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Turnbull government in crisis as ministers face contempt charges and Abbott stages a revolt over Finkel.

A life-threatening political and constitutional crisis is brewing for the Turnbull government this week as three Ministers of the Crown face contempt proceedings in Victoria’s Supreme Court.

No big deal; just a politically motivated, orchestrated attack on judges for being hard left activists who are soft on terror, while, off Broadway, the Coalition’s out of court settlement of a class action on behalf of all those it detains illegally on Manus Island blows the lid off its regime of secrecy, cruelty and denial of responsibility in a week where federal government with economic management in its DNA racks up a record debt of over half a trillion dollars.

Adding fat to the fire, Shadow Attorney General  Mark Dreyfus QC calls on Malcolm Turnbull to explain why he publicly backed Health Minister Greg Hunt, Minister for Social Services, Robo-Claw and the War on the Poor, Alan Tudge and invisible assistant treasurer, Michael Sukkar.

Dreyfus demands Turnbull explain why, the day before last Friday’s court hearing, the Prime Minister “backed in his ministers’ comments, on 3AW, despite knowing this matter was before the court the following day”.

Helpfully he notes the court proceedings could have “potentially serious” results. “It is incumbent on the Prime Minister to explain why he thought it was a good idea to validate the criticisms.”

Turnbull waffles “… in a free society a person is entitled to criticise the conduct of the courts or of a judge,” but this diminishes a concerted attack by three of his cabinet ministers on judges over an appeal which was still sub judice and, therefore, prohibited from public discussion.

Criticising conduct might, at a stretch, include the lads’ orchestrated slagging off at judges for being “hard-left activists”, “divorced from reality,” and conducting an “ideological experiment”

It might still have to contend with the judges’ view that the comments were “unfounded, grossly improper and unfair”, but Turnbull’s gloss cannot, surely, accommodate Michael Sukkar’s slur?

“It’s the attitude of judges like these which has eroded any trust that remained in our legal system …” 

It’s all part of an action packed week of diversion, denial and disinformation. Oh my, Gonski 2.0 will rip $ 4.6 billion from Catholic Schools. But, look over here. Someone’s thrown a dead moggy.

“We’ve got a judiciary that takes the side of the so-called victim rather than the side of common sense,” suppository of nonsense, Tony Abbott pipes up, helpfully, articulating the Trumpish contempt for the rule of law that features in the Coalition’s approach to government this week.

Bugger the humdrum stuff of responsible government when lads can play politics instead.

Best Crosby (dead cat on the table diversion) goes to Peter Dutton’s secret citizenship test, a solution dog-whistling a problem, which is finally revealed to include a written English language test in a nostalgic bid for the official bigotry of White Australia.  Anyone can become a citizen provided he or she has a university level of written language proficiency. And if Dutton says so.

No matter that Australia has no official language. It’ll help keep the Muslims down.

Illiteracy and innumeracy or cultural ignorance have seldom held back any conservative politician, while proposed changes to the law will set up the former Drug Squad detective, an acclaimed model of fairness and openness as final arbiter. He’ll get to decide who becomes a citizen and who’ll be deported. The bill gives Dutton the power to overrule decisions of the AAT.

Creating broad executive powers with minimal review undermines the rule of law, ironically, said to be one of the fundamental values which underpin Australian citizenship, writes Sangeetha Pillai, Senior Research Associate, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Law School, UNSW. Clearly, she fails to appreciate Dutton’s value to the PM.

More changes, in fact, are afoot to increase Benito Dutton’s arbitrary power by bestowing upon him a Homeland Security Department, merging several government outfits such as the AFP and ASIO in our fight against terrorism as the price of Dutto’s loyalty to Turnbull in the climate wars.

News comes this week, however, that the US style mega-department model which incorporates intelligence, police and security agencies is out of favour with the PM who now favours something akin to the bijou British Home Office, whose recent brilliant success in preventing terror, safeguarding citizens and accounting for lives lost in an entirely preventable fire in a high-rise building is matched only by its success in breaking up families in the name of immigration.

Happily, the government has far too much on its plate at present and the decision can safely wait until December when it can be announced when everyone is on holiday. Unlike the despatching of junkyard Abbott who goes barking, frothing mad over Finkel and demands urgent attention.

“Go fuck yourself” Abbott tells Craig Laundy. It’s an “ugly” bust-up, Liberal MPs report, in a three-hour session held Wednesday. All of Finkel is reduced to how we need to keep coal at any cost. Besides, coal is OK now. It’s clean and there’s carbon capture and storage. Low emission coal.

It’s clear this week that if the boys have read Finkel they have not understood a word. The discussion of the blueprint becomes an excuse to air the same stale platitudes and lies. Renewables are too expensive. We will always need coal because it’s cheap and reliable.

Reductive? Utterly deluded? Never. It’s all part of the cut and thrust of the Coalition’s richly democratic, inclusive joint party room; the fabled broad church, where any member can howl another down. It’s Liberal individualism. Abbott’s tantrum will foster party unity and goodwill.

Laundy tries to speak. Abbott prevents him by repeatedly interjecting. A slanging match ensues which leads to chaos. Government hacks speed to brief the Press gallery how it’s just a vital exercise in democracy. The Finkel fracas degenerates into another Turnbull proxy war on Abbott.

There, there, Tony don’t hold yourself back. Tell us how you really feel.  Really? Never mind.

It’s enough to get any boy band back on the road. Cap’n Abbott and the Carbonistas, a gospel rock revival group are all over Canberra airwaves this week. The boys reprise “gimme that coal-time religion” a toe-tapping gospel hymn of praise to blind faith in a toxic black rock as the nation’s true salvation while still maintaining their trademark grievance and sense of entitlement.

Dr Finkel has winkled out Malcolm Turnbull’s opponents en masse in what may be another crafty manoeuvre in our wily PM’s crafty plan to establish his leadership over Tony Abbott. Whatever his plan, the “sensible centre” is rendered insensible all week by Old King Coal and his chorus.

What is too silly to be said can be sung, Voltaire once observed, but even he did not foresee the Coalition’s holy coalers, its mad right-wing. All croon such complete nonsense in response to Finkel, a fudged blueprint for the future that ignores new technologies and cheaper renewables, that they reveal a damning incapacity to engage in any responsible, rational or informed debate.

Cult claims, moreover, show breathtaking levels of wilful ignorance and brazen deception. Just one example will suffice.

“Coal is by far the cheapest form of base load power,” Abbott cons 2GB listeners on Wednesday, recycling Peabody fossil-fuel propaganda. The problem is not base load but peak load but Abbott wouldn’t know the difference. Nor does he seem to know that even Finkel concedes networked renewables are more than capable of supplying cheap, reliable base-load power.

As for cheap, experts forecast a doubling in electricity prices if new coal-fired stations are built while coal is no longer seen as a form of base load even in China.

Last year China’s State Grid’s R&D chief Huang Han dismissed coal’s claim to be an indispensable source of “base load” generation. As the network operator builds out its clean power sources, coal-fired generators could only serve as “reserve power” to supplement renewables.

Incapable of little more than sloganeering, the vacuous Abbott’s role in the climate wars is to set a back-marker in our national conversation. After decades of paralysing, time-wasting “debate” the government can then achieve a compromise; build a few coal-fired power stations itself. The media is full of constructive suggestion on how the politics should be taken out of energy.

Both sides need to come to a sensible compromise; adopt at least half of government idiocy?

Coal? As even a failed former Health Minister, impossibly indulged by his crafty mentor John Howard, Abbott should know, coal poses one of the most significant health issues of our time.

While mining, transport and burning must be included in any cost calculation, coal imposes an incalculable cost on the health and well-being of those whose lives are affected, if not ruined by pollution, economic losses and environment damage to water sources, land and food production.

No-one on Coalition megaphone 2GB will challenge Abbott’s blatant lies but they could also point to huge costs in climate change and extreme weather events caused by coal burning.

Cheapest? Costs of coal are soaring across the globe. All published studies indicate that the true cost of coal is much greater than the market price. There’s complete consensus. Coal is crap, Tony.

Energy ministers and other coal lobby lackeys typically pretend coal is cheap. Yet its real costs are passed on to the long-term budgets of other departments. Even our Chief Scientist admits this.

In a Senate estimates hearing at the start of the month,  Alan Finkel noted: “The actual cost of bringing on new coal in this country per megawatt-hour is projected to be substantially more expensive than the cost of bringing on wind or solar.”

Abbott has not read Alan Finkel’s work. Nor will he. His mind is made up. He and Russell Broadbent are convinced, moreover, that any emissions-lowering policy will boost power prices.

Abbott and his Carbonistas show a Malcolm Roberts’ level of scepticism on climate change.

When Senator Roberts asked if it were a scientist’s role to be sceptical, Alan Finkel replied: “All the scientists I know have a healthy degree of scepticism, but healthy is an important word there.

“You have to have an open mind, but not so open your brain leaks out.”

Doing the coal lobby’s bidding involves a type of lobotomy but the Coalition has been at it for some time. Denying reality in climate change is another proud tradition which goes back to St John Howard who squandered the entire proceeds of a mineral boom while weaseling out of any real responsibility for the environment or climate.  It’s never been serious about either.

Half of Alan Finkel’s panel may be well be power corporation representatives but pandering to vested interests in energy is a long-term trend for us. In 1997 we took an industry lobby to negotiate Kyoto. As Sarah Gill notes we “comprehensively cheesed off” the European Union by demanding a free ride and, after almost derailing consensus, we refused to ratify Kyoto after all.

Gill makes the case we out-Trumped Trump in dodgy deals on climate change. Kyoto was set up for nations to agree to reduce emissions yet Australia secured permission to increase them by eight per cent. By including emissions from land clearing, we were able to inflate our 1990 baseline by 30% which made our 2012 target impossible to miss.

Direct Action dweeb Greg Hunt was fond of crowing about how we’d meet or beat our target, which amounted to 0.5% of our 1990 emissions yet our absolute emissions are rising. In 2020 they will be higher than they were in 2000. How’s that for emission reduction?

Greg’s Direct Action scam doesn’t get much airplay these days and Greg’s been shunted sideways to Health where he’s got us all on side with his declaration of love for private health insurance and how we could learn a lot from the US Health system. We’ll all heed his warning, too, on how the recent Senate easing of rules for medicinal cannabis for terminally ill patients could be fatal.

Yet Greg has voiced no regret at wasting $2.23 billion on a scheme that paid beneficiaries to plant trees that may have been planted anyway while relaxed land clearing laws in NSW and Queensland wiped out any of the gains. No apology. We understand. Taking cheap potshots at the judiciary would make big demands on your time.  In the meantime, emissions continue.

As Reputex reported, last year, “the rate of annual emissions growth continues to outpace credits contracted by the [fund].” In other words, DA did less than sweet bugger all to stop polluters.

“This growth is driven by Australia’s largest emitting companies, which have … not participated in the [fund] due to the voluntary nature of the scheme, and the large up-front costs.”

Always careful with expenditure and a stickler for accountability, Captain Kangaroo, Peter Dutton, meanwhile joins Tony Abbott in continuing his government’s attack on the legal system over the momentous decision to award $70 million damages plus $20 million legal costs to 1905 Manus Island detainees in an out of court settlement this week.

Slater and Gordon, Dutton says are “ambulance-chasers”. Labor lawyers.

Abbott madly attacks the presiding judges, for siding with the victims despite the settlement being negotiated between the government’s and plaintiff’s lawyers. Dutton is in denial.

It’s no admission of liability, he claims. Rather, in the parallel universe he and his government inhabit, it is a “prudent outcome”. Certainly, it averts a six-month damages trial in which the  Commonwealth and its contractors would be accused of negligence and false imprisonment.

In the real world, however, it is a momentous decision and a landmark admission of liability which blows the whistle on years of Coalition pretence that Australia’s offshore detention is the responsibility of the nations hosting our camps. It also provides direct refutation of government claims that detainees were well looked after.

Mr Kamasaee, a 35-year-old Iranian, who needed treatment for severe burns he suffered as s child, described his experience as degrading and cruel.

“I came to Australia seeking peace, but I was sent to Manus, which was hell,” he said. “Every day in the harsh sun, my skin felt like it was on fire. I was in pain every minute of every day … I cried every night until I had nothing left.

“This case is not just about me, it is about everyone who has been trapped on Manus Island. Our voices have never been listened to, but today we are finally being heard.”

No compensation can make up for the torture endured by the men on Manus. Now that the legal fiction that they are not Australia’s responsibility has been destroyed, the men should be brought to Australia immediately. PNG warns that it will close the centre permanently 31 October.

Dutton ought to resign immediately for failing his duty of care while the government needs to abandon its secrecy and explain clearly what it intends to do after the centre is closed. As in so many areas of this chaotic government, the plan seems to be to wait and see what turns up.

Backward-looking, ever desperate for evasion and diversion, the Turnbull government is beset with a series of crises. There’s more to it than nostalgia or simple coal-lust. A retreat into the past is the only option for a Coalition government caught with no policy, let alone an environment or energy policy.

It has relied instead on populist posturing on border protection and punitive detention in a regime of secrecy, unaccountability, evasion and bare-faced denial – and it has been caught out.

Time to face the music. Instead, a battle of the bands erupts as the Point Piper Set amps up its catchy Blueprint for the Future: Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market, a concerto fantasy for two conductors in homage to Philip Glass, another innovator, whose music some find challenging because it doesn’t go anywhere.

The Turnbull government’s bastardised Blueprint for a world class electricity system, widely reviled by Carbonistas everywhere as The Finkel Review may fail to provide a political road map to allow an endangered coalition a safe exit from an energy policy highway as intended but it is to be praised at least for highlighting a terminally conflicted and out of touch government devoid of ideas or real plans hell-bent on substituting politicking for policy.

Serious questions are raised over Turnbull’s lack of leadership, finally, in his endorsement of his three ministers’ extraordinary, co-ordinated political attack on the Victorian judiciary. Any democratically-elected government which sets itself above the law; which fails to respect the separation of powers between the judiciary and the parliament forfeits its legitimacy.

There’s a better than even chance, according to some experts that Hunt, Tudge and Sukkar may help it out of its misery.

Theresa May sends message to a Turnbull government of slogans, secrets and lies.

Stunned by what the press insists is a “shock” election result in Britain where, inexplicably, hollow slogans, austerity economics and Sir Lynton Crosby’s fear tactics fail to win the day for Tory crash test dummy, Theresa May, our political world is reeling this week as MPs joust with shock jocks in a knee-jerk war on terror while Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel obligingly offers our fearless leaders another chance to dodge any real commitment to climate change.

Political actors dig deep. Best mystery shopper is won easily by One Nation’s epic failure to yet provide a coherent, credible explanation of who paid for Pauline’s Jabiru, while stunt of the week goes to Adani’s incredible “Green Light to Carmichael” oratorio Tuesday, a stirring, religious work relayed faithfully by media and featuring standout performances from fossil fuel fan-boy Resources Minister Canavan and Queensland coal-lobby groupie, Annastacia Palaszczuk.

The staging of Green Light … reveals just how far faith-based decision-making has usurped reason across our nation and not just in Queensland. Coal worshippers surrender critical faculties for the sublime irrationality of a cargo cult.

Adani cult followers echo Melanesian millenarians who believed that ritual projects such as building a runway would result in the appearance of coveted western goods. Everyone stopped anything else to await largesse from a great silver bird returning to their sky.  Today, we may substitute port or railway for runway, but parallels are disturbing.

A glance at the Adani cargo cult’s articles of faith reveals a supernatural power; the vise-like grip of group delusion.

Ritual chanting displaces communication. The mine is going ahead! JOBS. Thousands of jobs will now “flow” say the faithful. 10,000 jobs, Adani devotees chant. An ecstatic Canavan ups that to 15,000, this week, just because he can.

Reality check. In 2015, Adani’s expert, Jerome Fahrer, ACIL Allen economist, estimated ongoing full-time employment for only 1464 workers and only at the expense of 1,400 jobs in agriculture, manufacturing and other mining projects.

It may be fewer. CEO Jeyakumar Janakaraj, boasts he will fully automate all of the vehicles used in the mine and the entirety of the process from the mine to the port:

‘When we ramp up the mine, everything will be autonomous from mine to port … this is the mine of the future‘

Jobs will be lost as existing mines are put out of business by Adani’s automated, hugely subsidised competition. Subsidising Adani makes our former car industry protection appear a bargain, writes Bernard Kean.

The $320, 000 royalty holiday -which will cost taxpayers $253 million over the next five years – which has recently been redefined as not a royalty holiday at all but an indefinitely deferred payment arrangement – promised by  Palaszczuk’s government plus the NAIF billion dollar loan, means each job will cost taxpayers $900,000.

Part of the Green Light … stunt is a desperate gamble. The stakes are high. The government is already in over its head.

A state government which has invested $8 billion on coal-related infrastructure between 2009-2014, on an industry which provides only 4% of its revenue, may well keep a poker face, but this week’s press release – declaring a business is up and running without funding is a bizarre stunt which would get any local company into trouble with ASX rules.

In reality, Adani is further from opening its proposed monster mine than it was five years ago, while India turns to cleaner, cheaper solar energy and coal profits decline. India plans to be 60% fossil fuel free in energy in ten years.

No new coal-fired power station will be approved in India. Nor would it be economic. A Gujarat power station set to import half of the Adani mine’s coal, now believes it can’t afford to. No wonder nineteen banks have refused Adani finance.

Gautam Adani, however, is content to cynically blame activists, a theme embraced by the august upholders of traditional but doomed faith-based causes supported by our media, especially The Australian and The AFR.  

“We have been challenged by activists in the courts, in inner-city streets, and even outside banks that have not even been approached to finance the project,” Adani claims,

“We are still facing activists. But we are committed to this project.”

Committed? None of Adani’s legal challenges prevent it from acting on its 2014 government environmental approvals.

A fascinating twist in the coal cult narrative come from Kooyong coal-raker, the terminally conflicted energy and environment minister Josh Frydenberg. He’s all for carbon capture and storage. Don’t we know that the world is full of CCS power plants? We had better get our skates on. Build some. Those in the coal cult are immensely encouraged.

It’s another delusion, if not a blatant lie. Although one small, 528 MW third, $5.5 billion over budget, plant will be commissioned, in Mississippi the reality is there are but two massively expensive plants in commercial operation. These compress CO2 to force previously unreachable oil out of defunct wells in an Enhanced Oil Recovery Process.

Never mind that in the process, 30% of the CO2 escapes back into the atmosphere. Never mind that the plant saves CO2 to avoid global warming only to extract more oil which will boost global warming. Never mind the expense. None of this matters to the true believer. Just don’t expect any of it to bear any relationship to reality.

Simon Holmes a Court calculates just to capture all of the emissions of the Loy Yang power station in Victoria, we’d need a plant 13 times bigger than Petra Nova in Texas. With currency and Australian labour rates, but allowing for some economies of scale and ‘learnings’, that could cost AUD$15–25bn.

Luckily, because we live in an eternal present, now that history itself has been effectively consigned to the dustbin of history, no-one asks Josh about ZeroGen our cute, little 2006 CCS plant project in central Queensland.

ZeroGen was a relatively tiny, 390 MW net coal-fired power station which would capture 65% of its emissions.  It received $188 million in grants but after a projected cost blowout from $1.2bn to $6.9bn the project collapsed six years before its scheduled 2017 completion date, scuttling hundreds of millions of public funding.

