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Turnbull’s super ministry an epic failure.

They lie the men who tell us for reasons of their own

That want is here a stranger and that misery’s unknown …

Henry Lawson Faces in the Street


 

Loud Hosannas, cheers, applause and dancing in the streets erupt across a grateful nation this week as our bravely innovative, PM, Malcolm Turnbull, proclaims Peter Dutton, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Dead-eye Dutton’s rise is but one sublime peak in a week action-packed with fear and surprise featuring a Turnbull presser at a military base, backed by a blackface troupe of armed commandos in balaclavas, keeping us all safe.

Meanwhile up the coast, intrigued by our amphibious landings and all agog at sundry other top-secret-state of the art, war games with the US, so cleverly filmed by our ABC, a Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army-navy spy ship is observed “aggressively” lurking off Queensland’s coast, within our Exclusive Economic Zone in the Coral Sea.

So much for Malcolm Turnbull’s 2016 ring of steel, encircling Australia’s northern waters, protecting our borders.

In NSW, Liberals savage each other before their national conference, a stoush billed as a clash between left and right factions in a fight for control of the party. The vote also is a proxy war between Abbott and Turnbull.

Abbott leads a push to include members in candidate pre-selection in a “democratic reform” move which will only lead to a return to right-wing branch-stacking. Above all, it will help ensure his own pre-selection, currently at risk.

His “Warringah motion”, for one member, one pre-selection vote which features speeches from windy, right-wing warrior, retired Major General Jim Molan receives 61% of the 1224 votes, taking NSW Liberals further to the right.

Abbott’s eager contribution to political conflict also includes the gift that keeps on giving, the legacy of his plebiscite on same-sex marriage, a cynical, last-minute tactic to prevent a party conscience vote. A non-binding, non-compulsory, snap postal plebiscite, a Clayton’s plebiscite,  “just to get a result” on same sex marriage, has been prepared by a secretive government keen to avoid having to take the issue to the next election.

Peter Dutton, an opponent of marriage equality, threw his extra-large hat into the postal vote ring last February, as did Matthias Cormann. If a postal vote can take place quickly, it will avoid the scenario where Liberal senator Dean Smith can bring his promised private member’s bill to his party room and to a parliamentary vote in August.

Gorgeous George Christensen is urging everyone to go postal, as is the Queensland Liberal National Party, which last week called upon the Coalition to conduct a mail-out plebiscite, a process which is predicted to favour the no case partly because young voters, who are more likely to vote yes, are believed to be less likely to return non-compulsory ballots.

A no vote is the outcome the party right, who run this government prefers, despite it being a minority view in parliament and in the nation. Abbott may be long deposed, but his spirit of evasion, tactical subterfuge and reality denial lives on in Turnbull’s era. Dutton steps up to swing the vast bulk of Home Affairs behind a postal ballot.

Sunday, Dutton is right on song with the quick and dirty idea that a voluntary postal vote would be a “much cleaner process” than a private member or a Labor bill. Dispensing with pleasantries, early, in a Sunday interview, he quickly assumes his super minister bully role with a resounding rebuff to his imaginary enemy, a left-wing ABC.

In a twist on his 2015 denunciation of the national “Jihadist” broadcaster, in league with Fairfax to do the government down, the paranoid and autocratic Dutton, as befits a newly anointed super minister, now sees the ABC as a culturally-flawed “worker’s collective” that has deviated from its charter. Shades of Donald Trump.

Like any self-respecting Coalition heavy, Dutton puts pressure on ABC’s MD Michelle Guthrie to further diminish the possibility of objective commentary or factual reporting impeding the processes of government. No holding to account. It’s proved a devastatingly effective tactic when combined with budget cuts or chronic under-funding.

“I hope that Michelle Guthrie can arrest some of that direction and bring it back to a more sensible position,” Dutton tells Sky News on Sunday. He also adds his signature dog-whistle, this time, to all of ABC’s right-wing critics.

“That’s been my long-held view of the ABC … and I haven’t seen anyone dispute that with any seriousness.”

No-one cares much any more about the ABC but Alex Greenwich, Australian Marriage Equality co-chair, a NSW independent MP, is quick to denounce Dutton’s call as a “political trick to override the role of parliament”.

 “Any attempt to hold a non-binding and voluntary postal plebiscite will be seen as a pointless political trick to override the role of parliament and delay the settled will of the Australian people.”

Luckily Alan Tudge is on hand to advance the national conversation from political chicanery to statistical duplicity. Taking time out from extorting “overpayments” from innocent and often helpless Centrelink victims to provide tax cuts to the rich, while unemployment benefits stay unchanged since 1994, the Minister for Social Services and Neoliberal nurturing, declares poverty is all your own fault.

Time again to blame the victim.

More welfare, he tells the tough-luvvies of the hard right CIS think-tank in Sydney, will do nothing to alleviate what is simply the result of your own dysfunctional family. He echoes Jeremy Sammut’s  remarkable piece in The Australian last year when he identified “bad parenting” as the real dysfunction. Helping only makes this worse.

“Long-term welfare dependence is a poison on the individual, it reduces people’s ability, it reduces people’s confidence,” Tudge tut-tuts. CIS members whose think tank enjoys long-term tax-free status as a charity, cheer.

Some Indigenous communities, he blusters, before singling out Wilcannia NSW, are at “saturation level” of funding. In an echo of the Coalition argument for reducing our investment in education by billions, he contends that more money won’t fix the problem. What’s needed is to address the causes, he reckons.

Yet Tudge’s list of causes or “pathways to poverty” reads suspiciously like effects. He cites welfare dependency, drug and alcohol abuse, family breakdown and poor education standards. More self-righteous victim blaming.

But there’s more. A late ray of sunshine across a wintry national stage, littered with the corpses of dud ideas, Tudge has a magic formula of “absolute deprivation” to redefine poverty as your ability to afford, food, clothing, education – compared with say, thirty years ago when even a neoliberal Hawke was vowing to end child poverty.

Calculating poverty from average household earnings, taking, for example, the OECD’s benchmark of 50% of median income, puts 3 million Australians, including 731,000 children, below the poverty line, is so passe.

Instead, argues Tudge, go back thirty years. Apply an absolute deprivation filter. Presto. A single unemployed person on $38 per day, today, is ten per cent better off than in the past. People with children are even wealthier.

It’s a cruel statistical hoax, of course. The reality is that poverty is increasing  as shown by a range of reputable researchers such as ACOSS. At least of third of those receiving social security live below the poverty line. It is highly likely, moreover, that poverty is under-reported but for this government, if you are poor, it is your own fault.

