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Day to Day Politics: What’s happening in the bear pit?

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Author’s note: I have updated and re-posted this because it is of great public importance.

Has Question Time in the Australian Parliament improved? Well just slightly since Tony Smith took over from Bronwyn Bishop. Bishop was an insult to the intelligence of reasoned people. Although it is only watched by those with a professional interest and political tragics like me, it is nonetheless the prism through which the Australian public form a perception of their politicians.

Now and then news services showcase Question Time and voters are left wondering if it’s for real or just a group of bad actors auditioning for play school.

It is devoid of wit, humour, words of intelligence and those with the eloquence and debating skills to give them meaning. Mostly it embraces a maleness that believes in conflict as a means of political supremacy over and above the pursuit of excellence in argument.

Question Time under Speaker Bronwyn Bishop degenerated into a bear pit of mouths that roared with hatred. The Speaker gave the appearance of disliking men with a bitchy witchlike headmistress’s loathing more suited to an evil character in a Disney movie than a democratic parliament.

Her demeanor was obnoxious, threatening and deliberately intimidating. She was consciously biased to the point of dismissing legitimate points of order out of hand. And in a mocking manner that lacked any dignity and grace. In doing so she gave the impression of a women obsessed with herself and her party rather than acting in the impartial manner the position demands. All with an authoritarian sharp-edged sarcastic manner calculated to make her subjects cringe. Her condescendingly belligerent manner lacked the civility required for reasoned discourse.

Unlike Speakers before her she attended her party’s parliamentary meetings to listen and be advised of tactics in order to respond accordingly. Anything to humiliate the opposition. There can be no other reason for doing so. In addition she regularly used her offices for party fund-raising functions. Something previous speakers would never consider.

She threw out the ”standing orders” and invoked her own set of rules. Particularly when it came to relevance, sometimes ignoring points of order or dismissing them out of hand. She even allowed Ministers to continue talking when points of order had been raised pretending to not to notice members at the dispatch box. Answers were allowed that were so far removed from the question asked that one could be excused for thinking one had a hearing difficulty. All in all Bishop so corrupted question time that it became so totally dysfunctional that it either needed to be terminated or reconstructed.

A new Speaker has returned some decorum to the chamber but it really serves little purpose. In so far as relevance is concerned it has not improved under Smith.

While a lot of the contestation is part of the drama of the Parliament; no one would wish Question Time to be reduced to polite discussion without challenge. Never the less, Question Time all too regularly descends into an unedifying shouting match between the Government and Opposition, damaging the public image of the Parliament and of politicians in general.

According to the Parliamentary Education Office the purpose of Question Time is to allow the opposition to ask the executive government questions and to critically examine its work. Ministers are called upon to be accountable and explain their decisions and actions in their portfolios. Question Time also provides ministers with an opportunity to present their ideas, their leadership abilities and their political skills.

During Question Time, the opposition also has a chance to present themselves as the alternative government

Question Time occurs at 2pm every day when Parliament is sitting and usually lasts for about one hour. By custom, the Prime Minister decides how long Question Time will last and indeed if it will be held at all.

Ministers do not know the content of questions posed by the opposition during Question Time. These are likely to be tough, designed to test ministers’ capacity to answer quickly and confidently.

During Question Time, government backbenchers also pose questions to ministers, in order to highlight government policies and achievements. These are prepared prior to Question Time and are known as ‘Dorothy Dixers’ after a magazine columnist who used to write her own questions and answers.

Question Time has evolved in the Australian Parliament over a long period of time. The first Parliament made provision for questions on notice to be asked and the answers were read to the chamber by the relevant minister. Over time, questions without notice were also put to ministers, particularly in regard to important or urgent matters. The focus in Question Time today is on making the government accountable for its actions and dealing with the political issues of the day.

Well in short that’s the purpose. Does it work in reality? Of course not. Every government on being elected says it will reform Question Time. As part of an agreement with Prime Minister Gillard Rob Oakshot and Tony Winsor made some effort at reform with a greater insistence on relevance and supplementary questions.

Prior to the last election Christopher Pyne, the then Manager of Opposition Business, but better known as ‘the mouth that roared’, or ‘the fixer’, had this to say:

”An elected Coalition Government will move to reform Parliamentary Standing orders in the House of Representatives.”

”Our reforms will make Parliamentary Question Time more concise and ensure Ministers are held to account and remain relevant to questions asked.”

”We will look to strengthen the definition of ‘relevance’ in the standing orders so Ministers must stay directly relevant to questions and ensure Matter of Public Importance debates follow Question Time.”

What a ludicrous load of nonsense. As I stated earlier, there is no requirement for relevance at all. And without it Ministers simply cannot be held to account. Without civility reasoned debate cannot take place. All we have at the moment is a shambolic gaggle of incompetent unedifying politicians not in the least interested in enhancing our democracy. It has degenerated to the point of being obsolete. It needs to be given the flick and rethought.

How should this come about? Try this. Bill Shorten should walk out of Question Time with his colleagues straight into a press conference with a detailed list of reasons for doing so. They being that Question Time has become untenable, so lacking in relevance that there is no purpose in asking questions.

After siting all the obvious reasons he should then, having prepared himself, launch into a list of proposals to make governments and Ministers more accountable. The whole point of his presentation should center on a better more open democracy. An address that takes the democratic moral high ground that is critical of both sides of politics.

”None of us can claim that in this place, first and foremost on our minds is how we serve the Australian people’.’

Let the ideas flow. I propose to appoint now, a panel of former speakers from both sides of the house, to rewrite the standing orders and reform Question Time.

All this is hypothetical of course because I am thinking out loud. But consider the following.

1 An independent speaker. Not a politician. Not only independent but elected by the people. A position with clout. The Parliamentary Speakers Office with the power to name and shame Ministers for irrelevance. Power over politicians expenses. It could include a ‘’Fact Check Office’’

2 Imagine if the Speaker’s Office adjudicated on answers and published a relevance scale on its website. This might serve two purposes. Firstly it would promote transparency and truth and secondly provide an opportunity for ministers to correct answers. It wouldn’t take long for profiles of ministers to build.

3 If in the course of Question Time the Opposition wants to table a document that they say supports their claim, in the interests of openness and accountability it should always be allowed. Documents would also come under the scrutiny of the Speakers Office and both their authenticity and relevance be noted in the Speakers weekly accountability report.

4 Freedom of Information could also come under the umbrella of the Independent Speakers Office with it deciding what could be disclosed in the public interest.

5 Dorothy Dixers would be outlawed because they serve no purpose. If back benchers want information from Ministers, then pick up the bloody phone. Question Time is not a public relations department. A place for policy advertising. Question Time is about Government accountability.

6 I acknowledge that our system requires vigorous debate and human nature being what it is passion sometimes gets the better of our politicians. When it occurs the Speaker should have the power to call time outs.

7 Lying to the Parliament is a serious misdemeanor yet the Prime Minister and the Ministers in this Government do it on a regular basis. An Independent Speaker would be able to inflict severe penalties on serious offenders.

8 In fully answering a question, a minister or parliamentary secretary must be directly responsive, relevant, succinct and limited to the subject matter of the question. Penalties apply.

Nothing has changed. The Government owns Question Time, the Speaker and the Standing Orders.

Democracy is dead. Lunacy prevails. Anyway I think I have made my point.

My thought for the day.

”If you have a point of view, feel free to express it. However, do so with civility. Then your point of view is laced with a degree of dignity.”

 

Bearing the brunt of state-sanctioned thuggery: the Centrelink debt debacle

In a classic operation, most commonly perpetrated by telephone conmen and door-knocking scammers, the Turnbull Government has hit the jackpot. Boasting of returns of over $300 million after hitting up only 169,000 Australians, someone deep in the murky depths of Government has clearly been taking lessons from the lowest of predatory scumbags.

The operation, fondly promoted by the Government as a fair way to claw back taxpayer funds from those who were overpaid social security benefits, has reportedly caused significant angst among the most vulnerable in the community.

The debacle was first reported a couple of weeks before Christmas. In July 2016, the Government introduced an automatic debt identification and recovery system which compares annual income reported to the Australian Tax Office (ATO), with self-reports that welfare recipients provide to Centrelink on a fortnightly basis.

The results have been absurd.

Instead of providing people with a chance to address any identified discrepancy, the ‘system’ simply asks recipients to confirm their total income for the year on the MyGov website. If it accords with the ATO assessment (which it will, for any person who has correctly filled out their tax return and honestly reported their income to Centrelink), an automatic debt notification letter is sent where the system has calculated an overpayment.

Now this sounds fair enough – if a debt is owed.

But the process by which the system calculates the debt is scandalous. By averaging out annual earnings over 26 fortnights, it immediately assumes the person has earned income in every fortnight, was not entitled to benefits during the time claimed, and has therefore committed a fraud against the Commonwealth.

If a person disputes the debt, the Government still insists a payment arrangement is made to clear the debt.

If a person doesn’t pay the debt, it is quickly sent on to the debt collectors.

Those who allegedly owe a debt are threatened with jail if they do not pay.

Centrelink itself (the faceless Government organisation tasked with demanding money with menaces), has recommended distraught residents call the suicide prevention hotline, Lifeline, if they are concerned about receiving a debt notice.

Yet despite this blatantly clear admission of the trauma the system is causing innocent people, the Government is steadfastly proud of its money-making mission.

“From what we’ve seen in a high-volume system, it’s actually working incredibly well,” said Social Services Minister Christian Porter.

Here is some news for Mr Porter. Threatening people with unpalatable outcomes if they do not pay money (whether or not they owe it) is a tactic which has been used by unscrupulously vile and hideous individuals and criminal gangs for centuries to generate cash.

Why? Because it works.

If a person is terrified enough, they will pay up.

And when it is the Government making the demands and threatening to bring in the police for non-payment, there is little wonder so much money has already been collected.

The poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged have no chance against the state-sanctioned thuggery of the Turnbull Government.

The Government, in its attempt to save money and create efficiencies, has resorted to the lowest tactic possible: extortion.

Extortion is the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats. It is a criminal offence when practiced by any other individual. It is applauded as an efficiency when practiced by the Government.

While Porter continues to defend the unconscionable system, which violates every ethical principle and is an abuse of legal process, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce attempts to distract from the shitfest by focusing on those who may have been genuinely overpaid.

“I make no apology for making sure that those who didn’t need it, who got it, pay the money back,” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said.

Little thought seems to have gone into the many innocent people who are caught up in the mess. The Government has admitted itself that around 20% of debt notices are falsely sent and those people owe nothing at all. Of course, the number of those falsely accused of owing money may well be higher if you consider some recipients have been accused of owing thousands of dollars, but may have been overpaid a mere ten or twenty dollars.

The outcry from the general public has been huge. The media, normally keen to stick the boot into the poor, has jumped on it, but the Government is holding its ground.

Just like the criminal underclass of old, who threaten, coerce and menace innocent people into handing over their life-savings, those responsible for the ‘Robo-Debt’ debacle stand firm. Instead of a baseball bat and balaclava, the Government uses the full force of the law and faceless institutions to muscle the vulnerable into submission.

The tactics used by the Government are nothing short of criminal. Those who are traumatized along the way, and who are pushed to the brink of suicide, are simply collateral damage in the Government’s quest to ‘balance the budget’. It has shunned due process and standard principles for debt identification and recovery. It is exploiting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community for monetary gain.

Terrifying innocent people into paying money they do not owe is nothing to boast about. It represents a new low for the Turnbull Government.

But like all conmen and scammers, the only way to make the Government back down, is to show it Australians are not weak and will not put up with thuggery.

Every person who receives a debt notice must ask for a review, lodge a formal complaint if the debt is wrong, and contact the Ombudsman. Contact the media. Contact each and every politician involved, including the Opposition and local MPs.

This is a war on the poor that Turnbull cannot and must not be allowed to win.

Slave trade capitalism and the new Republican Party

Image courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Image courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Time is a funny thing, especially how the same things seem to happen again and again.

In the early nineteenth century, the young United States of America was heading toward civil war.  The practice of slavery had been accepted, but restrained from spreading further, by the Founding Fathers and the new American constitution. However, with the annexing of the new territories in Kansas and Nebraska, slavery was becoming a major fissure in the cultural landscape of the new nation. During the 1850s one of the presidential hopefuls, Henry Seward made a speech addressing the growing disparity between the wealthy slave owners in the South, and the emerging industrialized society in the north;

“There are two antagonistical elements of Society in America”, Seward proclaimed, “freedom and slavery.  Freedom is in harmony with our system of government and with the spirit of the age, and is therefore passive and quiescent.  Slavery is in conflict with that system, with justice and with humanity and is therefore organized, defensive, active, and perpetually aggressive.  “Free labour” he said, “demands universal suffrage and widespread diffusion of knowledge.  The slave based system, by contrast, ‘cherishes ignorance’ because it is the only security for oppression.”

The freedom that Seward referred to was the free, or non-slave, workers that toiled in the increasingly industrialized northern cities. What is striking about this passage is just how much the sentiments that Seward expressed resonate today.

Today we appear to be facing a parallel scenario to Seward’s, with a push from wealthy multi-national corporations and northern foreign-owned miners who want to spread their low-wage, low skill, high-profit form of business to every state on the planet.

This aggressive and well-funded movement born in American Capitalism now threatens Australian shores; Maurice Newman, chair of the Commission of Audit, attacks the Australian minimum wage, Tony Abbott dismisses of the importance of penalty rates, education reform is defunded and a ‘review’ is announced into the newly minted national curriculum, all nicely framed by ongoing disinformation from government ministers on the reasons for recent collapses in manufacturing in the southern states, all the while encouraging us to drink the trickle-down Kool Aid.

While these attacks on the backbone of a progressive society continue, it seems that there is little fight from either of the standing opposition parties, the ALP or the Greens.

Can we learn anything from the history of slavery and American capitalism?  And in those lessons is there a blueprint for action that we can take now?

Suggesting that American Capitalism is rooted in the slave plantations of the past is not a new thing.  Slave-grown and picked cotton was America’s most valuable export. Without which silver and gold from England and Europe would not have flowed so readily into U.S. Treasury coffers and the pockets of Northern factory owners, providing the much needed ‘capital’ for the growing nation.  Modern management practices also can be traced back to slavers.  Including time and motion studies, and calculating an employee’s worth against ‘unit labour costs’ to calculate productivity.

From this comes one of the central pillars of American capitalism; the practice of paying as little as possible for labour. With many corporations in America, most visibly WalMart and McDonalds, basing their entire business model on hiring unskilled workers that can be paid the absolute minimum.

The difficulty for the workers is that it is not enough.  Recent debate in the USA has revealed that these corporations access billions of dollars in government welfare through their employees.  Because they do not pay their workers a living wage, employees are forced onto welfare programs like food stamps.  The fast-food industry alone rakes in a government subsidy of roughly $7 Billion per year, with McDonalds even having an employee advice line helping employees sign up to government welfare.  These revelations have gone straight to the core of the argument over a living wage, workers rights and the real corporate welfare queens.

In light of this it can be seen that the only difference between Seward’s “two antagonistical elements” and our own is the deep hypocrisy in the arguments of wealthy ‘job creators’.

American, and Australian, elites insist on their quasi-religious, Ayn Rand infused utopian delusion that, instead of inheriting their wealth and profiting from the intelligence and work of generations of workers, they actually built their entire empires by themselves.  This was perhaps best refuted by Bill Clinton when he responded to attacks on President Obama for his out of context “You didn’t build that”:

“The Republican narrative is that all of us who amount to anything are completely self-made . . . Bob Straus, used to say that every politician wants you to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself. As Straus then admitted, it ain’t so.”

The economy and all the technological advances we enjoy today have been built by the skilled working and middle class that grew from the Industrial revolution in 19th century.  The claim that higher wages hurt business is simply false. It was the massive movement of consumer funds from well paid industrial workers that created the base wealth upon which the post-WW2 industrialized economies have been built.

Without the capital drawn from taxes paid by thousands of workers the ports, rail, and roads built in the 1950s and 60s that transported goods would never have happened. Those same taxes paid for schools that trained up the next generations of skilled employees that businesses could then leverage into creating products and delivering services.

The profits that companies made in the last hundred years were not driven by a select elite purchasing high price items, but by millions of consumers and businesses buying and selling, working and living, increasing demand and driving growth and trade.

When a portion of the population cannot afford to live, then they cannot participate.  When participation in the economy drops so does demand, with employment, trade and profits following soon after.

The rich will always maintain a degree of wealth and privilege.  In many ways the elite still exist in a semi-feudal world where those on ‘their’ lands should be grateful for the opportunity to eke out a subsistence living.   Thanks to their lofty position the wealthy are able enjoy their life regardless of economic conditions, as the businesses that service the wealthy operate in a very different space to the rest of the economy.  They are often able to ride out recessions, and can simply transfer their wealth to another market or country if trade or economies collapse.

The working and middle class, on the other hand, are reliant on trade and education.  The various accountants, tradesmen, managers, shop keepers, artisans, teachers, and lawyers require commerce and constant self-improvement to maintain their standard of living.  Without trade the rich can still enjoy their lands and property without much impact on their life.  However if trade declines or collapses, as seen in the Great Depression and recent Financial Crisis, the middle class and working classes are devastated.

One of the side effects of trade is exposure to new ideas.  Trade also drives innovation and social progress, as both serve to create new markets and new consumers.  All of this is a threat to any established elite, as social progress and greater knowledge builds further demand for equality. Not simply for equal rights for non-whites or non-heterosexuals, but for more equal representation in government, more equal access to opportunity, in short for a more democratic society.  This evolution of more equality in representation is one of the things that the wealthy and political elite fear most.  The American War of Independence and Civil War were fought over just these things.

