It’s Not Easy Being Green

By Henry JohnstonWatching Richard Di Natale posit the Greens political philosophy on…

Australian Psychological Society Medicare review submission betrays members…

The Australian Psychological Society’s (APS) submission to the Commonwealth Government’s Medicare Benefit…

Human qualities v animal behaviour

By Stephen FitzWho knows what evil lurks within the hearts of men?…

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An open letter to Andrew Bolt

By Christian MarxOnce again, the shrill cries from Andrew Bolt can be…

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Commentators blame successive governments over the last ten years for our lack…

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Don't mention a Default Price for electricity !

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It’s Not Easy Being Green

By Henry Johnston

Watching Richard Di Natale posit the Greens political philosophy on Insiders with Barrie Cassidy (ABCTV 19/08/2017) reminded me of Kermit the Frog’s cutesy tune, It’s Not Easy Being Green.

On the eve of another round of political destabilisation, Di Natale had an opportunity to make a case for Greens’ values. Instead the interview ended with the leader defending an increasingly irrelevant so-called leftist party.

Di Natale and thousands of Greens supporters refer to mainstream political groupings as ‘the old parties’. This despite the fact a majority of the Greens faithful — at least in the electorate where I live — are white-haired baby boomers or greying Gen Xers. These well-educated trend makers have gentrified popular inner-city electorates to such an extent they are now no-go zones for up and coming millennials. The 20 somethings, who prowl the charming inner-city streets, cannot and will not own local real estate, yet Di Natale’s rank and file don’t see the inherent contradiction with this new-fangled colonisation.

Parsing Di Natale’s political rhetoric exposed the hypocrisy of the Greens under his leadership. Instead of calculating his responses he made his political tactics crystal clear to an incoming Labor Government should the electorate choose to kick Turnbull out at the next election.

Di Natale said the Greens would oppose a revamped energy policy.

But apart from trotting out the usual tropes of more renewables and attacking Labor’s base in coal mining electorates, such as the Hunter region, Di Natale failed to articulate his own party’s energy policy. Cassidy gave him the opportunity, and Di Natale fluffed it, choosing instead to speak to his uncritical supporters. Rather than answer the obvious follow-up question Di Natale avoided his party’s greatest environmental failure.

Cassidy recalled August 2009 when Greens elder statesperson Bob Brown voted down Kevin Rudd’s carbon pollution reduction scheme. During this ignoble Greens train-crash, Brown rationalised the target of five per cent reduction, too small. In a subsequent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Brown said the Greens target of 25 to 40 per cent reduction meant “the foundation is there to get it right”.

In fact, had the Greens supported the legislation, the energy debacle which continues to roil Australian politics, would likely have disappeared.

Brown’s catastrophic political misjudgement is now Di Natale’s legacy, and his utterances on Insiders make it almost impossible to imagine a well-disciplined incoming Labor Cabinet countenancing any deal with the Greens over energy.

The Australian electorate want the energy wars to end and Labor is aware of this self-evident truth.

As the producer gave the wind-up, Cassidy asked Di Natale about allegations of sexual abuse in the Greens Party, aired on a recent edition of the ABC’s 7.30 Report.

At least three young Greens women stared down the camera and recounted their graphic and grievous experiences. The women are part of an inner-city cohort which sit on milk crate stools, sip coffee and dream about a world without coal mines. Perfect cannon fodder for the Greens who are expert at exploiting idealism. But their day-to-day reality is badly paid work in the gig-economy as baristas or waiters, and being groped by political hipster yobs. Unfortunately, this behaviour is not confined to the Greens Party, but on Insiders Di Natale squibbed the matter by saying he could not comment because of an on-going investigation.

Ask one of these women, or their millennial friends, to list the number of inner city music venues closed down by Greens ‘community action,’ because the noise of people enjoying themselves distract Dakota and Jemima from their Pilates exercises. Or speak to one of my neighbours who still shudder when recalling a Greens pincer hijack of a Westconnex meeting at the nearby Jimmy Little Centre.

A quick trawl of social media reveals a party waging an internal stoush every bit as fierce as the Second Battle of Kharkov. Stalinists take note. But Richard Di Natale is no Nikita Khrushchev. He is a well-heeled Melbournian Senator representing a constituency identical to my local NSW State seat of Balmain

Before his election four years ago, the successful Greens aspirant for Balmain Jamie Parker, letter boxed the electorate with a stark, blue flier. On it were printed these words: “If you’re voting Liberal 1, give Jamie Parker your number 2. The Greens.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His book, Best and Fairest is available at Valentine Press.

Human qualities v animal behaviour

By Stephen Fitz

Who knows what evil lurks within the hearts of men? It was in comic books and Marvel movies and there was mention of it in early editions of the Bible – so it’s been around for a while – dare I say it … “The battle between good and evil.” That’s being a bit bold so, let’s call it the battle between human qualities and animal behaviour. It strikes me that in a civilised society we would be promoting human qualities like empathy and sharing and trust and compassion and a fair go for everyone. I’m not seeing much of that in Australian federal politics right now. I’m seeing a Liberal Party blinded by power and greed at the expense of a society struggling to survive.

Maybe, there are some among us who haven’t evolved human qualities yet and are still struggling with deep rooted animal instinct … still driven by greed and a “all for me and nothing for you” mentality. If we wish to progress as a species and become more human, the animals among us need to be rounded up and, so they don’t feel rejected, perhaps shipped off to a military dictatorship where they will feel right at home. Hun Sen has already shared champaign and rolled out the red carpet for the Liberal government. A privileged life is waiting if you don’t mind walking in blood.

O.K., Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Dutton, Michaelia Cash and in fact the entire Liberal Party are the product of a corrupted system and manipulated democracy. In the words of Noam Chomsky; “Corporates lobby politicians for legislation that favours corporates and corporates donate to election funds in return for favours and corporates are experiencing record profits at our expense.” It’s called the money/power loop and that is how western capitalist democratic society is run. It runs on lies, deceit and corruption hidden from the people by mainstream media.

I had no idea what was happening, and like the majority, I was kept in the dark for so long. I’d heard about corporate and political collusion and corruption but, I have faith in human nature and, I needed proof. There are two things: “the facts” which are the truth, and then you have “I reckon” which, in academic circles, is considered to be the hallmark of an idiot. Well I’m no idiot and I reckon something really sucks. Something’s fundamentally wrong within western society and it’s being exposed by social and independent media as we speak. Yeah, shock horror to the boys and girls at the top!

Well, I heard about it, so I went looking for evidence on the court record to prove it, and here it is. The Turnbull government is corrupt and has been pandering to corporates at the expense of the Australian workforce. It boils down to the Liberal government believing they have a mandate to give corporates whatever they want and screw the rest of us. Something essential to the human condition are our hopes, our ideals, our aspirations and our dreams and when I found out what was going on well, they faded, along with innocence … You Bastards! Look what you have taken.

As an example of what corporates will do with government sponsorship look at what they did in America with the ensuing global financial crisis and the unimaginable suffering by the masses to make a few people filthy rich. You see they don’t care and, this is what corporates will do when they are off the leash. The first battle line, if you wish to protect society from the ravages of corporate greed, would be accountability, harsh penalties and well-informed voters. We can’t let these animals hold us back, we can’t let them stifle our humanity, and there are steps we need to take.

[1] Corruption can only be contained if exposed to investigation and a legal process. Something lacking at a federal level. I couldn’t believe it either – there is no federal corruption watchdog in Australia. With hard evidence of corruption and with the prompting of Transparency International and some prominent QCs, Bill Shorten has promised the establishment of a national independent commission against corruption (ICAC) if he wins the next election. So that’s a starting point.

[2] It’s our ABC, not theirs … “Turnbull government hits ABC with $84m funding freeze” (Sydney Morning Herald). Because they didn’t like the editorials – first of all the Liberal government makes Pauline Hanson a political prisoner and then they impose censorship – so much for democracy. Second step is to reinstate the ABC’s finances and promote editorial independence. Have a section on the ABC that runs through what’s happening on Australian Independent Media so that all Australians can be well-informed.

[3] Human rights equate to freedom. Take away human rights and you take away freedom. Australia is a co-founder and signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and yet, there is no provision for human rights protection in Australian Law. When it comes to corruption, someone always suffers so there is always an element of human rights abuse woven into it. The UDHR needs to be written into the Australian Constitution and a Human Rights Court set up, accessible to all Australians. We, the people of Australia, can tackle corruption head on.

[4] Gee, no human rights protection and no federal ICAC in the land of OZ! We are getting screwed! The public demand transparency in government – no more corrupted decisions behind closed doors. If a federal minister or senator is asked a question they don’t like, the strategy is to ignore you and stick their head in the sand. We want answers and no more lies and deceit by omission. If politicians are held to account and the decision-making process is open to scrutiny, we have more chance of a better outcome for the bulk of Australians.

If you are an elected representative engaged by corporates and the top end of town, you will try to block these steps like you have in the past. If you do that, you will be telegraphing to your constituents and the people of Australia that you are in it for yourself and you don’t care about the rest of us. You don’t care about crippling inequality and poverty. You are telling us you are full of lies and you are laughing at us behind our backs.

If you are a Liberal politician reading this right now – you will be telling us what a total wanker you truly are and, we don’t want you and your smug look. In which case, do us all a favour and get out of politics – never to be seen or heard of again. It’s time for the good people to make a move for humanity and put a leash on the evil bastards who are driven purely by animal greed.

 

An open letter to Andrew Bolt

By Christian Marx

Once again, the shrill cries from Andrew Bolt can be seen in his latest crusade for “free” speech. According to his warped world view, hate-speech is acceptable and should never be censored.

Bolt has been all bent out of shape by the news that many sponsors have withdrawn their funding of Sky News after the white supremacist, Blair Cottrell appeared on Sky voicing his opinions. Bolt’s scatter-gun rant against Metro trains and public transport minister, Jacinta Allan is typical of Bolt. All deflection and no substance. Maybe he needs to be told …

Dear Andrew,

Once again you rave on about censorship. Interesting. Can you tell me why mainstream media is gagged from reporting on your boss, Rupert Murdoch`s Middle Eastern interests? I have never seen mention of this either at the ABC or any commercial networks. Could it be that the ABC is being silenced by the hard-right apparatchiks infesting the ABC boards? Or perhaps the relentless attacks from the LNP/IPA have cowed the ABC into silence? Or at least it seems that way. Your hypocrisy appears to be breathtaking! For those who are unaware of Murdoch and his Middle Eastern financial interests, here is an expose on his company Geanie Energy that you might like to read, and here is another.

