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Trusting Jacquie !

When Jacquie Lambie appeared on Q&A I thought that finally we would get some answers on why she allowed her pivotal vote in the Senate to repeal the medevac laws. The laws had been introduced on a private members Bill sponsored by Kerryn Phelps, Andrew Wilkie, Adam Bandt, Julia Banks and Rebekha Sharkie on 6 December 2018 and formally known as the Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018.

The purpose of the Bill was quite simply stated as :

‘Amends the Migration Act 1958 to: require the temporary transfer to Australia of transitory persons on Manus Island or Nauru, and their families, if they are assessed by two or more treating doctors as requiring medical treatment; and require the temporary transfer of all children and their families from offshore detention to Australia for the purpose of medical or psychiatric assessment.’

The need for this Bill had been driven by the 2014 tragic and unnecessary death of a young man in a Brisbane hospital after he had contracted a leg infection on Manus Island where he had been held in detention by Australian immigration authorities. Brisbane Coroner Mr Terry Ryan found his death followed “a series of clinical errors and delays, including a lack of antibiotics on Manus Island to treat tropical infections and a failure by Australian immigration officials to urgently grant a doctor’s request for the twenty-four-year-old asylum seeker to be transferred to Australia for life-saving treatment “.

The coroner found the Australian Government had not met its responsibility to detainees such as Mr Hamid Khazaei to provide health care that was “broadly comparable” to that available in Australia. The coroner recommended a systemic overhaul of healthcare responses in offshore detention, including a new policy to allow doctors on the ground, rather than Canberra officials, to approve medical transfers.

So the medevac Bill came into existence as a Private Members Bill and passed into the law of the land without the support of the minority government who pledged that they would repeal the legislation as soon as they had a majority. Not because it was bad law but because it was not their law and they will not tolerate any divergence from their legislative agenda such as it is.

After the law was passed the government had what I think you could call a ‘hissy-fit’. Dutton told us that those on Manus were paedophiles, murderers and rapists and would be fooling doctors to get on a ‘plane to Australia with a headache or an ingrowing toenail. Morrison hightailed it over to Christmas Island with a select media group as he explained that the wilfulness of the Senate in passing the medevac legislation would imminently result in an armada of boats from Indonesia and Christmas Island needed to be reopened at great expense to accommodate this new wave of ‘boat people’.

Let us quickly dismiss this nonsense : firstly if these folk on Manus were criminals as suggested by Spud Dutton, why have they not been brought before the courts of PNG or Australia. PNG has a mature legal system as was evidenced by their Supreme Court finding – against massive Australian diplomatic and legal interference – that the detention of people without trial is unconstitutional and thus unlawful in Papua New Guinea. PNG has also in recent days enacted ICAC legislation to take on corruption in high places, something Australia finds very hard to do. The PNG judicial system would have quickly apprehended these so called criminals if they were within their jurisdiction – it may be, as with Guantanamo Bay, that the detention centres are actually within the jurisdiction of Australia although our government is ambivalent on this when it suits them.

As regards Morrison’s Christmas Island adventure it tended to backfire as there was no armada and the detention centre has only been used for one Sri Lankan family and more recently for the quarantining of potential corona virus [covid-19] patients.

Let’s now turn to the legislation that brought into effect the more orderly management of medical evacuees that Dutton in particular was so opposed to. He saw this legislation as creating a national security problem because he, as responsible minister – I use that term loosely – would be unable to control the flow of people seeking medical attention in Australia as a result of this new – now repealed – legislation.

The new legislation set out the conditions by which sick people on Nauru and Manus could be transferred to Australia for medical treatment. The medevac law required that a medical evacuation could take place if two or more treating doctors considered  that a person needed to be evacuated : the Home Affairs minister still retained the discretion for refusal despite saying that it had been taken out of his hands.

The ministerial discretion applied in three areas.

First, the minister could refuse the transfer if he disagreed with the clinical assessment.

The second grounds for refusal is if the minister reasonably suspected that the transfer of the person to Australia would be prejudicial to security “within the meaning of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979, including because an adverse security assessment in respect of the person is in force under that Act”.

The transfer could also be refused if ASIO advises the minister that transfer of the person to Australia may be prejudicial to security “and that threat cannot be mitigated”.

The third grounds for refusal was if the minister knew that the transferee had a substantial criminal record and the minister reasonably believes the person would expose the Australian community to a serious risk of criminal conduct.

But, those decisions and that discretion needed to be exercised within 72 hours to prevent the matter dragging on and to avoid as far as possible the unfortunate outcome that bureaucratic bumbling had for the late Mr Hamid Khazaei.

Finally, if the minister denied the transfer request on health grounds (as opposed to security or criminal grounds), then the issue would go to an Independent Health Advice Panel “as soon as practicable”.

So, the minister was always in control of the situation he just had to make decisions based on reasonable evidence without unnecessary delay.

Back to Senator Lambie on Q&A. She was asked why she used her vote to help repeal the medevac laws despite overwhelming evidence from the AMA and other doctors groups including Médecins Sans Frontières [MSF] who said this :

In an ideal world we would not need the MedEvac Bill, but right now it is crucial to keep it in place. Because decisions around how patients should be treated must always be made by independent medical professionals, not politicians.