The feudal world is a remnant that still hangs from our representative democracy.  In many ways representative democracy is the half-way hybrid of feudalism and true democracy.  We rely on a patrician class of political operators to work in our best interests, when in reality they are mainly working in their own self-interest and the special interests of their patrons.  A more direct democracy would see be form of republicanism akin to ancient Athens where all citizens voted directly on bills or the young USA where the voice of the citizenry was a direction for action by their elected representatives.  The attack on workers and education is an attempt to stave off this next logical step in social and political evolution to a more direct and effective democracy.

This is why religious conservatives and economic libertarians attack the means of sustaining a viable middle class.  Poor education dramatically reduces opportunities for employment and advancement, and hamstrings innovations that may threaten the status quo.  Cutting health care forces families to spend more of their income and time on caring for sick or elderly family members.  Failing to invest in effective public transport creates a class divide between those who can afford a vehicle to access job opportunities and those who are trapped in a cycle of poverty due to lack of mobility.

Even now the decision not to build a national, equal-access broadband infrastructure is picking winners and losers.  Those with fibre connections are already enjoying higher house valuations. Once again the inner cities will have the advantages, while the suburbs and regional cities – the tradition heartland of the working and middle classes – are relegated to second class citizens.  How long until cuts to education, health, penalty rates and minimum wage see further collapse of employment options and standards of living in Australia?

For Seward and his contemporary Abraham Lincoln, the principal opposition party of the time was too weak to respond to the pro slavery Democratic Party and the loud threats and aggression from the southern states that demanded they be allowed to establish slave estates in the new territories ‘for the sake of the nation’.

Eventually there was a split, and many from the opposition Whig party joined with other more progressive groups to form the new Republican Party.  Under this banner the nation set about a new path toward the equality promised in the American constitution.  Civil war followed, but the USA emerged stronger and more vigorous than ever.  What followed was over a hundred years of progress and growth that led the 20th century to be named the American Century.

In Australia the Liberal-National governments federally and in the states are filled with a similar aggression to their pro-slavery forebears, and are in a hurry to force their changes on our society before the sleepy masses awaken.  A vocal opposition would do much to quicken this awakening and stifle the fuming vigour of the neo-libertarians.

Unfortunately, the Greens party seem too much interested in attacking the ALP to increase their market share.  Meanwhile the corruption in the ALP Right and the union movement is currently hamstringing the pragmatic and progressive reform elements in the party, and the ALP is nowhere to be found except in lockstep with the right-wing unionists, vague statements on social media and irrelevant emails.

Now more than ever Australia needs a progressive political force that is unafraid to tackle the destructive policies and practices that are currently arrayed against Australia.

The ALP has split in the past; usually with right-wing elements peeling off to create new conservative parties, such as the United Australia Party; forerunner to the modern Liberal Party, and the Democratic Labor Party.

Perhaps now it is up to the progressive and Left in the ALP party to make a stand and plant a new banner that can be a rally point for the dozens of progressive micro-parties that sprang up at the last federal election, for environmentalists, for small businesses, for workers, for entrepreneurs. For everyone who wants better representation, not just in a leadership ballot but in building policy.  For everyone who sees the threat arrayed against our nation and its future, and wants to do something about it.

Perhaps, once again, It’s Time.

Day to Day Politics: Taking credit when none’s due.

Sunday 2 April 2017

1 For all his bluff and bluster, a perpetual smile, together with the occasional stunt, it seems to me that Nick Xenophon really doesn’t achieve much. Such is the case with the Government’s Tax Cuts for business. And I might add that when he does it generally favours a rightish ideology.

Ostensibly all he has negotiated is a one off ‘insult’ payment to pensions of a piddling $75 for a single person and $125 for a couple for those on the aged pension, the disability support pension or the parenting payment.

It’s supposed to cover rising energy prices.

The smiling faces of Malcolm Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann gave a press conference on Friday to hail the changes as a ”great day for Australian workers and Australian businesses”.

”This is a great result for 6.5 million Australians working for businesses that will get the benefit of this tax cut,” Turnbull said.

My God, you would think they were going to walk into work on Monday to be told their would be an extra 100 bucks in their pay packets next week.

Xenophon additionally negotiated some energy measures including fast-tracking a solar-thermal plant in South Australia. It is already underway and a new National Energy Policy which the chief scientist had already been commissioned to come up with by mid-year. There was also a non-binding promise for a study into the viability of a gas pipeline connecting the state with the Northern Territory.

The Government also promised to enforce a ”Public interest” order on the big three liquefied natural gas exporters in Queensland to force them to pump more gas to the domestic market. Again this was something Turnbull had done when he met gas executives early last month.

It seems to me that Xenophon does this frequently walking away with the credit for doing little other that giving the government it way. He is a PR freak. At the end of the day all he got for tax cuts to the rich and privileged was a one off $153 payment for pensioners.

There is no evidence that these cuts are about ”Jobs and Growth,” no modelling. No statement from the ATO that they will create ”Jobs and Growth.”

As Sally McManus told the Press Club last Wednesday:

”Wage theft is a new business model for far too many employers. Inequality in our country is now at a 70-year high. And 679 of our biggest corporations pay not one cent in tax.”

So the new tax rate will reduce from 30 to 25 per cent over 10 years for companies earning up to $50 million.

With a large number of companies paying no tax at all together with numerous concessions and tax imputation most companies already only pay about 24%.

It is one of the reasons why a report from the Australian Tax Office found that Business Council of Australia members actually paid an effective tax rate of 24 per cent as a group in 2014-2015.

With the lack of evidence regarding any connection to ‘’Jobs and Growth” it is easy to see that this is just old trickledown economics of the sort that modern economists say is past its used by date.

Jacqui Lambie argued that companies – including multinationals – did not need any more help with tax cuts and said the big four banks would receive $7.4bn in revenue if the Coalition’s package went through.

At midday on Saturday while enjoying a cuppa the Prime Minister graced our television screen espousing how we are all going to enjoy the benefits of giving tax cuts to businesses with turnovers of $50 million.

Having already doubled Labor’s debt one wonders where the money is coming from to pay for this. Remember the uproar from the Coalition and the Murdoch press just a few years back.

I can only conclude that the word “lying” in political terms has been replaced with the more subtle reference of “overstatement”. Maybe bullshit would be a better word. One thing is for sure. He is no longer the calm reasoned man of thoughtful disposition we thought we were going to get when he got the job.

While I’m on the subject of energy it’s interesting that a $1 billion battery and solar farm will be built at Morgan in South Australia’s Riverland by year’s end in a project the proponents describe as “the world’s biggest.

An observation.

”Change sometimes disregards opinion and becomes a phenomenon of its own making. With Its own inevitability”

2 Germany is set to introduce the world’s first zero-emission passenger train to be powered by hydrogen. It only emits steam.

3 For the time being the fight against changes to 18c has been won. I will now be able to continue writing freely as I have been doing without feeling the need to think up new ways to criticise people.

Against changing 18C – ALP, Greens political party, Nick Xenophon Team, Jacqui Lambie

For changing 18C – Government, One Nation, Derryn Hinch, David Leyonhjelm.

4 From the Labor Party email Newslette:

You’ll remember in Week Two of the election campaign there were raids on Labor in relation to the National Broadband Network. The raids happened after Labor had exposed the Turnbull Government’s incompetent handling of the NBN. This week the Senate inquiry into these raids and the materials which were seized found it was an “improper interference” with the functions of the Parliament. I’ve asked the Speaker how this will now be handled to prevent these issues coming up again in the future. He’ll be reporting back to the Reps when we return for the Budget.

5 Following on from my recent piece ”what’s happening in the bear pit?” I have to report that it’s getting worse. Take a look at this.

6 The Australian made a complete fool of itself when it tried to discredit new ACTU leader Sally Mc Manus.

The story was promoted by the Australian’s associate editor, Caroline Overington, on Twitter before an address by McManus at the National Press Club.

Reporters will asking @sallymcmanus tough questions about her resume when she appears at Press Club today:

Gutter reporting from the Murdoch press.

The Guardian has the story.

On this day in 2016 I wrote:

A Just when we thought Donald Trump couldn’t go any lower, he does.

Trump was asked by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to define his “pro-life” stance and assertions that abortion should be banned.

”Do you believe in punishment for abortion – yes or no – as a principle?” asked Matthews, during the taping of a town hall event.

”The answer is there has to be some form of punishment,” said Trump.

”For the woman?” Matthews said.

”Yeah, there has to be some form,” Trump replied.

‘Ten cents, 10 years, what?’ Matthews asked again, pressing.

”That I don’t know,” said Trump.

B Billionaire retailer Gerry Harvey, the man who views the world through the prism of his own cash registers, reckons we need a two tier wage system where cheap labour is plentiful.

”Australia doesn’t have cheap labour. Many overseas workers would be prepared to move here for a much better life and half the money Australians earn … I’ve got horse studs and it’s difficult to get staff” he said.

C Conversely, I was reading the daily Morgan Report and would you believe the Fair Work Ombudsman did a nationwide investigation into the fast-food sector and found that nearly half (47 per cent) of 565 spot-checked employers have not been paying their staff correctly, with workers being paid as low as $6 per hour compared to the statutory minimum of $17.25 per hour.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s investigation found that in nearly one-third of cases, the flat hourly rate paid by the employer to its workers was not enough to cover hours attracting penalty rates and loadings, resulting in underpayments for which an employer could be ordered to compensate the underpaid worker, and fined for breach of the applicable Industrial Award.

Royal Commission, anyone?

My thought for the day.

“We are given the gift of foresight however, we choose to be reactive rather than proactive. Why is it so?”

PS: I think the only thing I have missed is Mark Latham’s manners, but I will give it a miss.

 

Day to Day Politics: They call it “Question Time” but you’re not compelled to answer.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Parliament starts again in a week or so and without doubt, given the Government’s slender majority, and a defiant Senate, it will be a torrid time. Central to how the public view the Government’s performance are the snippets they glean from Question Time.

Question Time in the Australian Parliament is an insult to the intelligence of reasoned people. Although it is only watched by those with a professional interest and political tragics like me, it is nonetheless the prism through which the Australian public form a perception of their politicians.

Now and then news services showcase Question Time and voters are left wondering if it’s for real or just a group of bad actors auditioning for play school.

It is devoid of wit, humour, words of intelligence and those with the eloquence and debating skills to give them meaning. Mostly it embraces a maleness that believes in conflict as a means of political supremacy over and above the pursuit of excellence in argument.

Question Time under speaker Bronwyn Bishop degenerated into a bear pit of mouths that roared with hatred. The Speaker gave the appearance of disliking men with a bitchy witchlike headmistress’s loathing more suited to an evil character in a Disney movie than a democratic parliament.

Her demeanour was obnoxious, threatening and deliberately intimidating. She was consciously biased to the point of dismissing legitimate points of order out of hand. And in a mocking manner that lacked any dignity and grace. In doing so she gave the impression of a women obsessed with herself and her party rather than acting in the impartial manner the position demanded.

All with an authoritarian sharp-edged sarcastic manner calculated to make her subjects cringe. Her condescendingly belligerent manner lacked the civility required for reasoned discourse.

Unlike Speakers before her she attended her party’s parliamentary meetings to listen and be advised of tactics in order to respond accordingly.

Anything to humiliate the opposition. There can be no other reason for doing so. In addition she regularly used her offices for party fund-raising functions. Something previous Speakers would never consider.

She threw out the ‘standing orders’ and invoked her own set of rules. Particularly when it came to relevance, sometimes ignoring points of order or dismissing them out of hand. She even allowed Ministers to continue talking when points of order had been raised, pretending to not to notice members at the despatch box. Answers were allowed that were so far removed from the question asked that one could be excused for thinking one has a hearing difficulty.

All in all she so corrupted Question Time that it became totally dysfunctional.

While a lot of this contestation is part of the drama of the Parliament; no one would wish Question Time to be reduced to polite discussion without challenge. Nevertheless, Question Time all too regularly descends into an unedifying shouting match between the Government and Opposition, damaging the public image of the Parliament and of politicians in general.

According to the Parliamentary Education Office the purpose of Question Time is to allow the opposition to ask the executive government questions and to critically examine its work. Ministers are called upon to be accountable and explain their decisions and actions in their portfolios. Question Time also provides ministers with an opportunity to present their ideas, their leadership abilities and their political skills.

During Question Time, the opposition also has a chance to present themselves as the alternative government.

Question Time occurs at 2pm every day when Parliament is sitting and usually lasts for about one hour. By custom, the Prime Minister decides how long Question Time will last and indeed if it will be held at all.

Ministers do not know the content of questions posed by the opposition during Question Time. These are likely to be tough, designed to test ministers’ capacity to answer quickly and confidently.

During Question Time, government backbenchers also pose questions to ministers in order to highlight government policies and achievements. These are prepared prior to Question Time and are known as ‘Dorothy Dixers’, after a magazine columnist who used to write her own questions and answers.

Question Time has evolved in the Australian Parliament over a long period of time. The first Parliament made provision for questions on notice to be asked and the answers were read to the chamber by the relevant minister.

Over time, questions without notice were also put to ministers, particularly in regard to important or urgent matters. The focus in Question Time today is on making the government accountable for its actions and dealing with the political issues of the day.

Well in short that’s the purpose. Does it work in reality? Of course not. After Bronwyn Bishop was removed for gross indulgences of her parliamentary allowances, the new Speaker Tony Smith has reignited a modem of decorum.

However every government on being elected says it will reform Question Time. As part of an agreement with Prime Minister Gillard Rob Oakshot and Tony Windsor made some effort at reform with a greater insistence on relevance and supplementary questions.

Prior to the 2013 election Christopher Pyne, the then Manager of Opposition Business, but better known as the mouth that roared, had this to say:

“An elected Coalition Government will move to reform Parliamentary Standing orders in the House of Representatives”.

“Our reforms will make Parliamentary Question Time more concise and ensure Ministers are held to account and remain relevant to questions asked”.

“We will look to strengthen the definition of ‘relevance’ in the standing orders so Ministers must stay directly relevant to questions and ensure Matter of Public Importance debates follow Question Time”.

What a ludicrous load of nonsense. As I stated earlier, there is no requirement for relevance at all. And without it Ministers simply cannot be held to account.

Without civility reasoned debate cannot take place. All we have at the moment is a shambolic gaggle of incompetent unedifying politicians not in the least interested in enhancing our democracy. It has degenerated to the point of being obsolete. It needs to be given the flick and rethought.

How should this come about? Try this. Bill Shorten at the height of the next example of Question Time’s irrelevance should walk out of the parliament together with his colleagues straight into a press conference with a detailed list of reasons for doing so.

They being that Question Time has become untenable, so biased that there is no purpose in asking questions.

After citing all the obvious reasons he should then, having prepared himself, launch into a list of proposals to make governments and Ministers more accountable. The whole point of his presentation should center on a better more open democracy. An address that takes the democratic moral high ground that is critical of both sides of politics. He should take the political moral high ground.

“None of us can claim that in this place, first and foremost on our minds is how we serve the Australian people”.

Let the ideas flow. I propose to appoint now, a panel of former speakers from both sides of the house, to rewrite the standing orders and reform Question Time.

All this is hypothetical of course because I am thinking out loud. But consider the following.

1 An independent speaker. Not a politician. Not only independent but elected by the people. A position with clout. The Parliamentary Speakers Office with the power to name and shame Ministers for irrelevance. Power over politicians expenses. It could include a ‘’Fact Check Office’’

2 Imagine if the Speaker’s office adjudicated on answers and published on its internet site, a relevance scale. This might serve two purposes. Firstly, it would promote transparency and truth, and secondly provide an opportunity for ministers to correct answers. It wouldn’t take long for profiles of ministers to build.

3 If in the course of Question Time the Opposition wants to table a document that they say supports their claim, in the interests of openness and accountability it should always be allowed. Documents would also come under the scrutiny of the Speakers Office and both their authenticity and relevance be noted in the Speaker’s weekly accountability report.

4 Freedom of Information could also come under the umbrella of the Independent Speakers Office with it deciding what could be disclosed in the public interest.

5 Dorothy Dixers would be outlawed because they serve no purpose. If back benchers want information then pick up the bloody phone. Question Time is not a public relations department. A place for policy advertising. Question Time is about Government accountability.

6 I acknowledge that our system requires vigorous debate and human nature being what it is passion sometimes gets the better of our politicians. When it occurs the Speaker should have the power to call time outs.

7 Lying to the Parliament is a serious misdemeanour yet the Prime Minister and the Ministers in this Government do it on a regular basis. An Independent Speaker would be able to inflict severe penalties on serious offenders.

8 In fully answering a question, a minister or parliamentary secretary must be directly responsive, relevant, succinct and limited to the subject matter of the question. Penalties apply.

At this point in time nothing has changed. The Government owns Question Time, the Speaker and the Standing Orders.

My thought for the day.

“To those who think they can win a debate by being loud and crass. I say be quiet. To those who think they can win with a perceived superior intellect I say be humble. Discourse requires civility in order to produce reasoned outcomes”.

 

Day to Day Politics: It’s really play school but they call it “Question Time”

Saturday 19 March 2016

Question Time in the Australian Parliament is an insult to the intelligence of reasoned people. Although it is only watched by those with a professional interest or political tragics like me, it is nonetheless the prism through which the Australian public form a perception of their politicians.

Now and then news services showcase Question Time, and voters are left wondering if it’s for real or just a group of bad actors auditioning for play school.

It is devoid of wit, humour, words of intelligence and those with the eloquence and debating skills to give them meaning. Mostly it embraces a maleness that believes in conflict as a means of political supremacy over and above the pursuit of excellence in argument.

