding Iraq after the invasion, are dismissed as “mandatory rhetoric” – a term which also fits the treacle from a series of US VIPs visiting Australia recently to profess America’s undying love for us.

We love to be flattered. Happy clappers abound at the National Press Club’s US-Alliance revivalist meeting in Canberra, Wednesday, when former Director of National Intelligence, James Robert Clapper Jr drops in again for a post-retirement rub-down after his top-secret visit here last year. This week it’s a very public sharing of the love.

ANU kindly gives Lucky Jim a gig as a Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor and a spot at the ANU Crawford Australian Leadership Forum where the old spook will put the wind up the nation’s movers and shakers.

Keep an eye on China, he says. Beijing may interfere with your politics just like Moscow did with ours. The Russians are not our friends, he warns. The Donald is done for. Watergate pales in comparison to Trump’s Russian allegations.

While cooking Trump’s goose, Clapper is also here to remind us all how much the US means to us in trade and regional security and how we need to keep faith with our big brother and suffer Trump awhile. Our bonds go deep.

“The values (and interests) we share, the things that fasten our two countries together, far transcend a transitory occupant of the White House,” he promises. He’s not wrong: the US has been doing us over for decades.

We like it that way. Not one of the assembled hacks can bring themselves to ask soapy Jim why in 2007, only a few years after it was signed by John Howard, our AUSTFA, a “free trade” agreement supposed to increase Australian access to the US market led to the highest trade deficit we have ever had with any trading partner.

DFAT statistics reveal that the United States is Australia’s second-largest two-way trading partner in goods and services, worth $70.2 billion, as of 2015 yet, Australia imports more than double the amount from the U.S. and is 15th on the list of U.S. principal export destinations.

So much to fear, so little time. Clapper also adds a dash of Brandis’ Sinophobia as he warns how China may try to buy in to our democratic processes. Beware of donations and watch out for fake news, he adds, helpfully. Who would have thought?

Clapper would applaud our surveillance strategies; urge us to keep our metadata. No-one asks him why his NSA illegally collected data at all on millions of Americans or why he chose to deny this in 2013, before a senate committee, inspiring calls by US lawmakers for his indictment for perjury.

Such a challenge would amount to blasphemy. It is an article of modern Australian political faith that any self-respecting scribbler sing praise to our superiors, or their mates, including visiting American political mendicants.

Anything less would be heresy. And Illegal. As Gillian Triggs reminds us we are fast making it illegal to challenge our government. Triggs, of course, is by no means alone in voicing her concern over a government by secrets and lies.

Only October, for example, UN special rapporteur, independent expert Michel Forst recommended we continue to press for an Immigration Department that is open and accountable and which doesn’t hunt down whistle-blowers.

Forst’s report concludes that Australian governments have effectively gagged civil society advocates with secrecy laws, funding cuts and restrictive contracts that prevent them speaking up about human rights abuses.

It’s a theme taken up by Lenore Taylor who reflects on the Tory automaton Theresa May’s election loss. Scott Ryan, Special Minister of State and runaway winner of biggest family bible at government swearings-in is keen to tell groups they can get funds from government but only if they pack in the advocacy lark. Give up their reason for being.

Lenore is right. Democratic government is about enabling advocacy. Respect. And it’s about governing for all. If there were a message in it for Turnbull it might go like this:

You can’t deliver on your hollow promises of jobs and growth, so stop making them. Start listening. You’ll see that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Heed the opinion polls. Stop the play-acting. Spare us the speeches and the sloganeering. To adapt a slogan on a billboard in the UK somewhere: Jobs and Growth, my arse.

Take a long hard look at yourself. If all you are is a front for the bankers, businessmen and big investors, if all you can do is subsidise a dying coal industry, still hell-bent on profit at the cost of life on this planet, stop faking it.

There’s never been a more exciting time to call a snap election.

If all you can offer are tax cuts to the rich, spare us the hokum; the empty cliches of trickle down economics. The drivel about flexible hours and delivery options. Stop the con about non-existent growth in jobs and higher wages.

Above all, stop pretending terror is cured by curtailing our freedom and riding rough-shod over our legal system. Get out of America’s wars, however, much you may be flattered by your wily big brother’s attentions.

Or continue to repress advocacy and free speech; repeat your meaningless slogans about national security. Persecute the poor, the frail and the elderly. But you won’t stay in government very long.  You don’t deserve to. As May just found, the people are on to you.

Trump’s Paris Agreement exit spells trouble for Turnbull.

trump climate paris

 

Summertime and the livin’ is easy. A Marine Corps jazz quartet plays Gershwin, amidst the perfumed, delicate blooms and lush lawn trimmed with crab-apple trees, of the White House Rose Garden as a host of VIPs, mostly rich white men in dark suits, bask in balmy June sunshine as they gather to applaud their president’s declaration of war on the planet.

The US becomes the first country in the world to flounce off the dance-floor of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

For many it’s so much more. Can the US so readily cede international leadership? Renounce global citizenship? Hand to China the lead in clean energy?

In the Twittersphere, many are reminded of Titanic’s string quartet’s performance of Nearer My God to Thee, as the unsinkable ship sinks. For others, the formal setting underscores the chaos of Trump’s disaster movie presidency.

“Re-envisioned” in 1962 for the Kennedys, by Bunny Mellon for whom style was order and order brought pleasure, the WHRG design was inspired by Alice and the Queen of Hearts’ playing croquet in a rose garden using live flamingos for mallets, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Trump’s universe of lunacy and arrant nonsense fits in perfectly here.

Mad King Donald, is a self-styled knight errant.  It’s his duty, today, to beat a strategic retreat from the Paris Accord, although he makes his rout sound like a victory.  He will continue to wage war, moreover, on all elites who use their faith in science to conspire against US prosperity.  Above all, he will seek revenge on European leaders for laughing at him.

“At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”

I will show them who’s boss, vows the reality TV show boss who became president.

“Europe, you’re fired.”

It’s part of The Donald’s heroic struggle. Being president may be harder than he thought, but he’ll show you who’s in charge. It’s all that matters to Trump. He’s made no effort to understand the Paris Agreement. He reserves his energies for selling his decision. His mission is to misrepresent his decision in deceptively simple yet self-aggrandising terms.

“I am fighting every day for the great people of this country. Therefore, in order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord … (which is) simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States …

Trump skips from disinformation to delusion. He displays the dangerously disordered logic of a resentful paranoiac who seeks to recruit his audience to collude in his fantasies.  The Agreement is a conspiracy to steal American wealth.

“You see what’s happening. It’s pretty obvious to those who keep an open mind.”

The president’s sole reference is propaganda from the Institute for 21st Century Energy, a fossil-fuel lobby group and an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce, a pro-Republican business lobby group independent of government.