Clearly this legislation was sensible and humane and for Senator Lambie to join with the coalition in repealing it was baffling. Well, we still don’t know why she voted that way as all she would say on Q&A was that it was a matter of ‘national security’ upon which she could not comment further and she asked the Australian people to trust her and all would be revealed in due course, but not now.

We do have one clue why Dutton does not want refugees on Manus island to come to Australia for medical treatment and that, quite simply, is because PNG would not have them back again and why should they ? These people are not PNG citizens, they are not guest workers, they do not have visas and they cannot be classed as ‘detainees’ as that is now illegal in PNG. So, were they to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment they would probably stay in Australia unless the government took up the New Zealand resettlement offer – on which they have been obstinately uncooperative – or sent them to Nauru. Or perhaps they would end up in a motel in Preston which seems to be the preferred coalition solution.

Chaos is no stranger to this coalition but, the mismanagement and bungling of asylum seeker policy and offshore indefinite detention has been the biggest ongoing administrative cock-up we have seen in this country for a long time and yet it goes on and on.

PS: Jacquie I think they conned you !

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Government by Gobbledygook!

Attorney Alan Dershowitz, a member of President Donald Trump’s defence team, in the US Senate impeachment trial convinced the Republicans that presidents cannot be removed from office for an action they believe could help get them reelected. His actual words were :

“Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest,” he said. “And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

It’s much the same argument that Vladimir Putin uses to convince Russians that  making him President for Life is in the public interest and thus must be a good thing for the country.

It’s not a new argument, it’s been used by dictators and demagogues through the centuries to sand down the rough edges of democracy and create an entirely new reality.

Sidenote : I looked up demagogue just to see what it actually means : a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument. How very appropriate in the prevailing political climate.

Scott Morrison’s political advisers have been watching events in the US with increasing interest and excitement and adapting Trumpisms to suit their arguments. They used it in the pork barrelling episode to convince us that, as they had decided it was in the nation’s interests to re-elect a coalition government then, it followed that marginal seats needed to be Bolstered – a marginal seat evidently is one where female athletes get changed behind the bike-shed and thus they need a new swimming pool – simple as that as Morrison has been patiently explaining to perplexed journalists

The nub of this argument flows from the initial in principle decision : to get yourself or your spouse elected. Thus, when Angus Taylor fed into the media arena spurious information about massive travel overspending by Sydney City Council and its mayor Clover Moore, it didn’t matter that the information had been manufactured and forged documents used to support it. What did matter was that you inflict maximum damage on the SCC and its mayor so that your Missus gets a clear run to take over at the next local council election : i.e. it’s in the public interest.

Incidentally gobbledygook is defined as : language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of technical terms. When I read that, I immediately thought of Josh Frydenberg who talks constantly of paying down Labors debt legacy having himself presided over an increase in government debt by some 250% since coming to office.

Abraham Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, had a slightly different approach when it came to his understanding of what democracy meant. He suggested that a governing principle should be  government of the people, by the people, for the people.

But, hey isn’t that socialism ? That’s your starting point to blow-up the whole system – just ask Barnaby.

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Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink, Say No More!

On 4 January last I posted an item on The AIMN concerning the forged and falsified documents that were used by Angus Taylor and his office for a political hit on the Sydney City Council and in particular its Lord Mayor Clover Moore, over travelling expenses. You will remember that the minister also passed on the false information to the Daily Telegraph so that they too could pile on.

I concluded that post with the following observation after the investigation had been passed by the NSW Commissioner for Police to the Australia Federal Police as it seemed that the forgery had been perpetrated in the Canberra and thus in the jurisdiction of the AFP :

“The minister responsible for the Australian Federal Police just happens to be good mates with minister Taylor and whilst this should not in any way influence the outcome of this independent enquiry and I wouldn’t suggest that for a moment, I will wager London to a brick that this matter will be buried and that there will be no prosecutions and no resignations and no humble apologies.

Call me a cynic if you will and you may be right. So, I will give it until Easter and if there hasn’t been any movement at the station by then, it will be safe to say that the cover-up has been played out.

I’ll get back to you.”

We didn’t need to wait until Easter !

Today, Thursday 6 February 2020, the AFP confirmed it had finalised its investigations and it had :

“determined it is unlikely further investigation will result in obtaining sufficient evidence to substantiate a Commonwealth offence”.

“The AFP assessment of this matter identified there is no evidence to indicate the minister for energy and emissions reduction was involved in falsifying information,” an AFP spokesman said.

“The low level of harm and the apology made by the [minister] to the Lord Mayor of Sydney, along with the significant level of resources required to investigate were also factored into the decision not to pursue this matter.”

Let’s take the words used by the AFP.

“… it is unlikely further investigation will result in obtaining sufficient evidence to substantiate a Commonwealth offence.”

We have already pointed to the offence, it features in the Commonwealth Criminal Code, it’s staring you in the face :

144.1 Forgery

(1) A person commits an offence if:

(a) the person makes a false document with the intention that the person or another will use it:

(i) to dishonestly induce a third person in the third person’s capacity as a public official to accept it as genuine; and

(ii) if it is so accepted, to dishonestly obtain a gain, dishonestly cause a loss, or dishonestly influence the exercise of a public duty or function; and

(b) the capacity is a capacity as a Commonwealth public official.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.

“… there is no evidence to indicate the minister for energy and emissions reduction was involved in falsifying information.”

