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Obituary: Dr George Venturini

By Evan Jones and Peter Murphy 

George Venturini (pictured) was a larger than life figure who attracted admirers but also detractors on account of his forceful personality. He was a public intellectual with only a minor public in Australia, not least because of the mainstream media’s indifference to his presence and contribution. His conflict with the then Fraser government over the effectiveness and fate of the Whitlam-inaugurated Trade Practices Commission, and his disdain for the corruption in Australian politics in general, makes his life of relevance to political economists.

Venturini died peacefully on 13 May, 2022, aged 93. He was living near Morwell in Gippsland, Victoria, with his wife Lorraine.

Dr Venturino Georgio Venturini was born in Massa Superiore (now Castelmassa), Italy, in September 1928. He graduated in classics, arts, social sciences and in law through the universities of Ferrara, Italy, and Northwestern, Chicago – B.A., B. Litt., Scientiae Juridicae Doctor (1955), Soc.Sc.Dip., LLM. He practiced and taught law in Italy until 1958, when he took up post-doctoral studies at Northwestern University until 1962. After that he held chairs in Canada and the United States, and taught at universities in Singapore, Malaysia., in Queensland during 1966-72, and in Victoria during 1982-93, retiring in 1993. In retirement, he maintained formal links with Monash University, as Senior Research Associate in the School of Political and Social Inquiry, and with Swinburne University, as an Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Social Research.

Grantee, fellow and researcher at some 20 national and international institutions, George advised governments in the United States, Malaysia and Australia. He served the Whitlam government (1975-77) as Trade Practices Commissioner, and the Wran government (1977-82) as Special Adviser on Corporate, Securities and Trade Practices law.

George wrote eight books, four of them on Australia: Malpractice – The Administration of the Murphy Trade Practices Act; Partners in Ecocide – Australia’s complicity in the uranium cartel; Never Give In – Three Italian Anti-fascist Exiles in Australia 1924-1956; and The Last Great Cause – Volunteers from Australia and Emilia-Romagna in Defence of the Spanish Republic, 1936-1939. George also edited five more books, four of them concerning Australia. He contributed chapters to books and about 100 articles and essays to learned periodicals and conferences

George was also the driving force behind the July 2014 SEARCH Foundation publication Iraq Invasion 2002 – Complaint Against John Winston Howard to the International Criminal Court.

George was a member of the Communist Party of Australia, and of the SEARCH Foundation, an ardent republican and supporter of First Nations sovereignty. He was always looking for people to work with to advance these causes. But you find the roots of George’s politics in the Italian anti-fascist party of the 1930s, Justice and Freedom (Giustizia e Libertà), whose descendant is now the Italian Radical Party. George was a young activist in the 1944 Uprising against the nazi occupation of northern Italy. He said he only felt truly free under two governments – those of Italian Communist leader Palmiro Togliatti immediately after the defeat of the nazis in 1945-48, and that of Edward Gough Whitlam’s Labor government in Australia from 1972-75.

George Venturini migrated to Australia in 1966. In Singapore beforehand, he demands of a local bookseller what he has on Australia. The proprietor says, only two books – D H Lawrence’s Kangaroo and E L Wheelwright’s just published Industrialization in Malaysia. Venturini bought both, and was early introduced to this stranger Ted Wheelwright, and to a prescient work on the prospects of autonomous national development and the incipient dangers of the imperatives of what came to be called ‘globalisation’. A long friendship with Wheelwright ensued. Wheelwright’s links with the Whitlam government’s Attorney General, Lionel Murphy, were partly responsible for Venturini returning to Australia (he had taken up a Chair in Law at the University of Chicago in 1972, which he relinquished) to be appointed in March 1975 as a Commissioner at the Trade Practices Commission. The TPC was the administrative arm of Murphy’s revolutionary 1974 Trade Practices Act.

The administration of the Act immediately ran into a head wind of business resistance and internal acquiescence, not least from the weak Commission Chairman Ron Bannerman. Action against the global zinc and lead cartels (in which North Broken Hill was a key player), against the motion picture distributors’ control of cinemas, against the soap and detergent industry for misleading advertising – all stalled. Anti-competitive mergers and takeovers continued apace. In internal memos, Venturini referred to ‘the TP Omission’, testing whether Bannerman would notice.

In an internal memo to fellow Commissioners, Venturini claimed:

“During the major part of the last two years I have seen the intellectual independence of the commission mortified by the value and standards of business and the secretiveness of a powerful, crusty bureaucracy, impervious to any suggestion or criticism and callously set on its own ways, where disagreement and dissent are seen as the ratbaggery of intruders who cannot adjust.

“The end is, as in the past, the corporative conciliation of sectional pressures. Never mind the law, keep an eye on the pressure. The means is an ever bleeding agony on what the court, having jurisdiction over the Act may do, should the commission bring an enforcement action … Paralysis results from such timidity.”

Venturini sums up the phenomenon in his 1980 book Malpractice:

“[A]ntitrust, in the hands of such custodians as Australia has, is best characterised … with the Russian word poshlost … a frightening, debasing and interminable vulgarity.”

Venturini was impatient to deal with the mountainous backlog of restrictive practices and was indifferent to protocol. The sacking of the Whitlam government killed the ambition. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was reported on 28 March 1976 that a review of the Act would do away with ‘many stifling and unreasonable regulations over business’. So it came to pass.

John Howard, then Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, sought to institutionalise the gutting of the Act via the 1976 Swanson Committee inquiry. In June 1977, the Act was duly amended and its funding reduced. Unable to sack Venturini illegally, Howard disbanded the Commission and re-established it without the dissident and irreverent Venturini.

In their 2006 Australian Political Lives, political scientists Arklay, Nethercote and Wanna write of pleasant times and complimentary reflections regarding Australia’s political history, but they strike a sour note. Venturini’s Malpractice, they claim, is ‘vitriolic’. They write: ‘Venturini does not share the affection for the public service which is so obvious in the works of [John] Bunting and [William] Dunk’. (Wanna is Sir John Bunting Chair of Public Administration at ANU.) These learned academics declined to inquire as to the reasons for Venturini’s vitriol.

Drawing on his experience as Trade Practices Commissioner, Venturini plunged into the writing of another book, Partners in Ecocide. The subject was a global uranium producers’ cartel, established in June 1972. Membership comprised France, South Africa, Canada and Australia, and Rio Tinto Zinc – the latter representing itself and the British government. This time Venturini wrote from the vantage point of independence, with crucial insider material made available to him by Friends of the Earth, in turn sourced from a whistle-blower from RTZ’s subsidiary Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd.

The uranium cartel drew on the experience of the lead and zinc cartels. The cartel succeeded in raising uranium ore prices dramatically. Caught in the hike was the key wholesaler Westinghouse which had arranged long term supply contracts at lower prices. Westinghouse defaulted on its contracts and proceeded to sue the cartel members. Relevant here is that the Fraser government (under pressure from the producers) passed legislation in November 1976 to prevent document disclosure pursued in this litigation. Venturini notes (more vitriol):

“The passage of an Act which is so alarmingly vague and reposes such wide discretionary powers in the Attorney-General have quite disturbing implications for parliamentary democracy and the principle of open government. Where uranium was concerned, the Australian Government accelerated the tendency to use the Parliament as a cipher.”

Venturini finished Partners in Ecocide in 1981 but could find no interest from a succession of major publishers in Australia where he wanted the book published. As Venturini noted, this was a book about a non-existent subject – the cartel which didn’t exist. Early enthusiasm for publication from a then Labor Parliamentarian and from a then union leader vanished. Lessons were learnt about where the mettle lay, if anywhere. Venturini had the book published by a small loyal publisher in late 1982.

Venturini had several foibles. In verbal exchange his use of irony was so thick that one had to learn to translate to make sense of his meaning and intent.

For Venturini, in writing, catering to a word limit was an alien concept. The Search Foundation indulged his passions. His 2007 Never Give In weighs in at 850 large-format pages, his 2010 The Last Great Cause, same format, is over 800 pages.

The arrival of digital non-mainstream media provided serendipitous opportunity. The Australian Independent Media Network (The AIMN) was an amenable outlet. Venturini explored the downing of MH17 over Eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014 (‘The downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17’) in 12 instalments from November 2014 to January 2015 (unfortunately, this series is no longeron the The AIMN). The Abbott government received the fire of his fingers in no less than 50 instalments (‘The facets of Australian fascism’) during June and July 2016. The 2003 invasion of Iraq incurred his wrath in 40 instalments (‘Bush, Blair and Howard’) during November 2016 to January 2017. Battle over the long censorship of the Whitlam dismissal (‘Medieval combat for ‘the Palace Letters’) went over 11 instalments from August 2018 to January 2019. The Timor-Leste spying case (‘The spying on Timor-Leste case’) took 8 instalments during November and December 2019. Finally, there was Australia dragged screaming into multiculturalism in 15 episodes (‘Comedy without art’) during January and February 2020.

In myriad other pieces on AIM or Counter-Currents, in particular, Venturini expounded on all the big moral issues over the last several decades. They deserved to be in the mainstream media for wider exposure, but the gatekeepers prefer woolly diversions, at best, fake news at worst – increasingly more the latter.

Venturino Giorgio Venturini was Italian in his bones. But he loathed the omnipresence of the Church. Even the Communists were Catholic, quipped George. Anxious to travel to Spain in the early 1950s, ‘the formalities necessary to obtain a visa churned my stomach’ (The Last Great Cause). Venturini found it repugnant that ‘citizens of the Republic of Italy were required by the Spanish Embassy in Rome to submit a statement by the Catholic priest of the parish in which the postulant lived, certifying that the would-be traveller was of sufficient limpieza [cleanliness] to enter that surviving slaughterhouse’. Moreover, Venturini found it intolerable that, after the optimism of the immediate post-war period, Italy under the very Catholic Alcide de Gasperi had been readily subsumed under American tutelage.

Venturini was no kinder to his adoptive country. His growing reaction had been disgust, contempt for the Australian political elite whose perfidy he had unearthed in his research and writings. The sacking of the Whitlam Labor government in November 1975 was a crowning moment of despair. John Winston Howard, that embodiment of reaction and duplicity, has been for Venturini a significant figure in the cesspit that is Australian politics.

Venturini was an unerring supporter of Lionel Murphy’s record, given the controversy that marked Murphy’s last years before his death in 1986. In October 1991, Venturini delivered the Fifth Lionel Murphy Memorial Lecture (reproduced in the 1994 Five Voices for Lionel). In transparent prose outlining the decisive detail, he highlighted Murphy’s consistent battles, both as lawyer, as Attorney-General and as High Court Judge, for principled ethical positions against a Constitution suffused with colonial cringe (ignored by naïve advocates of an imminent Republic down under), against a complicit judiciary, for the rights of indigenous communities, for free speech, for the right to strike, and for people wrongly gaoled (Lindy Chamberlain, Tim Anderson) through blind and corrupt processes. Venturini lamented that the fact that proposals for Constitutional reform (Australians are subjects rather than citizens) did not look to Continental Europe for ideas, that there was no Bill of Rights in Australia and, indeed, that so few people were concerned about its absence.

George Venturini died proudly, defiant of convention to the last. The date was Friday 13th. The lion-hearted Venturini would have appreciated the irony.

Note: This obituary will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Australian Political Economy.

 

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ScoMo’s big speech reveals no ideas; no agenda, mandate.

“The only one who matters is me.” Donald J Trump

The Great Satan, as the US was to Iran in the ’70s, morphs into The Angel of Mons last week. Or at least that’s the lie peddled by its fabulist President. Heroically compassionate, a Walter Mitty Trump averts catastrophe; pulls back from the brink of war with Iran, Friday, with ten minutes to spare, when a general tells him that 150 Iranian lives are at risk.

Sceptics prefer less noble versions of events. Trump blabs. He brags, Thursday, to Tehran via Oman, that US planes are on their way; taking the surprise out of last Friday’s surprise attack, an unprovoked air strike on three targets, which, MSM insist, is “retaliation” for Iran downing one US drone. And other stuff. Why, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is giving secret briefings on Iran’s Al-Qaeda relationship – despite expert advice to the contrary. What hasn’t Iran done?