Tudge could go back to 1890 and find figures to prove that today’s poor are fat cats relatively speaking. But only if we accept a ludicrous formula which, among other flaws, ignores the soaring costs of accommodation and energy.

Blaming the victim and demonising the poor are not new trends. Nor is sophistry and wilful ignorance.

“People who have secure accommodation, decent food on the table, access to medical care and whose children go to school are not poor”, thundered The Australian in 2004, denouncing “the welfare lobby”‘s attempt to define poverty as earnings less than average weekly income. No matter that no such definition has ever been ventured.

Tudge continues to argue against increasing government spending on welfare. Spurious statistics are adduced to persuade us that a married couple on welfare now enjoys 38% greater benefit that a couple thirty years ago. Benefits have increased, he claims in real terms by 10% for a single person. It’s dangerous nonsense.

Tudge and his government are reviving a culture of cruelty, a mean-spiritedness which speaks against a culture of compassion or solidarity in favour of division and an ethos of competitive rivalry, a survival of the fittest in a type of neoliberal authoritarianism which threatens the very fundamentals of our welfare state and our civil society.

Aside from the cheer squaddies, others see Turnbull as a forlorn Theresa May figure, a PM in title only, cynically embracing fear-mongering and in no position to refuse his right-wing rival in a last-ditch bid to stay in power.

Butch Dutton’s elevation comes a day after the PM stages his weirdly dystopian press-terror show. It’s an ironic over the top homage to military fetishist Tony Abbott who followed his mentor Howard, in politicising the military.

A beached assault vessel lurks behind masked ADF soldiers in camouflage gear who brandish automatic weapons to help the PM explain the ADF’s need for greater powers; expanding into domestic terror attacks.

As Guy Rundle writes, “up pops Malcolm, to announce a vast centralisation of state power in one department, and a weakening of the barrier between military and police operations in domestic matters.”

Dutton grins. Becoming super powerful is something he and his Immigration and Border Protection secretary, Mike Pezzullo, have been working on for some time, despite enjoying very mixed success with their day jobs.

Is it another of the PM’s cunning plans, a Turnbullian tactic which flouts all expert advice, common sense and the mind-numbing dullness of collegiate decision-making to buy off a right-wing challenge? Or is it capitulation?

Certainly, it’s another fracture in the image of reasoned collaboration and consensus-seeking. A day after deposing Tony Abbott, a junkyard dog of opposition promoted out of his depth, who sensibly left all big decisions to his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, Turnbull declared he was a Prime Minister who would listen to his peers.

“We need to restore traditional cabinet government. There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls,” he said, in what proved to just the first step to becoming an answering-machine of high-sounding, crowd-pleasing promises he had no intention of keeping. And even less capacity. Now, even Greg Sheridan protests:

“The decision … to establish an omnibus, security-focused department of home affairs, with Peter Dutton leading the new ministry, changes the Prime Minister has ­described as the most important to the organisation of national ­security in 40 years, never once went to a full cabinet meeting for consideration.”

Nor was it taken to the cabinet national security committee for any deliberation or evaluation. “The Ayatollah”, as Turnbull was known in merchant banking, has returned with a vengeance. He’ll do anything to stay in power – he’ll even over-promote Peter Dutton, a Minister with a record of manifest serial incompetence .

Dutto’s promotion makes the former Queensland drug squad policeman,  aka J. Edgar Tuber,  the most powerful man in Australia. He’s now way above the PM atop a brand-new, instant, Super-Ministry of Home Affairs, a press-ganged crew of ASIO spooks, Border Force cowboys, our AFP and many others, none of whom were consulted and all of whom may be counted on to resist the amalgamation, especially when it comes to co-operation and sharing.

For all his high-sounding embrace of “the sensible centre”, a posturing which involved the reinvention of Menzies during his speech in London, Malcolm Turnbull has taken the Liberal Party and his government hard right. In this he may, indeed, prove tactically agile, moving to a position where Abbott’s attacks are unable to find him out. He may also, as Guy Rundle suggests, move closer than he knows to Ming’s reactionary and ruthless pragmatism.

In the process of shoring up his leadership, however, Turnbull has created a monster which is far more likely to prove a major liability rather than any streamlined, linked-up, co-ordinated, up to the minute anti-terror fighting machine or super ministry. Even the one voice in cabinet promise sounds like a problem. One voice three times?

The PM’s ignored good advice; a review of the intelligence system by two top mandarins, Michael L’Estrange and Stephen Merchant commissioned last November. These senior bureaucrats were advised by former senior British spook Sir Iain Lobban. Nowhere does their report propose an amalgamated Home Affairs ministry.

Not that it’s more than a bureaucratic exercise. For Bernard Keane, the review of Australia’s intelligence community is superficial; “a major, perhaps spectacular, missed opportunity, [which] skips critical thinking for bureaucratic insularity, empire-building and a bizarre indifference to the key issues of intelligence and national security.

Lots of new high-ranking bureaucratic positions will be created, however, in a process of systemic self-perpetuation. Naturally, both Turnbull and Morrison are pretending all will be cost-neutral.

Turnbull was not seeking depth or objectivity; rather a box to tick. In the process, however, he appears overly receptive to Peter Dutton whose secretary Mike Pezzullo is the architect of the Home Affairs concept in a process which rewards naked empire building at the expense of any wider, objective or detailed view.

Home Affairs is what Dutton wants and what Turnbull thinks he could use; a recipe for disaster from day one. Then there are practical issues such as ASIO issuing warrants which will have to be signed off on by Brandis.

Apart from unease over the process, strains will naturally quickly appear in Home Affairs, a forced menage a trois of three separate government bodies, none of whom favour amalgamation – and with key issues unresolved – let alone under Dutton, a Minister who has struggled to administer the unhappy merger of Immigration and Customs.

Is the PM tongue in cheek when he praises the new model’s superior communication and collaboration potential? Peter Dutton is typically evasive, non-communicative or hostile. Of all ministers, he is the least responsive.

He has yet to explain why he misled the parliament and the Australian public when he asserted that shots were fired upon Manus Island Detention Centre on Good Friday this year in retaliation over the refugees’ suspected paedophile activity, an unsubstantiated slur. Greens Senator Nick McKim reports that after visiting Manus, he found that Dutton’s account was not supported on the ground.

“What I can say is that both the PNG police and Ronny Knight, and all of the detainees … are consistent in their positions, and that is that an event involving a small child had nothing whatsoever to do with the attack and the shooting, which obviously puts the lie to Peter Dutton’s version of events,” he says.

The super ministry is likely to get in its own way; confuse the allocation of counter-terrorism roles and responsibilities.  Yet the elephant in the room is the over-hyped terror threat which is its reason for being. Seriously. Despite Abbott’s rhetoric, Australia does not pose an existential threat from ISIS or any other group.

