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G20 Brisbane boondoggle: all talk no action on main stage; yet some hope in voices off.


(Growth, Growth, Growth)

(Growth, Growth, Growth)

(Growth, Growth, Growth)

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung

Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game

It’s easy

There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made

No one you can save that can’t be saved

Nothing you can do but you can learn to be you in time

It’s easy

All you need is Growth

All you need is Growth

All you need is Growth

Growth is all you Need

(Growth, Growth, Growth)

(Growth, Growth, Growth)

(Growth, Growth, Growth)

Adapted from All you need is love, with apologies to LENNON, JOHN / MCCARTNEY, PAUL

Preaching growth yet not explaining how to achieve it; in denial over pressing global issues and events, yet all too keenly aware of its image, the latest G20 was strong on talk, self-promotion and attention-seeking yet feeble in any useful or real capacity. Lacking any genuine economic theory or strategy, weary world leaders attempted to weather the storm under a threadbare neo-con security blanket, chanting the growth mantra for reassurance while blindly leaving the world’s future to a mythical free market to determine.

With dark storms brewing in world finance, peace, climate and health, the G20 fixedly looked the other way, its impotence symbolised by its hapless, outmanoeuvred bantam chairman, Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who fussed and scratched around his own parochial nest clucking about needing co-payments for doctor’s visits, privatising universities, not taxing carbon and in ‘growing’ GDP, leaving President Obama to set the real agenda. Having promised no talk-fest, Abbott did little but talk, leaving real problems to fester; leaving plans to others; postponed for later.

Part of its latest failure arises from the G20’s own flawed nature. It is stretched paper-thin to accommodate a diverse membership. It has no clear identity or Raison d’être, and it meanders in ever decreasing circles, from meeting to meeting, overshadowed by its own ineffectuality – its history of grand intentions undercut by un-met and broken promises.

The G20 lacks teeth; it meets to make consensus declarations which are not binding and in Russia’s case in the past, quickly broken. It dances to the tune of the IMF, an institution with a track record of toxic assistance in the form of loans predicated on domestic ‘liberalisation reforms’ – loans which can cripple the beneficiary, as in Argentina’s case in 2001, a country which only began to recover from collapse when it had repudiated its IMF loans and their conditions. The patient can be squeezed to death by the doctor.

Accordingly, the G20’s record is one of overpromised, overpriced underachievement. Last weekend’s meeting alone cost Australian taxpayers close to half a billion dollars. The money would have been better spent on the nation’s health and education. Perhaps the trend will continue making the meeting a type of self-bankrupting potlatch ceremony.

G20s are long on promises. The naïve would be forgiven for assuming that the G must stand for ‘gunna’ as in Joe Hockey’s line: ‘we are gunna grow GDP by at least 2%.’ Not a murmur from him, however, on how that growth will be achieved. Apart from cutting government spending, which is rather like feeding your pigs less while expecting them to gain weight, there was no road map, no direction given on how to achieve economic growth. This is primarily because reason in economics has been usurped by neo-con dogma. Magical thinking alone, it seems, underpins the Australian leader’s assertions that growth will create jobs, and that the G20 serves ordinary men and women, but who needs evidence when you have dogma? All, it seems, you need is a spin machine and a catchy slogan. All you need is growth; growth is the magical mantra.

The record, sadly, tells another story. The feeble growth of the world economy today is a telling reminder of G20’s failure to deliver the goods. Yet it continues to promote IMF doctrine. Rehabilitate the discredited IMF. IMF austerity programmes have yet to make any country better. Yet inherent faults aside, or because of them, the latest G20 demanded effective leadership. In a microcosm of the G20’s broader history, that call remained conspicuously unanswered in Brisbane last weekend.

Much of the Brisbane G20 meeting’s failure resulted from the narrow horizons, limited understanding and experience of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Abbott seeks the international spotlight without providing the leadership needed to earn it. Adequate preparation would have been a good first step, as would deeper analysis and understanding of the issues. A broader agenda would have been another; but this would have required better judgement. For Abbott it was a political catastrophe. The PM blew his privileged opportunity to rise to the occasion; to measure up as any kind of international statesman.

Spin doctors are now peddling a sanitised version of G20 events which commends world leaders present for setting specific targets. And an agreement to share information which might lead to catching tax-evaders. That’s a lot of spin. The collective GDP growth 2% target over five years is laughably inadequate and there is no agreed plan on how it might be achieved. For practical details each country will have to rely on self-help. Each G20 country’s ministers have been set some homework. They are to bring back an action plan to a November meeting. It’s like an old trick to get everyone else to do your work: lend me your watch and I will tell you the time.

The sharing of information about tax fraud is similar. Nations already have all the information required. What is needed is the will. The risk in all this avoidance and aversion is that the world is being helped to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Indeed, concealed in the verbiage emerging, especially from domestic failure, Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey is evidence of the bad old laissez-faire thinking that had made the GFC possible. Nowhere is there a glimmer of enlightenment; nowhere is the wisdom of experience, nowhere is there a clear and coherent plan. No road-map. Just a fuzzy, non-binding agreement to pursue growth somehow. But with a lot of figures on it. A lot of lipstick on this pig.

Overshadowed by the Ebola crisis, war in the Middle East and Russian ambitions in Ukraine, this G20 was on track towards unparalleled disaster when a ray of hope emerged in the form of Air Force One bearing the United States President Barack Obama. Thank, God for Obama who emerged, deus ex machina, as G20 leader by default. The US President conferred on the G20 an impassioned call to global leadership from ‘off campus’ which its chairman Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has neither the wit to understand, nor the means to command. Abbott proved the truth of the old adage that sometimes the job is just too big for the man. Fortunately for the rest of the world, Obama was ready and willing to make up the deficit.

Effectively upstaged and sidelined by Barack Obama’s timely ultimatum delivered off site in an impassioned speech at the University of Queensland, Abbott could but listen in as the United States President told him exactly what he thought of him. It was the strongest public statement of contempt yet by a US leader to an Australian PM.

Obama captured a spotlight which had been searching for a leader. His knowledge, eloquence and his concern for others upstaged Abbott entirely. Bringing hope to what would have otherwise would have remained another mindless, directionless, turn of the G20 organ grinder’s crank-handle Obama led by reminding every leader of their responsibility to future generations to act to reduce carbon emissions and global warming,

Overshadowed if not totally eclipsed, the G20 meeting maundered on its ineffectual way into obscurity assisted greatly by the parochial duplicity of Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott who feigned an interest in boosting world GDP but who proved his only real commitment was to using the meeting as a means to gain global authority to overcome his government’s signal failure to even pass its first budget.

