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.

Can Trump and Kim’s Singapore Summit farce alert us to the dangers facing our own democracy?

trump and kim summit

 

“A new story, a new beginning, one of peace. Two men, two leaders, one destiny. A story in a special moment in time. When a man is presented with one chance that may never be repeated, what will he choose?”

High-tech-sci-fi labs, fast trains and a slam-dunking basketballer flit across the screen as a bizarre, four minute US mobile-propaganda-video, set to a dramatic musical score, fires our national and international imagination this week.

Fox & Friends host, Abby Huntsman, almost steals the show with a Freudian slip, however, when images of Trump, disembarking Air Force One, en route to his date with destiny at Paya Lebar Air Base, in Singapore, appear on screen.

Regardless of what happens in that meeting between the two dictators, what we are seeing right now, this is history,”

Two dictators? Single-handedly, deal-maker Donald Trump wrangles North Korea to the negotiating table. So he says. It must be a master of the art of the deal thing. Details are hazy and scant, but a brace of Norwegian anti-immigration politicians want give The Donald a Nobel Peace prize for his promo alone. Even Australia’s PM says he’s dead impressed.

“Well look, [he] gave it a red hot go”, Trump’s lackey, Malcolm Turnbull, tells Hobart Radio. Mal’s in Tassie, the apple (and other fruit machine) isle, boring Braddon voters rigid before the by-election.

“Red hot go” is a cliché the PM stole from ScoMo. It rivals “hard-working Australians” who, amazingly, are always virtuously succeeding in small businesses.

Yet ScoMo’s quick to call out our welfare bludgers who are a burden on the economy. As are our oldies. Low wage earners  – if not all – workers are shirkers. Poverty is God’s way to punish the lazy. Expect a national basics’ card soon.

Scott’s been cocking up the economy. The MP for Cook has also been cooking the books.  He rants about how his government has created a million jobs since it came to power. It’s a hoax. No-one counters his claim with the fact that the population grew by 1.6 million in the same period. His assurance of prosperity is based on a lie.

For the first time in history, says The Australia Institute, more than half of our workforce do not have secure full-time employment. Insecure work, with no holidays, super, or sick leave, is rising dramatically.

31.7 per cent of employment is now part time, the highest percentage to date, while the rest of our increasingly marginalised, alienated workforce is made up of self-employed, casual and underemployed workers.

Morrison crows about our 3.1% GDP; says we’re on the global leaderboard. It’s sheer nonsense. As Alan Austin notes, in Crikey, 3.1% in the current global environment is a fail. APEC economies, the 21 countries sharing Australia’s Pacific rim region, average GDP growth of 3.8% or more. Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Chile all exceed 4.0%. Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia top 5.0%. Vietnam, China and the Philippines are over 6.0%. Australia is lagging in the bottom half.

Being a Coalition Treasurer, however, and backed by the Howard era myth of better economic managers, Morrison can say what he likes. Our media lap it up.

His leaderboard nonsense is a complete falsehood. “Australia has climbed back to the top of the global leaderboard”? Not remotely true. Current GDP growth figures for 185 economies, published by Trading Economics, show Australia’s 3.1% ranks equal 96th. We are in the bottom half of the leaderboard, nowhere near the top. Yet there are no questions for the PM on ScoMo or Trump.

No Hobartian challenges Mal’s wilful mis-reading of Trump’s stunt either. Yet he’s at odds with Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, whose diplomacy owes much to The Godfather. She keeps her friends close and her enemies closer.

“I would not be taking my foot off the throat of North Korea until I saw very concrete steps that this time they were genuine.” Military exercises? Bishop hisses. “I think the United States needs to clarify what was actually meant.”

What was meant? Trump rashly promises he will suspend Ulchi-Freedom Guardian” eight days of massive, land, sea and air live fire military exercises between the US and South Korea. Each year, tens of thousands of American forces augment its 32,000-strong garrison, America’s third-largest, after Japan and Germany. Yet Trump’s consulted no-one.

Decapitation strike drills  – aimed at Kim and his high command, oddly, lead Pyongyang to see the US-led exercises as rehearsals for pre-emptive war on the North. Already, Trump’s administration is walking away from his concessions.

Is the president is dismayed to read he’s been outsmarted by Kim? For that to happen he would have to read or pay attention during briefings. No. What does get him down is how “little rocket man” commands his people’s attention.

He speaks and his people sit up at attention,” Trump complains. “I want my people to do the same.

Trump’s Singapore summit is a superficial, publicity stunt; a quick and dirty diversion from domestic issues for both Kim and himself. The money from his tax cuts for example is going straight into the CEO’s wallet.

Like his robotic Finance Minister, tedious, Mathias Cormann, an energiser bunny who recycles the same trickle-down mantra endlessly, “lower taxes = higher profits = more jobs”, Turnbull, a hapless captive of his party’s right wing, is fated also to repeat his party’s clapped-out canard that tax cuts for US companies have created jobs. They haven’t. They won’t here, either.

In fact, while banks and companies have profited massively: US jobs are not growing; nor is investment in Wall Street. Fat bonuses are back. Profits are rocketing. Companies reinvest. Apple is able to make a $100 billion share buyback.

Share buybacks push up stock prices. They are immediately followed by company executives offloading some of their own stock to take advantage of rising prices, reports Bernard Keane. He quotes CNN,’s research “the report studied 385 buybacks in 2017 and during the first three months of 2018. Thanks to the reliable stock bounce, insiders gained a total of $75.1 million on their stock sales, the SEC researchers calculated”.

But peace is bad for business. What if peace breaks out between North and South Korea?  Wall Street worries itself sick. Luckily, it has more than enough to depress it in Trump’s trade wars with China and the rest of the world.

Trump’s tough-talking trade war has cost the stock market $1 trillion dollars, since March, according to JP Morgan’s Marko Kolanovic. The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 200 points, 6 June, following the president’s decision to include Canada, Mexico and the European Union in global steel and aluminium levies.

Yet further questions remain. Have South Korea, Japan and Australia – and even Trump’s off-White House been blindsided? Did Trump over-promise to stop the arms business-friendly military exercises over The Republic of Korea?

The video’s a White House media spin unit confection, cunningly credited to Destiny Productions. In case you miss its heavy-handed message, an incredible rewind sequence, a sort of reverse Indian rope trick, shows an array of missiles sliding back down their own vapour trails; resiling tidily into silos, denuclearising the world.

The video puff-piece is Donald Trump’s overture to a five hour speed-date with fellow enfant terrible Kim Jong-un in Singapore this week.

“One moment …” is the trailer for “A special bond” a new show in which the former reality TV boss, buddies up with paranoid narcissist confrere Kim Jong-un. It’s Trump’s East meets Western, a feelgood show which plays out at the Capella hotel, (from AU $659 per night), on Sentosa, Singapore’s Disneyland, off Singapore’s south coast Tuesday.

Madonna and Lady Gaga are known to stay at The Capella. The three bed colonial manor is a steal at AU$9946 per night.

Sentosa, as it is known nowadays, to celebrities, show-biz identities and presidents, is a former Japanese prisoner of war camp, now transformed for “high end” holiday-makers. An artificial paradise, its man-made beaches hide bodies of victims of past atrocities, Sentosa was formerly named “Pulau Belakang Mati”, (island of death from behind).

The old British coastal fort’s guns face out to sea but the Japanese invaded by land. It’s an ideal setting for Trump’s kiss and make up for the camera summit, a pact between two malignant psychopaths who only recently were vowing to annihilate each other. Their abiding mutual mistrust is suppressed as each seeks to profit personally from the PR.

“One moment…” could run for two and a half years, or until the end of Trump’s term, ABC seer, Andrew Probyn, warns Insiders Sunday. Bingo! In an uncanny coincidence, in Seoul on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explains “major disarmament” would take place over two-and-a-half years.

Buoyed by his ratings, his love of strong leaders – and mad keen to distract from Robert Mueller’s tightening net, Trump is already promising to broaden the plot to include a speed date with his BFF Vladimir Putin.

A love-in with Putin will also help draw attention away from Trump’s being sued by New York state which is taking the Trump mafia, (Trump and his three eldest children, Donald Jnr, Eric and Ivanka and the board of his charity, to court for “an alleged pattern of persistent illegal behaviour.”

Barbara D. Underwood, NY State Attorney-General, alleges Trump’s charity is just a shell for payments that benefit Trump or his businesses. She describes the Trump foundation as “little more than a cheque-book for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to non-profits, regardless of their purpose or legality.”

Trump’s Kiss me Kim propaganda video is fashionably crass and a typically unsubtle attempt at coercion and diversion.

“What will he choose?” It’s a Zen riddle, a sly tribute – surely- to Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium, a campy Japanese cooking cult classic: “Whose cuisine will reign supreme?”  Kim doesn’t have to choose. He’s already being treated as an equal.

Trump and Kim’s love-in receives rapturous self-applause which resounds around the world courtesy of such US sycophants as Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is still forlornly hoping Trump will honour his weasel word to take “up to 1250” refugees, including 29 children, in indefinite detention in our illegal offshore gulags on Manus and Nauru off our hands before Mal calls a snap election on national security and tax cuts in September.

The movie trailer and the man-made beach are also a perfect setting for a president who is artifice personified. Trump has the reality TV show host’s whitened teeth, big hair and witless patter; diplomacy effortlessly morphs into game show. Can diplotainment make America great again? Save the world from nuclear annihilation?

The president echoes the fortune-cookie platitudes of his trailer: sententious clichés will ensure lasting world peace.

“The past does not have to define the future,” he declares. “Yesterday’s conflict does not have to be tomorrow’s war. As history has proved over and over, adversaries can become friends.”

After five hours, including a sequence where Trump shows a keenly interested Kim the features of his bullet-proof limousine, the two get around to signing a document. Wait. It’s an historic agreement. Hold the front page.

Hold the fire and fury. All you need is gloves. A gloved official checks Kim’s pen to see it’s free of nerve agent poison. A microphone picks up Kim’s quip: “Many people in the world will think this is a scene from science fiction, from fantasy.”

The Singapore Sting is a breakthrough for North Korea. It may even usher in a brave new era of international diplomacy as diplotainment. The perpetually unprepared Donald J Trump defies all protocol to wing a summit with the North Korean dictator he calls “little rocket man”. Kim Jong-un outfoxes his woefully ill-briefed detractor.

But the show’s the thing. Donald Trump, a type of Reagan 2.0, is a mythomaniac who believes that he not Tony Schwarz wrote The Art of the Deal – just as Reagan came to confuse his acting in war movies with war service.

Of course, if no one is allowed to say the emperor has lost his marbles, as in the Trump administration, or in Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs super ministry, we are all in serious trouble but that is the trend which the Turnbull government favours with its draft Foreign Espionage and Foreign interference bill.

It is not reassuring that the draft bill has bipartisan support. Nor the nonsense that we face unprecedented threats from foreign espionage, even greater than the cold war.

One authority is uniformly cited, ASIO, but no further evidence is disclosed. Why? To do so would further imperil the national interest? It’s a beat up; an excuse to further curtail civil liberties. Media outfits and civil society groups such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace Change.org and GetUp! are alarmed at the way Turnbull’s government wants to rush the legislation through before the July by-elections

Nor is it encouraging when, all week, the Coalition rails against foreign interference but is willing to do nothing to curb foreign donations, especially so close to a snap election which looks as if it may be time for September.

“In an open democracy such as Australia, limiting free speech and the contestability of ideas is to destroy the very essence of our polity,” says GetUp!’s national director, Paul Oosting.

Advocacy group GetUp! publishes research to show this is precisely what the Turnbull government is doing.  Yet it’s backfiring. GetUp’s Paul Oosting, argues: “The Turnbull government’s attack on democracy and free speech is absolutely unprecedented, so it’s not surprising it has energised GetUp members like little else before.”

Trump’s erratic, attention-seeking, grandstanding with his fake treaty with North Korea this week is alarming for its sheer chicanery. Like Kim he is in it simply for his own selfish reasons, be it diversion, ego, or greater kudos at home.

Even more alarming is his abandonment of accepted protocols of accountability and consultation. Much is made of the threat of the terror cell or of the lone wolf terrorist but Trump’s impulsive, egocentric, ill-informed and entirely ill-advised upstaging of diplomacy and international relations poses a far more tangible threat to world stability.