There’s its alleged nuclear program defiance; its alleged flouting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Attacks on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman? Six oil tankers and a downed drone. Clear proof of Iranian perfidy. But, then just as the hawks in Trump administration have a war all organised, Trump has to blow it with his big mouth.

Reuters reports that Trump tells Iran US planes are coming, before he countermands his order to attack, a scenario which The Donald now denies. More fake news from a rogue news agency? Few observers, however, share Trump’s heroic view of his own SNAFU. Politizoom’s Dino Durrati is dumbfounded by the president’s error.

What would be stupider than starting a war with the Mid-East’s largest and most militarily capable U.S. adversary over what was essentially an Amazon delivery gone astray? “How about ordering U.S. planes in the air against one of the most sophisticated air defences in the region while warning said adversaries they were coming?”

What would be even dumber would be an Iranian adventure on top of his trade wars. Trump is on the edge of a war his populist presidency doesn’t want or need.  “Great Nations do not fight endless wars”, the President declares, in his State of the Union address, a line he repeats, last week, at a rally to launch his re-election campaign circus.

But can he stay out of a war? He’s not looking for a war he says but promises obliteration if there’s conflict. Tough talk. We’ve heard this sort of rhetoric before. North Korea. What Trump does seem to grasp is that a war will lose him votes.

Trump certainly doesn’t have the nous not to provoke a disastrous global trade war. That’s clear from his quip that trade wars are “good and easy to win”. He could only say that if he knew nothing about them. Surely.

Trump’s view of trade is based on overestimating how much trade hurts the US, while underestimating the effect of imposing tariffs. ScoMo’s mentor, Trump, believes the US is losing $400 billion to China because that’s the size of its trade deficit with that nation. It’s a view which ignores the value of imports; focusing instead only on the amount paid.

It’s like saying that we lose money anytime we go shopping anywhere, because stores aren’t buying anything from us in return says The Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien. Blow up the world trade system? Meh. What could possibly go wrong?

From our gung-ho ScoMo government, ever-promising to protect us – “burn for us” –  comes peak silence. Our “media-shy” foreign minister Marise Payne is MIA, although, to be fair, she’s got Malaysia’s Mahathir to set straight about MH17. Luckily, there’s heaps of stuff from Neoliberalism for Dummies for ScoMo to eagerly recite instead.

“Animal Spirits” will be unleashed, ScoMo proclaims, in a dreary rehash of clichés, Monday . The PM copies The Donald, conflating Keynes’ phrase with consumer confidence and laissez-faire economics. Why? “Animal spirits” will roar like a lion when we release the cage of “regulatory and bureaucratic barriers to businesses.” But why so late?

The Coalition has had six years to deregulate. Yet it still can provide no detail. Nor point to any record of success. Perhaps it’s just too modest. In the news currently is Private Security Company, Paladin, awarded $423 million to garrison Manus, without having to worry about an open tender. Or there’s the $444 million quietly slipped to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation a mob of Liberal mates headed up by a former CBA chairman, Dr John M Schubert.

Then there’s Fossil-fuel Energy minister, Angus Taylor, who’s held talks with federal environment officials over an issue at the centre of an illegal land-clearing action brought by the same department against a company part-owned by him and his brother, reports Guardian Australia. We should cheer the healthy disregard for regulation and the way the government appears to back the Taylor family in its alleged quest to bend the rules to help the Taylors to a better life.

What barriers are left unbent if not unbroken in these fabulous cases? Yet no-one take ScoMo at his word. It’s more of a mantra, a phrase to chant, to drown out those voices which, like Keynes himself, advocate government stimulus. If the Coalition needed a hint, it could look at Kevin Rudd’s stimulus programmes which helped get us through the GFC.

Yet, instead, as Greg Jericho reminds us, the Liberal Party and much of the media’s own relentless criticism means that the value of Labor’s successful stimulus has been almost entirely discredited – at least – in what we flatter ourselves is our national conversation not to mention our dominant mainstream media narrative. It means that what can be shown to work is discarded in favour of vague and platitudinous neo-liberal nostrums. Animal spirits will save us.

But there’s more. A “champion in every Australian” awaits the government’s support to emerge. Quiet Australians just need the Coalition to “back them in”, as they do everything they can to “get ahead and make a better life”.

Quiet Australians are the heroes of the PM’s first official ear-bash. His lucky audience is the WA Chamber of Commerce, at a “Breakfast with the Prime Minister” ($139-$1490), Monday. Animal spirits are the way the economy will run itself while governments get out of the road? Or into Hi-Vis vests? Who knows? The text of the speech is incoherent.

Sensibly dispensing with any original thinking, Morrison regurgitates the stale rhetoric he thinks the nation wants to hear in a speech which is prudently dispatched to media ahead of the occasion, as a safeguard against its instant forgettability. Deregulation and IR reform quickly emerge as key buzzwords in his government’s war on workers.

Reforms that would truly spur productivity, stimulate investment and innovation have been provided for ScoMo’s reference. In 2017, the Productivity Commission supplied the then Treasurer with a swag in its Shifting The Dial Report.

Shifting the Dial focuses on improving efficiency and effectiveness in health and education and making infrastructure investments based on genuine benefit-cost analysis. Proper infrastructure pricing would include congestion pricing, land taxes, breaking up the pharmacy racket and a carbon price.

Better education levels and skills, a healthier workforce, and more efficient and effective health and education systems were all aims of The Human Capital Agenda, led by Steve Bracks’ Victorian government. The aim was to increase productivity, participation and output through these means.

But like Trump, you can’t tell a ScoMo what he doesn’t want to hear. Or can’t understand. Or suggests failure.

Wage rises are not only glacial, Australian workers are cheated of their share of the nation’s prosperity to a record extent. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows in this month’s national accounts that Australia is now in the worst wages slump – relative to total earnings – since records were first published in 1959, reports Alan Austin.

Trump’s economic miracle, a piece of wilful disinformation and self-delusion features large in ScoMo’s tiny orbit.

“While reducing taxes has had a major impact in the United States, it was actually the Trump administration’s commitment to cutting red tape and transforming the regulatory mindset of the bureaucracy that delivered their first wave of improvement in their economy.”  Is there no journalist in Perth can challenge this toxic nonsense?

In fact there’s almost no response at all from mainstream media to the PM’s speech drop – apart from the AFR which takes it seriously and some doctrinaire posturing from the Australian which prints Judith Sloan hollering to bring back WorkChoices and some right wing git from the IPA who’s like Pavlov’s dog whenever deregulation appears in print.

Other of Nine’s papers run almost nothing on the speech, apart from a precis from David Crowe while the ABC is far too busy with its single-issue flat tax blather to do any analysis of the Prime Minister’s first major gum-flap. The Guardian’s Amy Remeikis fires up a bit. Bernard Keane thinks the lack of comment or analysis is a pretty poor show.

He’s right. There’s a beguiling conflict between braying for deregulation on the one hand in Perth and practically nationalising power companies by imposing – or threatening to impose heavy-handed, big stick, regulation. More important as far as workers are concerned, Howard’s WorkChoices actually caused productivity to slump. Morrison’s being inconsistent and as an economic doctor, he’s peddling an old remedy which we know will injure the patient.

As for Trump, ScoMo’s love is blind. US business leader, Leo Hindery argues Trump’s economic miracle is a mirage. Hindery’s “U.S. Real Unemployment” report challenges federal government’s statistics. Because it includes the millions of Americans who either did not look for work or cannot find full-time work, it paints a far more troubling picture.

In this light, the Trump economy’s unemployment rate is revealed to be double the official rate. Even workers with jobs eke out a bare subsistence. 40% of Americans for example, cannot afford an unexpected expense of $400, according to the Federal Reserve, yet half of the nation’s income goes to its top 3% of salary earners.

The average US worker hasn’t had a real wage increase since 1968.

“The real unemployment in this country,” argues Hindery, “is still on the order of 8.1%, which contrasts with the much lower Bureau of Labour Statistics’ unemployment rate of 4%. There’s about 13.3 million women and men who are in every sense of the phrase real unemployed workers.”

Trump’s trade wars are forcing his nation’s farmers into taking out desperation loans. Farmers have seen their net income plummet by half since 2013. It’s estimated that they will owe nearly $427 billion in debt this year. Yet there is no sense of any flaw in the Trump economic miracle if you listen to our PM, his treasurer or any other MP.

Fresh from his Fijian furlough, the master buck-passer bores yet another selfless, nation-building, tax-evading, rorty, yawning, business audience who are only there to hear about their tax cuts – surely only months away now given ScoMo’s huge mandate based on the Coalition’s thumping 1.2 % TPP election win? OK, there’s the networking.

Amy Remeikis sees red.  “After six years of promising to cut red tape,” Amy Remeikis writes in The Guardian, “Morrison uses his first major speech since winning the election to promise to cut red tape. Perhaps it’s a bizarre homage to Tony Abbott who held his own bonfire of red tape stunt back in March 2014. ScoMo picks another dreadful mentor.

Or is it mere contempt for voters’ intelligence and an alarming public indifference toward any form of accountability? In a related stunt, in 2014, then Immigration Minister Morrison abandoned press conferences on asylum-seeker arrivals.

First, he axed his department’s practice of announcing the arrival of each boat carrying asylum seekers. A weekly briefing would replace it. Then he scrapped the weekly briefing. A weekly press release took its place. This cut journalists’ questions, entirely. Pressed for explanation, Morrison cited “public interest immunity”.

It did help the minister get home to his family in Sydney earlier at the end of the parliamentary week.

It was, Laurie Oakes protested, a “disgusting attitude to the public’s right to know”. Morrison giving journalists “the finger”, and said, “By doing that, you’re saying that you don’t care if the voters are informed or not.”

But even when Morrison used to appear, he created his own absurdist theatre of refusal of accountability and secrecy. Inventing the myth that we were at war with asylum-seekers, he helped weaponise compassion. He could embargo questions into what he called “on-water matters”. Or “operational matters”. Absurdist exchanges followed.

It’s groundhog day – mostly. ScoMo drones on about deregulation and other neoliberal clichés he fobs off as “government economic priorities”. Onya Morrison, it beats having an agenda or a mandate for anything.

And it beats doing anything yourself. Keane notes in disgust, Monday, that Scomo’s reform agenda is a re-hash of Neocon tosh the PM doesn’t have the bottle to flog himself. “We would expect business organisations such as yours to build the evidence for change and help bring the community along with you too.” The Messiah from the Shire is on fire.

The message, observes David Crowe in the SMH, astutely, is a direct call to business leaders to make the case for industrial relations “reform” – a weasel-word for attacking workers’ right – without committing Morrison’s government to any specific proposal while shifty ScoMo leaves it up to others to lead the debate.

In fact, much of Morrison’s hoary commonplaces echo a speech made just over a year ago by Craig Laundy, then Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation, whom everyone agrees has done a fabulous job in creating opportunities for wealth if the Taylor family is anything to go by.

Of course, there’s the obligatory nod to The Donald; his political mentor Trump, the economic miracle man of the moment, a natural leader of the free world and most decisive Commander in Chief in recent history, who has inspired ScoMo on how to cut red tape to “supercharge the economy” by removing regulations from the resources industry.

While toxics may mock a president who has second thoughts on war or whose administration is at war with itself, they have failed to give due credit for the ways Trump’s mob has been busily stripping protections from a staggering 13.5 million acres of American lands and waters.

A new Center for American Progress analysis shows how Trump’s executive actions make him a world leader when it comes to cutting red tape previously protecting pristine natural environments—which he claimed he’d protect. Trump’s been incredibly successful in rescinding permanent land protections and in permitting mineral extraction.

Our great and powerful friend the United States steps back from the brink of a catastrophic war with Iran, last Friday when its president blabs details of his imminent attack. But is it a United States?

It’s at least eleven separate nations according to Robert Woodard. And it shows. What passes for the Trump administration’s policy is almost as divided. Yet our nation cleaves to Uncle Sam in servile subjugation, even professing we are forever, joined at the hip. Who did save the US from catastrophic war with Iran? Did Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, an Islamophobic, misogynistic, populist, racist talk show host catch the president’s ear?