In your article from last week, you go on to accuse the ALP state government as “Tin Pot dictators”. Absolutely laughable. You then assert that $400,000 has been stolen from taxpayers. Really? How about the 30 million given to Rupert Murdoch in tax payer’s money to Foxtel?

You bet it was a mistake to have Blair Cottrell on Sky News … but this was no accident. Rather, I believe it was another deliberate attempt by Sky to push the envelope and test the waters. A very cunning attempt at normalising a toxic agenda of racism. I mean, you and Blair share very similar belief systems. True, you have not claimed to admire Hitler, but many of your articles are filled with racial and ethnic scapegoating. Your ridiculous article on immigration was yet another hard-right spin-fest, tailored to the lowest common denominator of your sub-normal IQ demographic.

I have no doubt that if the Cottrell interview was well-received, Sky would have been very pleased with the results. It is only because the backlash was so severe and sponsors pulled away from Sky that this interview was quickly pulled. Predictably as always, instead of management getting the sack or demoted, it was the presenter who copped a hiding. So typical of conservatives, really.

Michaela Cash and her grubby attacks on unions and the silly police raid on union headquarters and leaking to the press, springs to mind. Who copped the flak and the blame? Certainly not Cash! It was one of her junior underlings who took the fall.

You go on to say that Sky is the only broadcaster to ban Cottrell. I say to you, only because they began haemorrhaging sponsors. Stop your virtue signalling! It is true that the ABC once had Cottrell on, but it was on a panel and others were challenging his ideas in a robust debate.

Sky was different. They had him on to propagate his manifesto unchallenged. This was a blatant attempt to manipulate an already rabid-right audience into further dangerous waters.

You then go onto whinge about Sky being pulled from state rail. Why the hell should a public entity be forced to peddle extremist far-right dogma from a far-right, private media platform?! It has no right to defile the ears of ordinary citizens going about their business in a public space!

You go on to say that the opinion shows from Sky are very popular. Bahahaha. Give me a break. Sky opinion shows rate dismally compared to the ABC. Sky News rates on average 12,000 viewers from 6pm to midnight. As I said, absolutely dismal!

Which is why I suspect that Sky is now going to be broadcast on free-to-air media.

The ugly truth is that you are giving the impression that you are a paid puppet for Rupert Murdoch and his extremist views. Sky and Herald Sun etc push one man’s opinion and vision for the world. That vision is an ugly dystopian, neoliberal capitalist model. Unlike myself, who bows to nobody, I am a free agent who is able to expose the truth and all the lies peddled by the rich and their toady politicians. This is ultimately why commercial media is a dinosaur. It only reflects the views and wishes of the extremely wealthy.

Seeking to divide the nation through race and culture is the only way the far-right can win votes. In my opinion their policies are so toxic to the average citizen, that scapegoating, fear and hatred is all they have. I’m reminded of the Wizard of Oz: A booming, hateful exterior, but once the curtain is pulled back I can see strings manipulating every move, and there is nothing but a sad, embittered old man who long ago sold his soul to the devil for easy money.

Christian Marx is a political and social activist interested in making the world a fairer place. He has a Bachelor of Social Science and has a keen interest in sociology, politics and history. He was one of the organizers of the March in March rallies in Melbourne and is the founder of the progressive news and information page, “Don`t Look At This Page”, and is also a co-founder of “The Global Revolution” website.

Emma Husar – Yet another institutional failure

By John Tons

By now most Australians will have moved on from the Emma Husar episode. For those who managed to miss it – here is a brief synopsis: Emma Husar is a first-term politician. There were indications that her staff were not happy with her management style, in addition some of her staff made some serious allegations concerning her conduct. The ALP conducted an investigation, and although dismissed the serious allegations did note that her management style could have been better. Emma agreed not to nominate for the seat in the forthcoming election, and all went quiet again. Success had been achieved; another ‘mouthy’ young woman had been removed from parliament.

I do not know Emma and know next to nothing about what she is supposed to have done or not done. But I do know a little about institutional gender powerplays. The key thing to note is that we are blind to those everyday practices of a well-intentioned society that creates a form of oppression whose causes are embedded in the unquestioned norms, habits and symbols that are blindly followed. It makes assumptions about the structure of occupational distinctions, the definition of tasks within them and the relations among people occupying differing positions within an enterprise. One of the more common examples that one could not help but hear about concerns the walking of Emma’s dog. Apparently, that was delegated to one of her staff members – people fulminated that this was an abuse of tax payers’ money – she should not use her staff in that way.

I will assume for the moment that this was a true account of what happened. Emma Husar employed staff to enable her to carry out her job as a parliamentarian and some of these staff were tasked with various domestic chores. I understand perfectly well why this created such a furore. We know why it created such a furore – domestic duties are seen as menial tasks – not tasks for paid professional staff. For me it highlights how deeply embedded are our prejudices about occupational differentiation. It is that same prejudice that leads us to accept a situation where a CEO is paid 200 times the annual salary of the janitor who cleans his toilet. (It is almost always ‘his’ toilet). We have lost sight of the fact that to get anything done requires a team of people – for anyone of those people to relate themselves as more important is a nonsense.

Yet we persist in supporting an organisational structure that gives credence to the belief that some jobs are more important than others, that defines people by what they do rather than the quality of their character. Parliament and Australians generally lost a valuable opportunity when they closed the book on Emma Husar – it had been an opportunity to question our assumptions about the structure of occupational distinctions.

Note: Some of this may sound familiar to some people; the commentary was influenced by Young, I. M. (1990). Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press.

Beware of rabid zealots

By Ad astra

Let’s remind ourselves of the meaning of ‘zealot’. Historically, it denoted a member of a fanatical sect in Judea during the first century AD that militantly opposed the Roman domination of Palestine. Today it describes a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of religious, political, or other ideals.

We still have zealots in our midst. This piece exemplifies two instances of zealotry: the zealots that deny the reality of anthropogenic global warming, and those that cling tenaciously to trickle down economics.

Climate zealots
It is hard to contemplate that in the face of steadily mounting evidence that our planet is warming inexorably, there are still those who deny it strenuously.

In early August we saw Europe sweltering in record heat. Climate scientists insist that this was due to the superimposition of contemporary weather events, to wit intensely warm air sweeping up from North Africa, on the established and a well documented increase in global temperatures worldwide. Record high temperatures were experienced in Western Europe, particularly in Spain and Portugal. Fires burned out of control.

How do climate deniers explain that?

This year we saw three of California’s biggest wildfires ever.

In the state of Virginia, after six inches of rain fell in just a few hours, floods resulted that were so severe that the College Lake Dam near Lynchburg that holds back millions of litres of water was threatened with collapse. Should that have occurred, the surrounding countryside would have been flooded to a depth of 17 feet in 10 minutes, wiping out all before it. Mass evacuations were carried out just in case the catastrophe occurred. Fortunately it didn’t.

Could these events be a side effect of global warming?

In our own country, we are experiencing one of the worst droughts in our long history of severe droughts. Again, climate scientists implicate global warming. This week’s Essential Poll shows that 54% of respondents agree; only 25% don’t. The scientists assert that such extreme weather events will increase in frequency and severity as the planet warms. The zealots that deny anthropogenic climate change disagree. They argue that we’ve always had such events, and that they represent just ‘normal climate variability’. And they’re still calling for more heavily polluting ‘base-load’ coal-fired power generators as they debate the NEG.

Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce and Co. are still calling for the NEG to be scrapped on the basis of its inappropriate emphasis on reducing emissions! If you have the stomach for it, take a look at the first seven minutes of Abbott being interviewed by Leigh Sales on 7.30.

There is no way of persuading such zealots to another view. Denying global warming is an entrenched belief; no matter how convincing is the evidence to the contrary.

Trickle down zealots
Lets’ look briefly at another example of zealotry: the entrenched belief that giving tax cuts to large corporations is sound policy. It’s what Australia needs, the Coalition insists. Treasurer Morrison, Finance Minister Cormann, PM Turnbull, and all his ministers push this line every time they are challenged about the wisdom of giving tax cuts to large corporations. The argument goes that with less tax to pay, corporations will become more competitive on the world stage, more investment will result, businesses will expand, more jobs will be created, and wages will rise. It stands to reason they say, and to many who have no evidence to judge the validity of their claim, it does sound reasonable, but it’s just good old trickle down economics all over again.

Predictably, following the revelations of the Banking Royal Commission, the public is strongly opposed to giving tax cuts to large corporations, as the Longman by-election showed. This should hardly be a surprise. Alan Stockman, a Republican in Ronald Reagan’s administration way back in the 1980s, admitted ‘Trickle down is hard to sell’.

So what is the evidence to support the ‘trickle down’ theory of economics? None. From when it was first proposed in the 1890s, then known as the ‘horse and sparrow theory’, it has been consistently debunked. To trickle down zealots this is immaterial.

There is a mountain of evidence that corporate tax cuts do not end up in workers’ pockets. The most recent evidence comes from the US where corporate taxes have been cut under the so-called ‘Tax cuts and Jobs Act’ (TCJA). The US Economic Policy Unit has a helpful analysis of what actually happened. Here is some of the Institute’s analysis:

The Trump administration’s Council of Economic Advisers released a paper last year arguing that cuts in the statutory corporate tax rate would lead to gains in business investment, productivity, and wages. We noted in the report released shortly thereafter why this was unlikely to be true. The simplest reason that cutting corporate taxes will not boost American productivity or wages is that the past history of corporate tax cuts in the United States shows no such relationship.

A figure in the analysis displaying the top corporate tax rate, productivity growth, and growth in typical workers’ hourly pay since the 1950s, shows clearly that productivity and pay actually grew more rapidly when tax rates were higher.

The analysis concluded:

The case that large, deficit-financed corporate tax cuts will boost capital investment, productivity, and wages in the United States is extraordinarily weak. Evidence from past changes in federal taxes, from cross-national comparisons, and from the experiences of individual U.S. states all argue strongly that wages for typical Americans will not benefit from the tax cuts…All in all, the tax cuts will serve to boost incomes for the already-rich while doing nothing to help the wages of typical American workers.

How much more evidence will convince the trickle down zealots that they are wrong? No amount. They will never be moved from their entrenched views.