Josh is on another mission, of course. He’s been ringing his party’s back-benchers to sell Alan Finkel’s cop-out Energy Review which tenderly preserves the pernicious myth that safe, reliable baseload power can only come from coal or gas – and not those fickle wind turbines that ABCs Chris Uhlmann blamed for the SA blackout.

Judging by his appearance on ABC Insiders, Josh has learned to speak softly and stare a lot whenever Barrie Cassidy asks questions:

So the Finkel Review suggests that you can reduce emissions and cut power prices and keep coal in the mix. It sounds too good to be true?

Bazza is right on the money but Frydenberg praises Dr Finkel’s report. In a vain and irritating quest for authority, he repeats Dr Finkel every chance he gets to praise the Chief Scientist.

Josh still pretends that electricity prices are high not because of his government’s Jihadist mission to privatise all public utilities according to the dictates of Neoliberal Ideology, the Liberal religion but because of something he invents called “regulatory uncertainty”.

Then he’s off, demonising alternatives to fossil fuel power generation. Renewables are dodgy, “a less stable system because we’ve failed to properly integrate wind and solar.”

Happily for the coal lobby,  Dr Finkel’s report allows us to have half of our power generated by burning coal by 2030 but he doesn’t say who’s going to build the new ones we’ll need. Nor who will finance them. Nor how this will help us with our feeble Paris targets. Even given his soft sell, Josh is at odds with the review he is flogging. Finkel is clear

“Investors have signalled that they are unlikely to invest in new coal-fired generation …”

Luckily, few people still watch the ABC, increasingly a Coalition megaphone, – and Barry won’t press him on key details. He allows him to claim that CCS is a real possibility for future investment in lower emission technology.

While Finkel proposes a new regulatory framework, his review leaves open the central issue of a CET, a clean energy target, which it says is “a role for government”. No preferred emissions threshold is offered. The stage is set for the coal lobby and its allies to press to raise the bar high enough to permit the operation of current coal-fired plant.

Above all, although he promised the Senate that his review would help Australia meet its Paris agreement and reduce its economy-wide emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2030, The Chief Scientist’s report won’t help.  The modelling Finkel provides for electricity sector emission reductions, 28% below 2005 levels by 2050 suggests a figure about half what it should be. His own Climate Change Authority Report confirms this.

Wages stagnate, consumer confidence is down, unemployment remains high and underemployment is huge. Since his better economic managers came to power with their jobs ‘n growth slogan, Scott Morrison has little to crow about.

Growth has slowed from 2.6% to 1.7%. While unemployment rate may have remained at 5.7%, wages growth has continued to fall below its then record low of 2.1% to an even lower mark of 1.9%.

Yet Morrison is all over the news in an orgy of self-congratulation and oleaginous good cheer this week.

Our Federal Treasurer says our economy is “transitioning” from a mining boom to a more diversified economy. Better times await us. It sounds like a slogan Theresa May sagely rejected. Ross Gittins, moreover, reminds us that mining accounts for 7 per cent of Australia’s total GDP and employs 230,000 people or 2 per cent of Australia’s workforce.

Transitioning is not reflected in investment projections. Mining investment is forecast to fall another 22% next year, and a 6% expected rise in non-mining investment will not compensate. Yet Morrison is mindlessly upbeat.

Despite our government’s worshipping the same neoliberal creed and embracing the same trickle-down tax cuts which bring income inequality in Theresa May’s Britain to 1930s levels, we are nowhere near technical recession here. Nowhere near.

ScoMo, our bullet-dodging Federal Treasurer, juggles dodgy figures to claim that we have overtaken the Netherlands in a record-breaking run of prosperity but only if we misread Dutch data, prefer GDP figures to GDP per capita, confuse job ads with real employment and hope that after mining and real estate, something will turn up.

Alas, Morrison fails to look to Japan. As Saul Eslake shows, Australia would need to avoid consecutive quarters of negative real GDP growth until at least 2024 if it is truly to be able to claim this “world record” as its own.

Greg Jericho also points out Morrison is factually incorrect. Australia beat the Netherlands in June 2013. The Dutch avoided a technical recession for only 87 consecutive quarters. But technical recession is a “dopey” measure. We are being conned. In 1982, Holland’s economy had shrunk by 2.5% in one year even if “technically” it had avoided recession.

Similarly, in December 1991, three months into our golden run, the Australian economy was 1% smaller than it was the previous year. Technical recessions rely on GDP. If we use GDP per capita we have had two recessions since 1991.

Yet these are both arbitrary measures. We may as well use the percentage of working age people in work.

On this measure our record of economic activity is pathetic.

Australia’s economy grew by a whopping 0.3 % in the first three months. Nothing we could do about that, the Treasurer says.  He blames the weather. It could be a genuine world first.

“Weather conditions during the March quarter did affect exports,” Morrison says. … Exports declined by 0.6% in the quarter, detracting from growth … particularly in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.”

Morrison’s waffle does little for the 730,000 Australians out of work and the 1.1 million who are underemployed but our national pride rallies after a full body Reiki massage from visiting US Alliance evangelist James Clapper, whose appearance is part of the total care package conferred upon the nation by our special relationship with Washington.

The most marvellous contribution of Coalition politics to our national well-being, apart from the politicisation of the public service including, now, our Chief Scientist is surely our nation’s US sycophancy, a state of servile dependency on one great and powerful friend given expression by “man of steel”, US lackey and war criminal, John Winston Howard.

“Lying rodent” Howard, as Russell Galt swears metadata pack-rat, AG Brandis called the then PM, was inspired to invoke the US Alliance while flying home post 9/11.

“While high over the Indian Ocean”, he lyrically records, he saw how we could join a “war on terror” proposed by the US. It led us to send troops to Afghanistan, from whence some were destined never to return, and to provoke a wave of international terrorism by illegally invading Iraq on a pretext of seizing WMDs.

Howard, as Albert Palazzo’s recent declassified report shows, aimed to boost our US Alliance, but his big success was simply in helping make Australia a much better target for terrorism, as Paul Keating pointed out last year. It’s been the elephant in the room ever since however much MPs gibber about how terrorists hate our way of life.

Howard’s grand claims are exposed. Enforcing UN resolutions, stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction and global terrorism –  even rebuilding Iraq after the invasion, are dismissed as “mandatory rhetoric” – a term which also fits the treacle from a series of US VIPs visiting Australia recently to profess America’s undying love for us.

We love to be flattered. Happy clappers abound at the National Press Club’s US-Alliance revivalist meeting in Canberra, Wednesday, when former Director of National Intelligence, James Robert Clapper Jr drops in again for a post-retirement rub-down after his top-secret visit here last year. This week it’s a very public sharing of the love.

ANU kindly gives Lucky Jim a gig as a Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor and a spot at the ANU Crawford Australian Leadership Forum where the old spook will put the wind up the nation’s movers and shakers.

Keep an eye on China, he says. Beijing may interfere with your politics just like Moscow did with ours. The Russians are not our friends, he warns. The Donald is done for. Watergate pales in comparison to Trump’s Russian allegations.

While cooking Trump’s goose, Clapper is also here to remind us all how much the US means to us in trade and regional security and how we need to keep faith with our big brother and suffer Trump awhile. Our bonds go deep.

“The values (and interests) we share, the things that fasten our two countries together, far transcend a transitory occupant of the White House,” he promises. He’s not wrong: the US has been doing us over for decades.

We like it that way. Not one of the assembled hacks can bring themselves to ask soapy Jim why in 2007, only a few years after it was signed by John Howard, our AUSTFA, a “free trade” agreement supposed to increase Australian access to the US market led to the highest trade deficit we have ever had with any trading partner.

DFAT statistics reveal that the United States is Australia’s second-largest two-way trading partner in goods and services, worth $70.2 billion, as of 2015 yet, Australia imports more than double the amount from the U.S. and is 15th on the list of U.S. principal export destinations.

So much to fear, so little time. Clapper also adds a dash of Brandis’ Sinophobia as he warns how China may try to buy in to our democratic processes. Beware of donations and watch out for fake news, he adds, helpfully. Who would have thought?

Clapper would applaud our surveillance strategies; urge us to keep our metadata. No-one asks him why his NSA illegally collected data at all on millions of Americans or why he chose to deny this in 2013, before a senate committee, inspiring calls by US lawmakers for his indictment for perjury.

Such a challenge would amount to blasphemy. It is an article of modern Australian political faith that any self-respecting scribbler sing praise to our superiors, or their mates, including visiting American political mendicants.

Anything less would be heresy. And Illegal. As Gillian Triggs reminds us we are fast making it illegal to challenge our government. Triggs, of course, is by no means alone in voicing her concern over a government by secrets and lies.

Only October, for example, UN special rapporteur, independent expert Michel Forst recommended we continue to press for an Immigration Department that is open and accountable and which doesn’t hunt down whistle-blowers.

Forst’s report concludes that Australian governments have effectively gagged civil society advocates with secrecy laws, funding cuts and restrictive contracts that prevent them speaking up about human rights abuses.

It’s a theme taken up by Lenore Taylor who reflects on the Tory automaton Theresa May’s election loss. Scott Ryan, Special Minister of State and runaway winner of biggest family bible at government swearings-in is keen to tell groups they can get funds from government but only if they pack in the advocacy lark. Give up their reason for being.

Lenore is right. Democratic government is about enabling advocacy. Respect. And it’s about governing for all. If there were a message in it for Turnbull it might go like this:

You can’t deliver on your hollow promises of jobs and growth, so stop making them. Start listening. You’ll see that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Heed the opinion polls. Stop the play-acting. Spare us the speeches and the sloganeering. To adapt a slogan on a billboard in the UK somewhere: Jobs and Growth, my arse.

Take a long hard look at yourself. If all you are is a front for the bankers, businessmen and big investors, if all you can do is subsidise a dying coal industry, still hell-bent on profit at the cost of life on this planet, stop faking it.

There’s never been a more exciting time to call a snap election.

If all you can offer are tax cuts to the rich, spare us the hokum; the empty cliches of trickle down economics. The drivel about flexible hours and delivery options. Stop the con about non-existent growth in jobs and higher wages.

Above all, stop pretending terror is cured by curtailing our freedom and riding rough-shod over our legal system. Get out of America’s wars, however, much you may be flattered by your wily big brother’s attentions.

Or continue to repress advocacy and free speech; repeat your meaningless slogans about national security. Persecute the poor, the frail and the elderly. But you won’t stay in government very long.  You don’t deserve to. As May just found, the people are on to you.

Trump’s Paris exit spells real trouble for Turnbull.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy. A Marine Corps jazz quartet plays Gershwin, amidst the perfumed, delicate blooms and lush lawn trimmed with crab-apple trees, of the White House Rose Garden as a host of VIPs, mostly rich white men in dark suits, bask in balmy June sunshine as they gather to applaud their president’s declaration of war on the planet.

The US becomes the first country in the world to flounce off the dance-floor of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

For many it’s so much more. Can the US so readily cede international leadership? Renounce global citizenship? Hand to China the lead in clean energy?

In the Twittersphere, many are reminded of Titanic’s string quartet’s performance of Nearer My God to Thee, as the unsinkable ship sinks. For others, the formal setting underscores the chaos of Trump’s disaster movie presidency.

“Re-envisioned” in 1962 for the Kennedys, by Bunny Mellon for whom style was order and order brought pleasure, the WHRG design was inspired by Alice and the Queen of Hearts’ playing croquet in a rose garden using live flamingos for mallets, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Trump’s universe of lunacy and arrant nonsense fits in perfectly here.

Mad King Donald, is a self-styled knight errant.  It’s his duty, today, to beat a strategic retreat from the Paris Accord, although he makes his rout sound like a victory.  He will continue to wage war, moreover, on all elites who use their faith in science to conspire against US prosperity.  Above all, he will seek revenge on European leaders for laughing at him.

“At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”

I will show them who’s boss, vows the reality TV show boss who became president.

“Europe, you’re fired.”

It’s part of The Donald’s heroic struggle. Being president may be harder than he thought, but he’ll show you who’s in charge. It’s all that matters to Trump. He’s made no effort to understand the Paris Agreement. He reserves his energies for selling his decision. His mission is to misrepresent his decision in deceptively simple yet self-aggrandising terms.

“I am fighting every day for the great people of this country. Therefore, in order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord … (which is) simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States …

Trump skips from disinformation to delusion. He displays the dangerously disordered logic of a resentful paranoiac who seeks to recruit his audience to collude in his fantasies.  The Agreement is a conspiracy to steal American wealth.

“You see what’s happening. It’s pretty obvious to those who keep an open mind.”

The president’s sole reference is propaganda from the Institute for 21st Century Energy, a fossil-fuel lobby group and an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce, a pro-Republican business lobby group independent of government.

Nowhere does Trump repeat his claim that climate change is a Chinese hoax but it’s in there, somehow, in a way that leaves room for the party fearful; the likes of Tony Abbott’s tin-foil hatter Maurice Newman for whom climate change is a United Nations’ “hook” devised to impose a new world order which will upend not only freedom but also capitalism.

Nowhere does Mad King Donald acknowledge the the 630 business leaders who wrote in January demanding that he keep Barack Obama’s climate plan and stick with the Paris deal , part of a large group of major corporate leaders opposing his withdrawal. He doesn’t have time for reading, let alone acknowledge those who oppose his edicts.

Nowhere does the fruit loop show he’s aware that the Paris Agreement does not even officially take force until 2020.

Alarmingly erratic, Trump even decries the Green Climate Fund, part of a Copenhagen Agreement that he publicly urged eight years ago in a letter co-signed by members of his family. The fund is costing a vast fortune, he claims. In fact the US has contributed $1 billion out of $ 3 billion pledged or .026 percent of the US annual federal budget.

Why did he wait? Trump was just not up to spurning Europe’s leaders personally last week, at the G7 summit in Sicily, where even his sulking was upstaged by Melania’s US$51,500 Dolce & Gabbana “3D flower” jacket, a statement in itself at only $4000 less than the average American family income in 2015 of $55,775, according to The US Census Bureau.

Who can blame him? It’s been such a YUGE nine days. An audience with any pope is tiring – let alone Francis, a Greenie. Trump’s Saudi sword-dance arm sales deal, alone, would exhaust anyone, to say nothing of that collar they put on him.

And who would not be taxed by any Mid-East peace mission based on further weaponising Wahhabism?

Back in Washington’s rose-scented quagmire, however, in yet another Adams family tribute, Trump vows to stand with Pittsburgh against Paris.  Pittsburgh, meanwhile, a US leader in green infrastructure, is quick to declare itself for Paris.

“President Trump’s decision is disastrous for our planet, for cities such as Pittsburgh.” Many other US cities also rebel.  Sadly for narcissist Trump’s massive ego, the move to cleaner energy sources is underpinned by market forces.

“The United States will withdraw. From the Paris. Climate. Accord,” Trump says pausing bigly. Theatrically.

“Turn around so I can shoot you in the back,” Uncle Fester’s favourite gag, is the President’s considered response to the world; to those leaders who last week sought to engage him on keeping to the Paris climate accord. It could catch on here.

The Australian government is not to be undone by the shock news. Trump is to honour a campaign pledge? Surely not.

Yet what is to be done? Only recently our lickspittle PM gushed “We are family” toadying to Trump and to his backers and minders who include Greg Norman, CEO Shark Industries and Keith’s boy, the phone hacker Rupert Murdoch.

Someone had wangled Malcolm an invitation to a dinner aboard USS Invincible, fittingly, the US navy’s unluckiest ship now stranded on The Hudson’s toxic sludge, a war museum and shrine to all who are up shit creek without a paddle.

“Disappointing” puffs the PM. His low-wattage energy minister, Josh Frydenberg uses the same talking point. But- in a message to Abbott,  Christensen et alia who share the reptilian brain-stem of Australia’s political right-wing, a coal-powered, mining lobby-led Turnbull government publicly trumpets that on climate it’s not for turning. Yet, anyway.

Having set shamefully inadequate carbon emission reduction targets we will stick to them.  It’s our commitment. Paying homage to Monty Python’s Black Knight, for whom a mortal blow is merely a flesh wound, chief scientist, Alan Finkel, pretends the exit of the US from the global accord on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is “a blow, but not fatal.”

Turnbull harangues Parliament “we are committed to the Paris agreement and we’re on track to meet our targets”.

“That’s our commitment, affordable, reliable energy, and meeting our emissions reduction targets in accordance with the Paris treaty,” he rants.  Commitment? It’s an outrageous lie, a fraudulent misrepresentation and a complete hoax.

In August 2015, the Abbott government announced  announced plans to cut emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030 based on emissions from the year 2005. The Climate Change Authority an independent statutory advisory body then headed by Bernie Fraser revealed the Authority has recommended reductions of 45-63 per cent by 2030.

Apart from seeking weak targets, Turnbull’s vaunted “commitment” includes such initiatives as stacking the Climate Change Authority with pro-government members and opposing any notion of price on carbon or even an emissions intensity scheme.

The Coalition has also been prepared to be the only government in the world to repeal a carbon tax while it has wasted $2.5 billion on its dodgy, woefully underfunded Direct Action deal where polluters are paid to reduce emissions. Or plant trees which they may well have planted anyway. Or which major polluters were not compelled to join anyway .

Reputex warned government for its plan to meet the target, it would need between $3.3 and $6 billion extra per year.

Research conducted by Swinburne University last year concludes “Australia’s largest listed, carbon intensive companies say management lost focus on carbon matters, abandoned energy projects and didn’t have the commercial imperative to produce long-term strategic action on reducing emissions after the carbon tax was repealed.”

Such is its commitment to carbon emissions reduction, moreover, the Turnbull government will take funds from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to finance further research into carbon capture and storage. Despite the funds it has wasted already, despite no CCS ever having been successfully set up anywhere, the Turnbull government continues its pretence that existing plants are a commercial success.

Worse we should take funds from renewables to invest in them. Frydenberg has just returned from the $1 billion Petra Nova plant in Texas and gushes on ABC Radio about its success. He doesn’t mention that the maximum that the plant has been able to capture is a mere 6% of the output of an adjacent station.   No-one challenges his assertions.

Another CCS plant will open after a three-year delay with a staggering total cost of $ 7 billion. Yet, insanely, the Coalition proposes that we continue to invest in a scheme that has never worked commercially; a money-burning pipe dream.

It’s as mad as Tony Abbott’s “axe the tax” attack where lamb roasts would cost $100 and Whyalla would be wiped off the map. His government’s abandonment of any carbon pricing scheme boosted our carbon emissions.

While it may have inspired then Environment Minister Greg Hunt to initiate a group hug on the floor of the lower house, Abbott’s “carbon tax” war inhibited investment in the renewable energy industry and helped energy costs sky-rocket.

In research for The Greens, The University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College found the average wholesale electricity price soared to $134 a megawatt-hour last summer. It was $65-$67 in the two summers the carbon price was in place.  Queensland prices nearly tripled in one year and NSW, and doubled in South Australia.

Our PM is uneasy. Trump’s last tango in Paris, his withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Accord emboldens local denialists and calls the Turnbull government’s bluff. The Coalition has no policy to deliver even its feeble commitments.