Carlson who argues against war, sways the US President into calling off a “retaliatory” missile strike on “three different sights (sic)” in Iran. Disaster is averted – at least until tomorrow’s crisis. Such is Trump’s Pax Americana,

On Saturday, Trump brands Bolton a “hawk” who had been wrong for his previous support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq during the George W. Bush administration. Trump said he doesn’t always agree with Bolton, who has called for regime change in Iran but said he likes hearing a range of views.

“Ultimately, I make the decision. The only one that matters is me. I listen to everybody. I want people on both sides,” Trump says. Of course it’s not true but it’s still too alarming to contemplate.

Luckily we have our own Trump in Morrison, who is more than happy to discard expert advice on real reform in favour of sticking with what he knows, the endless recital of neo-liberal slogans about deregulation and industrial “reform” all mixed in with platitudes about backing in “quiet Australians” and lies about how well the economy is doing.

Like Trump, moreover, ScoMo’s always got someone else to blame. Expect an attack on Labor when parliament resumes next Tuesday 2 July. John Setka will be slandered.

“Union thugs” will seldom be far from our Prime Bully, ScoMo’s grab-bag of cheap insults. All remaining government energies will be focused on passing a tax cut bill the nation neither needs nor can afford based on a trickle-down delusion. Yet no-one will explain the true cost in terms of cuts to government spending; public services.

Expect more nonsense about animal spirits and no sense at all about how a government devoid of any policy agenda and lacking any real mandate can resist all intelligence yet trust instead in a failed and totally discredited neo-liberal ideology that continues to help divide and cheat a prosperous and vital nation of its rightful heritage.

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Politicised Victimhood: Ukraine’s Holodomor, Genocide and Intent

The impression hits you immediately. An opening of an exhibition held to commemorate survivors and families of one of the darker atrocities of human experiments; and it features ample food and wine. The commemorative occasion, however, was in stark contrast to the mass starvation that led to the deaths of millions in the Soviet Union’s drive to collectivise farming in 1932.

Those survivors of Ukraine’s Holodomor, their photos featuring at the SpACE@Collins in Melbourne’s Collins Street, gaze at the audience with varying degrees of feeling, their craggy faces traced and filled by the wearing of age. These are the chronicles of tired flesh told.

The occasion, however, cannot be left to poignancy that is brought from sheer suffering and the cruelty of state policies. That would merely be a concession that the road to utopia on earth is strewn with corpses. This was a chance to be wearily political, and the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations has been busy doing just that. Dr. Ulana Suprun, Ukraine’s acting minister for health, was on hand to open the photographic collection. Victorian state politician and President of the Legislative Council Bruce Atkinson was also present to lend a helping hand of agreement.

Both took little time to bring the cruel privations and deeds of the past into present focus: the culprit, the instigator, is Russia, pure and simple. (Here, a convenient continuum of brutality is insisted upon.) Suprun was keen to remind her audience that the Russians were not only behind the downing of Malaysian passenger flight MH17, but more than suggested they had intended it so. The predecessors of the Putin regime had merely employed other more dramatic methods of terror – that of famine – to make their case. Atkinson was similarly keen to keep matters simple and direct against a specific form of “terrorism”. At no point did either reflect on the dogma of Bolshevik collectivisation that gripped all practitioners of the brutal policy at the time. This is a time of nationalist response and revision.

Intent, as this occasion shows, is always imputed. It supplies certitude, and gets over any impediments. For decades, a campaign has wound its way through various corridors of activism and power: that of declaring the Holodomor an act of state sponsored genocide. To an extent, this is understandable, given the veiling of the disaster in various press outlets at the time, and the demonization of various scribes of verity such as Gareth Jones.

Historians have given the catastrophe much attention, and the field teems with interpretations on intention, knowledge or reckless indifference on the part of Joseph Stalin and his coterie. Robert Conquest holds one side of the argument: that “the famine of 1933 was deliberately carried out by terror”, a point demonstrated “by the figures on the millions of tons of available grain reserves”.

Michael Ellman combs through Stalin’s statements, detecting in the expression “a knock-out blow” as probative of intention to murder. Hiroaki Kuromiya in Europe-Asia Studies offers a different view that provides scant comfort to survivors. “Although Stalin intentionally let starving people die, it is unlikely that he intentionally caused the famine to kill millions of people.” Nothing quite gets close to sheer callousness.

Ukraine itself gave the starvation event its much anticipated genocidal recognition in law N 376-V on November 28, 2006. That same year, US President George W. Bush signed into law Public Law 109-340, authorising the Ukrainian government “to establish a memorial on Federal land in the District of Columbia to honour the victim of the Ukrainian famine-genocide of 1932-1933.”

In October this year, the United States Congress passed a bipartisan resolution solemnly remembering “the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor of 1932-1933” and recognising “the findings of the Commission of the Ukraine Famine as submitted to Congress on April 22, 1988, including that ‘Joseph Stalin and those around him committed genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-1933’.”

These measures do raise a question: whether the term genocide has been all too readily pressed into usage, when intent to do so must be the only reasonable inference on the evidence. (This salient point was reiterated in the Radislav Krstić case of the International Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia.) Legal concepts can be such finicky things.

The murderous actions of the commissars and the agricultural appropriations in Ukraine that led to mass starvation were ideological and political moves, and deemed as such. Behind famines, argues Amartya Sen, lies the unscrupulous politician.  But even Raphael Lemkin, originator of the term genocide, would have to concede that the UN Genocide Convention was narrower than his own envisaging, despite pressing for the Ukrainian calamity to be so designated as a genocidal one. The acts of destruction, he had claimed more broadly in the American Journal of International Law, “are directed against groups, as such, and individuals are selected for destruction only because they belong to these groups.”

One of the hurdles built into the final, accepted draft of the UNGC was its marked avoidance of the killing of groups based on political and cultural reasons. Unsurprisingly, both the Soviet Union and the United States were particularly influential in making proof of genocide a rather tall order. Exterminating people for political or cultural reasons would have to fall into other categories of atrocity, and by then the very idea that “genocide” might be identified as state policy was cooled before the icy confrontations of the Cold War. The post-Cold War gave the word a renewed and bloody urgency.

Unfortunately, politics is an untidy business marked by vast grey spots of compromise, betrayal and collaboration. Peering into the Russian-Ukrainian past is an exercise doomed to find more similarities than differences, made subsequently absurd by such pointless exercises as identifying what Gogol’s true identity was. Poisonous parochialism has a tendency to afflict all sides, shredding common threads and creating false islands of difference.

Ukraine’s current political orientation has made good use of the Russian bugbear and its rapacity, an effort to isolate and distance a larger neighbour, but history is a cruel teacher. In the choking haze of victimhood, focus vanishes before a forced clarity, and here, a state politician in Australia, and a Ukrainian official, could both come to a happy understanding: that modern Russia was merely an extension of the Soviet Union, a state sponsor of terrorism, unjustifiably interested in the territory of its neighbours and an aggressor keen to relive history.

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Look out! Bill is right behind you.

Trump’s “surrender summit”, his love-in with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki, Monday, almost upstages our long-running local political panto, “Look out, Bill’s behind you”, performed with gusto all this week by our glorious Coalition, a collective of climate change deniers, rent-seekers, lobbyists and sundry other butlers, maids of the mining, banking and corporate oligarchies which run our nation with Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch’s tender assistance.

Five by-elections are to be decided by next Saturday. Energy and Environment Minister Frydenberg is stuck up on the high wire above a party divided over the National Energy Guarantee, (NEG) a squalid compromise between the changes needed to lower carbon emissions by phasing in the renewable generation the nation needs to make to meet even its modest Paris targets – and his PM’s need to appease its right-wing coal warriors. The suspense is electrifying.

Best trick in the greatest trick-show on earth, a marvel of illusion and sleight of hand, is to cast the Coalition’s internal conflict as somehow between opposition and government. Much time can be wasted; attention diverted, in blaming “the other side” for energy policy failure.

In truth, the Coalition has never had a real energy policy. Their MPs are too busy brawling. Even their think tanks are at odds with each other. And Tony Abbott is quick to exploit divisions as a stalking horse to bring down his PM. Yet sadly, his coal warriors must lump the latest expert advice.

In June last year, The Finkel Review called to prolong the operation of coal-fired power stations beyond their fifty-year life expectancy as our cheapest option. Now the Australian Electricity Market Operator, which runs the national grid, (AEMO) says it’s cheaper to stop at fifty years -if the coal-fired clunkers can even last that long.

AEMO has other hard truths for the pro-coal, Monash Forum. First, it’s prepared to say “clean coal” is a chimera. So-called “Clean coal” is prohibitively expensive. Solar, wind and storage are what we need and all we can afford. Busted also is the mantra of Turnbull’s government; the myth that a 50% renewables target is “reckless” or “irresponsible.”

Best of all, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that the falling cost of rooftop solar will help solar push coal out of the market. Giles Parkinson sums up: governments need to get out of the way; leave investors and operators to it.

“The transition is inevitable, only the pace of it is under question if politicians and vested interests seek to erect road blocks in the form of a NEG, an abolition of rooftop solar support, or the power and inertia of the incumbents.”

But none of this will take government MPs eyes off the by-election show. Look out, Bill is right behind you!

Tassie senator, Eric Abetz gets his head on ABC Insiders, Sunday, to spruik for the Liberals in the Braddon by-election; a bit of mind-numbing, bumper sticker sloganeering which passes for argument in our post-truth, post fact politics. The Tasmanian economy is booming, he claims. “A real vibrancy.”

Why? When the Tasmanian people voted Liberal in state and national elections, the “economy was turbo-charged”. Unemployment is down from 8.1% to 5.9%, he reckons.

No-one on Insiders says that 5.9% is still a shocking figure, especially if you’re one of the thousands out of work. Nor is any thought given to the proliferation of poorly paid and part time underemployment. Half of all jobs now have no security; no sick leave or holiday pay. Above all, no-one challenges Abetz’ assertions which imply Braddon, which takes in Tasmania’s West and North-west is benefiting from a super-charged state economy. In fact, it’s the opposite.

452 mining jobs and 1,392 manufacturing jobs have gone in the past five years. The region has 444 fewer businesses over the last four years. On other indicators, such as increasing the area of agricultural land under cultivation, or decreasing the number of insolvencies, the West & North West region also lags behind, reports The Australia Institute.

So why does the former minister for employment gush over Braddon’s “prosperity”? What policies are working?

Abetz can’t nominate one, concrete, Liberal policy responsible for the Tassie turnaround. Let’s hope it’s not just a reflection of population growth from immigration pushing up property prices as retirees seek somewhere they can still afford to buy a house. The Chinese are now Hobart’s second-largest immigrant group writes Martin Flanagan in Fairfax.

You’d think that Brett Whiteley in Braddon would be a Liberal shoo-in; riding the Tassie tiger economy. Yet, in a flash, Abetz reveals his real reason for being on ABC; he’s not expecting a Liberal victory. “Always a five per cent swing away from government in a by-election”, he says, a cross between a politician and a half-baked talking fortune cookie.

Abetz neglects to mention Craig Garland, a Wynyard fisherman and an independent widely tipped to attract ten per cent of the vote in Braddon. Labor could benefit from his preferences. Locals clearly warm to Garland’s pungent populist mistrust of Abetz’ and others’ narrative of a booming Braddon blessed with incredibly successful Liberal politicians who create an overnight economic turnaround.

“I’ve had a gutful of the lot of them,” Garland says. “They treat the electorate as if we’re brain dead, as if we don’t think.”

Or don’t care. And it’s not confined to Tassie. On pause is Girls Make Your Move, a $600,000 plus social media “influence” campaign which pays young women to get themselves liked on Instagram as they post images of themselves kickboxing, yoga, surfing, roller derby, rock climbing and drinking alcohol. Some have also been posting racist abuse but no national health reform is perfect.

The innovative approach to fitness, by commodifying attractive young women in their bathers, is to be “paused and reviewed” reports media savvy, Health Minister, Greg Hunt, this week while the government continues its incredibly successful policy of getting Australians off disability support pensions, merely by tightening up on eligibility criteria.