We know that the minister himself didn’t create the forged document. It was clearly somebody in his office who did the falsifying to induce the minister to use the  information for political purposes : see above section 144.1 of the Criminal Code.

“The low level of harm and the apology made by the [minister] to the Lord Mayor of Sydney, along with the significant level of resources required to investigate were also factored into the decision not to pursue this matter.”

Wait a minute, this falsified information was used by the minister as a political hit on the SCC and its mayor : sure, under pressure he later apologised but that’s not the point. There was political harm intended and it was not of a “low level”.

And what do they mean “the significant level of resources required to investigate were also factored into the decision not to pursue this matter.”

The media have done the groundwork, they found out who was allegedly responsible for the forgery. He was a Liberal party operative within the minister’s office who has since been moved on : even Inspector Clouseau could point him out in a crowd.

So that’s it, we all move on. There was no harm done and there are no winners, no losers. Except for the stain on our democracy, except for the damage to the rule of law in this country and if the AFP have been politically compromised what of the doctrine of the separation of powers?

Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more !

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Bridget, please turn the lights out as you leave and return the key to the ministerial loo!

Finally, it seems that the long-suffering quiet Australians who were forced to stand by and hold their tongues as Bridget McKenzie and her political advisers rorted and subverted the sports grants scheme, have had enough and have leaked the motherload of incriminating data to the ABC.

These so-called ministerial advisers had even prepared spreadsheets and colour coded grant applications in accordance with the political leanings and the vulnerability of respective seats: Green for Greens, Red for Labor and so on. This lot of so-called advisers sound as though they came from the same litter as the twerps who were advising Angus Taylor, doctoring and falsifying data on the Sydney City Council for a political hit on Clover Moore – where do they get these people?

They completely ignored the weightings and merit-based priorities carefully calibrated by Sport Australia as recommended to the minister in good faith and they substituted politically desirable alternatives that would better favour the coalition going into the election. Ironically, in their haste to help win marginal seats or to protect some of their under-performers, they deprived some deserving LNP safe seats of grants.

Events have now superseded the enquiry being carried out by Phil Gaetjens, Secretary to the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It no longer matters if Gaetjens finds that everything was above board, the facts speak for themselves.

John Howard pointed to a cliché of political life years ago when hounding Ros Kelly over similar claims of pork barrelling and the question he posed then is equally as valid today :

“Does the minister agree that, whatever debate there may be concerning the principle of ministerial responsibility, the practice has almost invariably been that a minister resigns when his or her continued presence is causing damage and embarrassment to that government?”

As the Morrison government prepares for a new parliamentary year with what they hoped would be a clean slate the last thing they want to be doing is squandering political capital defending this hapless, under-performing minister. After all, they still have to defend Angus Taylor – one of their more astute moves was to give the Taylor enquiry to Inspector Plod at the AFP in the sure and certain knowledge that nothing will come of that investigation.

Well, Bridget, it’s time to clear your desk and accompany this nice gentleman from security who will escort you from the building. Like the  Norwegian Blue Parrot, your career is now at an end, it has expired, it is no more, it has ceased to be, it has run out of steam, it is a former career!

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But, that’s the way we always do it in the National Party!

Quoting then Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie after the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) looked into her pork-barrelling of sports grants : “what’s the point of having a grants program if you can’t give handouts where they will have the greatest political return, helloo !”

You may recall that this whole thing blew up when a Liberal Party candidate in the Independently held seat of Mayo presented a bowls club with a large cheque courtesy the coalition. Very odd you may say, as this candidate wasn’t the elected member and had no authority to be handing out largesse on behalf of the coalition.

Labor reported this to the ANAO to look into. This from their report :

4.   The decision to undertake the audit followed a request from the Shadow Attorney-General, the Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP, for an audit into the circumstances surrounding the Liberal candidate for Mayo’s presentation of a cheque to the Yankalilla Bowling Club for a project that received $127,373 in funding under the second round. The key rationale for undertaking an audit was that Sport Australia (as a corporate Commonwealth entity) is not subject to the Commonwealth Grant Rules and Guidelines (CGRGs) when administering its grant programs.

The then Sports Minister, Bridget McKenzie said at the time there was nothing to see here and that she had absolute discretion over how coalition pork-barreling was administered ; the ANAO would beg to differ – again from their report :

24.   There was evidence of distribution bias in the award of grant funding. Overall statistics indicate that the award of funding was consistent with the population of eligible applications received by state/territory, but was not consistent with the assessed merit of applications. The award of funding reflected the approach documented by the Minister’s Office of focusing on ‘marginal’ electorates held by the Coalition as well as those electorates held by other parties or independent members that were to be ‘targeted’ by the Coalition at the 2019 Election. Applications from projects located in those electorates were more successful in being awarded funding than if funding was allocated on the basis of merit assessed against the published program guidelines.

McKenzie is now Agriculture Minister and Deputy Leader of the National Party and her comments today fall into the categories of ;

  • that’s the way we always do things in the coalition. Otherwise how would we win ?
  • My career is going quite nicely, thank you. So please don’t rock the boat.
  • We should sack the National Office of Audit as they are clearly all Lefties
  • You all need to take a cold shower because we won the election : so there !
  • Are you from the ABC ?

So far, the Prime Minister hasn’t commented but in true Westminster fashion it is fully expected that he will sack McKenzie before the week is out … or perhaps not.