Nowhere does Trump repeat his claim that climate change is a Chinese hoax but it’s in there, somehow, in a way that leaves room for the party fearful; the likes of Tony Abbott’s tin-foil hatter Maurice Newman for whom climate change is a United Nations’ “hook” devised to impose a new world order which will upend not only freedom but also capitalism.

Nowhere does Mad King Donald acknowledge the the 630 business leaders who wrote in January demanding that he keep Barack Obama’s climate plan and stick with the Paris deal , part of a large group of major corporate leaders opposing his withdrawal. He doesn’t have time for reading, let alone acknowledge those who oppose his edicts.

Nowhere does the fruit loop show he’s aware that the Paris Agreement does not even officially take force until 2020.

Alarmingly erratic, Trump even decries the Green Climate Fund, part of a Copenhagen Agreement that he publicly urged eight years ago in a letter co-signed by members of his family. The fund is costing a vast fortune, he claims. In fact the US has contributed $1 billion out of $ 3 billion pledged or .026 percent of the US annual federal budget.

Why did he wait? Trump was just not up to spurning Europe’s leaders personally last week, at the G7 summit in Sicily, where even his sulking was upstaged by Melania’s US$51,500 Dolce & Gabbana “3D flower” jacket, a statement in itself at only $4000 less than the average American family income in 2015 of $55,775, according to The US Census Bureau.

Who can blame him? It’s been such a YUGE nine days. An audience with any pope is tiring – let alone Francis, a Greenie. Trump’s Saudi sword-dance arm sales deal, alone, would exhaust anyone, to say nothing of that collar they put on him.

And who would not be taxed by any Mid-East peace mission based on further weaponising Wahhabism?

Back in Washington’s rose-scented quagmire, however, in yet another Adams family tribute, Trump vows to stand with Pittsburgh against Paris.  Pittsburgh, meanwhile, a US leader in green infrastructure, is quick to declare itself for Paris.

“President Trump’s decision is disastrous for our planet, for cities such as Pittsburgh.” Many other US cities also rebel.  Sadly for narcissist Trump’s massive ego, the move to cleaner energy sources is underpinned by market forces.

“The United States will withdraw. From the Paris. Climate. Accord,” Trump says pausing bigly. Theatrically.

“Turn around so I can shoot you in the back,” Uncle Fester’s favourite gag, is the President’s considered response to the world; to those leaders who last week sought to engage him on keeping to the Paris climate accord. It could catch on here.

The Australian government is not to be undone by the shock news. Trump is to honour a campaign pledge? Surely not.

Yet what is to be done? Only recently our lickspittle PM gushed “We are family” toadying to Trump and to his backers and minders who include Greg Norman, CEO Shark Industries and Keith’s boy, the phone hacker Rupert Murdoch.

Someone had wangled Malcolm an invitation to a dinner aboard USS Invincible, fittingly, the US navy’s unluckiest ship now stranded on The Hudson’s toxic sludge, a war museum and shrine to all who are up shit creek without a paddle.

“Disappointing” puffs the PM. His low-wattage energy minister, Josh Frydenberg uses the same talking point. But- in a message to Abbott,  Christensen et alia who share the reptilian brain-stem of Australia’s political right-wing, a coal-powered, mining lobby-led Turnbull government publicly trumpets that on climate it’s not for turning. Yet, anyway.

Having set shamefully inadequate carbon emission reduction targets we will stick to them.  It’s our commitment. Paying homage to Monty Python’s Black Knight, for whom a mortal blow is merely a flesh wound, chief scientist, Alan Finkel, pretends the exit of the US from the global accord on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is “a blow, but not fatal.”

Turnbull harangues Parliament “we are committed to the Paris agreement and we’re on track to meet our targets”.

“That’s our commitment, affordable, reliable energy, and meeting our emissions reduction targets in accordance with the Paris treaty,” he rants.  Commitment? It’s an outrageous lie, a fraudulent misrepresentation and a complete hoax.

In August 2015, the Abbott government announced  announced plans to cut emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030 based on emissions from the year 2005. The Climate Change Authority an independent statutory advisory body then headed by Bernie Fraser revealed the Authority has recommended reductions of 45-63 per cent by 2030.

Apart from seeking weak targets, Turnbull’s vaunted “commitment” includes such initiatives as stacking the Climate Change Authority with pro-government members and opposing any notion of price on carbon or even an emissions intensity scheme.

The Coalition has also been prepared to be the only government in the world to repeal a carbon tax while it has wasted $2.5 billion on its dodgy, woefully underfunded Direct Action deal where polluters are paid to reduce emissions. Or plant trees which they may well have planted anyway. Or which major polluters were not compelled to join anyway .

Reputex warned government for its plan to meet the target, it would need between $3.3 and $6 billion extra per year.

Research conducted by Swinburne University last year concludes “Australia’s largest listed, carbon intensive companies say management lost focus on carbon matters, abandoned energy projects and didn’t have the commercial imperative to produce long-term strategic action on reducing emissions after the carbon tax was repealed.”

Such is its commitment to carbon emissions reduction, moreover, the Turnbull government will take funds from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to finance further research into carbon capture and storage. Despite the funds it has wasted already, despite no CCS ever having been successfully set up anywhere, the Turnbull government continues its pretence that existing plants are a commercial success.

Worse we should take funds from renewables to invest in them. Frydenberg has just returned from the $1 billion Petra Nova plant in Texas and gushes on ABC Radio about its success. He doesn’t mention that the maximum that the plant has been able to capture is a mere 6% of the output of an adjacent station.   No-one challenges his assertions.

Another CCS plant will open after a three-year delay with a staggering total cost of $ 7 billion.  Yet, insanely, the Coalition proposes that we continue to invest in a scheme that has never worked commercially; a money-burning pipe dream.

It’s as mad as Tony Abbott’s “axe the tax” attack where lamb roasts would cost $100 and Whyalla would be wiped off the map. His government’s abandonment of any carbon pricing scheme boosted our carbon emissions.

While it may have inspired then Environment Minister Greg Hunt to initiate a group hug on the floor of the lower house, Abbott’s “carbon tax” war inhibited investment in the renewable energy industry and helped energy costs sky-rocket.

In research for The Greens, The University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College found the average wholesale electricity price soared to $134 a megawatt-hour last summer. It was $65-$67 in the two summers the carbon price was in place.  Queensland prices nearly tripled in one year and NSW, and doubled in South Australia.

Our PM is uneasy. Trump’s last tango in Paris, his withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Accord emboldens local denialists and calls the Turnbull government’s bluff. The Coalition has no policy to deliver even its feeble commitments.

Its own ecocidal rump of carbon bandits and environmental vandals urges Turnbull to follow Trump past peak stupid. Backbenchers Ian Goodenough, Eric Abetz, Ian MacDonald, Tony Pasin and Craig Kelly clamour to exit.