Not to be left out- or drowned out, our PM echoes Peter Dutton’s dog-whistle; Melbourne, “he hears”, is an African gangland. “You must have your hands over your ears not hear it.” He’s pitching to the hearts and minds of One Nation voters in Longman, whose Liberal National Party candidate, “Big Trev” Trevor Ruthenberg, is a Campbell Newman throwback.

Trumped also is the racist card played by ten-pound Pom, Gina Rinehart’s butler and Monkey pod dog-whistler, Tony Abbott, who says immigration is a great, big, huge, new issue wrecking everything. And it’s all Labor’s fault, because, as he bleats, on 2 GB, his regular talk-back-if-you-dare-radio pulpit, a cess-pit of ignorance and popular prejudice,

“the Labor Party is in the grip of, I suppose, ethnic activists in certain respects”. 

Ethnic activists? Seriously? There’s panic in the ranks and at Point Piper HQ as Super Saturday’s 28 July by-elections loom closer. Arses must be covered. The PM pops his head out of our local version of a Fox-hole to caution party faithful that “the odds are against his government snaring an historic victory” as Channel 10 puts it. Odds? Snaring? Nothing to do with the candidates?

Longman’s legendary Liberal-fabulist candidate, Grim Digger, Trevor Ruthenberg, lies about a medal he never got – an innocent mistake it’s taken six years to correct. “He never wore the medal”, he never received, he explains, helpfully, surpassing peak plausible deniability, as things go bad in Braddon. ReachTel surveys 700 voters for The Australia Institute; finds a 3.3 per cent lift since June in Labor’s primary vote to 36.3 per cent, while Liberals dwindle 4.1 per cent to 42.9 per cent.

Even more confronting, the poll finds sixty per cent of voters want company tax increased or kept the same. Few are tricked by the trickle-downers. Must ScoMo blow his bags in vain? Around seventy percent support keeping Sunday and public holiday penalty rates. In a rush of typically public-spirited generosity, Peter Dutton, Home Affairs, Grand Pooh-Bah, throws in a few brand-new CCTV cameras for Burnie in Braddon, despite receiving no local, formal request.

Trickle-Downers struggle in SA, too as Mayo voters rebuff Georgina, returned prodigal daughter of the local Downer dynasty, after 20 year’s absence, reduced to a blow-in. She puts on a marvellous ventriloquist’s dummy act. She cannot so much as squeak in public without her PM, her former PM or some other top Liberal by her side. It’s a brilliant show. You can barely see their lips move.

Loose lips sink ships. The Libs rush to Mayo to announce a $35 billion contract to build nine anti-submarine frigates for the Royal Australian Navy has been awarded to defence company BAE Systems. It’s déjà vu all over again as the immortal Yogi Berra would say, as locals recall Tony Abbott making a mad dash to Adelaide in 2015 to promise a fleet of submarines would be built locally by government-owned ASC despite the navy having crew for only one.

Abbott was not helped by party-pooper Defence Minister David Johnston saying he wouldn’t trust ASC to build a canoe. It did Dave’s career no harm, however. Salty dog Johnston is currently filling a specially created position – no interview – no application required – as the federal government’s first defence export advocate on an “eminent person’s salary”, typically between $2500-4500 per day but details of which must remain secret under cutting edge “commercial in confidence” nonsense.

But locals are weary of announceables. The Future Frigate employment miracle won’t begin for four years. By then, there’s a real risk that the workforce will have moved on to fruit-picking, waitressing or uber-driving or the many other rewarding employment opportunities, beloved of any neoliberal government that values employer flexibility above a living wage and which puts corporate profits and tax cuts above the need to provide adequate health, welfare and education services.

And the promise of jobs? Nothing happened then and nothing’s been signed now, sighs Ryan Richter, a local ASC employee interviewed by The Saturday Paper. Meanwhile, fifty of his colleagues are made redundant this week. A recent ReachTEL poll has Rebekah Sharkie sitting at 62-38 ahead of Downer on a two-party-preferred basis. Could Downer’s past prove her downfall?

In her time at the IPA, Downer called for the abolition of minimum wage and penalty rates. An early Trump fan-girl, she wrote a 2016 op-ed for The Sydney Morning Herald, praising his election as “a big rejection of the international environmental movement and its fatwa against carbon”.

Georgina is supposed to be the Liberals’ trump card in winning back a seat which has been warmed almost forever by her globe-trotting father Alexander’s nether regions.

Downer was Howard’s Foreign Minister for 11 years, before his role in ordering the bugging of the East Timor cabinet and his involvement in the Australian Wheat Board wheat for oil scandal led to his promotion as Tony Abbott’s High Commissioner to London.

Downer’s only just been ousted by George Brandis who is more a bloviating bully and a bore than a bon vivant but not before Alex’s secret liaison with a George Papadopoulos in a South Kensington wine bar, where he learns that the Russians have some compromising material on Hilary Clinton and plan to use it. Alexander passes the message on through Australian intelligence to the US.

Doubtless something appropriate will be found for Georgie should she fail to win Mayo.

Yet Trump in Helsinki upstages even Downer’s diplomacy.  It’s not just that Trump has done no homework. He can’t. Trumpistas such as Ms Downer explain away The Donald’s manifest incompetence, as somehow refreshing, or even disruptive, as John Howard once indulged an inept Tony Abbott, who enjoyed a string of failures in cabinet before being accidentally elected PM. There are recent signs, however, from Julie Bishop that the Trump indulgence is wearing thin.

Trump’s short attention-span; his inability to sit through any type of briefing is rationalised by aficionados as a strength. It’s seen as part of his disruptive, unorthodox mystique; a positive asset to a reformer hell-bent on cleaning up the Washington swamp. Besides bringing his own swamp, the White House couch potato Fox TV addict shows total disdain for any briefing or expert advice.

So, Trump has to wing it and fails. What’s more shocking is that he prefers Putin’s denial to his own intelligence agencies’ evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The New York Times’ James Blow finds the Donald’s mind-boggling.

Putin’s track record does not inspire confidence.

He still blames Ukraine for the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and in the eastern Donetsk region, a tragedy in which 298 innocent people, including 40 Australian citizens and residents, up to 80 of whom were children died. Locals reported “a rain” of bodies falling on homes and in sunflower fields. Belongings were ransacked because rebels at first mistook the aircraft for a Ukraine Airforce fighter jet.

Recently published reports compiled from evidence gathered by teams of international investigators which include a rebel video which shows faces, implicate Russian military at least in the supply and the retrieval of the BUK-TEAR anti-aircraft weaponry used to shoot down the plane.

Nor is there much doubt Moscow helped get Trump elected. Putin, himself, admits that “patriotic” Russian hackers may have meddled in the election, although this exchange appears to have been overlooked by Trump at the summit – along with a number of other pressing issues.

The Washington Post quotes Max Bergmann of the Centre for American Progress:

Any other President — Republican or Democrat — would use this summit to confront Russia for its on-going attack on our democracy, for its illegal occupation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, for its efforts to assassinate people using chemical weapons in the U.K., and for its backing of Assad.”

The New York Times’ Charles Blow joins many other US commentators in deploring his President’s behaviour as “disloyal, traitorous”. Trump’s surrender sucks some oxygen out of our nation’s action-panicked week in politics which features a cameo performance from Abbott parrot, Craig Kelly, on how MH17 victims’ families need to move on with their lives.

“So, what is best for the continued future of the world – and it is best in my opinion that the leader of the USA and the leader of Russia at least have a good talking relationship,” he said. “And if that means some of the things that Russia has gotten away with in the past has to be slightly looked over, well, I am sorry. That is the price we have to pay, sometimes, to have good relations going forward.”

Kelly follows his insensitivity and misreading of the Putin Trump summit as “a good talking relationship” with Australian politics’ most pointed non-apology – but almost as offensive is Malcolm Turnbull’s eager sing-along to Peter junkyard Dutton’s dog-whistling alarm call that all of Melbourne is hostage to rampaging African gangs because Dan Andrews is soft on law ‘n order.

African gangs are not our only worry, however. Australia is “veering towards multicultural segregation” and must “do more to ensure the integration of migrants”, Alan Tudge, the minister who found Centrelink’s Robo-debt persecution of the poor blameless, takes up the cudgels for Dutto.

An Aussie values test for intending permanent residents would fix everything, even if the PM himself is unable to articulate what those values may be, even if he’s able to fake xenophobia.

At last, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, takes umbrage at Trump’s crimes and misdemeanours in a speech she gives in London, she tut-tuts over the way “Trump’s America is challenging the international order which has brought such peace and stability after World War Two”,

It has? Bishop’s clearly not counting its nuclear holocausts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan or its illegal invasions of Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, Granada and Afghanistan or its interventions in Latin America. Nor does she touch upon Trump’s mad trade wars which have the capacity to trigger another world recession, rather than make America great again.

Naturally, at the hint of criticism, Trump goes immediately on the offensive.

“Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia,” Trump tweets on Wednesday. “They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!”

The presser after the boys-only summit is extraordinary. Is it the money he owes the Russians? Or the pee tape Kompromat? Whatever the cause, Trump appears to crawl to Putin. Grovel. And Putin keeps him waiting for an hour before the show begins. Although the Donald later tries to walk back his capitulation – even suggesting he “misspoke”, Trump is totally unconvincing, except of course to his supporters, to whom he offers an escape hatch.

What is most shocking to many Americans and others all around the world, however, is how at the news conference after a private two hour closed meeting, Trump white-ants his own intelligence community, to buddy up to Putin, saying:

“I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be … So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

It’s an embarrassingly naïve, almost childlike remark. So, too, the president’s proposal that Putin collaborate in the investigation into himself, an alarmingly absurd idea. Trump later tries to retract the “would be” by claiming he meant to say “wouldn’t be” but he’s patently unconvincing.

Amid all the chaos on the world stage and especially the implications for Australia’s relations with America, our Prime Minister has been steadfast and has the media focused on immigration, supporting Minister Dutton and the Victorian Liberal Party and the myth of Melbourne’s ‘African gangs’ showing Victoria’s Labor Government is soft on crime – all part of the popular Coalition pantomime “Look out Bill’s right behind you”.

 

 

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WA Liberal landslide buries Turnbull and Hanson.

It’s a Labor landslide in WA. Mark McGowan’s party may end up with 41 seats as the Liberal primary vote collapses 15% , and it’s all over bar the infighting and the recriminations. Yet one thing is sure. The fall of “Emperor” Colin Barnett can have nothing to do with Malcolm Turnbull; no blame no responsibility is accepted. Nothing to do with Turnbull’s support for the One Nation preference deal or his government’s dud policies. Instead the WA Premier invokes Whitlam.

It’s an overwhelming “it’s time factor”, Colin Barnett lies as WA Liberals openly wish they’d dumped him. Shit happens.

The ineluctable truth of Turnbull’s blamelessness emerges on ABC Insiders as “How the West Was Lost”, a gripping media mystery drama, reveals a mob of scapegoats for Liberal failure in a week of dodgy deals and reversals in which our anti-scare tactic PM’s Great Big Energy Crisis is gazumped by electron-magnate Elon Musk who offers a stack of Tesla batteries to keep the lights on in South Australia, a rashly wind and sun powered renewable rogue state.

Peter Georgiou, who takes his brother-in-law Rod Culleton’s senate spot, catches measles, a setback concealed during the campaign lest anyone laugh; or cast nasturtiums at One Nation’s crusade against childhood vaccination. There is no hope Georgiou can match the gifted buffoonery or performance art of his bankrupt predecessor but he is already off to a brilliant start not only with the measles but with his all-in-the-family route to power.  One Nation is a one-ring circus.

Not to be outdone, moreover, La Hanson suddenly falls arse over tit. Everything is going so well, too. She’s set to be crowned Queen of WA by an adoring media, when she inexplicably trips over her lip; declares herself both a Putinista and a passionate anti-vaxxer. Naturally. All Trump torch carriers are virulently anti-jab and pro Putin, too.

Hanson’s revelations cause a stir. Some PHON dingbats flee the belfry. Brazen hussy. Traitor. What became of Pauline’s Celebrity Apprentice bikini-bottoms with the Australian flag on? Worse, she self-aborts her mission. Her WA Liberals’ preference deal reveals to even One Nation voters that Pauline is just another conniving politician. It’s a fatal error. Half her predicted supporters turn against her. Beliefs, Peter Ustinov said, are what divide people. Doubts unite them.