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False Documents : how to Frustrate and Ultimately Bury a Legitimate Investigation

The NSW Police Commissioner has flicked the investigation into the forged Angus Taylor documents to the Australian Federal Police. Probably due to that fact that the commission of this unlawful act (i.e. forging the documents with the intention to deceive) appears to have taken place in the Australian Capital Territory – possibly in the office of the minister – and thus it’s a matter of jurisdiction so the AFP get the guernsey so to speak.

If you remember, Angus Taylor came into possession of some altered or forged documents which he stated came form the website of the Sydney City Council and he still maintains that even though it has been shown not to be the case on numerous occasions. Taylor’s documents showed that SCC had spent Millions ($15.9 million) on overseas travel for Councillors when, in fact, all of the published reports from SCC – including those online – showed that it was more like six thousand dollars.

When young Angus was originally provided with this fake information he couldn’t wait to do a hit job on the SCC and in particular Mayor Clover Moore. In his excitement, he wrote to Moore castigating her for the profligacy of her Council and he made sure he copied in the Daily Telegraph who ran with the story piling on to the Sydney Mayor : interestingly neither Taylor or the Tele bothered to check the accuracy of these figures or the authenticity of the documents – Rupert would you care to comment on journalistic standards within your media organisation ?

No ! I didn’t think so.

So, if this is a federal matter and thus coming under the jurisdiction of the AFP, it follows that it will probably be dealt with under the federal Criminal Code Act 1995. That being the case, it seems that section 144 would not be inappropriate :

144.1 Forgery

(1) A person commits an offence if:

(a) the person makes a false document with the intention that the person or another will use it:

(i) to dishonestly induce a third person in the third person’s capacity as a public official to accept it as genuine; and

(ii) if it is so accepted, to dishonestly obtain a gain, dishonestly cause a loss, or dishonestly influence the exercise of a public duty or function; and

(b) the capacity is a capacity as a Commonwealth public official.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.

So, you may say it should be reasonably simple to bring the culprit to justice – it has already been reported that the person responsible was a Liberal party political operative [not a public servant] within the minister’s office – and be done with this matter.

Under the Westminster system of ministerial accountability, you would normally expect that when the forgery and deception has been exposed and the culprit(s) dealt with under our judicial system, the minister responsible would resign. But there’s a snag which you may, as an alert follower of Australian conservative politics, have identified.

You got it in one !

The minister responsible for the Australian Federal Police just happens to be good mates with minister Taylor and whilst this should not in any way influence the outcome of this independent enquiry and I wouldn’t suggest that for a moment, I will wager London to a brick that this matter will be buried and that there will be no prosecutions and no resignations and no humble apologies.

Call me a cynic if you will and you may be right. So, I will give it until Easter and if there hasn’t been any movement at the station by then, it will be safe to say that the cover-up has been played out.

I’ll get back to you.

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That’s another Fine Mess you’ve gotten us into, Spud!

Following the repeal of the Medevac Laws, a number of asylum seekers are caught up in an exquisite political conundrum which nobody in the Morrison government, least of all Spud Dutton, want to discuss.

So, I’ll call on to the readers of AIMN to come up with a solution: after all, I didn’t vote for this mob.

Firstly, you will remember that in April 2016 the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was illegal. The five-man bench of the court ruled that such detention breached the right to personal liberty in the PNG constitution. The Supreme Court ordered the PNG and Australian Governments to immediately take steps to end the detention of asylum seekers in PNG.

“Both the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments shall forthwith take all steps necessary to cease and prevent the continued unconstitutional and illegal detention of the asylum seekers or transferees at the relocation centre on Manus Island and the continued breach of the asylum seekers or transferees constitutional and human rights,” the judges ordered.

In response, minister Dutton ordered that a legal fiction be created: he deemed that by opening the gates of the detention centre, building new accommodation at Lorengau on Manus Island and allowing the detainees to walk free during daylight hours would demonstrate that these people – most of whom had been deemed to be genuine refugees – were not detained, they were merely subject to another legal dictum – introduced by the pop group, The Eagles in their classic Hotel California – and now part of settled Australian asylum seeker law :

‘You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave!’

Fast forward to Melbourne today and we find that there are around 45 asylum seekers who had previously been detained in PNG but who had, under the Medevac Laws, been brought to Australia for urgent medical attention. The men are currently, following their medical treatment, detained on one floor of the $180-a-night Mantra on Bell in Preston, which is off-limits to other guests and patrolled by private security guards.

The difficulty facing Spud Dutton is that he cannot easily return these folk to detention in PNG as – unlike Australia – it is unconstitutional under PNG law to hold people against their will unless they have been charged and convicted of a crime and sentenced in a properly constituted court of law; always remembering that seeking asylum is not a crime. So PNG is unlikely to take them back, as to issue them with a tourist visa would be taking migration law into the realms of Monty Python.

So, in between cameo appearances on 2GB and Sky and television ads with uniformed AFP personnel, minister Dutton is pondering his next move having effectively painted himself into a corner with little room to maneuver.

When repealing the Medevac Laws senator Jacquie Lambie, whose vote was pivotal, evidently called on the government to find a durable resettlement solution to secure her vote. Not only for these 45 men surviving on room service at the Mantra on Bell in Preston but for those other poor souls still in PNG and on Nauru and those scattered around Australia including the unfortunate family of four still in punitive detention on Christmas Island.