Talk it up all you will, Prime Minister, our nation’s terrorist experience is tiny – mercifully.

As Mehdi Hasan writes, “there have been zero mass-casualty terror attacks on Australian soil since September 11, 2001.”

Or as Greg Austin, international security expert at the University of NSW, observed last October:

“More Australians have died at the hands of police (lawfully or unlawfully) in 10 years (50 at least from 2006 to 2015) or from domestic violence in just two years (more than 318 in 2014 and 2015) than from terrorist attacks in Australia in the last 20 years.”

The threat our nation faces from the right-wing of the Liberal Party and the puppet Turnbull government it runs is immeasurably greater than any external threat it must conjure in order to boost its dwindling authority.

While the super-ministry fiasco, a giant bureaucracy no-one except the PM needs and no-one except Peter Dutton and Mike Pezullo want, reflects its manifestly inept decision-making, the Coalition’s fixation with neoliberal ideology is more pernicious and far more pervasive than any possible external terror threat.

A PM who truly cares about national security would look within. The war on terror is a hoax. The government’s capture by business, mining and banking has led it to inflict injustice and indignity including the cruel trickle-down fraud of $65 billion dollar tax breaks for business in the pretence of prosperity for all.

Forget the war on terror, Prime Minister. Spare us the weird theatricals. Look at rampant inequality fostered by your neoliberal economic policies. If you want better security, cease your war on the poor and the vulnerable, the cutting benefits and penalty rates. Address underemployment. Get real about enforcing working conditions and pay rates. Ensure that businesses pay a fair rate of tax.

Stop the demonising of the poor. Take the $65 billion you were going to give to the rich and boost pensions and benefits. Set an adequate minimum wage for the average worker. Invest in education. Health. Boosting living standards and reducing inequality will foster social cohesion. Real national security needs no super ministry.

Turnbull assumes Menzies’ mantle in epic failure of judgement.

The Queen has embodied selfless public service, dignity, wisdom, leadership for and more magnificently than anyone alive today, there is not doubt.”

 

In a florid tribute which betrays more than he realises, a fawning Malcolm Turnbull, proclaims himself not only an Elizabethan but also a Republican, a surprisingly belated affirmation of a cause which he has shunned since being out-manoevered by John Howard in the skewed 1999 plebiscite. He also declares the Liberal Party is centrist.

It’s another incredible twist in a week of surprises as the PM extends his G20 junket to buddy up with Macron, hoping he won’t notice how we treat meeting our Paris Accord as a joke, return Abbott’s sniping, evade his fifteenth damning News Poll and do the dirty on the states on clean energy. All up, his grand tour is a tonic.

Saturday, Lazarus Mal is back, lurching to the right to massage Queensland Liberal Party prejudices. Coal-fired power opponents are “delusional”, he hollers. He’s all about energy security, stability and lower prices. The sunshine state is committed to coal-fired electricity. The coal bludgers also have the nation’s highest electricity prices.

In the real world, the US, our neocolonial dominatrix, leaves us in the lurch by not declaring war on North Korea after all. It also abruptly halts its processing refugees on Nauru, an ominous sign for Dutton and Turnbull’s US refugee swap deal .

The halt follows ABC’s Chris ” I only wrote what I was told to” Uhlmann’s honest and objective review of Trump as a total G20 failure, a your-emperor-has-no-clothes report which goes viral. Could the two events possibly be related?

Time to look more closely; first to Turnbull’s public coming out as an Elizabethan. It’s not the first time, as Judith Ireland reminds us, that the PM’s played the Elizabethan card. Last December he disappointed an Australian Republic movement sit-down do, at $150 a head, with his specious argument for not ditching the monarchy while Elizabeth reigned over us. The Queen is a vital tribal totem, as important to our identity as Vegemite.

So admired and respected is the Queen, he claims, that “few of us can say we are not Elizabethans”. Especially himself.

It’s a conundrum if not an identity crisis which annoys the Duke. “What’s wrong with these people? Prince Philip is reported to have said when the republican plebiscite failed in 1999. “Can’t they see what’s good for them?”

“They just couldn’t agree about the model”, replied Elizabeth. Little bull-dog, Howard, Order of Merit, had seen to that.

The 91 year old Queen, impeccably prepared, receives her Elizabethan-republican and recently proclaimed follower of Menzies’ Australian PM wearing her Ming bling brooch, a diamond-encrusted spray of wattle. It is a gift from a smitten Robert G Menzies, who “… did but see her passing by …” long enough to pin it on her during HM’s 1954 Commonwealth Tour.  It’s a sign Her Majesty trusts Turnbull won’t spoil things by raising The Palace letters relating to The Dismissal.

A Federal Court case to force the release of the letters, is set to begin in August, a move The Palace can veto, however, at any time, even after the 2027 embargo is up. Our figurehead of state still retains an extraordinary power.

Turnbull’s Palace reception lifts his spirits after the G20 letdown. He’s looking like a goose now war on North Korea is off the menu despite his urging and hectoring of China for letting its minion get dangerously and “recklessly” out of hand.

The Coalition’s attempt to jump the Trump was gazumped when the tweeter-in-chief failed to rail against North Korea. Not even an emoji escapes from under his thumbs alerting the twittersphere to the rogue state’s aim to nuke the world into oblivion. No idle-threatening. No behind the scenes lobbying. Not even a statement.

China and Russia objected to the G20 making any joint statement being made on North Korea and tougher sanctions, arguing the summit was an economic forum. Behind the scenes, our PM blames The Donald for his lack of leadership.

“… nobody round that table was defending the North Koreans, in terms of their conduct” at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Turnbull tells Fairfax’s James Massola. Nor, however, was anyone making such a spectacular effort as Australia to support US Defence Secretary mad dog James Mattis’ anti-Kim madness in public. No-one else is that desperate to impress the US.

So embarrassing. The ABC has been dutifully screening endless loops of rockets and manic goose-stepping North Korean soldiers intercut with images of Kim taken on a bad hair day as Malcolm, Marise, Julie and Barnaby denounce the rogue.

“Experts” are quoted by Barnaby. Maps of the Top End appear on TV showing that all of North Queensland could be at risk of Kim’s nuclear warheads.  Darwin, anyway. Kim’s a monster, a one man yellow peril to be stopped at any price.

Yet there’s a bright side. Australia has done the world a favour by inadvertently exposing the hoax of international censure of Kim to be no more than a US-orchestrated beat up. It’s the same with every illegal invasion it has ever dragged us – however eagerly- into. So much for stable leadership. Full war alert one day; a deafening silence the next.