Beware of rabid zealots!

This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Sorry IPA

Australia is still having the discussion on the benefits of waste reduction and until recently it was considered economically rational to send semi-trailers full of household and business waste from New South Wales to Queensland to avoid disposal fees. In other parts of the world (even Trump’s deepest darkest America) there are companies that demonstrate that minimising the production of waste and developing alternate uses for waste products is not only helping the environment, it’s making money.

Subaru makes cars in the USA as well as Japan. There is probably a rational explanation for the American factory that would only partly be justified by the reduction in shipping costs for some 350,000 cars per annum. In 2002 (partly to address observations that Subaru ‘doesn’t do’ hybrid vehicles) they decided to look at how they address waste within and surrounding their plant at Lafayette in Indiana. A USA Today article reports that Subaru executive Tom Easterday claims on his seemingly frequent small group tours showing other companies how to make money by eliminating landfill

“I always like to say that if someone stops for a cup of coffee on their way into the plant,” Easterday said, “then they have put more trash into the landfill than we have for the entire year.”

Actually, that coffee cup would be more than the entire plant — with 5,600 employees producing 350,000 cars annually — has put in a landfill in nearly the last 15 years.

So, Subaru compost waste from their staff cafeteria, they retain and reuse plastic mouldings that are deemed not suitable for installation into cars, they even return cardboard boxes and Styrofoam to component manufacturers for reuse. Apparently, once Styrofoam packaging has made four return trips to the component maker, it is profitable to do so!

While it is probably a point of difference between Subaru in America and some other car plants, it’s not all done to generate a green tinged halo for Subaru either — since 2004 they have made $13 million through elimination of waste to landfill. The program is so successful, they are now looking at becoming carbon neutral, becoming more profitable in the process.

There have obviously been some costs in the conversion to landfill free status and the claim of $13 million is apparently the net profit, so it puts paid to the claim that ‘going the extra mile’ to reduce or eliminate waste used in production processes is costly or will reduce a competitive edge. Unfortunately, in Australia a lot of the pessimism around ‘the cost’ of reducing our impact on the earth we all have to share is spruiked by conservative politicians, business leaders and ‘think tanks’ to suit their own political agenda.

This also became a bit clearer in the past week or so when it was revealed (in unlikely circumstances to do with a family dispute that has reached the court system) that Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting donated around $5 million to the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in the past couple of years. Ms Rinehart has every right in the world to donate her money to whatever cause she determines is worth her support, just as Graeme Wood has, however in their 2015-16 annual report

the IPA claimed 91 per cent of donations came from individuals, while foundations, companies and “other” sources each contributed 3 per cent. In 2016–17, it claimed 86 per cent of revenue was from individual donations and only 1 per cent from companies.

In words and colourful graphs, they give the impression of broad-based financial support from thousands of individuals, of an organisation not beholden to corporate supporters.

But Hancock Prospecting is clearly a company. By phone and email The Saturday Paper sought an explanation from the IPA for this but did not get one.

As The Saturday Paper also discloses,

The institute’s annual reports tell us its total revenues were $4.96 million in 2015–16 and $6.1 million in 2016-17. Thus Rinehart’s money, given through her company, Hancock Prospecting, made up almost half the IPA’s income in one year and well over a third in the other. She has, in effect, a controlling interest.

The problem here is that while most ‘think tanks’ in Australia will happily disclose their funding sources allowing us to determine intentional or unintentional bias, the IPA doesn’t. It does however contribute staff to provide opinions on television programs and in the media. And a lot of their ‘talent’, including recently failed Liberal Party candidate for Mayo Georgina Downer and current Liberal Party member for Goldstein Tim Wilson, go into politics trying to drag the ‘liberal’ party further to the conservative end of the spectrum.

They too are entitled to their opinions — but it’s a concern when the funding behind their policy position remains hidden.

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Britain’s Novichok Poisoning Incidents: Opportunities to Revive Glasnost?

By Denis Bright

In the absence of new leads in the bizarre poisoning cases involving the Novichok nerve agent in Britain, the intensity of reporting in the mainstream media is certainly worth encouraging. While coverage of the Novichok poisonings sells papers and on-air time in Britain, its infotainment value also helps to chip away at some long-term blind-spots in coverage of legitimate national security issues.

Opportunities to Revive Glasnost?

Mainstream media coverage of the misuse of the Novichok nerve agent has focused on the shock of the new and unexpected angles on the Novichok poisonings.

The hospitalization of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia captured international attention on 4 March 2018. Weeks later, Dawn Sturgess died from exposure to Novichok. Partner Charlie Rowley has since been released from the Salisbury District Hospital.

It is a long-shot to attribute the poisonings near Salisbury to unknown Russian agents as claimed by the British government. Just a week after the first Novichok poisoning in Salisbury Prime Minister Theresa May had already rushed to judgement in the preparation of her address to the House of Commons:

It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.

This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’.

Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

As a strategic stalwart within the US Global Military Alliance, Britain will always want to protect its intelligence assets at home and abroad. However, the current diplomatic disputes between Britain and Russia are occurring at a time when there are inconsistencies in US Policies towards Russia. Australia too has joined in the domino effect of diplomatic expulsions from Russian embassies worldwide. Two Russian diplomats have been asked to leave Canberra in the wake of the first Novichok poisoning incident in Britain.

Britain’s over-reaction to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal aligns the government of Theresa May with the most hawkish opinion in Washington.

Image from Al Jazeera, 31 March 2018

A higher profile investigative role for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Netherlands was not encouraged after the first Novichok incident. However, the OPCW issued the following statement relating to the second poising incident in Amesbury near Salisbury on 30 June 2018:

THE HAGUE, Netherlands— 18 July 2018 —The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) received a request on 13 July from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) for the OPCW to provide technical assistance regarding the incident in Amesbury.

In response to the request, the OPCW deployed a technical assistance team to independently determine the nature of the substance that is alleged to have resulted in the death of one person and left another person seriously ill. The OPCW team collected samples.

The samples will be sent to two OPCW designated laboratories and once the results of the analysis are received, the report will be submitted to the United Kingdom. The team completed its initial work and returned today, 18 July, from the UK.

Radio National (9 August 2018) noted that the British Government is requesting the extradition of two Russian nationals who are suspected of involvement in the first Novichok incident. The OPCW is also involved in the investigation of the second incident site at Amesbury. The prospects that Russia would volunteer the release of two of its subjects who were tracked leaving the UK is very remote.

The Times of Israel (23 April 2018) aired a less conventional interpretation of events in Salisbury weeks prior to the second Novichok incident:

Moscow has argued that the US, Britain and other Western countries acquired the expertise to make the nerve agent after the Soviet collapse. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international watchdog group that analyzed the samples in the Skripals’ poisoning, confirmed British conclusions about the identity of the toxic chemical but not its origin.

Uglev and Leonid Rink, another top scientist in the Soviet chemical weapons program interviewed by the AP, gave conflicting theories about the attack.

While Uglev said the nerve agent could have come from Russia, Rink echoed the Kremlin line, alleging British intelligence might have used a less-lethal substance and then faked the evidence to implicate Russia. Britain has denied that. Both scientists agreed, however, that it probably will never be possible to determine the nerve agent’s source …

… When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, his political reforms and closer ties with the West led to cuts in many military programs and an array of arms control agreements. In a show of openness, authorities even organized a trip to Shikhany for Western diplomats and journalists.

Novichok-class agents were only made in lab quantities and never entered mass production, Uglev and Rink said. Uglev estimated about 100 kilograms (220 pounds) were made for research and military tests.

“It’s hard to imagine that any significant amounts could have been left anywhere, except in researchers’ personal safes, where it was allowed to keep no more than 20 grams” — less than an ounce, he said.

The British Government’s failure to give its own credible interpretation of the poisoning episodes draws attention to the contemporary roles for the Port Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). It has been operating since 1916 near one of England’s tourism draw-cards at Stonehenge. Dstl is just 18-27 kms away, depending on the route chosen. It is 14 kms from Porton Down to Salisbury.

The precincts of the Dstl have a sinister history of experiments with poisonous gas and other lethal agents on both animal and human subjects in the wider interests of the defence of the British realm. Expansion of Dstl has continued long after Britain signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1997. This interpretative article from Andrew Griffin in The Independent is worth reading as it covers the new defensive functions of the facility.

To their credit, Rob Evans and Sandra Laville of The Guardian assisted in the quest for justice airman Ronald Maddison. He died at Pdtl in 1953 at the age of 20 years:

The family of an airman who died in government nerve gas experiments more than 50 years ago is demanding an apology from the Ministry of Defence after an inquest ruled he had been unlawfully killed.

After one of the longest lasting cover ups of the cold war, relatives of Ronald Maddison, were yesterday given the justice they sought. They are now calling for compensation from the MoD, as are up to 550 ex-servicemen who claim they too were duped into submitting to the tests. The multiple claims could run into the millions of pounds.

Maddison, from Consett, Co Durham, was aged 20 when he collapsed and died in 1953 after liquid nerve gas was deliberately dripped on to his arm by scientists at the chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

After a hearing which lasted 64 days the inquest jury ruled yesterday he had been unlawfully killed by the “application of a nerve agent in a non-therapeutic experiment”. The unanimous verdict, which came after years of pressure by campaigners, was greeted with cheers and tears of joy by veterans who had also been subjected to similar chemical warfare experiments.

It is worth researching a series of articles from The Guardian on the most sinister aspects of the Pdtl:

From 1945 to 1989, Porton exposed more than 3,400 human “guinea pigs” to nerve gas. It seems probable that Porton has tested more human subjects with nerve gas, for the longest period of time, than any other scientific establishment in the world. Two other nations have admitted testing nerve gas on humans: the American military exposed about 1,100 soldiers between 1945 and 1975, and Canada tested a small number before 1968. Other countries, including France, the old Soviet Union and Iraq, are also likely to have exposed humans to nerve gas, but very little is known about their tests.

The group of chemicals known as nerve gases were first developed as weapons by the Nazis before and during the second world war. German scientists discovered the potency of these organophosphorous compounds which, in tiny quantities, disrupt a key element of the nervous system.

An under-reported event are the new identities being offered to Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the USA away from the prying eyes of Russian GRU military agents:

Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper is reporting that the country is considering offering Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter new identities and a new life in the United States to protect them from further attempts on their life.

Citing unnamed sources, the report published on April 8 said officials of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, have discussed the plan with their counterparts of the CIA.