Gorgeous George Christensen believes “we should never have been in it.” He worries the Paris Agreement will somehow be used by The Greens to bring in a carbon tax, emissions trading or intensity scheme, while phony Tony Abbott, who negotiated our Paris agreement calls for a freeze on the RET while he works out a way to do another U-turn.

Trump’s French disconnection is cause for celebration for Craig Kelly, who chairs both his party and parliamentary environment committees. “It’s not confirmed yet but we have the champagne on ice,” he writes on Facebook.

Later he adds “There is a more efficient way to generate energy than using fossil fuels, it’s just that mankind hasn’t yet worked it out yet.” His Facebook also expresses his support for a view that “the communists lost in Viet Nam”.

Trump’s exit is a genie that Turnbull will struggle to put back in the bottle. Or in the words of the old song,

“How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm After they’ve seen Paree ..?”

Former Abbott employment minister, Senator Eric Abetz parrots the US President’s patent nonsense that the Paris Agreement creates local unemployment in a call for withdrawal that can only put the heat on his Prime Minister.

“Australia should similarly pull back … to allow for an increased focus on supporting families and jobs in Australia”, 

Yet, as The Climate Council research indicates, a 50% Renewable Electricity scenario in 2030 will create 28,000 new jobs even after Abetz’ party under Tony Abbott did its best to cripple investment in renewable energy.

Similarly, solar energy industry alone employs twice as many US workers than the coal industry, according to research recently published in the New York Times.  Add wind and renewable energy industries employ three times as many as the coal industry, according to the US Department of Energy’s 2017 energy and employment report.

It’s a disaster for a weak leader. Malcolm Turnbull finds himself wedged between no real policy to uphold and a baying pack of climate junkyard dogs intent on tearing up an agreement that was never worth the paper it was written on.

Intoxicated by the idea of escaping from a commitment that it never understood to a cause it never believed in, the climate-change-is-crap-pack will demand more fossil fuels in its “energy mix”, its ministers’ favourite phrase.

Strengthened will be the pressure on the Prime Minister of dithering to offer even more absurdly unworkable concessions to coal miners and to heed calls for more onshore gas exploration and the lifting of fracking bans.

Yet there is no shortage of gas in Australia or globally.

Turnbull’s government will make patently absurd claims about the need to be “technology neutral” in energy while having a resources minister who follows the Peabody script and pretends it is jobs versus coal.

He will bleat about the need for a “sensible discussion” while he has to suffer a treasurer who plays with a lump of coal in the chamber.

Carbon pricing, emissions trading or emissions intensity schemes will still be forbidden because Kelly and others in the coalition’s climate change denying rump don’t want them – as if refusal is an option. While fossil fuel generators can avoid paying for their pollution the cost of high-emission power generation will remain artificially competitive.

Already this week, the government has said it will change the rule of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation so that it can be technologically neutral – evasive jargon for squandering public money on carbon capture and storage.

Expect to hear more spin advancing an expensive, commercially unviable and grossly inefficient experiment as if it were a real option.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel will report next week on how to solve the energy policy paralysis with some commentators predicting a low emissions target, a scheme where a percentage of electricity generation is achieved by designated low emissions means but not just renewables, quite possibly gas.

Perhaps, even, that unicorn clean coal will get another canter around the show ring.

No-one in government will mention that if natural gas leaks 3%, the fuel has a bigger climate effect than burning coal. Nor will they explain how the cost will not boost prices.

An existential crisis brews for Turnbull if the Trump default on Paris is construed as a victory for climate sceptics.

A weak leader, whose authority will be further eroded by evidence that his economic plan is leading the nation into recession amidst soaring energy prices he has failed to curb, the prime minister will be sorely tried by a revolt of the right-wing rump for whom, like Trump, climate change means nothing more than a means to assert a mongrel authority.

The best outcome would be for it be quickly understood that Trump’s stand is a bluff. While his turning his back on the Paris Agreement may reveal much about his psychopathology, energy generation in the US is now commercially-driven and beyond his control.

Even a president cannot re-open coal mines which are no longer commercially viable.

Official government energy policy can still do real harm, especially in cuts to clean energy research, as we have seen under Tony Abbott. There is hope, however, in the numbers of cities and states in the USA who have already declared they will keep the Paris Agreement, flawed as it may be. It is vital, above all that Australia does the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump’s tour will help to bury his presidency.

donald-trump---pope-xl_052517030917


While Donald Trump’s “Dancing with Swords” world tour of five nations, featuring an in-house Saudi arms bazaar, is a shot in the arm for Sunni Muslims and a boon to Wahhabist fundamentalists everywhere, his gratuitous insult to Nato and the other 194 nations who have also signed the Paris Climate Accord has commentators scratching their heads.

Bizarrely, Trump proposes a Saudi-led Arab Nato and on Fox and our ABC a big deal is made of his big arms deal. It’s not hard to sell arms to the world’s largest arms importer. Yet it may not be a safe long-term investment.

Saudi Arabia, is so profligate that while it earns half a billion dollars a day from oil it may be broke in five years. While its king travels with a thousand strong retinue, and his son “Deputy Crown Prince” Muhammad bin Salman can blow half a billion on a yacht, a quarter of the population lives on less than AU$20 per day.

The Arab Nato joke adds to Trump’s “kumidia alakhta” or comedy of errors. Middle East “terrorism” groups – Isis and al-Qaeda, aka the Nusrah Front – have their fountainhead in Saudi Arabia, a nation which Hilary Clinton in a Wikileaks cable notes “remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups.”

Even more worryingly, Trump attacks Iran; demonising it for “fuelling sectarian violence”.  He rebuffs the new, moderate, Iranian government in its attempts to open up communications with the West. Instead, the US will boost its alliances with decrepit autocratic regimes across the Gulf. Peace in the Middle East? Trump torpedoes his own mission.

Most of the Trump Unplugged tour is puzzling, especially, his minders’ decision to muzzle The Donald and exhibit this astonishing performance artist as if he were merely an amazing dancing bear. No reporters. No press conferences. Even Twitter is forbidden. Nothing beyond his scripted imbecilities and the odd anti-Nato, anti-Teheran tirade.

So sad. This a presidency which can conduct its entire foreign policy in 140 characters. Or fewer.

…like some mute Caliban…

It’s a big risk, too. The president’s only protection from the weight of expectations; being totally crushed by his role is to shoot his mouth off. Now he’s being paraded, like some mute Caliban, a poor credulous monster on a world stage; terrifying in his manifest inadequacy. You can see all of Europe’s leaders talking behind his back. What is going on?