So far the government have been unable to come up with a solution beyond saying that ‘it’s a matter of national security’ (code for not saying anything) and that they will not accept the very reasonable offer, made by successive New Zealand prime minister’s, to take 150 such people a year for resettlement.

As my inspiration and mentor, Oliver Hardy would say, ‘well that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Spud’!

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High-Fives in Parliament, or were they salutes?

Seeing Liberal Party goons in our parliament congratulating themselves and sharing high-fives following the repeal of the Medevac Laws was not only obscene but also quite worrying. It brought to mind the verse attributed to Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) which I have slightly modified here :

First they came for the asylum seekers, and I did not speak out —
because I was not an asylum seeker.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

It is fitting that we remember that it was the death of 24 year old Hamid Khazaei that gave impetus for a caring nation and their parliament to enact the Medevac Laws in the first place.

Back in September 2014 this young man died in a Brisbane hospital after he had contracted a leg infection on Manus Island where he had been held in detention by Australian immigration authorities. Brisbane Coroner Mr Terry Ryan found his death followed a series of clinical errors and delays, including a lack of antibiotics on Manus Island to treat tropical infections and a failure by Australian immigration officials to urgently grant a doctor’s request for the twenty-four year old asylum seeker to be transferred to Australia for life saving treatment.

The coroner found the Australian Government had not met its responsibility to detainees such as Mr Hamid Khazaei to provide health care that was “broadly comparable” to that available in Australia.

The coroner recommended a systemic overhaul of healthcare responses in offshore detention, including a new policy to allow doctors on the ground, rather than Canberra officials, to approve medical transfers.

That systemic overhaul recommended by the coroner came into being in the form of the Medevac Laws that have now been repealed.

High-Five, Jacqui!

Coroners Report in full here.

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Repeal Medevac or just another stunt to waste time until the Christmas Break !

This government seem absolutely committed to wasting the time of our parliament (both Houses) with their silly ideological tantrums. After losing the union bashing vote for the totally inappropriately named Ensuring Integrity legislation they now want to repeal the Medevac legislation for the poor souls who are still stuck in detention on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

You may remember the Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018 was introduced at a time during the last parliament when the coalition were in minority. The Bill provided for the temporary transfer to Australia of persons on Manus Island or Nauru, and their families, if they were assessed by two or more treating doctors as requiring medical treatment and required the temporary transfer of all children and their families from offshore detention to Australia for the purpose of medical or psychiatric assessment.

The law allowed for Australian-based doctors to recommend a refugee or asylum seeker offshore be transferred to Australia for care rather than just leaving it in the hands of bureaucrats although it still allowed the minister to refuse if he disagreed with the clinical assessment – in which case it goes to the independent medical panel for review – or if he has concerns based on security or criminal grounds.

Peter Dutton hated this legislation as it took some of his power away but certainly didn’t stop him from interfering with a medical transfer if there were security or criminal considerations : Dutton maintained that the majority of these folk who have been detained offshore for more than six years are rapists, pedophiles, murderers and/or terrorists yet he does so without evidence and none have been charged with crimes either by the authorities in PNG or Nauru or Australia.

It seems that Jacqui Lambie is the crucial vote needed by the government to repeal this legislation but she has evidently placed a condition on the government for her support. She maintains that the real objective of the government should be resettling these folk rather than restricting their access to medical services. It is reported that she has called on the government to accept the resettlement offer made consistently by New Zealand to take 150 asylum seekers a year from Australian detention and then close the detention centres : considering there are only 263 people on Manus (and elsewhere in PNG) and 221 on Nauru this seems like a reasonable request from Lambie but Dutton has, we are told, rejected this demand.

Last week the full bench of the Federal Court threw another spanner into Dutton’s  manoeuvrings as one of the arguments the government have been pushing is that medical assessment by an Australian doctor of an offshore patient (by way off reviewing case notes and online video assessments where possible – although Nauru have been blocking these) was not acceptable medical practice and thus according to our government, the assessment must be left to doctors on Nauru and in PNG and evidently bureaucrats in Canberra . The Federal Court ruled that assessments done remotely by doctors in Australia were quite in order and reflected acceptable healthcare practice already taking place daily for Australian patients, particularly those in regional and remote areas.

The government have already signalled that they will be shelving their Religious Freedoms legislation until the new year after concerns were raised by various community groups including church groups about the extent of exemptions allowed to faith aligned educators, hospitals and aged-care operators who had stressed the importance of retaining a “religious ethos and culture” within their organisations. This included the extent to which such organisations could restrict employment by excluding those of other faiths or of no faith in general occupations including cleaners, gardeners, teachers, doctors and nurses. There is also a push from some denominations to allow them to be selective, based on religious criteria, on who they take in or to whom they provide their services or accommodation.

This so called Religious Freedoms legislation is turning into a real can of worms for the government and has the potential to split us into a society divided along lines of faith rather than the secular model we have aspired to since federation.

The question is, having lost the union bashing exercise and shelved the religious freedoms legislation, will they let go of the Medevac repeal or are they desperate for a year-end win at any costs?

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Codgers United

It has just come to my notice, following reports of the News Corporation annual general meeting in New York, that I have something in common with Rupert Murdoch.

We are both codgers – a delightful term usually adopted affectionately, to refer to an eccentric but amusing old man, not to be confused with an old duffer referring to an incompetent or stupid older person and occasionally directed at Rupert Murdoch.