Question Time under former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop degenerated into a bear pit of mouths that roared with hatred. The Speaker gave the appearance of disliking men with a bitchy witchlike headmistress’s loathing more suited to an evil character in a Disney movie than a democratic parliament.

Her demeanour was obnoxious, threatening and deliberately intimidating. She was consciously biased to the point of dismissing legitimate points of order out of hand. And in a mocking manner that lacked any dignity and grace. In doing so she gave the impression of a women obsessed with herself and her party rather than acting in the impartial manner the position demands. All with an authoritarian sharp-edged sarcastic manner calculated to make her subjects cringe. Her condescendingly belligerent manner lacked the civility required for reasoned discourse.

Unlike speakers before her she attended her party’s parliamentary meetings to listen and be advised of tactics in order to respond accordingly. Anything to humiliate the opposition. There can be no other reason for doing so. In addition she regularly used her offices for party fund-raising functions. Something previous speakers would never consider.

She threw out the ‘standing orders’ and invoked her own set of rules. Particularly when it came to relevance, sometimes ignoring points of order or dismissing them out of hand. She even allowed Ministers to continue talking when points of order had been raised, pretending to not to notice members at the despatch box. Answers were allowed that were so far removed from the question asked that one could be excused for thinking one had a hearing difficulty.

All in all she so corrupted question time that it became so totally dysfunctional that it either needed to be terminated or reconstructed.

A new speaker has returned some decorum to the chamber but it really serves little purpose.

While a lot of the contestation is part of the drama of the Parliament, no one would wish Question Time to be reduced to polite discussion without challenge. Never­theless, Question Time all too regularly descends into an unedifying shouting match between the Government and Opposition, damaging the public image of the Parliament and of politicians in general.

According to the Parliamentary Education Office the purpose of Question Time is to allow the opposition to ask the executive government questions and to critically examine its work. Ministers are called upon to be accountable and explain their decisions and actions in their portfolios. Question Time also provides ministers with an opportunity to present their ideas, their leadership abilities and their political skills.

During Question Time, the opposition also has a chance to present themselves as the alternative government

Question Time occurs at 2pm every day when Parliament is sitting and usually lasts for about one hour. By custom, the Prime Minister decides how long Question Time will last and indeed if it will be held at all.

Ministers do not know the content of questions posed by the opposition during Question Time. These are likely to be tough, designed to test ministers’ capacity to answer quickly and confidently.

During Question Time, government backbenchers also pose questions to ministers, in order to highlight government policies and achievements. These are prepared prior to Question Time and are known as ‘Dorothy Dixers’, after a magazine columnist who used to write her own questions and answers.

Question Time has evolved in the Australian Parliament over a long period of time. The first Parliament made provision for questions on notice to be asked and the answers were read to the chamber by the relevant minister. Over time, questions without notice were also put to ministers, particularly in regard to important or urgent matters. The focus in Question Time today is on making the government accountable for its actions and dealing with the political issues of the day.

Well in short that’s the purpose. Does it work in reality? Of course not. Every government on being elected says it will reform Question Time. As part of an agreement with Prime Minister Gillard, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor made some effort at reform with a greater insistence on relevance and supplementary questions.

Prior to the last election Christopher Pyne, the then Manager of Opposition Business, but better known as the mouth that roared, or the fixer, had this to say:

“An elected Coalition Government will move to reform Parliamentary Standing orders in the House of Representatives.”

“Our reforms will make Parliamentary Question Time more concise and ensure Ministers are held to account and remain relevant to questions asked.”

“We will look to strengthen the definition of ‘relevance’ in the standing orders so Ministers must stay directly relevant to questions and ensure Matter of Public Importance debates follow Question Time.”

What a ludicrous load of nonsense. As I stated earlier, there is no requirement for relevance at all. And without it Ministers simply cannot be held to account. Without civility reasoned debate cannot take place. All we have at the moment is a shambolic gaggle of incompetent unedifying politicians not in the least interested in enhancing our democracy. It has degenerated to the point of being obsolete. It needs to be given the flick and rethought.

How should this come about? Try this. Bill Shorten should walk out of Question Time with his colleagues straight into a press conference with a detailed list of reasons for doing so. That being that Question Time has become untenable, so lacking in relevance that there is no purpose in asking questions.

After siting all the obvious reasons he should then, having prepared himself, launch into a list of proposals to make governments and Ministers more accountable. The whole point of his presentation should center on a better more open democracy. An address that takes the democratic moral high ground that is critical of both sides of politics.

“None of us can claim that in this place, first and foremost on our minds is how we serve the Australian people.’’

Let the ideas flow. I propose to appoint now, a panel of former speakers from both sides of the house, to rewrite the standing orders and reform Question Time.

All this is hypothetical of course because I am thinking out loud. But consider the following.

1 An independent speaker. Not a politician. Not only independent but elected by the people. A position with clout. The Parliamentary Speakers Office with the power to name and shame Ministers for irrelevance. Power over politicians expenses. It could include a ‘’Fact Check Office’’

2 Imagine if the Speakers Office adjudicated on answers and published a relevance scale on its website. This might serve two purposes. Firstly it would promote transparency and truth and secondly provide an opportunity for ministers to correct answers. It wouldn’t take long for profiles of ministers to build.

3 If in the course of Question Time the Opposition wants to table a document that they say supports their claim, in the interests of openness and accountability it should always be allowed. Documents would also come under the scrutiny of the Speaker’s office and both their authenticity and relevance be noted in the Speaker’s weekly accountability report.

4 Freedom of Information could also come under the umbrella of the Independent Speakers Office with it deciding what could be disclosed in the public interest.

5 Dorothy Dixers would be outlawed because they serve no purpose. If back benchers want information then pick up the bloody phone. Question Time is not a public relations department. A place for policy advertising. Question Time is about Government accountability.

6 I acknowledge that our system requires vigorous debate and human nature being what it is passion sometimes gets the better of our politicians. When it occurs the Speaker should have the power to call time outs.

7 Lying to the Parliament is a serious misdemeanour yet the Prime Minister and the Ministers in this Government do it on a regular basis. An Independent Speaker would be able to inflict severe penalties on serious offenders.

8 In fully answering a question, a minister or parliamentary secretary must be directly responsive, relevant, succinct and limited to the subject matter of the question. Penalties apply.

Nothing has changed. The Government owns Question Time, the Speaker and the Standing Orders.

Democracy is dead. Lunacy prevails.  Anyway I think I have made my point.

My thought for the day.

IF you have a point of view, feel free to express it. However, do so with civility. Then your point of view is laced with a degree of dignity.

Scott Morrison’s 2017-18 Federal Budget: Some Good Measures Amidst the Typical Austerity

Many media commentators are responding to the 2107-18 Morrison Federal Budget by branding it as ‘Labor Lite’ or ‘worse’.  But how much of that actually stands up to scrutiny?

Yes the Government is attempting to appear ‘fair’.  And many media figures are throwing around terms like “cash splash” which are commonly reserved to use against Labor governments.  There are pressures in the right-wing monopoly mass media for a ‘right-turn’ in response to any moderation of economic policy under Turnbull.  Bernardi’s ‘Australian Conservatives’ and the libertarian ‘Liberal Democrats’ stand to gain most from this.  But despite years of conditioning from the monopoly mass media Australians may resist these trends given the remnants of our ‘egalitarian spirit’.   The point of all this appears to be stigmatisation of social investments and expenditure ; ultimately leading to a US-style political culture.  Which in turn would support a US style class system based on the absolute destitution of many , and the blatant exploitation of a class of working poor. To the extent Turnbull and Morrison resist pressures for an ‘economic hard right turn’ then that is welcome.

Some Budget changes do appear at the least superficially ‘Labor-esque’.  Many of the billions in cuts and savings originally proposed in the nightmare 2014 Hockey Federal Budget are laid to rest permanently here. The increase to the Medicare Levy will be welcomed by many, and will help provide for the NDIS. (National Disability Insurance Scheme)  The Government claims a ‘$56 billion shortfall’ for the NDIS ; though most of that could have been made up for immediately by jettisoning the Government’s $50 billion in planned corporate tax cuts over 10 years.  (much more over time) $8.2 billion will be taken via the Medicare Levy increase over the first four years.

A so-called ‘Google tax’ targeting corporate tax evasion is also expected to net more than $3 billion over four years  (though it is quite insignificant compared with corporate tax cuts elsewhere).

Further, the ‘big banks’ (including CBA, ANZ, Westpac, NAB) will be hit for $6 billion over 4 years ; apparently including an effective payment in return for the ‘government guarantee’ for the sector (which began with Rudd’s response to the Global Financial Crisis).  In response there is the question : will the banks hit customers or will they hit shareholders?  If somehow larger shareholders could be targeted that would ensure the most equitable outcomes.  A payment by the big banks in return for an effective government insurance policy makes sense.  Without it ultimately there could be impositions on workers, citizens, tax-payers.  So on this front at least the Government is doing the right thing.  And if the Banks respond by upping fees and charges arguably the co-operative and mutualist sector could ‘step into the breach’.  Were the Commonwealth Bank still in public hands then assuming a ‘competitive charter’ it could have held the rest of the sector accountable , countering tendencies to pass costs onto consumers.  That’s also a good reason for Labor to consider restoring a public-sector bank – perhaps taking advantage of existing Australia-Post infrastructure.

Meanwhile, foreign home owners who leave properties vacant six months or more will be taxed – a measure apparently borrowed from the Andrews Labor State Government in Victoria.  As well as raising some revenue, this measure should also influence investor behaviour ; and effectively increase available housing supply ; with downwards pressure on housing and rental affordability.

The ‘Gonski 2.0’ measures, meanwhile, are a significant improvement on past Liberal policy, and include needs-based funding.  David Gonski is due to present another report by the end of the year.  The Catholic sector appears to be in the firing line.   More broadly, Shorten points out that despite the gains, here, (including some cuts to some of the richest private schools) the proposals nonetheless still involve an overall $22 billion cut to the sector over ten years compared with the deals previously negotiated by Labor.

Other constructive policies include significant tax breaks for ‘empty nesters’ to ‘downshift’ to smaller, lower-maintenance accommodation.  That could also increase effective housing supply.  The housing bubble will eventually deflate (or ‘burst’ disastrously). But government could step into the economic breach with public housing.  There is still the need to expand supply to meet underlying human need.  Planned Negative Gearing and Capital Gains Tax reforms from the Government are welcome, but do not go anywhere near far enough, saving just $1.6 billion over 4 years . Stronger action on Negative Gearing is necessary to lessen competition between first home buyers and investors , correcting the Housing Bubble over time.

Also there’s $10 billion for rail as part of a suite of infrastructure commitments (though these are not as significant as some think when compared relative to infrastructure investment under a ‘traditional’ Labor Government).

A once-off payment of $75 for singles, $125 for couples – to assist with energy costs – is very insignificant when you consider the rising cost of living. The Liberals point to renewable energy as the alleged ‘culprit’ here ; but what of privatisation?

Finally ;  Annual TV Licenses are scrapped in favour of a much lower ‘spectrum fee’ – which makes sense given the changing media landscape – which is hurting traditional media. Arguably the licenses aren’t worth as much anymore.  But diluting media ownership laws will still enable the likes of Murdoch to dominate traditional media.

The Down-Side
But there’s a very significant ‘down-side’ to this Budget as well ; including ‘traditionally Liberal’ attacks on vulnerable groups ; and treating tertiary students like ‘cash-cows’.

Higher Education stands to lose almost $3 billion a year – with students hit hardest.  The Turnbull Federal Liberal Government claims that its fee increases – and its reduction in the minimum repayment threshold to $42,000 a year (down from $55,000) “better reflects the lifetime benefits reaped by higher education graduates”.  But these measures will start ‘kicking in’ affecting people on approximately half the average wage.  Hence in places the measures really bear no relation to any alleged private financial benefits for students. The logic behind these measures also neglects entirely the gains by business and society at large from a more highly educated populace.   There is some progressivity as those with much higher incomes will repay at a significantly higher rate.  But this does not excuse or make up for a 7.5% average increase in tuition fees.  In response Labor needs to raise the threshold somewhere much closer to the average wage ; and higher over time ; while entrenching a progressive scale in the rate of repayments.  Exceptional groups such as the disabled should probably be forgiven their debts, here : or at least have them frozen. The inevitable effect of this will be to deter many poorer students from study, reducing the nation’s pool of ‘human capital’ over time, and impacting on ‘equal educational opportunity’.  It is dubious at best to consider educational investments a ‘bad debt’.

The 0.5 per cent increase in the Medicare Levy is supposed to reassure voters that Labor’s warnings on health are only a ‘scare campaign’.  But while the Levy is re-indexed the forsaken increases to Medicare’s coverage in recent years are not made up for.  Medicare might still be eroded by stealth ; and that is ‘de-facto privatisation’ in the sense of intermittently eroding the coverage of ‘socialised’ public health proportionately.  This was always what Labor alluded to , but for some reasons ‘the waters were always muddied’ in the mass media, with throw away lines like ‘Mediscare’.

Also , while the Medicare Levy is rising, the 2 per cent Deficit Levy is gone – directly benefiting the wealthy in the final balance. There are ‘traditionally Liberal’ distributive  outcomes, here, despite claims of the Budget being ‘Labor Lite’ (that is, the Budget favours the wealthy).

Payroll tax on foreign workers will also be replaced with a levy of $1500 to $5000 per employee raising $1.2 billion over four years “to improve Australian workers’ skills”.  To an extent this will take some of the wind from Labor’s sails on related issues.

Other measures include punitive attacks on the rights of the  unemployed, with the threat of payment suspension for those who miss a job interview or refuse a job offer they don’t want.  And reversion to a ‘cashless welfare card’ for anyone found to have illegal drugs in their system.  5000 people will by thus tested – and effectively humiliated – in order to create a ‘Trojan Horse’ for the introduction of cashless welfare.   Already Australia has one of the most negligent and punitive unemployment benefit regimes in the advanced capitalist world.  But ‘cashless welfare’ will see Australia revert to Depression era ‘Susso’ style ‘payments’.  The ‘Susso’ basically provided threadbare material subsistence (rations and vouchers) for the long-term unemployed.

Conclusions

Claims to the effect this Budget is ‘Labor Lite’ do not really stand up in the longer view historically when you consider pre-1980s relativities on the Economy ; and more recently with the ‘relative economic centrism’ of former Liberal leaders like John Hewson. The reality is ‘convergence’ on right-wing, economically Liberal policies ; though Shorten has begun to ‘break away’ to something more recognisably ‘left of centre’. Ironically,  the “Abbott Purists” will likely claim the austerity has not gone far enough. Though they may be upset by the attacks on Catholic education.  But it is THEY who have abandoned ‘traditional Catholic Centrism’ on welfare, labour and the economy (a tradition which interestingly had parallels with other ‘Christian Democratic’ parties in Europe).

This government is restrained by its own inflexible “small government no matter what” Ideology (spending is set at no more than 26 per cent of GDP ; well below the OECD average).  This drives various ‘cuts to the bone’ (as Gillard would have put it) , because it leaves no other option than harsh austerity.  Ultimately, Scott Morrison will have to make a choice: real people or Economically Liberal ‘small government’ Ideology.

Terry McCrann of the Herald-Sun calls the Budget ‘a disgrace’ for not sufficiently addressing government debt.  And Jeff Whalley (also of the Herald-Sun) argues that government debt amounts to “$375 billion” or “$15300 for each man, woman and child” .   But while government spending can have a positive ‘multiplier effect’ on economic activity,  austerity also has a negative multiplier effect ; dragging the broader economy down in sympathy.

Also we must remember  that private household debt is the much bigger problem, and is connected with falling real wages.  (Why the cuts in Penalty Rates, therefore, we might ask! ; which will lead to lower tax revenue also).  And reducing investment in PUBLIC owned infrastructure presents its own associated problems of passing inferior cost-structures on the broader economy. Indeed, investments in some services (eg: Education) and infrastructure add to productivity – and the public sector (natural public monopolies) can often do the job more efficiently.  So Morrison’s ‘good debt’ and ‘bad debt’ has some substance. (A pity in the past they did not apply those principles to Labor governments!)

In conclusion;  The Herald-Sun reports with an air of alarm that taxes will be up $23 billion over four years ; and spending up $15.7 billion over four years.   Indeed, Commentators are complaining that income tax is becoming more significant proportionately.  Though really, this need not be a problem if total income tax is progressively restructured, and also the rest of the taxation mix.  Also keep in mind the economy is worth approximately $1.6 trillion.  So in reality spending is up by less than a quarter of one per cent of GDP.  The revenue gap has at least been appreciably narrowed.

In some ways this Budget is better than we might have expected from the Liberals after the horror Hockey ‘Lifters and Leaners’ Budget from 2014. But a lot of that Ideology is still there.  And the cuts are still significant ; with the introduction of ‘cashless welfare’ setting a precedent for the further future humiliation of job-seekers.  And shutting many lower-income Australians out from Higher Education.  An Opposition with strong, traditional Labor policies on distributive justice can still ‘outflank’ a Liberal Government which cannot help but govern primarily in the interests of its core constituency: the unambiguously well-off.

This article was originally published on ALP Socialist Left Forum.

 

“A man who doesn’t understand his job as Prime Minister.”

“He [Turnbull] is arrogant, he’s disrespectful. I don’t think he’s genuine and I think he has lost his way.”                                                                                              

 Anastasia Palaszczuk


“Arrogant, disrespectful and shallow … a man who doesn’t understand his job as Prime Minister,” says Anastasia Palaszczuk in disgust, bringing a hapless Malcolm Turnbull down to earth with a bump, ending a flag-waving, morale-boosting, troop-rallying week.

