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Aspirational? Don’t try to take us for ride, Mr Turnbull.

Aging chestnut mare, Aspirational, returns to the Canberra track, next week, in the lead-up to The Super Saturday By-election Stakes, to be run 28 July. Aspirational, a J Howard favourite, now hopelessly long in the tooth, was always a baulky, flea-bitten nag, but her recent runs are shocking.

Aspirational is all over the track. The PM’s spin unit has injected the tedious buzz-word into every MP’s talking points. Are they aiming for a wake-up call, or hitting the snooze button? What exactly is aspirational? Ambition 2.0? Hope? No. Currently, it is a cover for increasing inequality.

Abracadabra! Hocus pocus! By the magic trick of lifting the “tax burden” (a Tea Party, TM, idea) or making our tax system flatter, less progressive and more unfair, aspiration will kick in. Take off.

Those who’ll benefit the most over the next seven years are the rich. Turnbull’s tax cuts skew the system in favour of the wealthy. And they are subversive. The government’s new flat marginal tax rate of 32.5% for all workers earning between $41.000 to $200.000 a year undermines our progressive taxation system. It flouts the principle of each according to his or her means.

Workers average $62,000 a year. The median is trickier although there is no excuse for the PM taking the question on notice. It can range from 47K to 55K depending what you take into calculation. Easy. But how to reward the wealthy at a time of alarming increases in economic and social inequality? Easy. Pretend you are rewarding the mythical aspirational worker.

Is Liberal hoop Turnbull guilty of reckless riding? His backhand whip action and his attempts to box in rival top jock, Labor’s wily Will Shorten create uproar. But can he put Bill’s weights up?

“Slimy, insinuating and patronising” hisses the PM. It’s his best barb of the week. Turnbull is in the running for best venomous toad. His puffy eyes seem to fill with the milky white toxin which some toads produce from poison glands behind their eyes. He shouts. He bellows. He screams.

“This groveller, this man who abandoned workers while he tucked his knees under Pratt’s table.”

Turnbull is overcome by class hatred. ‘There’s class war all right,” US billionaire Warren Buffett reminds us, “but it’s my class, the rich class that’s making war and we’re winning’.

It’s the same, insane, snarling rage that ruined Turnbull’s pyrrhic victory speech, election night. Like Abbott, The Incredible Sulk, or his mentor, Donald monster man-baby Trump, a sore loser, Turnbull stoops to his “knees under the table” routine. It says more than he knows about himself.

Courtesy of Rupert Murdoch, whose Newspoll, which has installed itself as our national political oracle, Turnbull is reminded of two bitter truths each day parliament is in session.

As Tassie psephologist, Kevin Bonham, tweets, “Turnbull and Coalition lose an outright record 34 straight #Newspoll 2PPs, Bill Shorten 34 2PP wins in a row is the most for an Opposition Leader.”

Beyond desperate, the Coalition now tries to bribe the electorate with an over-hyped message about a “record” $140 billion of tax cuts, a mantra its ABC echo-chamber faithfully repeats. No matter those cuts are a long way into the future. Besides, aspiration, like grifting, is in its DNA.

“We’re not mystified by [aspiration],” the PM crows this week. “We recognise it, we embrace it.”

Turnbull’s turns puce. His face is puffy. He howls down deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek who doubts anyone refuses a pay rise, or a promotion just because they have to pay extra tax. She defends marginal tax rates which even The Grattan Institute says are vital to a progressive system.

Mal’s a dead man walking. Liberal Party internal polling predicts a Coalition rout next election. To use the surgical meaning, toxic Turnbull will soon be aspirated; sucked out of politics entirely.

In desperation, the PM tries to buy us with tax cuts. Yet his dodgy tax cuts will favour the rich. “Class warfare” is a reproach from the right of politics, whenever an attempt is made to help workers, those on low incomes, or the rapidly expanding underclass. Now it’s his main strategy.