The close connections between the Skripal Family and Soviet GRU military intelligence networks extended across three generations prior to the fall of the Berlin (BBC News, March 2018).

Sergei Skripal played inconsistent roles during his period in pseudo-retirement in Salisbury. On one hand he was involved in co-operation with Britain’s M16 and security firm Orbis Intelligence from his pseudo-retirement in Salisbury (Daily Mail Online 10 March 2018). However, there are suggestions that Sergei Skripal wanted continued associations with family members in Russia. Britain indeed refused to grant a visa to Yulia Skripal’s cousin Viktoria from Russia during her period of hospitalization after the poisoning incident and a video was released of her appeal to Theresa May (The Mirror, 8 April 2018).

A Synopsis of Historical Intrigues Between Britain and Russia

Today’s frosty relations between Britain and Russia only make sense in the context of a long history of diplomatic intrigues between the UK and Russia which predates the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. At other times, Britain made opportunistic overtures to Russia that ended the League of the Three Emperors of 1873 which could have resulted in a continental military bloc that was hostile to Britain after the Franco-Prussian War.

The last Russian Czarina Alix of Hesse held the title of Empress Consort of All the Russians during the reign of Czar Nicholas II (1894-1917). The Empress was the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria and this dynastic marriage had assisted in bringing Russia back from the cold on the battlefields of Europe during the Great War (1914-18).

Britain was involved in the Crimean War (1853-56) and joined France in supporting the Ottoman Empire against Russian strategic expansion in the Black Sea Region. Britain also provocatively supported Japan during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.

Opposition to Russia returned with a vengeance after the Bolshevik Russia of 1917. Britain and other allied countries like Japan and the USA supported the White Armies in futile attempts to topple the Bolshevik Regime.

Australian volunteers had joined the fourteen battalions of Commonwealth troops in the North Russian Expedition of the Archangel Campaign (1918-20).

Britain did not establish initially diplomatic relations with Bolshevik Russia. Change came with the election of the Minority Labour Government of Ramsey MacDonald in December 1923. Just prior to an opportunistic early election in 1924 to seek an absolute parliamentary majority for Britain’s first Labour government, British Intelligence released the forged Zinoviev Letter with the assistance of sensational reporting in the Daily Mail.

The Zinoviev Letter falsely claimed that a future MacDonald Labour Government would deepen relations with the Soviet Government to promote the cause of Leninism in Britain and its Empire. Labour was back in the political wilderness with a loss of forty seats and did not secure its absolute parliamentary majority until 1945.

After pragmatic co-operation with Stalin during the Second World War, relations with Soviet Russia deteriorated during the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall should have ended Cold War intrigues with the new Russian Confederation. NATO persisted in the extension of its influence in Eastern Europe, the Ukraine and Central Asia.

By 2007, Russia resumed its long-range air patrols in the North Sea and RAF jets were sometimes scrambled to acknowledge their presence.

Russian defector Alexander Litvineko (1962-2006) was poisoned with lethal plutonium in Britain and the assassination was attributed to the Federal Security Service (FSB) by an official British Inquiry in 2016.

NATO’s strategic expansion in the Balkans and Black Sea Region is still a work in progress:

TIRANA, Albania — The prime minister of Albania says the NATO has decided to build an air base in the country.

Prime Minister Edi Rama on Saturday wrote in his Facebook page that NATO’s North Atlantic Council, the main political decision-making body, has decided to invest 50 million euros ($58 million) “to modernize the air base in Kucove,” 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the capital Tirana. The air base has been there for decades.

The base will serve Albania and also support NATO air supply operations, logistics support, air policing, training and exercises.

The premier also said officials are discussing with the United States on “further modernizing Albanian air capacities.”

Albania joined NATO in 2009 and still is replacing its outdated weaponry. The country lies on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, northwest of Greece.

Opportunities to Build on Issues Raised by Populist Reporting of the Novichok Episodes?

Coverage of the Novichok incidents in Salisbury has a strong element of infotainment value. Innocent people like Dawn Sturgess are hurt when great power games go astray in a climate of international intrigue and hysteria which should be irrelevant in the post-cold war era.

Miscalculations do occur when sabre rattling gets out of control as in the downing of MH Flight 17 over Ukraine on 17 July 2014 or KAL Flight 007 over the Kurile Sea on 1 September 1983.

The unresolved incidents of Novichok poisoning near Salisbury should rightly attract ongoing media investigation:

Image from Daily Mail, 7 July 2018

So far, the real winner of the first incident at Salisbury has not been more objective investigation but a pledge of more funding for research laboratories at Porton Down:

UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson will on Thursday pledge an additional £48m for Britain’s defence science and technology laboratory at Porton Down, in the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian spy with a weapons grade nerve agent. The laboratory was instrumental in identifying Russia as the source of the nerve agent used to target Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia 10 days ago in Salisbury.

21st Century Wire Online notes the new role for Porton Down in the expansion of the Pentagon’s extensive overseas biological and chemical weapons facilities across Europe and Central Asia (28 March 2018):

The Pentagon has spent at least $70 million on military experiments involving tests with deadly viruses and chemical agents at Porton Down – the UK military laboratory near the city of Salisbury. The secretive biological and chemical research facility is located just 13 km from where on 4th March former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench following an alleged Novichok nerve agent poisoning.

Information obtained from the US federal contracts registry reveals that the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has funded a number of military projects performed at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), or Porton Down, over the last decade. Among them: experimental respiratory infection of non-human primates (marmosets) with Anthrax, Ebola virus, Marburg virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, Western equine encephalitis virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis virus. The US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has also funded experiments on animals which were exposed to chemical agents such as Sulphur, Mustard and Phosgene gas.

Readers who are fortunate enough to be enjoying the current Golden Summer in Britain should consider a diversion through the leafy back roads and rideways of Wiltshire on road trips to Salisbury and nearby Stonehenge.

Michelin Road Map for That Dream Holiday in Wiltshire Image: Michelin (Estimated Map Scale 1: 100,000 – 1cm represents 1 km)

Australia’s minor diplomatic expulsions from Canberra in support of the British Government are a reminder of once intimate foreign policy ties with British Empire countries with enthusiastic support of both the mainstream media and wider public opinion during the Cold War era.

As a Year 5 student in 1956, I do recall that our class relished in an impromptu art exercise to bring out the colours of the latest British nuclear test in Australia to liven those black and white press images. I am not sure of the date of our art exercise.

Public opinion tolerated two major nuclear tests that year at Monte Bello Island off Broome and two at Maralinga. There were also minor trials of components of both atomic and hydrogen bombs. Major and minor nuclear weapons tests in Australia and nearby Pacific Islands which are now part of Independent Kiribati.

The British development of atomic and hydrogen bombs was consolidated by an improved delivery capacity offered by missile development in Australia.

Confidence associated with Australian involvement in perfecting weapons of mass destruction had obviously extended to primary school art classes.

All this occurred just two years after the Petrov Spy Scandal in Australia just prior to the 1954 federal election. Vladimir Petrov (1907-91), the obscure third secretary of the Soviet embassy in Canberra and his family were given sanctuary and new identities in Australia.

D notices discouraged media speculation on the whereabouts of the Petrov family, critical reporting of British atomic tests in Australia as well as the activities of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) or the Defence Signals Intelligence. Curious readers should check out the advice on D Notices from the National Archives of Australia (NAA).

All this background material does not resolve the intrigue associated with the Novichok poisonings. Perhaps the stand taken by Theresa May will be justified by the release of archival documents a generation from now. In the short-term, the public should be offered more convincing explanations of the bizarre poisoning events near Salisbury while interest in the topic continues in the mainstream media.

Australians still need to be wary of any return to more intimate security and defence ties with Britain in emergent post-Brexit era at a time when Theresa May’s government is allied hawkish opinion in Washington, Israel and Saudi Arabia. In a sluggish British economy with close to zero growth rate at constant prices in per capita terms, arms exports to the Middle East Region outsell cars and luxury items in demand from political elites.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in advancing pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalisation.

 

 

Drought, the end of the right, and the Last Man

By Henry Johnston

The sight of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull embracing a distraught woman trying to make sense of drought, reminded me of a line from an old song A Pub with No Beer, made famous last century by Slim Dusty.

There’s a dog on the verandah, for his master he waits, but the boss is inside, drinking wine with his mates. He hurries for cover, and cringes with fear; it’s no place for a dog, round a pub with no beer. (Songwriter: Gordon Noel Parsons).

If a rural publican offered a Penfolds Grange Hermitage or a schooner of Reschs, Malcolm Turnbull would probably choose the former. And here is the dilemma. Public houses and other small businesses trading across rural and regional Australia can barely afford to stock and sell much of anything, let alone beer and wine. And there is nothing the bosses can do about it.

Neither market forces, innovative business techniques, trickle-down economics nor individual determination can withstand drought. No matter what the marketeers throw at it, nothing can make it rain, and a failure to develop public policies which accept the forces of nature, will likely see off this current crop of right-wing nongs.

Speaking of nongs, when Francis Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man in 1989, conservatives around the globe punched the air, claiming they were right all along. The Soviet Union had collapsed, communism had failed, and liberal democracy fuelled by unfettered capitalism, ascendant.

In the year Fukuyama published his drivel, Malcolm Turnbull turned 35. The great dust storm of 1983 which denuded the Mallee and Wimmera, and the Ash Wednesday bushfires which killed 70 people, had begun to fade from the national memory. But like a beaten, cowering dog, the bush remembers, and it is this stark reality which deflates the logic of right ideology, namely market forces will solve our problems.

What the bush needs more than ever are far sighted, well-financed state and federal government policies. And those who work the land need to face the fact Australia is an arid continent which cannot sustain water-hungry crops such as cotton and rice, or graze cloven-hoofed bovines or sheep.

Malcolm Turnbull is now 64. And during his lifetime communist China has become the world’s largest economy, Russia is run by a master spy graduate of the KGB, England is facing the fact its fate has been entwined with Europe since Julius Caesar, and the President of the United States looks and acts like an episode of the Sopranos.

And drought, as articulated by Dorothea Mackellar, remains an undisputed Australian truth; beyond climate change, beyond coal, and beyond the prognostications of the Institute of Public Affairs.