Not that Hanson is wearing any of it. Quickly, the Liberal’s senate stooge finds a handy scapegoat for her failure.

“I don’t think it was the Liberal Party, I think it was Colin Barnett. The people here did not want Colin Barnett — he should have stepped aside.” Or thrown out. Like milk in your fridge that’s started to go sour, she says. It’s easy to see why Turnbull confidante and inner cabinet member Arthur Sinodinos praised One Nation’s sophistication recently.

The truth is voters have stepped aside – and not only from Colin Barnett. They’re not that sweet on Pauline either.

Not only does Pauline’s pixie dust suddenly wear off, however, lame duck Turnbull’s fate is sealed by the sand-gropers’ no-vote, based in real fear that the Coalition is just an ill-disguised front for business, bankers and miners with its coal-war on the climate and environment and its class-war on the poor.  Turnbull’s leadership is terminal. No ABC-led defence can help him now. He is a dead man walking even if he dare not show his face before noon.

The PM goes into witness protection, yet a piece by a Malcolm Turnbull appears 9:00 am in The Sunday Telegraph with the Dubai World’s Best Minister Greg Hunt threatening to bar unvaccinated kids from childcare and preschools. “No jab no pay will be matched by no jab no play.” Mal’s even written a letter commending his idea to state and territory leaders.

Sky News calls it the PM’s “hard stance on vaccinations”. Hunt repeats the word “tough” twice. It must be a stiff letter. The Liberal party’s storm-troopers are scrambled to put Humpty Dumpty back together again starting from the tough up. Sturmmann Matthias Stormin’ Cormann is despatched to stonewall on ABC TV. He belabours the Liberals’ preference deal’s impeccable logic.  It would put a floor under a declining primary vote of 29%, he repeats ad nauseam.

Cormann’s the Liberals’ master tactician and powerbroker. His recent master stroke was to be seen walking out with Peter Dutton recently. Dutton wants to head up a new uber-department of Homeland Security an idea which many of his colleagues dismiss as a naked power grab by the Border Enforcer and his boss Mike Pezullo who amalgamated Customs and Border Protection without over troubling to get them working together properly. Or communicating.

Some see Dutton keenly building a power base from which to challenge Turnbull. Homeland Security would take what is laughably called oversight of ASIO from Attorney General. Others see Turnbull so beholden to the right and so keen to be free of Brandis that he will agree. It will not be a path to the top but to the bottom. Dutton struggled to run Health. He is overwhelmed by the tasks of winding up Manus and running down Nauru. His refugee deal with Trump is stalled.

Out of his stall and a law unto himself as ever, deputy leader Barnaby Joyce calls the preference deal “a mistake” before offering some colourful opinions on ABC Radio about One Nation’s senate candidates. “Mad”, he says.” Lucky this is not being broadcast.” Labor simply replies swiftly that Fizza Turnbull failed to act on his power to veto the deal.

Of course there are local factors. Barnett’s switched-on plan to privatise state electricity in WA seems a turn off for voters. It’s worked so well in other states. In Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, prices soar as systems become less reliable. The “Junior, sweaty, Navy Lawyer” attack on McGowan by the typically sensitive Minister for Welfare Extortion and sandgroper, Christian Porter may have not struck the right note early in the campaign.

But in a post truth, fake news Trumpocene age, personal abuse beats rational argument any day. Besides, didja hear what Turnbull called Shorten?

Like their federal counterpart, the WA Liberals are lean on policy.  Astonishingly, also, Colin Barnett fails to convince anyone that he should waste a third term pretending to be an effective State Premier after blowing the proceeds of the mining boom, driving up the state debt and causing credit ratings and property prices to fall.

The Department’s pre-election budget update forecast total public sector debt will reach $41.1 billion by mid-2020.

Then there’s the elephant in the room of WA’s dodgy queue-jumping tax grab. Barnett’s government passed legislation in late 2015 to seize control of the $1.8 billion assets from the Bell liquidation — potentially jumping ahead of the ATO and other creditors. Somehow Joe Hockey and Attorney General George Brandis led them to believe that the federal government backed WA’s strategy. The High Court threw out the legislation on appeal, humiliating the WA government.

Sadly, Brandis’ inability to recall the nature or the precise date of his involvement may have misled parliament over the issue. The AG seems to have confused everyone. The case may also have cast a cloud over the Barnett regime. Certainly it has led to calls for Brandis to resign. Whatever else may be said, however, the Premier is clearly not short of big ideas.

You can’t fault Barnett for innovative policy. He’s out there doing the hard yards promising ripper statues of sporting heroes at the new Perth Stadium, not just a digital tribute, but a whole new statue every two years, plus a whole bunch of other stuff in aquaculture, Aboriginal rock art and tourism along with a pledge to see the federal government’s wonderful new Sunday penalty rate cuts translated into state awards, too. Plucky? “You bet you are. You bet I am.”

But you can’t fight city hall. Barnett is blown away by the Tsunami of unpopularity that is the Turnbull government.

Despite all the spin, the WA result is clearly a rejection of the Turnbull government’s Centrelink Robo-debt extortion of the poor and its equally cruel penalty-rate cuts. The state with 6.5% unemployed and rising, the nation’s highest, even measured by the government’s rubbery figures, also smarts over the barefaced robbery of Coalition tax cuts for the wealthy, while International Women’s Day this week reminds us that we remain one nation divided by entrenched gender inequality.  It’s even more keenly experienced in the new mining industrial rustbelt of WA.

Women with children, workers least equipped to find childcare other days in the week, suffer the most from the government’s cutting Sunday penalty rates. They bear a disproportionate part of the social, emotional and economic brunt of the government’s push to have more Australians under-employed in an increasingly part-time casualised workforce where hours may grow, wages are stagnant and penalty rate cuts increasingly undermine household budgets.

Things are likely to get worse. Legal opinion for the ACTU released Friday by lawyers Maurice Blackburn finds that the Fair Work Commission case to consider consumer expectations and not to actively deter weekend work could be used to reduce awards in nursing and health care, transport, security, cleaning services, construction, clerical workers, laundry services, hair and beauty industries, trainers, mining and factories.

Employment Minister and Minister for Women, avid part-time property investor and lip readers’ gift, Michaelia Cash says it’s all a Labor lie but since her claim to have overlooked registering her 1.5 million property investment next door, no-one can believe a word she says.  She’s a big fan of penalty cuts but you’d never know it – now. She’s in witness protection for the duration. Or at least until there’s no risk of being questioned about her property management skills.

At least Pauline tells it like it is. Even if the big ideas don’t always fit the sentence. Hanson’s support for penalty rate cuts goes back to running the Ipswich fish shop. Labor’s to blame. McDonald’s undercut her minimum wage. She had to pay eight dollars an hour more. EBA’s are to blame. It’s not the sort of pitch the average WA worker can relate to.

Yet the jabs break through. Not every mother owns a small business but all mothers know what is to have sick children.

Along with her dangerous advice to parents to make up their own minds on vaccinating their children, a song from Donald Trump’s hymnbook, she professes love for Russian despot Vladimir Putin, whom she naively praises as “a strong leader” who “stands up for his country” – not one who invades others to seize lands where ethnic Russians may live  – as indicated by his incursion into Georgia, his seizure of Crimea and his role in the “frozen conflict” in eastern Ukraine.

28 Australians were among the 298 passengers killed when MH17 a Boeing 777 flying civilians was blasted out of the sky over Ukraine by a Russian missile, an act for which Hanson’s beloved strong leader, Vladimir Putin, refuses to take responsibility.

The media turn. Even ABC Insiders Barrie Cassidy can’t let her ignorance go unchallenged. Turnbull himself weighs in later and has another dab Sunday while Bill Shorten makes a bipartisan show of support for a factually based public health policy. It’s the high point of the political week – if you don’t count Colin Barnett’s comeuppance. Or Georgiou.

A concerted stand against Hanson may be good news for the nation this week even if the ABC gets its nose rubbed in its mess. In retaliation for holding Australia’s Trumpista to account, the ABC is barred access to her WA election wake where party members console themselves that their dismal showing was all the fault of Barrie Cassidy. Doubtless the banks and those international financiers who created the climate change hoax for profit have a hand in it, too.

Hanson’s “humilating flop” as Malcolm Farr calls it in WA parallells her failure to coordinate a handful of senators and makes a complete mockery of her leadership pretensions. But it’s not what people are telling her she says. It’s not what she hears from the voters. Like Corey Bernardi, she claims a type of clairaudience. She intuits the people’s will. Incredibly, no-one else can do this.  Amazingly, ordinary people who lack her access to the media always agree with her.

No rebuke will easily dint Hanson’s rock-star popularity. Like her idol Trump, her fans are nurtured more by mutual ignorance, fear and hatred than petty details such as factual accuracy. Yet  the preference deal with the Liberals, goes badly. She admits as much Saturday as she acknowledges PHON has won less than five per cent of the lower house vote and seven per cent in the upper.

Gone is any hope of the swag of seats predicted earlier. Gone is the prospect of holding the balance of power. PHON will be lucky to get one or two seats in a big Senate cross bench. Yet straight-faced she blames the Liberal Party.

Hanson, Labor helpfully reminds voters, is supposed to be above preference deals; that type of politics.  No-one says that her WA bid is preposterous; no-one whispers she is utterly, ludicrously out of her depth; not waving but drowning.  Luckily, however, there are others competing for Australian politics Darwin Award for individuals who contribute to improving the evolution of our national politics by selecting themselves out of the gene pool by self-destruction.

Perennial Darwin Award contender and sole survivor over his 2016 how to vote Liberal in the Senate fiasco plucky Tassie Senator Erich Abetz jostles to the front of the pack this week with some beaut new views on how women win respect.

“Queen Elizabeth II has demonstrated that hard work and commitment earn you far more respect than demanding that people make way and artificially promote you simply because of your sex,” tweets the budding local female emancipist, pocket philosopher and inveterate attention seeker Abetz who trips badly in his run-up to achieving his own unique insight into International Women’s Day. Abetz succeeds once again only in putting both feet into his mouth.

Last October, Abetz was berating the media for bias in failing to celebrate those who come out straight.  “Ever thought why there is no celebration for those that decide to go from the homosexual to heterosexual lifestyle? Are they not honest? Are they not coming out as well? … just one of the examples of the one-way traffic and bias from the media.”

HRH, one hopes, will overlook Eric’s slight on her inherited privilege, status and wealth – just as women whose hard work and commitment has not yet made them members of the royal family may now safely overlook anything the senator says as the blathering of a manifest idiot who has no clue about gender inequality and less about gender politics.

Media bias, however, to be fair to Eric, is firmly entrenched although the traffic follows the money; flows Eric’s way.

An ally, of sorts, for example, in Abetz’ quest to misrepresent, dismiss or deny the gravity of gender inequality is to be found on what Peter Dutton sees as the jihadist conspirators’ ABC’s The Drum where one of a panel of “successful businesswomen” points out that the surest path to equal opportunity is to have your stockbroker gal pal on your speed dial. She’ll be the one with the best baby-sitting contacts. Abetz is right about the bias; The Drum is an exclusive club where success talks to itself in public.

In the same way, politicians talk to themselves in the media, or over each other or the interviewer, a process they fondly describe as “having a national conversation”.

None of these token successes have anything remotely useful to offer ordinary women whose lives in their own ways deserve every bit as much celebration and affirmation. Their presence is a reproach to all those who are trying to run a home and a family on a hopelessly inadequate and shrinking part-time wage.

Our media promotes inequality in privileging the discourse of the successful as it does by ensuring the dominance of a white male middle-class elite. If you are a woman, for example, you have a one per cent chance of being interviewed in a newspaper, on TV or radio or any other form of media. And in news coverage, three quarters of all women are invisible. Only about 24% of all people seen, heard or read about in the news are female.

Although women make up 46 per cent of all employees in Australia, they take home on average $283.20 less than men each week (full-time adult ordinary time earnings). The national gender “pay gap” is 18.2 per cent and it has remained stuck between 15 per cent and 18 per cent for the past two decades.