A real class war election will be triggered by Turnbull’s move to lock future governments into huge income tax cuts for high income earners, as John Quiggin, notes. The top twenty per cent of earners will benefit – that is people who currently earn $87K or more.

Workers on $120,000-a-year today will still pay today’s average tax rate of 29 per cent in 2027-28, unchanged from today. Yet tax rates for middle-income earners will continue to rise.

If you earn $36,000-a-year today, your tax will increase from 10-16 percent, a 6 percent rise. Consequently, workers on the highest incomes get to pay a lower share of tax.

No wonder class inspires much of the PM’s bravura performance in Question Time this week.

Keeping his class-warfare personal, the PM attacks Tanya Plibersek’s family earnings, an extension of his mantra that the Labor Party is made up of class traitors just out for themselves.

“From the hard streets of Rosebery, with a household income of just under $1m, the deputy leader of the opposition says aspiration is a mystery,” he hectors. Our PM’s a class act. What a ham.

It’s a typical pick-on-Plibersek moment for a government which finds it uplifting to ridicule and publicly humiliate a woman. It’s a ritual that is, sadly, not just confined to the blokes.

Julie Bishop loves to mock Tanya Plibersek over such critical issues as Africa being a continent and not a country; or her knowledge of which of the Marshall Islands is now submerged due to climate change. Rebukes even echo the misogyny of the blokes in charge – in 2016, Bishop accused Plibersek of a “hysterical campaign of misinformation” about the government’s approach to Iran.

It’s inspiring, character-building stuff just guaranteed to make any woman feel equal and at ease. But it doesn’t stop with the put-downs. This week, Plibersek is even thrown out of the chamber when she attempts to table a transcript of the very interview which the PM is wilfully misquoting.

The transcript she offers would stop Turnbull’s mockery; correct the record – surely a reasonable and responsible action on her behalf. It is peremptorily disallowed by Speaker Tony Smith.

Her transcript reads: Honestly this aspiration term, it mystifies me. As if someone on $40,000 a year isn’t going to want to earn $100,000 a year because they’re going to pay a bit more tax. They’re going to get a lot more income, they’re going to pay a bit more tax.

I think it’s just an excuse and a cover for a government that is determined to give the biggest tax cuts to people like them, people that they want to look after at the big end of town. How is it fair that a surgeon on five times the income of a nurse gets a 16 times larger tax cut. Is that fair?”

Plibersek nails it. No wonder the government didn’t want the full text to appear in Hansard.

At other times, the PM and his team of mostly old white blokes tell men to wise up. Lift their game. Abuse of women would stop if only blokes could just show women a bit more respect. Further idle flapping of the gums is also devoted to why so few women are Coalition MPs. As for the PM’s guff about aspiration, that’s just a cover for injustice; a lame excuse to rip off the poor.

Not even Turnbull believes his cynical rhetoric – an excuse for rewarding the rich based on the lie that the harder you work, the richer you get. Australia has always been a stratified society. It’s a place, moreover, where’s been no real change in social mobility since the 1960s, former ANU economist, Andrew Leigh’s research, concludes, confirming other, significant, academic studies.

Family background still matters. What is growing, however, is income inequality and policies which accelerate it. Decades of neoliberal policies have widened the gap between the haves and have nots, enriching the toffs while creating an impoverished, marginalised underclass.

Yet Turnbull’s riposte is revealing – and ultimately self-sabotaging. It’s a key note in the week’s all-in brawl over tax cuts and justice which plays out against news of Donald Trump’s decree to separate babies from their mothers while their parents are prosecuted for illegal entry to America.

Nearly 1800 immigrant families are torn apart at the US-Mexico border from October 2016 to February this year. In Brisbane, a solo mother is being torn away from her eight year old son, Giro, who is an Australian citizen, by Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs and deported to the Philippines.

It will be at least three years before she will get a chance to return to see Giro again.