Its own ecocidal rump of carbon bandits and environmental vandals urges Turnbull to follow Trump past peak stupid. Backbenchers Ian Goodenough, Eric Abetz, Ian MacDonald, Tony Pasin and Craig Kelly clamour to exit.

Gorgeous George Christensen believes “we should never have been in it.” He worries the Paris Agreement will somehow be used by The Greens to bring in a carbon tax, emissions trading or intensity scheme, while phony Tony Abbott, who negotiated our Paris agreement calls for a freeze on the RET while he works out a way to do another U-turn.

Trump’s French disconnection is cause for celebration for Craig Kelly, who chairs both his party and parliamentary environment committees. “It’s not confirmed yet but we have the champagne on ice,” he writes on Facebook.

Later he adds “There is a more efficient way to generate energy than using fossil fuels, it’s just that mankind hasn’t yet worked it out yet.” His Facebook also expresses his support for a view that “the communists lost in Viet Nam”.

Trump’s exit is a genie that Turnbull will struggle to put back in the bottle. Or in the words of the old song,

“How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm After they’ve seen Paree ..?”

Former Abbott employment minister, Senator Eric Abetz parrots the US President’s patent nonsense that the Paris Agreement creates local unemployment in a call for withdrawal that can only put the heat on his Prime Minister.

“Australia should similarly pull back … to allow for an increased focus on supporting families and jobs in Australia”, 

Yet, as The Climate Council research indicates, a 50% Renewable Electricity scenario in 2030 will create 28,000 new jobs even after Abetz’ party under Tony Abbott did its best to cripple investment in renewable energy.

Similarly, solar energy industry alone employs twice as many US workers than the coal industry, according to research recently published in the New York Times.  Add wind and renewable energy industries employ three times as many as the coal industry, according to the US Department of Energy’s 2017 energy and employment report.

It’s a disaster for a weak leader. Malcolm Turnbull finds himself wedged between no real policy to uphold and a baying pack of climate junkyard dogs intent on tearing up an agreement that was never worth the paper it was written on.

Intoxicated by the idea of escaping from a commitment that it never understood to a cause it never believed in, the climate-change-is-crap-pack will demand more fossil fuels in its “energy mix”, its ministers’ favourite phrase.

Strengthened will be the pressure on the Prime Minister of dithering to offer even more absurdly unworkable concessions to coal miners and to heed calls for more onshore gas exploration and the lifting of fracking bans.

Yet there is no shortage of gas in Australia or globally.

Turnbull’s government will make patently absurd claims about the need to be “technology neutral” in energy while having a resources minister who follows the Peabody script and pretends it is jobs versus coal.

He will bleat about the need for a “sensible discussion” while he has to suffer a treasurer who plays with a lump of coal in the chamber.

Carbon pricing, emissions trading or emissions intensity schemes will still be forbidden because Kelly and others in the coalition’s climate change denying rump don’t want them – as if refusal is an option. While fossil fuel generators can avoid paying for their pollution the cost of high-emission power generation will remain artificially competitive.

Already this week, the government has said it will change the rule of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation so that it can be technologically neutral – evasive jargon for squandering public money on carbon capture and storage.

Expect to hear more spin advancing an expensive, commercially unviable and grossly inefficient experiment as if it were a real option.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel will report next week on how to solve the energy policy paralysis with some commentators predicting a low emissions target, a scheme where a percentage of electricity generation is achieved by designated low emissions means but not just renewables, quite possibly gas.

Perhaps, even, that unicorn clean coal will get another canter around the show ring.

No-one in government will mention that if natural gas leaks 3%, the fuel has a bigger climate effect than burning coal. Nor will they explain how the cost will not boost prices.

An existential crisis brews for Turnbull if the Trump default on Paris is construed as a victory for climate sceptics.

A weak leader, whose authority will be further eroded by evidence that his economic plan is leading the nation into recession amidst soaring energy prices he has failed to curb, the prime minister will be sorely tried by a revolt of the right-wing rump for whom, like Trump, climate change means nothing more than a means to assert a mongrel authority.

The best outcome would be for it be quickly understood that Trump’s stand is a bluff. While his turning his back on the Paris Agreement may reveal much about his psychopathology, energy generation in the US is now commercially-driven and beyond his control.

Even a president cannot re-open coal mines which are no longer commercially viable.

Official government energy policy can still do real harm, especially in cuts to clean energy research, as we have seen under Tony Abbott. There is hope, however, in the numbers of cities and states in the USA who have already declared they will keep the Paris Agreement, flawed as it may be. It is vital, above all that Australia does the same.

 

Trump’s unplugged tour will bury his presidency.

 

While Donald Trump’s “Dancing with Swords” world tour of five nations, featuring an in-house Saudi arms bazaar, is a shot in the arm for Sunni Muslims and a boon to Wahhabist fundamentalists everywhere, his gratuitous insult to Nato and the other 194 nations who have also signed the Paris Climate Accord has commentators scratching their heads.

Bizarrely, Trump proposes a Saudi-led Arab Nato and on Fox and our ABC a big deal is made of his big arms deal. It’s not hard to sell arms to the world’s largest arms importer. Yet it may not be a safe long-term investment.

Saudi Arabia, is so profligate that while it earns half a billion dollars a day from oil it may be broke in five years. While its king travels with a thousand strong retinue, and his son “Deputy Crown Prince” Muhammad bin Salman can blow half a billion on a yacht, a quarter of the population lives on less than AU$20 per day.

The Arab Nato joke adds to Trump’s “kumidia alakhta” or comedy of errors. Middle East “terrorism” groups – Isis and al-Qaeda, aka the Nusrah Front – have their fountainhead in Saudi Arabia, a nation which Hilary Clinton in a Wikileaks cable notes “remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups.”

Even more worryingly, Trump attacks Iran; demonising it for “fuelling sectarian violence”.  He rebuffs the new, moderate, Iranian government in its attempts to open up communications with the West. Instead, the US will boost its alliances with decrepit autocratic regimes across the Gulf. Peace in the Middle East? Trump torpedoes his own mission.

Most of the Trump Unplugged tour is puzzling, especially, his minders’ decision to muzzle The Donald and exhibit this astonishing performance artist as if he were merely an amazing dancing bear. No reporters. No press conferences. Even Twitter is forbidden. Nothing beyond his scripted imbecilities and the odd anti-Nato, anti-Teheran tirade.

So sad. This a presidency which can conduct its entire foreign policy in 140 characters. Or fewer.

It’s a big risk, too. The president’s only protection from the weight of expectations; being totally crushed by his role is to shoot his mouth off. Now he’s being paraded, like some mute Caliban, a poor credulous monster on a world stage; terrifying in his manifest inadequacy. You can see all of Europe’s leaders talking behind his back. What is going on?

In the Vatican, Wednesday. A gimlet-eyed Francis is on Trump’s case. He calls the president on his pivot to Potizza.

What do you feed him? Potizza?

“Potizza?” Mrs Trump asks in some surreal catechism. “Yes.” But her monster, Trump, can hear only the word pizza.

Francis teases the First Lady, playfully fat-shaming her husband, after a private audience with The Donald, incredible bulk, deal-maker extraordinaire and fearless leader of a single-page nine bullet point brief irony-free world.

Potizza is a Slovenian pastry. The Donald is a patsy. He’s been sent on a papal visit by his minders to him get out of Washington. Talk up US arms deals with the Saudis. Boost stocks. While he’s at it he can get peace in the Middle East. Above all, there is to be no news. It has to be repeated. No conferences. No reporters asking questions.

Sound like a plan? The Donald’s nine-day, five nation itinerary is put together mid-flight by 36 year-old Jared Kushner, Trump’s spoilt son-in-law, whose expertise in rack-renting and real estate speculation is an ideal fit for diplomacy. The president is confined to Kushner’s wooden script on teleprompter and the odd, informal, social awkwardness.

Kushner is Trump’s chief foreign policy adviser because Rex Tillerson goes on and on. But even his First Roadie cannot fix the president’s short attention span, his lack of curiosity, his aversion to detail or depth.  The Donald can wing it in Israel where his attacks on Iran help distract from their settlements and it suits the Saudis to indulge their new champion. Yet even then the president goes gaga with Bibi.  The trip is a minder’s conceptual and logistical nightmare.

Compounding his worries over how to manage a testy father-in-law who can’t read briefings, Kushner is accused Friday by Russian Ambassador Kislyak, of trying to set up a secret communication with The Kremlin, using Russian channels, at a meeting attended also by Michael Flynn, December 1 or 2, during Trump’s transition, a move that would shield them from monitoring by US intelligence. The White House declines to comment.

Kushner excuses himself several days early and returns to Washington, subdued but with no intention of standing down.

Nothing to see (or hear) here, National Security Adviser HR McMaster claims later, gamely evading the point.

“We have back-channel communications with a number of countries so, generally speaking about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner,” McMaster says. He doesn’t say that he approves of a private citizen, such as Jared Kushner was at the time setting up such a channel.

Kushner’s alleged push for a secret channel to Moscow is the most damning accusation yet in the FBI investigation of Trump’s Russian links. And most difficult to explain. Why would Trump’s team need such a scheme? Why did Kushner leave his meetings with the Russians off his security clearance form? How can his lawyer claim this was an oversight?

Trump’s tour  begins and ends with damaging allegations of impropriety. It does nothing to take any of the heat.

In fact Trump unplugged, The Tour, turns up the heat. The accidental president alienates Nato leaders by haranguing them for not paying their fair share.  He’s incorrect and the rebuke is likely to backfire. Nato nations, may challenge US anti-Russian propaganda; the reality of Russian attack. Those facing austerity budgeting may question the benefit of maintaining an expensive commitment to a Cold War organisation already 25 years past its use-by date.

The president also is at odds with the G7. After three days of lobbying and despite Pope Francis’ prompt last Wednesday in presenting him with his Encylical on Climate Change, he wimps out of giving the other six members any US endorsement of the Paris Climate Accords. Will the US be the first of the 195 signatories to withdraw? The suspense is not inspiring.

Trump’s excursion into Arab politics is also disturbing. As the Saudis collar him; claim him in a feudal way, the US publicly backs a nation whose Wahhabist fundamentalism helps breed terror, it deepens Shia- Sunni enmity by branding Iran as the real enemy of Mid East peace.  For corporations in the war business, however, the trip is a YUGE success.

Lockheed, Raytheon (RTN), Boeing (BA) and General Dynamics (GD) all see their shares rocket Monday following news of the deal. Raytheon, Lockheed and General Dynamics reach record highs, as does defense company Northrop Grumman (NOC). Defence stocks have been soaring for the past year on hopes that US defence spending would continue to increase despite federal budget cuts elsewhere. It has risen $54 billion. Boeing stocks are up 18% this year.

Perhaps the pope was being broadly allusive in his joke about Trump’s gluttony. He would know that this most narcissistic, materialistic president cares only about himself. No-one would need to tell Francis that Trump worships only wealth. Luckily, thanks to his irony by-pass, the joke goes over The Donald’s  head. A notorious fat-shamer himself, the newly- badged Emir of Mar a Lago misses the dig or the souvenir family photo with Pope could have turned ugly.

Only last year, Trump called Francis “disgraceful” for questioning his faith. Of course, there’s a Church of Gordon Gecko.

Beyond his sly dig at Al Donald’s girth, doubtless, is Francis’ fatherly concern that the easily-fatigued, elderly US president keep his strength up on his first big OS gig. Those Saudi sword dances can take it out of a man. Not to mention the weight of the King Abdulaziz al Saud Collar  the Saudis have just thrust upon him. What were his advisers thinking?

Francis has foresight. By Saturday, a bewildered Trump will lose the plot. Stand up. Wander off set during a joint press conference in Tel Aviv with Bibi Netanyahu. Is it dementia? Luckily, shocked staffers, rally sufficiently to turn the dazed and disoriented president around and head him back to Bibi for another photo op and yet another bizarro handshake.

What did happen in the Vatican? Did Trump tread on his holiness’ toes? The two leaders are not close given the Pope’s interest in climate change is at odds with the billionaire president’s desire to make more of it. Make money out of it.

Reopen coal mines. “Trump digs coal” was one of his winning campaign slogans. End the war on coal. Jobs. His Energy Independence Executive Order suspends more than half a dozen measures enacted by Obama and boosts fossil fuels.

Mad Matt Canavan and barking Barnaby Joyce have been taking notes for Adani, a local version of the same show.

Other things have inflamed the relationship. Francis’ warned voters last year that Trump is not a Christian.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said publicly during Trump’s lumbering run for office, pointedly, keeping the Church out of US politics.

Treading carefully to observe Vatican protocol, however, are Trump’s women. Their black, funereal outfits, headgear and stiff posture offer an Adams family album look to photographers, while Melania’s long-sleeved Dolce and Gabbana outfit is almost certainly a nod to local industry, della moda Italiana and not an attempt to look like a mobster’s widow.

Is Trump’s presidency mortally wounded? Impeachment, experts warn, is a long and uncertain process. The White House is getting all lawyered up for a fight. Yet while reports of its death may be premature, this week Trump’s team certainly appears zombified. Trump’s trip, his first big foreign adventure has created more headaches than it cured.

Trump unplugged is a YUGE step away from peace in the Middle East. It reveals a White House in the grip of Neocon hawks who are cynical enough to present arms sales to the Saudis as some kind of peace initiative.

Above all Trump’s tour has cast doubt on US leadership in Europe and revealed the president to be a coward on climate change. In dramatically revealing his ineptitude to the world, his gig has diminished his credibility and his legitimacy.

Nothing good may come of it although it will accelerate his administration’s demise.

A sticky end for Mar a Lago Hillbillies as Washington dumps Trump?

“I put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal – for Donald Trump.


“I get great intel … people brief me on great intel every day,” Donald Trump boasts. You can tell he’s just busting to share. Show his visitors what a big shot he is. He loves to be liked. Instead, his net approval rating is below zero although he can boast he’s the only president to achieve this within his first 100 days in the White House.

Suddenly The Donald’s spilling the beans, sharing all the classified dot points he has been entrusted with about the latest, HUGE ISIS plot and everything.   A short attention-span is his characteristic, says Tony Schwarz who wrote The Art of the Deal for Trump, it’s impossible to keep him focussed on anything except his own self-aggrandisement.

Trump is big-noting himself to Russian foreign minister, salty Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, 10 May, at a private meeting to which Russian state media only was invited. The White House, for once, is being prudent. Two years ago, Lavrov was recorded calling the Saudis “fucking imbeciles”.

But Trump has more to over share. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.” The New York Times confirms from official documents. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Later The Donald claims he has a right to blab. Is the president trying to impeach himself? Or is this some new post-truth defence against collusion? The nation is flabbergasted this week by the sensational revelation that Donald Trump has shared classified intelligence with the Russians while bragging; showing off about all the secret stuff he knows.

The extraordinary events are the latest episodes of Mar a Lago Hillbillies, a top-rating US presidential soap opera about the rise of a tangerine-tanned former reality TV boss and his gold-digging family. This week in Russia-gate the show blends all the electrifying suspense of the McCarthy era red witch hunt with the Whodunit mystery of Watergate.

Luckily, Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Showboat Bishop drops everything and dashes to help Trump, nine days later. Be there for him, almost. While she could not possibly know what he’s said, she’s sort of right behind him, more or less.

JBish is also in New York for an audience with wacky war criminal Henry Chicken-hawk Kissinger, a step vital to Australia’s application to join the UN Human Rights Council. There’s so much to gain from the wily old wire-tapper.

Julie knows her mentor once helped stage-manage genocide in East Timor. Right wing Latin American dictators who killed trade union leaders? Henry helped overthrow a democratically elected government in Chile. He urged Richard Nixon to wire-tap his opponents, including staffers and journalists. Julie sighs. So much to learn. So little time.

Kissinger got a Nobel Prize for his efforts to end the Vietnam War. These included extending it for five pointless years and  paving the way for Pol Pot and the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge.

“Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy,” he says in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s The Final Days. Comedian Tom Lehrer protested that Kissinger’s Peace Prize made political satire obsolete.

Julie shyly reminds Henry how her country loves Netanyahu and other strong leaders. How being strong helps Australia keep its borders protected; keep ourselves tough and buff. Just look at Peter Dutton’s wonderfully humane handling of the close of Manus Island. Exemplary. No-one lectures us on human rights. We are proud of our record.

Australia’s treatment of those now in their fourth year in gaol on the islands of Manus and Nauru is “not as a negative at all” as far as our UN bid is concerned, she says, just a way of stemming the flow of people-smuggling and preventing deaths at sea. Naturally, we’ve had to move things along on Manus which is due to be demolished at the end of June.

But we’ve made provision. A few can go to East Lorengau where they face beatings from locals who hate them.

The rest can go to Moresby where they won’t be beaten up or robbed if they stay inside cheap hotels. There are no jobs there anyway. Or they can return to certain persecution. Or get swapped to the US – if and when they’ve passed the “extreme vetting”, a little something Donald plans to whip up later, that he says will be imposed on a deal he detests.

When it’s invented, extreme vetting will detect “American values;” screen out anyone who is not prepared to “embrace a tolerant American society.” Our own PM has a similar scheme in mind to help us select the right type of migrant.

Peter’s also doing terrific stuff rounding up asylum seekers who just rip off tax-payers by living here and not producing any paper-work. He’ll deport 7,500 into war zones and further persecution and to countries with the death penalty.

Of course, our AFP helps prosecutors in countries which have the death penalty, but the worldwide abolition of the death penalty still remains one of Australia’s goals. We have to be practical and “appropriate“.  JBish puts a lot of thought into her vocabulary. You can tell. A cut in her budget has just gone into $300,000 extra funding for the AFP.

But Trump’s in trouble. Australia’s Foreign Minister releases a statement in support of his indefeasible behaviour.

“… The conversations the President has had, are, to our understanding, within the type of conversations that one would expect leaders to hold,”

Julie Bishop tells every nationwide press outlet. One does one’s best.

Betraying top secret information – bragging about sacking your nut case FBI director? It’s all bog-standard, run of the mill diplomacy, really, even if, as the New York Times observes, it rather strengthens the idea it’s intended to dispel. Surely no-one doubts “the president dismissed Comey primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives?”

Amazingly, incredibly, Bishop’s defence is simultaneously expressed by Teresa May and a swarm of other US bot-flies in the coalition of the willing who all chorus their independent, spontaneous support. Orchestrated damage control? Never.

If he ever read anything, Trump would take little heart in Bishop’s vacuous endorsement but he’s on to his next big crisis.

Former FBI Director James Comey claims Trump asked him to lay off investigating former national security advisor and Turkish Foreign Agent Michael Flynn because – apart from illegally secretly discussing US sanctions with the Russian Ambassador to the US last December – Mike’s a real nice guy.  I mean I really want him back on the team.

Trump also asked Comey about imprisoning reporters for publishing classified information, reports The New York Times.

Whatever he thinks of muzzling the press, Big Jim, who loathes Trump and everything he represents. Schwarz identifies the essential Trump as his willingness to run over people, the gaudy, tacky, gigantic obsessions, the absolute lack of interest in anything beyond power and money.” Comey formally notes the attempt to obstruct the course of justice. Things go pear-shaped for the orange Commander in Chief soon after. Hugely.

Trump hasn’t helped his case. Bad-mouthing Comey to Lavrov and Kislyak is not a wise career move.