The PM honours International Women’s day with community legal centres in Australia, facing a 30% funding cut from the federal government next financial year. Tasmania’s state government recently announced they would make up the difference.

Nothing is heard from Minister for women Michaelia Cash about penalty rate cuts which hurt women the most. Nor does the government express any compassion or concern for the consequences of Robo debt clawback – although the ten per cent debt recovery surcharge may well be illegal – as too are its methods of discouraging protest.

News comes this week that the department pulls the files of those who make a fuss and sends their personal details to the Minister, who then may pass them on to be used against the ungrateful welfare recipient. It’s an extraordinary admission of another step towards a totalitarian state. It fits with Brandis’ recent admission that the AFP accesses certain journalists’ meta-data in order to hunt down whistle-blowers.

Soon this may all be under the aegis of Peter Dutton. What could possibly go wrong?

WA is at the very least a slap in the face for the federal government. It is almost certainly the end of Malcolm Turnbull. It may well be, also, that it is the beginning of the end for Pauline Hanson whose attempt to make it on the national stage has not got much beyond a seat on the cross-bench.

Or is it the end of the beginning? Certainly the curbing of the mainstream media’s fawning indulgence of a celebrity politician with some dangerously false ideas is a welcome corrective against infectious ignorance and division.

Now the same process needs to be sustained on the wilful disinformation of those in the major parties who would divide and dupe us for their ends and their backers’ profits.

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The facets of Australian fascism: the Abbott Government experiment (Part 12)

By Dr George Venturini*

Abbott & Co. = “a bunch of psychopaths?” (continued)

Abbott’s time as Prime Minister was characterised by gaffes, scandals and deeply unpopular policy. But is there something more than incompetence? Were Abbott and his ‘mates’ (many of them still around) in government pathologically incapable of caring for anyone but themselves?

There are a number of hallmarks of sociopathy, and a few stand out.

There was lack of remorse or guilt.

Despite having confronted several time on television for reneging on his pre-election vows of no cuts to the A.B.C., or S.B.S., on health and on  education, despite clearly disregarding these commitments, Abbott not only failed to apologise – he refused to acknowledge that any promises had been broken.

There was impulsivity.

Early in 2015 Abbott became infamous for making his ‘Captain’s calls’ – seemingly arbitrary decisions made without consultation, apparently even of his ‘mates’, including his ‘brothers in the faith’ in the Cabinet: Joe Hockey, Kevin Andrews, Mathias Cormann, Barnaby Joyce, Christopher Pyne, Andrew Robb – and, of course, Malcolm Turnbull.  And spare a thought for the ‘humble servants’, such as the stolidly Teutonic Eric Abetz, the Hillsong Church ‘impresario’ Scott Morrison, and that Torquemada of The Law, George Brandis. ‘Captain calls’ include reinstituting imperial honours – bestowing a knighthood on Prince Philip, attempting to delist Tasmanian heritage wilderness, and dismissing the chief government whip.

There was glibness.

When Abbott talked about ‘stopping the boats’, he was really talking about stopping desperate refugees fleeing persecution. When he talked about ‘lifestyle choices’, he was talking about the homeland of entire communities. When he said: “shit happens,” he meant that a serviceman had died. And when he said “absolute crap,” he was summarising several decades’ worth of interdisciplinary research on climate change.

There was antagonism/aggressive behaviour, with the consequent difficulty in maintaining relationships.

Sociopaths react badly when criticised. When the Human Rights Commissioner found that the government’s treatment of refugees amounted to criminal neglect, Abbott’s reaction was to launch a swift ad personam attack on her.

When the same conclusion was reached by the United Nations, Abbott took it upon himself to speak for the Australian people, and informed the U.N. that Australians were “sick of being lectured to”.

He has also been known to issue threats to foreign governments, (‘Bali Nine: Tony Abbott denies threatening Indonesia over clemency for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’) and heads of state, (Tony Abbott vows to ‘shirt-front’ Vladimir Putin at G20) and question the mental integrity of Labor voters (‘Tony Abbott’s threats, scare tactics only dig him a deeper hole).

By the way, ‘shirt fronting’ may be common to many Australians but it will be a mystery to much of the world. As many fans of Australian Football League already know, a shirt fronter is a ‘real Aussie’-rules term for a front-on charge aimed at ‘bumping’ an opponent to the ground. It was the Oxford Blue again, as in the seventies at the University of Sydney, proposing physically to attack the adversary – the enemy? – by applying a method which is increasingly frowned upon by the A.F.L. The bully was going to show that he is a political man of action, for him the diplomatic equivalent of the gunboat variety. Fascist ‘diplomacy’?

There were callousness and lack of empathy.

The Abbott Government’s ministers appeared unwilling to propose any legislation which directly benefits anyone but themselves. Concern for the old, the young, the poor, the disabled and the disadvantaged was entirely absent from the government’s first budget, the subsequent protests and objections brushed aside with patronising admonitions of “pull your weight.” (J. Svensson, ‘Is Tony Abbott a political sociopath?’, 19 March 2015).

And there was, unquestionably, risk-taking.

Only on 20 July 2015 it was reported by Channel Ten television that the federal Attorney-General Senator George Brandis QC had  secretly met with Cardinal George Pell two months before. The Attorney-General had made several attempts at concealing the encounter.

The Attorney-General should never have met Cardinal Pell given the fact that the Cardinal had been a key witness and was due to appear again before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It is not credible that Attorney-General Brandis did not know that Cardinal Pell was a witness at the Royal Commission, and that Pell had already given evidence in March and August 2014 and had been put on notice in May 2015 that he would have been required for further evidence later in the year. This eventuated between February and March 2016.

Further, when the Royal Commission will deliver its recommendations to the Australian Government, Attorney-General Brandis might be having a substantial say on such recommendations. It is obvious that, by meeting Cardinal Pell, he should have been fully aware that he was exposing himself to a possible accusation of perceived bias. (‘Tony Abbott and Brandis both secretly met with paedophile protector George Pell. Why?’).

Tomorrow: Grande finale

GeorgeVenturini* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.

⬅️ Part 11

➡️ Part 13

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I smell a pair of hypocrites

When Peter Slipper was Speaker all hell broke loose over the misappropriation of cab charges totally around $900. Tony Abbott had this to say:

“The Speaker is the guardian of parliamentary standards. The Speakership is one of the most important offices in the Parliament. The Speaker is there to uphold the integrity of the Parliament and now we have very, very serious allegations against the incumbent Speaker, allegations … of potentially criminal misuse of entitlements. These are very serious allegations indeed. Yes, the Speaker is entitled to the presumption of innocence but he does have quite a lot of explaining to do.

It’s also very important that the Prime Minister act to ensure the integrity of the Parliament. … The Prime Minister, to uphold the integrity of the Parliament, needs now to require the Speaker to step down until these matters are resolved.  It’s also incumbent upon the Australian Federal Police to swiftly investigate the potentially criminal allegations that have been made against the Speaker.

I can’t underestimate the seriousness of this. The Speaker is required to maintain parliamentary standards and yet there are now these extremely serious allegations against the Speaker himself. So in order to maintain the respect and the reputation of the Parliament, in order to preserve the integrity of the Government and our institutions, it is very important that the Prime Minister act swiftly to require the Speaker to step aside and it’s very important that the Australian Federal Police quickly investigate these matters so that they can be resolved as soon as is humanly possible”.

I thought – based on his hardcore beliefs that Speakers need to uphold certain standards and that these are to be upheld by the Prime Minister – that he would go into an absolute rage over Bronwyn Bishop’s arguable misappropriation of $5,200 of tax payer’s money to hire a helicopter (of all things) to get from A to B.

“He is sure to join in with the public outrage”, I thought. He set the goal posts during the Slipper saga. But no, he had this to say: it was all “village gossip”.

Hypocrite.

At least Christopher Pyne could be trusted to stand by his word:

“The Opposition is calling for Peter Slipper to stand aside until he has been cleared of all the allegations against him, as the embattled Speaker faces new claims of travel rorts.

Mr Slipper stood aside yesterday from his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives while criminal charges about his possible misuse of taxpayer funded Cabcharges are being investigated.

Mr Pyne has also called on the government to help resolve the matter by going to an election.

“He is sure to join in with the public outrage”, I thought (once again). But no, he had this to say: “Awful on the day we remember the anniversary of the destruction of MH17 that Labor wants to play politics over the Speakership”.

Hypocrite.

Hypocrites the pair of them. Either that, or different rules apply to the Liberal Party.

 

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You bet you will

When Tony Abbott got a little over-excited with his shirt-front threat, saying “You bet you will”, it was perhaps more prophetic than a slip of the tongue.

It seems the other leaders have been lining up to have ‘robust conversations’ with Vladimir Putin, while Tony is lining up for photos, though he did put Vlad at the end of the line in the group shot.

Meanwhile, Tony’s buddy, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a verbal shirt-front to Putin.

“I guess I’ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine,” Harper told Putin at the summit in Brisbane, Australia, according to his spokesman Jason MacDonald.

Putin’s response to the comment was not positive, MacDonald said in an email, without elaborating.

Obama said the United States was at the forefront of “opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which is a threat to the world, as we saw in the appalling shoot-down of MH17” — a reference to the downing of a Malaysian airliner over rebel-held territory on July 17, with the loss of 298 lives.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union was considering further financial sanctions against Russian individuals because of the crisis in Ukraine.

“The present situation is not satisfying,” she told reporters. “At present the listing of further persons is on the agenda.”

A Kremlin spokesman said the Ukraine crisis was the only topic discussed at a one-on-one meeting between Putin and British Prime Minister David Cameron, but he added both expressed interest in “ending confrontation” and rebuilding relations.

The European Union demanded Moscow withdraw troops and weapons from Ukraine and put pressure on rebels there to accept a ceasefire, after the latest fighting wrecked a truce agreed in September.

EU foreign ministers will meet on Monday to assess the situation in Ukraine and whether further steps including additional sanctions are needed against Russia, said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. Obama plans to meet European leaders to discuss the matter on Sunday, he added.

Outside the summit, Ukrainian Australians staged an anti-Putin protest, wearing headbands reading “Putin, Killer”.

Meanwhile, Putin was all smiles, shaking hands with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.  Press secretary, Mr Peskov, also praised Tony Abbott, saying the Prime Minister was an absolutely hospitable host.

Call me Tony.