Like Dutton’s (broken) Home Affairs and his supporters, Trump peddles the pernicious myth that undocumented migrants are a danger. A myth? The Poynter Institute’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact reports, “undocumented immigrants – (along with all other migrants) commit crimes at lower rates than the native born.”

Giro’s mother, Bernadette Romulo has lived in Australia with her children for 11 years. She works in aged care, pays taxes; contributes to her church community. Her son cannot leave with her because partial custody arrangements require that he not be separated from his father.

Trump boasts it’s his tough zero-tolerance border policy, but, in reality, he’s just his playing to the gallery, or as commenters love to say, his “base”. Immune to reason, impervious to all evidence of ineptitude, illegality, or betrayal of its base, a more suitable term for his devotees is “cult”.

Yet base is a perfect word to fit Trump’s hollow posturing. Like Dutton, Morrison or Abbott before him, he’s forsaking all decency and humanity to win votes by pretending he’s a tough guy. And everybody knows only tough guys are caring and protective. Alpha males rule. It’s a grotesque, dog eat pup, faux show of strength in a neoliberal theatre of unfathomable cruelty.

That theatre is even more terrifying because it operates in a void. Trump’s America does not care, writes Robert Kagan, It is unencumbered by historical memory. It recognizes no moral, political or strategic commitments. It feels free to pursue objectives without regard to the effect on allies or, for that matter, the world. It has no sense of responsibility to anything beyond itself.

We are dragged along by our great and powerful friend’s coat-tails. Melania Trump causes a fuss this week when she chooses to wear a $52 Zara coat which says “I really don’t care. Do U?”

Melania’s coat is seen as she embarks on a plane to head to McAllen, Texas, for a surprise visit to the heart of the family separation crisis at the southern border. Could she be so heartless?

In a word, yes. Yet a torrent of apologies, excuses and semiotic glosses ensues, including a tweet from the POTUS saying his wife was heroically liberating herself from the tyranny of fake news.

He tweets, “‘I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?’ written on the back of Melania’s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!”

As if. Gertrude Stein points to the truth with elegant simplicity, “A rose is a rose is a rose”.

If fake news is a thing, so, too are fake tweets. Trump’s one big thing is to feed our mistrust.

Above all, we need to demonise the other. Even as neoliberalism’s mainspring unwinds, its selfish competition and commodification of relationships vitiates normal social bonds of reciprocity, obligation and responsibility, we are driven to blame aliens; enemy agents to appease our guilt.

Pastor Peter Dutton, ever keeping us safe from terror, pipes up about the need to keep our “foot on the throat” of demon people-smugglers, terrorists and bad dudes with tats and facial piercings from Kiwi bikie gangs we must deport back to Nelson, Wellington or Christchurch.

It’s critical, he tells The Weekend Australian much in the same way that Christian Porter insists we pass the proposed espionage and foreign interference bill – a bill which he says is necessary to protect the Super Saturday by-elections, July 28, which could be sabotaged by foreign agents but he can’t say who, how or why. It’s another excuse to silence advocacy groups and GetUp!

Dutton tells Coalition colleagues that Australia is in a “danger phase” with illegal boat arrivals. One act of compassion could “undo overnight” five years of hard work in “stopping the boats”.

His claim’s preposterous. But who needs a reasoned case with evidence in an age of metanoia?

In the end, Trump rescinds his decree. Sort of. He tells an aide, Tuesday, that “it doesn’t look good politically”. Instead, children will be locked up with their parents, on bases, a practice zealously embraced by Australia despite Dutton’s repeated fake claims that we have no children in custody.

Refugee Council of Australia figures indicate there are seven children in detention facilities; 33 on Nauru, 180 in community detention and an estimated 3,083 in the community on a bridging visa.

Since 2010, 40 asylum seekers have died in detention. This week, Home Affairs Minister, Dutton bows to pressure and allows Ali, a 65 year old man, dying of lung cancer, to return to Australia.