Trump’s bluster over tariff barriers alone can only feed global economic instability and fuel increasing tension between US and China, a conflict that affects our national interest rather more directly than any foreign spy or terror bogeyman.

In such times, it is vital that we continue to demand honesty and accountability from our government; from all politicians. Above all, we must resist current Coalition attempts to curb our democratic right to free speech.

Similarly we have a right to expect representative government to respect due process. The Foreign Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill must not be rushed because of some spurious “urgency” of the government’s own making.

As Sunita Bose of Change.org writes,

People power should not fall casualty to restricting foreign influence over parliament. Our laws must be better than this. They must protect the important role Australians play in shaping policy from the ground up. The government and Labor need to urgently introduce stronger safeguards for campaigning in these bills, or risk silencing Australians who participate in our democracy.

 

Just effing get over it: Hunt’s new motto for a caring, new age, Turnbull government.

cash quotes

“Fucking get over it”, is Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s uplifting advice to 71 year old Fay Miller, Mayor of Katherine, who dared front Hunt in Canberra last December, to lobby him for more local resources to clean up contamination, a multi-billion dollar operation, from toxic fire-fighting foam used at RAAF Bases in Darwin and Tindal.

Hunt doesn’t give a toss about the environment, either. His PM is due to tell us the Coalition has squandered $2.3 billion on Direct Action, Hunt’s emissions reduction fund boondoggle.

As a back-bencher, Turnbull had the guts to predict Direct Action would waste billions of taxpayers’ dollars paying farmers to plant trees so industry could freely pollute, a scam he denounced as “a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”– akin to his current unfunded corporate tax cuts.

“F…get over it” could be The Liberal Party’s motto if it had one. So much better than “Our Plan will deliver a strong, prosperous economy and a safe, secure Australia.”

“F… get over it” would also be fair warning of the Libs’ abandoning any pretension to be a party of individual freedom when as coalition partner they constantly extend state power over us, be it beefing up surveillance, (Home Affairs plans to expand the Australian Signals Directorate to spy on all citizens), retaining data, censorship, human rights abuse, compulsory ID checks at airports for all, or violating our right to privacy.

Privacy? Personal information may be leaked to damage your reputation or discredit your case – as Alan Tudge, or his department, did to Andie Fox who dared criticise the DHS’ Robodebt reversal of onus of proof extortion racket.

In Paul Malone’s Fairfax article in February 2017, a Centrelink spokesman, General Manager Hank Jongen, commented on Ms Fox’s personal information including her history of claiming the Family Tax Benefit and relationship circumstances.

Acting Privacy Commissioner, Angelene Falk, declares this week it’s OK for Social Welfare Dictator Alan Tudge and his band of bureaucrats, to use private information “if the individual would reasonably expect it to do so.” 

Her deliberations have taken a year but her verdict boils down to this. So you think you have a right to privacy? Get over it.

The Mayor of Katherine does not like being told to “fucking get over it” – and let’s face it, who does? – even if Hunt “may reasonably be expected” to model himself on his PM.

“Fuck off and get out of my way,”  Malcolm Turnbull once told Peter King, his rival for Wentworth, in 2004. Ironically, in an aside to a scrum of reporters, King declared.

Bullying is “abhorred by everybody and true liberal values are contrary to that approach.” My, how times have changed.

Twice, Miller writes the minister, Dear Greg, you owe me an apology for your abusive outburst. But it’s more than abuse. Hunt, who, in January, vowed he was an advocate for mental health because his late mother, Kathinka Hunt, suffered bouts of bipolar disorder, was “rude, disrespectful, misogynist, boorish; arrogant“, Miller tells our ABC.

A former NT MP, Miller says she was “probably in the biggest boy’s club in Australian politics” as a Country Liberal Parliamentary Party member, but claims she has never been as insulted as she was by Hunt — who called her “feisty”.

“He went off like a light switch,” she explains. As mayor, she “believes in fairness” she adds and being an advocate for her community. “Sometimes people in parliament are seduced, so it’s important that they remember how they got there”.

Hunt counter attacks in February, bagging Miller’s own behaviour. Only last Wednesday does he offer an apology – and only then, when –News Limited claims The Herald Sun submits questions to Hunt and his PM, does Hunt phone Miller.

What a mensch! Greg’s tender, bedside manner and what the former Environment Minister tries to kid us is just “strong language” vividly evoke his government’s contempt for the welfare of working Australians, everywhere, especially those who may be over 70, female and refractory. Or regional.

Hunt’s class act, moreover, sets the tone of the week’s political theatre.

By Thursday, Labor’s Catherine King confronts Hunt in Question Time; asking whether he had been involved in any other instances “involving inappropriate behaviour towards stakeholders, public servants or staff”. King later tells Sky News Hunt appears to have “an anger problem” and his PM “had to decide whether it was befitting a minister”.

Yet Hunt is prepared to divulge only that “one case has been raised with him”.

This again concerns “strong language”, his euphemism for abusing Martin Bowles, his own department head, who has since resigned. Hunt’s defence is to claim dramatically that it was a matter of life and death: the progress of screenings for cervical cancer.

Of course the ends always justifies the means for Hunt and his party. “I think in that situation, while it was a strong discussion, it resulted in the right outcome, the program was able to be continued and I have utmost respect for the (now Head of Calvary Health) public servant involved,” Hunt bull-shits Parliament. It’s not what happened.

Martin Bowles, a highly regarded senior bureaucrat, seems to have been bullied into resigning as Head of the Department of Health, 1 September last year, after “rumours of tensions” between himself and Hunt. Bowles was tipped to become defence secretary but was overlooked in favour of Greg Moriarty, Malcolm Turnbull’s former chief of staff.

Bowles’s fraught, if not downright unhealthy, ­relationship with Hunt was a major factor in his ­decision to “abruptly end his distinguished 40-year career of public service last August”, contends The Herald Sun, Friday. The Australian claims “government MPs have privately expressed concerns there could be further tales of temper tantrums.”

Temper tantrums? Why infantilise an abuser? Bullying or silencing dissenters is not, of course, confined to the Coalition’s approach to inclusive, democratic leadership.

When the arse falls out of One Nation, this week, no-one is surprised.  But it’s as almost as comical as bankrupt Rod Culleton and his tea cup juggling. Or as farcical as Mal Roberts’ attempt to explain his citizenship.

The back end of Hanson’s One Nation panto horse departs the front. Brian Burston, backs out, mid-performance. Rips asunder the patched, well-worn costume.

Pauline’s panto horse party, her mythic white charger, ever rescuing battlers in distress or offering hope to an entire nation of deadbeat dads who hate the family court for having to pay maintenance, now lies in shreds downstage.

Can it ever be repaired? Is there a panto horse vet in the house? Hanson rushes to be comforted on the Bolt Report. Weeps buckets. “Burston’s a backstabber”, says the betrayer of her entire electorate of battlers. Backstabber Burston accuses Pauline of “a massive dummy spit” and “running a dictatorship”; both of which are fair comment.

But unwise. Pauline orchestrates a very public falling out with the NSW senator over Burston’s baffling decision to keep his promise to vote for the Coalition’s corporate tax cuts, just as she decides One Nation will renege on its deal.

It’s only the fourth or fifth change of position which the party has taken on the company tax cuts but Brian refuses to budge. Some scurrilous scuttlebutt has it that the PM wants an excuse not to proceed with the unpopular tax measure.

A high-handed Hanson kindly writes to Burston to give him his marching orders. Quit the party. Leave the senate. Now.

She’ll have to expel him from the party. Burston won’t budge. He won’t resign from One Nation, he declares. Let Pauline expel me. And he has no intention of leaving the senate.  He’ll become an independent who’ll vote with the government in the One Nation tradition.

Rumours abound that he touts himself around to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers but it’s all the fault of a matchmaking mate who didn’t tell small bore Brian that he was pleading his case. Mates go off half-cocked like that all the time.

AAP reports that the Shooters reject Burston like a shot. A spokesperson says it is not a lengthy decision.

Mad Mark Latham is now being touted as a possible recruit for the One Nation parliamentary micro-party which will soon be able to meet in the cabin of the Jabiru 230-D two-seater aircraft, bought for it by property speculator Bill McNee, a political donation which the AFP reports breaks no Commonwealth legislation. Who needs law courts?

Latham refuses to confirm or deny any overture from One Nation but he’s probably only waiting for Burston to bail out. Time is on the wing for Pauline’s vanity political party, along with La Hanson, hersel.

The consummate drama queen with a nose for trouble, flies to the UK Saturday with a parliamentary delegation. She’s hell-bent on bonding with fellow alt-right martyr Christopher Yaxley-Lennon alias Tommy Robinson, a football hooligan turned anti-Muslim rabble-rouser who is in stir for contempt of court.

Founder of the (now defunct) far right, English Defence League, banned from Twitter under its “hateful conduct” policy, yobbo Robbo is sentenced to do thirteen months’ porridge for live-streaming outside a continuing court case; a practice which could have prejudiced a fair trial.

He pleads guilty. He knows it will make an iconic free speech warrior of him.

The Drudge Report, which has 1.3 million followers, and other alt-right disinformation sites already hail Robbo as a fearless citizen journalist silenced Soviet-style by British justice. Roseanne Barr and Donald Trump tweet their support.

There’s heaps to talk about should Hanson make contact. She’ll boast how she’s closed down the Australian family court thereby advancing men’s rights, when in fact she has just made it much harder for women victims of male violence to gain legal help. Horse-trader Cormann and his party are, of course, complicit in the secret deal.

Closed down? The government’s announcement that it will “merge” the Family Court of Australia (FCA) with the Federal Circuit Court (FCC) will affect tens of thousands each year. Even the super court’s not so super jaw-breaker of a title gives a hint of the troubles which lie in store for the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA).

The changes will affect a great many of us each year. We average 47,000 divorces annually, while thousands of de facto relationships also wind up in the courts. In 2016-2017, we made 106,000 applications for family law determinations.

Naturally former failed WA treasurer, Christian Porter our current Attorney-General, is raving about the savings which the new merger will bestow upon all of us. Of course it will save confusion as well as “address costly inefficiencies” which is government jargon for providing fewer services and having to make do with fewer funds.

Porter does stop short at the Coalition favourite neoliberal weasel phrase, the “one-stop shop” but there’s no evidence at all that the merger will be any less inconvenient or any less expensive overall to families than its predecessor. It’s billed instead as “saving time and money”. Clearly, that doublespeak means government time and money. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” Tolstoy observed. Families have complex and unique problems. They need specialised help – not speed and efficiency.

Jane Wangmann and Miranda Kaye of the Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney list issues of family violence, child sexual abuse, alcohol issues, mental health concerns, and questions of parenting capacity. Time to be listened to properly and at length vastly outweighs any fast-tracking.

Fast-tracking? Was the merger rushed through to help secure One Nation’s vote on tax cuts for companies?

Why is the Turnbull government so keen to pre-empt the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC)’s review due March next year? It’s  the first comprehensive review of the family law system since the Family Law Act was passed in 1975.

There are certainly challenges in our current system. 87% of Family Law matters are heard by the non-specialist FCC leaving only 13% to the specialists at the FCA. Yet the “reforms” extend the non-specialist FCC. Cheaper, faster, better.

Faster decisions do not necessarily lead to better judgements, however, and the merger appears not only over-hasty and premature but lacking in consultation. Again, these are the hallmarks of a Turn-bull in a china shop government.

The Burston bust-up briefly upstages the Joyce soap opera when father of the year, Barnaby breaks down with stage fright, exacerbated by a shocking case of self-righteous indignation.

He cannot go on. Medicos immediately triage him on to sick leave – with a medical certificate, vouches Leader of the House, the Mouth That Roars, Christopher Pyne.

On the set of Love Among the Cinders, (a working title for what may well become a mini-series or blossom into a full-blown soap opera, Joyce is badly hurt by cruel if not outright vicious criticism of his decision to flog for $150,000 to a voyeuristic, tabloid TV show the right to publicise everything about how he and Vicky Campion found true love, a modern maid-servant swept off her feet by her Prince Charming and vice versa; a fairy tale romance come true. And, of course, the miracle of a male heir at last.

But – sheesh – just look how the media puts them all through living hell; ruins his privacy; spoils their intimacy.