When the leader of the free world can’t even bother giving a press conference it leaves little even for a sycophantic media to embellish. Thank god for Malcolm and Lucy’s ride in the French President’s Falcon jet.

It’s a first, gushes Fairfax’s James Massola. Has Turnbull also persuaded Macron to withdraw France’s application to the UN Human Rights Council?  Over night, it seems, France is out, virtually guaranteeing Australia a place in October. Two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars has been well spent. Nothing to report here, though.

Turnbull’s keen to talk up our twelve submarines on order, a deal which is far from water-tight. He continues to pretend that a $50 billion investment in an untried concept is a stroke of genius. But he’s left treading water on the jobs hoax.

90% of the submarine build would take place in Australia, the government was promised. But in a senate committee hearing last month, French builder DCNS backed away from that commitment. DCNS has “no formal agreement” with ASC. The company now intends to “absorb” ASC workers, the ones David Johnston wouldn’t trust to build a canoe.

With a sinking feeling Turnbull returns to his own survival. He has a cunning plan to redefine the Liberals to exclude those who are giving him trouble. He’ll invoke Menzies. Portray him as a leftie. Brilliant. What could possibly go wrong?

Bill Shorten knows. He sticks his head up his holiday reading to lob a well-aimed zinger. “The Turnbull government is in the middle of an identity crisis and they’ve forgotten what their real job is – it’s to look after the country.”

Jeff Kennett doesn’t get it. “Why would you do it from overseas? Why would you throw a can of petrol onto a fire?”

“The Liberal Party has never been a conservative party”, asserts Turnbull, who knows he has nothing to lose. Moreover, he’s always been a PM who will say or do anything. He waxes historical in an address in London to Policy Exchange, deadly Dave Cameron’s favourite right wing think tank aka the “neo-con attack dog”. His audience glowers.

In 2009 Policy Exchange commissioned veteran opponent of wealth redistribution Peter Saunders to rebut Kate Picket and Richard Wilkinson’s case for reducing inequality. He denounced their book, The Spirit Level as a left-wing manifesto.

It’s an odd mob to tell “Menzies did not want his party to be reactionary”. But Turnbull has a wider audience.

It’s my party, not yours, Tony, is his message to his nemesis. It’s part of his thank speech to PE for its “Disraeli Award” for his government’s “non-discriminatory policies which help make Australia a land of opportunity”.  Last year, a report found a we’d only taken one sixth of the Syrian refugees we promised a year earlier. It takes time to pick the Christians.

Are we getting a Disraeli for stopping the boats? Our offshore detention policy is based on discrimination. On Manus Island, the PNG government cuts the power off to force 800 refugees into a transit centre in the town. The men fear for their safety and they fear abandonment. Fear makes us feel our humanity wrote Disraeli. Or not.

The government deal with the US to swap the refugees who will never be allowed into Australia has fallen in a heap. Opportunity? Julie Bishop on ABC Insiders Sunday skitters away. Blames Labor. Keeping a straight face, the prim white hope of Liberal leadership assures us “the process” will be resumed after 1 October. “…as the President promised…”

She repeats the lie that “Australia is one of the most generous countries in the world since the second world war.”

Our annual humanitarian intake of around 20,000 people is far from generous when placed in a historical context. In 1949, when there were 60 million global refugees and Australia had 8 million we gave refuge to almost 75,000 people.

“Processing” is a cruel farce. What could there be to discover after years of our multi-billion dollar Immigration  Dept processing? The US has threatened extreme vetting without deigning to explain what it means. The truth is that it is just something Trump made up in a speech. In the meantime the hopes of 800 men continue to be abused.

The camp will be completely demolished in October. Yet the government has no plan whatsoever – apart from the punt on Trump following through on Obama’s offer. Apart from all its inhumanity, Manus is a debacle. Dutton would have been asked to resign in any other but a Turnbull government. Instead, he is about to be given a promotion.

The award is a set up. Or ironic. Never was any recipient less deserving, politically or personally. But it’s an irresistible opportunity to bloviate, slap down Abbott and rebadge, if not reinvent, the party to suit his own, current, orientation.

An insufferable egomaniac, only Turnbull would attempt such a party trick; remaking the Liberals in his own image.

Normally no-one would notice. But when he claims the Liberal Party sits in the “sensible centre of politics” howls of outrage erupt from the party’s reactionaries, even though he’s craftily borrowed the phrase from tin-eared Abbott.

Jeff Kennett and Eric Abetz, who delude themselves they and their party are conservative, go right off. Barking. Acting PM Barnaby Joyce, nearly drops his Adani tar-baby. The Coalition has become “a philosopher’s club”.  In Barnaby’s barnyard, as in Craig Kelly’s cave or Jeff’s shed only tossers give a toss about ideas. Let’s tell it like it is, he snarls.

“In North Queensland, they have 20% unemployment. You know the only thing they want to hear? How you are going to get them a job? You know what they want to hear in regional areas? How you are going to invest in infrastructure, like inland rail.” There’s a lot of such reductive nonsense aired in regional seats but Barnaby’s blarney hits a new low.

The deputy PM’s nitty gritty is a myth. Inland rail is a hollow promise which has been repeated by Liberals and Nationals since 1996. It is unlikely to even pay its way – even if you could get it funded – let alone deliver a job bonanza but Barnaby’s one of the government’s big picture men.  Politics all comes down to a lump of coal or a barrel of pork.

The original inland train of thought envisaged a parallel energy corridor. Perhaps a natural gas pipeline that doesn’t have to contend with environmentalists is what really piques Barnaby’s interest today. As Tony Windsor points out it would harness a populist issue to to solve the problem of gas permits, access across private lands and NSW energy demands.

If it is, he concludes, maybe it’s time for some honesty. Instead, the acting PM opts for a poor man’s Bob Katter routine.

Joyce riffs a front bar ear-bash.

“They look at political candidates and say ‘have you ever actually lived, mate? Do you know what it’s like to not have any money in your wallet? Do you know what it’s like to think, shit, I’m want a life with dignity and I’m on the pension, and I can’t actually afford food, so how do I do this and keep my dignity in this town?’”

His rhetoric is as empty as the dead centre. Barnaby may have moved his office from Sydney to Armidale, but it’s all he’s done to “grow regional jobs”. His mob, moreover, tends to look out for the wealthy while it turns its back on the battler.

The Turnbull government cuts assistance to families. In March, Coalition welfare cuts included a two-year freeze on the indexation of the Family Tax Benefit. As a result the payment will no longer increase to keep pace with inflation.