Abbott, moreover, has made the risky gamble of pledging to support GDP growth targets by counting on unhatched chickens of budget savings measures he has so far been unable to get through the Australian parliament. Measures that look increasingly unlikely to pass in future. Nothing like honouring your commitments with a cheque that will bounce. Even if the proposed legislation is passed, it is likely to contribute to contraction not growth. Devoid of a plan, lacking any effective theoretical engine yet tracking along IMF rails, the latest G20 show is no less than a collective confidence trick in which world leaders meet to keep up appearances and boost morale while effective control of the world economy is ceded to the caprice of free-market capitalism and vested interests.

G20 show exposes Abbott government as completely and utterly bereft of credibility.

Tony Abbott at G20

Hats off to ABC TV News 24 for their fearless, recklessly endless live coverage of the death of the G20 today. Hats off also for generously including footage of the death throes of any last thread of credibility the Abbott government could pretend to. Stoic seekers of truth, the dutiful, the elderly and infirm, the perpetually confused and others who found themselves inexplicably close to a TV during Tony Abbott’s opening of the G20 show gasped as they were treated to some of the most compelling television ever made. In an excoriating, unhurried-to-the-point of-languorous expose, the ABC revealed the emperor has no clothes.

Under siege itself for preferring the truth over what politicians choose to tell them, our ABC, a publicly under-funded broadcaster mustered the courage today to make TV without fear or favour. It showed its public the shocking truth. True, there was some gesture towards timewasting twaddle, such as forms the substance of commercial TV, when drift-sock anchor Tony Eastley padded things out with his sonorous grain-fed beef basso profondo.  We were spell-bound as much by his tone as his capacity to extemporise. And improvise. And keep talking. And talk some more.

Impressively long on the waffle Eastley even ventured into boosting the event with his speculation that just getting together was an end itself for G20 leaders.  Nothing like lowering all expectations. Nothing like conveying the truth that the even the anchor is bored witless. Finally having the PM’s parliamentary secretary Joshua Anthony Frydenberg on screen was a master stroke. No doubt, Mr Frydenberg was volunteered by the Abbott machine just to keep the commentary on the rails. Having Frydenberg of Kooyong on camera to bounce ideas off proved a master stroke. Every unctuous comment Eastley made appeared objective by contrast to his master’s voice, Frydenberg.

Yet, despite the show’s all at sea anchor, and perhaps because of him, it was shockingly real, live coverage. Expect reprisals. Heads, no doubt, will roll on Monday. The ABC’s inept coverage illuminated Abbott’s idle posturing perfectly, set the stage for his government’s inevitable collapse and gave the coup de grace to the G20 itself. On this day, the ailing G20 died and was reborn, stripped naked of any pretension to substance, revealed as a bone-crushing, hand-shaking, personal space-invading almost nipple rubbing photo opportunity come TV game show. International guests had to come on down as Tony Abbott centre stage came too close, held hands too long and grimaced shamelessly at the camera. This was the point of the whole shebang. Tony the media tart pressing flesh, pulling unwary unwilling world leaders into his chest, holding that handshake for the camera.

It cannot have been easy TV to make. Evidently Aunty had to economise on adequately briefing journalists covering the event and it did lack that handy extra camera to show us the faces of international leaders hanging on every Abbottism. Or, on the other hand if anyone present was paying any attention whatsoever least of all making the risky attempt to follow along.

A random, accidental shot of Putin showed him to be completely disengaged, while appearing to occupy himself with what may have been navy ballistics calculations on a notepad. The overall effect was strangely heightened as the PM’s halting opening domestic piffle appeared to be delivered into a vacuum or a stony indifference. But then to get your guests to listen, you need first to have something to say. And the means to say it. Eastley’s smooth flowing basso profondo effortlessly utterly upstaged Abbott’s halting staccato strine baritone. And shredded any final hint of credibility.

First, as anticipated, the Prime Minister was completely unprepared. When he warned earlier that it would be no talkfest, we did not expect him to lead by example. Instead of any inspiring words, any meretricious rhetoric or, heaven forbid, any vision statement, Abbott insulted world leaders with a platitudinous and hypocritical injunction to be honest with each other followed by an insufferably irrelevant and tedious rehash of his own deceitful, stale election slogans. To cap it off, Abbott’s tone was apologetic. World leaders were treated to his frustrations as he shared his inability to impose a $7 fee on GP visits. Not all was sharing. He blamed voters who love free government programs for supporting wasteful spending. In brief, he whinged to the world how hard it was to be Prime Minister. Inspiring stuff.

Second, the ABC coverage reinforced the superficiality of proceedings. Whilst we were assured that the hard work had gone on beforehand, nowhere was that in evidence, except perhaps by the absence of physical conflict. After the Prime Minister’s ponderous wasting of everyone’s time with a recap of the highlights of his trivial and unsuccessful domestic policy over the last fourteen months, there may have been a few observers who either fell asleep or were generously prepared to give his government the benefit of the doubt. Later shots spliced into the commentary revealed that this indeed was the case. When Joe Hockey faced the cameras to smarm his way through another flatulent barrage of platitudinous hokum purporting to be the consensus of the finance ministers, the intellectual and moral poverty of the Abbott government was as they say, firmly locked in.

Abbott’s kiss of death to G20 Brisbane.

abbott and hockey blind lead the blind

What leadership? Abbott and Hockey in tense G20 discussion.

The good ship G20 is adrift, rudderless, on the turbulent high seas of international finance. It has been for some years. The G20 is widely held to be ‘in serious transition‘ according to Canadian academic Professor Andrew F. Cooper. Whilst it won praise for being a unique forum for global economic cooperation in the GFC, it has failed to deliver on a series of pressing international issues. Climate change, growing inequality, growing unemployment, the global decline in the value of wages to GDP are but a few of its many pressing challenges. Whilst it would be unkind to say that the G20 has achieved little so far,clearly there is much work to be done. Is it up to the job? Is Australia up to the job of providing desperately needed leadership? Are we serious? Or are we putting lipstick on a pig? The evidence so far is damning.

The G20’s role during the GFC has been embellished. No record of decisive action or intervention exists to support its glowing reputation in some quarters. Apart from a few fans who talk it up, the balance of opinion is yet to be convinced. Expert observers and analysts differ on how useful it was even as a forum.

Action by the US Federal Reserve and Treasury, together with a G20 commitment not to raise trade barriers; fiscal expansion and agreement for tripling IMF ‘firefighting’ capacity, made a vital contribution to changing expectations to arrest a potential global economic free-fall. This is a popular view. Yet others remain to be convinced.

Chris Berg dismisses as ‘a fantasy’ the idea that the G20 played any significant role in the GFC.  Certainly, he argues, it played no coordinating role; nations more or less acted on their own, with more or less success.

Yet the G20 has good intentions. Its aim of a GDP increase of 2% is a step in the right direction. But there is no action plan; no clear case that 2% is enough and no plan on how this might be achieved. No real leadership has been shown by the chairman, Tony Abbott. Indeed, so little has Abbott contributed so far that Australia’s turn to play host at a time of mounting international crises could well spell the kiss of death for the G20.