Revealed in the caring and sharing spotlight is Brian Burston who vows he’ll keep his word to support his party’s Aussie battlers by voting with the government on an unfunded tax cut for big business which will go straight into company profits and do less than nothing for workers who will end up paying for it in higher taxes.

Finally, even a nation accustomed to its lunatic fringe regularly being eclipsed by its government’s own spectacular random acts of madness, is astonished to hear how Scott Morrison gets his little hands on our piggy banks.

Hardworking Australians, who mostly now delight in the riotous freedom and flexibility of casual work; liberated from such encumbrances as sick leave, holiday pay, regular hours or a living wage, thrill to learn that a public-spirited Turnbull government has just vacuumed up $2 billion of their unclaimed super.

Less than half of Australia’s workers hold a permanent full-time paid job with leave entitlements. Insecure, inadequate, underpaid work is the new normal, for the first time on record, reports, The Australia Institute‘s Centre for Future Work.

For our government, the super windfall is a win-win. Not only will the cash come in handy in fudging a return to surplus, it also helps its false narrative that union super funds are shonky – despite the Productivity Commission’s findings.

Because it doesn’t trust our super funds with our money, the Coalition argues, it sensibly pockets the money itself. A lot of money. The ATOs been swooping on 4.1 million “lost” super accounts.

Of course, the money will still be able to be claimed should its owners realise it’s theirs to claim – and provided the government passes measures in its May Budget. Pigs might fly. In the meantime, it’s a boon to its budget bottom line.

The $2 billion unclaimed super grab is “factored in”, as Treasurer ScoMo is desperate to tot up even the miserable $2.2 billion fantasy surplus, which the government bullshits it will deliver in 2019-20. It’s a promise which beggars belief and defies even its own expectation that most new found lost super funds will flow back into the active funds of workers.

The median income for all workers – that is, the amount at which half earn more and half earn less – is just $52,988. Most of us on these rates will save bugger all in super.

It would be cheaper and a far better investment of time and effort to cancel the $11 billion a year which the government spends subsidising private health insurance funds whose operations directly undermine a successful Medicare system. Put half of that into health and put the rest into boosting age pensions and welfare payments.

Minister for Jobs and Innovation and ripping off workers, Michaelia Cash gives a bravura performance this week of not answering any questions to do with anything. In frustration, Senator Murray Watt asks her if she knows the time. She has no intention of explaining how she got the AFP on to the AWU, despite there being no law broken.

She called the media to the AWU raid in a stunt to embarrass Bill Shorten. It may backfire. Sooner or later she needs to explain as to how she misled a senate inquiry on the matter. But it’s all Bill Shorten’s fault because he just can’t be trusted.

In the meantime, let us count our blessings, Cash never fails to sound as if she’s auditioning for Kath or Kim or Upper Middle Bogan. Bugger the workers. Stuff the injustice. The Coalition show must go on. And on. And on.

What’s that? You’ve got serious issues with the performance? The narrative? No. Just take a hint from the sensitive new age Mr Hunt: “fucking get over it.”

 

Hastie goes over the top while Hanson spills the beans.

turnbull and hastie

 

Petty, vindictive, political bastardry, the signature theme of our bastardised, post-modern, dog-eat-dog politics, erupts far and wide this week, from magical fabulist, US pseudo-President, mob don, Trump, to our mock-populist, One (White) Nation’s Pauline Hanson, who each abandon key political deals at the last minute. Consternation and chaos ensue.

Leaping into the fray, Canning MP, sandgroper, Handy Andy Hastie, conducts a surprise attack on his own Prime Minister. Doubtless, Hastie’s five years in Afghanistan equip the former SAS officer well for the mortal combat, cage fighting, mud-wrestling and sundry other contests vital to any Liberal MP’s advancement. He is certainly combative.

‘I have no problem with people coming after me, but just make sure you come after me and not my family’ Hastie threatens in 2015 in case anyone asks about his family and his fascinating, fundamentalist religious views.

And on matters relating to his military service, Hastie, an Abbott man, is with Peter Dutton, Angus Campbell or Scott Morrison who kept secret his ordering of boat turnbacks in not talking about “operational matters” – as if, somehow, our nation is at war; as if such information threatens, rather than strengthens, the national interest of a democratic state.

Hastie is later cleared of any wrongdoing when a soldier under his command cut off the hands of Taliban fighters in 2013. In 2015, Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop offer gushing endorsements which make interesting reading today.

“We want you in Parliament,” Bishop says. “You are an outstanding Australian who deserves to be elected in the seat of Canning and we will do whatever we can to ensure that our Parliament, our country, has the benefit of your skill, leadership and expertise.”

Parachuting Hastie into the safe Liberal seat, it was believed, might even save Tony Abbott from a Turnbull challenge.

“He has fought for our country in the field and he will fight for our country in the Parliament. Thank you Andrew for making yourself available for this important form of national service,” Abbott says his military fetishising, boundless.

While the mutilation or mistreatment of the bodies of the dead is a violation of the laws of war, the soldier involved has never been disciplined. Inquiry transcripts published by The ABC in 2017 have led to public outcry and conflict between defence personnel. Some contend the incident is evidence of a “drift in values” among Australia’s Special Forces.

The soldier cut the hands off three dead EKIA (Defence reports depersonalise the dead with the acronym, EKIA – enemy combatants killed in action)- in order to be able to identify them, it is claimed, although then Captain Hastie wasn’t at the scene. Yet a commanding officer’s approval would be needed, to authorise such an action army experts attest.

Similarly Hastie was “just making up the numbers”, explains military expert and war criminal John Howard, in 2015, in another operation in which US troops accidentally killed two Afghan boys, firing on them from a helicopter gunship.

Right place, wrong time? For Hastie the incidents are a test of his fortitude and his patriotism.  “I’ve seen these things and I’ve had to have the strength of character, integrity and honour to deal with these incidents and serve my country.”

“Who dares wins” is the SAS motto. Yet when Hastie blows up his own PM this week, Turnbull and his committee are blind-sided. Or is it shock and awe?  Under parliamentary privilege, anti-communist Hastie denounces one of our government’s benefactors, Chau Chak Wing, accusing Chau not only of being a communist but a corrupt communist.

Chair of Federal Parliament’s joint intelligence and security committee, (ISC) Hastie, is testosteronic Tony Abbott’s star 2015 recruit. As befits an Abbott man, Hastie lobs a grenade into his own leader’s tent, fragging Turnbull, under parliamentary privilege, while spilling the (classified) beans on billionaire businessman Chau Chak Wing a Chinese–Australian wanted by the FBI for co-conspiring in the bribery of a former UN president. Chau has never been indicted.

All hell breaks loose. The Turnbull government fears all is lost in its mission to repair its increasingly rocky relationship with China. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who is always “doing an outstanding job”, according to her PM, whose government continues to plunder her budget and hasn’t read her Foreign Policy White Paper, is putting finishing touches on her communique after failing to patch things up with China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi in Argentina for the G20.

Bishop reports “very warm candid and constructive” talks. Wang Yi says the two nations “encountered some difficulties”.

“If Australia sincerely hopes that the relations between the two countries will return to the right track … they must break away from traditional thinking, take off their coloured glasses, and look at China’s development from a positive angle,” Wang adds. Our government’s foreign interference laws are not being received well in Beijing.

Yet, as Bishop suggests in her incoherent Foreign Policy White Paper, we must be prepared to go to war with China, if it can’t observe something US policy wonks love to call, “rules-based order” a code for the status quo in Asia. We have just realised how powerful and determined China is. The problem, notes Hugh White is what are we going to do about it?

All the White Paper can offer is the naff bumper sticker slogan of “a new mix of co-operation and competition”.

Last December, Turnbull took up the diplomatic megaphone to declare that the Australian people would “stand up” against meddling – a phrase evoking Mao Zedong and insulting his successors. As The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy writes, “Language like that fuels the Chinese nationalist narrative of a century of humiliation.” Beijing wants an apology.

Worse, our great and powerful friend, the US is underwhelmed by Hastie’s breach of classified information and is less likely to trust our ISC with its secrets in future. Ms Bishop’s “outstanding job” looks curiously like yet another spectacular Turnbull government failure. And in one short week, we’ve alienated our two greatest trading partners.

Is Hastie over-hasty? Has he ruined, forever, our kowtow to Zhongguo, (China)? Is our Sino-Australian love-hate relationship now impossibly conflicted by our love of Trump; our Australian crawl, the latest act of ritual abasement in our historic US-Australian vassalage? Or is Handy Andy simply urging his nation not to go soft on Sinophobia?

Or have we been set up by US spooks eager to foment discord; see the fur fly between the koala and the panda?

Whilst he told neither his PM nor his committee, Hastie did tell an ASIO operative “in a speculative way” before he blew the whistle on Chau. It’s as if he’s been set up by the Abbott-Dutton hard right faction. Or its supporters.

The Turnbull government is caught with its pants down. Worse. Hanson blabs.  One Nation has been wooed with promises of a petrol resource rent tax hike. It’s kept mum in the hope it will garner enough Pauline Hanson One (White) Nation (PHON) votes to pass its enterprise tax plan, a $48 billion hit over ten years to its revenue and a sugar hit to business, which will do nothing to boost wages and less to lift productivity but will do everything to raise workers’ taxes.

Hanson is stung to discover the May Budget meets few of her other bucket list demands such as lower migration which currently is “destroying our standard of living and way of life”. And where’s her Health Card for self-funded retirees? Her new coal-fired power station for North Queensland, home to some of the biggest solar plants in the country? Her gas pipe line from west to east coast Australia?  And there’s more. So Hanson goes for her fourth company tax position.

She’s happy with all but the last stage – but she’s got a long list of needs that negotiator Mathias Cormann must satisfy.

Pauline’s script is fabulous: “The people of this country want leadership. They want honesty and they want trust. And I have to do that job.” Voting regularly with the government, she styles herself “a senator for the people of Australia.”

La Hanson is a martyr to her lofty principles and her mangled syntax: “(in) all good conscience I cannot look back in time and think I could have made a difference and never did anything about it”.  No? There’s always room for a fifth position.

Hanson’s veto may give Turnbull just the excuse he needs to drop the unpopular tax and further ammunition to attack Labor’s capacity to cost its own promises. But will his government’s corporate sponsors let him?

All bull-dust and bastardry aside, Hanson evokes the spirit of our time and helps to lead us in our “universal descent into unreality”, as US writer Benjamin DeMott noted of his own nation’s zeitgeist, sixty years ago.

Upstaged almost, but equally impotent and deluded, is our own Mad Man Mal. Like Trump, he is another hapless Gatsby ,trapped in the fantasy of his own self-creation, who gets his independent Australian Electoral Commission to tell his independent speaker, Tony Smith, to declare, on Thursday, that Super Saturday, a series of super Section 44 by-elections, will be held on 28 July, a date which clashes with the final day of Labor’s 48th national annual bun-fight.

“No judgement”, as Paul Keating famously dismissed Malcolm Turnbull, is confirmed Thursday, as his pet Speaker and IPA member, Tony Smith, calls a Super Saturday of five by-elections in Braddon, Longman, Perth, Fremantle and Mayo, to conflict with The Australian Labor Party’s National Conference scheduled for 26-28 July.

Labor is in uproar. It’s “a disgraceful indictment” on the government and “stinks of interference … with the independent electoral commission” howls ALP National President Mark Butler.

Granting a nine-week campaign period, however, secures no certain advantage to the Coalition. In fact, it seems to repeat the dud political judgement that nearly cost Turnbull’s government victory last election.

When the going gets tough, the Coalition goes to water. The party that saw no need for a royal commission into child abuse, a mob which howled down calls by The Greens, Labor and others for a royal commission into banking, completes a hat-trick in responsibility abdication, this week, by pretending there is no water-tight case for a federal ICAC.

Attorney General, Christian Porter, tells Labor shadow Mark Dreyfus that there is no “persuasive evidence” that current methods of tackling corruption are insufficient. Even for a Turnbull government, which denies climate change, gender equality and which can cynically misrepresent the Uluru voice from the heart as a bid for a third parliamentary chamber instead of an eloquent, cogent case for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal peoples, it is a staggering denial of reality.