So there he stood; the Last Man, swallowed by an endless, wizened landscape, wearing an ill-fitting Akubra hat. Skilfully placed beside him the distraught woman, dressed in expensive R.M. Williams clobber, and as far from the image of Russel Drysdale’s The Drovers Wife, as I could imagine. She nodded dutifully as the PM said her $12,000 relief cheque must be used for household expenditures and that only and the states are responsible for funding stock feed.

Image from theaustralian.com.au

Not once did the PM mention the travails of Indigenous Australians who do the bulk of hard yakka on the big country stations, nor the need to develop innovative methods to till and graze this arid land.

Instead the PM paid lip service to the drongos of the National Party, or whatever the so-called Coalition partner is called, and reminded us of the resilience of rural people. Perhaps he should have channelled the words of Dan Sheehan, the bush poet who inspired A Pub with No Beer …

The cowards become brave and the weak become strong, the dour and the grumpy burst forth into song, if there’s aught to resemble high heaven down here, ‘tis the place of joy where they ladle out beer.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His book, Best and Fairest is available at Valentine Press.

Has Australia become a nation of crooks?

By Ad astra

I’ve been an Australian for a long while now. I always thought that Aussies were a decent bunch, wedded to the notion of a fair go for everyone, always willing to give their mates a hand up when they were down. I’ve seen example after example of this mateship among ordinary folk.

We’ve all seen how generously Aussies offer help in times of crisis, when someone has been dealt an unfair blow by circumstance, when someone needs funds for specialized medical care, and when a family or a town or an area has been devastated by drought or fire or floods. Helping hands are everywhere, generosity abounds, and goodwill is abundant. We are seeing this right now as the widespread drought worsens.

Think though about whom the generous ones are. They are ordinary Aussies like you and me, ready to help our mates when they are in strife.

Then ask yourself why these basic Australian traits are missing from the giants that dominate our economy and our society. Some of them are banks, some are corporations, some are religious orders, and some are clubs and sporting organizations. All have engendered our trust over the years. Yet so many have now destroyed that trust though dishonesty, even criminal fraud.

To our astonishment and our dismay we have discovered that they have deliberately set out to mislead their patrons, to defraud them, to gouge them financially, to take money from their pockets and erode their entitlements, to deprive them of the benefits they were promised. Their actions are no accident, no administrative mistake, no inadvertent error carried out by a junior employee. They are premeditated and carefully calculated to benefit the big guy and disadvantage the little.

In the case of religious orders they have besmirched their principles and defiled their morality as they abused the young and the old alike, the very ones they have always pledged to protect. And then they knowingly covered it up for decades, putting the reputation of their churches ahead of the welfare of the powerless and the vulnerable.

I know I don’t need to write page after page describing in detail these corporate crooks. You know them, but here are a few reminders.

Can you recall how shocked you were when the revelations of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and the Financial Services Industry unfolded day after agonizing day. How many of you, like me, had an abiding faith in the pillars of the financial world, our four large banks, only to find that they have been actively defrauding us all in pursuit of their own profits and filling the pockets of their employees through incentives that always favoured the employee against the client. Everyone in the banks knew about this fraud from the boards and top executives down. They willfully and shamefully set about gouging their clients. It was hard to believe, but believe it we now must.

Now that the banks had been done over by the Royal Commissioner and his assistants through incisive questions and humiliating answers from the bankers, superannuation and other elements of the financial industry are to be put under the hammer. They will be found to be just as bad.

It’s hard to believe that such malfeasance could have infected every corner of the banking industry. And it was all deliberate, intentional fraud that everyone in the industry knew about and worse still, except for the occasional whistleblower, stealthily concealed.

And just last week, AMP, longstanding pillar in the edifice of our financial institutions, having been forced to make a humiliating mea culpa about its fraud, is now publicly attempting to reset its business after its chief executive Craig Meller quit, Board Chairman Catherine Brenner and other Board members resigned, and AMP executives were threatened with years in jail for fraud.

While all this was filling the headlines, the revelations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse competed for prominence.

Who knew how widespread the abuse was, how many had been involved, and how assiduously it had been covered up by the top echelons of these institutions? Who has not been shocked? Although we usually use the word ‘fraud’ for financial misdemeanors, it applies equally to the behaviour of religious and related institutions caught up in child abuse. The decency and righteousness they have been promising for eons has not been delivered; the opposite has. They are religious crooks.

More recently we have had the ACCC report on the steep rise in energy prices, which it attributes in part to market manipulation by the big players and monopolies. The ACCC wants a cap on any further merger or acquisition of a company with more than 20 per cent market share of generation to stop monopolies arising, and also wants the Australian Energy Regulator to have greater monitoring powers “to target market manipulation”. The energy market is deliberately confusing. ACCC says it’s ‘broken’! We have crooks and frauds in the energy market too.

Let’s look for a while at the sporting arena. Test cricket, long regarded as the pinnacle of decent sporting behaviour, has now been permanently diminished by the ‘ball tampering’ affair in South Africa. Captain Smith, Vice Captain Warner and perpetrator Bancroft have been lastingly shamed, as has Australian cricket and all those cricket officials and administrators right to the top, who knew about the unhealthy ‘win at all costs’ culture that encouraged this unseemly fraud. It is galling to see that our sporting heroes too are frauds and crooks.

We are well aware of the drug scandals that have afflicted the Tour de France, and recently there have been rumours that match fixing may have occurred at Wimbledon, the home of tennis, where some doubles matches were under suspicion. No Australians are implicated.

Recently, we discovered that Facebook and Optus has been deviously capturing intimate details of their clients’ behaviour and surreptitiously selling this to third parties so that they can secretly manipulate our choice of all manner of products. This is fraud, and the perpetrators are crooks.

The restaurant industry has surprised us with countless episodes of underpayment of staff wages, superannuation and entitlements. Details were provided in The merchants of venality. You can read more about this sorry tale in an article in The New DailyThe Melbourne food strip where hundreds of staff are underpaid. George Colombaris of MasterChef fame was involved in this fraud. He underpaid staff in his restaurants by $2.6 million. And when caught out, solemn promises to repay his workers their entitlements were still being dishonoured in mid July.

As a longstanding Aussie, I’m appalled and ashamed that our society has accumulated so many crooks plying their fraudulent trade. Perhaps they were always there, but I didn’t notice them. But they are there now in such profusion that no one can miss them. We are shocked, embarrassed and infuriated. Can our ‘fair go’ nation ever recover?

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This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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A business as usual approach to climate change

By Keith Antonysen

Previously, whenever climate scientists have talked about the ills created by climate change they have spoken about the end of the century as being a time when bigger tribulations can be expected such as sea level rise, acidification of Oceans, and higher temperatures. Unfortunately, the time scale has moved towards contemporary times.

What has happened in past epochs gives clues as to what can be expected in the future.

Towards the end of the referenced video, Michael Benton Palaeontologist, speaks about the mass extinction at the end of the Permian Epoch 252 million years ago. It had been greenhouse gases that had been created through volcanic activity that created an almost uninhabited world.

A study of rock samples taken by Dr Benjamin Berger, a Geologist, from an area in Utah that he identified as an area that might be associated with the Permian mass extinction provided some remarkable insights. The chemical analysis of the rock samples showed that he had identified correctly an area where greenhouse gases created from coal seams being ignited had almost completely wiped out all life forms. In comments made introducing his pre-published research, he suggests that humans are creating similar circumstances to those happening during the end Permian period.

Dr Burger states: “In Payne and Clapham’s 2012 review of the Permian-Triassic boundary they suggested “the end-Permian extinction may serve as an important ancient analog for the twenty-first century …” The results of this study amplify that statement, as evidence gathered in this study suggest that large emissions of burning coal and other hydrocarbons during the Siberian Trap volcanic event was largely responsible for Earth’s largest mass extinction 252 million years ago.”

Professor Michael Mann has stated: “Extreme weather has struck across Europe, from the Arctic Circle to Greece, and across the world, from North America to Japan. “This is the face of climate change,” said Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University, and one the world’s most eminent climate scientists. “We literally would not have seen these extremes in the absence of climate change.””

The issue with increased greenhouse gases and warm Oceans is that they do not rapidly change when mitigating strategies are employed. Greenhouse gases can take centuries to dissipate. Through a business as usual approach there is a continuing to increase in the release of greenhouse gases creating warmth in Oceans and Atmosphere. According to Frydenberg, Canavan, Joyce, Abbott, Kelly et al, these views are held by people holding an extreme left-wing ideology. But, a more rational view is that climate science is underpinned by Physics and Chemistry and other science disciplines. Climate science is independent of political ideology.

Already millions of people have been killed by fossil fuel emissions, we are now observing numerous people being killed by extreme events in Western countries caused through climate change.

The choice is continue with fossil fuels … or continue on the path to the 6th extinction.

Bibliography

Heatwaves from the Arctic to Japan: a sign of things to come?

Japan evacuates 36,000 as powerful Typhoon Jongdari takes aim after more than 300 dead and 40,000 hospitalised from floods and landslides

Scientists draw new connections between climate change and warming oceans

State of the Climate in 2017

The need for a fairer voting reform

By Callen Sorensen Karklis

Recently it occurred to me that I needed to update my enrolment details to vote, as I’ve just recently moved for study purposes close to my university. The recent Super Saturday by-elections throughout the country reminded me of the need to vote come next year’s upcoming federal election. As many of you may or may not be aware, Australia has compulsive voting meaning that if you’re enrolled and you don’t vote you risk a small fine.

Now most people who don’t vote either pay the fine and move on, but what if you wanted to vote and still couldn’t vote in your area because the AEC wouldn’t allow you to update your details? Many of you would be saying; “How does that make sense?” Well simply put, this is an everyday problem that some do find quite common, especially if your circumstances prevent you from being able to update your enrolment details.

When you update your enrolment you have to provide a copy of your driver’s license, but in other cases if you can’t provide a license you have to organise somebody who is on the electoral roll to step in for you to confirm your identity, much like a little kid getting their mum or dad to give them permission to go on a school excursion. This is despite the fact even if you have a form of ID like an adult proof of age card. Now some of us can get somebody we know to confirm our identity but what if you have a disability, or are homeless, or not exactly the social type? Or you work long shifts and don’t have the time to do this? Well these are situations what many people go through and a lot of the time it means less people rolling out to vote. Which brings me to my next question: is it time to change how we register to vote?

Queensland: a History of Voter Fraud

Queensland, under the reign of the Newman, brought about the rule for voters to bring their ID to vote much like it is in many states in the US, which has been brought forward by many Republicans. But QLD has had a long history of voter fraud and manipulation dating back to the 1940s.