The Queensland Premier pronounces him to be a worse PM than Tony Abbott.

“When Tony Abbott was PM, I could get straight answers … all we’ve seen lately is a fly-in, fly-out prime minister who is espousing thought bubbles without any deep policy conversation,” she says, furious at the PM’s high-handed management of disaster relief after Cyclone Debbie, amongst other abuses of Commonwealth-state relations.

Palaszczuk is also angry that her state was not consulted on the PM’s latest gas plan, at this stage a vague threat to Santos and other powerful companies that the federal government may have to quarantine output for domestic supply.

“It’s about time that he showed some leadership and was respectful, not just to me but to all the other premiers across the nation,” she adds, picking up on a management style which earned Turnbull the nickname “Ayatollah” in merchant banking in the late 1980s.

“Malcolm would always do what Malcolm wanted to do,” explains a former employee.

A good leader inspires his troops. Helpfully demonstrating the Aussie values of mateship and chivalry, Cobber Dutton rushes to his current leader’s rescue. He takes a boot out of his Light Horse stirrup and gives the Premier a swift kicking.

Not only are Ms Palaszczuk’s comments an “embarrassing outburst”, “Premier Palaszczuk is a laughing stock around Australia,” Dutton says, showing the sort of disciplined team work and fine judgement that have helped ensure that this Coalition government, like its predecessor, has the spirit of federation pretty well hog-tied.

Digger Dutton also models the qualities of mind and spirit that make him a peerless contender for the super ministry of Homeland Security, a promotion his PM is about to bestow on him which will make him second most powerful minister.

The move comes despite a track record which makes his Immigration Department the most incompetent agency in the Commonwealth, as Bernard Keane capably details with reference to reports by the Australian National Audit Office.

Dutton implies that Ms Palaszczuk should have a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down. Besides, the gas export plan is just an idle threat. Certainly there’s plenty of wriggle-room in its formulation so far.

The PM’s office says: “The government will have the power to impose export controls on gas companies when there is a domestic supply shortage.” Yet to others it’s nothing short of a declaration of war, a war the PM cannot possibly win.

Turnbull fires back on Facebook, of course! His choice of social media rather than seeek any personal contact confirms her misgivings about his incapacity to consult or interact with her or any other Premier. He adds insult to injury.

“Queenslanders don’t want their politicians hurling abuse: they want them to deliver,” snipes one of the most over-promised and under-delivered Prime Ministers the nation has ever endured. Turnbull fails this leadership test, too.

Yet the week began so well. Buoyed by last week’s “Aussie Values” duet, a rustic air for dog whistle and saw, featuring Peter “two bob each-way” Dutton, Monkey Pod Room convenor and Abbott cup-bearer, Turnbull is upbeat.

Inspired by Gallipoli spirit, our FIFO, leadership-by-though- bubble-PM takes his Aussie Values show on tour to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Valiantly, despite an epic failure to identify a single uniquely Australian value, he uses an Anzac backdrop to proclaim:

“Australian men and women [are] defending our values, defending our liberties, keeping us safe.”

He’s hoping his Aussie values show is paving the way for a turnaround in his government’s low opinion ratings.  Labor polls 52 to the Coalition’s 48% two party preferred. Turnbull’s personal approval soars two whole points in a Newspoll delayed by Easter but held after his values gig. The Clayton’s crackdown on 457 visas may have helped.  He’s pumped.

Pumped? Thirty-two percent approve of Shorten’s performance. Turnbull’s on thirty-three. He’s off like a frog in a sock.

In a bold bid for Aussie hearts and minds, our feckless leader plumps for a quick tour of duty, upstaging even Phosphorous Jim Molan of Fallujah or Abbott knight, Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, in the vanguard of our nation’s annual assault on the Anzac spirit. For one day of the year, Australia becomes the bullshit capital of the world.

Troy Grant supplies the soothing, ritual, sanctimonious chorus that no-one is grandstanding or political on Anzac Day.

“On April 25 we expect all Australians to stop and give thanks for the dedication of those before us who fought for the freedoms our country holds dear, and to those who continue in this tradition of service and sacrifice. Anzac Day is sacred, should be kept above politics and certainly not hijacked for grandstanding.”

Anzac Day has been political since its inception. Beyond the irony in his own PM’s Anzac grandstanding, or his own grandstanding, or countless others, beyond how “the freedoms our country holds dear” is contradicted by Grant’s edict on correct observance is a chilling example of how close our government chooses to come to a totalitarian state.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten, a veteran US lickspittle, visits PNG to help Cosgrove commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign and the Battle of Milne Bay, a part of the New Guinea campaign in the Second World War.

Yet Turnbull goes over the top. As with the foreign policy of US Oligarch Baron Donald von Trump, whom he’s now scheduled to meet next Thursday on the USS Intrepid, a warship museum moored in the Hudson a long way away from any White House reception, it’s a wag the dog strategy, a foreign adventure to divert from domestic ineptitude.

Wardrobe is put on a war footing. Turnbull is kitted out in helmet and Kevlar vest to blitz our troops on the frontline of a US War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Battle-weary soldiers yawn and look on warily. Is he taking the piss somehow wearing that over the top outfit?

Few shake hands. Goodwill is conserved for battle. No-one sniggers openly, yet.

Turnbull has good news for the troops in Afghanistan, Australia’s $7 billion plus, thirteen year operation, its longest-war- that’s-not-its-war ever, is to have an extended season. He continues the absurd pretence that all US requests will be carefully considered. Yet the words he chooses leave little doubt that a troop increase is a foregone conclusion.

‘So it is going to be a long-term commitment and we will consider, with our allies in these conflict areas, … requests for further support and as it evolves, we’ll be looking at that.’ 

In other words, the show must go on, regardless of failure. Values? Our troops are endlessly expendable. It’s Kaiser Malcolm’s  deadliest piece of rhetoric yet.

Does he have any idea of the horrors of military service in “the graveyard of empires”? He should heed the warning signs. More soldiers take their own lives than have been killed on active duty in Afghanistan. The suicide rate among young male former defence personnel is twice the national average. Yet his government offers little real help.

The Coalition response to crisis is to order a feasibility study or trial.  It will “trial a suicide prevention initiative” in Townsville to help Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel. Surely, after fifteen years of US failure, it is time to reconsider Australia’s reason for tagging along, too?  Surely, Turnbull can see we are sending troops into harm’s way?

Defeat is staring us in the face. Afghanistan’s army suffered its biggest loss last week when insurgents overran a base near the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Reports state that “at least 100 soldiers” were killed.

Other reports have revised the figure to 140 while Taliban claim 500 were killed and injured. Trump’s administration is considering a Pentagon request to boost troop numbers but the plan sounds ominously like repeating Obama’s unsuccessful surge strategy.

The Obama administration increased US troop numbers in Afghanistan to 100,000 from less than 30,000. It also embarked on a “nation-building and counterinsurgency strategy” which it hoped would turn the war around in a few years. It failed. Afghanistan is torn between “a resolute insurgency and a kleptocratic, dysfunctional governing elite”.

In Iraq, our “Building Partner Capacity Mission” at Camp Taji, where we contribute 700 soldiers to a joint Australian-New Zealand operation to train security forces personnel and military police is a tribute to the spirit of Anzac.

As vassal states of our US overlord, Australians and Kiwis get to do the menial tasks behind the scenes. But the PM is undeterred.

Turnbull’s quirky bobble-head combat helmet and redundant, unfastened body armour may look more Stanley Kubrick meets Dad’s Army than intrepid Commander-in-Chief but at least he gets his boots on the ground. And into Tony Abbott.

Dressing fit to kill is the latest phase of the PM’s tactical battle to outflank Abbott, his nemesis in the costume wars, a guerrilla campaign of mutually assured destruction to decide the leadership of whatever remains of the Liberal Party.

Abbott now is regular guest sniper on 2GB Sydney radio since his old pal, Cronulla riot veteran, witch-ditcher 2GB’s Alan “chaff bag” Jones, got back his misogynist mike. Abbott also has a regular weekly spot with Ben Fordham’s “Drive time”.

Every other week he’s hazing with Ray. Hadley dropped “boring liar” Scott Morrison, he says, for standing him up for an ABC gig with John Faine and deceiving him about it.  Abbott was only too keen to slot right into his spot.

The phones have been running hot, Ray says, with praise for his decision, but he could have simply played a recording. Abbott will simply recycle the same old, dishonest empty cliches. Yet Hadley’s right about one thing. Morrison sucks.

“My listeners are sick of the obfuscation and non-answers he gives to almost every question.” Your listeners, too, Ray?

A broken record, Abbott bags Turnbull’s government for drifting left despite the PM’s self-eviscerating right wheel and about turn. The PM digs deep. He has to better an action-man predecessor who once stepped out of a SeaHawk chopper on to the deck of USS Blue Ridge in RAAF leather flying jacket and a pair of Douglas MacArthur aviator shades.

The pose led to some golden grovelling. Inveterate US camp follower, Abbott, called US troops a comfort to Australia. How grateful Australia was, too, he said, how thankful we all were for the work US forces did with Australian forces all around the world.

Our diggers were ever ready to follow the US anywhere and everywhere and at a moment’s notice; just say the word, he said. War is a captain’s call for a PM. No parliamentary debate nor evidence of WMD necessary.

Abbott’s baton is effortlessly taken up by Turnbull. Labor does not demur – even though Bill Shorten has called Donald Trump barking mad. Now we pledge unqualified military support, to a nation led by a golfing President who has trouble remembering how many missiles he fired on Syria, in a recent watershed AP interview. Or was it Iraq?

An utter lack of preparation for the Trump presidency has led to a dangerous inertia in the Coalition’s response to the incoherent bellicosity of The Donald’s foreign policy. Are we banking on his being taken captive by his Neocon advisers?

Neither prospect offers much reassurance. Turnbull shows little evidence of independence except to decline offers of a missile shield technology that is vastly expensive and almost totally unproven – yet another business coup for Boeing.

Our noble diggers are always up for a windy blast on Aussie values from any Prime Minister. Super-Mal’s blitzkrieg operation is kept under wraps, it is claimed, to protect the Prime Minister, but there’s a no sense the press have been left out of the loop. Not only is the war on Terror going well, our massive foreign aid is going gangbusters.

Why, in the last year alone, Australia’s aid programme in Afghanistan has helped enrol more than 5000 children in school, trained more than 9000 farmers and funded multiple women’s shelters.  We are doing a power of good.

Imagine what that aid could be if Hockey had not got to it. Despite being one per cent of all budget spending, Australia foreign aid, aka Julie Bishop’s ATM, has borne 25% of all government budget cuts from 2013-14 to 2018-19.

On the home front, Aussie Values foot soldiers are out in force. Local standard-bearer Senator Eric Abetz savages the values displayed by Yassmin Abdel-Magied whose ANZAC reflection on her Facebook page says “Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)” She later deletes the political part of her comment and apologises.

Clear to Abetz is that Yassmin has failed “To understand the significance and high regard Anzac Day is held in our Australian culture” and for that ignorance she must resign from the Council on Arab-Australia Relations, (CAAR).

CAAR was set up by John Howard in 2003, the year the Australian Greens and Australian Democrats opposed military action in Iraq. It’s hard, given the context to think that his intentions had anything to do with free speech.

The Coalition has a track record of setting up hand-picked advisory bodies to fulfil its own purposes. Tony Abbott’s Indigenous Advisory Council also seems thin on representation; set up more to give government the advice it required.

It would do well to heed The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Rod Little and Jackie Huggins who argue:

“Congress is and will be a much more valuable informant to the parliament than hand-picked individuals with lesser networks, knowledge or experience across matters impacting on our people on a daily basis.” 

Is it guided democracy? Rule by clacque? Clearly, some Australian values are yet to be formulated by the PM’s spin unit. Regardless, calls for Yassmin to resign are utterly unwarranted.

What is clear is that the orchestrated attack upon Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a vivid illustration both of an ugly intolerance  but a narrow-minded vigilantism which is deliberately courted by our government. Turnbull should offer a personal apology.

Intolerance is seen in Troy Grant’s semi-official nonsense and it is given unparalleled expression by our Minister for Immigration, sneaky Peter Dutton who maintains his assertion that the detention centre on Manus came under fire from some drunk local troops as a response to some form of sexual assault by detainees on a five year old Manus Islander boy.

Peter Dutton is contradicted on every detail of his account of the incident which he waited six days to report. When he did break his silence, he chose to utter a damaging smear against the asylum seekers themselves. Dutton’s behaviour has led to increased tension between those living in the centre and those in the community.

His conduct does not become a Minister and his witholding of information does not fit the code of ministerial responsibility. He has not excercised the duty of care his position demands. He has chosen to put his charges in harm’s way. He ought to resign immediately. Any other PM would be demanding Dutton stand aside at least.

Above all, the Minister’s strategy looks suspiciously like a stunt. Commentators note that the incident has all the hallmarks of another children overboard incident.

False claims that asylum seekers were throwing babies overboard helped John Howard demonise asylum-seekers in October 2001 and provided him with the notorious election-winning slogan “We decide who comes to this country.”

Repeatedly, Dutton claims to have access to other “classified information” which he has nevertheless seen fit to share with Andrew Bolt. PNG police chief David Yapu has tried to put the record straight but Dutton is not listening and irrevocable damage has already been done.

The 39 year old Afghan refugee who gave a young hungry boy some food provides a compelling account, an account which could well serve as a prompt to those, like Malcolm Turnbull, who are unable to articulate Australian values.

“I grew up in a country that had war and bombs and fighting and all of these things, and I was raised without a father. I experienced hunger, I experienced being thirsty, I experienced poverty, and I know how it feels for a child to be hungry. And when I see that, I cannot just close my eyes and not help.”

Turnbull needs to stop his mindless military urging and posturing and put away his cynical Aussie values dog whistle campaign to create a narrower, less tolerant society. Australians can see through his government’s stunts, distractions and evasions.

Above all, as the Queensland Premier puts it the nation is ill-served by a government which is arrogant and disrespectful, a government which is not genuine, a government which has lost its way.

Stop obsessing over Newspoll Mr Turnbull. Stop bluffing. Enough of the stunts. Call an early election. It’s the only honourable way out of your mess.

Make up your bloody mind

For an organisation to run successfully, they must identify goals, prioritise them, examine alternative ways to achieve them, then decide on a co-ordinated approach to move forward.

Nothing could be less descriptive of government in this country which seems to actively work against itself, flip-flopping around to appease interest groups resulting in policies that contradict each other.

For example, take the latest decision to fiddle with the skilled visa program.  Employing Australians first is a good idea but cutting funding to TAFE and universities leaves us with skills shortages.  If you want to be self-sufficient then you need to invest in education and training but this recurrent expenditure will no doubt be put in the “bad debt” basket by our shallow Treasurer.

We are similarly self-defeating when it comes to action on climate change.  We had the carbon price that everyone agrees is the best way to create changed energy behaviour but it was axed because, according to the Coalition, it made energy prices too high.  Except abolishing the carbon price did nothing to curb rising energy prices and led to increased emissions for the first time in a decade.  There is no longer any incentive for polluters to pay for the research and development into more sustainable practice.

We had a bipartisan renewable energy target.  Until we trashed it and cut ourselves off from billions in private investment.  Policy uncertainty has made investors wary so, instead of letting the market decide, we now find ourselves in the ridiculous position of the government paying polluters, shelling out for new coal mines and gas plants and for a grand scheme to pump water uphill, all at the same time because their own indecision has made private funds dry up.

Under a barrage of evidence of aggressive tax avoidance, the government has made some token attempts to pursue guilty corporations.  But at the same time they cut thousands of jobs from the ATO and greatly reduced their capacity to investigate.  Then they hired some back to make a special taskforce, at the same time as they are fighting to reduce taxation even further for these companies.

The government has repeated the mantra of jobs and growth ad nauseum, signalling hundreds of billions will be spent on building defence materiel to create a couple of thousand jobs (maybe).  Or railways to nowhere for a couple of hundred jobs (until it gets fully automated).  At the same time, they have cut over 15,000 public service jobs with the likelihood of many more to go as continued efficiency dividends cut to the bone.  Many of these were forced terminations costing the government a fortune in redundancy payments and the public the frustration of severely curtailed services.  Try ringing Centrelink.

We are told over and over again anecdotes about small business and how they are the backbone of the country but the government’s competition laws and purchasing policy are killing small businesses.  The local store can’t compete with the supermarket chains.  The local chemist can’t compete with the discount warehouses.  The farmer is at the mercy of monopoly distributors.  The government insists on buying as cheaply as possible so gave the contract for military dress uniforms to a Chinese company.  Not to mention the reporting burden placed on small businesses by the introduction of the GST.  Doing monthly Business Activity Statements is an onerous task let me tell you.

Uncertainty about funding has hamstrung many government agencies.  Funding for the CSIRO was slashed causing many scientists to be lost and programs to be cut, and then funding was increased again.  Funding for ASIC was slashed and then partially restored.  Same with funding for Community Legal Centres and domestic violence programs – slashed in one budget, restored a year or two later.  We had future funding agreements for schools and hospitals until Abbott tore them up, only for Turnbull to slowly dole out dribs and drabs to cover short term funding crises.  It might sound good when you announce the new funding but only if you ignore the previous cuts and the damage they caused in lost expertise, reduced services and uncertainty causing stagnation.

The government says it wants to invest in productivity-enhancing infrastructure yet they have completely ignored the advice of Infrastructure Australia and refused to do cost benefit analyses in many cases or to release them in others.  Barnaby tells us they don’t matter.  Instead their priorities seem to bear the stench of pork-barrelling and grandstanding – literally – you can count on getting an upgrade to the local grandstand come election time.  Oh and some CCTV cameras.