Money in your wallet? Joyce was silent when his government phased out the Energy Supplement for pensioners.

Centrelink’s robo-claw automated debt recovery, should help Joyce’s constituents retain their dignity. Cutbacks to hospitals and schools are morale boosting. Character building. So, too the decision to keep pensions so low a third of pensioners are on the poverty-line.

Penalty rate cuts are other helpful Coalition “reforms” which help make the unexamined life worth living.

Duty bound to stop the rot, Eric Abetz looks for someone else to blame. With the ease of long experience he quickly finds a scapegoat. “Hysterical media have decided to dishonestly spin the speech in such a way to inflame tensions.”

He’s heard the speech. It’s “a great speech; a unifying speech”. Undone now by the media who seem to have had time to sit down and collude to mis-report it. In tandem, Dutton still wages war on the leftist, Jihadist ABC.

Has Turnbull been misreported? There’s not a skerrick of evidence for Abetz assertions. It’s easy to locate the text of his speech, posted promptly after the event. But that’s not the point of his tactic. He’s commenting on some comments, a tack the Liberals always swear they are not going to take as if you can be an MP without giving opinions.

Let’s return to Turnbull’s argument, despite Abetz attempt at distraction. It’s a great stretch to see Turnbull as any type of Menzies. Our protean PM, whose identity, legitimacy, credibility and authority are all always works in progress, is brave, moreover to align himself with Menzies, a man who when he wasn’t trying to outlaw the communist party or despatch our chaps off to stop the dominos of communism falling from Viet Nam on to Australia.

Menzies would have hated Turnbull. Ming whinged to his daughter, Heather Henderson, in 1974,

“The main trouble in my state is that we have the State Executive of the Liberal Party, which is dominated by what they now call ‘Liberals with a small l’ – that is to say, Liberals who believe in nothing but still believe in anything if they think it worth a few votes. The whole thing is tragic.”

The speech goes down well with a few party sycophants. Christopher Pyne praises it as an “historically accurate rendition of the party’s foundational principles.”

” Considered and powerful”, says Josh Frydenberg says, a public speaking connoisseur. Julie Bishop loves it to bits.

Yet not every Liberal is tickled pink.  Jeff Kennett turns the air beyond blue. Abetz saddles up his inquisitorial war horse.

Lying rodent, John Howard, who carefully blocked progressives throughout his long period in office and over promoted the likes of Abbott, helpfully tells the press that the Liberal Party will always have room for conservatives before blowing any question of political judgement by mounting a case not to prejudge Donald Trump. But the rot’s set in.

Sole, surviving Tasmanian Liberal Senator, Eric Abetz can sniff decay like a Lagotto Romagnolo can snout a truffle. A man on a mission, his hypervigilance once helped him proclaim a link between abortion and breast cancer. Lynx-eyed, he, alone, could see treason in rainbow flags in government offices, discerning flags of “a cause” and of “a hostile nation.

“Australian policies for gay and lesbian citizens had caused them to plant a flag in the Coral Sea Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, naming their own nation and declaring war on Australia”, said activists in 2004. Eric remembers.

Eric loves to keep the nation up to the mark. It’s a tough love. In May, the former Abbott employment minister whose PM’s approach to policy was notoriously underdone, he had the hide to call public servants professional slackers.

It’s not an easy call even for black-pot Eric. As Liberal Party affiliate Judith Sloan, notes Abetz did not impress many with his work effort himself. “The ineffective Workplace Relations minister, Eric Abetz,” she writes “submitted a number of relatively inconsequential and technical amendments of the Fair Work Act to the Senate, but they were rejected”.

When Yassmin Abdel-Magied dares voice opinion on our challenged system of government, he shows her the door,

‘If Ms Abdel-Magied thinks our system of government is so bad perhaps she should stop being a drain on the taxpayer and move to one of these Arab dictatorships’. Ouch. No good at her job? Doesn’t deserve to be here? It’s Eric’s way.

It’s government by dog whistling the unhinged, and with his help, the nation sees a wave of xenophobic anti-muslim, misogyny hurled at Julia Baird who declares Yassmin Al-Magied the latest woman to be roasted on the public spit.

Few can sniff conspiracy like Abetz and he’s as daft as David Leyonhjelm on the nonsense of political correctness being a leftist plot; a tyranny. Call him an “angry white man” and he’ll be quick to tell you that’s racial vilification.

And so it is this week, brows beetling, nostrils twitching, our national guardian of the straight and narrow spots a perfidious plot. Media twist the PM’s words. Turnbull may be fighting for his political life but Eric won’t let the press lead us up the garden path. Let hacks laugh themselves silly over the PM’s hubris and deception in “sensible centre”.

Abetz wilfully misses the point. Turnbull’s “sensible centre” is a dig at his nemesis Abbott, an expression of a hatred that cannot speak its name. Menzies, he says,” chose the name Liberal” because he never wanted a conservative party.

Never is no time at all in politics. But never conservative? Think energy; marriage equality or tax cuts for the wealthy. Think equal pay for women. And so much more. What can he mean? It’s a “Tony Abbott slapdown”, scream News Corp’s Tory Shepherd, Peter Jean and Sheradyn Holderhead, who are always keen to sell ringside seats to a stoush.

An anti-Liberal media conspiracy or an anti-Turnbull plot? Regardless of what he means, in the wider view, Eric Abetz is on to something huge. Attacking the media when you don’t like the message. And he’s a front-line combatant.

From America’s Tweeter in Chief’s battle with fake news to Saudi Arabia’s tussle with Al Jazeera, originally a BBC outpost until it ran factual news reports on Saudi Arabia and found its satellite switched off, the world is at war with reporters who tell the truth. What’s needed is good news; positive news; news that’s a faithful echo of its master’s voice.

Luckily news comes this week that some of this will be fixed. Australia awaits the financial wizardry being performed on Channel 10 as it is being transformed by the alchemy of limited liability from a bankruptcy into another successful Murdoch venture. A nurturing Turnbull government has slashed TV station licence fees.

News reports invariably barrack for 10 as if it were some benevolent charity. Even voluntary administration, a process which could see 17,000 ordinary investors lose everything is cheered from the sidelines.

A Fox News type channel may well eventuate, a sign of the times which can only cheer on the sensible centrists in power.

An equally chilling sign is is Turnbull’s dip into a think tank to ” get his message out”  So much of the Coalition’s political discourse is shaped by an echo-chamber of think tanks, shock jocks and Murdoch hacks; a claque of noisy, like-minded, powerful voices who also just happen to dictate so much of party policy. Little wonder the electorate despairs.