Last year I was having my annual competency test to retain my driver’s licence which involves a very patient nursing person asking trivial questions to ascertain if you have all your marbles or at least some of them and having you gaze at a distant chart of wiggly alphabetical characters to determine the extent of your failing vision.

This was taking place in August last year and the simple questions included today’s date, my own date of birth, what season it was and the curly one: who is the current prime minister? This was at a time when Malcolm Turnbull was the prime minister with the overwhelming and vocal – albeit brief – support of his party, having just won a challenge from Peter Dutton 48 to 35: somewhat decisive you may think. But then the people’s favourite Peter [call me spud] Dutton had another urge to have a go as he evidently thought there may have been a miscount or that members of the party may have not understood what they were voting for –  even the suggestion of voting instructions in Mandarin Chinese [a favourite ploy of the Liberal party] may have added to the confusion. So Pete again put himself forward and once again got trounced. In desperation the Liberal party, faced with the worrying prospect of a new leader in the form of a woman [Juie Bishop] making the cut, reached out to a man who we are told wasn’t even in the race and who staunchly supported Turnbull. A man who would become known as Scomo sounding more like a cleaning product for shower screens than a prime minister, who grinned a lot and who has a habit of saying ‘how good is that’ whenever there is a lapse in conversation.

So back at the surgery with the nurse looking at me expectantly for an answer,  I told her that I wasn’t sure who the prime minister was right now and this had little to do with the onset of dementia and more the political state of the nation. She insisted on a response so, glancing at my watch, I told her I thought it was Malcolm Turnbull and waited for her reaction. As she was also of a certain age and probably didn’t follow politics closely, she accepted my answer. I then told her that it’s complicated and to demonstrate that I was a modern age ‘wake’ – whatever that means – codger I briefed her on the shenanigans going on in the Liberal party : she duly awarded me a pass and I toddled off to see if I could remember where I had parked my car : just as well they have those little buttons on your car key, you just hit the unlocked padlock symbol and bingo your car responds with a flash of lights as if to say ‘over here you silly old bugger’!

At the News, AGM Rupert was thrown a curveball in the form of a question from the floor by a proxy for Andrew Mayne – an Australian shareholder activist. Murdoch was asked about the company’s “stance on climate change”.

The questioner asked: “What do you believe is the global role of News Corp in the geopolitical climate? If you do believe in climate change, why [is it that] News Corp gives climate deniers like Andrew Bolt and Terry McCrann so much airtime in Australia?”

His answer was dismissive: “there are no climate change deniers around [News Corp] I can assure you.”

This from a man who has presided over a publishing and broadcasting empire that has become synonymous with climate change denial and obfuscation, fiercely disputing and mocking science and providing a global sanctuary and a platform for those who promote the primacy of coal and fossil fuel interests.

Did he have a senior’s moment, did he not hear the question, does he not read, listen or watch his own media outlets in the USA, the UK and Australia: or was he just telling porkies?

Do you think there are editorial meetings taking place right now at Newscorp Australia and Sky-after-Dark trying to read between the lines of what the oracle in New York may have been saying? Should Andrew Bolt, Chris Kenny, Peta Credlin, Paul Murray, Rowan Dean and the host of hangers-on who had previously signed an oath never to acknowledge climate change, clean out their desks and be escorted from the building – is the party over?

Or has the codger transitioned to an old Duffer no longer a fit and proper person to be heading up a global media organisation?

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Oh Oh, Houston ! We have a problem !

The Liberal Party, to a man, have embraced the need for legislation to provide protections for religions and religious beliefs.

I say ‘to a man’ because the Sheilas have been a bit precious about coming on board. As Christian Porter noted, “that’s women for you” and Peter Dutton seconded that and reminded women that the Liberal Party is a broad-church and Scott Morrison is the second coming (evidently a reference to his own failed attempt to seize the leadership as he sees himself as the chosen one – I don’t know, you work it out ! )

As Craig Kelly, Member for Hughes and avid student of the Bible, solemnly noted on Sky-after-Dark whilst in discussion with Andy Bolt over several bottles of cheap whisky : “the Bible guides me in everything I do and say and there’s nothing in the Bible about global warming, I’ve looked.”

Craig had also noted that according to the Bible it is not permitted for women to aspire to positions of authority and furthermore he declared that the Labor Party were languishing in Limbo, not because they threatened to take away franking credits from wealthy retirees, but because they defied the Bible in allowing a woman in the form of Julia Gillard to assume dominion over men.

Craig, of course was referring to the references in the Book of Timothy [soon to be incorporated in the religious protections legislation] making things absolutely clear to all those uppity Sheilas :

11 A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (Timothy 2: 11-15).

When it came to the bit about women being saved through childbearing, Barnaby Joyce was heard to mumble; “I’ll drink to that” and he promptly produced a stubby of VB and did precisely that. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne were heard to mutter ‘pigs arse’ as they crossed the floor to join the Jacquie Lambie Ladies’ Collective.

Josh Frydenberg said it insulted his religious beliefs to refer to any part of a pig and that bacon, pork roasts (and that includes crackling) and bacon sangers should be banned from Aussies Parliament House cafeteria as they were not Kosha and as such an abomination to his belief system and thus he demanded the protection of the Religious Discrimination legislation.

Scott Morrison said that he would pray for them all !