It was in 1949 when the long-term Labor government of the era changed the voting system from a one person, one vote, one value system to one where the number of voters in each electorate according to their size and proximity from the state’s capital in Brisbane. At the time this gave an enormous advantage to the ALP which used to draw a great deal of strength from its rural voting blocs. But this didn’t last as the ALP fell apart and splintered nationwide during the 1950s cold war splits which cost Labor government in QLD in 1957.

The Country Party came to power however, and took these electoral changes to a whole new level under the guise of a gerrymandering system under Premier Frank Nicklin, but it was really his successor “Sir” Joh that took who took the gerrymander to the next level Regardless of the population of each electorate it was made so that rural seats had as much weight as metropolitan areas which greatly benefited the National party this kept Labor in the wilderness for 32 years.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Joh even changed the name of the Country Party to the National Party to diminish the Liberal Party’s metropolitan base which some argued cost the National power in the end, split the Coalition in QLD and even cost John Howard the chance of government in the 1980s against the then Federal Hawke Labor Government.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Premier of Queensland from 1968 to 1987. Photo from the Courier Mail

Things were further complicated by the Fitzgerald Inquires and vast array of police and political corruption found to be systemic in the QLD political structure in the late 1980s. It became evident that a change was needed to not only reform the political structure but how voting occurred in QLD as well. It wasn’t until the successful election of Wayne Goss that a fairer voting system was introduced were a comprise was met which allocated at least 40 seats in the parliament of 89 to Brisbane where a good portion of the state’s population was at the time.

Further reform needed?

After mostly 21 years of mostly Labor rule from the late 1980s to 2012, Campbell Newman commanded the first Liberal National majority since the Nationals held power in the 1980s. Reforms were quickly introduced for voters to prove identification to vote in future elections much like the Republicans do in the US. This did not last as Labor returned to power and relaxed such hard-line restrictions as it was harder for people to turn out to vote and enrol in 2015s QLD state election. That said, certain restrictions do still remain where people with 18 Plus Cards who may not drive must ensure somebody else on the electoral roll can prove their enrolment details in a paternal manner. Perhaps it’s time to reform this by allowing people with ID to prove their enrolments themselves.

Campbell Newman: LNP QLD Premier (2012 – 2015)

To enrol to vote contact the AEC.

Or contact your local MP if you think it’s unfair that people with ID who may not drive still need somebody else to confirm their enrolment, please find attached their contacts via the QLD Parliament website.

Callen is an active member of the Australian Fabians Society and is a Quandamooka Noonucle Indigenous person with a strong commitment to community. Callen has been in the ALP, worked in the retail, media, and market research sectors and is currently a student at Griffith University and works in IT. He also has a Diploma of Business.

 

Longman By-Election: Failed LNP Paradigms Revisited

The federal LNP certainly seized upon Longman as its best chance on Super Saturday.

Cheered on by initially favourable opinion polls, Prime Minister Turnbull persisted with his enthusiasm for the LNP’s Tax Packages. Most of the tax redistribution favours privileged income earners, large corporations and banking institutions.

Just a week out from Super Saturday, Brisbane’s Sunday Mail was confident enough to claim victory for the LNP in Longman. ReachTel Polling results from 19 July 2018 were offered without qualifications about the high error rate in automated telephone polling.

Under the banner of Longman Backs Big Trev, the Sunday Mail (22 July 2018) overstated the LNP’s primary vote by 7.95 per cent at 37.9 per cent. This was translated into a two-party result of 51 per cent for Trevor Rutherberg based on assumptions of a disciplined allocation of preferences from One Nation (ONP) and other minor parties.

The close result in the ReachTEL Polling invited great caution from responsible voters in Longman.

Although Susan Lamb ultimately won the seat with a 55-45 per cent margin after preferences, not one of the voters in the Sunday Mail’s colourful photo mosaic of six constituents really supported Labor.

The Sunday Mail’s editorial used the anticipated close result from the literal interpretation of ReachTEL Polling to warn readers about the dangers of a Labor victory in Longman:

Voters have a golden opportunity to reject the Socialist policies of Shorten and put him on notice that his comfortable relationship with sluggish unions is not what we expect in 21st century Australia.

The official line from the federal LNP was less clear-cut. Invoking the LNP’s underdog status, the federal LNP noted that conservatives in government had not clawed back a federal Labor seat at a by-election since two irregular victories in Kalgoorlie and Maranoa in 1920-21 in the 8th Parliament  (1919-22):


Buoyed by sensational reporting of ReachTEL Polling, the federal LNP was still confident that it had a good chance in Longman on 28 July 2018. There was a nostalgia for conservative victories in by-elections in Kalgoorlie and Maranoa almost a century ago.

The federal LNP’s Tax Plans to restructure personal and corporate taxation rates carried the possibility of a repeat performance in Longman to excite the electorate with a real paradigm change to a more aspirational Australian society.

Failed LNP Taxation Paradigms in Longman

Longman voters were simply not inspired by the federal LNP’s plans to restructure personal and corporate taxes in the interests of privileged sectors of society.
The initial personal tax changes in Phase 1 (2018-22) carried a manipulative short-term sweetener for the most naïve aspirational voters.

For taxable incomes of $50,000 to $90,000 range, the LNP’s tax package offers an immediate $530 per annum or $10.20 a week in tax relief. Short term tax relief was as low as $3.80 per week for income levels of $30,000 and $5.58 per week for taxable incomes of $40,000. The token levels of tax relief for Longman constituents are of course more than offset by the abolition of penalty rates from 1 July 2018.

It was clearly anticipated that more aspirational voters in Longman would not read the fine print of the Tax Plan which gave immediate tax relief for corporations over specific gains for short-term tax relief to wage-earners at all income levels.

The real injustices come years later in Phases 2 and 3 of the Tax Plan. Tax relief for taxable incomes below $80,000 were still in the $200-$540 per annum range after 2024-25. Only a tiny section of taxpayers in Longman will scoop $7,225 per annum after 2024-25. Less than 5 per cent of personal incomes in Longman makes a taxable income of $100,000, let alone $200,000.

For voters in Longman who were still not inspired by such token tax concessions, the second arm of the federal LNP’s election strategy in Longman was the anticipation of more substantial preference flows from the One Nation Candidate, Matthew Stephen. His vote was underestimated by 2.02 per cent in ReachTel Polling and reached 15.9 per cent on polling day.

The ONP preference votes in Longman could have been more decisive if the appeal of the LNP’s tax plan had worked.

However, a federal LNP primary vote of 29.7 per cent was too low to deliver the results anticipated in the ReachTEL Poll.

Apart from the Caboolture South Booth, all major booths recorded a two-party swing to Labor. In the Caboolture South Booth, Labor’s primary vote declined by 1.49 per cent. Here the federal LNP’s vote was a dismal 21.59 per cent. For some local reasons, there were gains by One Nation (+5.11 per cent), a high informal vote of 8 per cent and better than expected results by minor candidates including Liberal Democrats, Labour DLP, the Australian Country Party and an Independent Candidate. All minor candidates scored over 2 per cent and ONP managed 16.22 per cent.

Despite these anomalies, Caboolture South was one of Susan Lamb’s best results after preferences with a 61 to 39 per cent divide to Trevor Ruthenberg.

Across the Longman electorate, voters coped with a field of eleven candidates and achieved a lower informal vote (6.05 per cent) than at the 2016 federal election.The swing to Labor after preferences was remarkably consistent across Longman. The LNP hoped that voters in the Bayside Suburbs and Northern Greenbelt Areas of Longman would warm towards its Tax Packages. For the traditionally Labor-voting suburbs along the Transport Corridors from Caboolture to Dakabin, there was the possibility of a strong ONP vote.

Labor’s Engagement with Longman

Image: ABC News Online

The LNP’s Tax Packages offered immediate gains for businesses of all sizes. Even the most privileged families had to wait until 2024-25 for their promised tax rebate of $7,225 while median salary earners were left to cope with a rebate of $455-540 per annum.

There were no real concessions for retirees. The means test for part-pensions had already been tightened in 2017. Single pensioners with assets of $561,200 beyond the first home and $844,000 for couples receive no entitlement to part-pensions.

For infirm seniors, access to nursing homes required Lump Sum Payments of $250,000 to $550,000. With the approval of the Minister for Social Security, aged care providers can extend the Lump Sum Payment to $800,000.

In aged care facilities demanding a Lump Sum Payment of $550,000, the annual fee amounts to $32,780 plus the standard daily rate of $50.16 per day or $18308.40 per annum. The total amounts to $51,088. In aged care centres requiring a Lump Sum Payment of $800,000, the fees would increase to $65,984 per annum based on the 5.96 per cent levy of $47,680 on the cost of Lump Sum Payment.

Moving into a nursing home facility even for a few short months usually required the sale of a family home. This caused real problems if one partner wanted to continue to reside at home perhaps with access to aged care support services.

Few families could sustain payments to combine a continued homestay with the transition to an aged care facility for the more infirm partner unless resources were carefully tucked away years ago in a family trust or Caribbean tax haven.

Federal Labor’s commitment to improved public health services was undoubtedly well received even in more comfortably off parts of Bayside Longman. Bill Shorten provided the specifics on one of his campaign visits to Longman about the extension of chemotherapy services at Caboolture Hospital (25 May 2018).

The rising cost of private health insurance is an enduring burden. The federal government’s lack of supervision of irregular discounts to private hospitals for the installation of particular brands of pacemakers has received recent media attention (7.30 Report 3 July 2018). These healthcare anomalies come at the expense of policyholders and their funds.

Susan Lamb can now expect heroine status for her commitment to improved living standards and fair wages across Longman.

The current going rates for buying or renting houses in Narangba is available from the real estate sector (realestate.com.au):

For retirees and families with more assets, there is always the possibility of moving pleasant localities near Bribie Island with its bridge connection to the mainland. Median property prices have been documented by real estate providers.


The federal LNP’s campaign was misplaced appeal to small business entrepreneurs. However, most voters in the Longman electorate work for wages and are in some highly unionized sectors in health, education, public administration, manufacturing and construction.