Turnbull is in serious trouble. His leadership is in tatters. His credibility is spent. Evidence accumulates on all fronts of a government in crisis largely as a result of its own indecision and poor policy.  The problem will not to be solved, however, by sophistry; by redefining the party as small “l” liberal to exclude its conservative critics.

In promoting the sensible centre, the Prime Minister is looking to his own survival and settling, tellingly for another clever trick. Instead, he should address his government’s many real failures of policy in energy, education, environment, immigration and economics.

Standing up to the mutinous few in his crew will do more to put his ship to rights than trying to run up a false flag.

G20 No Ode to Joy

Ode to joy, the final movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, buoys the spirits of G20 leaders as they gather with groupies, minders and hangers-on, Friday, in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie concert hall, a glittering crystal palace soaring high above its brick foundation, once the base of an old cocoa warehouse.  The building is a triumphal monument to high culture towering over the hoi polloi swarming Germany’s busiest port below.

“It’s a hymn to humanity, peace and international understanding,” purrs G20 host German Chancellor Angela “Mutti” (mother) Merkel, explaining why she chose Beethoven’s last major work at a time of unprecedented international conflict and brutality. The choice of venue, a sanctuary for a privileged elite speaks for itself.

As host, Germany also sets the agenda. No-one is looking to the US for leadership.  The G20 is now the G19.

Keen to move delegates beyond their habitual GDP fetish, Merkel inserts health into the G19+1 agenda. The only leader to have attended all twelve gabfests, she knows what will work. Perhaps she recalls Australia’s failure.

Who can forget the embarrassment of watching Tony Abbott in 2014 as he bizarrely sought to recruit world leaders’ into his local political challenge of imposing a GP co-payment? Was he winging it? His retreat into domestic politics perplexed leaders as much as Hockey’s call for 2% plus growth with no idea how to get there.

Australian media have already set their own agenda, of course, with our ABC hyping “military action” on North Korea endlessly before the G20. Effortlessly it recycles clichés of “rogue state”, “hermit state” and now “client state” in its mission to support a Turnbull government reduced to echoing or second-guessing US foreign policy.

It’s a crisis. No-one, including its president seems to knows what US has planned for North Korea but acting PM Barnaby, Kamikaze, Joyce says we’ll back any trade sanctions which it may impose on China, a posture Julie Bishop affirms on her return from the US. North Korea may nuke North Australia, any moment, Barnaby assures us.

Incredibly, cool hand Luke, David Johnston, Defence’s chief of joint operations, disagrees. The likelihood Pyongyang would even target Australia is “low”. Even if they had the means. Media outlets, naturally, ignore him. Who could pass up an excuse to screen images of goose-stepping troops? Shots of rockets belching flames?

We are unlikely to be on North Korea’s hit list, confirms University of Tasmania missile systems expert James Dwyer on ABC Radio and later on Sunday’s TV news in a rare and commendable correction to Joyce’s hysteria.

Psychologist Lissa Johnson cautions, however, that we are more likely to believe Barnaby rather not. We struggle to accommodate an uncomfortable truth in a process known as system justification.

“The more that a person feels dependent, powerless and vulnerable, at the mercy of a system over which they have no control, the more terrifying it is to think that the system is deeply flawed.”

In a post truth, Trumpocene era, moreover, truth is losing its value as society’s reserve currency while legitimate scepticism is yielding place to pernicious relativism warns The Guardian’s Matthew D’Ancona.

“Emotional resonance”, he adds, or gut feeling – a narrative that gives visceral meaning – increasingly means more than fact or evidence. The vibe. Certainly there’s a vibe to Ode to Joy, a revolutionary anthem.

Ode to Joy forms a touching counterpoint to the cries of protesters as they rise above the sirens of Hamburg Police’s tank-like police water cannons rumbling far below. Plumes of acrid smoke arise from cars set alight.

Almost all of the 100,000 who are in Hamburg to protest are non-violent. The same cannot be said of the societies represented around the G20 conference table.  Or the state-sponsored violence. Everyday lives in US, Russia or Saudi Arabia are among the world’s least peaceful according to The Global Peace Index 2017.

Violence may cost 12.6% of world GDP in 2016 or $14.4 trillion in purchasing power parity.

Even harder to measure is the violence done to those suffering austerity budgeting such as Greece which has been forced by its lenders such as the European Central Bank to agree to further spending cuts, pension reductions and tax rises in order to unlock emergency funds. The bank is a key G20 player, safe inside the towering concert hall.

Formed in 2008 to fix the GFC, the G20 pursues something called “stable and resilient economic growth”, a task which consists mainly of putting on a talk show. No-one except MSM which hypes a Putin-Trump showdown and a North Korean slapdown and, of course, the odd grand-standing politician expects it do anything more.

The European Central Bank, in its 2014 study, for example, concludes the annual group of twenty meeting has no effect on anything much. Merkel is hopeful in adding a health ministers’ discussion. Or shrewdly courting votes.

This year, nevertheless,  it does produce some guidelines for businesses to factor climate change into their planning. The Coalition’s right wing will be delighted.

Those who dismiss the G20 as international capitalism talking to itself in public should, however, look beyond the windy free market rhetoric and neoliberal truisms, to its role as political theatre. This year the drama is vastly enriched by a reality TV presidency who adds all the bullying, bitching and backstabbing banality of Celebrity Apprentice or in the Putin-Trump kiss and tell feature segment, a good dollop of Farmer Takes a Wife.

Yet there are rules and expectations. Much tut-tutting is heard, for example, when soi-disant feminist and exploiter of cheap, female international labour, Ivanka Trump, deputises for her father when Donald has to duck out unexpectedly of a Saturday meeting for some undisclosed one on one discussion. Perhaps his attention-span is playing up again.

No biggie. Unless you want to get picky about the Trump family firm’s teamwork. Or nepotism. Or where the Presidency involves the national interest rather than Trump Inc business. Or Ivanka’s potential benefit.

A White House spokesman opaquely explains:

“… the topic involved areas such as African development, areas that will benefit from the facility just announced by the World Bank.” The White House adds that other leaders had their seats filled by others. But not by family.

There’s clearly more to the G20 show than just a lot of hot air. It’s a ritual re-enactment of how international capitalism, hopelessly diseased by neoliberal faith, helps the rich get richer at the expense of the poor. Austerity budgeting or slashing public spending or balancing budgets with maximum suffering is part of its reason for being.

Whilst Germany’s Chancellor may be a neoliberal pin-up abroad, not everyone’s a fan at home. In the eyes of many Europeans, Merkel rivals IMF MD Christine LaGarde as fiscal austerity’s door-bitch.