And Oliver fiddled with his tie and said to Stan “That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into”.

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Phew!! That was close but Craig Kelly has confirmed that climate change doesn’t exist!

On Thursday, the Member for Hughes, after a long lunch, struggled to his feet, adjusted his belt over his ample belly, wiped some egg from his tie, farted and proceeded to address our national parliament. His purpose was to convey a message to us all but to the younger generation in particular whom he had been informed were planning to wag school the following day on some trumped-up business about climate change. The member for Hughes is utterly opposed to anybody wagging off on POETS Day although it was noted from the gallery that he himself would be heading off for a long weekend as soon as he had delivered his speech to the nation.

The parliament were as always eager to hear from Mr Kelly as are his devoted followers on Sky-After-dark (SAD) where he appears far too often.

Craig Kelly, you will recall, was about to be dumped from pre-selection by the wise burghers of the  federal Liberal seat of Hughes prior to the last election. But Kelly, being a man with immense talent and wisdom as yet untapped, declared that if he was not pre-selected to run again, he would spend the remaining parliamentary term on the cross-benches making rude noises and gestures in the general direction of the government benches. The Prime Minister, having noted the incredible contribution of Mr Kelly to the governance of our nation immediately called for a halt to all pre-selections in all seats in New South wales, thus ensuring that Craig would remain the honourable member for Hughes, and so it came to pass that Craig was duly re-elected as the member for that long-suffering electorate.

And how right the PM was, a man of undoubted perception, seeing in Craig Kelly something that had eluded the rest of us. Namely his grasp on climate science and his ability to understand and explain to the uninformed the vagaries of climate change.

I give you the honourable member’s speech to our parliament as recorded by Hansard :

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (13:55): I understand how persuasive peer group pressure can be for teenagers, with their desire to conform and fit in with the crowd. However, I would say to any student considering joining the so-called climate protest: don’t be a sheep; think for yourself. You are being used and manipulated, and everything you are told is a lie. The facts are: there is no link between climate change and drought. Polar bears are increasing in number. Today’s generation is safer from extreme weather than at any time in human history. There is no 97 per cent consensus. Such claims are a fraud. Crop yields have increased remarkably. Wildfires have declined 25 per cent over the past two decades. We are seeing fewer cyclones, not more. Cold weather kills many times more people than hot weather, including here in Australia. The sea ice is not melting away; in fact, where the ill-fated Franklin expedition sailed in the year 1845 is blocked by thick sea ice this year. Renewables ain’t renewables, and they certainly don’t make electricity cheaper.

This speech was met with mixed feelings by the House of Representatives, perhaps best summed up by Stephen Jones (the member for Whitlam) who responded on behalf of us all by calling out (and I again quote from Hansard) : You are completely bonkers !

So, here’s a tip : instead of installing solar panels on your roof you would be better advised to duck down to Bunnings and get some polar bear proof fencing – they also have an aerosol I understand – before it’s too late !

‘Ooroo !

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Who Needs Policies ?

If you were an aspiring political leader with ambitions to lead the nation and you had a suite of well-developed progressive policies which you hope will capture the imagination of the electorate, would you tell them in advance ?

If you answer Yes : you are a loser !

You might as well join a barbers’ shop quartet because your political career isn’t going anywhere.

Do you remember Liberal leader and aspiring prime minister John Hewson, who was taking on incumbent prime minister Paul Keating in the 1993 election and who brought a package of policies to the electorate under the banner of Fightback. One such policy was a tax on consumption in the form of a Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the Liberals saw this as progressive taxation reform as it would include the abolition of a range of other taxes such as sales tax, state stamp duties, deep cuts in income tax for the middle and upper-middle classes, and increases in pensions and other benefits to compensate the poor for the inevitable rise in prices flowing from the GST. Labor played on the complexity of the tax and Hewson didn’t help himself by bungling an explanation of how the tax would apply to a birthday cake. In the event Hewson lost the unloseable election and we lost the prospect of having a very reasonable and thoughtful man as our prime minister.

Instead we got John Howard as the next Liberal leader and he knew full well that you don’t take major policy changes to an election, you introduce them when you secure office and in the meantime you tell lies for all you are worth : and to John Howard, as we were to learn, truth is a strange, unknown and unexplored continent, terra nullius you might say.

Howard was desperate to knock-off Keating so in May 1995, eight months before the general election of March 1996, he started to – in Liberal party parlance – crab walk away from a GST even though it was Liberal party policy. In true biblical fashion, before the cock crowed three times John Howard would deny that the GST formed part of a Liberal policy.

At a Sydney bankers’ lunch, Howard referred briefly to John Hewson’s losing GST policy in the 1993 election and how “nothing remotely resembling it” would be Coalition policy in the 1996 campaign. When questioned further he said that ” the fact is the last election was a referendum on the GST. There is no way we can have it as part of our policy for the next election. As to what happens some years in the future, I don’t know. But the GST cause was lost in the last election …”

The mainstream media noted that final sentence and reported that ” Howard had left open the possibility of the Coalition reconsidering a GST some years in the future.”

Howard instantly issued an unequivocal statement saying ” suggestions I have left open the possibility of a GST are completely wrong. A GST or anything resembling it is no longer Coalition policy. Nor will it be policy at any time in the future. It is completely off the political agenda in Australia.”