Employment profile in the Moreton Bay Council (Including Petrie and Longman Electorates

Image from Queensland Government Statistician’s Office

Commitment to Top Hat Polities which widen the income divide should be a recipe for the defeat of all LNP members in the six federal seats between Longman and Forde on Brisbane’s Southside in 2019. Continued attention to campaign initiatives such as mobile displays and street theatre can repeat the gains made by Labor in Longman on Super Saturday against federal LNP in its current unholy alliance with the ONP and other far-right minor parties.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in advancing pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.

 

Sacred Cows

It’s time to kill some political and social sacred cows.

Politicians cannot change their mind

Of course they can and they shouldn’t be pilloried for it. Shorten recently suggested that he would be legislating to renege on some of the LNP’s business tax cuts should he get to the other side of the House of Representatives at the next election. If Shorten refused to answer the question, us ‘mug punters’ would have been hammered for days over Shorten’s refusal to answer a simple question. Regardless of the machinations of the ALP behind the scenes, clearly the discussion demonstrated to the Opposition (and that word is important) that there was considerable disquiet in the community should the repeal ever happen.

The thing is that Shorten leads the official Opposition political party in Australia. His job is to articulate the policy differences between the current government and the one that he would lead. Should it become evident upon (potential) election that the situation that allows his policies to be delivered changes significantly, he needs to again have the conversation with the Australian public prior to taking action. While most recent newly-elected governments claim that circumstances are not as they were told and change their pre-election policies, usually there is little evidence presented to justify the argument. You’re not ‘being lied to’, rather the management of the issue has been generally shoddy.

Sexist remarks can be OK

No they can’t. Apart from the illegality implicit in denigrating someone because of their gender, ethically and morally all people are equal and should be treated as such. Using the recent example of Senators Leyonhjelm and Hanson-Young, regardless of what he heard or claims he heard, Leyonhjelm was completely wrong in his responses to Hanson-Young. To go onto television and attempt to justify the indefensible only adds to the crime. He claims ‘freedom of speech’ which is a two-edged sword. Others can equally claim that Leyonhjelm is a politician with dubious ethics, representing a minor party with few followers, that needs the media coverage to stand a ghost of a chance of re-election without fear of retribution. If Leyonhjelm found the passage above to be insulting, he would be duplicitous as he claims to support absolute ‘freedom of speech’. The claims repeated above about Leyonhjelm are also factual — he is a politician from a minor party up for re-election at the next Senate election — unlike his attempt to impose his moral judgements (based on rumours and innuendo) in a sexist and hateful tirade to Hanson-Young and repeated endlessly when asked to repent for his crimes. Matt Holden wrote in The Age with much more eloquence than I can muster

What Leyonhjelm has tried to do to Hanson-Young would never be OK in any circumstances. That goes without saying, although it seems equally necessary to say it.

But his timing is exceptionally poor. Women are angry right now, and with good reason. They have plenty to say about the problems with men, and what they are saying is uncomfortable and confronting for men to hear. It’s easy to feel under attack.

But this charged moment, triangulated by #MeToo, Harvey Weinstein and the brutal deaths of young women including Eurydice Dixon and Larissa Beilby, is not the time for men to react defensively. It’s the time for men to shut up and listen, and to learn to sit with the uncomfortable feelings. They won’t kill us.

Adults found guilty of offences against children should be shown pity

No – they should be sacked from the position that gave them the access they used inappropriately. Resignation is the soft option. The administration of the various religious and sectarian groups that have or will have to deal with this issue are just as culpable if they don’t sack those that have demonstrably failed to adequately care for those placed into their care. They are in reality dismissing the findings of the legal process, demonstrating their true level of care for those that have been directly affected and, in some cases, allowing the offender the opportunity to offend again. As an example of inappropriate behaviour, the practice of the Catholic Church of transferring ‘suspect’ priests to another community was disgusting and demonstrated who really mattered to the hierarchy of the Church at the time.

Climate change is a conspiracy

It isn’t and if we do nothing, future generations will rightly condemn us and our immediate predecessors for fiddling while Rome burnt. It is also of interest here that the same conservatives who claim that climate change is a fiction because not all scientists agree on what is absolutely going to happen, in a lot of cases they also claim to follow religious principles. While a discussion on the reality of the various gods worshipped in various religions is way beyond the scope of a political blog, there is far greater agreement within the scientific community on the causes and effects of climate change than there is in the texts that are the central tenets of the Christian religion and others which, according to their dogmatic adherents, are the literal and absolute teachings of their respective gods. It is interesting and to the detriment of society that conservatives can accept contradiction and uncertainty in one area of their lives but expect absolute certainty in others.

Australia needs more coal fired electricity generation capacity

No it doesn’t and the stuffing around over the past decade by conservatives with a hidden agenda has cruelled it for all of us. On 11 July, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released a report on the future of power prices with some sobering news for all of us. As reported in The Monthly’s daily email on 11 July

The truth is that the ACCC’s report on electricity prices does not help the coal huggers one little bit. Going by the 80/20 rule, there are some neat figures in the report: exactly 80 per cent of the cause of higher electricity prices over the last decade has nothing to do with green schemes, renewable subsidies, emissions reduction targets or any other culture-wars bugbear; exactly 20 per cent does. The largest single factor, as we all knew already, is over-investment in electricity networks (poles and wires), and that’s where the single biggest price reductions can be made by virtue of some neat proposals from the regulator.

Some plain facts, straight from the report: annual electricity bills have risen in real terms by 35 per cent in the decade to 2017–18, from $1210 to $1636 – an annual increase of $426. The biggest single component, higher network charges, is responsible for $148 or 35 per cent of the increase. The cause? The regulator’s “limited ability to constrain excess spending by network owners” (the gold-plating problem), and reliability standards being “set too high”. (Which is why experts like RenewEconomy say the NEG’s reliability standard will never be used. The ACCC report itself hints that “reliability shortfalls … may be infrequent”). Here’s where the ACCC calls for “decisive action”, as we’ll see.

The next biggest component is higher wholesale electricity prices, worth $96 or 22 per cent, which the ACCC attributes to a tightening of a market previously oversupplied with electricity generation, and higher gas prices as east coast LNG exports began. The third biggest component, costing $84 or 20 per cent, is made up of environmental schemes, particularly subsidies due to the renewable energy target, and excessively generous state feed-in-tariffs for rooftop solar, which have generally been wound back but which are still costing money. Higher retail margins ($68 or 16 per cent) and retail costs ($30 or 7 per cent) make up the rest.

The ACCC also looks at the relative costs of renewable (solar/wind generation and battery systems) versus coal powered generation to retain reliability and it’s not good news for the luddites in the LNP that want a new ‘high efficiency’ coal generation plant anywhere. Again from The Monthly:

In today’s AFR, columnist Matthew Stevens writes [paywalled] that new wind farms cost $50/MWh, batteries cost another $20/MWh, while new coal-fired power costs $90/MWh. If we let the market takes its course, it’s game over for coal.

So ‘the carbon tax’ that never really was didn’t increase electricity prices as much as gold plating and higher wholesale prices for electricity. Not that it will stop Abbott, Kelly and their kooky band of hangers-on from attempting to derail the discussion yet again when the compromise NEG is discussed with state leaders in August.

Governments never give me anything

Well actually they do. How about transport links, communication links, the ability to live in a country where wrong doers are actively detected and dealt with according to law, keeping the law breakers off the streets, subsidised education, subsidised healthcare, safety standards for your home, transport and a multitude of other items, consumer protection, assistance to those that society has deemed to need a hand such as families, the aged, the infirm and those that can’t find work? If you don’t qualify for any of these at this stage of your life, first consider how lucky you are and second contemplate if your needs will change as your life situation changes.

That’s not to say that the mix of government expenditure is correct. There is a fairly large proportion of the Australian community that would suggest the close to $5BILLION we have spent to keep humans in inhumane conditions on Manus Island and in Nauru between 2012 and 2017 is poor value for money. Others like Turnbull and his government would suggest that freezing Medicare rebates for GP visits and defunding the ABC is appropriate to ensure that other ‘needs’ can be met. Now your opinion on the choice of expenditure might be in accordance with the government or it may not — it is however your right to tell your elected officials what your opinion is.

Those with a scientific bent will have heard of a process known as titration. Basically, a known quantity of one chemical compound is added (carefully) to another compound. Nothing happens until the last drop is added, then a reaction occurs. It’s the same in real life — there is a point where the alternative viewpoint is actually noticed and acted upon.

There are a number of ways of doing this from sending your MP or the PM an email, through writing a blog post (it’s not that hard, trust me) through joining a lobby group or political party that shares the majority of your beliefs.

The sacred cows we’ve discussed here (and there are many more) have come about because those without vested interests have sat there under the impression they can’t change a thing. So let’s try and kill some sacred cows — stand up and say something. Tell the media that politicians can change their minds; call out sexist remarks and inappropriate behaviour as it occurs; tell our politicians that the current culture wars need to be over. It really is up to you to express your opinion and create the change you want to see.

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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“What’s that thing, Malcolm?”

This satirical short story (or long joke) from Tony Andrews, depending on how you look at it, is still relevant even though the cast have changed portfolios since it was originally written, and one of the actors has left the stage. The lead character may soon join her. 

Time and popularity are fleeting, but the more things change, the more they stay the same …

The Prime Minister of Australia called a meeting of his favoured ministers and, with a mischievous smirk on his usually vacant face, held one hand behind his back, as if hiding something that he didn’t want his ministers to see.

He told them that they were there to select the next Treasurer, whoever was keen on the job just had to pass one or two little tests. These tests, he’d remembered, were used by his old employer when selecting high-level bank executives for promotion.

With the skill of a small child interested in magic, he theatrically produced from behind his back a calculator.

Everyone in the room was impressed with the trick from the party leader and clapped enthusiastically, in the obsequious manner to which they’d become accustomed to doing whenever Malcolm said or did anything.

Julie, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, placed her iPhone back down on the table in front of her and said, just a bit excitedly, “what’s that thing, Malcolm?”

“I need something high tech like that for my office, it will really impress my foreign guests when they visit me. Can you get me one?”

Malcolm, with an indulgent chuckle, stated that he could, if she guessed what it was.

Julie, with forceful determination and just a hint of her trademarked, thin lipped smile, said that as soon as she’d received a detailing briefing from her staff, she’d report back on the outcome of the discussion regarding the mysterious object that he had placed before them and report back to the Prime Minister at the appropriate time … if she was advised to do so.

Most of the ministers seated around the overly large conference table nodded sagely, accepting this as a valid course of action.