In the Vatican, Wednesday. A gimlet-eyed Francis is on Trump’s case. He calls the president on his pivot to Potizza.

What do you feed him? Potizza?

“Potizza?” Mrs Trump asks in some surreal catechism. “Yes.” But her monster, Trump, can hear only the word pizza.

Francis teases the First Lady, playfully fat-shaming her husband, after a private audience with The Donald, incredible bulk, deal-maker extraordinaire and fearless leader of a single-page nine bullet point brief irony-free world.

Potizza is a Slovenian pastry. The Donald is a patsy. He’s been sent on a papal visit by his minders to him get out of Washington. Talk up US arms deals with the Saudis. Boost stocks. While he’s at it he can get peace in the Middle East. Above all, there is to be no news. It has to be repeated. No conferences. No reporters asking questions.

Sound like a plan? The Donald’s nine-day, five nation itinerary is put together mid-flight by 36 year-old Jared Kushner, Trump’s spoilt son-in-law, whose expertise in rack-renting and real estate speculation is an ideal fit for diplomacy. The president is confined to Kushner’s wooden script on teleprompter and the odd, informal, social awkwardness.

…the president’s short attention span …

Kushner is Trump’s chief foreign policy adviser because Rex Tillerson goes on and on. But even his First Roadie cannot fix the president’s short attention span, his lack of curiosity, his aversion to detail or depth.  The Donald can wing it in Israel where his attacks on Iran help distract from their settlements and it suits the Saudis to indulge their new champion. Yet even then the president goes gaga with Bibi.  The trip is a minder’s conceptual and logistical nightmare.

Compounding his worries over how to manage a testy father-in-law who can’t read briefings, Kushner is accused Friday by Russian Ambassador Kislyak, of trying to set up a secret communication with The Kremlin, using Russian channels, at a meeting attended also by Michael Flynn, December 1 or 2, during Trump’s transition, a move that would shield them from monitoring by US intelligence. The White House declines to comment.

Kushner excuses himself several days early and returns to Washington, subdued but with no intention of standing down.

Nothing to see (or hear) here, National Security Adviser HR McMaster claims later, gamely evading the point.

“We have back-channel communications with a number of countries so, generally speaking about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner,” McMaster says. He doesn’t say that he approves of a private citizen, such as Jared Kushner was at the time setting up such a channel.

Kushner’s alleged push for a secret channel to Moscow is the most damning accusation yet in the FBI investigation of Trump’s Russian links. And most difficult to explain. Why would Trump’s team need such a scheme? Why did Kushner leave his meetings with the Russians off his security clearance form? How can his lawyer claim this was an oversight?

Trump’s tour  begins and ends with damaging allegations of impropriety. It does nothing to take any of the heat.

…alienates Nato leaders…

In fact, Trump unplugged, The Tour, turns up the heat. The accidental president alienates Nato leaders by haranguing them for not paying their fair share.  He’s incorrect and the rebuke is likely to backfire. Nato nations, may challenge US anti-Russian propaganda; the reality of Russian attack. Those facing austerity budgeting may question the benefit of maintaining an expensive commitment to a Cold War organisation already 25 years past its use-by date.

The president also is at odds with the G7. After three days of lobbying and despite Pope Francis’ prompt last Wednesday in presenting him with his Encyclical on Climate Change, he wimps out of giving the other six members a US endorsement of the Paris Climate Accords. Will the US be the first of the 195 signatories to withdraw? The suspense is not inspiring.

Trump’s excursion into Arab politics is also disturbing. As the Saudis collar him; claim him in a feudal way, the US publicly backs a nation whose Wahabbist fundamentalism helps breed terror, it deepens Shia- Sunni enmity by branding Iran as the real enemy of Mid East peace.  For corporations in the war business, however, the trip is a YUGE success.

Lockheed, Raytheon (RTN), Boeing (BA) and General Dynamics (GD) all see their shares rocket Monday following news of the deal. Raytheon, Lockheed and General Dynamics reach record highs, as does defense company Northrop Grumman (NOC). Defence stocks have been soaring for the past year on hopes that US defence spending would continue to increase despite federal budget cuts elsewhere. It has risen $54 billion. Boeing stocks are up 18% this year.

Perhaps the pope was being broadly allusive in his joke about Trump’s gluttony. He would know that this most narcissistic, materialistic president cares only about himself. No-one would need to tell Francis that Trump worships only wealth. Luckily, thanks to his irony by-pass, the joke goes over The Donald’s  head. A notorious fat-shamer himself, the newly badged Emir of Mar a Lago misses the dig or the souvenir family photo with Pope could have turned ugly.

Only last year, Trump called Francis “disgraceful” for questioning his faith. Of course, there’s a Church of Gordon Gecko.

Beyond his sly dig at Al Donald’s girth, doubtless, is Francis’ fatherly concern that the easily-fatigued, elderly US president keep his strength up on his first big OS gig. Those Saudi sword dances can take it out of a man. Not to mention the weight of the King Abdulaziz al Saud Collar  the Saudis have just thrust upon him. What were his advisers thinking?

Is it dementia?

Francis has foresight. By Saturday, a bewildered Trump will lose the plot. Stand up. Wander off set during a joint press conference in Tel Aviv with Bibi Netanyahu. Is it dementia? Luckily, shocked staffers, rally sufficiently to turn the dazed and disoriented president around and head him back to Bibi for another photo op and yet another bizarro handshake.

What did happen in the Vatican? Did Trump tread on his holiness’ toes? The two leaders are not close given the Pope’s interest in climate change is at odds with the billionaire president’s desire to make more of it. Make money out of it.

Reopen coal mines. “Trump digs coal” was one of his winning campaign slogans. End the war on coal. Jobs. His Energy Independence Executive Order suspends more than half a dozen measures enacted by Obama and boosts fossil fuels.

Mad Matt Canavan and barking Barnaby Joyce have been taking notes for Adani, a local version of the same show.

Other things have inflamed the relationship. Francis’ warned voters last year that Trump is not a Christian.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said publicly during Trump’s lumbering run for office, pointedly, keeping the Church out of US politics.

..like a mobster’s widow.

Treading carefully to observe Vatican protocol, however, are Trump’s women. Their black, funereal outfits, headgear and stiff posture offer an Adams family album look to photographers, while Melania’s long-sleeved Dolce and Gabbana outfit a is almost certainly a nod to local industry, della moda Italiana and not an attempt to look like a mobster’s widow.

Is Trump’s presidency mortally wounded? Impeachment, experts warn, is a long and uncertain process. The White House is getting all lawyered up for a fight. Yet while reports of its death may be premature, this week Trump’s team certainly appears zombified. Trump’s trip, his first big foreign adventure has created more headaches than it cured.