When further questioned and with an ear open for that crowing cock he told reporters ” There’s no way a GST will ever be part of our policy.” When a journalist pressed him on the point : “Never ever, Mr Howard?” he replied with that now infamous pledge : “Never ever. It’s dead. It was killed by voters at the last election.”

So, that was alright wasn’t it ? He went on to win the election that made him prime minister and some 27 months later, in August 1997, less than 18 months after becoming Prime Minister, Howard told the truth by telling yet more lies. He announced a “great adventure” in tax reform he wanted to “share with the Australian people” : this great adventure we were later to learn was to be the  introduction of a GST.

By April 1998 Howard was well ensconced in the Lodge and he told parliament : “I went to the 1996 election saying there would not be a GST in our first term. I go to the coming election saying we are going to reform the tax system … The Australian public are entitled to be told before an election what a government will do after the election. They do not deserve to be misled. They do not deserve to be deceived.”

So, a grateful nation re-elected him and he gave us a GST and an alternative  definition for never ever.

From there on it’s been down hill

So, when Shorten and Bowen announced their detailed policies in the lead up to the 2019 election, they told us how they would focus on health and bring dental care into Medicare and ease the burden on cancer sufferers and out of pocket expenses and they would reinvigorate TAFE, apprenticeships and our education system and they would eliminate distortions in our taxation system. In particular they would eliminate negative gearing on existing housing purchases to create a level playing field between investors and first home buyers and owner occupiers ; they would correct an anomaly that was allowing self-funded retirees to claim cash refunds from the tax office on franked share dividends which in turn meant that no tax was being paid on that component of a company’s profits. In other words they took the high road, and bared their souls with costings and modelling : the Liberal party were ecstatic.

The coalition’s only real election policy was to provide tax breaks for more than 10 million Australians well into the future and in so doing try to bind any future government to adopt the same policy. These measures they reluctantly conceded would cost Treasury over $158 billion over 10 years in forgone revenue and, of course, they insist there won’t be any cuts to essential services .

Perhaps Bob Hawke was right in 1983, when his campaign was built around  Reconciliation, Recovery and Reconstruction; his and Keating’s subsequent achievements in  government were developed and implemented later, when in office. Hawke is later reported to have said to John Hewson “You should have put the GST stuff in your bottom drawer, and not pulled it out till after the election.”

Sadly, the lesson for Labor is that policy formulation in advance of an election is a recipe for failure and it seems that the road to electoral success in this country is a bit like reality show, Married at First Sight ; you scheme, tell lies, defame and revile your opposition and pout a lot. If you can also rely on organised persuasive communication from a compliant media you are almost home. But, under our preferential system, you also need as many dodgy preference swap deals as your conscience will permit.

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Do Debates Help?

Hands up how many of you have seen both so-called leaders’ debates? Not too many I will wager.

It seems that the Liberal party got to choose the venues, the times and the broadcaster and in Perth that was The West Australian as moderator and Channel Seven’s second channel as a broadcaster. Some of the questions were loaded but fairly evenly : Morrison was asked twice about his preference swap deal with Clive Palmer but wasn’t able to reassure the audience that it was just normal politics : Shorten was pointedly asked about border security and Labor’s record in a loaded question prefaced by “800 boats carrying more than 50,000 illegal arrivals flooded into Australia; 1,200 people lost their lives at sea under Labor” straight out of the Liberal party songbook.

Of the 48 undecided invited guests, 25 gave the win to Shorten 12 to Morrison and 11 remained undecided.

Then the Liberals chose Brisbane, the Courier Mail and SKY News for last Friday’s debate : nobody watched as it cut into footy time (both AFL and NRL) and this time there were 100 supposedly undecided voters invited although one woman – could have been Dorothy Dix – who was worried about her religious freedoms clearly wasn’t going to vote Labor any time soon.

Morrison had evidently been advised to intimidate Shorten and crowd his personal space in a Trump-like manoeuvre: didn’t work as planned with Shorten going for the zinger and calling him a “classic space invader” which sent Morrison scuttling back to his corner and much laughter from the crowd.

This time it was 43 to Shorten, 41 to Morrison and 16 still undecided: SKY called this a draw! I wonder how they score the footie?

Shorten will be doing a solo appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday, May 6 taking questions from the audience but so far Morrison has not committed to doing the same. Labor has also proposed a third debate at the National Press Club on May 8 with journalists from Nine, the ABC and another media outlet on a panel but Morrison has yet to confirm on this one either. Perhaps the initial enthusiasm for public confrontations is no longer so popular with the Liberals who have also been accused of hiding their ministers in witness protection – some of them should be in solitary confinement as far as I’m concerned!

Overall, Shorten has benefited from these debates as it has given those who bothered to watch a clear contrast between the two men and has shown Shorten to be well briefed and have a positive vision for the future, and a mischievous sense of humour; these qualities are not so evident in a somewhat wooden Morrison. He comes across as bombastic and evasive particularly when it comes to the potential chaos that this preference swap deal with Clive could have in a future Senate.

It seems that Shorten has gained confidence and that the punters are warming to him………let’s hope so.

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A Coalition of whatever and whoever it takes

In case you missed it, there was an announcement by the temporary, care-taker, acting prime minister today: People of Australia, it gives me great pleasure to announce that after careful consideration and a couple of schooners and a takeaway Chinese with my good friend Clive Palmer, that we have agreed on what we are calling…

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