koala

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Tyranny or Terror? Selling the Politics of Fear.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week you will no doubt be aware that ASIO is raising Australia’s terror level from medium to high. Apparently we are about to be inundated with Aussie ISIS combatants, and we all need to keep on our toes as the threat is very, very real!
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But really, what are we actually afraid of ? The vast majority of Australians do not live in a hyped up state of paranoia over the esoteric and ill defined threat of “domestic terrorism”, (That’s not to say that such an attack could never happen, but the fact that it hasn’t happened thus far does render the prospect somewhat abstract). The expectation that we will be massacred by a suicide bomber on the train is not something that we tend to think of as we head off to work of a morning, nor do we wonder if some mentally unstable drug addict will open up with a semi automatic at the local school.
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Our fears tend to be far more mundane in nature; “Will I be retrenched?”, “Will I be able to afford to go to uni?”, “Have I saved enough for retirement?”, “Will interests rates go up?”, “Will my wages be cut?”, “Will I be able to save a house deposit?”, “Can I afford to go back to work with the price of child care?”; these are the things that most of us really sweat.
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As much as the government would like to shift our axis of fear away from it’s cruelling budget and toward a shadowy underworld of fanatical extremists who are feverishly plotting to kill us all, the fact remains that for most us “Does my bum look big in this”, or “will my transmission seize up before my next pay cheque” is a greater source of palpable anxiety than the prospect of some unhinged Jihadi’s returning from Syria or Iraq.
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But are we living in a fools paradise? Should we be scared? Would our day-to-day lives actually be safer (or better) if we all adopted the hyper-vigilant cortisol arousal of a combat soldier? Because surely that is exactly what “raising the threat level” is suggesting we do?
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I don’t ask this merely as some form of glib commentary, this is a serious question. How exactly does the government want us to respond to this apparent heightening of the threat level, and how would such an undertaking affect the quality of our lives; and more importantly what effect, if any, would it have on the material outcome of an actual terror attack?
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If our remaining on hyper alert could actually save people from a bomb blast then maybe, just maybe, it might be worth doing. But the sad fact is there simply is no evidence that our living in a perpetual state of exaggerated paranoia would help avert any such tragedy. It wouldn’t have helped a single person in the world trade centre, or the sari club, or the train passengers in Madrid. In fact if you look at those parts of the world were terrorist attacks occur fairly frequently, and consider how many suicide bombers have been able to walk right up to highly trained vigilant security professionals and blow themselves up, it’s fairly obvious that being constantly on guard just isn’t an effective defence.
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There are of course the occasional examples of terrorist plots thwarted by bystanders, like the aeroplane passenger who wrestled the underpants bomber into submission, (after he noticed smoke billowing from the would be assailant’s crotch). But these examples are not generally attributed to super citizens, who, after years of being strung out on adrenal fatigue, finally found their relentless zeal vindicated. No, they were generally thwarted by normal people who just happened to notice something odd, and responded appropriately. Now correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t this something that the vast majority of us would do automatically, regardless of the government rated “threat level”?
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So what is the point of all this talk of “real and imminent danger” and “raising the threat level”? Apart from seeding a general air of apprehension the only effect such rhetoric seems to have is increasing the level of racism directed toward people of middle eastern descent. Statistically speaking we are far more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, car crashes, bush fires, domestic violence, suicide, sharks, crocodiles, snake bites… hell, even a sugar induced diabetic coma is more likely turn up your toes than a local terrorist. Honestly, it would make more sense for us to be paralysed with fear at the prospect of hopping in the car and driving to McDonald’s.
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So why is the Abbott government so intent on ramping up our levels of ambient anxiety? Why is Tony out there, day after day banging on about the “real and present danger” these terrorists pose, when it has been proven so many times, from the IRA to the Boston marathon, that ramping up the threat levels will not prevent anything? Hmmm, kind of makes you wonder?
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While all this chest beating clearly won’t thwart an attack, it does however seem to effect the governments standing in the polls. Now I don’t want to appear too cynical but when Tony bangs on about terrorist threats his poll ratings go up, and when when we turn our attention back to the budget and the broader economy his poll ratings go down. Now I accept that this observation is mere correlation, and there is no empirical evidence to prove causation, but I am fairly certain that the correlation is not lost on Mr. Abbott. As Howard proved back in 2001, (when he rode the post 9/11 wave of panicked disbelief to steal a seemingly unwinnable election), there is no greater gift you can give an unpopular government than a terrorist attack.
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Noting Howard’s success in parleying terrorism into political capital, Abbott has made valiant efforts to emulate his Liberal predecessor. MH17, while an undeniable tragedy for the families and friends of the victims, seemed like a welcome boost in the polls for Abbott. Like a pit bull with lock jaw Abbott was determined to milk it for all it was worth. With an unprecedented lack of sensitivity or decorum Abbott bombarded the news cycle, endlessly recounting reports of “remains strewn around the wreckage”, and when that wore thin he moved on to the militarily jingoistic “operation bring them home”, and his ill-advised sabre rattling at Putin.
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Like all good things his poll upswing off the back of MH17 had to come to an end… but Abbott is an undeniably political animal, and he knows that in the absence of a real attack, fear of an impending threat is almost as good. Thank god for ISIS, middle eastern dual nationals, airport security upgrades, ASIO terror alerts, and Murdoch’s unwavering commitment to keeping them in the forefront of the news!
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While Abbott and Murdoch seem to revel in their ability to keep us anxious, the fact remains Australia is an extraordinarily safe country, and hopefully it will continue to be so. We have security agencies that work hard to keep us safe from terrorist threats, and so far they have done a pretty good job. I am not saying we wont ever have an attack on domestic soil, but I am saying it is a fools errand to be working ourselves into a permanent paranoid lather, or mentally aligning ourselves with some mythical, quasi racist “team Australia” in order to prevent such an attack from happening. That said FEAR WILL STOP US ENJOYING OUR LIVES. So it is worth asking ourselves, is living in a constant state of trepidation really worth it? Especially if the only perceptible upside is Tony’s position in the polls?
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Me?, I’d rather just enjoy my day 🙂

More articles by Letitia McQuade:

The Highway to Hell, Hockey’s Trickle Down Delusion

Refugee Insanity; the crippling cost of Australia’s cruelty

Feminist Bitches, who needs them?

Abbott’s war on the environment is facing some tough opposition.

Introducing the new “ABC free” AUSTRALIA… now with extra ignorance, selfishness and cruelty

THE CLIMATE OF DENIAL: Why real climate action will NEVER come from big business or government.

BEWARE of Abbott’s Free Trade Trojan Horse

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Abbott’s first year: the media narrative

carbon-tax-e1404033094268Since political journalists so love to talk about Labor Party narrative, I think it’s time we turned the tables and talked about mainstream media narratives instead. The one I would like to specifically discuss is the media’s recent coverage of the one year milestone of the Abbott government. From what I have seen and heard so far, these are the mandatory ingredients of the media’s narrative marking this occasion, with the consistency of a wheel in a track. This review of the media narrative also, handily, becomes my critique of Abbott’s first year as Prime Minister. One stone, two dead birds and all that.

Acknowledging the kept promises

Abbott is given a big thumbs up for doing what all Prime Ministers were expected to do until he broke pretty much every promise he made during his first twelve months and Teflon-like changed the expectations that a Prime Minister shouldn’t lie. So on the three occasions that Abbott didn’t lie – promising to get rid of the Carbon Price and Mining Tax and stopping the boats, he gets a round of applause from the mainstream media.

This applause definitely does not include any critique of the effect these decisions will have on the community. Because discussion of policy outcomes is forbidden. All the journos need to know is that Abbott said he was going to get rid of the Carbon Price, the Mining Tax, and stop the boats and he’s done that, so big tick to Abbott! You’ll see no comment on the devastation that the demise of the Carbon Price, with no policy to replace it, will have on our environment, even though a study has already reveals that emissions went up immediately after the repeal. You’ll see no comment on the impact of the death of the Mining Tax on wealth inequality.

And has Abbott really stopped the boats if they’re still leaving Indonesia only to be turned around in secret military-like on-water operations that break international treaties and desperate people are sometimes sent back to the hell-hole they came from? One murdered asylum seeker and one death due to sub-standard third-world medical care and a damaged relationship with Indonesia doesn’t seem to me to be a successful policy. But if it kept a promise, it’s fine apparently.

However, if you cared to judge the Abbott government not on their ability to keep a promise, but on their ability to be humane and to work in the best interests of the community while keeping a promise, they have clearly failed. You won’t hear the media making this point.

Praise for Abbott’s response to Malaysian airlines disasters

It is clearly not hard to put some glasses on and to look sombre while you speak pre-prepared consolatory words about an airline tragedy. And let’s be honest people, if that’s Abbott at his pre-prepared best, then he’s at best a mediocre public speaker who should never have got anywhere near the top job and at worst a George. W. Bush-like moronic bumbling ah-ah-ah-ah embarrassment to this great nation.

So looking past what Abbott said, as he scheduled non-stop press conferences about plane disasters but wouldn’t talk about his failed budget, and focusing more on what he did, what did he actually do? He volunteered millions of dollars in Australian resources and never found Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, despite raising the victim’s family’s hopes unnecessarily and announcing in Parliament that the plane had been found when it hadn’t. He also volunteered Australian resources to help recover the bodies of victims of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 which, sorry to have to point this out, again raised the hopes of the victim’s families and again he failed to complete the mission, whilst also putting Australians in harm’s way.

Praise for Abbott’s Team Australia bullshit

Apparently it’s ‘statesmen like’ to rush to a war on terrorism. Talking about the merits of going to war for at least a few days before committing Australia to what could be an ongoing conflict in a country that still hasn’t recovered from the last time Australia rushed to help America and the UK wage a war, would to me, seem at least foolish, at worst criminal. But Abbott’s Team Australia khaki campaign, in aid of his personal polling, will no doubt be applauded by the press as long as it continues to help Abbott win the poll war. Because that’s how journalists judge the merits of a Prime Minister’s decisions – on their real or possible impact on polls. Didn’t you know?

Downplaying Abbott’s lies as ‘they’re not different from Gillard’s lie’

Even when journalists do bother to remind voters that Abbott’s first budget was based on a barrage of lies and broken promises, they always make sure to compare these lies to Gillard’s Carbon Price ‘lie’. A lie is something you know to be false when you say it. Gillard didn’t know she was going to have to make a deal with the Greens to form minority government when she said she had no intention of implementing a tax on carbon, and instead preferred an ETS. So if you believe Abbott is in the same boat as Gillard in saying no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no cuts to the ABC or SBS numerous times throughout the election campaign, and then immediately back flipping on all these promises because he was forced to by a change of circumstances, then where are the changed circumstances?

Abbott didn’t need to make deals in the lower house to put his budget together (although deals with the Palmer United Party over superannuation cuts in order to kill the mining tax are surely as close as Abbott has got to circumstance like Gillard’s Carbon Price policy). We could go on discussing the blatant differences between Abbott’s huge list of broken promises that culminated in the most unfair and cruel budget this country has ever seen, to Gillard’s decision to introduce a Carbon Price.

But the biggest difference I would like to point out, which you never hear a journalist mention is a really simple one and also such a whopping big one that it’s hard to know how journalists can even look at these two situations without seeing the gulf of difference between them. Simply, Abbott’s lies made ordinary Australians worse off. They are bad policies on every single measure you care to measure them by and were ideological assaults based on the lie of a budget emergency. Gillard’s decision to bring in a Carbon Price, followed shortly thereafter by the policy she did say she wanted to bring in – an ETS – is good policy that is good for the environment and an important step in the international challenge to mitigate climate change. But journalists either don’t or can’t seem to see the difference between good policies and bad policies. Are they scared to judge a policy in case they appear partisan? What is the point of political journalism if not to inform the public on the merits of public policy? Seriously, what is the point? It’s a bad budget just because it’s bad. Full stop.

So there you have it. You’ll see this narrative over the next few days. Of course there will be, thankfully, examples of journalistic work that swims against this narrative, and good luck to those brave people. I know that one year into Abbott’s government, the one thing I am most sure about is that if a Labor government had behaved even a little bit like the Abbott government has in their contempt for the voting public, the mainstream media would have drawn and quartered Labor by now. The lack of contempt for the Abbott government from our media is, quite frankly, alarming.

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Tony Abbott: as offensive as they come

Who on earth writes Tony Abbott’s speeches? Whoever it is, says Anne Byam, they provide us with some gems of wisdom.

Relaxing at 5 pm, with a nice red wine and my current book, before preparing dinner.   An hour is not long and suddenly it’s 6 pm and the TV absolutely MUST be turned on . . .

It’s News Time.

The one hour that I dread above all others, especially these days.

Headlines are broadcast, and then it starts … a murder or two, traffic accidents, what someone said outside a court room, flooding in the city, and occasionally a delightful story (only one a night mind you – can’t have too much of a good thing) … about animal antics … zoo cuties, the latest baby elephant capers, dog bravery etc. Always a welcome diversion from the misery that is ‘news’.

And somewhere in the middle of all this it happens. The Abbott appears.

Displaying the oft-used ‘ready for a punch-up’ position, hands already outstretched, and fingers pointing in all the wrong directions (someone is really going to punch him in the beak one day for giving them the victory sign backwards) he is ready. The first word is sometimes OK – followed by the inevitable ahs and ums, which is maybe a nervous trait, or else he’s waiting for his next cue.

I look away, use the microwave which is noisy, and hope I don’t actually hear anything.

But I do. Heaven help me, I do. Because I am inextricably drawn to watch whatever gaffe he might deliver next. And I am rarely, if ever, disappointed. It can become a bit of an addiction, this ‘Abbott watching’.

Hope springs eternal, that the bloke might say something that is somewhere near the mark of sense, compassion … and a smidgen of understanding – not only of Australia and Australians, but any other subject he’s speaking on or chest beating about.

I’m still waiting.

Oh – I beg your pardon. There was a genuine comment or two about the tragedy that was MH17 being shot down on 17th July … and the grief it had caused all Australians – and their families. He began contacting families of the deceased, on July 21st.