Trump unplugged is a YUGE step away from peace in the Middle East. It reveals a White House in the grip of Neocon hawks who are cynical enough to present arms sales to the Saudis as some kind of peace initiative.

Above all Trump’s tour has cast doubt on US leadership in Europe and revealed the president to be a coward on climate change. In dramatically revealing his ineptitude to the world, his gig has diminished his credibility and his legitimacy.

Nothing good can come of it although it will accelerate his presidency’s demise.

Trump presidency in real danger; the fall-out will be wide.

trump mad

“I put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal – for Donald Trump.


“I get great intel … people brief me on great intel every day,” Donald Trump boasts. You can tell he’s just busting to share. Show his visitors what a big shot he is. He loves to be liked. Instead, his net approval rating is below zero although he can boast he’s the only president to achieve this within his first 100 days in the White House.

Suddenly The Donald’s spilling the beans, sharing all the classified dot points he has been entrusted with about the latest, HUGE ISIS plot and everything.   A short attention-span is his characteristic, says Tony Schwarz who wrote The Art of the Deal for Trump, it’s impossible to keep him focussed on anything except his own self-aggrandisement.

Trump is big-noting himself to Russian foreign minister, salty Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, 10 May, at a private meeting to which Russian state media only was invited. The White House, for once, is being prudent. Two years ago, Lavrov was recorded calling the Saudis “fucking imbeciles”.

But Trump has more to over share. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.” The New York Times confirms from official documents. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Later The Donald claims he has a right to blab. Is the president trying to impeach himself? Or is this some new post-truth defence against collusion? The nation is flabbergasted this week by the sensational revelation that Donald Trump has shared classified intelligence with the Russians while bragging; showing off about all the secret stuff he knows.

The extraordinary events are the latest episodes of Mar a Lago Hillbillies, a top-rating US presidential soap opera about the rise of a tangerine-tanned former reality TV boss and his gold-digging family. This week in Russia-gate the show blends all the electrifying suspense of the McCarthy era red witch hunt with the Whodunit mystery of Watergate.

Luckily, Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Showboat Bishop drops everything and dashes to help Trump, nine days later. Be there for him, almost. While she could not possibly know what he’s said, she’s sort of right behind him, more or less.

JBish is also in New York for an audience with wacky war criminal Henry Chicken-hawk Kissinger, a step vital to Australia’s application to join the UN Human Rights Council. There’s so much to gain from the wily old wire-tapper.

Julie knows her mentor once helped stage-manage genocide in East Timor. Right wing Latin American dictators who killed trade union leaders? Henry helped overthrow a democratically elected government in Chile. He urged Richard Nixon to wire-tap his opponents, including staffers and journalists. Julie sighs. So much to learn. So little time.

Kissinger got a Nobel Prize for his efforts to end the Vietnam War. These included extending it for five pointless years and  paving the way for Pol Pot and the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge.

“Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy,” he says in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s The Final Days. Comedian Tom Lehrer protested that Kissinger’s Peace Prize made political satire obsolete.

Julie shyly reminds Henry how her country loves Netanyahu and other strong leaders. How being strong helps Australia keep its borders protected; keep ourselves tough and buff. Just look at Peter Dutton’s wonderfully humane handling of the close of Manus Island. Exemplary. No-one lectures us on human rights. We are proud of our record.

Australia’s treatment of those now in their fourth year in gaol on the islands of Manus and Nauru is “not as a negative at all” as far as our UN bid is concerned, she says, just a way of stemming the flow of people-smuggling and preventing deaths at sea. Naturally, we’ve had to move things along on Manus which is due to be demolished at the end of June.

But we’ve made provision. A few can go to East Lorengau where they face beatings from locals who hate them.

The rest can go to Moresby where they won’t be beaten up or robbed if they stay inside cheap hotels. There are no jobs there anyway. Or they can return to certain persecution. Or get swapped to the US – if and when they’ve passed the “extreme vetting”, a little something Donald plans to whip up later, that he says will be imposed on a deal he detests.

When it’s invented, extreme vetting will detect “American values;” screen out anyone who is not prepared to “embrace a tolerant American society.” Our own PM has a similar scheme in mind to help us select the right type of migrant.

Peter’s also doing terrific stuff rounding up asylum seekers who just rip off tax-payers by living here and not producing any paper-work. He’ll deport 7,500 into war zones and further persecution and to countries with the death penalty.

Of course, our AFP helps prosecutors in countries which have the death penalty, but the worldwide abolition of the death penalty still remains one of Australia’s goals. We have to be practical and “appropriate“.  JBish puts a lot of thought into her vocabulary. You can tell. A cut in her budget has just gone into $300,000 extra funding for the AFP.

But Trump’s in trouble. Australia’s Foreign Minister releases a statement in support of his indefeasible behaviour.

“… The conversations the President has had, are, to our understanding, within the type of conversations that one would expect leaders to hold,”

Julie Bishop tells every nationwide press outlet. One does one’s best.

Betraying top secret information – bragging about sacking your nut case FBI director? It’s all bog-standard, run of the mill diplomacy, really, even if, as the New York Times observes, it rather strengthens the idea it’s intended to dispel. Surely no-one doubts “the president dismissed Comey primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives?”

Amazingly, incredibly, Bishop’s defence is simultaneously expressed by Teresa May and a swarm of other US bot-flies in the coalition of the willing who all chorus their independent, spontaneous support. Orchestrated damage control? Never.

If he ever read anything, Trump would take little heart in Bishop’s vacuous endorsement but he’s on to his next big crisis.

Former FBI Director James Comey claims Trump asked him to lay off investigating former national security advisor and Turkish Foreign Agent Michael Flynn because – apart from illegally secretly discussing US sanctions with the Russian Ambassador to the US last December – Mike’s a real nice guy.  I mean I really want him back on the team.

Trump also asked Comey about imprisoning reporters for publishing classified information, reports The New York Times.

Whatever he thinks of muzzling the press, Big Jim, who loathes Trump and everything he represents. Schwarz identifies the essential Trump as his willingness to run over people, the gaudy, tacky, gigantic obsessions, the absolute lack of interest in anything beyond power and money.” Comey formally notes the attempt to obstruct the course of justice. Things go pear-shaped for the orange Commander in Chief soon after. Hugely.

Trump hasn’t helped his case. Bad-mouthing Comey to Lavrov and Kislyak is not a wise career move.

A bombshell follows.  A special counsel is appointed, the widely-respected former FBI Director, Robert Mueller. He’s set to look into “The Russian Thing” as Trump calls it – and anything else he thinks looks fishy such as the Flynn Thing or the Blab Thing. The nutcase thing will probably take care of itself. The inquiry is now a criminal investigation.