So far, Tony Abbott has conducted one brief photo opportunity and made the statement that this is the most important meeting in Australia’s history, ever. If this is the extent of his contribution, he risks appearing to treat the G20 with cavalier contempt. Cynics would reply that he needs to do less telling how important it is and do something to show that he himself recognises it. Optimists point out that there is still one week to go and we might yet see his grasp tighten.

Ironically, Abbott’s statement of the meeting’s importance echoes Tania Plibersek’s words when she expressed dismay in June that whilst visiting the USA, Abbott cancelled key meeting with the world’s top financial officials. It was as if he could not grasp the G20’s status let alone his role in it. Now he’s making a point of telling us he knows it is important.

Whatever its importance, without any leadership, without any concrete plan to match its lofty rhetoric, the G20 is like the Cheshire cat, in danger of vanishing, leaving nothing behind but its smile. Or is it a case of kiss me and wave me goodbye; the kiss of death? Tony Abbott may well have concluded that the G20 is moribund and perhaps he has resolved to hasten its demise by cynically accepting the public kudos of chairmanship without any of the responsibility.

Real leadership is critical to the G20’s continuance. Australia has a privileged opportunity to lead, a responsibility to lead and expectations to meet. Wayne Swan writes:

Leading the premier group of economies for international economic cooperation and decision making is a rare privilege. It is a coveted global leadership role. Australia needs to fully utilise it if we are to live up to our reputation as a nation that punches above its weight. It is also an opportunity to deliver on a number of reforms we have long advocated through the G20, reforms that have domestic and international upsides.

Will the G20 sail itself? It has such a motely crew that it demands a captain. Of course, the G20 has its technocrats to do the real work and Abbott’s light touch at the wheel will not have deterred G20 boffins from working on what Joe Hockey described in June as a ‘back to basics approach’.

What this means precisely is unclear but given the publicity from the prior gathering, the 16 November meeting will focus on economic growth. This is a worthy topic. Unemployment, poverty and inequality are increasing world-wide. Sustained long-term growth is vital to meet these challenges. But whilst Joe Hockey wants to set course towards 2% growth, this is not enough to fix the pressing problems. Nor is his government’s dry economic agenda likely to prove anything but a hindrance.  A fixation with ‘fiscal consolidation’ and a narrow view of infrastructure spending, his government’s signature, will not fix growing unemployment.

The Abbott government has a die-hard laissez-faire attitude to promoting economic growth. Nothing original here. And there is  plenty of evidence that it will not, cannot work. Leaving the market to create growth all by itself does not match the G20 experience in the GFC. Nor does it match today’s G20 rhetoric. It suggests a lazy retreat into ideology and the ignoring of the lessons of experience.

Abbott talks of lowering wages. He uses the weasel-word ‘flexibility’ to signify paying workers less. He talks of imported workers from China and India. It is understood that this is a cost reduction exercise. Bosses hire workers at lower wages. Reducing wages costs will make them employ more people. Yet it remains a theory.

Not only is it without evidence, it is also out of date: current developments in economic policy support raising minimum wages as a way of increasing demand for goods and services. In turn employment across the industries grows to meet the increased demand, domestically and globally. Businesses make more money. This parallels stimulus packages used during the global financial crisis to promote economic growth.

There are many other ways in which the Abbott government is totally at odds with G20 thinking. Out of touch with what leaders know has worked in the GFC. Its privatization perspective on infrastructure is but one example. Overall it is so totally at odds with current G20 thought and practice that it is difficult to see the Prime Minister as being equipped to even contribute to discussion, let alone lead the G20 on 16 November. Even if he was properly prepared. Even if he had a plan.

Australia: wake up to yourself. Stop the war on asylum seekers and refugees. Take in the suffering and the needy.


When then opposition leader, Tony Abbott announced his new ‘Border Protection’ asylum-seeker and refugee policy in July 2013, it seemed at first as if it were a bad joke: a grotesque parody of our nation’s rights and responsibilities as much as an absurd over-reach to a politically sensitive but minor issue: the arrival of sea-borne refugees on our shores.  The name did not help. The term ‘border protection’ itself is grandiose and deceptive. It misleads by implying that our borders are threatened by asylum seekers and refugees. Typically from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan our asylum seekers and refugees flee by boat from the Taliban, from civil wars and dangers we can barely guess at. Many of these are women and children. Boat arrivals represent a tiny fraction of those who arrive via our very porous borders. On average 1000 per year come by sea. Contrast this with 150,000 arriving annually by air. Border protection, like ‘turn back the boats’ is a costly political stunt which exploits ignorance and xenophobia for narrow political advantage. Ultimately it injures Australia’s international reputation, betrays our common humanity and consumes billions of dollars which could and should be better spent in education and other real priorities.

In 2013 Australians were promised that a ‘three-star commander’ would be put in charge of a military-led border protection campaign. It was a perplexing term to most of us. The US Army ranks generals with stars; perhaps, we wondered, this might be a new, local variant. It wasn’t. Australian forces use stars differently. But it worked, to some degree, as an attention-seeking attempt to bestow legitimacy and status. It sounded impressive if somewhat forced. The times demanded no less: Abbott proceeded to talk everything else up. Most notably he declared the waves of asylum-seekers arriving by boat to be a ”national emergency”, a term he has subsequently stretched to fit the economy and the ISIS and other jihadists’ threat. A three star commander, it was implied, surely would have the rank and the nous to fix the problem. And the power. As time would tell, however, this pseudo-military footing permitted the government to avoid accountability in “Operation Sovereign Borders”. Key questions as to what was happening were met with stony silence. Answers could not be provided to ‘operational matters.’

Operation Sovereign borders would not only boast a three star commander, it was to be a hamburger with the lot. Touting a streamlined efficiency that Liberal leaders love to pretend characterises their ‘business-like’ approach to government, Abbott promised that his ”Operation Sovereign Borders” would combine 12 agencies involved in ‘border protection under one command’, a military supremo to be recommended by Chief of Defence, General David Hurley yet not answerable to him. Commander kangaroo would instead report directly to no less an exalted entity than the immigration minister. But no-one need be told the substance of that reporting. It was left to speculation as to how this secretive streamlined unity would be achieved or how well it would work. Also left unsaid was that Hurley did not endorse the proposal. Nor was he consulted.

The irregular power structure was commended to the electorate as ‘a unified chain of command’. Again, anyone would think we were at war so greatly was the package larded with pseudo-military terms and assumptions. Anyone might have wondered at the proposal’s implicit advocacy of a military solution to a complex issue. When all else fails, fall back on brute force. Was this, somehow, the best our little nation could come up with? Some of us wondered whether the next step would be the proclamation of martial law.