Afghan refugee, Ali, has been interned five years on Nauru. As loyal US allies, we are still helping turn Afghanistan into a hellhole. Worse, grave allegations emerge that our forces have committed war crimes, amid a “complete lack of accountability” from the military chain of command.

Yet no-one can explain what Australia is doing in Afghanistan – apart from blindly following the US. Even the US can’t say what it is achieving in its longest war in history and the costliest since WWII. It began in 1981 as the Bush administration’s response to the September 11 attacks. It has cost over $1 trillion to date. Civilian casualties are fast rising under Trump’s “fight to win strategy”. There were 10,000 civilian casualties last year with over 3000 deaths.

Trump’s push is as ineffective as his decision to drop the GBU-43, the mother of all bombs. What is certain is that the region has been the source of a flood of refugees which some estimate to number three million. The nation has the reputation of causing the greatest number of refugees in the world. Of those who do return, three quarters are forced by violence to flee again.

The brutal answer to the question of what we are doing is that we are creating refugees.

Similarly, few are prepared to make the link between our illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent flood of millions of refugees or those from Syria. Nor do we hear of the ways the US illegal invasion helped radicalise Iraqis; join al Qaeda in Iraq which would become ISIL and other groups. Easier to discover are estimates that around four million Iraqis were forced to flee ISIL.

We’ve helped to dispossess Afghans but we don’t want them here. Ali and his family were told “under no circumstances” would he be permitted to set foot on Australian soil. It’s a reversal of a Trump-like decision by Border Force and Home Affairs to deny all natural aspiration to humanity, compassion or respect for international law regarding the unity and protection of the family unit.

The UNHCR reluctantly agrees to help in the relocation of refugees from Nauru and Manus to the US, reports Ben Doherty, in The Guardian, but “on the clear understanding” that vulnerable refugees with close family ties to Australia would ultimately be allowed to settle there.

This proviso is ignored. Our government’s aspirations do not embrace or honour UNHCR requests.

Australia’s refugee policy is now a byword for brutality. Our Nauru detention centre which bears the Orwellian name of Regional Processing Centre is a place of medical neglect, hunger strikes, suicides and abuse. Amnesty International calls our policy a “human rights catastrophe”.

330 refugees and asylum seekers, including 36 children, remain in detention on Nauru. Our government tells them that they will never be able to settle in Australia or New Zealand.

Are they, too, entitled to aspirations? Perish the thought. Time to return to Turnbull’s stunt.

Turnbull blunders. Is derision the best way he can respond to a Plibersek, a politician who has the integrity and intellectual honesty to own that she is mystified by his vacuous cliché? Bad enough that he must fend off her challenge to his platitude, a challenge which goes to the empty heart of his sonorous oratory; all sound and fury and no conviction, but he makes a very bad call.

Aspirations are not all to do with working harder, earning more or “improving” your social status and it diminishes any leader to pretend otherwise. Mal’s quip and the Coalition’s subsequent mockery by reiteration ad absurdum of the word aspiration in Question Time are another poor call. The nation is again dismayed by his lack of judgement. In World Cup terms, it’s an own goal.

Far from embracing or recognising aspiration, the Turnbull government will be remembered for its ever lowering of ambition in its desire to act with compassion, justice or humanity. Or humility.

It has heartlessly abandoned and abused to the point of torture those we choose to call asylum seekers. They are refugees; desperate men, women and children, fleeing war, famine and disaster whose only choice is to seek out Australia by boat and throw themselves on our compassion.

Embrace? No embrace here. Aspiration? More like apathy and perverse indifference to our own cruelty and inhumanity. At present, we illegally detain, indefinitely, over two thousand refugees on Manus, Nauru, Christmas Island as well as those in community detention on the mainland.