Contributing brilliantly to the national conversation which Liberal party weasel-wordsmiths are having on merit versus gender equality quotas, a ruse favoured by conservatives desperate to defend the status quo, Senator Jane Hume wins token bloke of the week for her attempt on Monday’s Q&A to ingratiate herself with her party’s patriarchy.

The Liberal party is particularly fond of touting “merit” as the reason it cannot take affirmative action to redress the dearth of women among its ranks. The Coalition has but 13 women MPs in the lower house; four fewer than John Howard had in his first term in 1996. Howard, Pru Goward, Head of the Office of the Status of Women, told us in 1997 was surrounded by strong women “and it doesn’t bother him a bit” and he knew all about feminism from his daughter.

While some of Howard’s best friends were women, Senator Jane Hume on Q&A on Monday tells women hoping to become Liberal MPs to simply “work harder” to get pre-selected; win seats. Equality can also be fixed by “being nicer”.

Wild applause breaks out across half the nation at this immensely helpful suggestion while The Guardian’s Georgina Dent attacks the specious merit argument.

“If merit is an entirely fair and effective mechanism then, it must hold, that men are simply better company directors, chief executives, judges, surgeons, professors, pilots, politicians, leaders, bureaucrats, principals and lawyers than women.”

There is some evidence from the US that the elevation of reality TV show host Donald Trump to the Oval Office of The White House has inspired women to run for office and to get out and vote. If it’s true, it may prove his only positive achievement in a presidency which he has contrived to demean since his inauguration.

News this week that Trump has broken off his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jon-un should not distract us from the fact that the summit was never his in the first place. It was a meeting neither Trump nor his advisers were remotely prepared for. Instead, it was something he hijacked; a process instigated and nurtured by South Korean president, Moon Jae-in – with most of the hard yards being done by Im Jong-seok, a former prominent student democracy activist who is now President Moon’s Chief of Staff. She must have worked hard and been nice to a lot of people.

The US descent into unreality continues apace. An increasingly erratic, paranoid Trump, desperate for any diversion from the inexorable progress of investigation into his collusion with Russian interference in the presidential campaign – a two-pronged process into obstruction of justice and collusion led by ex FBI Chief, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, falsely accuses The New York Times on Saturday of making up a source in an article about North Korea.

The source is, in fact, a senior White House official addressing a large group of reporters in the White House briefing room.

Does the coalition have a woman problem or just a problem with humanity?

gaza 2

Does the Coalition have a woman problem? Or a “female” problem as Education Minister and Gonski-con-artist, simple Simon Birmingham puts it? Or just your everyday, run of the mill, neoliberal lack of humanity problem?

Certainly, our heart of stone; our national emotional deficit and compassion bypass, betray us this week as parvenus on a world stage of freakish weirdness which features US Evangelicals blessing Trump’s moving the US embassy from the Sodom and Gomorrah of modern Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move which sees Israeli snipers open fire on unarmed Palestinian protestors, a move we alone condone by voting with the US against any UN inquiry.

Weirdness? As all true believers know in their hearts, Hallelujah, Trump’s removalists will hasten the final trump, the apocalypse, the rapture in which all (evangelical) Christians living and dead will be united.

Trump himself, on the campaign trail in 2016, displays a Bible in which, he says, his mother has written his name and address, “She wrote the name and my address and it’s just very special to me,” he said, in a quiet voice. Your name generally is.

It’s as touching as the label on Paddington Bear but it’s hailed by Fox News cubs as incontrovertible evidence of The Donald’s moral rectitude and piety. No true believer worries much when the next day the President mistakes the silver communion plates that are passed around for the offering plates, at church in Council Bluffs Iowa reaching for dollar bills from his pocket. No Trump voter would find reason to question he often he attended such services. Others will find the gaffe quite telling.

Our own divine afflatus – our ascent to the UN Human Rights Council is similarly moving. We mealy-mouth all the right platitudes about how we care about human rights; how much we love a “rules-based order”, a meaningless American buzzword Julie Bishop invokes incessantly – while pretending the Rohingya genocide isn’t happening or is something else, a benign or even blessed event, she archly calls a Myanmar “security operation”.

It works. We’re elevated to the council, up snug alongside The Philippines with its you-beaut-shoot-first rule of law, networking with Burundi, Egypt, Rwanda, Cuba, Venezuela, China, India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – all of whom share with us the distinction of being censured by the UN for their human rights violations

So what can little Australia do? This week we show how we alone can publicly suck up to Trump; prove ourselves US zǒu gǒu, as the Chinese call running dogs or lackeys, much to our global infamy, ignominy and shame.

We are the only nation in the world to side with the US in voting against the UN Human Rights Council‘s (UNHRC) call for an international inquiry into the state of human rights in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

Why? The UNHRC condemns Israel for shooting dead over sixty protesters including civilians, journalists, children and armed militants, in the Strip. Injured are hundreds more, at a mass protest in which tempers are inflamed by America’s recent pro-Likud decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem  – a promise Mafioso Don says he must honour. He cares more about re-election than the lives and rights of or any human beings; let alone Islamists.

Is there something cultural about chicanery, bigotry and cold-blooded murder? Something we don’t get?

The massacre ends six weeks of protests at the Gaza border, part of the “Great March of Return” led by Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, the largest of several Islamist Palestinian groups. Israel is given ample warning. The UNHRC and many other observers, shocked by the brutality, call out Israel for acting illegally; using disproportionate force.

It’s not as there’s no time to prepare a more humane and proportionate response. Hamas made it clear it would intensify its protests before Tuesday, when Palestinians hold their annual commemoration of the Nakba or Catastrophe. The foundation of Israel on 14 May 1948 forced 750,000 Palestinians from their homes into exile.

Australia’s opposition to the inquiry has been deplored  by human rights groups, who say Australia has broken its pledge to uphold human rights and improve its own human rights record – in particular its abysmal record on indefinite offshore detention, as well as structural Indigenous disadvantage, juvenile justice and disability rights.

Lachlan Strahan, Charge D’Affaires of Australia’s mission to the UN in Geneva, gave the “incoming members’ pledge” publicly mouthing our nation’s undertakings to fight for human rights when joining the UNHRC.

Just for the record we are committed to promote gender equality; good governance; freedom of expression; indigenous rights; and strong national human rights institutions. (Nothing as naff as demanding ID at airports).

Yet for many, including Daniel Webb of the Human Rights Law Centre, words are cheap. “It’s important to hear our government promise to strengthen the UN system and to start respecting human rights findings,” he says. “The world will be a fairer and more humane place if we have a strong and effective international human rights system.

“But just saying over and over again that you respect human rights doesn’t make it true, not for the innocent human beings warehoused on Manus and Nauru for the last five years, or the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women and children being forced into prisons away from their families and communities at obscenely high rates.”

Anthony Albanese asks the government to explain itself and cops a hammering on ABC Insiders, Sunday, from Barrie Cassidy who’s after a gotcha moment. He presses Albo to endorse the NSW ALP’s conference’s motion to unilaterally recognise the state of Palestine.

Imagine what the Daily Telegraph or The Australian could do with news of Labor endorsing Islamic terrorists.

Albanese blusters; comes up with the Two State Solution, which sounds like a dance step or something you’d use in a chemistry lab but gives life to the absurd but pernicious myth that Palestine and Israel are equal.

The two state solution, is neither confined to two states nor a solution but a war of attrition backed by The Great Satan (as the US is fondly reviled in the Middle East). It originates in the UN’s 1947 division of Palestine into two states with a large area around Jerusalem to be run by the UN.  Over half the country was to go to 34 per cent of the population; the Jewish minority. The smaller part of the country went to the overwhelming Arab majority.

Arabs rejected the partition resolution. They could see how unfair it was. The injustice still rankles; festers.

For Hamas, which came to power in Gaza in 2007, Monday’s border protest is the culmination of a week -long campaign to try to break Israel’s blockade. The group has led weekly protests near the border with Israel since late March. Over 100 Palestinians are shot dead. Hundreds are wounded in the series of weekly protests.

The dead include eight children under the age of sixteen while 2,700 people are wounded.

The UNHRC votes 29-2 with 14 abstentions to back a resolution that also condemns “the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians.” An “independent, international commission of inquiry” mandated by the council will be asked to produce a final report next March.

Luckily, local right wing scribes such as Gerard Henderson and fellow Catholic Boys’ Daily (The Australian) pontificator Greg Sheridan are on hand to explain to our nation how the deaths are all the fault of the Palestinian victims who were in the process of “pulling a fence down” and deliberately exposing babies to danger evoking John Howard’s 2001 “babies overboard” canard, a lie which helped him win an election.

Sheridan  sagely and courageously choruses, “As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pointed out, the terror group Hamas, which controls Gaza, purposely pushed tens of thousands of rioters towards the Israeli border in the certain knowledge that the Israeli defence forces would not allow them to breach that border.”

Australian media generally, however, follow Julie Bishop’s lead. Bishop reiterates the US line; framing a war crime with no perpetrator.  No hint that 750,000 Palestinians were displaced in the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. No point in recalling Israel’s Irgun strategy of a series of selected killings of Palestinian civilians from 1930.

From 1930, Guy Rundle writes, Irgun, a group of young bloods, … injected into clashes between Arabs and European Jews a new element: precise, targeted terror against random Arab civilians.

In our postmodern, lobotomised, mass-mediated world, complex issues, events and conflicts are tidied up by obliterating historical context. It makes finger-pointing, demonising and confected outrage; mass manipulation so much easier.

Palestinians suffer institutionalised discrimination by Israel, reports Human Rights Watch. It’s apartheid. In its 50-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s systematic rights abuses include collective punishment, routine use of excessive lethal force, and prolonged detention, without charge or trial, for hundreds.

Palestinians are daily made to suffer human rights violations surpassed only by the indefinite detention we inflict on those whom we catch seeking refuge in Australia by sea. To say nothing of our no dobbing laws, The Australia Border Force Act 2015, which prohibits doctors, media, professional groups, international human rights bodies, NGOs and others from blowing the whistle on brutality and inhumanity.

Many Palestinians caught in videos of the recent “riots” in Gaza are refugees. Yet erased from our mainstream media is the history of Israeli construction of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank; how Israel steals Palestinian land and water and how its much vaunted “two state solution” is a way of diverting attention from its apartheid regime; from burdens it imposes on Palestinians but not on settlers, restricting Palestinians’ access to basic services and making it nearly impossible for them to build in much of the West Bank without risking demolition.

Israel repeatedly denies Palestinians permits to build schools in the West Bank and demolishes those built without permits denying access to education for thousands of children, Human Rights Watch reported, last month.

Israel’s decade-long closure of Gaza, supported by Egypt, severely restricts the movement of people and goods, with devastating humanitarian impact, reports Human Rights Watch.

Extremism is all corrupting writes David Brooks in The New York Times. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza both sharply restrict dissent, arbitrarily arresting critics and abusing those in their custody. The process is not unknown in Australian conservative political circles but we excel at extradition and rendition.

Bishop expresses the government’s “deep regret and sadness over the loss of life and injury”, in a press release entitled Palestinian Protests in Gaza as if some natural catastrophe has killed sixty Palestinians rather than Israeli Defence Force snipers’ bullets and tear gas. Israelis call their anti-terror programme “cutting the grass”.

Israel makes Gazans non-persons and thereby all the easier to mow down. Similarly Peter Dutton’s personal fiefdom, The Department of Home Affairs, confirms, this week that it is ending financial assistance to “transitory persons” who haven’t returned to Nauru or Papua New Guinea after coming to Australia for medical treatment. It’s as dehumanising and as criminally contrary to our human rights obligations as calling those wretched souls who seek our refuge by boat “illegals”.

$200 per fortnight of housing assistance and income support is stripped mainly from families with young children. But Home Affairs is all heart. It generously gives most of the refugees six weeks to find new shelter and a source of income. Others are given three weeks to find accommodation but lose income support immediately.

Charity begins at home, of course, and the nation wakes Monday to learn that the wondrously named, Jane Prentice, Assistant Minister for Disability Services is the latest victim of our federal government’s inherent sexism and dog-eat dog philosophy. She loses pre-selection to Julian Simmonds, a younger, sexier male party member, a fate which government MPs rush to assure us is the Liberal Party’s democracy in action. Or meritocracy.