Investigation of team Trump’s Russian links moves up a notch even briefly bumping news of the world laptop terror scoop. But it’s not entirely eclipsed. The Donald has confirmed he can’t be trusted with classified information. It will prove a most costly blunder – even if the details of the laptop blab sound suspiciously like a setup.

Classified Israeli intelligence warns the US that ISIS would use laptops to bring down planes. Terrorists may carry on laptops and use them to detonate explosives in the aircraft’s cabin, warn the spooks. News even emerges of a foiled plot involving an explosive-filled iPad. Talk about product placement. Details, naturally, are top secret.

For us, the jig is up. Australia’s government leaps aboard the nearest flight of hysteria to ban laptops and tablets from the cabin. Safer, by far, to stow devices in the cargo hold where an explosion may only bring down the entire aircraft.

Yet it’s not just about the laptops. Trump has named the city where the diabolical plot is being hatched. He’s identified an agent, causing a furore among US intelligence officers and their Israeli counterparts. Can he escape this lynch mob?

Trump digs deep. Using his  signature double switcheroo, he denies he’s blabbed, then blabs about his blabbing.

For Tony Schwarz, lying is The Donald’s second nature. He believes whatever he says at any given moment is true – or sort of true – or at least ought to be true. He lies strategically. He has a complete lack of conscience about it.

As one Washington wag puts it, George Washington was a president who couldn’t tell a lie; Richard Nixon was a president who couldn’t tell the truth. Donald Trump can’t tell the difference. Luckily a bit of gun-running has to be done.

Peddling weapons to Saudi Arabia turns out to be TREMENDOUS; helps rescue Trump from a slump. The human hyperbole toddles off into the record books, extended family in tow, to clinch the biggest arms deal in American history.

Cue massive spontaneous applause from the conga line of suck-holes. Our ABC describes the arms sale at first as part of the president’s focus on “forging peace” in the Middle East. Even The White House modestly calls it, “fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East.” Later ABC reports go big on dollar values.

At $110 billion immediately and $350 billion over ten years, it’s a neat deal which son-in-law Jared Kushner has been keenly negotiating and will help the Saudis supply arms to Syria, Egypt, Lebanon. It is also part of US strategy to create a bulwark against Iran.  Relax. Australians can still feel secure, ten per cent of all US weapons exports will still go to us.

Trashier than the Kardashians but with sensational appearances from not one but two former FBI Directors and a guest spot from the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who is visiting Washington not only to watch on as his Embassy goons beat up US protestors but to stop Trump arming Kurdish fighters in Syria, Mar a Lago Hillbillies has a breathtakingly unpredictable plot.

Sharing many themes and values with much of Australian politics, Mar a Lago Hillbillies  is all about heroic martyrdom. Serving hardworking Americans by cutting taxes for the wealthy and slashing services to the poor while raising pensioners’ energy bills and elevating global warming and boosting atmospheric pollution, a virtuous, yet totally misunderstood but beloved popular leader is persecuted by left media and toxic Washington insiders. Out to get him.

Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean the bastards aren’t out to get you, as Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton well know. And it’s politically expedient to play the victim. “The single greatest witch hunt of a politician in US history”, gripes The Donald, perhaps the greatest witch hunter yet to inhabit the Oval Office, as his sacking of Comey backfires.

So unfair. A soft political coup or even an auto da fe may in fact await America’s presidential heretic. Despite stiff competition, he remains, by far, its most dangerously inept leader. But his biggest sin is that he won’t take advice. Mike Pence disappears. Washington gossips about Trump’s removal from office on the grounds of mental incapacity.

“They will say he has Alzheimer’s” claims pal Roger Stone, a “sinister Forrest Gump”, a mutual friend of Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn, the lawyer who earned unparalleled emnity as Senator Joe McCarthy’s chief witch-hunter. Naturally attracted to The Donald, by his values, Stone is a self-professed “dirty political trickster” from Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign and an inveterate attention-seeker for whom notoriety is better than no press at all. He warns of a cabinet coup.

Even without Stone’s conspiracy theory, Trump’s abuse of Comey is a tad ungrateful. Comey helped Trump’s campaign and caused a furore by reviving claims Hilary Clinton made “careless use” of a private email server. It remains an unprecedented public discussion and communication with Congress  by an FBI Director just prior to an election.

Could they be frenemies? There was a moment of bromance. On 22 January, during a ceremony, Trump called Comey over from where he was hiding against the curtain to hug him in public, a gesture which Comey found “disgusting“.

More repugnant was Trump’s attempt to recruit the FBI Director at private dinner. He asked me to pledge my personal loyalty, says Comey who Cordelia-like offered his honesty instead, offended by what he saw as an egregious impropriety.

Trump summarily dismissed his FBI head. Despite plenty of gratuitous slagging, he’s providing conflicting accounts for firing him. Comey fudged the Clinton case, (although he was full of praise at the time).  Comey’s a “show-boat”. Nobody likes him. “The Russian thing” is a hoax and a tax-payer funded charade. Now Comey’s a nutcase.

Is it a clumsy Trump cover up? Almost certainly. The FBI director discussed his agency’s investigation into Russian meddling in the US presidential election – and possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign – before a Senate committee. The timing is suspicious. So, too is Trump’s attempt to threaten Comey that he may have been taped.

The tape threat is Trump’s desperation bid to salvage his story that Comey promised him three times that he was not under investigation. Comey, naturally, denies this vehemently. For his part, Trump denies ever asking Comey to ease off his pal, nice guy and national security adviser, Russophile and foreign agent mad Michael Flynn.

Complicating matters for Trump are reliable reports that Comey filed a memo documenting the President’s request. An FBI Director’s memos would be admissable evidence in the current subsequent criminal inquiry or any other.

Comey’s friend, Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the US establishment’s think tank and editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog is in no doubt about what happened:

“Trump fired Jim Comey because the most dangerous thing in the world, if you’re Donald Trump, is a person who tells the truth, is dogged, you can’t control, and who is as committed as Comey is to the institutional independence of an organization that has the power to investigate you,” Wittes tells NewsHour’s William Brangham.

Trump cries foul. The witch-finder is victim of a witch hunt. One of the least stable, most insecure occupants of The White House beyond even Nixon, Trump’s paranoid attacks on Hilary Clinton, Obama, Washington, Mexicans, Muslims, the media, aliens in our midst and other “real bad dudes” are his signature theme. He has only one other claim to fame.

No. It’s not the abomination of his second attack on Obamacare, his affordable health care Act, which will deny 24 million Americans health care. Nor his anti-Muslim travel bans. Trump’s biggest contribution is the alternative fact.

“Even my enemies would say there is no Russia collusion.” It’s not just “Look over there!”- but, “There is no “there” over there.”  He’s got millions of Americans believing him. Yet, just in case, as events unfold, he’s quick to change his story.