The prime example of the government working against its own goals is the sacrosanct property tax concessions.  Their hysterical defence of same has seen the government contradict themselves so many times it’s hard to keep up.  Negative gearing doesn’t inflate house prices but it will send them tumbling if reined in.  Morrison says that more investors will mean longer term leases and rental security but the evidence shows that investors are more interested in the capital gains which are realised when the property is sold.

If you want to create jobs, you don’t create conditions that skew investment away from productive enterprises and into existing housing.

Morrison is now saying that downsizing helps to free up housing supply but it was his government which scuttled Labor’s program encouraging older Australians to downsize their homes announced in the 2013 budget only to be scrapped the next year.

Seniors over age pension age who have lived in and owned their home for more than 25 years, who then downsize to a home of lesser value, will be able to place at least 80 per cent of the excess sale proceeds (to a cap of $200,000) from the sale of their former home into a special account.

This special account will be exempt from the pension income and assets tests for up to 10 years, or until a withdrawal is made from the account, whichever occurs first.

Superannuation is another area where the government is all over the place.  In 2014 they abolished the low income earner co-contribution only to reinstate it two years later.  They promised no adverse changes to super and then froze the superannuation guarantee at 9.5% instead of it increasing incrementally to 12%.  They also made retrospective changes that affect wealthy superannuees instead of grandfathering the new rules to allow for future planning without adversely affecting those who invested under the laws of the day.

With concerns about an aging population, freezing the SG and considering allowing young people to raid their superannuation for the deposit for a house are bad ideas.  The first decision lessens the retirement income of all workers, particularly the young who would be even worse off if they withdrew early from their account.  Adding more buyers into an overheated market will do nothing to curb rising prices.

Increasing the retirement age to 70 is also a very questionable decision.  When they increased it from 60 to 65 it just resulted in a spike of people on the disability pension.  Keeping older people in the workforce reduces the number of jobs available to young people and families.  Delaying the age at which they can access the pension sends people in their 60s on the soul-destroying job hunt when they could be helping to care for their elderly parents and their grandchildren.

And let’s not forget the NBN which could have facilitated the decentralisation that Barnaby wants to impose on us.  Now we have a hotch potch of technologies which rely on inadequate infrastructure and insufficient technicians to cater for the many different required skills.

These are just a few examples of the directionless flip-flopping that is dished up by our politicians who follow rather than lead so can never be sure of where they are headed.

Businesses and investors need stability.  They are not getting it.  The vulnerable need support.  They are not getting it.  The environment needs protection.  It’s not getting it.  The country needs vision and leadership.  It is most definitely not getting it.

Instead of focusing on good policy, our Treasurer is spending his time working out how to sell pork-barrelling and handouts to the rich as good debt and recurrent expenditure on health, education and welfare as bad debt.

Digging policy holes and then filling them in is not productive.  Just make up your bloody mind.

Australia follows USA blindly into disaster in Syria and North Korea.

The Donald follows rave reviews of his hugely popular Syrian bombing this week by trashing his “America First” isolationist foreign policy. “Just a jump to the left then a step to the right” continues his recent Time Warp homage and conveys all the chaos and conflict of the Trump team’s horror show domestic policy on to a world stage.

In one week, Trump has discarded half a dozen major campaign pledges on foreign policy. Happily Australian foreign policy is just as fluid: Trump’s left wheel – right about turn wins instant approval from Malcolm Turnbull and his crew of US cheerleaders, environmental vandals, climate deniers and mindless multinational corporate lackeys.

North Korea is “reckless and dangerous” says Malcolm Turnbull from India while he rashly promises government funding for an uneconomic, environmentally disastrous, toxic coal mine Australia neither needs or wants.

In words that echo Washington, Turnbull says China is “clearly not doing enough” to control North Korea. Astonishingly, the new Donald Trump has been trying to get the same message through to the Chinese President.

“From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first”, Donald Trump promised at his inauguration. It has taken until Easter for his show’s new directors, US Neocons to take him down their rabbit hole; turn him around.

It’s a big turn. Now, despite his campaign stump stuff, Trump must “reverse (Obama’s) downward spiral” of US power and influence, not only in the Middle East, but throughout the world, orders right wing Brookings Institute’s Robert Kagan in The Washington Post. Trump is warned that one missile strike doesn’t cut it. Press on, Donald.

Flip-flopping bigly, Trump tells NATO that it’s no longer obsolete. He crosses currency manipulation off the long list of things the US holds against China. Next, the US drops the Mother of all Bombs in Afghanistan before boxing itself into a corner by threatening North Korea with military action unless it stops its nuclear tests. North Korea responds by what Australia’s The Daily Telegraph, downplays as “a threat to unleash nuclear hell”.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop loves US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s proposal of a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea. She sees it as just an “all options on the table” thingy, a policy posture as familiar to the government as the flip-flop.

It fits well within its steadfast determination to normalise Trump’s aberrance within its role as US sycophant; Australia’s great and powerful friend. All the way with the USA whatever, wherever.

Bishop does have six decades of history on her side. In 1950 McArthur aimed to use six atomic bombs on North Korea. In 1951 Truman signed off on the plan.

Some estimate that the nation may have lost as many as 8 to 9 million people to US bombing, while others put the figure at 3 million close to thirty per cent of its population between 1950 and 1953. With no official statistics it is impossible to know precisely.

What is certain is that the suffering inflicted is seared into the nation’s consciousness.

Carpet bombing was deployed to rase cities.  The US dropped more bombs in North Korea than in the Pacific theatre during its part of World War Two. 29 000 tonnes of Napalm were used in campaigns which level entire cities.

In 1969, Richard Nixon put nuclear-armed warplanes on 15-minute alert. In the 1990s Bill Clinton weighed up nuclear strikes against North Korea’s nuclear facilities while George W Bush added the “rogue nation” to his axis of evil, a list of rogue states to be annihilated after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been dealt with.

Wednesday, mouth that roars, Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne is on Trump’s new page.  North Korea, is “the most dangerous situation” in the world right now and “worse than the situation in Syria”.

Pyne implies we are at war with North Korea whose erratic regime causes “significant consequence to Australia”.

“I know it seems surprising to say so, but there is a predictability about the war in the Middle East, in Syria and Iraq, and of course the allies there are winning that war slowly but surely,” he tells Adelaide radio 5AA.

The unpredictable slur fits neatly into the portmanteau stereotyping and demonising of North Koreans as erratic, crazy, deluded or buffoons, all ways the Chinese were portrayed in the fifties and early sixties in Western media until China acquired atomic then hydrogen nuclear weapons 1964-7 with the help of the Soviet Union.

The “unpredictable” charge is doubly ironic in the light of the flip-flop foreign policy of the United States or a vassal of a nation which has had five PMs in five years and a government hard to fathom on energy or environment.

A US naval strike group steams to the Korean Peninsula, a show of force that has sections of the media talking war. Is this a showdown between Pyongyang and Washington? No. It’s more show than showdown.

Will “rogue state” North Korea- as MSM love to call it, often adding “hermit” or “secretive” defy the US? Launch another nuclear test? It’s Kim Il-sung’s 150th anniversary.

“Rogue state” was a favourite Neocon term in the Bush, Rumsfeld era. It helped demonise Iraq which failed to respond to cold war deterrence and helped justify illegal military intervention. If North Korea won’t play by the rules, it can’t expect to be dealt with in like manner.

As Bush warned, missile attacks are justified against WND held by rogue leaders in “rogue nations who hate America, hate our values, hate what we stand for.” The same rhetoric is still used by our own government.

In the end, Kim celebrates the birth of the nation’s founder, his grandfather with a parade that helps remind everyone how many missiles North Korea can put on show. There’s a fizzer of a missile launch on the coast. No-one starts a nuclear war, however much representatives of the tabloid press may suggest it’s imminent.

US Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis issues a statement: “The President and his military team are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch.”  ”Mr Trump was not making any further comment.”

Yet Trump has been commenting, correcting the record on his dinner with the Chinese president. The correction helps set a context for the week’s brinksmanship with North Korea, an event which ends badly for The Donald who had a notion he could press Xi to call his North Korean pups to heel. Until Xi disabused him with a history talk.

Just as in a February phone call he had talked him out of his nonsense on Taiwan. Xi set up the summit. He’s two strikes up on Trump already. Xi has Trump’s number.

Earlier reports put the pair mid-way through the pan-fried Dover sole with champagne sauce, when Trump chose to tell his Mar-a-Largo, dinner guest, China’s President Xi Jin-Ping he had just gazumped their summit by bombing Syria, or wherever, The Donald now advises that he and Xi were, in fact, on to their sweets.

“So what happens is I said, ‘We’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq, and I wanted you to know this,'” Trump says in the interview. “And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.”

“Syria?” Fox Business Host Maria Bartiromo corrects.

“Yes, heading toward Syria,” Trump says. He follows up by mentioning Xi finished his dessert.

Savouring “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you have ever seen”,  Trump fills Xi in on his latest take on isolationism: he’s just launched 59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles at Syria. Doubtless, Xi’s tickled pink with the Von Trump family’s Tomahawk missile-barrel diplomacy. Learning that China’s last to be told is the icing on the cake.

Xi drops his cake fork. An interpreter has to repeat The Donald’s bombshell.  Not only is it a complete flip-flop, a 180 degree turn on Trump’s campaign rhetoric, it’s a diplomatic gaffe; a breach of protocol, an insult to China.

It’s like breaking off a dinner party conversation with your boss to berate your neighbour, suggests Foreign Policy‘s Asia editor James Palmer.

Above all, China experts agree, no Chinese leader is likely to mistake unpredictability for strength. What Trump claims as tough, a shirt-front victory, the Chinese dismiss as stupidity. Yet a wily panda will not block a US rush to self-destruction in another costly, protracted and unwinnable Middle Eastern war.

In a United States of self-righteous spin, The Donald simply has no choice. “If you gas a baby then I think you will see a response from this president” explains White House word-splicer, Sean Spicer. Satanic Bashar-al Assad, is a poison gasser and a bad man worse than Hitler, he adds. Assad gets his just desserts.  Trump is pumped.

So, too are the decision makers in the alliance between arms’ manufacturers and armies influencing political policy which the US military-industrial complex, as Eisenhower termed it when he warned of its power in 1961. Syria, Iran, North Korea, all present alluring business opportunities. Above all, his son cheers on his father, his hero.

Eric, an affectionate but clumsy pup, eagerly volunteers how the strike shows how tough his father is. He’s not frightened by Putin’s threat of war. He won’t be pushed around by Putin. Just for measure he throws in a threat of his own. There’s “no one harder” than my Dad, the President if they “cross us”. It proves, he adds breathlessly, that his dad is not in league with Russia.  Well, that’s cleared that up, then. Much rejoicing follows in the free press.

“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States,” gushes CNN’s Fareed Zakaria as her nation is smitten by strong man love – and its love of vigilantes bearing arms. Forget policy, integrity or merit, all you need to do to become President is order up a bombing somewhere. NBC’s Bryan Williams waxes Leonard Cohen-lyrical:

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” he swoons.  “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.”

Guided? Try dazzled. Blinded. America swoons over the attack. It falls back in love with Trump, a type of Lone Ranger with more big hair than white hat. The “liars” and “enemies of the people”, as he calls the press, now rush to cheer on The Great Disruptor.

Lost in the rush is any case for the bombing. No need to bother with Congress or dreary international law. Forget briefings. To hell with intel. Foreign policy is now decided by whatever TV show upsets the President – or his daugher, Ivanka.

Ivanka Trump, Anne Summers suggests, is the most powerful staffer in The White House. And dangerous. Superbly equipped for a profound and nuanced understanding of foreign policy by her real estate and jewellery business background, “heartbroken”, “outraged” she urges Daddy to bomb Syria when she sees the babies on Fox news.

Her compassion is oddly selective. Did Ivanka reproach her father when he boasted he could look Syrian children “in the face and say, “You can’t come here”? Did she demur when one of his first acts as President was to sign an executive order to indefinitely ban Syrians, even beautiful babies, from seeking refuge in the United States?

“Rather than pay lip service to the plight of innocent Syrian children, President Trump should provide actual solutions for the children who have been languishing in refugee camps for years,” reads a statement released 7 April from the New York based International Refugee Assistance Project.

“Many refugee children have been left in life or death situations following the President’s executive order, which suspends and severely curtails the U.S. resettlement program.”

Former Trump supporter, Republican Pat Buchanan suggests that Donald Trump was independently moved to act, before he was influenced by his daughter’s feelings. In other words, he was impetuous, emotional and uncritical of what may well prove to be a series of propaganda images and at a time when his National Security Adviser warned him that the intelligence services had their doubts about Assad’s culpability?

We do know, from multiple sources, that many in CIA and DIA, including those on the ground, did not accept that President Assad was responsible.

Leading rocket scientists, national security advisor, and former scientific adviser to the US Chief of Naval Operations, MIT Professor Theodore Postol, who has won awards for debunking claims about missile defence systems says in a nine-page report that we should be cautious.

A four-page report released by the Trump administration intended to blame the recent chemical attack in Syria on the Syrian government, Postol concludes, “does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack”.

Postol is not convinced by such evidence. “Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real,” he wrote. “No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it.”

Australia’s response is similarly conveniently emotional and selective; visceral to the point of being anti-intellectual – unfussed by the illegality of Trump’s bombing and naively accepting of allegations against al Assad, a case which official Washington sources now concede is one of “high confidence” in a supposed intelligence assessment.

In other words, as Robert Parry decodes, “high confidence” usually means “we don’t have any real evidence, but we figure that if we say “high confidence” enough that no one will dare challenge us.” Parry is one of the reporters who helped expose the Iran-Contra scandal for the Associated Press in the mid-1980s.

Instead, we stampede to trust images provided by Al Qaeda-related propagandists and to overlook documented prior cases in which the Syrian rebels staged chemical weapons incidents to implicate the Assad government in the context of what former British diplomat Alastair Crooke calls the most intensely fought propaganda war in history.

Malcolm Turnbull strongly backs U.S. military action in Syria in response to the “abhorrent” chemical weapons attack.

Defence Minister Marise Payne is “open to Australia increasing its commitment” in Syria with no independent assessment of the worst man-made disaster the world has seen since World War II, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a statement to the Human Rights Council March 2017.

No-one bothers much either with the hypocrisy of the confected moral outrage. The US used agent Napalm in Vietnam and its use of Agent Orange is estimated by the Vietnamese to have killed or maimed 400,000 people.

Vietnam claims moreover half a million children have been born with serious birth defects, while as many 2 million people are suffering from cancer or other illness caused by Agent Orange.

In the end, Trump gazumps only himself. He’s boosted expectations. “A very difficult meeting” will not only fix the US trade deficit with China, settle North Korea’s nuclear nonsense but do a whole bunch of other things including blowing the whistle on China’s currency manipulation, slapping a 45% tax on imports and arresting its theft of US jobs.

By Friday the US President retracts his slur about the currency. Heck, he’ll even praise NATO when he has to.

Upstaged by the US president’s illegal Syrian sortie, by Friday, the US-China Summit’s a dud. Xi and Trump mumble goodwill and mutual respect; motherhood clichés cloak a woeful non-event. Required to negotiate, a skill he will never possess, Trump squibs; settles for a stunt, a token show of force. Call North Korea to heel or the US will fix the problem itself. Does Trump really believe he can coerce China’s cooperation?

Did Trump mean to torpedo the talks? Some commentators spin Trump’s blitzkrieg as a calculated plan, even a Nixonesque “strategic unpredictability.

Henry Kissinger would privately let world leaders know that Nixon was an erratic madman who best not be trifled with. It ended badly, however, for Tricky Dicky in impeachment. Does the same fate await The Donald? Certainly, he’s no diplomat. He’s decided offense is the best defence with China.

“The Chinese government is a despicable, parasitic, brutal, brass-knuckled, crass, callous, amoral, ruthless and totally totalitarian imperialist power that reigns over the world’s leading cancer factory, its most prolific propaganda mill and the biggest police state and prison on the face of the earth”

Taking the cake in studied slights and calculated offence is academic Peter Navarro, author of Death by China, newly appointed head of Trump’s new National Trade Council, a body the President has set up to fix industrial stuff and do great deals so America can become great again. Sweet talking Navarro’s begun by attacking China.

It’s been a big week for Trump and for its Australian satellite. Happily for both parties Trump’s erratic and unpredictable reversals departures have not strained the relationship with our Great and Powerful Friend.  Its dog like devotion does not bode well, however, for any expectations of a mature and mutually beneficial relationship.

Given the rapidity with which isolationist Trump has now been overtaken – strong armed by Washington’s hawks, it is possible that this outcome has not surprised our government. Perhaps it was betting this way all along.

On the other hand, it may simply be that chance has dealt a totally unprepared-for-Trump-or-anything-else Turnbull government a favourable hand; a Neocon US foreign policy it can at least understand.  Even if it cannot fathom the cost.

What is truly shocking, moreover, is that the Turnbull government is simply repeating the mistakes made in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq.  It is 2017. Its aggressive tone with China. Should we still be the USA’s humble and obedient and uncritical servants?

Alarming indeed is our incapacity to exercise our critical faculties or perform due diligence on the case for attacking Bashar Al Assad. Similarly with our gung-ho anti North Korean propaganda. Australia, the world, deserves better.

How will those displaced by technology survive?