Gerard Henderson kindly sinks the slipper by accusing Prentice of under-performance, a novel political criterion which if it were to be applied rigorously would certainly terminate the careers of Tony Abbott, all-hat and no cattle Barnaby Joyce and even our puppet of the right Prime Minister himself to name but a few recent stellar duds.

Beyond Abbott and other political mediocrities is a long line of hapless male MPs which neatly counter the argument Coalition blokes put up against quotas for women preventing MPs from being elected on merit. Merit? Barnaby Joyce?

Only 22.6 per cent of federal Liberal MPs are women. Of 76 Coalition MPs in the lower house, only 13 are women. And only 35 per cent of women voted for the Coalition last election. The two statistics cannot possibly be related.

Discussion veers hard right (as always) this week to posit a Liberal party political machine which is responding to hard times by wheeling further to the right. It’s not sexism or misogyny but just an accidental turn of the political screw.

ABC panel members on The Drum or Insiders and other huff and fluff shows, in particular air the view that the party’s discrimination against women is all ideological. Perhaps they’ve missed how in general, on average, Australian women have to work an extra 56 days a year to earn the same pay as men for doing the same work.

Ann Sudmalis may also lose pre-selection for Gilmore to real-estate agent Grant Schultz, son of the late, great (John) Alby Schultz. (Alby, federal MP for Hume 1998-2013, was one of several Liberals along with Don RandallWilson TuckeyConcetta Fierravanti-WellsDennis Jensen and Sophie Mirabella, who boycotted Parliament on the day that the formal apology to the Stolen Generations was made by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.) Clear merit is apparent in the Schulz bloodlines.

By Thursday, “Birmo” has sized up the problem. “Blokes face just as many preselection challenges as females,” he tells ABC radio. Sure they do, Birmo. We know. And all over Australia Liberal blokes are being challenged by women.  Nothing his government of reality denying privilege protectors can do about it.

Just as his government has no plans to address the injustice of our nations’ workplaces where women earn on average $48,690 in 2015-16, yet $63,000 is the median taxable income for men. In fact, according to the National Foundation for Australian Women, its tax offsets proposed for 2018 increase the effective marginal tax rate by 1.5% within the taper zone, which increases work disincentives for women and other low earners.

As Matt Holden notes in Fairfax, when a Coalition bloke challenges another, it does nothing to make our government any less of a patriarchal atavism. Only 21% of Liberal Party federal MPs and a mere 14% of the Nationals’ representatives are women. And falling. Luckily Liberal sophist Scott Morrison has the answer.

“Politics is a contestable process” booms party queue-jumper, Morrison, who owes his own safe Liberal seat of Cook less to his own merit than to The Daily Telegraph‘s four defamatory 2007 attacks on Michael Towke, a character assassination which led the NSW Liberal Party to dis-endorse his Lebanese-Christian opponent.

Morrison lost pre-selection comprehensively on first ballot, in July 2007, receiving 8 votes to Towke’s 82.

Two senior Liberal blokes then phoned The “Tele” which ran four stories painting Michael Towke as a liar. Towke contends that the third story entitled ”Party split as Liberal candidate faces jail,” put his mother in hospital.

Towke would eventually win his legal war, but his political career was ruined. ScoMo’s story shows that conservative politics is eminently contestable if you are a WASP bloke with powerful old white male party pals.

No hope for Jane Prentice. A sorcerer’s apprentice in reverse, her role consisted largely in keeping mum about how, like its predecessor, the Turnbull government continues to kick welfare expenditure reduction goals by “transitioning” a weasel word for denying disability support pensioners to the needy.

They’ll thrive on the starvation rations of the Centrelink Newstart program. Yet Prentice is clearly an MP with a love of family. She claimed $14,039 for her husband to fly between Canberra and Brisbane 24 times during her first term in Parliament. Twenty-one trips were in business class. Her claim of $352 for her spouse to be chauffeured, however, shows exemplary frugality and should inspire all other MPs to follow suit.

 

Shorten’s a liar? ScoMo, your own pants are on fire.

scomo and flag

“Liar”, screeches Scott Morrison, the pot calling the kettle black, opting fittingly for a personal insult rather than a reply to Bill Shorten’s Budget reply, Thursday. ScoMo snatches a moment from commissioning a culturally sensitive, brilliantly timed erection of a statue of James Cook, to signal he’s on the Right white side of history in his electorate of Cook.

It’s inspirational; an emblem of so much the member for Cook stands for. It will cost a lazy $50 million that might otherwise have been wasted on The ABC or squandered on ASIC both of which have been crippled in his budget cuts.

A fine gesture of contempt, another politically incorrect Cook among the pigeons does nothing to help the needy.

Nor does the budget. Pity the poor, the frail, the elderly and disadvantaged who are either ignored or whose privacy and peace of mind may be destroyed by a beefed-up Centrelink Robodebt-collector, in a process which promises to be even more demanding of welfare recipients yet just as prone to error. Equally disturbing, the onus of proof remains reversed.

Last year the government ignored a senate committee which made 21 recommendations to make the system workable. In June, The Community Affairs References Committee released a report condemning the system for being “so flawed it was set up to fail” and contained a number of “procedural fairness flaws”. Fully Coalition compliant, in other words.

The Centrelink Online Compliance Intervention (robo-debt) program matches and averages your income records held by Centrelink and the Tax Office – to detect overpayment. Yet, only last September, the government conceded that it sent recovery demands to 20,000 welfare recipients who were later found to owe less money, or none at all.

Robodebt 2.0, as it may termed, announced in Tuesday’s budget, will further tighten the screws. In a vivid contrast with its cossetting of the top end of town, the Coalition will target people already paying back debts but who have been identified as having the “capacity to pay more”. Former welfare recipients who have “high-value” debts can also expect to be heavied. The Coalition claims the measure will “save” $300m without clearly explaining why or how.

The most despicable lie which underpins this budget is that only the “aspirational” classes matter. The poor don’t count. Warning that after five minutes’ economic sunshine, the government is planning seven years of tax cuts, ACOSS asks

“… where’s the seven year plan for reducing poverty among adults and children, guaranteeing growth funding for health care, and closing the gaps in essential services such as mental and dental health and affordable housing?”

Support? Help? Perish the thought. Ever since Abbott, mocking, jeering name calling, demonisation and division have long become the Coalition’s default responses to any political challenge. Certainly the response betrays a desperation

“Bill Shorten’s a serial liar.”  Finance Minister Mathias Cormann eagerly choruses, “His numbers don’t add up, you can’t trust a single word Bill Shorten says.” The personal slur is part of Kill Bill, the Coalition’s sophisticated tag team plan.

Morrison knows what he’s talking about. For once. He knows a compulsive liar when he sees one. He only has to look in the mirror. No offence. He just can’t help himself. He’s built his career on deception. As Treasurer, his favourite furphy is that his government’s created a million jobs since Turnbull knifed Abbott. In reality, it doesn’t bear inspection.

Employment is up but so too is our population. Our nation’s grown by 1.8 million people in the last five years. It’s a similar picture with growth, the Turnbull government’s other buzz-word. Growth looks anaemic once we factor in our population increase. Australia’s per capita growth, last year, was only 0.8 per cent, Alan Kohler calculates.

“… two thirds of last year’s economic growth came from population and most of that from immigration,” he writes.

Morrison is a charlatan who attacks Labor to divert us from his own epic failures. Australia’s global ranking on all major variables has plummeted. Our economic growth, reports Alan Austin, now ranks equal 125th in the world.

Equal with Somalia? The Coalition’s respect for an independent press is following a similarly disturbing decline.

Morrison’s growth hoax is as shonky as his claim that ABC cuts are part of a common or garden “efficiency dividend”. In fact the cuts are Coalition strategy to nobble the ABC, by cutting funds whilst crying “unfair”. Left bias. It’s a win-win. Its IPA pals, who want a privatised ABC, are cheered while the government saves money and avoids being held to account.

What the government hates is scrutiny”, Erik Jensen notes in The Saturday Paper.

“There are no votes in cutting the ABC. Not directly. This is about the votes you hold on to when the country doesn’t know what you are doing. It is about conducting government in darkness. In an ugly and unimaginative budget, these cuts are some of the ugliest.”

But ScoMo’s on a roll.

“Efficiency dividends”, manic Morrison lies on ABC, are widespread in the world of commerce; standard business practice. Sure. Evidence given the Royal Commission into Banking highlights how directors of insurance, financial advice or banking are frugal to a fault; penny-pinching when it comes to paying multi-million dollar salaries to senior staff.

ABC Director Gaven Morris knows the truth. He warns that the public broadcaster will find it hard to continue. Staffing will be cut, he says. “… there is no more fat to cut …any more cuts to the ABC cut into the muscle of the organisation.”

Of course that’s just what the government wants. Cutting $85m from the ABC will ease the Turnbull government’s aversion to being held to account. Satisfied also will be Pauline Hanson’s demands that her support depends on $600 million being cut each year, a list of salaries published and the adoption of a gratuitous and inane Fox News slogan.

Fox? Fair and balanced?

Hanson also hates the ABC. ABC’s Four Corners exposed One Nation‘s peculiar business franchise-type structure, a setup quite unlike any other political party. Most recently, ABC reported the nonsense of her stooge flight to Afghanistan.

Where would we be without Pauline’s probing military analysis? Hanson told The Australian she can see Australian soldiers being in Afghanistan for the long haul. They need to be. “You can see the changes that are happening in the country,” she gushes. No-one else can. Even the Pentagon admits defeat. Last July, her idol, Donald Trump spelt it out.

“We aren’t winning … we are losing.” But Trumpistas, like La Hanson, have a different take on reality.

So, too does our federal Treasurer and his team, deep within their bunkers. A word you never hear is unemployment. Unemployment’s stuck in a rut. 5.6 % of workers still have no jobs, a proportion unchanged from October 2013.

Wages remain flat. Repetition doesn’t make Morrison’s claim that wages will grow any less of a whopper. Growth? GDP sounds impressive – but factor in population growth again or calculate GDP per capita and you get a dismal picture. Hence the necessity of decisive action. Turnbull’s team digs deep to come up with the right stuff – and at the right time.

Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison resort to “Unbelieva-Bill”, a witty, finely nuanced and searching rebuttal of Mr Shorten’s Budget Reply speech. The government is desperate: Labor has outwitted it. The Opposition’s still opposed to the Coalition’s unpopular company tax cuts. It will limit negative gearing tax concessions to new properties and it pledges to end cash refunds from franked dividends. Thus, Labor can trump the government’s personal income tax cuts.

Kill Bill, the order goes out. But liar? ScoMo’s own pants are on fire. His finger-pointing, kindergarten name-calling plumbs new depths – even for Liberal politics. Morrison froths. He and his morally bankrupt party lack all credibility. Humanity. History will judge harshly Coalition eagerness to embrace a post-truth, amoral Trumpian political universe.

Worse. Tony Abbott, who still lies that he stopped the boats, and his monkey-pod climate denialists call the shots, now.

Stopped the boats? Try enabled. Junkyard Abbott gave a green light to tens of thousands of arrivals by opposing a Labor law which would have enabled implementation of Julia Gillard’s Malaysia Arrangement of September 2011.

In effect, Abbott stopped Rudd’s boat-stopping. Yet Trump-like, the budgie smuggler confected another mythology, as John Menadue has argued. “We stopped the boats,” Abbott boasted so often, while keeping “on-water matters” secret in the militarisation of compassion, so that our largely pro-government media has happily accepted his lies as gospel.

Luckily, the electorate is not so easily fobbed off. Many of us recall what really happened. Yet it’s worth a quick recap.

When “Operation Sovereign Borders” (OSB) was ready for turnbacks in December 2013, unauthorised maritime arrivals had dropped from 48 in July 2013 to seven. OSB applied only to the stern (not the pointy bit or bow) of the boat drama.

The ‘game-changer’ was, in fact, Kevin Rudd’s declaration, July 2013, that people arriving by boat after July would not be settled in Australia. Even more damaging, turnbacks would have been impossible without Rudd’s 2013 declaration.

Turnbull’s last budget returns to Turnback Tony’s nihilism; his lifters and leaners, his lies and his climate change denial.

The Climate Change Authority, which Abbott “climate-change is crap” tried to wind-up after the independent body said we had to do more to meet our Paris pledges, loses $550,000. Its budget is now $2.9 million – half its in 2011 funding.