Now a special counsel is on his case, Trump makes it clear, Friday, he’s only speaking for himself. No-one else in the team. He, himself, directly, no Russian collusion. OK? He pulls Sean Spicer from the White House Podium.

It won’t help his cause. It won’t undo the egregious impropriety with which he has conducted himself. It won’t erase the impression that he is a president who holds the protocols of his office in contempt. Even his latest BFF, the Turnbull government, cannot save The Donald from himself.

He’s wedged himself. Now the 45th President of the United States faces an alienated James Comey on the outer, while on the inside, special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller approaches with his signature painstaking forensic particularity. He has Trump’s number.  Things will turn ugly, however, as the cornered beast lashes out.

Commentators on ABC Insiders Sunday are unanimous in reassuring Australians that the impeachment of a president is a long and difficult process. That’s not the point. Trump’s presidency is already irrevocably damaged.

Inept, inexperienced, chaotically disorganised and overwhelmingly ill-informed, Trump has destroyed whatever credibility or legitimacy he may once have claimed.

A big arms deal with the Saudis won’t save his presidency, however much he trumpets its success or however much the ABC repeats the price tag. Nor will all of the accommodation, the normalisation and the flattery that our government and other US vassals have lavished upon his presidency avert the rapidly building crisis.  We need to get real. Our accommodation of the monster has already cost us dearly.

For all its entertainment and action-packed shock value, the Mar a Lago Hillbillies is likely to have a very bad ending. None of us is likely to come out of this well.

A dodgy bastards’ budget of lies.

 

scoMo

 

“Rather than justice for all, we are evolving into a system of justice for those who can afford it. We have banks that are not only too big to fail, but too big to be held accountable.” 

― Joseph E. Stiglitz


“Pay your staff, you dodgy bastard,” a nineteen year old Sydney FC fan bellows from the stand last Sunday night at the A-League Sydney Grand Final. He’s calling out 36 year old celebrity chef, George Calombaris, whose restaurant group underpaid by $2.6 million 162 of his 430 workers over six years, an oversight which has put Calombaris off-side with the Fair Work Ombudsman, the odd hospitality industry employee, if not an entire nation.

“Pay your staff …” resonates in a week of Fairfax sackings and news of widespread exploitation, underpayment or wage slavery in a range of workplaces and locations including our homes. Despite unpaid internships, the abolition of Sunday penalty rates, cash in hand underpayment, casualisation, the rise in part time work and the use of “contractors” most of us prefer that workers be paid what they are due. Even if we have a problem paying women.

It’s a national trait. Australians will speak up for justice, however, much it may suit government to invoke our law-abiding compliance as it goes about dog-whistling our supremacists with their demands that all migrants be assimilated into “multicultural” submission. To the government’s dismay, our values have a way of finding their own voice, just as its own actions, in its “full astern” budget this week, betray a colossal, cynical pragmatism.

The Coalition is up to its own dodgy bastardry. Its big-spending, high taxing budget, “rests on principles of fairness, security and opportunity” says Morrison who will say or do anything. It’s only about its own survival; a frantic attempt to arrest the PM’s diabolical unpopularity and to cut and run from its 2014 Abbott budget fiasco.

It’s an amazing backflip. The debt and deficit disaster? Never happened. The Malcolm Roberts-esque mantra that “we do not have a revenue problem”, maintained for three years, is suddenly dropped, along with Neoliberalism.

The expenditure problem has overnight become a virtue, provided it is “good debt” ie debt the government likes.

Now the government proposes to raise taxes from middle income earners in the form of a 2.5 % Medicare levy and it will get banks to pay a new tax although, once again it will persist with the fiction that this is a levy.

Proving he has not lost his sense of irony, the Treasurer keeps a straight face as he claims Medicare is guaranteed. At least Peter Costello could smirk as he told us his new charter of budget honesty would banish all mendacity.

Above all, ScoMo screams, “this is an honest budget”. Unlike the last one?

It’s an honest budget all right, apart- that is –  from the dishonest bits such as the Medicare guarantee.  The process sounds OK. Any funds remaining from the increased Medicare levy – after paying for the National Insurance Disability Scheme (NDIS) –  (already funded by Labor) will be paid into a Medicare Guarantee Fund

“Proceeds from the Medicare levy will be paid into the fund. An additional contribution from income tax revenue will also be paid into the Medicare Guarantee Fund to make up the difference.” Provided it passes the senate.

It’s OK- provided the government does not fund the costs of public hospitals. The costs of Medicare are re-defined solely as a combination of expenditure from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) but minus the commonwealth’s contribution to public hospitals.

Although Morrison claims greater transparency over Medicare funding, transparency is just another dodgy buzz-word. It will, as The Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett points out, be much harder to follow Medicare funding.

At the heart of the Morrison magic pudding is the wild assumption that wages will increase. On ABC Insiders Sunday he talks up wage growth to 3%. There are similarly unrealistic expectations placed upon commodity prices.

Surely it would have been more prudent just to have postponed the business tax cuts, handouts which in Thursday’s Question Time, after some embarrassing fumbling, he admits will be $65.4 billion over ten years.

But no. After years of pretending that we battled economic headwinds, suddenly the world economy is on the up. Good times are just around the corner – unless you are unemployed or indigent. The war on the poor continues.

Continued is the demonising of our unemployed as unworthy; dole bludgers, druggies and a burden on society. There will be drug tests, a failed US policy, and extra tests to check that you are single and a beaut three strikes and you’re out tolerance of slip ups in honouring your Centrelink obligations. Robo-debt could be put on to that.

It’s another echo of yet another failed US tough on crime policy and a clear sign that the government is posturing.

The all-new-tough-on-bludgers-crackdown will tackle what government claims are “around 40,000 people(who) appear to be wilfully and systematically gaming the welfare system with no intention of working”. Assuming, of course, that work is available – although work could be redefined on a very part-time basis. Technically, to keep unemployment statistics off the scale, you are employed on one hour’s paid employment per week.

The dole bludger bashing is a divisive, dishonest stunt. Morrison claims it will save $632m over 5 years. As Greg Jericho patiently points out in The Guardian, however, it’s less than 0.1% of total welfare expenditure.

Budget 2017 seeks to punish those out of work. It’s somehow their fault. It caricatures the jobless as too drunk or stoned to turn up to a job interview. It substitutes puritanical political posturing, a justification of denial and withholding for any genuine attempt to share resources fairly according to need. It also punishes by neglect.

It neglects women. There is not one budget measure to address gender inequality; to promote equal pay.  The environment doesn’t get a look in either. Nor does climate change. These matters are clearly all dealt with.

Work, on the other hand, is fetishised, idealised as inherently ennobling in a cruel parody of the harsh and often demeaning realities of the 2017 workplace where exploitation and expendability are defended as “flexibility”. Again the government reveals itself to be totally disconnected from the realities of the modern workplace.