For many the first reaction was disbelief. Surely no-one would take this Gilbertian dictatorship seriously. Surely anyone could foresee a problem with the chain of authority and its opaque operational secrecy. Surely the three stars would quickly lose their shine as commander kangaroo was laughed out of the water, or lost at sea. Surely we would come to our senses and remember our legal and moral obligation to those forced to seek asylum. Sadly, this was not to be. Quite the contrary: instead appear increasing signs of a widespread belief that “Operation Sovereign Borders” is ‘working’, as a Labor politician put it this week, (before others in the party remonstrated). The same comment by a journalist from the Guardian newspaper on Q&A a few days ago drew a round of applause. it was a chilling illustration of the power of propaganda.

Sadly, ‘border protection’ appears now to be embedded in Australian government policy and practice. It has seeped into our collective unconscious, that part of the national psyche too fearful to think straight. It is found in that unreasoned acceptance of rebranded, re-packaged cruelty, hostility and indifference to others in danger and distress that finds expression in ‘turn back the boats’, Abbott’s endlessly repeated slogan. And immigration minister Scott Morrison acts as if he is accountable to no-one, including the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs as evidenced in his boorish, bullying behaviour whilst giving evidence to The National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. Certainly he has been able to spend billions, at a time of budget emergency.

Border protection dovetails neatly with the heightened paranoia recently invoked by the Abbott government in which it is held that we are at grave risk of attack from ‘those who hate our way of life’. Ostensibly to protect ourselves from terrorists, we accepted new liberties with language and have agreed to new laws which effectively permit the state to increase its surveillance and power over its citizens. The theatre of national security has also scored political popularity points for a poorly polling government into the bargain. A poll published in The Age today indicated a disturbing doubling of those Australians who felt their government could be trusted.

Border protection rears its ugly head in what is fondly misnamed our national conversation, a conversation which is so dominated by the agenda of vested interests and media that it is neither national nor a conversation. As Julian Burnside observes in his foreword to Marc Isaacs, The Undesirables, the phrase is misleading. For despite the newspeak, and despite the Abbott government’s militaristic procedures and posturing, the fact is that asylum seekers have a right to come to Australia. It is their human right. Australia is, of course,  a signatory to the universal declaration of human rights, a declaration our nation helped to create.

Australia has an obligation under international law to admit asylum seekers. Instead, for narrow political gain, our leaders have persuaded us to pretend we are at war with them. It is time we completely threw out this case. it is untenable. it is mutually destructive. It does not become us. It does not meet our commitments to human rights. It denies our humanity. And it will break our budget. We do not have the resources to fight a war on asylum seekers on the water and a war on jihadists in the Iraqi desert. In the interests of humanity and our dwindling material resources, it is high time we stopped the Border Protection nonsense. Operation Sovereign Borders should be scrapped immediately. Scrap the language of illegals, border protection and all the associated newspeak which condones cruelty and promotes hatred. Send the three star Commander back into the navy. Billions of dollars could then be diverted into an investment in education. Australians could be helped to rediscover their true role in a world that is likely to have more rather than fewer asylum seekers and refugees. We could lead the world by demonstrating our enlightened understanding and natural compassion in taking in those who seek refuge here. And in the process, perhaps, we could rediscover what it means to be human in a world of growing hostility, division and indifference.

RET backflip by LNP defies reason; denies reality but protects old king coal.

Ian McFarlane appeared on ABC Insiders today, Sunday 26 October to confirm that the Abbott government wants to wind back renewable energy targets. He also continued the Abbott ministry’s special blend of specious argument, deception and denial and its commitment to serving yesterday’s vested interests and industries.  Interviews such as this increasingly reveal a government prepared to go to great lengths to misrepresent; delay, prevaricate; do almost anything rather than give any honest or open account of itself. Ministers increasingly seem to act as misrepresentatives of the people; ministers who misrepresent themselves and their actions with impunity as if that’s what all good politicians must do. The recent demise of Gough Whitlam should be sufficient example to dispel their cynical delusion were it not for their inherent wilful blindness.

Now, Ian ‘Chainsaw’ Mcfarlane is not a bad sort of a bloke for a native of Kingaroy. As Climate Change Spokesman for the Coalition in 2009, he worked on a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme with Minister for Climate Change Penny Wong, before a leadership spill deposed then party leader Malcolm Turnbull  allowing Tony Abbott,to narrowly win leadership. Soon after, the policy was overturned.  The member for Groom probably works well on bipartisan committees but it was painful to watch his attempts to defend his government’s reneging on an election promise. Painful also was the elephant in the room. Old king coal is alive and well and in control of LNP decision-making. Even worse was Chainsaw’s attempt to hide the decision behind statistics.

Questioned closely but good-naturedly by Barry Cassidy, McFarlane stonewalled. He resisted any construction Cassidy might offer on our behalf, especially that it was a broken promise and one which was calculated to cause hardship to those in the renewable industry. Instead of even the most modest concession all he could do was repeat his claim that everything was OK; the percentage as a real 20 percent. It was as if he believed viewers were stupid enough to be confused by the figures or taken in by the evasion. Or that if they weren’t it didn’t matter. His masters would look after the next election victory, too.

Other probing questions from Cassidy sought to provide valuable context into the decision making and the level of the government’s commitment. They were good questions which deserved straight answers. Straight answers might inform the people or fulfil the Minister’s duty to satisfy the people’s right to know. But once again, in what is becoming the Abbott’s government style, the people’s right to straight answers was brushed aside.

The minister kept his cards close to his chest, protesting that he was not going to negotiate on TV. Why weaken his position before beginning talks with other parties? Yet there were surely some details, he could concede, some insights he could safely communicate. A little less of the overweening contempt for being held to account would have been useful, too.

In the end, Chainsaw chose to be unhelpful. This tactic is becoming all too familiar. The style of his approach, his strategy of denial and withholding information resembles the would-be minister for Ebola, redoubtable Immigration Minister Scott Morrison who approaches interviews with all the hide, tact and tractability of a Mallee bull. Communicated is a smug superiority assisted by a condescending unwillingness bordering on contempt that he could ever get real, ever engage in real dialogue. The subtext is ugly. It is dismissive and vainglorious. Because you don’t count. We are in power. We will do whatever we can get away with. Run along Sonny, nothing to see here.

It was depressing TV. Here is an elected government in a western democracy once again flouting its responsibility to work towards a sustainable future, a democratically elected government that cannot muster the courage to make a straight statement about cutting its commitment to renewable energy. Mcfarlane explained the agreed target of 20% would now be revised downward to match the drop in energy sales. In other words, the energy policy on renewable targets is largely dictated by dinosaur mates in the coal-burning power generation industry.

In real terms it means a cut of about 40% and threatens many who have committed to the manufacture and installation of renewable power. It is another ignorant and retrograde step from a government that is prepared to back big capital and bugger the survival of the planet. A government that looks to its rich and powerful mates for its action plan rather than heed reality or look to the future. Or listen to its electorate. It’s always about short term political advantage. Climate change is absolute crap. Pollution doesn’t matter so long as the power company leaders continue to make obscenely fat profits.