By Ad astra

Twenty Twenty-Four – our Orwellian destiny? drew parallels between the disturbing prophesies in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the disquieting situation we are now experiencing as sophisticated technologies – robots and algorithms – are enabling the collection of more and more personal data that is being used increasingly by companies and political parties to manipulate our thinking, our behaviour and our decision-making. This is alarming because it threatens the very fabric of our society. You can read the details in Twenty Twenty-Four – our Orwellian destiny?

There is though an even more distressing accompaniment to these technological advances – the displacement of human workers by robots and algorithms. This piece addresses this issue. It is rather long because the ramifications are so complex. Please be patient.

We have already seen in our own country robots enter manufacturing to do work that previously was done by people. Thousands have been displaced, and made redundant. The number displaced by algorithms though will be greater still. Just look at some relevant facts from Twenty Twenty-Four – our Orwellian destiny?:

In the coming 10 to 20 years around half of today’s jobs will be threatened by algorithms.

Even today, algorithms perform 70% of all financial transactions.

People, who thereby earned a living to support themselves and their families, previously carried out those transactions. It won’t be long before virtually all such transactions will be algorithm-driven. The only ones left employed will be those who write the algorithms, and don’t be surprised if automatically generated algorithms appear that require even fewer humans.

As a result of automation and algorithm driven processes 40% of today’s top 500 companies will have vanished in a decade.

Reflect on that – during the next ten years, by 2027, 200 of the top 500 companies will disappear.

The top 10 global companies listed in the Fortune Top 500, and their current revenues in thousands of US dollars (that is billions), are:

  1. Walmart $482,130
  2. State Grid Corporation of China $329,601
  3. 
China National Petroleum
 $299,271
  4. 
Sinopec Group 
(China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation) $294,344
  5. Royal Dutch Shell
 $272,156
  6. 
Exxon Mobil 
$246,204
  7. 
Volkswagen
 $236,600
  8. Toyota Motor
 $236,592
  9. 
Apple 
$233,715
  10. 
BP
 $225,982

Note that three are in China, one is the world’s largest electric utility company in the world (State Grid Corporation of China), five are oil companies, two are automobile manufacturers, one is a giant retail outlet, and one an IT company.

Imagine how many workers they employ to do both manual and cognitive work.

Nobody knows whether any of these will be among the 200 of the top 500 companies that will disappear in the next decade; the list is provided simply to illustrate the size and financial strength of companies in the Top 500, so that an idea of their current workforce can be contemplated.

When such companies disappear, what, if anything, will replace them? What will workers in those companies do after their employers have gone? Will there be alternative work? If not, how will they live? Are governments planning for this eventuality? Are there any who are doing so? Is our federal government doing so?

Futurists assure us that as old jobs disappear new jobs will be created; many will be jobs that have never been heard of. Even as that is the case, it seems inevitable that there will be a net loss of jobs. It seems inescapable that many, many millions of workers around the world will lose their jobs; Richard di Natale asserts that 5 million Australian jobs will be lost in the next decade. Unless alternative jobs can be created, there will be vast numbers of unemployed. Many may never be able to work again, earn again, support a family again, or prepare for retirement. As job opportunities dry up permanently, some will never have a job. The desolation will be stupefying, and deeply distressing.

None of us can escape this unfolding tragedy. Even those with a job will rub shoulders with those without a job – in the streets, in the supermarkets, in shopping centres, at sporting venues, at meetings, and at church. Society risks being fractured. Tensions will rise as those who work are called upon to support those who don’t and can’t. Governments will have more calls on their social welfare support than ever.

Given the magnitude of the emerging problem of an expanding body of unemployed, what can be done? The unemployed can’t be abandoned to wallow in poverty and sink into homelessness. Yet that is what is already happening. Did you see Four Corners on Monday 13 March: The Price of the American Dream produced by French film-maker Helene Eckmann?

The episode was promoted with these words:

“I never figured I’d be in this kind of situation, for my kids to be in this kind of situation…I’m dumbfounded.”

“Make America Great Again!” was the catch cry that propelled President Donald Trump all the way to The White House. He tapped into the deep sense of unease felt by many Americans, that despite the nation’s economic recovery after the global financial crisis, they have been left behind. “It’s a struggle every day. How am I gonna make it today? How am I gonna make money to buy food, how am I gonna make money to cook my kids dinner at night?”

Four Corners portrayed the distressing story of those Americans desperately hoping for change – America’s shrinking middle class – who are fast joining the swelling ranks of the working poor. You will be surprised and disturbed by what you see.

Yet this is just what we can anticipate in our own country.

What can and should be done?

The response of the LNP has been dismal. Where is the evidence that it even recognizes this emerging problem let alone is doing something about it?

Not satisfied with making matters worse for the poorest sections of our community via the punitive 2104 Abbott/Hockey Budget, the then employment minister Eric Abetz came up with the brilliant requirement that the unemployed be required to apply for 40 jobs a month, a hopelessly unrealistic impost (especially in Abetz’ home state of Tasmania), designed to further humiliate those without a job. Then along came the requirement that job seekers applying for Newstart or Youth Allowance, who have not been previously employed, should face a six-month waiting period of no income support before they are eligible for payments.

More recently we had the Centrelink’s disastrous data matching program that targetted pensioners and the disabled demanding repayment of alleged overpayments. For a royal flush, add to these assaults the threatened Medicare co-payment system, and the LNP-approved reduction of penalty rates at weekends.

Why does the LNP do such things?

Because their political philosophy is grounded in the ‘Strict Father’ model of parenting that conservatives embrace, a concept explained in The myth of political sameness published on The Political Sword in December 2013. George Lakoff, who has studied American politics for decades, uses this metaphor:

The Nation is a Family.
The Government is a Parent.
The Citizens are the Children.

Building on the Nation as Family metaphor, Lakoff identifies two types of family based upon two distinct styles of parenting, which he assigns to conservatives and progressives respectively. When applied to the Nation as Family metaphor, they result in vastly different behaviours.

The two parenting styles are:
The Strict Father model, and
The Nurturant Parent model.

He’s what he has to say about the ‘Strict Parent’:

”In the conservative moral worldview, model citizens are those who best fit all the conservative categories for moral action. They are those who have conservative values and act to support them; who are self-disciplined and self-reliant; who uphold the morality of reward and punishment; who work to protect moral citizens; and who act in support of the moral order.

“Those who best fit all these categories are successful, wealthy, law-abiding conservative businessmen who support a strong military and a strict criminal justice system, who are against government regulation, and who are against affirmative action. They are the model citizens. They are the people whom all Americans should emulate and from whom we have nothing to fear. They deserve to be rewarded and respected.

“The American Dream is that any honest, self-disciplined, hard-working person can do the same. These model citizens are seen by conservatives as the Ideal Americans in the American Dream.”

By contrast, the unemployed, those who don’t or can’t work, are anathema to conservatives. They do not fulfill these criteria.

Lakoff summarises:

The conservative/liberal [progressive] division is ultimately a division between strictness and nurturance as ideals at all levels – from the family to morality to religion and, ultimately, to politics. It is a division at the center of our democracy and our public lives, and yet there is no overt discussion of it in public discourse. Yet it is vitally important that we do so if Americans are to understand, and come to grips with, the deepest fundamental division in our country, one that transcends and lies behind all the individual issues: the role of government, social programs, taxation, education, the environment, energy, gun control, abortion, the death penalty, and so on. These are ultimately not different issues, but manifestations of a single issue: strictness versus nurturance.

In Australia, an identical and just as fundamental division exists between the Coalition, the conservatives, and Labor and the Greens, the progressives. This division results in the striking differences in attitude, behaviour, rhetoric, policy, and indeed morality, which day after day define our own conservatives and our own progressives. It explains so much of the contrast we see.

Image from Salon

How then will the unfolding tragedy of increasing and intractable unemployment be managed? What will the LNP do in the face of its overbearing conservative elements? What will progressives, such as Labor and the Greens, do? Will they simply follow the Strict Father and Nurturant Parent models respectively that so govern their behaviour?

Already we have seen the LNP punitively apply the Strict Father model to the unemployed and the never employed. They see them as ‘leaners’ and ‘dole bludgers’ who are uninterested in finding work, lazy about applying for jobs, fussy about what work they will do, quick to quit if they don’t like a job, preferring instead to sleep in, watch TV and drink VBs. They aggressively tell them, indeed all of us, that ‘the age of entitlement is over’. Except, of course, for them!

The LNP exhibits anger towards those without a job, believes that those who don’t have one are lesser beings that ought to be hounded, demeaned, humiliated, and left minimally supported. How on earth can the LNP, while harbouring such attitudes, manage the tsunami of job losses that we know is coming as automation and algorithms sweep across our nation and the globe? They have not uttered one word about this peril. Do they have any idea what to do? Will their Strict Father approach permanently disable them politically? Will they ever be able to offer a solution? I doubt it.

Yet there are solutions, there are ways of managing the inevitable changes to our society.

What then is possible?

Two concepts are gaining momentum:
A universal minimum basic wage for all working age citizens, whether or not they have a job.
A shorter working week, so that more people can be employed to do the work that is available.

Richard di Natale promoted the latter in his National Press Club address on 13 March. It’s an idea, but it is embryonic. I won’t expand on it here. Instead, I’ll focus on the concept of a universal basic wage as a counter to the rising unemployment resulting from automation.

In the July/August 2014 issue of Politico Magazine there was a seminal article by Nick Hanauer, billionaire investor in Amazon titled: The Pitchforks Are Coming – For Us Plutocrats

His long article that extends over several web pages, is well worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:

He advocates a minimum basic wage for everyone. .

To highlight the need for it, he begins by contrasting extremely rich oligarchs like himself with the rest of US society to demonstrate the rapidly rising inequality there, something that will progressively worsen as job losses and unemployment due to automation bite:

“The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today, the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.

“But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution!

“And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: “Wake up, people. It won’t last.”

“If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.”

Here is his argument for a minimum basic wage:

“The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.

“What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.

“It’s when I realized this that I decided I had to leave my insulated world of the super-rich and get involved in politics. Not directly, by running for office or becoming one of the big-money billionaires who back candidates in an election. Instead, I wanted to try to change the conversation with ideas—by advancing what my co-author, Eric Liu, and I call “middle-out” economics. It’s the long-overdue rebuttal to the trickle-down economics worldview that has become economic orthodoxy across party lines – and has so screwed the American middle class and our economy generally. Middle-out economics rejects the old misconception that an economy is a perfectly efficient, mechanistic system and embraces the much more accurate idea of an economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another.

“Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators. Which means a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it. The middle class creates us rich people, not the other way around.”

Subsequently, he was interviewed about his ideas on Lateline by Steve Cannane, which you may find interesting viewing.

Many are thinking along this line.

Another article you may enjoy reading is in The Guardian of 6 March 2017 titled: Utopian thinking: the easy way to eradicate poverty by Rutger Bregman, subtitled: Keeping people poor is a political choice we can no longer afford, with so much human potential wasted. We need a universal basic income..

He concludes: “It’s an incredibly simple idea: universal basic income – a monthly allowance of enough to pay for your basic needs: food, shelter, education. And it’s completely unconditional: not a favour, but a right. But could it really be that simple? In the last three years, I have read all I could find about basic income. I researched dozens of experiments that have been conducted across the globe. And it didn’t take long before I stumbled upon the story of a town that had done it, had eradicated poverty – after which nearly everyone forgot about it.”

He goes on to describe what happened in the Canadian town of Dauphine, northwest of Winnipeg, beginning in 1974. It makes exciting reading.

Richard di Natale mentioned the concept in an answer to a question at his National Press Club address, the only federal politician I have heard to do so. He mentioned that it is being trialled in several countries, notably Scandinavian nations.

So there is an answer to the question: How will those displaced by technology survive?

Image by Scott Santens

One is the idea of a universal minimum basic wage for all whose income is insufficient to meet basic needs for food, shelter, education and healthcare.

Another is the idea of job sharing so that some who are overworked relinquish work to those who, displaced by technology, have none, or too little – Richard di Natale’s ‘shorter working week’.

There are solutions to the growth of technology-induced unemployment, ones that have already been shown to be effective, and others that are worth a trial.

But who is even thinking about the problem, let alone doing anything?

The Greens have begun, but what of our government and our opposition? So far, oppressive silence and indolence is all we have seen from the major players. With their Strict Father mindset, we can expect nothing from the LNP, but where is Labor with its Nurturant Parent mindset?

What do you think?

Does this scenario scare you?

What should governments be doing to prepare for the unemployment that technology will unleash?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Day to Day Politics: Both beyond redemption.

Sunday 26 March 2017

You have to wonder about the sanity of people like Pauline Hanson. Three weeks ago she advocated parents have their children take a non-existent test before vaccinating  them.

She followed that up hours after the London attack with a video with #PrayForLondon hashtag as a way to “solve the problem”.  When asked by a reporter which God to pray to she seemed flabbergasted.

Yes Jews, Muslims and Christians believe in the same God. I was waiting for her to ask, “Please explain?”

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are sometimes called Abrahamic religions because they all accept the tradition that God revealed himself to the patriarch Abraham.

She wasn’t finished yet. “Islam is a disease; we need to vaccinate ourselves against that.”

Now before I go on let me explain my attitude to traditional religion. I long ago came to the conclusion that one of the truly bad effects religion (any religion) has on people is that it teaches that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.

Now I think I’m right in saying that Hanson believes that Islam is not a religion but a political movement. Now she thinks it’s a disease. An infection, a virus or a condition of abnormal function. Trying to explain that would ensure that a headache will follow so I will give it a miss and concentrate on the racism aspect.

People like Trump and Hanson thrive on attention. They crave it with malevolent fallaciousness.

“Islam is a disease; we need to vaccinate ourselves against that.”

That’s about as racist as you can get I suppose but what is it that converts one into a racist? I don’t believe we are born racist. I think perhaps the reason I have difficulty understanding racism is that I have grown up and experienced multiculturalism since I was a boy.

Today the characteristic that most defines modern Australia is “diversity”. In all its forms, together with multiculturalism it defines us as a nation.

I firmly believe that people of my generation and later should divest themselves of their old and inferred racist superiority.

The Prime Minister said he had told her that:

“If you seek to attribute to all Australian Muslims responsibility for the crimes of Isil then  you are doing what Isil wants.”

Anthony Albanese in the Guardian:

“I think it was extraordinary that Pauline Hanson chose to politicise an issue like this at the time that she did,” he told the Nine Network. To play politics at a time like that, was, I just think, said a lot about the nature of her character.”

Christopher Pyne said:

“We’re not about to deport Australian citizens who are Muslims because of any kind of xenophobic campaign.”

Bill Shorten chipped in with “If Malcolm Turnbull thinks One Nation is helping Isis, he should stop helping One Nation get elected” he said. “Why is he still refusing to put One Nation last? He can make all the platitudes he likes, but it’s his policy to help One Nation get elected.”

But that won’t stop the likes of Hanson who have hate in their hearts and express it through tempestuous lips. The peddlers of prejudice and fear are not interested in love, truth, tolerance, understanding and internationalism. They are scared and lack any understanding of difference. Hate is in their hearts.

Allow me to digress and include some personal experience and one Andrew Bolt.

So it was last year when I was watching one of my grandsons playing basketball. One of the boys in the team is from Somalia. A number of families with African heritage have moved to our area. I observed the mateship of their winning endeavours and the generous enthusiasm of their play between matches. The fun, friendship and frivolity of their connectedness was a delight to watch. The dark lad is of prodigious talent with a generous smile, a face as black as night and gregarious nature.

I have also observed the total unabashed acceptance by children of different races at school, and at the local swimming pool where mature judgement is made by children unhindered by the prejudicial ignorance of adults.

My thoughts drifted to my own youth and I wondered just what it is that causes people to be racist. I recalled as a small boy being told what side of the street to walk to school because Jews lived on the other side. I lived through the post war era of immigration when Australians belittled and sneered at Italians and Greeks. Then later with bi-partisan agreement we accepted the Vietnamese who came by boat. But not before debasing them with the worst part of our own uniquely Australian prejudice.

Memories came back to me of a pub I used to drink at on my way home from work. The beer garden attracted a cohort of Aussie builders who sub contracted concreting work to a group of Italians. I would observe how the Aussie fellows would run them down with the foulest of language and then drink with them, without a hint of condemnation when they arrived.

There was a time when a relation who was traveling by caravan around Australia rang me from some remote area highly populated by indigenous people. After the usual greeting the following words were advanced.

“I’m not a racist but . . . “. When you hear someone say those words they generally are. What followed was a tirade of critical commentary about every aspect of Aboriginal culture and living standards. I have no doubt that much of what she was saying was true however, there was no situation that wasn’t replicated in white city society. Her comments were therefore racist. The singling out of any group for reason of drawing attention to colour is abhorrent to me.

More recently I have experienced racism where I live. I have two neighbours (one now deceased) who when talking about indigenous folk have described Aboriginals as taking up to much space.

At a junior football final a couple of years ago a teenage boy was standing behind me verbalising a young aboriginal player of immense talent. The insults insinuated themselves into the minds around me. The aboriginal boy had heard the remarks and was a bit distressed about it. I turned and said to the boy of uncouth mouth:

“So yours is what a racists face looks like.”

The teenager slunk away probably not used to having his racism confronted. In the unnatural silence that had invaded the group where I was standing I received a couple of congratulatory slaps on the shoulder.

You see, I hate all forms of racism in a way that even someone like me, with a love of the moulding of words as disciples for good, cannot do. It was a little brave of me to do what I did because I am getting on in years. But we must confront it.

In watching the antics of children of different races in their play we can bear witness to the sin of the abusers of decency. By the influence of those who cannot concede that we were all black once. And those who believe that superiority is determined by a chemical compound.