Yet we’ll spend $30 billion on the diesel fuel rebate until 2021. $1 billion a year of that will go to coal mining companies. Off like a frog in a sock, Morrison mocks the concept of renewable energy: Abbott-like, he lies about its effect on prices.

“We will maintain our responsible and achievable emissions reduction target at 26-28 per cent, and not the 45 per cent demanded by the Opposition. That would only push electricity prices up.

Morrison-the-conman has form, of course. He’s a notorious repeat offender in a government of secrets and lies.

He’s also on a high with his party’s flat tax plan. It’s another under-handed way to punish the nation’s idle poor and reward the rich, whom he assures us, work harder than lazy lower-paid workers who lack aspiration. It’s Hockey redux. Morrison’s assumptions are insulting. His assertions are false. But he’ll do anything to wedge workers; Labor.

Despite the Treasurer’s lie that workers will be better off; his budget’s tax “relief” flows mostly to our highest income earners who stand to gain 62%, while a paltry 7% of the benefit goes to the 30% of Australians on the lowest wages.

Using the “simplifying our tax system” ruse – (Liberals love weasel words like “simpler” and “flexibility”)- Morrison’s budget will accelerate inequality in Australia. In 2024, his government plans to abolish the 37 per cent tax bracket. Per Capita denounces it as “the most radical attack on Australia’s progressive income tax scales in living memory.”

The Australia Institute’s briefing paper models how this agile, innovative tax proposal will be distributed. Workers earning $40,000 per year will get a tax cut of $455 per year while for those on $200,000, it’s $7,225 per year.

That those earning $200,000 get a bigger cut is not a problem. They do pay more tax. But, as TAI points out, although workers on $200,000 earn 5 times more than those on $40,000, the budget makes their cut 16 times larger.  And, as Michael Pascoe notes that’s after negative gearing, superannuation, fringe benefits tax and other deductions.

Worse, as Greg Jericho shows, Morrison’s tax flattening not only gives more money to the rich. It also “locks in the need to cut services”, given its real impact will be felt in reduced government revenue. Not to worry. Poor people don’t drive cars; go to school or visit the doctor or need to pay massive tariffs to price-gouging energy companies. Much.

The most offensive part of the plan, to the average voter is how workers are discriminated against. Out the window goes the fundamental quest for fairness of our progressive tax plan where each is taxed according to his or her means.

Worse – retained is a Community Development scheme that actively discriminates amongst between those in remote and regional areas, where unemployment is up to 50%. 85% of those in the scheme are Aboriginal peoples.

The 35,000 men and women registered with the program must complete jobs and activities to receive their Newstart allowance in remote New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory in a scheme which covers 75% of Australia’s land mass and involves about 1,000 remote communities

Unlike their metropolitan counterparts, they’re required to work 25 hours per week, at $11.20 an hour. Or they are fined. Since 2015, over 340,000 fines have been issued to people enrolled in the Community Development Program.

Participants will still have to work or engage in work-like activity for 46 weeks a year but face stricter penalties from July for non-compliance. Even though changes in February will cut the required work hours to 20, it’s blatant discrimination. Non-remote jobseekers are required to work 20 hours a week for only six months of the year.

The Australia Institute reports the scheme has helped fewer than one in five people into an ongoing job. Even then, fewer than one in 10 keep that job for six months or more.  The program “punishes people for not having a job”, says TAI’s author, Rod Campbell.  ACTU Indigenous officer, Kara Keys, says the CDP should be scrapped altogether.

“Equal pay for equal work is a core tenet of Australian society. The federal government must eliminate the blatantly discriminatory requirement, which sees people in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities forced to work more hours for the same basic Centrelink payment as people in cities,” Adrianne Walters, a senior lawyer at The Human Right Law Centre says.

Yet the program’s been an outstanding success claims a spokesman for Nigel Scullion Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

Perhaps he’s referring to the organisations and for-profit businesses who benefit from the participants’ free labour.

Despite Scullion’s reality denial and despite stiff competition Morrison is still the Coalition’s supreme fabulist. In February, he lied to 3AW listeners that temporary migrants cause population growth. Naturally everything is under control. His government is taking steps to address that. A clampdown on foreign worker visas. But it’s just not true.

Temporary migrants boost population growth? No. They go home. It’s our permanent migrant intake that determines the level of net overseas migration and population growth:

But even Morrison will never live down the infamy he earned in February 2014 when Iranian refugee, Reza Barati was beaten to death on Manus Island in a riot which injured 70 asylum-seekers. Immigration and Border Protection Minister at the time, Morrison tried to lie his way out of failing his duty of care.

Reza Barati’s head was crushed by men employed to protect him but Morrison maintained Barati had escaped campgrounds. While videos show guards throwing stones and other objects, Morrison issued a dishonest denial.

“G4S utilised personal protection gear but no batons or other weapons were in situ and were in control of the centre for the entire period.”

A senate inquiry in December 2014 found the Australian Government — which labelled the incident as a “disturbance” — failed in its duty to protect asylum seekers, including Mr Barati. It was ignored. Morrison even blamed Labor and The Greens in the same way that he blames refugee advocates for coaching refugees on Nauru to self-harm.

Barati’s family hold Morrison responsible for their son’s death.

Given the Treasurer’s own mythomania and his government’s mendacity it is unwise for the Coalition to taunt Bill Shorten as a liar. Hypocritical, too.

Yet it amounts to extreme political folly to proceed down such a path when the entire budget is a farrago of lies, from its false claims that company tax cuts lead to jobs, growth and higher wages, to the hoax of a million new jobs, or the implicit monstrous lie in Morrison’s calculations that ordinary Australians don’t count and Aboriginal Australians on the CDP work or the dole programme count even less – in the trashing of the principle of equal pay for equal work. To say nothing of the reversal of the onus of proof which turns every welfare beneficiary into a potential dole-cheat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Budget mania? Macron mania? Still the Turnbull government wages war on the poor.

scott morrison being congratulated on budget - why


Australia is seized by budget mania. Abuzz. Agog. But after weeks of frenzied expectation, leaks and speculation, relief is in sight. The Coalition’s much-vaunted “economic plan” is out. Buy votes by whatever means you can.

For Jeremy Thorpe of PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers), Scott Morrison’s stuck his hand down the back of the sofa and found the $35 billion, he carefully lost in December last year. He spends $15 billion but keeps the rest.

Morrison’s budget predicts revenue to grow on average 6.2% over the next four years– twice the average growth during Labor’s time in office and double the rate during failed former treasurer Joe Hockey’s brief stint in the job.

Income tax receipts are up because more of us are working and higher commodity prices mean more profits from mining. It’s no tribute to any government efforts or grand plan; more a case of our enjoying good luck in an upturn in the world economy. Peter Costello is wise to criticise those who would trust it too much. He would know.

Yet ScoMo must shriek that he’s cracked the nut of budget repair -a nonsense buzzword favoured if by failed PM and former Rhodes Scholar Tony Abbott who still cannot differentiate between balance and repair.

But a budget is about more than a rise in federal revenue. It’s about how fairly that prosperity is shared. Here the news confirms the long term trend of the transfer of capital from worker to investor – and bugger the poor. There is nothing in the Coalition’s budget calculations or strategies that might put a brake on the nation’s galloping economic inequality; the rapidly and dramatically widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Morrison’s budget speech is silent where it should be loudest; boosting pensions, minimum wages, penalty rates or ensuring job-seekers can survive on Newstart. Investment in these key areas make both social and economic sense. Yet there is no sign of any truce in the government’s war on the poor, the elderly and the infirm.

The weak are less equipped to fight back and our shameful injustice and inhumanity can be rationalised away by blaming the victims. Welfare expenditure is seen as a loss rather than an investment in social justice. Despite the current Royal Commission, this budget reflects a government of the banks, for the banks, by the banks.

Our class warriors have many powerful advocates in the ruling elite. Backbencher, Julia Banks who owns five investment properties tells ABC Melbourne that she could live on $40 a day. Banks receives $285 a night in MP travel allowance just to get to Canberra is more than a week’s Newstart. But she just knows she’d thrive on $40.

“I could, I could live on $40 a day knowing that the government is supporting me with Newstart to look for employment.”

What employment would that be Julia? In March, ABS data reveals unemployment is up to 5.6 despite the Turnbull government’s mantra of job creation. Looking for employment? Or fighting? In South Australia 46 graduates contest every job advertised in that state according to Adzuna, a national employment website.

Nationally, there are at least 2,870100 workers competing for 178,600 jobs, according to ABS data. There also huge differences between region and city. While in Sydney 2.85 job seekers compete for a single graduate role, the competition rises to 7.32 outside of the city. But that’s the way employers like it. It helps keep wages low.

Also boosting government statistics is our annual influx of 190,000 permanent migrants, although Peter Dutton, amen, has arbitrarily cut the latest financial year’s intake to 183,000. Just because he can.  Add in at least 600,000 457 temporary migrant workers per year and Morrison’s job creation budget boast is clearly a hoax.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that almost a million jobs have been created since we were first elected, as promised. This includes 415,000 jobs last year alone. More than a thousand jobs a day, three quarters of which were full time.

Cruelty is king. Already, under what our ABC’s Jane Norman carefully scapegoats as a “Gillard-led crackdown”, we disqualify two-thirds of those who apply for the disability support pension, (DSP). In fact, however, on July 1, 2015, new rules for claiming the DSP created a two-stage process. Only 15 per cent of applicants pass both sets of tests.

Claimants must first undergo an invasive and often personally demeaning interrogation (via video-link in regions) known as Job Capacity Assessment. The subtext, now part of DHS culture, is that the claimant is bluffing. If, however, it is concluded the claimant meets the DSP criteria, they proceed to a Disability Medical Assessment.

If there is no joy for the jobless there is less for the disabled. Here the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) is on a winner, it reckons. Continuing to deny the needy and infirm will save the Federal Government $4.8 billion over the next 10 years. May even save the government’s bacon. Welfare is weaponised in the war on the poor.

You wouldn’t want to be on Newstart struggling to survive on under $250 per week. But as Kate Carnell who enjoys a tailor-made government job as Small Business Ombudsman after her Business Council of Australia failure tells panellists on The Drum last week, it’s a fine line between support and incentivisation.

No-one challenges her nonsense, widely shared amongst government MPs, especially former Social Services Minister, now Attorney General Christian Porter. No-one demands evidence that living below the poverty line ever motivated anyone to get a job – even in a labour market where there is not an oversupply of applicants for every advertised position.  And especially in a market where work is increasingly part-time, casual and underpaid.

“Newstarters” will get less than nothing out of this budget but can certainly count on an increase in their number.

Budget mania is toxic to the body politic. Mysterious. Putinesque. Our national village is consumed by St Antony’s Fire, an early name for ergotism, or mycotoxicosis resulting from poisoned rye and related cereals. Morrison hallucinates that he is at one with the universe, as is clear in his gaffe on ABC Insiders.

But the idea that if you lower taxes which…  it’s not just the US, as you know, the UK is doing it, even Germany now is considering it. They’re considering it. They’re already doing it in France.

Our Treasurer needs a copy of The Economist which argues that Britain is overdue for a tax rise. Included also is news, to ScoMo, not only of a sugar tax –  but a proposed levy to redress global warming, a great big new tax on everything as fearless, fatuous anti-carbon taxer, IPA shill and coal-lobby lackey Tony Abbott might put it.

In April Britain will introduce a “sugar tax”, which should raise some £500m a year. A “climate-change levy”, a tax on energy use by businesses, already exists. Doubling all environmental taxes would raise perhaps £14bn. It would also make Britain greener.

Morrison’s nonsense is more than wilful disinformation and ignorance. So powerful is his government’s blind faith in neoliberalism, it’s blasphemy to suggest that its god is dead. Instead, it continues its futile pursuit of Adam Smith’s laissez-faire economics, where the market is best left to its own devices, or, as the Beatles put it, Let it Be.

Or not. This government also hopes to buy power stations, tries to get into the submarine building business – even buys back a Snowy Hydro scheme or wastes time and $10 billion on a 1700 km Inland Rail Project boondoggle that even The Australian Rail Track Corporation concedes will never make a commercial return.

Mania is not helped by desperation. John Hewson is right on to it. Scott Morrison’s third and final try, he warns, is the “mother of all political budgets”. Little wonder the ether fills with gibberish; absurd, high-sounding nonsense.