Despite Aspirational’s Liberal pedigree, Mr Turnbull, you would be well advised to drop the buzz-word immediately. Send the flea-bitten old nag to the knackery. While you’re at it you should drop the attacks on Tanya Plibersek. Can the wisecracks about her household income or Bill Shorten’s dinners with the Pratts. People in glass houses need to aspire to a higher standard of debate.

Finally, it may be a radical step for you, but it’s not too late to recall the last stage of your tax cut policy too. Or scrap the plan entirely. Australian voters are not mugs. They can tell when they’re being taken for a ride.



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  1. Jaquix

    David Tyler brIlliant as usual. I would like to see his incisive articles more often, and shorter. The Trump/immigration part of this one, could have been a separate article. Loved how David used the racing analogy for Turnbull’s (strategists) overuse of the word aspiration and its variations.

  2. Keith

    Last week Turnbull attacked Aged Care workers, and workers in general with his comments about an Age Care worker in Burnie, who could aspire to a better position. There was no understanding of the value of the position of Aged Care workers displayed, or other workers providing essential services. Age Care workers have positions which provide real benefits to communities, a position they can have pride in. Numerous underpaid workers provide a greater service than some of the lousy politicians we currently have to put up with; politicians with no idea of what real people have to face. LNP politicians have no idea of the satisfaction and pride people can take in the positions they have in providing a good and valuable service, though obtain poor pay.

  3. Keith

    Further, in relation to Aged Care workers, when instances of poor service are found in Age Care facilities it is generally management that are the cause in the vast majority of cases. Management are responsible fo the terrible situations. The profit motive being a contributor through poor staff to patient ratios, and unwillingness to provide the medical services a patient needs.

  4. Keith

    He makes more sense than a good number of Senators who have been in the Senate for a decade or more:

  5. Barry Thompson

    Brilliant David.
    If only the MSM had journalists with your way with words and the guts to express them.

  6. Alpo

    “Aging chestnut mare, Aspirational, returns to the Canberra track … Aspirational, a J Howard favourite, now hopelessly long in the tooth, was always a baulky, flea-bitten nag, but her recent runs are shocking.”….

    That was truly brilliant, David!…. To complete the picture of old and tired ideas, the Libs only have to start a “reds under your bed” campaign, accusing Shorten of being a “dangerous Marxist-Leninist”…. Then the laughter will become truly universal!

    The People are fed up with the Neoliberal lie… Nothing has trickled down…. nothing will… We have got to grab the control of our destiny and fight for a more just, socially responsible, economically productive and environmentally sustainable society…. Labor (with the support of the Greens in the Senate) are our last hope!

  7. Stephen

    Very good article had to check a few word meanings which is good doesn’t happen often in Main Stream Media.
    You need to clarify The 1981 and 911 section.

  8. Frank Smith

    Turdball was clearly off his meds in Parliament last week. And so is his mate, the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief. They both need serious medical advice.

  9. helvityni

    “We’re not mystified by [aspiration],” the PM crows this week. “We recognise it, we embrace it.”

    They also embrace the idea that your house is not a home but real estate; what you can get for it when you are ready to sell it and move to the next level in the Oz suburb standing… One finally ends up as a lonely King in the ‘bestest’ ( the highest house-price) suburb…

  10. Adrianne Haddow

    Aspirational! The hijacking of another principled word by those with the lowest grasp of fine principles in this country. Same with the terms ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘values’.

    The only aspiration these IPA and LNP crud have is to put more dollars, gained by the theft of Australia’s natural resources, land and opportunity, into their off-shore bank accounts.

    To me, the term aspiration, brings to mind people such as Fred Hollows, Weary Dunlop, Mother Teresa, Gandhi and those who drafted the International Bill of Human Rights. People who have made a difference for the betterment of their fellow human beings. The legacy left by these people survives long after their lives have been spent. WhereasTurnbull and his fellow parasites will be remembered as the scum who despoiled the earth and our way of life in their pursuit of profit for themselves and their gods, the corporations.