The RET target back down is another broken promise in a series from our political leaders who promised whatever it took to get elected without any real conviction or commitment. One in power, it has practised a ruthless pragmatism in the service of vested interests who have everything to gain by winding back renewable energy targets, as if there were no tomorrow.

Australia needs to get real on Ebola crisis

When the going gets tough, in Billy Ocean’s song, the tough get going. Yet when it comes to Ebola, Australian PM, self-styled tough guy Tony Abbott, wants to firmly stay put.

Abbott’s advisors need to work harder. They need to tell the PM frankly that putting his head in the sand is not a good look; opting for non-involvement is not an option. They could start with the message that his non-involvement sends. It is not flattering: it he doesn’t suit his macho man of action image and it certainly does not signal any deep concern or even a sound grasp of realities. Indeed, he is choosing to ignore local experts; ignore popular opinion.

Abbott’s stance is not representative of all Australians. Certainly, it fails to meet the expectations of Australian health care professionals. Australian medical experts understand that Ebola concerns us all. They want the government to see that the disease demands an effort from all nations. And they want their government to act immediately.

AMA President, A/Prof Brian Owler, sees an evolving international humanitarian crisis, in which Australia must provide urgent direct assistance. Australia should be providing more money to help contain the spread of the disease, and we should also be sending teams of medical and health professionals to help treat the thousands of people, across several countries, affected by Ebola.

“The AMA acknowledges the recent commitment of $18 million by the Australian Government, but it is clear now that much more needs to be provided. If the Government can get military arms airlifted to northern Iraq at short notice, surely we can airlift medical arms and legs to West Africa just as quickly to save lives. Australia and other developed nations must show leadership and act immediately to provide greater support to WHO and the people of West Africa affected by this human tragedy,” A/Prof Owler said.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is quick to remind us, Australia has virtuously contributed 18 million dollars but will not send medical personnel. Why? The Abbott government’s reasons sound like excuses. West Africa is too far away from Australia. We are already donating money. We need to have safety guarantees.

Many individual Australians see it differently; they have not hesitated to exercise their humanity. They have no trouble ‘getting it’.  They have quickly shown greater insight and understanding than their government can muster. Australian volunteers understand that money is not enough. Personnel are urgently required.  On the ground. Ebola is a big enough threat to world health to risk your life fighting.

Accordingly, thirty Australians are estimated to be working in West Africa for organisations such as the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières fighting Ebola. Their commitment is admirable, reassuring. These men and women understand what needs to be done and they get on with it.  They appreciate that Ebola is everyone’s business, the collective responsibility of every one of us.

Disappointingly, Abbott appears determined to ignore Australia’s responsibility as an international citizen. What is he playing at? His cautiously timid response contrasts markedly with his other forays into international relations such as his recent hairy-chested response to ‘shirt-front’ Vladimir Putin. No shirt-fronting here. Just a quick side step or perhaps a duck and weave, keeping his head down.

Abbott’s response is also in dramatic contrast to his eagerly pledging Australian Military support to the United States call for a joint mission to fight ISIS in the Iraq and Syria. He made the pledge before being asked. Despite having no clear strategy, carrying high risks and with no Iraqi legal indemnity in place except for a loose agreement on a legal framework, Australia has agreed to commit half a billion dollars a year at least to the ‘humanitarian mission.’

Abbott has been quick to fend off critics. He counters suggestions Australia is not doing enough to fight Ebola, by working the responsibility angle: he claims it would be “irresponsible” to send personnel to West Africa without ‘an iron-clad guarantee’ that any health worker requiring treatment after becoming infected with the lethal virus would receive it from one of Australia’s political allies.

Health Minister Peter Dutton argues that an infected person would not survive the 30-hour flight to Australia if they were to contract the virus in West Africa. Government officials claim it could take up to a week to evacuate an infected person to Australia. It hasn’t stopped the volunteers. And it ignores potential medical care for infected personnel partnerships in other countries such as Cuba.

On the face of it, Australia’s response is damning. Australia’s donation of 18 million dollars, is ‘lethally inadequate’ according to Médecins Sans Frontières International, Dr Joanne Liu who contends that ‘The fight against Ebola is like a war and we need to send a clear chain of command.’

Some wars, it seems, are more popular than others to Australia’s leaders. The Australian government is perfectly willing to commit at least half a billion a year on air strikes and military advisers which are guaranteed to ensure the deaths of innocent men, women and children in Iraq. It is willing to give millions to Cambodia with no strings attached to induce that country to take asylum seekers. It is prepared to spend billions on off-shore camps for asylum seekers. Yet it baulks at rolling up its sleeves and fighting Ebola.

All of this begs the question of Australia’s priorities. Our present stance is both unrealistic, unsustainable and unworthy.  We pride ourselves on our national mythos of capability and mateship. We are proud to take our part on world agencies. If we are genuinely deserving of our seat on the UN Security Council or our place in G20, however, we need to put up or shut up.

The Ebola outbreak is our worst on record. 9000 people have been infected. More than half those affected have died. On 8 August, the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the epidemic as “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times”.

The UN has given the world a deadline of 60 days to get the disease under control or face “unprecedented situation for which we don’t have a plan”, warning Africa could see up to 10,000 new Ebola cases a week if the disease is not contained.

Australia needs to take its head out of the sand and act in a way that equates with its responsibilities as a world citizen.

Economic Girly Man

In what can only be described as another clumsy fumble for attention, Australia’s FInance Minister Mathias Cormann has lumbered into the budget debate calling Bill Shorten ‘an economic girly man’.

Cormann did intend any compliment as Eva Cox brightly suggested on ABC Radio this afternoon. The Finance Minister was not enlightened or inspired by a view of economics that was not all about secret men’s business. Believe it or not, he meant it as a type of taunt.

Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. Perhaps Belgians fall about laughing when their government ministers use this stunt. If so, it fell very flat yesterday and only succeeded in taking down further Cormann’s reputation as someone who should not be let near a microphone or a job in politics. Further taking down any remote chance he could be taken seriously. And further trashing the government’s reputation with it.

Perhaps we should not be surprised by your behaviour, Mathias. It may well be a form of Tourette’s syndrome. Perhaps it is some form of medical complaint, a type of compulsive verbal tic. Your Prime Minister Tony Abbott certainly has a few. Perhaps it’s catching. Pointless, needless repetition certainly is. Certainly is. Trouble is it sends a message that you are a ‘couple can short of the six pack’. You may know the 1984 movie this comes from.

And it is something Mathias Cormann has said before. Groundhog day again. And again. This is far from the first time that the Finance Minister has performed the girly man stunt and it is unlikely to be the last. There’s not a lot of spare material in the minister’s grab bag of funny lines and other distraction tricks, apart that is from the dark glasses and the white stick. Internationally acclaimed treasurer, Wayne Swan and before him Kevin Rudd were also singled out for the recycled line, figures who tower so far above Cormann that he’d need a ladder to tie their boot laces.