A bombshell follows.  A special counsel is appointed, the widely-respected former FBI Director, Robert Mueller. He’s set to look into “The Russian Thing” as Trump calls it – and anything else he thinks looks fishy such as the Flynn Thing or the Blab Thing. The nutcase thing will probably take care of itself. The inquiry is now a criminal investigation.

Investigation of team Trump’s Russian links moves up a notch even briefly bumping news of the world laptop terror scoop. But it’s not entirely eclipsed. The Donald has confirmed he can’t be trusted with classified information. It will prove a most costly blunder – even if the details of the laptop blab sound suspiciously like a setup.

Classified Israeli intelligence warns the US that ISIS would use laptops to bring down planes. Terrorists may carry on laptops and use them to detonate explosives in the aircraft’s cabin, warn the spooks. News even emerges of a foiled plot involving an explosive-filled iPad. Talk about product placement. Details, naturally, are top secret.

For us, the jig is up. Australia’s government leaps aboard the nearest flight of hysteria to ban laptops and tablets from the cabin. Safer, by far, to stow devices in the cargo hold where an explosion may only bring down the entire aircraft.

Yet it’s not just about the laptops. Trump has named the city where the diabolical plot is being hatched. He’s identified an agent, causing a furore among US intelligence officers and their Israeli counterparts. Can he escape this lynch mob?

Trump digs deep. Using his signature double switcheroo, he denies he’s blabbed, then blabs about his blabbing.

For Tony Schwarz, lying is The Donald’s second nature. He believes whatever he says at any given moment is true – or sort of true – or at least ought to be true. He lies strategically. He has a complete lack of conscience about it.

As one Washington wag puts it, George Washington was a president who couldn’t tell a lie; Richard Nixon was a president who couldn’t tell the truth. Donald Trump can’t tell the difference. Luckily a bit of gun-running has to be done.

Peddling weapons to Saudi Arabia turns out to be TREMENDOUS; helps rescue Trump from a slump. The human hyperbole toddles off into the record books, extended family in tow, to clinch the biggest arms deal in American history.

Cue massive spontaneous applause from the conga line of suck-holes. Our ABC describes the arms sale at first as part of the president’s focus on “forging peace” in the Middle East. Even The White House modestly calls it, “fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East.” Later ABC reports go big on dollar values.

At $110 billion immediately and $350 billion over ten years, it’s a neat deal which son-in-law Jared Kushner has been keenly negotiating and will help the Saudis supply arms to Syria, Egypt, Lebanon. It is also part of US strategy to create a bulwark against Iran.  Relax. Australians can still feel secure, ten per cent of all US weapons exports will still go to us.

Trashier than the Kardashians but with sensational appearances from not one but two former FBI Directors and a guest spot from the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who is visiting Washington not only to watch on as his Embassy goons beat up US protestors but to stop Trump arming Kurdish fighters in Syria, Mar a Lago Hillbillies has a breathtakingly unpredictable plot.

Sharing many themes and values with much of Australian politics, Mar a Lago Hillbillies  is all about heroic martyrdom. Serving hardworking Americans by cutting taxes for the wealthy and slashing services to the poor while raising pensioners’ energy bills and elevating global warming and boosting atmospheric pollution, a virtuous, yet totally misunderstood but beloved popular leader is persecuted by left media and toxic Washington insiders. Out to get him.

Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean the bastards aren’t out to get you, as Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton well know. And it’s politically expedient to play the victim. “The single greatest witch hunt of a politician in US history”, gripes The Donald, perhaps the greatest witch hunter yet to inhabit the Oval Office, as his sacking of Comey backfires.

So unfair. A soft political coup or even an auto da fe may in fact await America’s presidential heretic. Despite stiff competition, he remains, by far, its most dangerously inept leader. But his biggest sin is that he won’t take advice. Mike Pence disappears. Washington gossips about Trump’s removal from office on the grounds of mental incapacity.

“They will say he has Alzheimer’s” claims pal Roger Stone, a “sinister Forrest Gump”, a mutual friend of Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn, the lawyer who earned unparalleled emnity as Senator Joe McCarthy’s chief witch-hunter. Naturally attracted to The Donald, by his values, Stone is a self-professed “dirty political trickster” from Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign and an inveterate attention-seeker for whom notoriety is better than no press at all. He warns of a cabinet coup.

Even without Stone’s conspiracy theory, Trump’s abuse of Comey is a tad ungrateful. Comey helped Trump’s campaign and caused a furore by reviving claims Hilary Clinton made “careless use” of a private email server. It remains an unprecedented public discussion and communication with Congress  by an FBI Director just prior to an election.

Could they be frenemies? There was a moment of bromance. On 22 January, during a ceremony, Trump called Comey over from where he was hiding against the curtain to hug him in public, a gesture which Comey found “disgusting“.

More repugnant was Trump’s attempt to recruit the FBI Director at private dinner. He asked me to pledge my personal loyalty, says Comey who Cordelia-like offered his honesty instead, offended by what he saw as an egregious impropriety.

Trump summarily dismissed his FBI head. Despite plenty of gratuitous slagging, he’s providing conflicting accounts for firing him. Comey fudged the Clinton case, (although he was full of praise at the time).  Comey’s a “show-boat”. Nobody likes him. “The Russian thing” is a hoax and a tax-payer funded charade. Now Comey’s a nutcase.

Is it a clumsy Trump cover up? Almost certainly. The FBI director discussed his agency’s investigation into Russian meddling in the US presidential election – and possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign – before a Senate committee. The timing is suspicious. So, too is Trump’s attempt to threaten Comey that he may have been taped.

The tape threat is Trump’s desperation bid to salvage his story that Comey promised him three times that he was not under investigation. Comey, naturally, denies this vehemently. For his part, Trump denies ever asking Comey to ease off his pal, nice guy and national security adviser, Russophile and foreign agent mad Michael Flynn.

Complicating matters for Trump are reliable reports that Comey filed a memo documenting the President’s request. An FBI Director’s memos would be admissable evidence in the current subsequent criminal inquiry or any other.

Comey’s friend, Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the US establishment’s think tank and editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog is in no doubt about what happened:

“Trump fired Jim Comey because the most dangerous thing in the world, if you’re Donald Trump, is a person who tells the truth, is dogged, you can’t control, and who is as committed as Comey is to the institutional independence of an organization that has the power to investigate you,” Wittes tells NewsHour’s William Brangham.

Trump cries foul. The witch-finder is victim of a witch hunt. One of the least stable, most insecure occupants of The White House beyond even Nixon, Trump’s paranoid attacks on Hilary Clinton, Obama, Washington, Mexicans, Muslims, the media, aliens in our midst and other “real bad dudes” are his signature theme. He has only one other claim to fame.

No. It’s not the abomination of his second attack on Obamacare, his affordable health care Act, which will deny 24 million Americans health care. Nor his anti-Muslim travel bans. Trump’s biggest contribution is the alternative fact.

“Even my enemies would say there is no Russia collusion.” It’s not just “Look over there!”- but, “There is no “there” over there.”  He’s got millions of Americans believing him. Yet, just in case, as events unfold, he’s quick to change his story.

Now a special counsel is on his case, Trump makes it clear, Friday, he’s only speaking for himself. No-one else in the team. He, himself, directly, no Russian collusion. OK? He pulls Sean Spicer from the White House Podium.

It won’t help his cause. It won’t undo the egregious impropriety with which he has conducted himself. It won’t erase the impression that he is a president who holds the protocols of his office in contempt. Even his latest BFF, the Turnbull government, cannot save The Donald from himself.

He’s wedged himself. Now the 45th President of the United States faces an alienated James Comey on the outer, while on the inside, special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller approaches with his signature painstaking forensic particularity. He has Trump’s number.  Things will turn ugly, however, as the cornered beast lashes out.

Commentators on ABC Insiders Sunday are unanimous in reassuring Australians that the impeachment of a president is a long and difficult process. That’s not the point. Trump’s presidency is already irrevocably damaged.

Inept, inexperienced, chaotically disorganised and overwhelmingly ill-informed, Trump has destroyed whatever credibility or legitimacy he may once have claimed.

A big arms deal with the Saudis won’t save his presidency, however much he trumpets its success or however much the ABC repeats the price tag. Nor will all of the accommodation, the normalisation and the flattery that our government and other US vassals have lavished upon his presidency avert the rapidly building crisis.  We need to get real. Our accommodation of the monster has already cost us dearly.

For all its entertainment and action-packed shock value, the Mar a Lago Hillbillies is likely to have a very bad ending. None of us is likely to come out of this well.

A dodgy bastard’s budget of lies.

“Rather than justice for all, we are evolving into a system of justice for those who can afford it. We have banks that are not only too big to fail, but too big to be held accountable.” 

― Joseph E. Stiglitz


“Pay your staff, you dodgy bastard,” a nineteen year old Sydney FC fan bellows from the stand last Sunday night at the A-League Sydney Grand Final. He’s calling out 36 year old celebrity chef, George Calombaris, whose restaurant group underpaid by $2.6 million 162 of his 430 workers over six years, an oversight which has put Calombaris off-side with the Fair Work Ombudsman, the odd hospitality industry employee, if not an entire nation.

“Pay your staff …” resonates in a week of Fairfax sackings and news of widespread exploitation, underpayment or wage slavery in a range of workplaces and locations including our homes. Despite unpaid internships, the abolition of Sunday penalty rates, cash in hand underpayment, casualisation, the rise in part time work and the use of “contractors” most of us prefer that workers be paid what they are due. Even if we have a problem paying women.

It’s a national trait. Australians will speak up for justice, however, much it may suit government to invoke our law-abiding compliance as it goes about dog-whistling our supremacists with their demands that all migrants be assimilated into “multicultural” submission. To the government’s dismay, our values have a way of finding their own voice, just as its own actions, in its “full astern” budget this week, betray a colossal, cynical pragmatism.

The Coalition is up to its own dodgy bastardry. Its big-spending, high taxing budget, “rests on principles of fairness, security and opportunity” says Morrison who will say or do anything. It’s only about its own survival; a frantic attempt to arrest the PM’s diabolical unpopularity and to cut and run from its 2014 Abbott budget fiasco.

It’s an amazing backflip. The debt and deficit disaster? Never happened. The Malcolm Roberts-esque mantra that “we do not have a revenue problem”, maintained for three years, is suddenly dropped, along with Neoliberalism.

The expenditure problem has overnight become a virtue, provided it is “good debt” ie debt the government likes.

Now the government proposes to raise taxes from middle income earners in the form of a 2.5 % Medicare levy and it will get banks to pay a new tax although, once again it will persist with the fiction that this is a levy.

Proving he has not lost his sense of irony, the Treasurer keeps a straight face as he claims Medicare is guaranteed. At least Peter Costello could smirk as he told us his new charter of budget honesty would banish all mendacity.

Above all, ScoMo screams, “this is an honest budget”. Unlike the last one?

It’s an honest budget all right, apart- that is –  from the dishonest bits such as the Medicare guarantee.  The process sounds OK. Any funds remaining from the increased Medicare levy – after paying for the National Insurance Disability Scheme (NDIS) –  (already funded by Labor) will be paid into a Medicare Guarantee Fund

“Proceeds from the Medicare levy will be paid into the fund. An additional contribution from income tax revenue will also be paid into the Medicare Guarantee Fund to make up the difference.” Provided it passes the senate.

It’s OK- provided the government does not fund the costs of public hospitals. The costs of Medicare are re-defined solely as a combination of expenditure from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) but minus the commonwealth’s contribution to public hospitals.

Although Morrison claims greater transparency over Medicare funding, transparency is just another dodgy buzz-word. It will, as The Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett points out, be much harder to follow Medicare funding.

At the heart of the Morrison magic pudding is the wild assumption that wages will increase. On ABC Insiders Sunday he talks up wage growth to 3%. There are similarly unrealistic expectations placed upon commodity prices.

Surely it would have been more prudent just to have postponed the business tax cuts, handouts which in Thursday’s Question Time, after some embarrassing fumbling, he admits will be $65.4 billion over ten years.

But no. After years of pretending that we battled economic headwinds, suddenly the world economy is on the up. Good times are just around the corner – unless you are unemployed or indigent. The war on the poor continues.

Continued is the demonising of our unemployed as unworthy; dole bludgers, druggies and a burden on society. There will be drug tests, a failed US policy, and extra tests to check that you are single and a beaut three strikes and you’re out tolerance of slip ups in honouring your Centrelink obligations. Robo-debt could be put on to that.

It’s another echo of yet another failed US tough on crime policy and a clear sign that the government is posturing.

The all-new-tough-on-bludgers-crackdown will tackle what government claims are “around 40,000 people(who) appear to be wilfully and systematically gaming the welfare system with no intention of working”. Assuming, of course, that work is available – although work could be redefined on a very part-time basis. Technically, to keep unemployment statistics off the scale, you are employed on one hour’s paid employment per week.

The dole bludger bashing is a divisive, dishonest stunt. Morrison claims it will save $632m over 5 years. As Greg Jericho patiently points out in The Guardian, however, it’s less than 0.1% of total welfare expenditure.

Budget 2017 seeks to punish those out of work. It’s somehow their fault. It caricatures the jobless as too drunk or stoned to turn up to a job interview. It substitutes puritanical political posturing, a justification of denial and withholding for any genuine attempt to share resources fairly according to need. It also punishes by neglect.

It neglects women. There is not one budget measure to address gender inequality; to promote equal pay.  The environment doesn’t get a look in either. Nor does climate change. These matters are clearly all dealt with.

Work, on the other hand, is fetishised, idealised as inherently ennobling in a cruel parody of the harsh and often demeaning realities of the 2017 workplace where exploitation and expendability are defended as “flexibility”. Again the government reveals itself to be totally disconnected from the realities of the modern workplace.

Work is increasingly rare, unfair and insecure. Penny Vickers, a Brisbane night-fill worker, has just won a nine-month legal battle against a dodgy 2011 Enterprise Bargaining Agreement which saw her pay drop by $30 per week below the award wage. Abandoned by her union, amazingly, heroically, she successfully battles alone.

Fairfax, which blew the whistle on the injustice, is in her corner-  yet to The Australian, to stand up for your rights is defiance, even if it delights in the case because it says the Fair Work Act 2009, a replacement for Howard’s Work Choices 2005 is a Labor Law and because it senses endless opportunities for union-bashing.

Forced to represent herself in the Fair Work Commission, Ms Vickers has taken on the power of Coles and the silks of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) a monster union, some 200,000 strong nationally.

Her win is a rare yet significant victory as workers battle to extract themselves from deals which the right-wing SDA has concluded with a range of major companies including Coles and Woolworths. The conservative SDA sets out to offer maximum industrial co-operation and minimal disruption to employers.  Is it a fake union?

This EBA affects 77,000 workers yet under Section 193 of The Fair Work Act, if one worker can prove that he or she is not better off overall than under the award, the FWC cannot approve it. The FWC estimates that 56% of workers could be affected. Wages withheld amount to $77 million.

Across other workplaces, there could be $300 million in underpaid wages every year. Yet it’s never just about the money.

“Pay your staff … ” has a larrikin edge; an echo of the spirit of the fight for fair pay and conditions between the owners and the workers of the Shearers’ strike of 1891, a harshly suppressed yet nation-changing insurrection which, today, thanks to dodgy bastard John Howard would be classed as “an illegal industrial action”.

Nation-building irreverence, independence or wilful insubordination are unlikely, however, to feature in any Coalition government citizenship test. Increasingly, as Fairfax workers discover, again, to their cost, this week, the spirit of the age is not agility and innovation but rather servile docility and subservience to dodgy paymasters with corporate loyalties which put profits before people.

The madly accelerating gap between capital and labour that threatens our entire society is thrown into stark relief. 115 full-time workers lose their jobs while executives get a pay rise for their part in reducing costs.

Richard Ackland quotes business writer Michael West’s claim this week that four top executives at Fairfax “were secretly gifted $6.7 million in share options in a transaction which the company failed to disclose in its annual report. The sneaky pay deal involved half of a $13.4 million options package awarded by the board.”

$13 million would help journalists’ salaries or even defer the planned reduction of payments for contributions.

Yet it’s my way or the highway in an increasingly autocratic and pro-government Fairfax management culture. Mike Seccombe reminds us Paddy Manning was summarily dismissed in 2013 for criticising the “rubbishy” sponsored corporate editorial material and “PR-driven churnalism” increasingly evident in The Financial Review.

Former Liberal Party staffer James Chessell was appointed to run federal politics, business and world coverage in February, an event which a striking worker tells Seccombe is extraordinary.

Workplace agreements are built on the premise that master knows best not that old Aussie egalitarian nonsense that Jack’s as good as his master. The new breed of Fairfax master, moreover is a creature of the investor class. And for the investor the firms’ once great papers are now valued solely in terms of their profitability.

Reporters investigations and all the rest of their craft are now merely ways to drag traffic to Domain, Fairfax’s money-making real estate site.  TPG offers to buy the business as it did with Myer in 2006.

The offer is rejected but is likely to resurface. As Ian Verrender warns, a successful bid will usher in a similar pattern of asset-stripping that has left Myer a shell of its former self. Relisted on the stock exchange and floated to investors at $4.10 in 2009, the company has declined in value ever since is now worth $1 per share

But Fairfax reporters stopped work, in part, to call attention to a matter of national security far graver than any trumped up terror threat. Our once robust national press is about to collapse. A pillar of democracy is in danger.

It’s not just us. The Australian could have the plug pulled at any moment. The News Corp tabloids are struggling. The Guardian’s in a perilous financial position. It’s a looming national crisis.”

For Peter Dutton, however, it’s a real bonus. The Immigration Minister has yet to account for his utter refusal to produce any evidence for his outrageous slur that asylum-seekers on Manus Island were fired upon in retaliation for some unspecified sexual abuse. Nothing but good can come of the loss of Fairfax, in his opinion.

Speaking on Sydney’s (Fairfax-owned) 2GB on Thursday, in his regular sledging session, he puts the boot in.

“I thought the productivity of Fairfax went up last week with the strike. I don’t think lives were affected one way or another,” he sneers. “I think people realise you can live without reading Fairfax newspapers. I think it’s a better way to lead your life – that would be my advice.”

Being held to account is something which does not sit well with Mr Dutton. Nor does it suit our banking oligopoly which are being asked to pay a new tax, a notion they claim which was foist upon them with no consultation. Consultation in this context means a chance to give the government its instructions. There will be hell to pay.

Already, Ian Narev, CEO of The Commonwealth bank who was paid 12.3 million last year, has told the Treasurer that the bank will have to pass on the new tax. Morrison is not budging – not at this stage anyway. He must know that our banks are the most profitable in the world. Their profits in 2016 were a staggering 3% of our total GDP.

Nor is ScoMo in any way discombobulated by the threat. The government will still get the money. In an interesting but equally predictable twist, the banksters are following the same script as the miners who successfully forced a backdown seven years ago for the Rudd Labor government. Bernard Keane says they are recycling the same lies.

The rest of the scenario is quite different. Back in Rudd’s day there was Tony Abbott to lead an opposition in a litany of lies about how the proposed super profits tax would ruin the miners and the entire country.  And some Australians actually liked mining companies, apart from those who held shares in them.

Both these factors do not apply to the Big Four banks of our nation who contrive amongst themselves to run a ludicrously profitable monopoly – in between running governments and Prime Ministers. The banks, do, it is true have a Fairfax paper, The Financial Review on side and there has been the predictable bugling from Simon Breheny at the IPA, while for Paul Kelly at The Australian, politics is knocked off course by the populist drumbeat.