Peter, the Minister for Foreigner Incarceration, who appeared deeply absorbed in a telegraph article about backpackers overstaying their visas, his mind wandering to how well his Filipino housekeeper kept his shirts white and crisp, glanced up at the Prime Minister and, thinking that he should discuss the article with his staff as soon as possible, almost as quickly forgot about it, his attention taken by the strange object on the table.

“Give us a hint, Malcolm, please.” As an ex policeman, he prided himself in knowing the correct way to go about solving a case.

“It has something to do with numbers,” said the PM, pleased that he’d remembered his training at Goldman Sachs.

Just then, the Manager of Government Business and ministerial jack of all trades, Christopher, decided he really needed to step in …

“Malcolm,” said Chris, trying hard not to sound like he was whining, “as head of government business in the house, I fail to see how numbers have anything at all to do with selecting the most appropriate person to take on the second most senior and public role in parliament, that of the Treasurer.”

“As a minister that has functioned well in many portfolios …”

“Let me just stop you right there, Chris” the Prime Minister interrupted, “and stop whining at me, it’s doing my head in.”

“This test was devised by the biggest bankers in the world and they know their stuff. If they say it works, then who am I to disagree with them?”

Before Christopher could interject, a high-pitched shriek was heard coming from near the front of the room. Malcolm, speaking as he turned toward the door, said, rather too loudly, “Michealia, this is a private meeting,” but the West Australian senator and newly appointed Minister for Unemployment was not there.

The annoying sound was instead, coming from the foreign minister’s iPhone, an incoming text message.

She read it to herself as the discussion about the mystery object continued around her. It was from a journalist she knew, responding to the photo of the PM and the object that she’d secretly leaked to him at the beginning of the meeting.

“It’s a calculator,” she exclaimed enthusiastically, to which the PM agreed, with an admiring look at the sharp, intelligent, woman, seated beside him.

“I knew that,” said Scott, who’d been remarkably quite during the discussion, thoughts elsewhere.

Ever since Peter took over his portfolio, Scott had had trouble concentrating on anything. Even old war movies, of which he never normally tired, failed to hold his attention. “Maybe I should talk to Susan, the new health minister,” Scott thought, “I think I might be coming down with something.”.

The Prime Minister asked him why he didn’t say he knew what it was before.

“I wanted to see who my competition was,” drawled Scott, secretly hoping his short, snappy, line sounded like something his boyhood hero, John Wayne would say.

Again, the Prime Minister was impressed with the supreme intelligence of his favourites and announced jovially, “OK, great, you and Julie are both right, the competition is between you two, so, whoever gets the next question is the new Treasurer. Are you ready?”

Just then, Christopher, screaming loudly and throwing his phone at the wall, cried bitterly that, “It was rigged, you always pick them instead of me Malcolm.”

Turning slowly and casting a baleful glare at those seated around the table, he said, venom dripping from his tongue, “I hate you all”, then to the PM, “see you next Tuesday,” and stormed out of the room.

Everybody laughed, Chris was such a character.

Malcolm then stood, and again, placed one hand behind his back.

In a grand and overly theatrical manner, the Prime Minister threw back his head and, in a tone and style worthy of a Shakespearean actor, orated clearly …

“In my hand I hold a five, ahem, an Australian bank note of an unknown denomination.”

“Procured this very morning by my driver, from the tin of a homeless fellow, that had had a bit too much to drink and carelessly exposed his wealth, of which, I desired to acquire for myself.”

“Whom so ever guesses the correct amount shall here by and now, be proclaimed Treasurer, and shall rule beside me as my second in command”.

Quietly, he added, “Don’t tell Trussy or Barnaby though, they’ll just get the shits.”

Julie was the first to speak, as usual, and declared bitterly, that, “It must be a one hundred dollar note, beggars make a fortune, and all tax free.”

She added, “We really need to get on top of that, you know, it’s a disgrace, and unfairly penalises hard working taxpayers like us. We need to bring them inside the tax base and ease the pressure on big business.”

Malcolm gave a thoughtful nod and thought to himself how gifted Julie was and that she would be well suited to the role of Treasurer, but a hint of fear stopped him from voicing his appreciation, remembering that she had once told someone, who told someone else, who mentioned it to him, that she wanted to one day be Prime Minister.

His thoughts were interrupted by a voice at the far end of the table.

“Twenty. I think it’s a twenty dollar note.”

“Greg, I didn’t know you were here,” Said Malcolm, looking for the first time in months at his Minister for the Environment.

“Why didn’t you speak up before?”

“Julie and Scott have already answered one question, so the contest is between them, sorry, mate.”

“You, you told me never to answer any questions, you told me that, you said if I answer questions it could cost our donors a lot of money.” His voice rising hysterically.

Then, with barely a whisper, he continued …

“I did as you said, Malcolm, I, I always do what I’m told.” His glasses slipped from his shaking hand, dropping onto the glass conference table with a clatter.

Malcolm smiled lovingly at his Environment Minister, like a proud father listening to his youngest child.

“That’s fine, Greg, you’re not in any trouble, son.”

“Slip out and get me a coffee, will ya, mate. You get the best coffee.”

Greg looked up, a smile quickly appearing on his face. He was extremely relieved that he could finally make his exit and disappear.

Something he knew he was very good at.

He just wanted to escape to the safety of his office downstairs, lock the door and lay down on his settee.

Already halfway down the corridor, Greg made a mental note, “Must not forget to send my personal assistant out to get Malcolm’s coffee. He’ll be very disappointed in me if I forget.”

Finally, after Julie had recited every Australian banknote value she could think of, Scott, remembering a well-rehearsed fact from his time as Unemployment Minister, a fact that cost the department a couple of million dollars, paid to a leading private research group.

“Money well spent,” thought Scott. “Five dollars was how much money the unemployed spent on food each fortnight from the government’s generous dole payment, the rest being spent on cigarettes and alcohol.”

Scott answered his leader. “A five dollar note, it is, Prime Minister”. His triumphant victory giving him a Yoda like impression of himself and this was, parrot like, reflected in his speech.

“Correct, Treasurer,” stated Malcolm, pleased that the treacherous woman beside him was not going to be challenging him for his job any time soon.

“We’ll hold a press conference in the morning to announce the news to Australia, remember, until then, this is top secret. thanks everyone, I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

The Prime Minister slipped the five dollar note into his coat pocket, his mind already concerned with contacting his broker to discuss rising stocks, laddering, and two-tiered investment strategies.

Julie, busy typing a text on her i phone, barely even noticed them leave.

The dearth of Australian journalism

By Henry Johnston

ABCTV’s the Insiders broadcast 29/7/2018 the morning after Super Saturday demonstrated the parlous state of quality Australian journalism.

After interrogating Liberal Minister for Defence Industry and Leader of the House Christopher Pyne, and Opposition Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek about the results of the previous night’s Super Saturday by-elections, host Barrie Cassidy introduced the panel.

For me this is when Australian journalism slipped over and fell on its arse.

The Guardian’s Katherine Murphy, the Australian’s Niki Savva and News Corp’s jolly old Uncle Malcolm Farr, all but spat their coffee across the set when Cassidy suggested it is time for media to drop the Kill Bill / Anthony Albanese-is-waiting-to-challenge nonsense.

The Three Amigos came close to hyperventilation. I would not be surprised if half their press gallery colleagues did the same, as they swallowed Berocca and munched handfuls of Panadol to clear muzzy heads.

The gallery including the Conversation’s redoubtable Michelle Grattan, fell for a Liberal Government ‘drop,’ namely Albo is set to challenge Bill Shorten.

Never mind the fact Tanya Plibersek minutes earlier swatted the story as so much tosh, or Wayne Swan said much the same on an earlier ABC news programme, or that Albo had called the story rubbish. No. Three top notch journos turned face-on to the cameras and said in effect, ‘we reported a non-story and are sticking with our assertion’.

Journalism?

Arrant nonsense.

How do I know this, and why do I believe this morning marked a low point in the worst week in the history of Australian news media?

If these three reporters had squeezed into the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain on the day then Prime Minster Kevin Rudd announced reforms to mechanisms to appoint Labor Party leaders, and thus forbid a repeat of the Rudd / Gillard / Rudd debacle, they would have witnessed Anthony Albanese (Albo) at his finest.

Albo is my local member and I am a rank and file member of the Australian Labor Party.

Anthony Albanese, his close friend and mentor, former Senator John Faulkner, and the nation watched acts of unparalleled bastardry, which spelt the imminent examination of the ALP.

Make no mistake; Labor as a collective knew it either reformed or experience a horrible death.

Neither Albo, Faulkner nor other party activists, were prepared to allow this to happen. If Savva, Murphy and Farr didn’t know this, then they should not be in the business of reporting.

Here is the rub. This trio and the majority of the Canberra press gallery – so called ‘insiders’ – no longer report. They comment. But commentary is not journalism. Rather it is a corrosive aspect of the global entertainment industry’s gleeful destruction of the integrity of the fourth estate. Witness the Channel 9 take-over of Fairfax.

Did Savva, Murphy, Farr and others ring Albo’s office and ask for an interview? I’m not sure, but if they did, they did not file a report; at least I cannot find one. Indeed, Savva and Murphy said to Cassidy, ‘according to unnamed sources we knew something was going on and we faithfully reported this.’

Huh? How is it small journals such as this news outlet, with unerring accuracy, called the story out as a non-starter?

By the end of Insiders Savva, Murphy and Farr on cue, wept crocodile tears about the demise of Fairfax, but avoided the perspicacity of Cassidy’s argument the Kill Bill strategy had failed.

The ‘Albo for PM’ yarn will stink-up the place for a few more days despite the fact a slew of ALP federal members would make exemplary prime ministers.

Consider the talent of Albanese, Bowen, Plibersek, Burke, Chalmers, Clare, Wong, Dreyfuss, Lamb, and others. Now imagine a Muslim PM, Ed Husic, or an Aboriginal Prime Minister, Linda Burney. I can. Compare these citizens to the nincompoops which comprise the LNP Government. Yet according to the Canberra press gallery, their version of the story – Albo, aka Beatrix Kiddo, aka the Bride – will faithfully follow the Kill Bill script. Yeah right, just like the fairy tale of South Australia’s darling of the IPA Georgina Downer, taking her seat as the new federal member for Mayo.

Pick up your redundancy cheques, boys and girls, and don’t bother switching off the lights on your way out.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His book, Best and Fairest is available at Valentine Press.

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