“The policies of Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schaeuble have no doubt contributed to the deep crises in the European Union since 2008, to the isolation of a dominant German government and, through a relentless insistence on austerity, to high unemployment outside Germany,” Vice Chancellor Gabriel argues.

The G20 takes place amid galloping global inequality caused by globalisation. Just eight men now own the same wealth as half the world, Oxfam reminds us in its January 2017 report Economy for the ninety-nine per cent.  One in ten people survive on less than $2 per day. There are huge inequalities within societies such as pay for women.

On present trends, it will take 170 years before women are paid the same as men.

Big business and the super-rich fuel our inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics. Oxfam, doubtless, along with many protesters in Hamburg seek a fundamental change in the way we manage our economies so that they work for all people, and not just a fortunate few.

Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy,  says Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

“Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite.

The sparkling new high-rise concert hall, however, insulates delegates beautifully from tens of thousands who protest far below. As it is, a police lockdown causes five guests, including Malcolm Turnbull to miss the start.

Turnbull doubtless has time to take in the word from the street of Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now.

“The model itself is broken.” We need a new model to undermine the racism and thuggery of Trump and his ilk—one that values human life before the profits of the superrich.”

20,000 well-equipped police use pepper spray, water cannon as well as underwater and aerial drones to protect 38 square kilometre designated ‘no protest zone’. 74 police officers and several protesters are reported hurt.

Outlawing protest would meet with Malcolm Turnbull’s approval. The “no protest zone” in Hamburg parallels initiatives taken by Australian federal and state governments to curb dissent, erode protest rights and press freedom in order increase state power and ensure vested business interests are protected.

Turnbull could swap stories with Merkel about changes to laws in NSW which make it harder to protest about mining. Police were given new powers to stop, search and detain protesters and seize property. Peaceful protests could be shut down on the grounds that they obstruct traffic. The offence of “interfering” with a mine, is expanded to cover coal seam gas exploration and extraction sites. It carries a seven-year jail penalty.

The Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016,[2] follows similar laws targeting Tasmanian anti-logging protesters[3] and Western Australian environmentalists.[4] The bill confers expanded powers on police and increases penalties for protesters.

Australia’s G20 mission, however, seems to be couched in terms of echoing The White House’s spin of the moment on North Korea, along with our usual rhubarb about freeing up trade and investment. Climate is talked up and there are always opportunities to repeat the furphy that we are world leaders in re-settling refugees.

Sky News lets us know of a leader-level discussion behind closed doors on terrorism, Friday, where Mr Turnbull calls for cyberspace to be treated “just as seriously as the battlefield” in countering Islamic State.

It’s all part of the febrile war footing and anti-terror alarmism that helps our government increase surveillance, discourage dissent and curtail human rights, including indefinite detention much to the horror of  Human Rights Watch .

Such moves, especially detention were likely to radicalise potential terrorists HRW protested in its submission to government last October. Yet “cyber”, as it is now called, by dangerous Dan Tehan, is a great distractor and a wonderful way to convey the illusion that a government that has trouble keeping Medicare numbers private or getting its Robocall debt recovery right, is somehow hard at work protecting every hard-working Australian.

Dan is also careful to tell us that cyber is not all defence. In some unspecified way, we are to wage cyber war as well. How our first hack capability will be implemented is unsaid. What’s certain is the IT industry will be happy. IBM will be delighted to atone for its 2016 census fail.

Dan tells us, deathlessly, that “The Defence Signals Directorate will be given legal authority to expand offensive cyber operations from a military role to civilian targets overseas. It’s breathtaking stuff – even if it does look like a tactical diversion from a government which is bitterly divided and poorly led.

‘As of tomorrow, Australia will have an information warfare division within Defence. This is a result of the changing character of contemporary conflict,’ Tehan declares. It’s so innovative and hush-hush nobody knows any details.

Clearly Australia is at war. The subtext is that of our ongoing war on Islam, a conflict which is conflated with the War on Terror, an epic invention of George Bush, along with WMD, lies which were somehow meant to help find and punish those responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre and which led us into war in Afghanistan.

Now, however, Trump’s advisers want us to know that we are all at war with Jihadist Islamic fascism.

In a rare show of lucidity, US tweeter-in-chief, Donald Trump reads a speech in Poland as a type of prelude to the G20 – an off G20 show. It’s an amazing success. Authorities bus in hundreds of spectators from the countryside to ensure the President is shown in a square which seems packed with cheering fans. The Donald is deliriously happy.

The speech itself, however is pure Steve Bannon, Trump’s new chief strategist, who argues that the West is in “the very beginning stages of a brutal and bloody conflict . . . against jihadist Islamic fascism,” while KT McFarland, his new deputy national security advisor, argues that we are engaged in a “long war” against radical Islam. The idea is endorsed by former national security adviser and lobbyist for the Turkish government Michael Flynn.

Trump’s address and the rants of his ratbag minders owe much to Harvard academic the late Samuel P Huntington, who decries the clash of civilizations, American decline, and sees a West encircled by enemies. Immigration is hugely bad too.

It’s a text both for our times and for our politicians. It proposes a beguilingly simple, albeit paranoid and unrealistic, theory to explain a complex world. The downside is that it provides nothing to guide any policy. Beyond that it is reductive, distorts reality and misrepresents the complex causation of warfare.

Will our US vassal government take up the Donald’s vision of the clash of civilisations? Highly likely. Already, there is more than a hint, in the PM’s warnings that terrorists hate our way of life and despise our values, spurious, dangerous, notions that probably also inspire our new citizenship test and oath of allegiance if we allowed a peep.

At the end of the G20, however, the ABC is reduced to applauding our PM for having hitched a ride in French President Macron’s car, a brilliant move which is seen as endorsing the incredible submarine deal with DCNS in which we are contracting to spend $50 billion on a completely untried design on a concept of retro-fitting nuclear power plants that experts doubt is even possible. All for a firm that won’t keep its promise of local work.

Our media gives us the score on the G20. Sky says it ends “divided” on climate and free trade. What Sky means is that all delegates agreed except Donald Trump, a president so challenged, intellectually and morally that he cannot comprehend the crisis of global warming, let alone the imperative take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Not that he’s alone. Back at home while the cat’s away, Mouseketeer Abbott is leading his insurrection. Like Trump, he doesn’t get climate change either.

In the end, the truth is more prosaic. The US under Trump has failed to exercise global leadership on climate and trade. The world enters uncharted territory with China and Germany and Russia all keen to muscle in on the US act. Yet as Turnbull notes, the US has a role from which it is impossible to abdicate, given its size and power.

The G20 cheer squad for international capitalism has met yet again to further its own interests, in a Hamburg crystal palace high above the masses below.