Putting to one side how many of these commentators may own bank shares, which despite the banks’ propaganda number a swag of institutional and foreign investors as opposed to the mainly Mum and Dad investor ploy – expect to hear more of how the process has been at fault and how investors will be driven elsewhere. There will be a lot of bumf about our need for a strong an profitable banking sector rather than four profiteering banks.

Expect to hear how the banks saved us from the GFC and not a word about how the Rudd government successfully protected the banks. Expect to hear less about the reality. How the government is collecting $6 billion over four from our big four banks while contracting to deliver them $7 billion in company tax cuts over a decade.

What is needed, however, is some cheeky teenager in the stands to shout:

“Pay your dues you dodgy bastards.”

Stand up to Dutton; stand up for Australia, Mr Turnbull.

Capping a week of monster surprises, Mitch Fifield, Arts Minister 2.0 , announces government will help media moguls to become even more powerful just as the PM is due to sup with Rupert Murdoch and a conga line of suck-holes at a nosh-up for Australian-US sycophants on USS Intrepid, a New York war-porn museum inside a WW2 aircraft carrier, Thursday.

The billionaires’ relief package is timed for Turnbull’s emergency dash to kiss Rupert’s ring and a unique opportunity to fawn over Rupert’s protégé, Donald the Wunderkind, Trump, while Trump still believes he’s trashed Obamacare, bigly.

Should our government get its way, however, with its media laws, Australians could be reading only of the President’s amazing victory.

While changes proposed will need parliamentary approval, they include repealing the two out of three cross media ownership laws and the 75% reach rule which currently prevent Australia’s media giants from consolidating.

Turnbull’s backers hope there’s a poll bounce in truckling to Trump but either way, it’s a key step in the Coalition’s philanthropic mission to the rich. The $12 billion dollar little Aussie battler could do with a bit of a hand up just as the nation needs more media concentration if it is to be certain that the news it hears and sees is government-approved.

Will Fairfax now at last be free to marry Nine Entertainment? How will the proposed new laws help the 125 workers or the 25% of its journalists Fairfax just made redundant? Do the new “reach” and “two out three” “reforms” allow a virtual monopoly? No time for any further discussion. Look over there, it’s the Ugly Budget Show.

But first a word from funny man and Trump fan Happy Harold Mitchell, chairman of Free TV Australia, the industry group that says it represents the free-to-air networks. Mitchell argues that the changes were needed to help protect Australian media companies from overseas technology giants, such as Facebook and Google.

“Broadcasters must be able to effectively compete with the giant multinational media companies taking advertising dollars out of Australia,” Mitchell says straight-faced. Yet Murdoch’s US business was able to take 4.5 billion from its Australian business in 2015 virtually tax free. Expect Scott Morrison to offer more of the same hogwash Tuesday.

Tuesday will be huge. Everyone’s on edge lest they bugger up The Budget Process or, somehow, mar the “finishing touches” being applied to the Frankenstein’s monster Morrison is building. Or, rather, the monster we are all constructing such is the power of the collective fiction of the Almighty Budget reborn, or recreated, every year.

So powerful it can destroy the futures of those yet unborn, the Budget Monster usurps entire governments and oppositions alike. The Ugly Budget dominates all rational discussion of the economy.

The nonsense of Budget Repair, for example, is widely accepted as justification for cutting government spending while giving tax cuts to the rich.

Forget jobs and growth. Forget the slogans about delivering on its promises. As Treasury will have told ScoMo, the Coalition has in fact delivered budget unrepair. Its policies have massively increased the deficit and helped retard economic growth.

Jobs will continue to be part time and casual while the unemployment rate won’t budge much from 5.25-5.75%, helped by the ABC’s Fran Kelly and the many others in the Coalition cheer squad who say this is “relatively good”.

Expect half measures from the faint-hearted. The Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss warns of a “hodge podge”.  High Priest Morrison, the Malcolm Roberts, of the economy says his budget won’t “tickle the ears of the ideologues”.

Yet after years of ear-tickling about bringing the budget back into balance and its worship of the free market, the government has abandoned some of its neoliberal magical thinking in favour of something which might win it a few more votes.

It will still, however, cling to its trickle-down superstition that making the rich richer is good for all of us.

Gone is debt and deficit disaster. Some debt is good, especially if it’s an excuse to boondoggle. “Good debt” is money borrowed by government for an inland Queensland rail that will never pay its way or an Adani mine that’s a fiscal and environmental liability and other pork-barrel projects that it sanctifies in the holy name of infrastructure spending.

Neoliberal economics has failed spectacularly worldwide but this government puts gut feeling first as Barnaby Joyce says. He can move a whole government department to help his electoral prospects despite no feasibility study no modelling or supporting evidence.

Similarly, ScoMo’s second Budget will preserve the delusion that ripping $48 billion out of the budget in the form of tax cuts for companies will lead to increased productivity, more jobs and higher wages if you say it often enough. Or that welfare is a cost not an investment in a socially cohesive, fair and decent society.

The Market, Amen, must be left to its own devices – mostly. ScoMo will subsidise Adani’s coal mine even though other mines won’t be able to compete. The Coalition will pop up a second Sydney airport while energy companies rob us blind with the help of a market regulator they helped to create and a government keen to protect it.

Undeterred, coal industry shill, Matt Canavan, our quixotic Resources Minister tilts at Westpac Bank again. This week, he accuses a bank of conflict of interest for not falling in with his government’s plans to subsidise Carmichael, a monster coal mine project we don’t need, which won’t pay its way and will become a stranded asset.

On cue, Adani vows to get its railway lines from Whyalla steelworks, a gesture that is hailed as a “lifeline” by Canavan and much of MSM. Yet the steel represents one per cent of Whyalla’s total output. A one off order of 56,000 tonnes of railway line is not a ‘lifeline’ for Arrium Steel but a cruel hoax,” says The Australian Institute’s Richard Denniss.

Under fire from The Incredible Sulk, Tony Abbott, over his Australian values and Gonski 2.0 cons and with the monster of Manus Island at large again after a Border Force worker alleges that Peter Dutton is lying, intrepid Turnbull acts decisively.

He scoops up Lucy and a tuxedo. Dashes to New York. It’s a last ditch bid to cure his electoral scrofula; the laying on of hands by a White House incumbent that guarantees all Australian Prime Ministers a boost in the polls. Or used to.

Turnbull is even up for a Trump love-in staged by Rupert Murdoch in New York, a city that doesn’t trust either of them.

“We’re not babies”, cries man-baby Donald Trump whose self-awareness at 70, like his political self and his emotional maturity are still works in progress. Monster baby Donald is ever ready to reset reality; get the mythic US Australian Alliance back on track with a bit of mature and responsible denial.  As adults do. A few brazen falsehoods always help.

No. He never threw his rattle out of his pram or hung up on Turnbull over that” worst deal ever” to swap refugees.

“We had a good call. You guys exaggerated that call. It was an exaggeration. We’re no babies. That was a little bit of fake news.” Enabling, Turnbull nods. “That’s right”, he lies.

Their relationship is rebuilt on mutually agreed dishonesty. The lie sits well with their mutual exploitation of the ANZUS myth. Trump’s handlers are counting upon an expanded Australian troop commitment wherever whenever it sees fit; Turnbull’s desperate to get his refugee deal. And butch up for the right wing of his own party.

Next, Trump denies all grounds for conflict. “We have a fantastic relationship …  I love Australia. I always have.” “It’s one of the great, great places. One of the most beautiful places on earth. Greg Norman’s here today, a friend of ours.”

The US President is a guest at the American Australian Association Battle of the Coral Sea Commemorative Dinner on USS Intrepid, a refurbuished WW2 aircraft carrier which sits in the silt and the General Electric’s factory’s PCBs of The Hudson River at New York’s West 46th Street.

Turnbull’s mob has moved heaven and earth to book him facetime with the president, even if it’s only a quickie. Now the dinner has come up, our PM has jumped at the chance, even if he has a Budget in the oven at home.

Nicknamed the “Dry I” or “The Decrepit” for the time it spent in dry dock and its incredible run of bad luck, the Intrepid suffered four, separate, kamikaze attacks. It was torpedoed once. It’s not the White House, it’s not Mar-a-Lago but it’s a perfect venue for a lame duck PM, to hoist himself out of range of Tony Abbott’s sniping and to declare fealty to his liege Lord Donald of the USA.

First up, Australian economic refugee and New York parvenu, 86 year-old Rupert Murdoch introduces Trump. Rupert’s father, Keith started the American Australian Association in 1948, an outfit dedicated to” building strategic alliances between the two nations” a process which entails ways of helping wealthy Americans make money out of Australia.

‘These are dangerous times,’ Murdoch observes, windily ‘and we must be, as this great carrier is called, “Intrepid,” that is to say, fearless and bold in our resolve to advance the frontiers of freedom, and in defense of our nation’s shores.’ Putting his mouth where his money is, courageously, he’s turned Fox News into The Trump Show, a paid advertorial.

The alliances include Chevron. The US-based multinational pays its CEO $20 million a year yet in the last two years has paid no tax on its offshore gas projects in Australia. Rupert’s American Australian Association gave Chevron’s CEO an award in 2014.

The Association’s president, former US Ambassador to Australia, John Berry, has urged Turnbull to meet Trump early in his presidency. Turnbull rushes to comply even if it leaves Abbott a loophole and Scott Morrison unsupervised around key Budget leak time.

The Donald’s stand up includes his love affair with everyone he’s ever met from Australia, like Greg Norman and Rupert Murdoch – including its Prime Minister whom he’s just kept waiting three hours in order to talk himself up on Fox news; explaining how bigly he’s scuttled Obamacare, even though he still has to get the bill past the Senate.

Above all, he vows theatrically, the two nations have “a bond sealed with the blood of our fathers and grandfathers.” (Gina Rinehart is there but the women don’t get much of a mention. Sunday she’s in the NT News urging Turnbull to cut spending like Trump.)

The Donald hails a fawning Malcolm Turnbull as a fellow late-bloomer, deal-maker and man of the world, monstering his guest, finessing that excess of affection and patent insincerity that so many celebrities confuse with affirmation. The two nations are blood brothers. Together, we beat back the Japanese; turned the tide of the Second World War.

Now, side by side in the war on terror, we reach out to new enemies. Why, there’s the “enormous risks” Kim Jong–un’s regime has been unleashing with its “reckless and dangerous” conduct, Turnbull obliges, woodenly, -but on cue.

Breathless hacks spin the event as their “first face to face meeting” which it is – for a whole forty minutes.  Or thirty-five before the wives are let in. Ivanka’s book has been described as a strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes. Her father’s speech, like his account of what was discussed is something similar. Trump bumper stickers.

Face to face? In a post fact, Trumpocene era, two can meet by tweet; just being there doesn’t cut it much any more – but the martial staging of the Turnbull Trump kiss and make up is lavished with careful attention to detail. It’s all about the vibe and the venue.

Love is in the air, albeit belated. A huge bromance. Huge. OK. It’s had its rough patches but true love never runs smooth.

“Got a little testy, got a little testy but that’s OK” Trump ad-libs before returning to script. That Call is woven into his blokey, hokey, narcissist’s shtick, along with how Greg Norman showed up The Donald but saved him embarking on a career as a golf pro.

Turnbull half-grins. His rictus is confined to the bottom half of his face, as if by some inner border force ring of steel. They are two of a kind; both socially inept spoilt brats, utterly consumed by their mutual, fruitless search for approval – along with their love of money and things and their mission to help people like themselves get richer.

Both have done work on their routines. Trump 2.0 loves Turnbull 2.0, tonight, in public at least. Loves Australia. Wonderful country. He’ll visit someday. Has friends there. The genius of convention has kitted him out in a monkey suit –  a costume favoured by Sinatra’s rat pack and countless other crooners, stage magicians and entertainers.

It suits him. Trump looks better, as a riverboat hustler, a con man without the Freudian slip of a tie dangling down past the waistline. Turnbull, however, looks wary, edgy and ill at ease. But it’s hard to relax with Peter Dutton acting up and with respected small “l” Liberal Ian McPhee arguing that the Immigration Minister has too much power.

Former Fraser government Immigration Minister McPhee makes a strong case for Peter Dutton’s powers to be reined in and calls for a halt to plan legislation to expand them.

He is “disgusted by the power accorded to current ministers regarding the lives of people fleeing persecution”.

In a powerful rebuke to Turnbull and his capitulation to the right, McPhee not only finds constitutional fault with the practice of increasing the Immigration Minister’s power, he has a dig at the Coalition’s values.

“Ministers now exercise power that is mostly beyond the review of judges,” he said. “Such power should be exercised humanely and in accordance with morality, not absolute law. “The law and its practice is now unjust. It is un-Australian.”

His comments are made in “Playing God”, a report by Liberty Victoria’s Rights Advocacy Project, released Thursday, calling for current powers to be reduced and for bills to expand them even further to be abandoned.

Report author Lauren Bull points to the creation of a monster, a minister whose powers include “discretions to approve, refuse, or cancel visas, to detain or re-detain an asylum seeker without warning, to send asylum seekers to offshore detention centres and, even in some cases, prevent reviews of decisions not to grant protection visas.”

 “Under Australian law, no other minister – not even the prime minister – is given anywhere near as much unchecked power.”

Dutton is accused of lying by a Border Force Officer on Manus who this week has given further information to ABC’s Barrie Cassidy which supports the police chief and other locals who deny the Minister’s allegation that shots were fired into the  detention centre because of sexual misconduct by detainees against a young Manus Island boy.

Peter Dutton has refused to alter his version of events, a version which effectively blames the asylum seekers for the disturbance.

The Immigration Minister has not only failed in his duty of care to provide a safe environment for the asylum-seekers, preferring instead to offer the lame excuse that PNG is responsible, but he has damaged the reputations and endangered the well-being of those in the camp with his implication of sexual assault.

His actions have exacerbated the already strained relationships between asylum-seekers and Manus Island locals.

While Dutton claims he has information to support his allegations, he refuses to make the information available. He has even demanded an apology from Fairfax and the ABC for a report which he claims is based on discredited witnesses.

Dutton’s conduct is completely unsatisfactory and a breach of his ministerial responsibility. It may be that with the unprecedented increase in his powers that he has been led to believe, wrongly, that he is not answerable to anyone.

Malcolm Turnbull urgently needs to exercise his leadership and stand Peter Dutton down, at least until the incident is resolved. Should the Prime Minister fail to do so, it will irrevocably weaken his authority as leader, let alone a leader who professes Australian values of fairness and justice. The consequences for the welfare of detainees could be dire.

Malcolm Turnbull needs to take time out from his attempts to boost his approval ratings with stunts such as the public forelock tugging with the US President and such as his recent crackdown on 457 Visas and his rhetoric on Australian values which seem little more than a dog-whistle to the intolerant and a shirking of our responsibility to refugees.

Australians deserve more from their government than an abdication of independence in foreign policy. Our alliances with other nations can be maintained without so much overt servility and undignified, fawning obeisance.

Given what we have seen of Donald Trump’s utter unsuitability in ability, temperament or experience to be an effective president and given what we know of those whom he has chosen for his administration and his advisers, it would be prudent, surely to exercise prudence, restraint and discernment.

Instead we are like hysterical teenagers stricken with Trump-mania.

Similarly, it does not advance a democratic nation’s best interests to indulge a wealthy and powerful profit-seeking elite who would seek a monopoly in reporting the news or in any other of the functions of modern mass media.

It is not beyond a government that it is genuinely committed to a free, fair and open society to actively support an independent and diverse press.

Certainly, the proposed new media legislation ought to be rejected for the grave and dangerous mistake it is.

Above all, the nation needs a sensible, rational economic policy on behalf of all Australians, informed by a broad range of experts, not neoliberal ideologues and certainly not a budget driven solely by an out of touch and out of favour Coalition government’s need to regain popularity by whatever means it can find.

Sadly nothing in the week’s events in politics suggests a narcissistic, immature, Turnbull government has the vision or the competence to put anyone but itself first.

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

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

 Anastasia Palaszczuk


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turnbull dogwhistles bigots while Trump bluffs and blusters.

Mr Turnbull identified Australian values as freedom, equality of men and women, the rule of law, democracy and “a fair go”, and claimed these were “uniquely Australian”.

“They are shared with many other democracies but they are in and of themselves unique. There’s something uniquely Australian about them,” he said.


A haze of fake tan and a whiff of panic hangs over Canberra this week as Malcolm Turnbull vows Australian values be put first. He plays an anti-migrant card to inflame the same blind fear of others as John Howard’s desperate lie of 2001 that asylum seekers were throwing babies overboard. 457 Visas will be scrapped to ensure that any migrant who gets an Aussie job can speak English. Pass an Aussie values test – even if he can’t define those values himself.

The fair go he speaks of certainly does not apply to women who as Michael Short reports continue to be paid less than men, on average $27,000 and $100,000 if we’re talking about executive salaries, according to Tax Office figures. The gender gap, on average 26,000 a year in wages, he reminds us, is unchanged after 20 years.

Australia’s take on a fair go and equality of opportunity ensures that it’s a blokes’ world where men have more power, earn more while women not only earn less and are more likely to be passed over for promotion. Women continue to carry out two thirds of all unpaid domestic work, three quarters of child care and 70 per cent caring for adults in Australia.  Unpaid childcare alone is estimated by PwC at $345 billion a year.

A fair go is a pet rhetorical device for our politicians. A fair go had a fair go from Kevin Rudd when he opposed Howard’s WorkChoices. Julia Gillard wove “mateship” into the skein when she spoke of the ways the NDIS could offer a fair go, a scheme now imperilled by our current government which pretends that there it is unfunded.

Turnbull gave it a whirl when he blathered on about tax reform in 2015. Menzies and Fraser also both hopped into it. It’s at best an appeal to fairness and justice. Equality of opportunity is in there, too. Clearly, however, it’s not something to be taken too seriously although the ten to fourteen per cent of Australians living below the poverty line would disagree.

Above all, Indigenous Australians whose life expectancy is lower than other Australians; whose children are more likely to die as infants; whose health, education and employment outcomes are poorer than non-Indigenous people would , sadly, have plenty of evidence to dispute the sincerity beneath the PM’s glib rhetoric. The irony for Malcolm Turnbull is that his trumpeting of Australian values, as Michelle Grattan points out, raises serious questions about his own.

Is he tapping into community fears; reaching out to ordinary Australians, widely believed to be Hanson supporters – spurned in an age of identity politics? Or is he willing, once again, to forgo his own beliefs to save his career?

There is nothing uniquely Australian about the values which Malcolm Turnbull is able to instance in a patronising interview with Leigh Sales on ABC 7:30, the PM reveals that respect for a woman with a different point of view is often conspicuously lacking. Indeed, viewers, would be forgiven for concluding Australian values include arrogantly talking over the top of your (female) interviewer and chiding, belittling or mocking your adversary’s commitment.

“I’m surprised you’re challenging this on the ABC,” he says. “I don’t think your heart’s in it actually, Leigh. I think you agree with me.” Daddy knows best, dear. Of course, if Turnbull were really concerned to preserve our uniquely Australian freedoms, he’d not only be practising what he preached, he’d be pushing for a bill of rights.