    The use of this word to describe the motives of people, whose only grasp of life’s values is in terms of how much personal benefit they can gain, is hypocrisy of the highest order. An attempt to make a virtue of their avarice and lack of principles.

  11. Kerri

    Tanya is right. When the Libs talk of migrant sucess they refer to Frank Lowy. Not their local butcher, baker, cleaner etc.

  12. Kronomex

    Ah, so it’s only the LNP that is allowed to pull stunts and throw dirt around and anyone else doing the same it’s “Wah, they’re picking on us.”


    I certainly don’t consider it an attack on Trembles or any other pollie that has millions stashed away. I call it a public service to let us know what you need (aspire?) to be part of the born to rule crowd.

    “Aspire” should be renamed “Arse piracy” because if we can’t reach down your throat and remove money and anything else we feel you don’t need then we’ll grease our hands and remove it from the other end.

  13. guest

    Turnbull apparently aspired to be PM from an early age. That, or he was promised and was molly-coddled in that direction. Having got there, he is like the dog that caught the car: he does not know what to with it.

    His frustration is obvious: waving his arms about, slashing with his hands, red in the face, um-ing and ah-ing, trying to speak ex tempore, resorting to personal insults, being smug about his wealth, making extravagant claims about his “policies” so often stolen in part from Labor or obedient to IPA commands…What a performance!

    It was Hockey who told us if we want a house, we have to get a good job. Turnbull is much the same. If we aspire and work hard we can get ourselves into the lower tax bracket. It is like Trump’s American dream: if one works hard one can be like him! But the question is, where are the big-paying jobs available? For many people, where are any jobs at all? Turnbull seems to believe his own propaganda about how many jobs they have created. It is not as great as he pretends.

    Turnbull does not acknowledge how jobs have been lost through the cutting of funding, closing of institutions and manufacturing, safe houses, neglect of renewables, loss of penalty rates, outsourcing to foreign entities…

    But even more pertinent than any of this is the matter of polls. While there is all this talk about Turnbull being the preferred PM, Turnbull knows that the position of PM is not elected by the Oz voting public, but his party is, and at present it has lost 34 polls. Or to put it another way, Labor has won 34 polls in quick time.

    We can expect Turnbull and his party to become more and more insufferable and belligerent as the time closes on the next election. It will be a dirty war, and the Coalition, with Turnbull as leader, does not deserve to win it.

  14. paul walter

    Aspirational is only a euphemism for greedy.

  15. Pierre Wilkinson

    The fact that the polls have Turnbull as preferred PM and the best economic manager, yet do not support his tax policies makes me both nervous and hopeful. Nervous that the voting public might just believe the MSM and government hyperbole, hopeful that they might just be waking up to the fact that this rabble have not been held to account for their actions yet.

  16. johno

    Aspirational now is it, What happened to innovation. Could we be both. Radical, yes….

  17. Alistair

    How about just turning it around. I have aspirations. They are aspirations for a fairer more equitable society. Its that simple.

  18. New England Cocky

    “Beyond desperate, the Coalition now tries to bribe the electorate with an over-hyped message about a “record” $140 billion of tax cuts,”

    Uhm … the RAbbot Morriscum Dutton Turdball NLP misgovernment is presently gifting, free gratis and for nothing, about $150 BILLION PER YEAR to the undeserving wealthy and corporates in the form of tax concessions, rebates and other tax allowances.

    I have an aspiration for an egalitarian, equitable society where everybody contributes to the cost of government according to their ability and is supported in national security, education and health according to their needs.

    There is no justification for government to prop up a demonstrably second rate private school system. Rather, as happened before 1963, let persons who want their own school system for elitism reasons, pay for the entire cost of that system which must conform to the state educational standards.

    Then remove private health policies and subsidies and invest those funds into public health, especially in regional centres where university teaching hospitals would provide a secondary industry in job starved communities.

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