Children celebrate difference and prove to us that racism is not a part of the human condition. It is taught, or acquired. You have to learn it and those who tutor it and preach it are to be pitied for their ignorance and imbecility. No one is born a racist but we are born into racist societies.

What is racism?

It is best described in two parts. Firstly it is the belief that one race is superior to another. That it accounts for differences in human character and ability. Secondly racism is, discrimination or prejudice based on race.

Scott Woods puts it another way:

The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.

Racism is preserved in many and various ways. Even Christian art propagates the myth of Jesus being white when in fact he would have been dark-skinned and of Middle Eastern appearance. But art depicts him as white with European features and more often than not as effeminate. Christians also cannot bring themselves to the point of accepting that dark-skinned people were responsible for the introduction of religion into society. No white person has ever introduced a major religion. Some Christians even quote Bible verse to justify white superiority.

Even the law disproportionalyl targets coloured (I hate that term) people resulting in levels of incarceration much higher than other groups.

The worst perpetrators of racism are those who do it through the guise of free speech. People like Andrew Bolt. A journalist of mediocre talent who writes in a grammatical style attractive to the intellect of 13 year olds, unable to challenge the mind (or his argument) with a word, or sentence.

He wants 18c changed so that he would be freer through his column to abuse and defame. When the legislation was turfed because of its unpopularity, the first time, Tony Abbott felt obliged to phone this journalist of such little virtue and apologise.

People who support Bolt, Hanson and others for their racism need to ask just why it is that they are fixated on the subject of race and Muslims and the answer is simple. Murdoch has built his news empire on smut and controversy. The formula has made him extremely wealthy. And there is no doubt that Bolt is paid extraordinary amounts of money to proliferate the pages of the Herald Sun with this sort of gutter journalism.

Let us not forget what Justice Bromberg, said about Bolt’s use of language. He said:

His style and structure is highly suggestive and designed to excite. His style was ”not careful, precise or exact” and the language not moderate or temperate but often strong and emphatic”. There is a liberal use of sarcasm and mockery,” he wrote. Language of that kind has a heightened capacity to convey implications beyond the literal meaning of the words utilised. It is language, which invites the reader to not only read the lines, but to also read between the lines.

We should also remember that during the London riots, of the not too distant past Bolt in one of his pieces used the word ‘aped’ to describe the copycat behaviour of some people. The use of the word was legitimate in that sense until you appreciate that he was talking about black West Indians, and then the word became racist. Bolt keeps coming back to skin, or the colour of it as if it were a sexual fetish that gives him endless gratification.

And it must be said that Andrew is presumed a racist and has been found to on many occasions lie in his writing, particularly on the environment. In addition he has been known to defame a female magistrate.

He wants the law changed so that in the future under the guise of free speech he will be able to vilify at his heart’s content.

Take two recent examples from his TV program, ‘The Bolt Report’.

Bolt is an opponent of an attempt, which has bi-partisan support, to recognise Indigenous people in the constitution, contending that to single out any particular group is racist because it divides Australians? Former Labor minister Craig Emerson thus declared him a racist by his own criteria.

“Then you are a racist,” Emerson said, “because of the comments you made in relation to Indigenous people. By your own criterion, and that’s what you did. You identified a group of people and went for them.”

He was correct. Emerson’s remark relates to the legal case in which Bolt was found to have breached racial discrimination laws in articles that implied light-skinned Indigenous people identified themselves as Aboriginal for personal gain. He was guilty by his own admission.

Another more recent example is when he quiet bizarrely declared that ‘’aboriginals weren’t here first’’. As I said earlier he has this thing about race that sends him into some kind of mental climax that needs constant stimulation. If you want to figure out the argument he was putting go here and then explain it to me. I cannot.

I will end where I started with my observation of that gregarious dark-skinned boy playing joyfully in fellowship with his light-skinned mates, and the fact each was different in colour, one to the other didn’t enter the unblemished purity of their companionship. And I silently prayed that it never would.

Pauline Hanson’s remarks as contemptible as they were do nothing more than disclose the racist she is. Any words said in anger by me won’t change what she is. People like her and Bolt usually hang themselves with their own.

Wonder When the Seed Is Planted

I look upon the child’s face and see Innocence – unblemished purity Translated in looks virtuous How sweet how incorruptible

Then it happens with measured subtly The distortion of youthful thought Insinuated into free And immature minds

I wonder when the seed is planted When evil first takes hold And intolerance evolves To become scum on the pond of life

Who grants permission to damage the child? Of its pristine purity The wonderment of adventure And unfiltered creativity

Is it the sin of the father? That makes a child loathe That makes them xenophobic Racist just like him

When does it take root this hatred? That enters the child’s mind To be carried with them always Fermenting as they grow

Are parents so imbued? With experiences of the past That forgiveness is impossible Bad memories seem to last

So they pass it onto their children And intolerance lingers on Licking on the finger of hate It seems to have no end

I can only ask that compassion Might replace their putrid sin And the cry that is inside each heart Will – let understanding in. (John Lord).

My thought for the day.

“Why is it that religion assumes it has some bizarre ownership on people’s morality. To assume that an atheist is any less moral than someone religious is an absurdity.”

 

 

Jay Weatherill speaks truth to power; Turnbull comes up with NBN 2.0

Our parents toiled to make a home hard grubbing t’was and clearing 

They wasn’t troubled much by lords when they was pioneering 

But now that we have made the land a garden full of promise 

Old Greed must crook his dirty hand and come and take it from us 

So we must fly a rebel flag as others did before us  

And we must sing a rebel song and join in rebel chorus 

We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting of those that they would throttle 

They needn’t say the fault is ours if blood should stain the wattle 

From Freedom on the Wallaby  Henry Lawson 1891


Sparks fly, shots ring out. A whiff of grapeshot wafts across the nation’s political stage this week as South Australia, fair maid of liberty, flower of Athens of the South, rebels against Canberra’s dark, despotic cruelty.  The crisis goes viral as Minister for Energy and Environment, Josh Frydenberg tilts at SA’s windmills; blaming them for its power outages Thursday at a press conference set up to upstage, bully and humiliate its junior commonwealth partner. 

Frydenberg, the man with a plan from a government without an energy policy, is there to spruik his government’s Snowy 2.0 scheme, a pie in the sky project akin to Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN, a scheme which will take too long to complete, cost too much and fail to deliver. No. Let’s be clear. Snowy 2 is not designed to help anyone except the PM himself and his image-building PR team who must now reinvent the merchant banker as a nation builder.

It says a lot about your need for spin when even your hydro needs pumping. Weatherill is justly disgusted.

“I have to say it is a little galling to be standing here next to a man who has been standing up with his Prime Minister bagging SA at every step of the way over the last six months to be standing here on this occasion, him suggesting that we want to work together,” Jay Weatherill sprays. He wants a divorce. And he’s taking the kids.

The spat has commentators clutching their pearls or reaching for their smelling salts. “Unedifying” huffs Aunty, a word deftly dropped into the mix by the coalition spin team. Unedifying? Are we to believe the Prime Minister’s personal attacks on Bill Shorten are edifying? Was Malcolm Turnbull’s victory whinge where he blamed Labor for the mess he himself led his government into – edifying? On the contrary, Weatherill is inspiring.

It’s a dramatic scene which presents a clear choice between truth and more of the same old bullshit. Weatherill not only opts for truth, he  strikes a blow for freedom from the yoke of commonwealth. Yet it’s freedom from neglect and mismanagement as much as oppression.  The power price scam; the fake gas shortage rort are just the final straws. A nation applauds as SA walks away from an abusive relationship. Other states may follow.

Let the PM blow hard about our energy crisis. We’re about to overtake Qatar as the world’s largest producer of LNG.  No. We have more than enough gas for all our needs but we’ve let corporations sell it offshore and jack up our prices.

We are not paying international prices. We are paying an artificially inflated price jacked up by a cartel of companies. Who needs a federal government whose role is to just stand by and let price gouging and price fixing happen? Or aid and abet it? Blow smoke about how a rigged electricity market fairly decides consumer prices?

SA declares its independence over its electrical power. Pulls the plug. Consigns fossil fuels to the rubbish bin of history. It’s a bold move that rocks state and commonwealth bonds. Forget Snowy 2.0. This is federation 2.0 It also highlights the Coalition’s craven gas and coal corporation co-dependency.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill vows to build his own gas-fired plant. Generate his own backup capacity. Australia’s largest battery farm will store the electricity. Flamboyant TESLA CEO Elon Musk, whose very name conjures romantic heroism, pledges a money back guaranteed 100 mw battery farm in one hundred days.

But it’s as much a hard-headed business deal as an act of disruption which puts the skids under fossil fuel. With a toe-hold in the local market, Musk could make billions supplying households with his TESLA batteries.

The battery beats another gas plant. Or new gas production. SA farmers will never abandon all their fears about water contamination and environmental degradation. Weatherill’s offer to pay farmers for what gas companies can take out of their land will never lead to a new wave of gas production. Who’d embrace fracking or gas wells for a pitiful ten percent royalty? You’d need more than that just to repair the damage to your land.

In fairness, the long lead-in before any new gas would flow, the cost of new exploitation weighed against the falling cost of renewables and storage make new gas supplies the state’s least likely option. Weatherill’s having a bet each way. Gas giant Santos, for example, is choosing now to invest in a solar farm rather than drill any new gas wells.

Santos says the cheapest way to free up gas is not to drill for more, but to build a solar plant? We should listen.

Weatherill still needs the gas plant backup, however, because the state no longer has faith in the market operator to act in the state’s best interests. It will give itself emergency powers to fire up the plant when it is needed. And just to make sure, it will order emergency diesel generators to be on standby until the gas plant is operational.

Even more contentious is Weatherill’s promise to give SA new powers over the National Electricity Market, a price-rigging scheme designed to boost multinational power company profits at consumers’ expense regardless of reliability of supply.

The lines of authority are complex. The National Energy Market, NEM is governed within COAG’s Energy Council, a body which comprises federal and state energy ministers. It’s a dog’s breakfast.

The Australian Energy Market Operator  is supposed to look after System security and reliability while network investment is the responsibility of private network businesses, overseen by the Australian Energy Regulator.  

It’s a great management model if you want to run a business by means of a committee without a CEO. The prime bodies charged with delivering electricity and gas to the NEM have done very poorly because they lack a chain of command or strategic plan; no idea of what they want or how to get there. David Leitch Renew Economy.

“There are no real metrics for the success of the system and no shared vision of the appropriate direction or how to get there.” It’s almost a definition of the coalition’s approach to commonwealth government.

The privatised electricity system is a complete failure. In a damaging revelation, close to Neoliberal heresy, the Grattan Institute reports another open secret , Monday. The so-called competition of privatised electricity markets has failed, or in an odd admission from a mob that believes in markets, “has failed to be managed properly”. Up to 43 per cent of household power bills are profits which line the pockets of electricity retailers. 

Weatherill’s defiance drives the coal-powered federal Coalition government into a flat spin. It will seek legal advice, it huffs, to see if SA’s threats are lawful. But it can deal its legal mates in as much as it likes. Nothing can disguise its confusion. Energy Minister Frydenberg falsely claims that states are responsible for the stability of their power system.  That’s AEMO’s job. 

Terminally conflicted and confused, Josh Frydenberg whose cruel fate is to be Energy and Environment minister in a government which lacks a policy for either, is dispatched to upstage the unplugged upstart by re-announcing AGL’s 5 MW 2016 household battery farm. True to form, his fearless leader Malcolm Turnbull wimps out, opting instead for a nation-building image makeover, a Snowy chopper ride and a chat with the gas industry.

Tough-talking, trouble-shooting Turnbull goes the full tea-bag. He rebukes gas corporate CEOs by giving the lads a cuppa and a heart to heart about saving a bit of gas for Australia. The tactic works so well with the banks. His script is similar. Abandon your cartel and your price-fixing boys. So you over-invested $60 billion in plant? So you plan to gouge the Australian customer to recover that debt? Stop it now. Walk away, boys, walk away.

What could possibly go wrong? Richard Denniss, chief economist of the Australia Institute explains to Crikey:

that for the gas industry, everything is going to plan. “It took 10 years and $60 billion building three enormous gas liquification plants in Gladstone with the specific goal of increasing the domestic price to Asian levels,” he says.

The gas industry is frustrated prices aren’t even higher. Once local prices were linked to international princes, global prices fell. Turnbull’s meeting agree to another meeting. It’s difficult to see any more productive outcome.

Luckily Turnbull has some crack troops in the rear. Tea party crackpot James McGrath on ABC Lateline witters on about how state issues caused the Liberal rout in South Australia despite abundant evidence to the contrary.

It would foolhardy for the federal government to imagine national factors had no bearing on the vote at least in marginal seats. Apart from his energy fiasco, these include lame duck PM accelerating unpopularity, his capture by party reactionaries, the Centrelink Robo-claw extortion, the PHON deal and weekend penalty rate cuts.

As for the PM, terminal Turnbull is wedged by a fatal trend which Bernard Keane and Josh Taylor delineate. A parliamentary leader reflecting the party’s base will lose touch with voters as Tony Abbott discovered; while a leader even briefly popular with voters, as in Turnbull’s case is likely to alienate the hard right in the party base. 

Yet again there’s help from the crack troops behind the leader. Never to be deterred by research, former dud Health Minister, Peter Dutton, a Minister only nominally in charge of Immigration, boosts his leadership stakes, or so he calculates, by attacking Alan Joyce and thirty other CEOs for daring to exercise their right to free speech in a letter urging government to act on same sex marriage.

Dutton argues that businesses best leave such issues to our elected political representatives. We’ve all noticed how well that’s working.

Yet all eyes remain on plucky little South Australia, the giant-killer as it shapes up against its oppressor and tormentor.  It is a thrilling new twist in the faction-riven Federal government’s Energy Wars, an electrifying series which pits big business against the powerless, miners against all-comers –  and ministers against each other.

Resources Minister Matt King Coal Canavan, for example, departs his Coalition team plan, the bogus clean coal staging horse for prohibitively overpriced gas in favour of reverting to a mythical “cheap coal”. The cost of pollution and the un-investible cost of building new plant, mean that cheap coal is just as much of a myth as clean coal.

No-one seems to have told Canavan that the coal advocacy part of the cunning plan was yesterday. Gas is today. The nonsense with the lump of coal; the PM’s Press Club carbon fuel vision were all devices to make gas madly attractive. Except that it’s not working. The Coalition’s team plan is every man for himself.

Immune to empiricism, impervious to fact, as coal-lobbyists invariably are, Canavan appears on ABC Insiders Sunday to bag South Australia and peddle dangerous nonsense about how coal-fired electricity is more stable, cheaper and a vast source of safe, clean jobs. How it’s manufacturing’s saviour. It’s an alarming demonstration of a narrow mind closed tighter by ideology. Equally disturbing is the extent to which he is feted by the media.

One of the beaut things about Insiders, the 7:30 Report, The Drum or ABC 24 is that a government minister knows he’ll be indulged. On the couch. After an obligatory time-waster about gay marriage, broad-brush Canavan gets a quarter of the program to regurgitate as many asinine assertions about clean coal as he can remember from Peabody Coal’s press kit. He even gets to repeat the lie that his government will act to lower energy prices.

University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College, recently reported that the average wholesale electricity price soared to $134 a megawatt hour last summer, compared with $65-$67 in the two summers the carbon price was in place. The biggest rise has been in Queensland and in NSW, states which rely heavily upon coal power. 

“High prices have nothing to do with renewables or state government [renewable energy] targets and everything to do with the Liberals’ failure to properly run our national energy network,” says Adam Bandt but the fiction of a Coalition standing for lower energy prices is unassailable if you say it on ABC or on MSM generally.  

“We need to act to keep power prices down”. A straight faced Canavan gets a nod and a wink from Barrie. What Canavan has in mind is a beaut artisanal, low-emission boutique coal mine industry boosting Queensland’s tourism potential.

If only he could get his head out of his coal pit and look at the vast solar farms setting up in North Queensland, he would realise that there is simply no business case for investment in coal-fired baseload power generation.

No bank will invest in it. Clean coal is nothing but an industry fiction. “Wanna maintain a manufacturing industry in this country,” he bleats. As we’ve seen with the car industry. But it’s way too late. The bird has flown.

In brief, frantically, up against this Monday’s Newspoll, Turnbull over invests in a rushed competitive bid: a nation-building stunt, he dubs Snowy Mountain 2.0, in a move worthy of the ABC satire Utopia.  NBN 2.0 would be closer. The PM’s announcement has every sign of haste. NSW and Victoria, both shareholders in Snowy Hydro, didn’t know about it, while the company itself has no proposal for pumped hydro in its Finkel submission. 

Newspoll does reflect a Snowy improvement. Labor’s lead is now 52 to 48 per cent in two-party terms and the Prime Minister’s personal ratings are up but the government is perilously below its July election support levels. There is a big risk that the hastily assembled promo will fall to bits as voters discover the plan is a thought bubble.

The government has had a study by ANU academic Andrew Blakers for some time, which accounts for the persistence of “pumped hydro” in the government’s energy lexicon in recent months. It seems to have swept its announcement forward to compete with Jay Weatherill’s initiative, a master of practicality by contrast.

“I am a nation-building Prime Minister and this is a nation-building project,” grins the Mal from Snow River. “This is the next step in a great story of engineering in the Snowy Mountains and the courageous men and women who are confident and committed to Australia’s future.”

Yet only a few weeks before he was all for clean coal at the Press Club. His Treasurer was even more dramatic.