Terminate the practice, Mathias. Go ahead make our day. We know you would like to be a funny man. We know it must get boring as Finance Minister to an incompetent Treasurer in a party falling almost every key performance indicator. We know you crave attention. It comes with the territory. Yes, we agree you do sound like the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger but then so, too do millions of other misogynists. It must be like having somebody else’s shadow.

But you are not the Terminator. Give it away. Keep your day job, whatever that is. You couldn’t be any worse at treasurer stuff than Joe, ‘The Gaffer’ Hockey. You don’t have to do anything really challenging. Or even be original. You will find the public servants will generally do it all for you. There must be a few left on the payroll. And help is available. Tony will get Peta to give you simpler instructions. Bi-lingual instructions. You will get the hang of it in due course. Just promise to stop referring to her as Attila the Hen.

And, bonus! In a quick couple of years you won’t have to worry because you will be out of office, as no doubt you have shrewdly calculated along with your access to entitlements and after-politics Costello-type overpaid job sinecures. But not before you have done some serious damage. Damage mainly to your party but also to the image of Australia as a progressive, egalitarian society governed by the rule of law.

But for you and your comrades, termination looms. Fatal political damage as inevitable predicted in a well-known movie: “Listen and understand. That Terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”

What were you thinking, Mathias? Was the stunt to distract attention from your boss Joe Hockey who has once again made a complete arse of himself in public appearing to make another basic mistake on UK television? On BBC’s “ Hardtalk”, a program of vigorous political interviews, it was put to Hockey that Australia was “one of the dirtiest, most greenhouse gas-emitting countries in OECD group of developed countries.” The Treasurer, however, described his interviewer’s statement as “ridiculous”. The trouble for Hockey is that, per head of population, Australia is, indeed the worst.  Many Australian school children could helped correct his answer here. If it was a cover for the boss, it was not necessary.

And it hasn’t worked. Most voters know what to expect with Joe Hockey and cringing embarrassment and a sense of wounded national pride are very much lesser evils when compared, for example, with the potential damage to be caused by not understanding the first thing about what you are supposed to be doing. Of course, Mathias, you have probably worked out the very reasonable odds on quietly inheriting Hockey’s job soon.

Or was it an attempt to cover for Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Abbott’s decent into gibbering madness fleeing as far as he could possibly get from ‘getting in touch with his feminine side’ with his shirt-front challenge to a leader who deigns to wear one. A leader with martial arts credentials and moves that are likely to be a little bit more terminating than the rusty shadow-boxing of a former Oxford Blue.

Was it a quote from Shaun MicAllef’s satirical Mad as Hell? “Shaun, you’re being an economic girly man,” a Cormann character told host Shaun Micallef in an April skit? We are pleased the ABC holds appeal for you, Mathias. Or were you looking with a view to wind up all avenues of criticism. We have read your Prime Minister’s comment that he doesn’t appreciate being criticised on government-funded ABC. Perhaps you can now offer more support. A broader mind, perhaps.

Bill Shorten counter-attacked on Saturday, proposing that rather than “borrowing lines from Republican Tea Party conventions to joke about hurting vulnerable Australians”, Mr Cormann should “face up to his unfair budget”. Bill is spot on but stopped short of adding that Matt could always seek professional help if his condition did not improve. There are many distinguished women in psychiatry, experts and world leaders in their field who would be pleased to prescribe appropriate treatment for the Finance Minister.


Enlightened and humane, Italian solution to asylum seekers puts Australia’s to shame.

“When my friends and family ask me, Why are these people coming to Italy? I respond, our ancestors also escaped when there was war. There went looking for their fortunes in America, Australia, Switzerland and other places. Where there is no war it gives you hope of a better future.” – SERGEANT MAJOR FRANCESCO CUONZO, Italian Marines

The Italian Solution, screened on ABC’s Four Corners last night, documented Italy’s humane, compassionate and enlightened approach to migranti, those men, women and children, who desperately set out to sea from Lybia in dangerously overcrowded and flimsy vessels, including rafts, to seek refuge from conflict and misfortune, including war, persecution and economic adversity. They travel to the island of Lampedusa, approximately half-way to Italy and make contact with the Italian marines by satellite phone from the tiny island. It is a risky business. Three thousand migranti have drowned in the attempt this year alone. Few can swim and there is always the danger that panic will cause disaster in overcrowded, unseaworthy craft.
The documentary starred Italian naval personnel so clearly enjoying their mission: rising to the challenge of difficult rescues each evidently, effortlessly heeding the voice of the heart, the voice of compassion and faith, that tells each one of us that it is right to reach out to strangers in need; that we have a duty and a human need to reach out to others in distress.
The Italian Solution told more than the story of saving lives at sea, it dramatically and powerfully reaffirmed our duty to each and every other human being in need. At the same time it illustrated what can and what should be done by any self-respecting, nation when challenged to provide a solution to the rapidly growing numbers of people who are forced to risk everything in fleeing for their lives and those who are prepared to risk everything to make new lives in another country. At no time at all did we encounter anyone attempting to blame the victim or to make invidious distinctions between types of migranti. Nowhere was heard the despicable term illegal or economic migrants, Australia’s favourite pejorative term for asylum seekers. Nor do Italians use the terms ‘asylum seekers’, ‘refugees’ either, they simply call them the migranti.
Nowhere was there an air of secrecy or that tight-lipped determination to conceal the facts which characterises Scott Morrison, Australia’s minister and his department. Those involved were open and keen to show and share every detail of their controversial strategy.
We have the duty in these cases when we are at sea to intervene to save human life. If we are not at sea then we can’t see what happens, we can close our eyes, turn off the lights and in that way, there’s no need to “turn back” the boats because they will die. We need to remember that International Rights exist. There are international laws that our countries have ratified. – VICE ADMIRAL FILIPPO FOFFI, Commander in Chief Italian navy.
The documentary made you want to migrate to Italy yourself, so refreshing is the contrast with Australia’s punitive attitudes and strategies to those forced to seek asylum and so eloquent was the humanity expressed in Mare Nostrum the Italian government’s search and rescue strategy, underpinned as it is even in its title, (our sea) by a sense of obligation and responsibility to all humanity. Italy, despite being a nation in recession itself, can, nevertheless, respond to the plight of the dispossessed first and foremost and sideline any carping in domestic politics or critics in other countries. It shows courage and it shows leadership. The Italian government is prepared to make waves by actively, strenuously, pursuing a generous, non-judgemental strategy of acceptance and support and deal later with any criticism from other European neighbours. Non Importe. (It doesn’t matter.) It is to be applauded for daring to make a principled stand; admired for setting a shining example to other nations.
By contrast, the elephant in the room, Australia’s own benighted asylum seeker policy, appears more than shabby and morally threadbare. Both Australia’s “Sovereign Borders” modus operandi and the fundamental nature of its policy are the antithesis of the Italian. Instead of welcoming and accommodating, we invest huge sums in repelling, returning or detaining those who have a right to expect our help if not our sympathy and understanding. Indeed, viewed against Mare Nostrum Australia’s “turn back the boats” seems primitively mean-spirited, divisive and shamefully indifferent to suffering as it denies its duty to humanity and its own natural compassion in policy and practices crafted by politicians seeking votes by pandering to the lowest common denominator, of widespread popular domestic prejudices fanned by shock-jocks and others with a vested interest in fear-mongering and scapegoating. By contrast The Italian Solution indicts Australia for its cruelty, its inhumanity, studied indifference and the grotesquely elaborate self-delusion of our official justification. Scott Morrison should take a close look at this programme. Then take a close look at himself.