Instead, what’s clear is that his own heart is not in it. He’s toying with populist rhetoric. It’s also a dog-whistle to those who like Peter Dutton would have us believe, against all evidence, that migrants were taking our jobs. That all our problems are caused by people from other countries who don’t know Don Bradman’s batting average.

That’s it! He’ll set a harder test – only three tries allowed – as if migrants need further tests; as if the questions mean anything; as if any test which rests on cultural  assimilation is not at odds with even his lip service to multiculturalism.

Doubtless a focus group or a think tank told him this is how to win over Pauline Hanson’s fans. It’s not going to work. Yet there’s an awkward echo to Australia first. An orange ring around the rhetoric. An echo of the yam that talks.

The PM is, of course, paying homage to another weak, vainglorious lout, Donald Trump, who’s also muscling up, bigly.  Abruptly switching from America First or self-interested isolationism, to an intrusive, if not, trigger-happy foreign policy involving missiles and bombs, a violent right turn in desperate attempt to stem a rocketing disapproval in opinion polls, the Trump administration marks its hundredth day of chaos and dysfunction by picking a fight with everyone this week.

All the old foes cop a serve: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran. Russia’s “vassal” Syria is threatened with regime change. China must pull its spoilt brat, North Korea, into line; stop its “illegal activities” on the Spratly and Paracel Islands in The South China Sea. Pipsqueak Montenegro is pulled into NATO, adding an extra US base in Europe, antagonising Russia.

Yet a US alone in a world of threats is an illusion, a paranoid collective delusion. America’s real enemies are injustice, inequality and ignorance fostered, as in Australia, by a Neoliberal domestic policy which puts profits over people.

Trump promises “massive tax cuts” which would boost the rapid transfer of wealth from worker to capitalist, benefiting the top one per cent on average $214,000. Eight million low-income and single-income families would suffer financially.

It is not clear, however, that he will be able to deliver. Even Republicans – especially Republicans – want to see something revenue neutral. What he has accomplished is a Cabinet of billionaires and millionaires, the wealthiest in US modern history which stars Education Secretary Betsy de Vos, an opponent of state education, a woman who helped Michigan expand private schools with public funds. Students in Detroit now finish last in US tests of numeracy and literacy.

At the top, its role model is a president who knows no better than to claim in public that Korea was once part of China.  Not that it worries him. He has money. “Part of the beauty of me is that I am very rich”, he once told an interviewer.

We don’t care. US allies fawn approval. Mike Pence is feted by the Turnbull government this week as “wise and stable”.

Like Trump, who paid his own business $8.2 million out of campaign funds, Pence has also helped himself. 1990 campaign finance records show that Pence, then 31, was using political donations to pay the mortgage on his house, his personal credit card bill, groceries, golf tournament fees and car payments for his wife.  Not that it was illegal, then.

Turnbull may see this as wise and stable but it cost Pence an election. Public records also reveal as Governor of Indiana, Pence communicated with advisers through his personal AOL account on homeland security matters and security. Yet he’s despatched to Australia on a goodwill tour and to help us tell China to tighten the screws on North Korea.

It’s a rapid, dramatic change of role for the US. Exit stage left, Barrack Obama’s “pivot to Asia”. Enter stage right, Trump’s Team Heavy, a loosely affiliated gang of self-interested thugs united by their insecurity and a desire to kick heads.

Not that anyone can claim to have worked out Trump’s Foreign policy. It’s still a work in progress; a baffling, blustering incoherence based on boosting an already hugely unpopular, geopolitically ignorant President’s bellicose campaign rhetoric which usurps any rational policy based on negotiated mutual interest or calculated strategic initiative.

The US wants Russia out of Syria while it adds Montenegro to NATO.  Another link is added to a ring of bases it has established in spite of its 1990 agreement with Russia not to add a single one. It mouths off at Iran over its landmark nuclear test treaty. Iran, it says, is a threat to the entire civilised world. It’s a pivot to a hard core Neocon agenda which earns it gushing praise from a Turnbull government, desperate to arrest its terminal unpopularity by any means.

America’s reverse charm offensive is unique in US foreign policy history, at least in tone.  Cue VP Mike Pence, the smooth-talking former talk show hate radio host, who styles himself “Russ Limbaugh decaf” Hailed as a moderate, a safe pair of hands, (only by contrast with Trump?), Pence is an “evangelical social conservative“, a climate change sceptic determined to undo 40 years’ progress on abortion, gay rights, civil rights, criminal justice reform and race relations.

Anti-abortion, homophobic, Tea Party Pence is an oddball who won’t dine alone with any woman, a man who must have his wife by his side at events featuring alcohol. As a Congressman, he opposed federal funding to support HIV and AIDS sufferers unless it were matched by government investment in programs to discourage same-sex relationships.

Pence was one of only 25 Republicans to vote against George W Bush’s signature legislation No Child Left behind because he feared its Federal intervention in education. He visits Australia Saturday, with his family, to rapturous applause.

Turnbull is all over him like a rash. Over-zealous US sycophants feature large in the fawning over America that is our political leaders’ response to the US-Australia Alliance, an agreement which binds the US to do no more than consult with us in time of danger, but never has any PM been so keen to gush over a Vice President so far to his right.Â

Desperate for a bounce in the polls, in thrall to his own powerful conservative party rump, Turnbull dotes on Pence; rashly parrots US anti-China nonsense.

“The real obligation, the heaviest obligation, is on China because China is the nation that has the greatest leverage over North Korea,” Turnbull said. “It has the greatest obligation and responsibility to bring North Korea back into a realm of at least responsibility in terms of its engagement with its neighbours.” 

Does North Korea pose a problem for China? Noting its “medieval leadership” run by a family dynasty with “a habit of murdering its family members”, is problematic, Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr counters that China’s got less influence over North Korea than it has over any of its other thirteen neighbours on its 22,000 km borders.

China does fear, however, he says, that a DPRK collapse would leave US ally South Korea’s army on the Chinese border.

Yet nothing has changed in the behaviour of the leader of the DPRK. The only change has been Trump’s bluster.

Now that The Donald’s got his rockets off over Syria or Iraq, he’s not quite sure where, and the USS Carl Vinson is found to be nowhere near the Korean Peninsula but heading to Australia for war games instead, the confrontation is revealed to be a fake face off or a bluff, neither of which does much for Trump’s credibility. Nor our local media.

Our media eagerly, uncritically recycle the US show of force narrative and its dramatic brinksmanship. Is it a bluff or, perhaps, a double bluff, a signal that the Pentagon has no wish to let North Korea put the wind up it; spring a Thucydides trap? The risk or the trap is that the US will be drawn into war with China, as Karen Middleton notes.

Egg permanently on face Press Secretary, White House fall-guy, alternative factotum and, now, hapless casuist, Sean Spicer, is left to split hairs in the faint yet undying hope that he can claim black is white.

“The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula. That’s a fact. It happened. It’s happening, rather,’ he tells a scowl of reporters. “We never said when it would get there.” He could have made a virtue of a calculated delay. When we’ve finished bowls worked for Drake in 1588. But Trump’s White House is in 1984 mode.

War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength and Spicer is credible in the Orwellian world of modern politics.

While The Donald’s armada is found and turned around, our nation’s appetite for hate is regaled, ad infinitum, by a volley of shots of North Korea’s missile exhibitionism.

Scenes of last Saturday’s DPRK massed parades and assorted military porn help imprint an image of a “reclusive, rogue state” which is, paradoxically, never too shy to threaten nuclear Armageddon or put its people in gulags worse than anything Australia has on Manus or Nauru.

At least, that’s how our press packages its hate, served up with double-helpings of demonisation and lashings of fear.

Sample questions are produced to illustrate the type of thinking that will keep us safe from those who don’t share our values. Oddly they are all aimed at Muslims. Fear of 457 fraudsters, a type of visa which is all Labor’s fault, is whipped up in Canberra. Happily our heroic PM will save the day. Clean up Labor’s mess. He’ll rebadge the visa. It’s name will change and there will be some tinkering but the changes will affect only nine per cent of current 457 visa holders.

The PM hoses down any expectations his government’s budget will do anything except talk about housing affordability. It’s re-run of his all talk and no show tax summit.

Not talking, however, Monkey-Pod Top Banana, Immigration Minister and Border Enforcer, former Queensland drug squad copper Peter Dutton puts report of PNG soldiers shooting at asylum seekers on Manus on Good Friday down to a payback for sexual abuse of a young boy. It’s a rumour he starts. His facts are wrong.

But he’ll leave the commentary to others, he says, deflecting any questions.

Dutton should resign. He’s prejudiced any inquiry on Manus. He’s smeared asylum seekers’ motives as John Howard might. The implication of sexual abuse is a despicable attempt to blame the shooting on the victims.

It would seem, moreover, Dutton’s got the date wrong, the boy’s age wrong and that he’s refusing to admit PNG police evidence. He’s conflated two incidents. The boy who entered the camp was begging for food and was given some fruit.

Interviewed on ABC’s Insiders, Sunday, Peter Dutton won’t hear Barrie Cassidy’s protest that the incident involving a young boy was a separate matter; a week apart from when asylum-seekers were fired upon by an intoxicated mob of PNG solders after a football match at which asylum-seekers had refused to leave the field , according to local police. Dutton perpetuates the lie that the centre is run by PNG, to dodge responsibility for an unsafe environment.

The only proper solution would be to bring the asylum-seekers to Australia and out of harms’ way but Peter Dutton’s more interested in blaming the ABC for “commentary”. It’s un-Australian to expect him to account for his actions.

In the deeper international waters of intolerance and mindless enmity, however, a Leni Riefenstahl Logie goes to MSM, for its sensational scenario of a North Korea a goose step away from world annihilation, in a televisual extravaganza set up to loop endlessly, effortlessly across our screens, as George Orwell foresaw, a cheap and easy means of social control in a world of fear, hate and scarcity made possible by perpetual war. Neocons take a bow.

News editors are spoilt for choice of long-running conflict. There’s more dirt to dish on Syria as it dives for Russian cover, fear that ISIS will link with Al Qaeda in Iraq while Iran is back in the US hit list as public enemy number one.

After a cordial meeting with US Saudi leaders and pals who fund and export extremism, Rex Tillerson accuses Iran of being the mother of all evil with its alarming and ongoing provocations that “export terror and destabilise” the world.

“Allowing this dictator to have that kind of power is not something that civilised nations can allow to happen,” says Paul Ryan Speaker of US House of Representatives. He’s talking about North Korea’s Kim but it’s a nifty confection of moral outrage that would suit any number of contemporary US allies including Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who seized power in a coup and killed more than 800 protesters in a single day.

A similarly US-favoured strong man is Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose recent referendum win means a sidelined parliament and judiciary. Erdogan can now just get on with the business of growing the economy, cracking down on dissent and providing arms and other support to Jihadists in Syria.

Allowed far too much power, nominal leader of Rogue Superpower US President Donald Trump swears, on the other hand, he’ll put an end to nasty North Korea’s nuclear testing all by himself if he has to. Horrible. “The shield stands guard and The sword stands ready,” fearless leader, dimes in his sidekick, bloodless hulk VP Mike Pence, a villain fresh from a Marvel Comic Universe. International law? We make the rules, boss.

The words get worse. The “era of strategic patience” is now over. Why, he’ll even snatch Kim’s missiles out of a falling sky, while as for Syria, bad-ass Bashar al Assad will get his regime changed on him any day now. Or sometime soon. OK.

Will North Korea launch a nuclear attack? Can China tighten the screws on its wayward neighbour, the DPRK? Will Iran prove itself the mother of all evil by pursuing its own nuclear programme? Can Bashar al Assad continue to defy Trump’s threats of regime change? Will Russia take Trump’s Tomahawk hint and pull out of Syria?

The essence of US foreign policy currently is to keep everyone guessing. What is clear, however, is that beneath the spin, the bluff and bluster and the breathless, apocalyptic reporting is a president whose opinion ratings are at record low.

Only 41.9 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s performance as President. 52.3 percent disapprove, according to the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of polls. Polls from swing states similarly show Trump’s approval rating under water, making him the least popular newly elected president in decades.

Most reassuring – but not to The Donald was that national polling showed that after his Syrian attack, euphemistically referred to everywhere as a “strike”, his polls remain flat. Trump is enough of a dud and a disappointment already to be denied the traditional bounce in approval enjoyed by presidents after ordering military action.

Turnbull should take note. Yet this week his grandstanding and dog-whistling on Australian values and his 457 visa rebadging stunt together with his embarrassingly over exuberant greeting of one of the least distinguished and most disturbing Vice Presidents ever to reach our shores is a signal that our PM’s in full panic mode.

As with our great and powerful friend, the US, Australia’s voters are not going to be fooled by a random attack of misty-eyed patriotism or any con-job about Aussie values. Another babies overboard in disguise at this late stage will not help a government which is so divided, so uninspired and so poorly led it just cannot deliver.

Spare us the embarrassing rhetoric, Mr Turnbull. Your frenzied embrace of a fair go and an Aussie freedom, you and your government are not remotely committed to betrays a lack of good faith and good judgement.

Similarly your adulation of Mike Pence and all he represents will do you no favours. Above all, your supercilious and patronising response to Leigh Sales on the 7:30 Report betrays your real values. Australians, especially women can spot a con.

Give up the fear-mongering. The enemy is not the migrant or the asylum seeker or the terrorist. It is within the neoliberal policy of your government which puts profit before people, a government which wages war on the poor and provides tax cuts for the rich.

Australia doesn’t need a new citizenship test. It does need a government which can honour its commitment to meet the needs of its people.

This means providing access for all to good health, welfare and education; ensuring equal opportunities, equality and justice for all; a fair go for all, if you like, but not just more empty talk or posturing while your policies deny these rights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Syria?” Fox Business Host Maria Bartiromo corrects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turnbull blindly follows Trump into Syrian regime change disaster.

“What the world saw last night was the United States Commander-in-Chief, and also a father and grandfather,” explains Kellyanne Conway, Counsellor to the President, on Friday. “The world recoiled in horror at babies writhing and struggling to live. And who could avert their gaze – and that includes our very tough, very resolute, very decisive President.”

Choked-up, yet resolute and tough, hunkered down in his Mar-a-Largo bunker, the man who walked right off the set of Celebrity Apprentice and on to a world stage, Donald J. Trump, shows everyone he’s made of the right stuff, bigly. Ham.

Trump mugs the camera; a Ronald Reagan parody of fake sincerity. He’ll stop Bashar Al Assad from gassing children. Why, Assad has affected him profoundly, personally. “… a chemical attack that was so horrific in Syria against innocent people, including women, small children and even beautiful little babies, their deaths were an affront to humanity.”

The President is responding to reports of a chemical attack on a building in Khan Sheikhoun, north-western Syria, that killed 80 civilians and left hundreds wounded. The Syrian Air Force is blamed for the bombing. Yet there is no proof.

Syria denies any involvement. Those responsible for the original report, the “White Helmets” are alleged to function as a propaganda branch of ISIL and have been criticised for their fake videos and disinformation. The group apologised last year for its viral Mannequin Challenge video in which it staged a fake rescue.

They are a political group. Max Blumenthal points out, The White Helmets were founded in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Office of Transitional Initiatives, an explicitly political wing of the agency that has funded efforts at political subversion in Cuba and Venezuela.

Their website argues for a No Fly Zone (regime change) in Syria. Yet MSM takes for granted the organization’s self-proclaimed assertions they are an unarmed, impartial and independent Non-Government Organization (NGO) whose sources of funding are not derived from any of the conflicting parties in Syria.

The Shajul Islam video which purports to document Sarin gas in the  Khan Sheikhoun attack is examined in detail by pharmacologist and lawyer Dr Denis O’Brien, author of Ghouta Massacre Murder in the SunMorgue, a detailed, forensic-pharmacological analysis of the Ghouta Massacre near Damascus, Syria in August, 2013.

O’Brien finds little or no evidence of Sarin gas but identifies symptoms consistent with cyanide poisoning. His reservations are echoed by other experts and critical observers. The “Sarin gas video” nevertheless receives widespread uncritical screening on MSM.

Trump is convinced. He orders a missile strike. It is set to launch during the main course of his welcome dinner for China’s president, for which he selects the a pan-seared Dover sole with champagne sauce and herb-roasted new potato from a plain menu which signals business function as much as an impressive lack of inspiration. He has a deal to seal with Xi Jinping. He’s already threatened that the US will “solve” North Korea alone, although experts are sceptical.

A mid-dinner missile strike on Syria ups the ante. Will North Korea be next? “I am not going to tell you” is all he will say. His deputy security adviser, KT McFarland, talks up North Korea’s nuclear threat. Trump says he wants China to “rein in” North Korea. “Trade is the key.” Yet he’ll need more than bluff and bluster if he is to seal any kind of deal. And he’ll need to deliver on his promises to put America first if he is to arrest his declining support at home.

“The Art of the Deal” author (ghost-writer Tony Schwartz) Donald, has always been an approval seeker. Now he’s keen to arrest his plummeting popular opinion ratings. Only 34 percent of Americans currently approve of the job Trump is doing, a figure two points below Obama’s all-time low, reports Investor’s Business Daily/TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence (IBD/TIPP), a ten percent drop since March. He’d do anything to get America to like him again.

Setting up a Syrian strike to upstage his dinner with Xi Jinping certainly gets a rise out of China’s state media:

“This is his first major decision on international affairs, and his haste and inconsistency has left people with a deep impression,” says the Global Times. It’s hardly an auspicious beginning but the US still puts on an incredible show..

Australians are optically carpet-bombed Friday with sensational saturation video loop coverage of the firing of 59 long-range, all-weather, subsonic, Tomahawk cruise missiles Al-Shayrat air base in the Western Syrian province of Homs.  A barrage of assertion, speculation and general ignorance is lined up in support. A case for regime change is brewing.

Across the nation, lounge rooms flicker in the ghostly glow of endless replays of giant missiles twisting skyward in early morning Eastern Mediterranean inky darkness. Swirling trails of thick smoke transform the Arleigh-Burke destroyers USS Ross and USS Porter, two of a US fleet of seventy-five, into ghastly fire-breathing, death-dealing, vengeful dragons.

It’s a top quality performance, a Pentagon son et lumière; a spectacular display of righteous might intercut with images of gas attack victims supplied by US-UK and NATO funded White Helmet rebels in Syria who always put on a good show in return for a retainer of $123 million a year.  What it lacks in narrative coherence, it makes up for in special effects.

No expense is spared, although a 3.5% US Navy budget cut back to $152 billion in 2017 mean crews are halved to find savings. Replacing one destroyer would cost $1.8 billion. Each missile has a million dollar price tag. Yet inestimable;  beyond all calculation is the value of each one of the lives of seven civilians, including four children who have been killed in areas nearby who remain unnamed statistics in a Reuters’ relay of a Syrian state news agency report.

The pipeline wars have taken a massive toll. More than 1 in 10 Syrians have been wounded or killed since the beginning of the war in 2011, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research in 2016 which finds the conflict has killed 470,000 either directly or indirectly. The United Nations stopped counting Syrian war dead in 2014.

Given these circumstances, it’s incredible that Trump’s humanity is affronted so late in the day. Also worrying is his blindspot – unless he’s seeking a diversion. Last month alone, 1472 civilians have been killed in his war on ISIS a result of his decision to alter risk/reward ratio calculations. Yet none of this dints the President’s Australian support base.