This year mad, sad, manic Morrison has invented a magic formula. Australia’s overall tax level must not rise above 23.9 per cent of gross domestic product, a notional entity which excludes women’s unpaid labour for starters.

To ScoMo, who acts as if he’s eaten a stash of truckies’ little white pills this 23.9 figure is the “speed limit”

But it’s so much more. The Australia Institute’s Ben Oquist compares it with Douglas Adam’s 42, the meaning of life. 23.9 tells us all we need to know in the fiscal future. Should new taxes will be added or slashed? The answer’s 23.9. Even the size and timing of the great big new ten dollar a week income tax cuts turns out to be 23.9.

“Credible path to surplus” vies with “budget repair”. Leaked to all media, even Buzzfeed, are reports of “rivers of gold” which will miraculously divert themselves from rich men’s bank accounts to flood our federal coffers.

Yet we expect the bizarre. Five years ago, our former, terpsichorean treasurer, Joe Hockey, now safely out of harm’s way with Donald Trump as his golfing partner and mentor, not only did a little Budget dance in his office but slipped The Reserve Bank of Australia a lazy $9 billion dollars, the bank neither requested nor needed.

Baffling in its timing and largesse, experts remain mystified by Joe’s generosity with our money to this day. All Hockey would offer was a cryptic quip that “our institutions must be at their absolute strongest to deal with the challenges in the days, weeks and months ahead… We need all the ammunition in the guns for what is before us.”

Did Hockey foresee the Royal Commission? Trump’s impeachment? Or was he just trying to boost the deficit and pin the blame on Labor, a tactic which ScoMo is keen to copy with his $80 billion tax cuts for the very rich.

Peter Costello worries himself sick about the wealthy missing out on their entitlements. As you do. He’s outspokenly critical of Morrison’s magical thinking and his slap-down will not help the Coalition sell its budget.

These are people paying 47 cents on $200,000, they’re paying 39 [cents] on $100,000. They’re paying higher than the corporate rate. They haven’t had any tax relief for 10 years. And I think those forgotten people, those people that don’t have organised lobbyists to speak for them, also ought to be in the calculation of the Government …”

Peter may be into the magic mushrooms but he’s not alone, so bizarre are the hallucinations, grandiose delusions, tics, bizarre physical contortions and jejune babbling of our ruling elite. And its cheer squad. And the infection spreads to a fair swag of the third estate, the lunatics on the dark side of the moon; our mainstream media.

Budget mania threatens even to upstage News Poll – where re-jigged preferences engineer a boost in the Coalition’s support, narrowing the gap with Labor 49-51, first party preferred. At least for a week.

It’s no mean feat, even if Essential’s 53-47  suggests caution over News Poll. Our leaders and our mainstream media have a three-ring circus of other diversions lined up for our delectation and distraction.

At least it gives us a break from our fetish for leadership contests and our obsession with terror threats while illegal immigrants, welfare bludgers and working poor, the unemployed, under-employed and pensioners are demonised as traitors; an enemy within whose unproductive sloth mocks our worship of growth and threatens to send us all broke.

Many of these ancient superstitions and moral fables are often cunningly combined and re-hashed. Former health insurance tout Matthias Cormann declares, Saturday that “there’s got to be appropriate reward for effort” on the part of high-income earners, who “overwhelmingly carry the heaviest tax burden in our economy today”. 

Except that they don’t. With dividend imputation, even those companies who do pay tax, (and 700 of our biggest corporations pay none,) face a 12 % tax rate while, as class clown Peter Costello cheekily points out on Monday’s ABC 7:30, wage and salary earners on an income of $100,000 pay four times that amount.

Of the 35 rich OECD countries, Australia is in the lowest seven by tax revenue relative to gross domestic product.

Gone, but not forgotten is what is breathlessly billed as the first Australian visit by a serving French President. Or is that self-serving? There’s a touch of the Bibi Netanyahu adoration bromance in Turnbull’s demeanour, at least at first.

The nation also swoons to the French cheek-kisses, double handshakes, back-pats and other Gallic blandishments of former investment banker, forty-year-old, Emmanuel Macron, Malcolm Turnbull’s neoliberal love-brat, when the French President, swings by Australia, this week, on a three-day charm offensive en route to New Caledonia on his mission to duchess our submarine deal and to help retain La belle France’s control of its former penal colony, of 279,000 residents including 40 per cent Kanaks or indigenous peoples who will hold an independence referendum, 4 November. The modern French state finds such rebellion quite distasteful. Emperor Macron has the matter in hand.

Our adulation of visiting tyrants is legendary. Dissent is ignored; not in the national interest. No-one bothers to ask Macron why he used executive orders last September to implement “reforms” to create a more “flexible” labour market by curbing trade union rights and making it easier to fire workers. True, we also have this French pox at home.

Arriving in Sydney with a raft of military and naval contractors, Le Macron declares France’s desire to be an “even stronger partner” under a deal to build and maintain a new fleet of diesel-electric submarines for our navy.

Nothing is said of the “transition path” to nuclear propulsion which only French submarine builder DCNS offers.  It would be useful to know – now that we’ve signed the contracts – because our government has ordered a vessel which it wants us to believe will be retrofitted and re-designed with a diesel piston engine.

No–one in the history of submarine construction has ever tried to convert a nuclear submarine to a diesel one.

It’s more likely that the Coalition has committed to a nuclear sub in the hope that by the time it’s built all the anti-nuclear fuss will have subsided or its proponents silenced in the national interest. Its silence is deafening.

Even less is made of DCNS’ reneging on its initial promise to build the ships in Adelaide. Instead, last June, The Australian’s Robert Gottliebsen reported that The new DCNS Australian chief Brent Clark backed away from his predecessor Sean Costello’s assertion that over 90 per cent of the submarine build would take place in Australia,

DCNS has no plans to directly involve Adelaide’s ASC in the construction of Australia’s next fleet of submarines. Clark told a  senate inquiry last June, “Quite simply, from our perspective, ASC will be consumed by DCNS.”

Australia’s first blush with the Macron-Mania, sweeping the globe invokes the fulsome flattery, toadying, intrigues and deceit which helped corrupt the Ancien Régime. Macron’s claque of courtiers is thus uniquely suited to our postmodern, post-truth, neoliberal, corporate despotism, which also rules by fear, patronage and lies.

The land of liberty, equality and fraternity is a bit touchy about revolutionary sentiment in the arse-end of its empire, especially given New Caledonia’s rich nickel deposits – although Macron wisely stops short of praising the two nations’ historic Kanaka trade link which saw Australia “blackbird” more than 60,000 slaves from the Solomon Islands, New Hebrides and New Caledonia who were transported to NSW and Queensland 1863-1904.

Islanders were forced to sign three year contracts. For many illiterate workers, their signature was a fingerprint. Whites might earn £30 a year but Islanders received weekly rations and £6 per year.  No-one raises the issue.

No mention either of our 1901 White Australia Act, which saw their forcible repatriation between 1906-1908, in a move which anticipated Peter Dutton’s department of Home Affairs, a parallel, if dog-whistled, xenophobic racism.

Yet Macron is quick to lecture Turnbull at The Opera House, Tuesday, over our PM’s collaboration with his party’s climate change Nazis.  “Revenons a nos moutons” ( Let’s get back to the subject at hand as they say in France.)

There is no planet B, the French President reminds us. No time for leaders in the coal industry’s deep pockets.

“I am fully aware of the political and economic debate surrounding this issue in your country, and I respect this,Macron says. But I think that actual leaders are those that can respect those existing interests, but at the same time decide to participate to something broader, to something more strategic.”

Not a peep. Our media is getting ready to attack Labor for not having costed its shadow government promises, while Scott Morrison is wowing our media with his careful leaks. A few such as Helen Razer in Crikey are to be commended for their outspoken honesty. Her theme is that Morrison is an abject failure.

You increased the gross debt by $254 billion. That’s $43 billion more than Labor stacked on in nearly six years — during the worst global recession in 80 years. You have reduced the nation’s net worth by a staggering $201.3 billion down to negative $407.3 billion!

Canberra’s Press Gallery is pregnant with a Federal Budget and in no state to endorse The Business Council of Australia’s $126 million war chest it says it will raise to defend itself and the tender innocence of its investors from the depredations of GetUp!, its class enemy Labor, whatever’s left of the unions and any other anti-business forces with the impudence to challenge the droit de seigneur of Australia’s capitalist elite.

Boosted also by his triumph in Newspoll number 31  – a boost which can largely be explained by a change in the pollster’s top secret speculative allocation of preferences, our own cheese-eating surrender monkey Malcolm Turnbull is virtually our own Rainbow Warrior, PM and Cabinet turd-polishers assure the nation this week.

Not only must his government publicly embrace its fetish for French submarines, there’s much to be made of its ineffectual pledge of $500 million – half the billion dollars it pledged earlier – to preserve The Great Barrier Reef, a 3444,68 square kilometre world heritage site facing certain extinction as the globe warms because of a climate change most of his party denies is happening, is attacked by the crown of thorns starfish and suffers coral bleaching.

The token gesture is hailed by all as another of the Australian Emperor’s great triumphs and certain evidence that his government is back in the driver’s seat where it belongs.

Seldom has a government looked more ridiculous. Or more compromised. More incompetent. Less trustworthy.

turnbull monash centre

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever, wrote George Orwell, foreseeing, our Border Protection policy, in the news this week as Australian War Memorial Director, Brendan Nelson proposes the creation of a type of shrine or monument to paramilitary thugs; the weaponising of compassion to enable us to deny our own innate humanity.

Similarly highlighted this week is the tender loving care our government lavishes on loan sharks, insurance touts, embezzlers and other predators in “the financial advice industry” at the expense of “ordinary hardworking Australians”. Yet nothing shows our open, transparent, democratic, government so clearly as its suppression of criticism; dissent.

Group hugs must surely break out all round at Sunday’s news, that the Coalition has pressured the UN to excise from its expert report on irrigation, a critique of the government’s $13 billion failure to restore our Murray-Darling river system.

The “Australia chapter” is now cut from the UN report “Does Improved Irrigation Technology Save Water?” published online by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Down the memory hole it goes; extinguished.

Water allocations to irrigators will in fact increase an extra 605 GL under innovative “on-farm efficiency: schemes but nothing may distract us from the government’s carefully orchestrated inquisition into usury and other money-lending malfeasance this week in Melbourne, an antipodean Malleus Maleficarum, which can turn grown men to water.

Banks Behaving Badly-or Business as Usual, a spell-binding, live-streaming, morality play, stars Royal Commissioner, The Honourable Kenneth Madison Hayne, QC, AO, as Grand Inquisitor, brilliantly assisted by Ms Rowena (shock and) Orr, QC.

The show, so much better than anything Labor had planned, government ministers keep telling us, continues its blockbuster run, as a hand-picked cast of spivs, charlatans and rogues and other financial advisers show open contempt for corporate cop, ASIC, and expose Coalition nobbling. Yet mystery shrouds this week’s show. Where are the big guns?

Conspicuous by their absence, possibly in witness protection, as secure as if in Monash fox-holes, are any CEOs.

Schadenfreude seizes the nation. Outrage. The drama has our full attention. True. Bonkers Brendan Nelson does his best to distract with his proposal to honour Border Force; to extend The Australian War Memorial to commemorate those brave souls who served in the war on compassion; our nation’s glorious battle with innocents; those compelled by cruel fate to seek asylum by any means. Some troops, he says, even jumped into the water to save people from drowning.

By Monday, the plot of Banks Behaving Badly includes dead people, knowingly being charged for financial advice; The CBA pockets $118 million for advice it doesn’t provide; NAB bribes people – its innovative “Introducer Program” -pays commissions to unqualified “spotters” – no financial expertise necessary- for home loan referrals, a subplot which includes forged payslips to settle loans, and envelopes stuffed with cash. The Introducer nets NAB $24 billion in loans.

(Former banking lobbyist, Scott Morrison’s tough new fines are capped at less than 1 per cent of that. Offenders will be brought to account, thunders former Goldman Sachs banker Turnbull. NAB is laughing all the way to the bank.)