Of course, the Italian solution is controversial. It is expensive, costing $13 million per month. But more expensive, in the long run is the cost of apathy, indifference or hostility. Of course it makes Italy vulnerable to accusations that it is swelling migration numbers irresponsibly adding to those who move from Italy into Germany and other more prosperous countries. There are critics who claim that the policy encourages people to migrate illegally but to this the government points out that the situation in Syria and in other Middle Eastern states has become increasingly more dangerous or hostile and that Italy would prefer to respond to suffering than count numbers. More than admirable is the courage, the initiative and enterprise embodied in the Italian solution as a vision which seeks first to do good. It is inspiring in an age of increasingly narrowing self-regard to see a nation which is prepared to reach out to help others in distress and not to count the cost. That account can be properly wait for later if the moral balance is right.

Abbott’s shirt front stunt affronts on all fronts.

 “I’m going to shirt-front Mr Putin,” “You bet you are, you bet I am.

“I am going to be saying to Mr Putin Australians were murdered.”

Tony Abbott at press conference in North Queensland

The Australian Prime Minister raised eyebrows yesterday when he vowed to ‘shirt-front’ Russian President Vladimir Putin when he attends the G20 conference to be held in Brisbane. Abbott’s promise to deal tough with Putin comes in the context of criticism of his decision not to disinvite Putin in the wake of the downing of MH17 by pro-Russian troops equipped with Russian arms and Putin’s subsequent lack of co-operation in Australia and Holland’s attempts to retrieve bodies from the wreckage of the downed airliner. Abbott’s macho tough-talking was matched by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s public questioning of Putin who was even less diplomatic in suggesting that Putin ought to be too ashamed to attend.

Some of the eyebrows raised belonged to Aussie journalists who later reported that they did not understand the phrase at first and had to look it up. The media consensus is that the phrase is an Australian football term for a type of full-frontal body tackle, a head-on charge aimed at bumping an opponent to the ground although it may be contended that the term has wider currency denoting a ‘please explain’ confrontation amongst other English-speaking peoples. What is certain, however, is that the words would have raised eyebrows in the Kremlin where translators would have wasted only a few nanoseconds in confirming with the Russian President that he had been insulted by his prospective G20 host who was vowing to hold him to account over the downing of MH17.

The Russians did not waste time in getting into the bear-pit with Abbott, responding via the state-owned Pravda, that their leader wash his hands. In an opinion piece Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey writes

I would advise Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to wash his hands carefully and sterilize them after shaking the paw offered to him by Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the forthcoming G20 Summit in Brisbane. It is not about Ebola Virus Disease, it is about the disease called insolence and Australia’s colonial chip on its shoulder.

Thank God no Australian can be Head of State, that privilege belongs to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, because judging by the arrogance displayed recently by its Prime Minister Tony Abbott, it appears the political class doesn’t have what it takes. … Tony Abbott displays a degree of insolence, arrogance and incompetence which mirrors the intrusiveness, belligerence and chauvinism inherent in other members of the Anglo Saxon alliance in NATO. You know, that global terrorist organization whose budget is a staggering one point two trillion USD a year, each and every year.

When Australia isn’t busy crawling around the legs of its colonial master, England or trying to crawl up the anatomy of London’s master, Washington, participating in their wars to pick up a few crumbs thrown Canberra’s way, its politicians are busy kowtowing to Europe and the USA making stupid and unfounded remarks about Russia.

Was it a stupid and unfounded remark? Unless his minders have gone on holiday it is not impossible that Abbott has been given a licence to offend Putin on behalf of Australia’s more powerful friends, a role Abbott would happily perform and capably morphing into mighty mouse, an eagerly athletic antipodean mouse that stands up on its hind legs and roars. Whilst the role of the political sock-puppet is not unknown in history, it is more likely, however, that Abbott simply improvised. Given his earlier tough talk towards Russia over the downing of MH17 ten weeks ago, it would seem, on the face of it, that Abbott was reassuring Australian voters that he was not weakening Australia’s position by now agreeing to Russia’s participation in the G20 and that he would in fact be demanding answers. Whatever the true motivation, the gaffe was not helpful either to Australia’s diplomatic responsibility in hosting the G20 or in terms of Abbott’s increasingly compromised capacity to successfully discharge his elected responsibility as Prime Minister of Australia.

The macho challenge is unlikely to help Abbott’s proposed dialogue with Putin. Cynics or perhaps realists would say this does not matter because there was never the faintest prospect of any genuine dialogue with Putin let alone any acceptance of responsibility for the downing MH17 or the annexation of Ukraine. In this sense Abbott had nothing to lose by inflaming relations with intemperate language.

Yet Abbott has everything to lose in terms of his perceived capacity to observe diplomatic protocols and in the example he sets on the world stage. Naturally, there are many tempting diversions and distractions in his path to success in international affairs. It may be that his ego has been over-nourished by his close relationship with Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph and his regular on-air massages with Alan Jones on 2GB, both of whom have invested some time in promoting the Australian leader as a blunt-spoken antipodean hero who in his rough-hewn Australian way can cut through red tape dispense with indirection and other formalities and call a spade a spade. If this is the case, Abbott’s minders need to wean him off such boosters before he has done too much damage to his own and Australia’s cause. As it stands, Russia has been quick to quash any prospect of a bilateral meeting with Australia in Brisbane. Abbott’s much-vaunted opportunity for dialogue, the rationale for inviting Putin in the first place, has evaporated along with his own credibility.

Abbott’s language is a big step down at a time when what is needed is just the opposite. His shirt front challenge evokes the primitive physicality of the Australian true-blue bloke, squaring off against his adversary and settling a difference of opinion with his fists. Apart from the ludicrous image it conjures of a mismatch between the keen amateur and the hardened professional slugger, Abbott’s promise to square off against Putin is an empty gesture. It is a faint reassurance to the nation. His comical but wrong-headed vow to put pressure on the Russian President, to confront him as the only way of holding him to account is a patently silly and potentially risky gambit against a ruthlessly powerful adversary with nothing to lose in continuing on his chosen path of denial and disavowal when all the evidence points to an increasingly compelling case for indictment. In terms of his electoral appeal, it may be that Abbott’s instincts sense a primitive point of resonance with the average voter over his Paul Hogan type heroics but wiser heads would question whether he really needs another caricature at this moment in his career. Nor does it help the cause of international relations when any leader descends to this type of behaviour. The shirt front stunt is an affront on all fronts.