Down under we’re gung ho. Huzza huzza, four cheers for Trump. Trump has done something. Thumped Syria. He’s OK. Local commentators love a bit of biffo. Suddenly we are all applauding the man with a plan. Loving that line in the sand.

Panels of experts are mobilised instantly. Cobber Kim Beasley gets a guernsey. Kim loves guns and knows stuff about America. And can he talk! Bobbing up everywhere is model of compassion, jolly Jim Molan, architect of “Stop the Boats” (at any price) and our resident chemical weapons expert, a Major General seconded from the ADF to the US command who deployed white phosphorous in Fallujah in late 2004, a choice corroborated by U.S. Colonel Barry Venable in 2005.

The attack on Fallujah was launched by seizing the only hospital. Oddly, no-one asks for Jim’s special insights.

 “Packed into an artillery shell, white phosphorous explodes over a battlefield in a white glare that can illuminate an enemy’s positions. It also rains balls of flaming chemicals, which cling to anything they touch and burn until their oxygen supply is cut off. They can burn for hours inside a human body,reports the New York Times 

Prior to George Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, there was no ISIS; no civil unrest in Syria. A lot of explaining is left to do. Yet all the talk is of “bringing the Assad regime into line”, as Malcolm Turnbull puts it. Pressure must be put on Russia because Syria is a vassal state, he says. The Daily Telegraph raves about Donald Trump’s “well-considered” attack which it sees as a “circuit-breaker”. Words come cheap but it sounds ominously as if regime change is in the wind.

There is precious little discussion of the gas attack itself; no pause to consider why Syria’s president might gas his own people at a time when things were going very much his own way. The people of Syria would decide their own future leader said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as recently as 30 March.

A more plausible scenario which fits history and circumstantial evidence is that al-Qaeda, ISIS and/or other anti-Assad factions supplied the chemical weaponry. The White Helmets may have orchestrated the attack leaving US Neocons to supply the script. Yet our response has been largely uncritical, pliant and alarmingly receptive to official US propaganda.

More entreprenurial types want to take the false flag and run with it. Celebrity politician Christopher Pyne effortlessly blends expedience with rooting for Trump as he heroically battles over exposure and relevance fatigue to meet US Defence Secretary James Mattis. Like a rat up a torpedo tube, Pyne sees new opportunities for our “burgeoning defence industry” now Trump has upped US defence spending ten per cent.

How quickly we move on. In 2014, former Defence Minister David Johnston disgraced himself by saying he wouldn’t trust the ASC to build a canoe. Jim Molan saw red. Now we are touting our defence industry to the United States.

Other urgers are waiting.  Kevin “boots on the ground” Andrews, a big fan of the US from its wacky fundamentalism to its divine right to regime change in Iraq, is saddled up, incommunicado, on Pollie Pedal with pal Abbott. Wild horses wouldn’t get his Grecian head on the box now. But he’ll be back to argue our need to boost our commitment in Syria.

In brief, with incredible unanimity, once again, our commentators, like our politicians are overwhelmingly, a pack of hawkish US sycophants or apologists. US cheer-leader Marise Payne appears on ABC Insiders Sunday to spin the sudden US flip-flop or Trump’s latest impulse as a  “considered, calibrated and proportionate” response.

A new world disorder is born. Nothing is certain; everything is cast into doubt. Michaelia Cash will proceed with internships regardless of Senate approval and against all advice that it’s exploitation because it helps businesses, Amen . Turnbull’s Adani coal safari will still go ahead but that’s locked in by his coal lobby bosses.

Never to be upstaged, or to pass up on a slogan, “Bashar Al Assad has to go”, the PM says, finding his inner Tomahawk.

Trump’s Operation random Tomahawk attack would upstage anyone. Each missile carries 450 kg of explosive in its nose. Fittingly, for an era of leaders who worship technological disruption, or for the growing army of critics of a US President who has proved an inept stooge, tomahawk comes from Powhatan tamahaac,’to cut off by tool’.

The attack is not a random act of gratuitous violence to distract from investigations into his Russian connections. He may owe billions to Russian banks but who cares? No-one else would lend the multiple bankrupt the money.

Instantly Trump is a moral hero. No longer is he stunningly inept, an accidental president desperate to be taken seriously. He’s drawn a line in the sand, Barnaby Joyce, our man in touch with nature suggests, a signal to Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad that he’s gone too far. It won’t stop at a Tomahawk warning. Regime change is in the wings.

Not only is Assad’s responsibility for the gassing not established, Trump did not bother to check. What is clear is that Trump has violated international law. University of Sydney International law expert international law expert Professor Ben Saul says that force is legal only in self-defence or with the authorisation of the UN Security Council.

A Mexican wall of enmity is rising against him in Syria, if not throughout the Middle East. Russia threatens to shut down its “deconfliction channel” with the US a means by which the two nations co-ordinate their efforts in Syria. Friday Russia’s TASS news agency reports that the Admiral Grigorovich, a frigate armed with Cruise missiles has been despatched from the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Calling upon Russia to bring Syria to heel is having the opposite effect.

Russian defence ministry spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov suggests a “complex of measures” to strengthen Syrian air defences will be carried out to help “protect the most sensitive Syrian infrastructure facilities.” Not that he is impressed by the last attack.

Only 23 of the 59 missiles reached the Shayrat air base Konashenkov says “the combat efficiency of the U.S. strike was very low”. Photographs on Syrian and Russian media confirm that the airbase is still operational.

The attack has been a wonderful opportunity for our PM, leader of “a government that gets things done”, to posture patriotically, invoke sacrifice and to not so innovatively call for regime change in Syria, the very same mistakes John Howard made when he was seduced by propaganda about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

There’s a bit of naff Anzackery to take care of with stirring speeches from Kokoda before Mal must dash to India, doubtless, a mercy mission to soothe the pillow of the dying in a nation where coal smoke fed pollution brings premature death to 3000 people every day. He leaves his trusty deputy PM, Air Vice Marshall Barnstorming Barnaby Joyce on hand to deal with the more nuanced parts of governing and getting things done such as why Assad would gas his own people.

Joyce doesn’t make a lot of sense but you can tell he’d be keen himself to put a Tomahawk up Assad’s clacker.

To Barnaby, it’s all about a line in the sand, code for a finger wagging ultimatum, a foreign policy strategy not known for its success rate, historically, especially when dealing with leaders whose nations are already a hotbed of insurgency.

Effortlessly, Kaiser Barnaby, who has moved an entire government department single-handedly to shore up his own electoral prospects, grasps the nettle. He has the runs on the board when it comes to the high-handed, patronising arrogance and hypocritical posturing that a nation needs in a crisis. Not that there’s any crisis in our well-oiled economy.

Empiricism is so yesterday. But raise a glass. Government policy passes the pub-test this week. Despite its death spiral opinion polls and signs of an unbridgeable credibility gap in energy, environment, education and welfare and trickle-down economics, almost any policy area you can poke a stick at, really, the government has something to shout about.

Not only does the pub test trump all other forms of evaluation, – as everyone knows, it also means the Coalition won’t bother to explain its company tax cuts for firms with turnovers up to $50 million. This frees up government no end. We’ve already had a taste of how it liberates foreign policy from the dreary burden of proof into mindless sloganeering.

No need to commission another dodgy report like BIS Shrapnel’s March 2016 calculation that cutting negative gearing would drive up rentals and push down prices, a case based on some rubbery figures including shrinking GDP to $190 billion from its true figure of $1 trillion per year.

Treasury said of the whole government company tax project it would deliver a 1 per cent growth dividend and a wage increase of $2 a day – and that wouldn’t be for 20 years.

Even right wing Economist Saul Eslake is among the many experts who dispute that giving smaller companies a tax cut will generate the claimed benefits in jobs and wage increases. He points to much evidence. Joe Hockey rushed to give small businesses breaks. He gave a 1.5 per cent tax cut and an enlarged instant asset write-off in his second budget. Wages are stagnating; not growing. Unemployment and underemployment expand while our budget deficit soars.

A clearly elevated federal Treasurer Scott Morrison explains his government need not release any more fatuous fact-based projection, prediction or any other form of assessment to support its company tax cuts. It’s just not what small business folk are concerned about. He knows what’s best for us. Don’t you worry about that.

“If you go down the pub and you talk to small-business people, they’re not talking about econometric models. What they’re talking about is how they are going to grow their businesses.”

There’s a hint of Turnbull’s old saw, “the vibe of the thing” dressed down a bit as well as a flash of the old born to rule arrogance that is helping this government seal its fate.

Rivalling Pauline Hanson’s powers of clairaudience – or perhaps they are contagious, Morrison now claims he knows what’s on the minds of the Mum and Dads who own the businesses that are this nation’s backbone.

From your local Jim’s mowing to the bloke who fixes your car; from your corner hairdresser to your mobile nail technician, none can stop talking about growing their businesses.  As a unicorn is always talking about growing its horn. Everyone is planning to expand. Sounds absurd, impossible? It’s because it is. But Morrison won’t hear a word against it.

In fact many small businesses are unincorporated and their proprietors will continue to pay tax at personal income rates.

Bugger the evidence. Truth is unassailable. Besides, who needs facts when you can hear the fat cats purring?

Sinking in the polls with not a stitch of useful policy to its name, a failing government grasps with both hands the news of Trump’s crusade against the bad, mad Aassad with his gas attacks on his own people without exercising due diligence, independence of though or even a modicum of common sense.

It is a disturbing sign. An all-consuming self-destructive collective madness stirs, a type of folie a foule which is totally immune to reason’s dictates. Writ small it expresses itself in a crusade for tax cuts, lower wages and a pogrom on the poor. Writ large it leads to foreign intervention and regime change; in brief, unholy, unmitigated disaster.

 

Turnbull government’s tax cut cannot save it from itself.

“We have a plan.” Scott Morrison, has ABC listeners in stitches Monday with yet another of his funny but freaky comedy routines. “… The Government,” gags the Coalition’s creepy clown, as he effortlessly tosses off a penicillin metaphor, “is working right across the spectrum to deliver more affordable, more secure, more sustainable electricity prices.”

Affordable? Howls of laughter and snorts of derision are heard across the nation. Pensioners and penalty cut-rate workers laugh especially long and hard. Power bills are rising steeply since privatisation and “marketization”, the selling off of state assets to private companies by Coalition governments keen to do the bidding of powerful business interests and the Neoliberal “think tanks” and lobby groups that serve them such as the Business Council of Australia.

In South Australia, for example, five years after the state privatised electricity in 1998, helped by independent, former Liberal “nifty” Nick Xenophon, who voted with the government, prices increased on average by 23%. Across the nation from 2000 to 2014, the Australian ABS Electricity Price Index (EPI) shows household electricity prices rose by 174%. 

Expensive electricity, is not, as we are told, a matter of supply and demand but a tale of private profiteering. Demand began to flatten in 2004 and has been falling since 2009. More than anything, higher network charges, boosted in 2005 by John Howard’s ironically titled Australian Energy Regulator (AER) have caused power bills to skyrocket.

In 2009, the AER ruled NSW distribution networks could claim 8.78% per annum capital cost on money they could borrow securely from a triple-A-rated state treasury for half that amount. The rate quickly became ten per cent.

It was a licence to print money. ABS data shows that the electricity industry’s profits rose by 67% between 2007–08 and 2010–11. In the same period, electricity bills rose 40%.

Privatisation, it was claimed, would lower business taxes and boost investment: the same specious arguments and faith- based assumptions used today to defend company tax cuts, minimum wage restraint and lower penalty rates.

Instead it has helped low-income and vulnerable households across Australia to be increasingly enslaved by energy poverty. The poor spend more and more of their income on energy. Deprivation and social exclusion are the results.

Low income households lose 12.4% of their income to utility bills and fuel each week, calculates The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre compared with 2.9% for high income households. Modelling by St Vincent de Paul based on 200,000 disconnections in the four largest states reveals some poor families are disconnected five times in three years. Towns in rural New South Wales and outer Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide suburbs experience the most disconnections.

Six per cent of us must join electricity hardship programs just to keep the power on. Last June, 18,423 ­residential customers in Queensland and 32 000 in NSW joined 33,000 Victorians in hock to a power company. A rising tide of power debt swamps low wage workers and welfare recipients. Tasmanians have the highest per capita electricity debts.

It will get worse. Bills will rise $28 to $204, depending on area. And worse. Morrison’s “more affordable” energy plan will abolish energy supplements: single pensioners will lose $366.60 per year and couples $551.20 for a couple.

Not to worry. NSW Water and Energy Ombudsman, Janine Young, is almost as upbeat as the vapid Federal Treasurer.

“Most (consumers) quickly reconnect through family loans, payday lenders and forgoing food, but others may experience a longer term off supply,” she says, reassuring all those who may worry that power companies are price-gouging themselves out of the market. While starving to keep the lights on is always an option, not every poor person can borrow from family and payday lenders charge exorbitant interest rates.

A family which borrows $2000 from a payday lender will pay back $3,360 over a year according to ASIC’s calculator. In SA last year it was reported families who can’t pay immediately are paying up to $586 per year more than those who can.

ScoMo set the bar high when he worked coal-tossing into his parliamentary stand-up, but Monday he surpasses himself. Like John Howard’s original gift to allow to companies to electricity as a luxury item and his farcical national electricity market, a device for companies to rig the price, this is gold standard satire, self-parody and slapstick all in one.

No-one suggests that instead of his corporate tax break, he invest $2.6 billion in solar energy for the poor, like Bangladesh and Mongolia. 3.5m solar homes systems installed in 2015 in rural Bangladesh, created 70,000 direct jobs.

Morrison’s power plan spiel is indulged Monday in an on-air massage on Fran Kelly’s RN Breakfast show, a comfort station for Liberal politicians and backers, which doubles as a government megaphone. An ambulance chaser follows, bringing listeners the full gory details of the Hazelwood Power station’s head-on collision with economic reality. ABC TV continues the shameless Peabody energy propaganda that falsely posits energy as a choice between coal or jobs.

Hazelwood: a dirty business, is weepie of the week; a full-scale tear-jerker noir with endless grainy close-ups, interviews with stoic, blokey workers, Stakhanovite-style amidst stacks of angst and long shots of idle but uplifting chimneys.

Overlooked amid the melodrama of coal stokers cast off by cruel fate, victims of Labor’s green ideology is the fact that each worker will receive an average redundancy payout of $330,000 largely thanks to their union and state government.

By week’s end, a filthy Malcolm Turnbull trashes his earlier commentary and any residual integrity to lash Dan Andrews’ socialist Victorian state government for doing the dirty on workers in choosing clean renewables over brown coal.

He lies. Turnbull the coal-burner contradicts his earlier rebuke of Abbott that the closure is a hard-nosed commercial decision by the plant’s joint private owners, Engie and Mitsui and Co Ltd. Hazelwood has been privately owned since Jeff Kennett, another visionary Liberal politician, sold it to the sensitive, caring multinational corporations in 1996 for $2.35 billion. Had it not sold, it was set to be closed by the State Electricity Corporation of Victoria in 2005.

Expunged from Coalition nostalgia is the uncontrolled fire in Hazelwood’s lignite mine, a fire which burned for 45 days near Morwell in 2014 and which led to its owner being charged with 10 breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act – including failing to provide a safe workplace and failing to provide a safe environment for the community.

In a huge stretch, Sunday, on ABC Insiders, Morrison uses the word “plan” to dignify his tax cuts for businesses. It’s not a plan – more of a kneejerk capitulation to the government’s business backers. Money will go to the government’s mates instead of schools or hospitals. Cutting business tax has no economic justification. It did not boost employment under Howard. Nor will it now. Treasury modelling shows that all the benefits of a company tax cut go to companies.

The nonsense that it will boost investment in Australia is refuted  by Australia Institute research showing 97 per cent of the applications to Australia’s foreign investment review board come from countries with lower company tax rates.

Let’s call it for what it is. A reward to its supporters. And if it’s no fillip to wages or growth it’s ill-timed. It’s a $26 billion cash splash on its electorate while it cuts penalty rates and opposes upping the minimum wage for all other Australians.

But ScoMo’s always entertaining. The way he works his man with a plan gag is a crack-up. It’s going to grow the economy. Boost paypackets. Businessmen with less tax to pay will increase wages in his manic flights of pure fantasy.  Elliptical as ever, suddenly, he’s praising a humble local artisanal chocolatier, an inspiration to us all.

I mean put yourselves in the shoes of a company like Zokoko, they’re a chocolatier out in Penrith, a small business, between $2 and $10 million. They are not only getting a 27.5 per cent tax cut, they are getting access to pool depreciation, the instant asset write-off, they can do their GST on a cash basis. That means they can invest, they can look at new markets, they can look at taking more people on. 

Let them eat chocolate. Great plan. And all from the creator of the $55 million dollar Cambodian two person refugee resettlement scheme; a minister whose government is a mare’s nest, a government which quickly dropped its vows of dialogue to revert to Abbott’s mindless sloganeering even aping his inane braying, hectoring and bullying, lately.

Morrison may howl “jobs and growth” like a man snorting powdered unicorn horn but it’s only corny performance art. This week The Brotherhood of St Lawrence reports that youth underemployment is the highest it’s been for forty years.

ScoMo’s “working” pun is just as much fun. This government is as unworkable as Abbott’s.  Voters punish it, accordingly, in opinion polls. Monday’s Fairfax Ipsos Poll puts Labor ahead by a massive 56-44 two party preferred while the PM has a 40% approval rating, his lowest since he deposed his former leader. 48% disapprove of his performance.

Increasingly unpopular, conflicted and chaotic, the Coalition continues to inflict inury and insult upon itself as much as others whether it be moving to extinguish Victoria’s tiny Leadbeater’s possum or offending our giant trade pal China.

Barnaby Joyce accuses a wanton, socialist Victoria of putting possums before people. Daniel Andrews rejects mill owners’ request for a $40 million to keep his state’s Heyfield sawmill running. His government also cuts back mill access to native forest to a third of that previously over-promised by a pro-logging Coalition predecessor. He tells the community “the timber is just not there”. Barnaby bores on bemoaning timber job losses. Bugger the environment.

Joyce claims new evidence shows Leadbeater’s possum thrives in the Central Highlands, a claim conservationists contest. He  writes a letter to Daniel Andrews requesting Dan consider easing protected areas indirectly pressuring Environment Minister Josh Freydenberg to review the possum’s critically endangered status, a task he cannot do without state government participation. Now a state premier, farmers and conservationists are all at odds.

Divisions also help photo opportunist Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to botch the ratification of an extradition treaty with China after a meeting, Monday, with twelve backbenchers hostile to the deal. Abbott-lackey Eric Abetz threatens to cross the floor. Others could follow. Bishop is blamed for high-handedness; a lack of due consultation. Embittered back-benchers are heard to mutter about the depth of the minister’s preparation and her effective commitment to process.

Turnbull, however, unseals the deal by alienating Labor support when he links the fate of Australians already in Chinese custody into the deal. While the fiasco will dull Bishop’s potential leadership appeal, Turnbull is blasted in The Australian by Abbott pal, Greg Sheridan who wins best over-kill calling it “the single worst foreign policy fiasco in the Turnbull government”.  Get a grip; get with the program, Sheridan. Without self-injury, Turnbull’s government is nothing.