A few days later (July 24th) he announces to the Australian public that the ‘bodies must be retrieved very quickly, as they are now at the mercy of the heat, the weather and animals’ (not verbatim. but very very close).

Just how great is that for a statement?  How delightful.  Even if the close families of the victims did not see the telecast, I’m willing to bet the extended family and friends did.  If it made me feel ill, what on earth did it do to those who knew the victims?

And so it rolls on … the gaffes galore grubber … staggering his way through speeches in a monotonous drone while enjoying every moment of his time in front of the cameras, centre stage – yet again!

I keep thinking – “well that’s the worst he could possibly come up with” – or words to that effect, after I have considered the cost it might incur if I actually did throw a hefty vase at the TV screen. I am usually by this time, purple with rage.  And my language is very, very purple.

Now he’s outdone himself – yet again. Claiming that the day Captain Arthur Phillip arrived and set foot on Australian soil, was the defining moment in the history of our land.

Pardon!

Apparently, the reference to ‘white’ settlement was mentioned by Warren Truss, Deputy Prime Minister; someone who perhaps has been listening too long to the way Tony Abbott uses the English language. The word ‘white’ need never have been uttered … not because of political correctness or lack thereof, but simply because it’s wrong on most accounts. The land was simply land – new land – on which there were a number of odd, never before seen animals, and some naked people with skin that appeared to be black. It also probably didn’t look too hopeful for agriculture at the time either.

On August 21st Tony Abbott proudly unveiled a bust of Captain Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales, at the Museum of Sydney. It was reported that Dame Marie Bashir – who has collected all of Phillips journals, mentioned that he (Phillip) had an “underlying ambition to treat aborigines and convicts with respect.” Got to wonder about that one!  Over 50% of the First Fleet passengers were convicts sent. The first ship of the first fleet arrived in January 1788. (read here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-30/pm-comment-on-defining-moment-angers-indigenous-groups/5707926).

If one were to be totally pedantic about the whole thing, Van Diemen would have to get at least half a guernsey – just for sending a navigator under his command – Abel Tasman, to chart the island of Van Diemen’s Land in 1642.  It was renamed Tasmania, obviously after Abel Tasman.

As for Captain Cook, he was commissioned to search the South Pacific to look for the rich southern continent of Terra Australis. He charted the north eastern coastline then shot through to New Zealand, which he charted in its entirety. So surely his arrival date at Terra Australis should rate a mention. He also managed to get into “Stingray Bay“ and re-named Botany Bay … after the unique specimens retrieved by botanists on board the “Endeavour”. It was also at Botany Bay that James Cook made first contact with the Indigenous Gweagal people.

The real Australia! The true Australia!  All because of a few white, bewigged and powdered fops that arrived on boats along with convicts, animals and bags of seeds among other things!

Now there is something to be proud of!

There actually were people here; human beings, homo sapiens already here, and they had a vast knowledge of the land that the likes of Abbott (and Truss) couldn’t even begin to fathom, even if they began reading about it all now, because it’s London to a Brick they’ve never read anything about it before. They could not possibly refer to the ‘beginnings’ of Australia in such a fashion, if they had read and referenced it.

The First Fleet arrived with bags of seeds for sowing and growing vegetables, flowers, farm implements, sheep, cattle, horses, pigs for breeding and slaughter to feed the few, and many other goodies that befit a form of nobility, to begin with, and included dogs, cats and plenty of rats. Plus a whole lot of people who were rejects by the British establishment of the time, because they’d run out of room in their own jails.

Convicts were no longer accepted by the United States. Among the convicts who were in fact mainly British, there were people of other nationalities – including African, American and French on board. These nationalities were sent here, most likely because of pre-history with the British, and were no doubt eagerly chucked aboard the ships for deportment to the Antipodes. African? Perhaps because they were black. American? Because they had routed the British in the War of Independence proclaiming their independence in July 1776. French? Probably because of all the previous wars in history … the English didn’t like ‘em much.

It was tough getting started. The farm implements were not up to scratch – too lightweight for the heavy heat hardened soil of Australia.

But what a bonus it all was to be able to send men, women and children convicts to the furthest and remotest place on earth (at the time) to slave – yes, slave – on farms in order to earn a pardon of one degree or another. There were 3 tiers to pardons, and each had to be worked through diligently and with exemplary behaviour. The convicts used on farms and (later) buildings of a grander scale – rather similar to the US South, were ‘fed and watered’ by their colonial masters. They worked from morning to night, without pay. They were in fact used as slaves. Finally, if good enough, they were granted free pardon to make of their lives what they could. Many succeeded, many failed and fell back into lives of crime, partly to survive, and partly to rail against their oppressors.

Here endeth the history lesson.

And what a wonderfully defining ‘moment’ it all was.

Tony Abbott said:

“The arrival of the First Fleet was the defining moment in the history of this continent. Let me repeat that, (a la Parliamentary mode) it was the defining moment in the history of this continent”.

“It was the moment this continent became part of the modern world.”

Pardon? Digest that one very slowly, paying particularly attention to ‘moment’ and ‘modern’.

Headlines said:

“Tony Abbott names white settlement as Australia’s ‘defining moment’, remark draws Indigenous ire”.

White settlement, huh?

Abbott also said:

“I hope that the defining moments of 1964, for instance, might include the launch of the Australian newspaper as well as the publication of The Lucky Country.”

The Australian newspaper!  Well there’s no surprise … it’s owned and run by his master and he just had to single it out – maybe he’d read some of the distinctly coolish comments the Australian had published recently about this Government, so he did a little sucking up.

And I doubt he’s ever read “The Lucky Country” written by Donald Horne. If he had, he might never have added that pearl of wisdom to his speech. Then again – who knows what to expect from this bloke?

The Lucky Country became a catch phrase to describe Australia. But that was not the writers’ intention. His intention was more an indictment.

The title of Horne’s The Lucky Country comes from the opening words of the book’s last chapter:

Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.

Horne’s statement was an indictment of 1960s Australia. His intent was to comment that, while other industrialized nations created wealth using “clever” means such as technology and other innovations, Australia did not. Rather, Australia’s economic prosperity was largely derived from its rich natural resources. Horne observed that Australia “showed less enterprise than almost any other prosperous industrial society.”

In his 1976 follow-up book, Death of the Lucky Country, Horne clarified what he had meant when he first coined the term:

When I invented the phrase in 1964 to describe Australia, I said: ‘Australia is a lucky country run by second rate people who share its luck.’ I didn’t mean that it had a lot of material resources … I had in mind the idea of Australia as a [British] derived society whose prosperity in the great age of manufacturing came from the luck of its historical origins … In the lucky style we have never ‘earned’ our democracy. We simply went along with some British habits.

In the decades following his book’s publication, Horne became critical of the “lucky country” phrase being used as a term of endearment for Australia. He commented, “I have had to sit through the most appalling rubbish as successive generations misapplied this phrase.” (From Wikipedia).

Underscored to some degree, without the full detail, is the Australian Government’s own website which gives similar, but not all comments, but does include the ‘second rate people’ comment:

http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/lucky-country. This link is actually interesting – for many reasons, and a chuckle or two.

It also quotes this utter diamond of a comment:

“Professor Ian Lowe, an eminent social commentator, says in his paper The Clever Country? that Australia has two options. Either ‘we could continue our current economic strategies; this could be called the ‘steady as she sinks’ approach’, or, he says, ‘we could try seriously to become ‘the clever country’ by investing in our own future”.

Maybe Tony Abbott did read about it – on Wikipedia: “a [ British ] derived society “ … “We simply went along with some British habits“ … “second rate people “ (our illustrious Prime Minister sees many of us this way) …  “luck of its historical origins“ (nope – not that one, not if taken from the real truth of its origins, unknown to us, even to this day).

Before jumping all over the writer … I am NOT anti-British, in fact I love the old country very dearly. I do not necessarily agree with Donald Horne’s thoughts, but what I most certainly am against is racism. And Abbott is full of racist innuendo. His latest gem being his worst effort – in that category. I am not going to list categories of insult and foolhardy comments he has made over the past 12 months. Way too long.

But … listening to Abbott speak his mind, and make appeals to the public is becoming like something from a Bela Lugosi movie made into a series.

I do think he’d best cast about for a better speech writer. Of course he may well write his own speeches, which might explain a lot.

I don’t particularly desire to see him make such a smash hit of his speeches that we fall for the spiel again – just employ someone whose writing won’t insult or confront most of us here, and half the rest of the world.

And maybe I’d best just cast about for the remote and switch off the TV.

 

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Could it get any worse?

We have been given the impression by certain members of the media recently that Tony Abbott is being hailed as some sort of world leader in the aftermath of MH17. Try as I did to find any reference to him in any of the major news dailies around the world, I couldn’t. I found several negative references concerning his abandonment of the carbon tax and his attempts to deregulate university fees, but nothing that linked his name to MH17. That, however, has not stopped people like Gerard Henderson and Michael Stutchbury praising Abbott’s performance on ABC’s Insiders.

Notwithstanding their efforts, the Prime Minister appears to have had his moment in the sun, and one gets the impression now, that his ongoing efforts to bring us the latest updates on gaining access to the crash scene, are nothing more than grandstanding. The latest poll taken after the MH17 tragedy suggests he has been given a few brownie points for little more that what would be expected of any national leader just doing his job. So, is he so naive as to think his grandstanding on the tragedy of MH17 will absolve him of past unpopular decisions and restore his credibility with the voters?

His overall approval rating shows that we have seen through his pitiful attempt at galvanising a nation’s grief. It came coincidentally while Joe Hockey was undermining his efforts by stealing the limelight with a, ‘look at me, look at me’ appearance at a book launch. That, to me, suggests something is dysfunctional about the relationship between the two men.

One of the ugly Australians? (Image by veooz.com)

Close on the heels of that laughable effort, a group of Catholic and Anglican Church leaders has accused Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison of ‘state sanction child abuse’ and called upon him to step down from his position as guardian for all unaccompanied minors. One might add, not before time. Of all Abbott’s ministers, Morrison’s performance is the most lamentable.

How easy was it for him in opposition? He could mount attack after attack, be strong on rhetoric, low on detail and appear so confident and assertive. Free from the constraints of running a department he could confidently face the media every day, set up a mobile billboard to advertise boat arrivals, mercilessly hunt his prey like a tiger in a Sumatran jungle and torment the then various Labor ministers for being too soft. How things have changed since the baton of responsibility passed to him. Now he has become the hunted and under the pressure of ministerial responsibility his performance has been a shambles.

Masked by excessive secrecy and the dubious claim that the boats had stopped, the department has been dogged by reports of inhumane treatment of detainees, disregard for human rights, riots resulting in a violent murder, lack of basic sanitary supplies, abuse of minors, mental illness, attempted suicide, intimidation of departmental staff and now a cover-up. How, in the name of ministerial responsibility, is he still there?

Scott Morrison has been forced into allowing 157 asylum seekers to be brought to the Australian mainland which goes against everything he has worked toward since taking on the portfolio. He boldly claimed that they were economic migrants because they had come from the safe country of India.  When challenged on the accuracy of that claim by Sarah Ferguson on the 7.30 report Wednesday 30th July, he then said it was his understanding that they were economic migrants. Which means that he doesn’t really know for sure what they are. But, not knowing doesn’t seem to stop him from making unsubstantiated claims about them. I cannot recall an immigration minister more savagely uncompromising and as vindictive as Morrison. Does he think that looking more like a dictatorial commandant than a minister is good for his image? His continued presence in that role is offensive to a nation historically proud of its compassion and sense of responsibility to those fleeing persecution.

CommissionThe revelations by Psychiatrist Dr Peter Young, a former director of Mental Health Services at International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), the detention centre service provider, that pressure was applied to alter his reports to something more palatable, paints a shameful picture which, if true, should in itself,  bring an end to Scott Morrison’s ministerial appointment.

Could it get any worse? By any measure it shows the whole government to be dysfunctional, small minded, narrowly focussed and out of sync with broader community expectations. Is it, therefore, any wonder that they are taking a clobbering in the polls? Do they really believe their ideology is sustainable in a post modern world? They probably do.

 

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