To invite Putin to Brisbane is to invite disaster for all.

The Australian government has recently defended its controversial decision to allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the G20 leaders’ meeting to be held in Brisbane. The Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s main defence that inviting Putin would subject him to a ‘full and frank discussion’ is both highly implausible and in clear contradiction to Australia’s previously adversarial stance towards the Russian Prime Minister. As Opposition leader Bill Shorten put it the government had “gone from talking tough to trying to pretend Putin coming here isn’t an issue Australians are concerned about”.

There was nothing accommodating about the Australian Prime Minister’s treatment of Putin over the MH17 disaster on 7 August this year. Mr Abbott, accused Russia of preparing to invade Ukraine. Telling him he “has been a bully”, Abbott called on Putin to hold back his forces from crossing the border into Ukraine or risk becoming an international outcast.

“Right at this moment, Russian forces are massing on the border with Ukraine,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney, “If there is any movement by his forces across the border, it won’t be a humanitarian mission, it will be an invasion. It will be an invasion.”

Ten weeks ago, clearly, Abbott was disputing Putin’s intentions in Ukraine and threatening to review Russia’s invitation to the G20. Now comes a complete back-down. Instead of using its status as host and its seat on the UN Security Council to prevail upon other G20 members to back Australia in declaring Putin unwelcome, the Abbott government appears to have become weak-kneed. Yet there is ample precedent. Australia could have followed the G7 example from June when the planned G8 Sochi meeting, to be hosted by Russia, was cancelled with G7 leaders holding their own meeting without Putin. They underscored the point by symbolically choosing to meet in Brussels, the headquarters of NATO and the EU instead.

Why the change of heart? So far the explanations are neither convincing nor adequate. The Australian public and the international community have been fobbed off with lame excuses about consensus, the need for open discussion and the MH17 red-herring. Joe Hockey, yesterday pleaded that Australia was powerless to disinvite:

“The G20 is an international gathering that operates by consensus – it’s not Australia’s right to say yes or no to individual members of the G20. I think it will be pretty crystal clear that we think that Russia needs to fully cooperate in the investigation into the MH17 atrocity.
I think it’s the world’s expectation on Russia that there will be full cooperation with the investigation and there will be a willingness to hand over to police for trial anyone who Russia might have access to who turns out to have played a part in the downing of that aircraft.”

The downing of MH17 and its implications must not be overplayed as dominant and problematic as it may be. Whilst Russia’s involvement in this outrage alone should merit it exclusion from the meeting, that exclusion must rest also on the many other ways in which Putin has demonstrated that his conduct violates all reasonable expectations of human behaviour let alone the actions of a reputable statesman let alone any type of international citizen. Putin’s Russia is a country where political rivals and vocal critics are often killed, and at least sometimes the order comes directly from the president’s office.
Gessen, Masha (2012-03-01). The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladmir Putin (p. 226). Granta Books. Kindle Edition.

Nor should ‘our right to say no’ to the G20 be underplayed. It may not be Australia’s right to hijack G20 consensus protocols but it is most definitely Australia’s responsibility to take a stand and to take the initiative in lobbying to change that consensus. Otherwise, especially in the light of Abbott’s earlier condemnation of Putin, Australia loses credibility and sacrifices its capacity to be a useful world citizen as far as it is able. Doubtless that capacity has already been significantly compromised by the Abbott government’s stance on a range of critical issues including global warming, climate change, the sale of brown coal, carbon trading, renewable energy, asylum seeker detention and its unquestioned allegiance to US foreign policy in Iraq. An Australian stand against Putin, might begin to stem if it cannot staunch international critics of our credentials as global citizens with a commitment to a sustainable future.

Ironically, in inviting Putin, Abbott risks undermining his own stance on terror. Refusing the Russian leader is clearly mandated by our newly revamped, stronger anti-terror stance. Whilst some may quibble at the label terrorist, Putin is no stranger to rule by terror, it is intrinsic to his absolutism and his determination to eliminate of all forms of domestic opposition from liquidating opponents to control over media. It is also plays an integral part in his aggressive foreign policy of annexing neighbouring states. It is seen in his support of the genocidal strategies of Syria’s Assad.

Clearly Putin’s behaviour at home and abroad, disbars him from Brisbane’s G20 event. It is, therefore, vital that Australia summons the resolve required to put pressure on other members of the G20 to exclude the Russian leader or hold the meeting somewhere else. The consequences of making him welcome threaten the very foundations of the G20 itself if not the spirit of international cooperation whilst signalling that we may be afraid of him or just don’t know what to do with him.

Inviting Putin to Brisbane helps give the Russian President the legitimacy he covets, the legitimacy that helps him cloak Russia’s war of terror in a veneer of acceptance. That rule of terror includes the annexation of Crimea, ethnic cleansing, abduction, torture and murder, the downing of flight MH17 plane; violating international law yet claiming that Russia is not “involved.” Do we really need to help him legitimise his “humanitarian” convoys and referendums in Ukraine, his assistance to Syria? Are we to condone his economic sabotage, Russia’s recent history of quietly undermining US and world economies? In 1998, for example, Russia defaulted on $40 billion of domestic debt, forcing the Federal Reserve to engineer a bailout of hedge fund Long Term Capital Management.

More recently Russia’s ‘aid’ to Ukraine represents a unique form of political control if not loan sharking. Instead of handing aid money directly to Ukraine, Russia had the Ukrainian government float $3 billion in bonds denominated in Euros. Russia then bought the bonds. A cunning provision written into the bond is that if the Ukraine’s debt-to-GDP level reached 60%, Russia could call the bonds for immediate payment. The highly unusual qualification brings Ukraine further under Russian control. Today, Ukraine has Eurobonds outstanding to several countries, so it has no option of defaulting on Russia alone because it would hurt the price of all their debt. Putin’s foresight thus also ensures that US aid money will find its way to Moscow.

Groucho Marx’s wish not to belong to any club that would accept him as a member applies to Putin. His involvement demeans the status of the G20, itself a creature which has yet to acquire international credibility in achieving long-term strategic coordination between all members on some of major global issues or in failing to reinvigorate global trade or complete the WTO Doha development round. To its critics, including Australia’s Chris Berg of IPA it seems more a meeting to exchange platitudes about free trade and to endorse neo-con economic positions about small government than pursue significant international reforms such as the green agenda proposed by Korea or Bill Gates’ recommendations for alternative methods of financing development tabled in 2011. In brief, Putin needs the G20 more than it needs him. The Abbott government, on the other hand, urgently needs to summon the courage to say ‘Nyet’ to Putin before it further loses its will and with it the capacity and the credibility to achieve any significant initiative as an international citizen. To say nothing of the continuing cost to its electoral support and credibility at home.