Far from Morrison’s working plan fantasy, the Coalition blends chaos with catastrophe. As its chocolatier-led economic recovery anecdote reveals, its feet are firmly planted in the clouds. Or its permanently out to lunch. It is a dysfunctional, faction-ridden, delusional, policy-free zone run by mining, business, banking and Neoliberal IPA stooges. It is a right wing rabble animated only by self-interest, ambition and the maintenance of privilege. And a sense of grievance.

George Brandis is heard roaring like a wounded walrus in the senate this week when someone insults him about his obsession with changing 18 and pretending it’s about free speech. A powerful, privileged white male of the ruling elite finds it “deeply offensive and insulting” for Labor and Greens senators to suggest he supported weakening race hate laws because he was a white man. Most reasonable community members would say they were spot on.

Good news this week comes when the government loses its cynical crusade to water down our racial vilification laws. It may be more successful however, with a proposed procedural change for the AHRC which adds a reasonable community member clause to discourage complainants like George Brandis. The Australian spins it as a partial victory.

The Coalition spin machine never stops. As it flounders, flip-flops and comes unstuck, the Coalition spins itself, Pravda-style as “a government that gets things done.”  Beginning the political year with an agenda so thin, it had to stretch its parliamentary breaks, it now harangues us about how much is on its plate. These include Abbott’s unpalatable leftovers rehashed in the Omnibus Savings Bill .

Helen Gibbons, assistant national secretary of United Voice, has told a senate committee it was disappointing that a boost in childcare funding was only being discussed when cuts where being made to other areas, including Family Tax benefits, Youth Allowance and Newstart unemployment benefits. So many to disadvantage. So little time.

There’s a budget to fudge. Races to vilify. A war on Shorten and the poor to be fought; a tax on the rich to reduce. All richly fulfilling stuff. Longer term, if the phrase may be applied to the Turnbull adhocracy, a prolonged fit of absence of mind, it’s kill Bill. Paul Bongiorno cites an anonymous Victorian Liberal who tells a Labor MP on the flight to Canberra.

“Nothing personal, but we are going to try to destroy Shorten over the next six months, and if that doesn’t work we may have to destroy Turnbull.” Yet even his RN admirers would agree Turnbull is doing a good job of destroying himself.

Friday sees Australia’s shortest parliamentary sitting last less than sixty minutes. Luckily the stuff-up goes largely unremarked by a media awash in Cyclone Debbie’s tabloid depths and the eternal wake our ABC conducts for the jobs lost by the rash closure of the Hazelwood power station, something Tony Abbott tries to pin on doctrinaire froggy climate politics and which Aunty successfully implies is both unexpected and all the fault of a state Labor government.

Yet cheek of the week goes to the Treasurer. Not even Julie Bishop’s insult which angers China, our largest trading partner can compete. Not even a mutiny stirred by ex-Liberal now gang-of-one (seldom) silent-majority-Cory Bernardi can match it. Let running junk-yard dog Tony Abbott blithely tell media this week that he made China a promise he never meant to keep, as only hypocrites and liars can. None can hold a candle to ScoMo’s shtick.

Not even Iron Chef Turnbull plying a sizzling Fizza-wok at his all you can eat cross-bench banquet this week – a well buttered combination stir-fry race hate speak with a corporation tax cut sauce – can rival Morrison. The Treasurer is power-mad, certainly, but his line that his government stands for cheaper electricity is hilarious.

The Neoliberal bigot stops ranting. Sotto voce, he pitches the amazing work his government does to keep the lights on. Despite his utter lack of credibility, camp theatricality and his problem with intelligibility, the interview goes swimmingly.

Has privatisation of the energy sector failed Australian consumers? Sabra Lane asks earnestly.

“Well I don’t think you can necessarily draw that conclusion,” replies Morrison. (Only when you look at the evidence.)

The Treasurer becomes the hookah-smoking caterpillar in Wonderland. He drags in a Hazelwood of dense smoke; puffs out a vast, thick, cloud of spin – and disappears into it. A lot of pompous, lofty, do-nothing, big-noting will surely follow.

“I think what’s important with what the Prime Minister and I will be announcing later today is that to deliver energy security, affordability and sustainability, you’ve got to work across all the different areas.” (Stereo twaddle alert.)

“And we’ve been working on the gas side of things, as you know, getting all the big gas producers in to ensure we get an assurance about their supply to the domestic gas industry.” (Always focus on process if you have nothing else to offer.)

“On top of that, there’s the work being done on pumped hydro,” he lies, avidly appropriating someone else’s work. It will take ten years to build Snowy 2 and even then there are problems with the economics, the engineering and raising the capital. The only work that’s been done is by Professor Andrew Blakers of ANU’s Energy Change Institute.

There is no Federal plan to help keep Australia’s lights on. Nor is there any thought given at all to supporting the energy poor who are rapidly being priced out of the market.  The government is hiding behind a Snowy 2 feasibilty study while desperately talking up its leader’s chat with the gas corporation CEOs as some kind of solution to the nation’s gas profiteering racket. In the meantime, the states are taking the initiative with solar farms, wind and battery storage.

By Sunday, the government has got half of what it wanted in its tax cuts and the failure it deserved on 18C.  While  others in his newspaper mark the China fiasco as an epic fail of principle and process management, Paul Kelly at least has Turnbull “snatching a surprise victory from the jaws of defeat”; “pulling off a face-saving deal.”

But those jaws will still snap, tax cuts for fat cats or not. What the government likes to call average “hard-working Australians” will not be appeased by the spectacle of an inept, remote, bosses’ government taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. Nor will those whose business interests lie with affordable energy and good relations with China – if only in trade –  tolerate the chaos and dysfunction of an unpopular dysfunctional government with no plan.

For when all a Federal Treasurer has to show for himself is a tax cut and cuts to low-paid workers’ wages, together with a war on welfare and the poor, he clearly has no economic plan at all. Unless you count his dazzling comedy routine.

 

Barnaby Joyce’s edible donkey skin trade beats Turnbull’s 18C freedom of speech lies.

“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honour, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” Joseph Heller Catch 22 


 

“Bat poo crazy”, sneers loyal Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. “Just plain stupid. Just plain dumb.”

A dab hand at restoring sanity to the national conversation, Joyce takes time out from urging the export of edible donkey skins to China, the next big thing logically, now returns on iron ore and coal are down a bit, to jeer at Pauline Hanson for her call, Friday, for ‘Straya to be “vaccinated against Muslims”.

The 18C law is an ass.  Imagine if Putinista Pauline and other Islamophobes could say what they really think. Yet Barnaby’s Hanson slap-down applies equally to his PM’s own bat-shit maniacal mission to drop energy, budget preparation – everything –  to make Australia bigly bigot-friendly this week.

Nothing special is required. No trick. All you need to turn hate speech into free speech is no character.

Turnbull sucks up to the 18C brigade. Next he’ll be rewriting the national anthem: “Australians, all let us rejoice in our dem-o-cracy. O-ffend, in-sult, hu-mil-iate; for these deeds make us free.”

Mad as a March Hare, the PM darts about the national stage. A lot of shouting is involved. He exceeds even his Shorten-bashing, in forsaking decorum. And it works. Sort of. It impresses the odd critic.

Mark Kenny, National Affairs Editor for Fairfax, writes inscrutably of a “growing sense around the halls of power that Malcolm Turnbull is finally starting to get somewhere.”

All week, Turnbull extols the nation-building virtues of racial vilification, the acid test of free speech.

It’s an extraordinary contortion even for a practised back-flipper, a retail politician who sold his soul to the National Party and who hasn’t looked back since. Or forward. Just sideways. But now he’s hydro-pumped. Free speech, he blows all week, is not just intrinsic to insult and injury, it’s a core Liberal value. Somehow he’s persuaded by his Snowy 2.0 propaganda that he’s nation builder and elder statesman.

“Our freedom of speech is the foundation of our great democracy that has caused people from every corner of the world to join ours, the most successful multicultural society in the world,” he honks loftily, rashly cramming three lies into one canard. Vapid, pretentious nonsense enchants him. Becomes him.

All week he pretends he doesn’t know that the Racial Discrimination Act’s section 18D protects freedom of speech.  It goes down well. The Australian’s Paul Kelly and gang gush thousands of words in applause.

Turnbull’s performance reminds us free speech in Australia is a ruling class privilege. He intends to keep it that way. If he were serious about free speech for all, he’d repeal the secrecy provisions of section 42 of the Border Force Act 2015. These led the UN special rapporteur on human rights to abandon a planned visit to Australia that year. The Act would prevent workers from providing any information.

Free speech? Anyone is free to report on Nauru if Dutton approves of you and you can pay an $8000 fee.

If he were serious about protecting free speech, Turnbull would stop Centrelink divulging personal details of clients to silence those victims of Roboclaw extortion who dare criticise its operations.

He’d rescind his government’s permission for ASIO to trawl through journalists’ metadata to discern sources.  He’d be outraged at the way the ABC, our national broadcaster, has had its independence destroyed through budget cuts and government interference. He’d recall Michelle Guthrie.

A government committed to free speech would establish a bill of rights to protect this inalienable human right, article 19 in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It would reform our defamation laws exploited by rich individuals and corporations who successfully threaten to sue to silence critics.

It would repeal the 2014 law which allows the Attorney General to define a “special intelligence operation” making it a crime for journalists to report on the operation.

The government would also persuade to its cause State governments, who restrict free speech.

In 2014 the Tasmanian government enacted new anti-protest legislation to prevent anti-logging protesters from objecting to clear-felling of native forests in January 2016. Bob Brown has launched a High Court legal challenge.  WA and NSW also have laws to muzzle protesters.

Beyond the law, there are countless informal ways freedom of speech is denied Australian people because of their colour, class or gender. Despite Turnbull’s week-long harangue – and partly because of it – our nation excludes the voices of those who do not belong to the dominant elite.

Of course he doesn’t want free speech for all. The PM’s performance is a stunt to divert an insatiable rabid right wing. Yet the right will simply want more. Accordingly, Turnbull duly receives praise from Tony Abbott, another bumper sticker orator; Abbott knows an empty slogan when he hears one.

Yet Abbott, who’s busily alarming an adoring media about Victoria’s power crisis, ups the ante. He asks Turnbull to keep Hazelwood Power Station open until Snowy 2.0 starts pumping its hydro.

Turnbull quickly dismisses his rival’s latest mischief. It’s too expensive and unnecessary. He’ll put Abbott back in his box even if it means another U-turn from his catastrophising over renewables and his love of coal-fired power a week or so ago.  At least the truth is out. He doesn’t seem to have told Josh Frydenberg.

Turnbull also will tackle 18C – something Abbott failed to do – even though it was on his IPA-led agenda. What the PM proposes, however, has nothing to do with free speech and everything to with appeasing a few old, white, ruling class warriors feeling hard done by who love to beef about being bound by law; men whose privilege and power mean they will never suffer vilification or discrimination.

Or be overlooked. In a virtuoso display of duplicity and indirection, the Coalition devotes all Tuesday to diluting section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, 1975, a section added in 1995 to make it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the basis of a person’s race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

It’s a big back-flip. Leaving 18C alone was a Turbull campaign promise. He once told the IPA’s John Roskam “About 100 people care about 18C and there are about 16 million people on the electoral roll.”

The RDA helps the Australian Human Rights Commission, (AHRC) resolve conflict. Fewer than five per cent of complaints go to court. Yet critics claim fear of being dragged through court stifles free speech.

Never one to overshare, fearing leaks, or with his team plan still a work in progress, the PM neglects to mention the 18C changes he has planned when he addresses the full cabinet on Monday at 6:30 pm. Oddly, MPs come to feel excluded; slighted. Those in electorates with large ethnic communities fear that the issue will lose them votes. Some would cross the floor if they thought it would save their seats.

Turnbull’s timing is impeccable: 21 March is Harmony Day and the International Day of Eliminating Racial Discrimination. Harmony Day, moreover, is a Howard invention,  a day and a campaign dedicated to a truth self-evident to Howard’s band of reality deniers: racism could not possibly exist in Australia.

There’s a hint of this self-delusion in the statement on multiculturalism which the PM releases. It’s been doctored a bit to ensure that migrants know they have to assimilate. It’s almost no trick at all. Greens leader, Richard di Natale, however, calls him out on it; his One Nation dogwhistling:

Di Natale nails it.  New arrivals should adopt so-called “Australian” values?

“The new multiculturalism statement is an attack on multiculturalism,” Di Natale says in a statement.

Julian Leeser, David Coleman, Julia Banks, Russell Broadbent and Craig Laundy, oppose the proposed 18C re-wording. Only news that the law will go to the senate first, where it will surely be lost, persuades them not to cross the floor.

The group’s dismay illustrates how the PM wooing of his right wing is alienating the middle. It remains to be seen if the right will be appeased by a process where the new bill is set up to be lost in the Senate. It’s too tricky by half.

A snap Senate inquiry Friday by the legal and constitutional affairs legislation committee, to report back by Tuesday, is announced. Attorney General, George Brandis, whose previous reform proposals were ignored, has his submission quietly incorporated into Hansard. Also invited are the Australian Law Reform Commission, the Human Rights Law Centre and Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

The inquiry allows Liberal senator Ian Macdonald to continue his bullying of the Commission’s President: “You’re here to answer questions, Professor Triggs, not to go off on a frolic of your own.” His belittling harassment of Triggs is a case study in freedom of speech at work in senate committee.

Triggs has been pilloried and accused of political bias since her 2014 report on children in immigration detention centres, The Forgotten Children was critical of government policy. Attacks have been mounted in parliament and Triggs’ findings have been howled down in Newscorp media.

Media attacks include accusations about her personal life and a piece by Piers Akerman alleging that she was an unfit mother. It’s an insight into the real constraints on our freedom of speech which the Prime Minister’s rhetoric ignores, and an illustration of the cruelty inflicted by the Old White Male brigade.

Macdonald is a veteran of the Coalition’s long-running war on the Human Rights Commission, begun by Tony Abbott and capably assisted by George Brandis who has insulted and demeaned Triggs mercilessly. He chaired the committee which looked into her Forgotten People report but he didn’t bother to read it.

“I haven’t bothered to read the final report because I thought it was partisan,” he told the committee. It is an insult not only to Triggs but to the nation. Macdonald doesn’t get it.

In March 2015, the Senate passed a motion declaring Brandis “unfit to hold the office of Attorney-General” over the Government’s criticism of the Human Rights Commission president. As Penny Wong noted at the time, Brandis failed as AG not merely to defend the AHRC as an institution but he actually led the charge attacking Gillian Triggs on charges that her report on children in custody was political.

Somewhere in the excitement, MPs misrepresent the change as sanctioned by the AHRC itself. It’s not.

“It’s very, very clear that we do not approve the changes to the substantive provision of the [act],” Gillian Triggs, AHRC President says on Friday.

“The current language has worked extremely well.” Inserting the word “harass” instead is “curious”, “an entirely circular process” and “highly unsatisfactory”, she says.

The Coalition’s amendments include substituting “harass” for the words “insult and offend”, a weakening which the PM pretends will make the law stronger, clearer, fairer. Inserting a reasonable member of the community test will discount minority experience.  It’s a disingenuous double-bluff.

In reality, the changes will weaken the law to “… give a free pass to ugly and damaging forms of racial vilification which do not satisfy the stringent legal criteria of harassment and intimidation”, say Greek, Armenian, Chinese, Indian, Aboriginal and Jewish communities in a signed statement to the PM.

Silence from the Kiwi migrant community, a whopping fifteen per cent of New Zealand’s population, does not equal consent. New Zealanders, along with the South Sudanese  report highest levels of discrimination in Australia, in a survey of 10,000 respondents, conducted by the Scanlon Foundation and Monash University and reported in August last year. Yet the Sudanese are twice as happy to be here.

It’s a report Zed Seselja, Minister for Multicultural Affairs, channelling John Howard “simply cannot understand”, exposing an inherent flaw in the “reasonable community member” test.

The Kiwi underclass is not asked to comment. Some may even be on Christmas Island awaiting deportation at Peter Dutton’s pleasure, courtesy of the character test an amendment to the Migration Act, of December 2014 which provides for mandatory cancellation of visas of anyone who has served a year in prison or who, “in the minister’s judgement” is a known associate of a criminal organisation.

Our immigration detention centres now hold more New Zealanders than any other national group. Kiwis are often held in detention for months awaiting “processing” of their deportation or appeal. Cut off from families and legal support, detainees report violence, abuse by guards, and a lack of medical treatment.

The government has no hope of getting its bill through the senate. At best, Turnbull’s bluff buys off bigots in his own party as well as those in the Murdoch press who deride his government for not making it easier for privileged white racists to abuse persecuted minorities. It is common knowledge now that 18C killed freedom fighter St Bill Leak, a racist cartoonist whom the PM has helped canonise.

“Political correctness did not silence Bill, any more than terrorists did, every cartoon he drew was an exercise of freedom.”

What the PM really hopes to do, however, is forestall a budgie smuggler putsch he fears is out to get him. Crazy? He’s read Catch 22. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.

Tactically, Turnbull’s batshit crazy; deluded. Every inch he yields, every capitulation he makes to his party’s right merely increases their demands and weakens his lame duck leadership of a government overwhelmed by such basic tasks as taking charge of its agenda. Yet after his cunning plan; his brilliant double dissolution disaster he lacks the political capital to defy his bullies.

Appeasing racists ought to be low down the list for a government with so much else that is pressing. It has yet to formulate a coherent energy or environment policy. It has yet to end Abbott era hangovers; zombie measures. It is racking up a massive deficit. It has no idea of what to do with the 854 asylum seekers on Manus Island once PNG closes the camp.

The refugee people-swap deal with an inept, crisis-ridden US administration appears flakier by the week.

Above all there’s the war on the poor, a crusade on behalf of the rich to cut up to $7,700 per annum from the wages of our lowest paid earners by axing Sunday penalty rates, a move which The McKell Institute reports, accelerates the mass casualisation of the Australian workforce which is now spreading, inexorably, into other workplaces and occupations.

The PM cannot bring himself to publicly announce his support for the pay cuts on the floor of the house but finds ways to announce that he’s in favour of a decision which he blames on Labor and the FWC.

Turnbull’s 18C stunt demeans the work of the bipartisan parliamentary committee which recently advised against any change and is yet another offence against democratic process committed as this government and its predecessor have sought to abrogate power into the office of the Prime Minister.

Increasingly, as one wag puts it,  what is good for the country is what is good for Malcolm Turnbull. His decision to devote himself to the repeal of a law he knows won’t get past the senate has to be the ultimate in cynical political manoeovreing.

In the process, his attempt to puff his posturing into a stand on free speech is likely to backfire and illuminate the extent to which his government is the catspaw of mining, business and media groups who are motivated only by the narrowest short-term, self-interest.

The PM’s hollow rhetoric this week is no substitute for vision or policy or leadership but is instead the desperate posturing of a hollow man intent on appeasing his right wing critics at any price.

Turnbull’s attempt to dilute the RDA’s section 18C to save his political hide, under cover of a fog of lies about freedom of speech and high-sounding lies nonsense about our multiculturalism makes Barnaby Joyce’s edible donkey skin trade with China honest and virtuous, a tangible public good by contrast.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Freedom on the Wallaby  Henry Lawson 1891


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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