Fee for no service turns out to be a nice little earner also. AMP’s head of financial advice, Anthony Regan, says he’s lost count of how many rip-offs; how many thousands of customers are charged fees for services they don’t receive. Lives are destroyed by bad advice; or when advisers’ financial ineptitude is compounded by avarice and duplicity.

It’s bad timing, however, for government by and for the banks, a Coalition which has to sell the electorate the last $35 billion of its $80 billion tax cut package, a gift of $13.2  billion in savings to our big four banks over the next ten years.

Even worse, its big business pals are no help. In the parallel universe where senate enquiries are held, Business Council of Australia’s CEO, Jennifer Westacott is asked, this week, by The Greens’ Lee Rhiannon.

“Can you give us an example of another country where tax cuts have resulted in wage rises?” 

Westacott wimps out. She’ll “take that question on notice”, despite the claim’s being a central plank of the BCA and the government’s campaign for the past two years. But let’s be fair. There’s too much business bashing around these days, as Westacott often wails. Above all, even the BCA can’t provide evidence that doesn’t exist.

Examples abound, however, from Canada or from The UK where, despite ten years’ company tax cuts, real wages continue to decline. The National Bank conducts one of Australia’s largest business surveys only to report that a mere 8 per cent of businesses would give workers a significant wage rise if they received a company tax cut.

One-in-five say they don’t need a tax cut to secure their company’s future. But who needs research in an age of neoliberal faith? The Coalition takes heart in the recent dismissal of The White House Chaplain, Jesuit Patrick Conroy who has held the job for seven years.  No reason has been given for Father Conroy’s sacking. Nor is it needed. In a Trumpian universe, it’s heresy to frown upon trickle-down or laugh at the Laffer Curve or even just express dissent.

Best explanation, reports The New York Times, is that the priest is being punished for his prayer last November, at the opening of a debate on the Republican tax bill. Conroy asked God to make sure that the members’ efforts “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

Amen. Fairness is the last thing our government needs in its agile, innovative business-friendly zeitgeist but former Xenophon team member, now the more prosaic Centre Alliance, Sterling Griff, (a name that conjures confidence) is quick to remind listeners of government trumpet ABC Radio National that some top BCA companies pay no tax.

Australia’s effective company tax rate is 12% already. He warns his audience, moreover, where cuts will come from.

“It’s hard to see how a reduction in corporate tax is not going to lead to a reduction in public services like health and education.”

“The economic case for these company tax cuts never stacked up. The benefits were largely to foreign shareholders, with a huge long-term revenue cost to the budget,” says The Australia Institute’s executive director, Ben Oquist when the Coalition withdraws the tax cut legislation it fails to get through the senate last month.

“It’s a tactical retreat” explains former HealthGuard and HBF Insurance companies’ general manager, Mathias Cormann.

Desperate to stop the rot, Malcolm Turnbull mounts a type of apology for his government’s howling down the very idea of a Royal Commission into banks, an opposition it kept up for two whole years. His government would have been “better off politically” to have called the Royal Commission, “several years ago”, he calls in from Berlin, Monday.

Not that he’s accepting any responsibility (Westminster or otherwise) for any malfeasance that his government has effectively enabled by its two years of spirited opposition, evasion and delay,

“The responsibility for wrongdoing lies with the people who did the wrongs. Let’s be clear about that,” he says, hopefully.

It is too little, too late and will do nothing to appease his critics who rue his dreadful political judgement; nor those who ask why his government protects wealthy banks and big businesses, while hounding and gouging the poor.

ASIC’s official boast is that it’s “Australia’s integrated corporate, markets, financial services and consumer credit regulator”. The Coalition hypes the regulator’s powers. Two years ago, Treasurer Scott Morrison claimed that,

“ASIC has the powers of a royal commission and, in fact, it has greater powers than a royal commission.”

But just in case, penalties will now be increased; jail time provided for some offences, a hollow response that overlooks the core problem. ASIC has neither the will nor the resources to act. It’s launched but one criminal case in ten years.

As this week’s testimony shows, ASIC’s the financial sector’s family pet, lying doggo or sitting up and begging to play fetch or rolling over to have its tummy tickled. Of course there’s a weasel-word for it. In ASIC- speak it “negotiated” rather than prosecuted misconduct cases which is why it’s brought only criminal prosecution in ten years.

Does Hayne’s royal command performance have more power? While a royal commission can refer suspected offences to the Director of Public Prosecutions who can then prosecute, in practice, criminal prosecutions rarely result from recommendations of either a royal commission or a parliamentary inquiry.

Key to the commission’s power are its terms of reference. Here is a huge weakness. Its terms of reference dictate that it is not required to look at anything the commissioner believes “has been, is being, or will be, sufficiently and appropriately dealt with by another inquiry or investigation or a criminal or civil proceeding”.

In other words, it will ignore the findings of at least 38 other inquiries held into banking and financial services since 2010. Sensational, shocking as it may be, the misconduct Hayne has revealed, so far, is but the latest scandalous chapter in a long series of instalments, all of which have also exposed ASIC as a Clayton’s corporate regulator; a paper tiger.

When The CBA ruined many clients with bad financial advice a 2014 Senate inquiry criticised ASIC for being “too slow to act, lack[ing] transparency and … too trusting of the big end of town”. The verdict still applies today.

In the meantime, by popular demand, – and the instigation of The Nationals helped by The Greens and with the late support of Labor, the show must go on.  And on. Talk abounds of an extended season. Yet can it fix anything?

Crusty Justice Hayne’s superbly orchestrated production is in danger of being upstaged by its own lurid revelations of the graft, fraud, usury, collusion, extortion, embezzlement, cheating, lying and bare-faced robbery integral to our banking system; as a series of wretched pin-striped small fry from the big four take turns to spill their guts.

Equally distracting are the sideshows. A stampede to steal the glory includes the two-bob populist Pauline Hanson, even though it was her hapless former colleague, Rod Culleton, a bankrupted WA farmer who campaigned for a royal commission. Perhaps she’s getting confused with her repeated calls for a Royal Commission into Islam.

Also confused is Hanson’s new pal, Tony Abbott who channels the Queen of Hearts. “Off with their heads”.

Tin-pot general of the monkey pod rebels, Abbott is pumped. He’s led his peacock peloton and mobile media squad coal revival cycle tour through the Latrobe Valley of death-by-coal-fire, his latest sortie in his “no sniping or undermining” war of revenge by attrition on Turnbull. He’s just back from the $100 million Monash Centre he had built in France.

He goes off like a frog in a sock. “Sack ASIC”, he shrieks, despite his own role as ASIC’s chief nobbler.

Abbott’s government snatched $120 million, a cut of 200 workers, from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, a pillaging which left the watchdog unable to do very much at all effectively, let alone chase up the banks. Instead, the corporate regulator would get banks to self-report. What could possibly go wrong?

At the same time, in July 2014, Mattias Cormann attempted to weaken Labor’s Future of Financial Advice legislation (FOFA) which sought to ensure that advisers acted in their customers’ best interests, amendments put up by the banks but lost only when two cross-benchers voted them down.

ASIC hit the panic button. It complained that all advisers would be caught on the hop. It would do nothing, it said until July 1 2015 – two whole years after the new law was supposed to apply.

This, the corporate regulator supported Cormann, giving advisers two extra years in which to charge commissions and evade their duty to put the clients first. This week has seen how AMP flouted the FOFA law with impunity.

“Through AMP’s dealings with ASIC regarding the extent and nature of its fee-for-no-service conduct, AMP adopted an attitude toward the regulator that was not forthright or honest, and demonstrated a deliberate attempt to mislead,” Ms Orr sums up Friday.

AMP and its advice businesses misled the regulator 20 times from 2015 to 2017 about the nature and extent of its fees-for-no-service practice.”

The Coalition is responsible. It can’t pretend now that it merely got the timing wrong. Surely. But that’s just what it does.

Time to chuck a U-turn. Not far from Hitler’s bunker in Berlin, in the Reichstag’s shadow, Monday, Turnbull grabs the Coalition handbrake; burns rubber in a tyre-shredding U-turn. The government’s been driving the wrong way up a one-way street for two years but a quick U turn will fix it. Memo: Get updated talking points to Kelly O’Dwyer.

Facing overwhelming evidence that its concerted opposition to a Royal Commission into the banks was palpably not in the public interest, a willful misreading, if not contemptuous defiance, of public opinion in defence of the top end of town, the PM and his minions hastily abandon their epic, sandbagged, campaign to defend their banking mates.

Seldom has a government looked more ridiculous. Or more compromised. More incompetent. Less trustworthy.

Tragically, Terry McMaster, of Dover Financial, a pillar of the financial advice industry, oxymoron of the week, is taken ill, mid-sentence – but quickly recovers sufficient self-possession to sit bolt upright in his ambulance stretcher like some grandee being ferried up above the masses upon a palanquin. He’s excused from further participation in Hayne’s show.

But not before he’s been able to defend hiring advisers who were under investigation and later sanctioned for serious breaches. At least, he makes some incoherent response. Perhaps he’s just choking.

McMaster’s also questioned on Dover contracts which purport to give client protection yet which, in fact, attempt to indemnify Dover advisers from accusations of bad conduct. Doubtless ASIC plans to catch up with him on that, too.

Dover is the only big financial advisory group to decline to assist the Royal Commission. It has not supplied adequate documentation. Yet McMaster has dramatically collapsed in the attempt. His clients will wish him a speedy recovery.

You can’t fault the performances. The Royal Commission into crony capitalism is an orchestrated confession of wrongdoing; a lavish smorgasbord of malfeasance even if the grubby money-grubbers of the “wealth industry” themselves, are cynical, untrustworthy, grossly overpaid, self-interested spivs who’d sell their own grandmothers.

The formidable Rowena Orr, QC, continues to impress as she leads a brilliant supporting cast in homage to the English theatrical tradition of personifying justice as a Judge, a trend since Respublica, the mid-15th Century, morality play which has the body politic under insidious, deceptive attack from Avarice, Indolence, Oppression and Adulation.

By Monday, however, our political masters are back on song, a Hallelujah chorus of shock, surprise and outrage, the necessary ritual disclaimer and distancing which will enable them to snatch the whip hand back from Hayne.

“I have to say I have been surprised. I have to admit some of the revelations in recent times, I have been surprised.”

Mathias Cormann tells Sky News, Australia’s Fox News of government spin, while Matt Canavan, Minister for Coal, is “shocked“. Kelly O’Dwyer is “appalled” in a in a duet with Barrie Cassidy on Insiders. At the Self-Managed Super Fund expo in Melbourne on Friday, (no irony in the venue?) the assistant treasurer is back on stage and on song.

“The royal commission has highlighted in the most profound way, some of the devastating personal consequences that have resulted from corporate misconduct in the financial services sector,” she says.

“The government did get the timing wrong.”

That’s it, then. Just dud timing. Could happen to any government bank protection racket. As Helen Razer notes in Crikey, not one MP is surprised, or shocked, or appalled, or devastated enough to call out a scandal when they see one.

As Bob Katter fears, Karen Middleton reports, the real problem remains. Banks will continue to transfer loans between them, unilaterally dictate and then change the terms, downgrade property values and then foreclose without negotiation, seize and offload the properties at fire-sale prices, leaving borrowers still owing them the difference.

And it’s all perfectly legal.

Routed by the sheer force of numbers, rubbery figures, lies, impersonation and other evidence of illegality elicited from bankers so far, by beak of the week, Justice Hayne and his crack team of silks so far, Monday, Malcolm Bligh Turnbull beats a retreat on his quixotic Coalition forces’ foolhardy ideological charge against Labor and The Greens’ impregnable position; that there be a Royal Commission into Banking. It’s also a retreat from credibility and legitimacy.

News of the PM’s surrender from Berlin where he commends John Howard’s Pacific Solution (2001); lecture Germany on how to deal with refugees as he fills in time before opening yet another monument to John Monash and to honour his government’s militarisation of history and fetishising of war.

Some may admire his chutzpah. Germany took in a million Syrian refugees. The nonsense that border control helps build a multicultural society is insulting; demeaning to any audience. But it’s all designed for domestic consumption.

Turnbull makes no apology for his government’s enabling of what clearly amounts to a banking oligarchy; helping our new robber barons hold the country to ransom, destroying careers, wrecking families and ruining the lives of thousands.

“It was a poor political decision“, is the best the former merchant banker can manage.