Work is increasingly rare, unfair and insecure. Penny Vickers, a Brisbane night-fill worker, has just won a nine-month legal battle against a dodgy 2011 Enterprise Bargaining Agreement which saw her pay drop by $30 per week below the award wage. Abandoned by her union, amazingly, heroically, she successfully battles alone.

Fairfax, which blew the whistle on the injustice, is in her corner-  yet to The Australian, to stand up for your rights is defiance, even if it delights in the case because it says the Fair Work Act 2009, a replacement for Howard’s Work Choices 2005 is a Labor Law and because it senses endless opportunities for union-bashing.

Forced to represent herself in the Fair Work Commission, Ms Vickers has taken on the power of Coles and the silks of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) a monster union, some 200,000 strong nationally.

Her win is a rare yet significant victory as workers battle to extract themselves from deals which the right-wing SDA has concluded with a range of major companies including Coles and Woolworths. The conservative SDA sets out to offer maximum industrial co-operation and minimal disruption to employers.  Is it a fake union?

This EBA affects 77,000 workers yet under Section 193 of The Fair Work Act, if one worker can prove that he or she is not better off overall than under the award, the FWC cannot approve it. The FWC estimates that 56% of workers could be affected. Wages withheld amount to $77 million.

Across other workplaces, there could be $300 million in underpaid wages every year. Yet it’s never just about the money.

“Pay your staff … ” has a larrikin edge; an echo of the spirit of the fight for fair pay and conditions between the owners and the workers of the Shearers’ strike of 1891, a harshly suppressed yet nation-changing insurrection which, today, thanks to dodgy bastard John Howard would be classed as “an illegal industrial action”.

Nation-building irreverence, independence or wilful insubordination are unlikely, however, to feature in any Coalition government citizenship test. Increasingly, as Fairfax workers discover, again, to their cost, this week, the spirit of the age is not agility and innovation but rather servile docility and subservience to dodgy paymasters with corporate loyalties which put profits before people.

The madly accelerating gap between capital and labour that threatens our entire society is thrown into stark relief. 115 full-time workers lose their jobs while executives get a pay rise for their part in reducing costs.

Richard Ackland quotes business writer Michael West’s claim this week that four top executives at Fairfax “were secretly gifted $6.7 million in share options in a transaction which the company failed to disclose in its annual report. The sneaky pay deal involved half of a $13.4 million options package awarded by the board.”

$13 million would help journalists’ salaries or even defer the planned reduction of payments for contributions.

Yet it’s my way or the highway in an increasingly autocratic and pro-government Fairfax management culture. Mike Seccombe reminds us Paddy Manning was summarily dismissed in 2013 for criticising the “rubbishy” sponsored corporate editorial material and “PR-driven churnalism” increasingly evident in The Financial Review.

Former Liberal Party staffer James Chessell was appointed to run federal politics, business and world coverage in February, an event which a striking worker tells Seccombe is extraordinary.

Workplace agreements are built on the premise that master knows best not that old Aussie egalitarian nonsense that Jack’s as good as his master. The new breed of Fairfax master, moreover is a creature of the investor class. And for the investor the firms’ once great papers are now valued solely in terms of their profitability.

Reporters investigations and all the rest of their craft are now merely ways to drag traffic to Domain, Fairfax’s money-making real estate site.  TPG offers to buy the business as it did with Myer in 2006.

The offer is rejected but is likely to resurface. As Ian Verrender warns, a successful bid will usher in a similar pattern of asset-stripping that has left Myer a shell of its former self. Relisted on the stock exchange and floated to investors at $4.10 in 2009, the company has declined in value ever since is now worth $1 per share

But Fairfax reporters stopped work, in part, to call attention to a matter of national security far graver than any trumped up terror threat. Our once robust national press is about to collapse. A pillar of democracy is in danger.

It’s not just us. The Australian could have the plug pulled at any moment. The News Corp tabloids are struggling. The Guardian’s in a perilous financial position. It’s a looming national crisis.”

For Peter Dutton, however, it’s a real bonus. The Immigration Minister has yet to account for his utter refusal to produce any evidence for his outrageous slur that asylum-seekers on Manus Island were fired upon in retaliation for some unspecified sexual abuse. Nothing but good can come of the loss of Fairfax, in his opinion.

Speaking on Sydney’s (Fairfax-owned) 2GB on Thursday, in his regular sledging session, he puts the boot in.

“I thought the productivity of Fairfax went up last week with the strike. I don’t think lives were affected one way or another,” he sneers. “I think people realise you can live without reading Fairfax newspapers. I think it’s a better way to lead your life – that would be my advice.”

Being held to account is something which does not sit well with Mr Dutton. Nor does it suit our banking oligopoly which are being asked to pay a new tax, a notion they claim which was foist upon them with no consultation. Consultation in this context means a chance to give the government its instructions. There will be hell to pay.

Already, Ian Narev, CEO of The Commonwealth bank who was paid 12.3 million last year, has told the Treasurer that the bank will have to pass on the new tax. Morrison is not budging – not at this stage anyway. He must know that our banks are the most profitable in the world. Their profits in 2016 were a staggering 3% of our total GDP.

Nor is ScoMo in any way discombobulated by the threat. The government will still get the money. In an interesting but equally predictable twist, the banksters are following the same script as the miners who successfully forced a backdown seven years ago for the Rudd Labor government. Bernard Keane says they are recycling the same lies.

The rest of the scenario is quite different. Back in Rudd’s day there was Tony Abbott to lead an opposition in a litany of lies about how the proposed super profits tax would ruin the miners and the entire country.  And some Australians actually liked mining companies, apart from those who held shares in them.

Both these factors do not apply to the Big Four banks of our nation who contrive amongst themselves to run a ludicrously profitable monopoly – in between running governments and Prime Ministers. The banks, do, it is true have a Fairfax paper, The Financial Review on side and there has been the predictable bugling from Simon Breheny at the IPA, while for Paul Kelly at The Australian, politics is knocked off course by the populist drumbeat.

Putting to one side how many of these commentators may own bank shares, which despite the banks’ propaganda number a swag of institutional and foreign investors as opposed to the mainly Mum and Dad investor ploy – expect to hear more of how the process has been at fault and how investors will be driven elsewhere. There will be a lot of bumf about our need for a strong an profitable banking sector rather than four profiteering banks.

Expect to hear how the banks saved us from the GFC and not a word about how the Rudd government successfully protected the banks. Expect to hear less about the reality. How the government is collecting $6 billion over four from our big four banks while contracting to deliver them $7 billion in company tax cuts over a decade.

What is needed, however, is some cheeky teenager in the stands to shout:

“Pay your dues you dodgy bastards.”