Like Morrison’s lump of coal, Turnbull’s announcement is a stunt. The project would take too long, cost too much and deliver too little to solve immediate generation challenges. Snowy 2.0’s business model is to buy cheap and sell dear. It won’t increase capacity but could become an expensive backup. The government is evasive on costs, funding and completion date.

Yet the Coalition puts maximum spin behind it. It has blasted SA for its unstable energy policy now it is gazumped when Weatherill acts to build capacity and stability. Its response is hasty and vague, a sketch of a feasibility study drawn with a very big brush and some loopy strokes.

The government has only itself to blame. Not only has it wasted years failing to come up with a successful energy policy, it’s backed SA into a corner.

Bullied, publicly pilloried for its reckless, “ideological” embrace of renewable power, South Australia is victim of an orchestrated bullying campaign by federal government as its mining backers label wind and solar as expensive and unreliable, spinning the colossal lie that fossil fuel-powered generation is stable clean, cheap and job generating.

Mouth that roars, Christopher Pyne, helpfully lies about the Australian Submarine Corp being forced to build a $20 million diesel plant to make sure the lights stay on in risky renewable South Australia.

When asked, however, its CEO says “I don’t know anything about that.” Jay Weatherill’s stand is not so easily assailed. The risk for the government is that its anti-renewable propaganda and bagging of South Australia’s ideological fix on renewables will backfire. The Coalition’s lies are more easily exposed now and the nation has sympathy for the underdog. 

As luck would have it there is another distraction. Look over there. Sally McManus, newly elected ACTU secretary, and the first woman to head the organisation says she will break unjust laws if she has to. 

“I believe in the rule of law where the law is fair and the law is right but when it is unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it,” she tells Leigh Sales who is out for a gotcha moment on the CFMEU’s fabled thuggish disregard for the rule of law.

Exposed for a rare moment is the monumental hypocrisy of those who attack Sally from the Business Council with its tax sharp practices and in the case of News Corp UK, illegal industrial action to Malcolm Turnbull himself whose Liberal Party received millions of dollars of illegal donations. And would Spycatcher have seen the light of day without laws being broken?

There is also a pretence that the law is some inviolate, separate body of holy writ immune from human affairs. Or, as Sally herself, puts it. “Australia has been built by working people who have had the courage to stand up to unfair and unjust rules and demand something better.”

Now we can’t have that, can we? It’s just as crazy as expecting a commonwealth government to nurture its dependent states rather than bully or exploit or defame them. Or a federal government to be above petty politicking and scapegoating, dishonesty and manifest hypocrisy on something as vital as energy provision.

Yet the week has seen a line drawn in the sand with regard to energy if not states’ rights while Jay Weatherill has used the national stage to dramatically re-enact the need to speak truth to power. All the Snowy 2.0 or NBN in Australia can’t put that genie back in the bottle.

Thou shall not hate

In the words of The Monthly, If the name Milo Yiannopoulos means nothing to you, congratulations on being a normal, well-adjusted person. Yiannopoulos is someone we all aspire to be the complete opposite of. He was until very recently, an alt-right figurehead and said all the ‘right’ things. According to The Guardian he did a fine line in Islamophobia, misogyny, transphobia or harassment. Out Magazine, (which takes pride in its LGBTI heritage) called him a ‘super villain’. Recently, The Monthly reported:

Here in Australia, Yiannopoulos has many fans on the right. Andrew Bolt called him “fabulous” in one of his multiple appearances on The Bolt Report. Bolt’s Herald Sun colleague Rita Panahi thinks Yiannopoulos is “razor sharp, insightful and funny”. Former Liberal MP Ross Cameron regards him as “an ancient form of genius”. Writing in the Spectator, Daisy Cousens described him as an “intelligent, charismatic, witty, stylish, and unbearably handsome powerhouse of a man”.

However, it seems that even the alt-right has boundaries. A YouTube video recently came out (pun intended – Yiannopoulos is gay) where he seemed to endorse intimate relations between older men and boys. He lost his job as a Senior Editor on the Breitbart (extremely conservative) news website, a book deal and some speaking engagements. Let’s give credit where it is due, those who severed connections with a person who seemed to endorse paedophilia did the right thing. However, it also brings into question why hate speech against religions, gender and those who have a different sexual orientation is permitted by the same organisations – as they are all just as abhorrent as the straw that broke the camel’s back on this occasion. Let’s face it, by supporting Yiannopoulos while he promotes hate speech, the organisations also gave implied support for his positions on those other issues. Severing the connection when Yiannopoulos seemingly ‘crossed the line’ demonstrates the principal.

The Guardian reported that during a meeting of an ultra-conservative group in North Carolina, the ‘Islamification of America’ was being discussed:

The Muslim Brotherhood, a culturally conservative organization founded in 1928 that briefly took power in Egypt after the Arab Spring, is the focal point of paranoid rightwing fears about a supposed Islamic plot to infiltrate and subvert American institutions from within and impose sharia law.

“A tactic that the Brotherhood has established over the years is establishing the presence of Islamic centers or mosques, which for them means a recruitment center for jihad, and forming a permanent foundation wherever they’re allowed to exist,” Jones said, continuing to read from Stakelbeck’s book [The Terrorist Next Door].

Jones’s presentation was repeatedly interrupted by comments about killing Muslims from Frank del Valle, a staunchly anticommunist Cuban immigrant, with little or no pushback from the others in the room.

“Can we not kill them all?” Del Valle asked, about 15 minutes into the presentation, during a discussion about the differences between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam.

But it wouldn’t happen in general society in Australia, would it? Well it does actually. Madonna King wrote an opinion piece for The Brisbane Times recently based on the reaction to Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s recent appearance on ABCTV’s QandA. You may remember that Adbel-Magied contradicted some of the more conservative panellists’ views on the Islamic religion and Sharia Law with some facts based on her understanding of the religion as a practising member of the faith. In the piece, King rightly labelled Australians as haters pointing out that while you and I certainly have the right to decide if we agree with Abdel-Magied’s opinion, she does have the right to vocalise it without people starting petitions for her to be sacked from her job presenting a show on ABCTV’s News 24 station, which is what happened on this occasion.

Let’s look at another example. Pauline Hanson was recently reported as suggesting that young women will deliberately get pregnant to receive some perceived advantage from the LNP Government’s proposed changes to family benefits. Quite probably she is partly right — generally a small minority will take any advantage that they can find and turn it to their perceived advantage. Hanson’s argument seems to be:

I’ve gone through a bloody tough life myself as a single mother and held down a part-time job. I had no assistance, no help from anyone. But we have such a welfare handout mentality.

Apart from the fact that single parent payments, family allowances and tax ‘breaks’ for families have been the practice of Australian Governments of all political persuasions for a number of decades, meaning Hanson could have received help if she met the criteria, her rhetoric seems as shallow and self-serving as her claim not to be a professional politician despite being first elected to the Ipswich City Council in 1994, followed by running for the seat of Oxley in the Federal Parliament in 1996, then failing to be elected at most elections between the end of that Parliament and the commencement of the current one.

The issue here is that considerably more young women will use the benefit as it was intended, to ensure that while babies and their parents are both going through a major change in their living and financial arrangements, there is some assistance from the rest of our society to make the financial transition slightly easier. Remember that the children who benefit from the government’s ‘largesse’ here are those who will be paying for the roads and medical services that the naysayers such as Hanson will consume in twenty to thirty years’ time when they are retired and contributing far less taxation (if any at all). All Hanson is really doing here is inflaming the anger in those who follow her particular brand of politics when they see pregnant women or young families walk past. It’s not healthy for the victims and certainly not healthy to the level of political conversation in Australia.

Of course, our ‘major’ party politicians wouldn’t stoop to using hatred to achieve political ends – would they? Don’t be silly, of course they do. As blogmaster of The Political Sword Ad Astra recently noted in his article Abbott’s legacy of destruction, former Prime Minister Abbott’s opposition to action on climate change wasn’t a divine revelation that there was another and better way to mitigate the man-made influence on global temperature increase caused by increasing emissions of carbon dioxide, it was purely political. It is worth looking at Abbott’s head of staff’s (Peta Credlin) statement on Sky News again.

Credlin made her comments during an episode of Sky’s Sunday Agenda: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and when he cut through, Gillard was gone.”

As Ad Astra wrote,

The article continued with Credlin’s comments:
“It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know.

“Okay, okay, okay. Let’s just provide some context. Australia has a complicated history in trying to do what many countries have already done – put a price on carbon emissions.

“Emissions trading scheme proposals contributed to the demise of Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader in 2009 and Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010. Julia Gillard finally introduced a carbon-pricing scheme in 2011.

“It was Tony Abbott who re-framed Gillard’s scheme as a “carbon tax”, even though after the first year the price on carbon emissions was no longer fixed, and was instead set by the market.

“Abbott rode the anti-carbon tax movement all the way into The Lodge and eventually had everyone, including Labor and the media, calling it a carbon tax”.

How about we call that for what it is. Abbott lied to get the Prime Ministership. He traded off the future liveability of this country for his personal ambition.

Both Hanson and Abbott (amongst a number of other politicians from all sides of politics) also support or have supported in the past the forcible incarceration of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru while claiming to uphold ‘good Christian values’ not only in their daily lives but in their public lives. While neither ‘Thou shall not hate’ nor ‘Do unto others as you wish others do to you’ are listed in the 10 Commandments, they both have some textual context in the holy book that Abbott, Hanson and others claim to follow. How is changing an environmental imperative to a political argument, denying a benefit the country can obviously afford on the basis that some may abuse it, or treating people poorly in the Australian detention camps, not demonstrating pure and utter hatred to those who don’t meet particular world views of some extremely narrow minded people?

It’s somewhat hypocritical to suggest that ‘good Christian values’ are a part of your life while overseeing hate speech, active persecution of others for daring to hold alternative beliefs or not caring for the world we live in and are leaving for our descendants. You would have to wonder how these people can live with the basic contradiction that is obvious to a large proportion of society – if you have good Christian values, you should live by them.

Someone who should have some idea of what represents ‘good Christian values’ is the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. He has previously made statements on climate change, education, helping those who need a hand, paying your way in life and recently made a statement on refugees which has been widely reported. Even the extreme right wing Breitbart News (yes, the same august journal that accepted the resignation of Yiannopoulos) headlined their report with:

In powerful language, Pope Francis said Thursday that Jesus abhors hypocrisy and it is hypocritical to call oneself a Christian and at the same time not be welcoming to refugees, even if they belong to a different religion.

Pity those who routinely preach their ‘good Christian values’ will not put two and two together. Thou shall not hate.

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

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We, as a human species, have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after us

2010 Sydney Launch: Zero Carbon Australia: Stationary Energy Plan 

Malcolm Turnbull: (eight days before the 2010 federal election)

Transcript

You know, it’s an interesting thing, Quentin made the point that this issue, this issue of clean energy and climate change has not been at the forefront of this election. And Bob Carr just said to me a moment ago that he didn’t think there were any media covering this meeting tonight, I don’t know whether that’s true or not. But it is remarkable that on a cold winters night this issue has managed to fill the town hall. And that tells you something *Audience Claps* that tells you something about the extent of the concern that Australians have about climate change and the interest in and hunger for information and knowledge about the way we can deal with it and the way we can move, as we must move, if we are to effectively combat climate change to a situation where all or almost all of our energy comes from zero or very near zero emissions sources.

Now our response to climate change must be guided by science. The science tells us that we have already exceeded the safe upper limit for atmospheric carbon dioxide. We are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we’ve got. We are dealing in scientific terms with enormous uncertainty. There is a tendency for people to point to the forecasts for the future, sea levels, temperatures, other impacts of climate change and say oh well you know they’ve over egged the pudding a little bit, it’s probably going to be less dramatic than that. But we are dealing with uncertainty and it may well be and indeed there is considerable evidence, that it may well be that many of these forecasts that we’ve become so used to, in fact err on the conservative side.

We are told that 2010 will be the warmest year on record since records began in the late eighteen hundreds. We know that the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic. We know that extreme weather events are occurring with greater and greater frequency and while it is never possible to point to one drought or one storm or one flood and say that particular incident is caused by global warming, we know that these trends are entirely consistent with the climate change forecasts with the climate models that the scientists are relying on. Just in the last month floods and landslides have killed thousands in Kashmir, Poland, Pakistan, Korea and China. Russia has lost at least 30% of its grain crop due to the worst fires in that country’s history.

Now sometimes the task of responding to the challenge of climate change may seem too great, too daunting. It is a profound moral challenge, because it is a cross generational challenge. We are asking our own generation to make decisions; to make sacrifices, to make expenditures today so as to safeguard our children, their children and the generations that come after them. It truly requires us to think as a species, not just to think as individuals. We are not, as Edmund Burke reminded us so many years ago, like flies of the summer that just come and go without any knowledge of what went before and what will come after. We as a human species have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after us **Audience Applause**

Now in order to do that, in order to discharge that obligation, we must make a dramatic reduction in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now you can look at the targets, 50% the common sort of rubric rule of thumb is to cut emissions by 2050 to a level equal to 50% or even lower than they were in 1990 or 2000. I promise you, you cannot achieve that cut, you cannot achieve it without getting to a point by mid-century where all or almost all of our stationary energy, that is to say energy from power stations and big factories and so forth comes from zero emission sources. The mathematics simply will not get you there, the arithmetic, not as complex as mathematics. The arithmetic will not get you there unless you can do it. And so technology is of absolutely vital importance.

Now I want to congratulate Matthew and all the authors and collaborators on this report. This is a fantastic piece of work. Many people will look at it and they’ll say it’s too good to be true. And we all know that often when things are too good to be true, they probably are. But let me give you one piece of data, one fact, one insight which should give you encouragement as you read this report.

You’ll see that the key technology that this project relies upon is concentrated solar thermal power. As you know the great challenge with renewable sources of energy; solar and wind in particular, is that they are intermittent. So what do we do when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. How do we store that power. There’s a very detailed discussion that the authors will go through with you tonight, and I won’t even begin to canvas it. But there is the ability with concentrated solar thermal power stations to use the suns energy to superheat a substance, in this case molten salt, that will hold its heat for long enough to be able to continue to generate steam and hence energy after the sun has stopped shining or during or day after day of rain. So there is a real opportunity there, with that technology, to generate baseload power from solar energy something of a holy grail.

Now there are some small plants in operation that are doing just that now and there are a number of much larger plants that are about to be commissioned. But you might still say, not unreasonably, look this has not really been proven at a big industrial scale and you’d probably be right. But let me say this to you, concentrated solar thermal is a more proven technology than clean coal is. *Audience applause*

Now when I was your environment minister, I spent a lot of your taxes on technologies designed to reduce our emissions including clean coal, including solar energy, including technologies to economically store electricity so that renewable sources of energy could provide baseload power, but one of the things and it’s a sobering thing to bear in mind and those of us who follow the literature on clean coal would be aware of this, that despite all of the money and all of the hope that has been put into carbon capture and storage there is still, as of today, not one industrial scale coal fired power station using carbon capture and storage, not one.

Now this is a frightening prospect because if you look at the work that is done by the International Energy Agency or any number of bodies or think tanks that study how we can model our way to a low emissions future, clean coal is a very big part of the assumption and while I believe as a matter of prudence we should continue to invest and pursue that technology, you do start to get something of a sinking feeling as you contemplate the fact that the hope of the side has not yet stepped onto the field to play his first game, it’s a real challenge.

So all of that underlines, firstly, don’t be too skeptical about this, this is a good piece of work and the most radical technology in it is far from unproved. Secondly let’s remember governments should not be picking technologies. It’s tough enough for the private sector to pick technologies. It’s almost invariably the case that governments will get it wrong, that is why in the long term and really sooner rather than later, we must have a price on carbon.
**Audience applause**

We need to send that price signal to the market that encourages the step changes in technology that will transform our economy and it may be that concentrated solar thermal wins the day, it may be that super-efficient photovoltaics sprint ahead, it may be, despite my rather gloomy prognosis, it may be that carbon capture and storage suddenly leaps into the fore or it may be that they all have a role to play but without that carbon price you will not and cannot unleash the ingenuity, the infinite ingenuity of millions of people around the world who once they know what the rules are, once they know what the price is, will then start to work to ensure that they have presented to us and to the world the technologies that enable us to move to that low emission future.

Government support for innovation and investment in clean stationary energy is important, particularly at the early stages. It is much more important to focus on cutting edge technologies as to provide support for research into the basic science than with appallingly designed policies such as the recent cash for clunkers policy which delivers carbon abatement at a price almost $400 a tonne. I mean it is really a mockery of a climate change policy.

Now we must give the planet the benefit of the doubt, we must act now. Now the coalition as you know, no longer supports a market based mechanism to put a price on carbon and I regret that, none the less it has pledged if elected to introduce policies which by purchasing carbon offsets has the potential to meet the 2020 target of a 5% reduction from 2000 levels. On the other hand, and this is I guess the depressing prospect, the Labor party which was elected in 2007 on a platform of meeting the greatest moral challenge of our times now has no policy and sadly nothing more than what appears to be a notice for a meeting.  No leadership and no conviction.

I want to congratulate Matthew again and all his team for this extraordinary piece of work. It is very important work. It provides the most comprehensive technical blueprint yet for what our engineers, our scientists can begin to do for us tomorrow. I commend them for their work, we’re deeply indebted to you all for this work and I encourage them and others to take note of this and to build on it as we work together, I trust, to a zero-emission future, we know, is absolutely essential if we are to leave a safe planet to our children and the generations that come after them.  Thank-you very much.

**Audience Applause**

Mr Turnbull was correct in predicting 2010 would be the hottest year on record, until it was overtaken by 2014, then 2015, then 2016.  The threat has not decreased Malcolm, just the quality of the debate.

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