Deaf to all entreaties, heedless of the suffering caused by their Neoliberal nostrums, their austerity budgeting, tax cuts for the rich and trickle down economics, the G20 represents an abdication of humanity which the unassailable optimist, Beethoven, inspired by the liberty equality and fraternity of The French revolution would be sorely troubled by.

Abbott is determined to destroy Turnbull

“It’s not that easy being green …” sings Kermit, the sage of Sesame Street, a truth NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon helps her party revisit in a wild week of backstabbing, slagging, poodle-poking and character assassination as our federal MPs let it all hang out in the bare-knuckle, free for all stoush that is our nation’s endless quest for effective, decorous and representative political leadership.

“When it comes to political white-anting, Lee is the Greens’ version of Tony Abbott,” says Bob Brown. Ouch.

In January, he bagged Rhiannon’s moves to challenge the party’s direction under Richard Di Natale’s leadership.

Rhiannon wants her mob to follow Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and stress its left-wing policies on economic redistribution.  She leads a debate between her “Eastern Bloc” on the party’s left and the more conservative environmentalists or “Tree Tories” who currently suck up to an anti-greenie government.

It’s a tough gig. Pilloried by MSM for her socialist parents, profiled by ASIO as a subversive revolutionary and attacked as a Leninist-Stalinist by News Corp’s Gerard Henderson – who also falsely accused her of being a communist, Rhiannon was asked by Bob Brown to quit the senate last July – just a month after being elected.

In response, the senator accuses her former leader of resenting that NSW preselected candidates are not his preferred nominees. Yet, in an open season of sniping and undermining, she is accused of betrayal. Brown says the rules provide for her to be expelled from the Greens’ Party Room and even to lose her party membership.

A case is building against her. Last week, all nine of her federal colleagues accused Rhiannon of undermining them over school funding negotiations after she distributed a leaflet in Sydney’s inner west against the deal.

The NSW Greens see Gonski 2:0 as a con. It’s neither needs-based nor sector blind. In fact, it guarantees 80 % of federal funds to the wealthy, private system. It has been imposed without state or public school consultation.

Rhiannon says the pamphlet is a local initiative. She has done nothing wrong. Her protests will, doubtless, come to little but they do make her a top scapegoat. Many teachers will see NSW as the only Greens to get it right.

Beneath all the fuss and alongside the left and right divisions, a grassroots party controlled by members struggles against the power imposed by few at the top in what John Passant calls a battle for the soul of The Greens.

An ugly public brawl ensues. Bugger consensus politics. Di Natale generously tells the Left Renewal faction their anti-capitalist rhetoric is ridiculous and that they should join another party. Critics accuse Di Natale of shaping The Greens into a potential coalition partner for the Liberals; point to his record of support for Coalition legislation.

Rhiannon is disappointed in Richard’s leadership, she tells Barrie Cassidy, on ABC Insiders, Sunday. Rather than explore the issue, Cassidy is keen to seek more details of the conflict but, like Kermit, the senator is philosophical.

“Sometimes democracy is messy”, says Rhiannon. She wins this week’s Golden Litotes for understatement of the week. Her thought is echoed and debased by Tony Abbott who proposes streamlining democracy to fix Senate obstructionism and resolve deadlock through a joint sitting of both houses to pass deadlocked bills.

Australia “increasingly resembles Italy”, facing chronic changes of PM and an inability to get things done, the MP whose career in and out of The Lodge is a byword for instability and policy paralysis Abbott explained straight-faced to a South Australian Young Liberals Federal Convention in Adelaide in February.  

Or the UK. The young Libs may have lost a little sparkle as results filtered in at their UK Election champagne breakfast 9 June. Thank God guest speaker, nuclear lobbyist Haydon Manning was on hand to liven things up.  

Manning is all too happy to help. Our nation’s politics is vastly enriched by an ever-growing army of lobbyists, think-tankers, bold ideas-men and women and former leaders who fearlessly shirtfront the onion of democracy.  

The Centre for Independent Studies, for example, helped inspire Tony Abbott to cut the last two years of Gonski – for public schools, while continuing to fund the private system, a favouring of privilege continued in Gonski 2.0. Research Fellow Simon Cowan, one of its policy wonks, whipped up a nifty monograph on nuclear subs, too.

Then there’s “green lawfare”. An IPA and mining industry campaign against environmental groups raged under Abbott. It continues under Turnbull. What constitutes an “environmental organisation” will be redefined to strip such groups of their charitable status and is an “attack on Australian democracy”, warn legal experts.

The IPA would like to see environmental groups denied all government funding, a position they articulated in 2011. Their services to tidying up democracy, Abbott-style include selling the federal government the idea of imposing restrictions on advocacy, such as gag clauses and threats to curtail groups’ advocacy activities.

Emily Howie, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre warns:

“A thriving democracy needs an informed public debate with a range of voices. However, governments are making it clear to charities that work with families and communities doing it tough, that if they speak out about government policy, their ongoing funding will be put in jeopardy.”

Apart from the threat to free speech, the ban on advocacy adds another dimension; another layer of urgency to the Greens’ current existential struggle to maintain its own traditional social and environmental advocacy.

Greens’ harakiri or ritual disembowelment is just a warm-up act, however, to the hype, the trash-talk and the stare-downs of the World Championship Wrestling theatrics of our federal MPs who eye-gouge, hair pull and scissor-kick viciously in a desperate, no-holds-barred, last-ditch bid to upstage each other. Or worse.

Exterminate. Exterminate. Top of the bill is Dalek Abbott, a self-promoting attention-seeker and professional wrecker, programmed to destroy his nemesis Malcolm Turnbull in a fit of pathological hatred and payback.

A one-man opposition party, a self-described “whirling dervisher”, Abbo busts a gut this week to bag his nemesis Malcolm Turnbull, even if he has to destroy the Liberal Party in the process. He pulls out all the stops.

It’s a multi-faceted act. Upstage so far he’s in danger of being electrocuted by the footlights, Abbott promises to build new coal-fired power stations and freeze migration. A true-blue Rinehart Cowboy, he will Make Australia Work again by opening more mines, cutting government spending and scrapping his own renewable energy target. Best of all he dog whistles up our safety. No more known jihadists will run loose in our streets.

Wait. There’s more. Nuclear submarines. Raising the nation’s awareness of relevance deprivation disorder, wacky weirdo Abbott easily wins our public service award. His brave stand-up comic routine, Permission to Lower the Scope is fittingly staged by his loyal supporters at the Centre for Independent Studies, Thursday, in its leak-proof Sydney think tank. Tony goes off like a frog in a sock. The CIS love him. How he adds to the national conversation.

Tony’s all for nuclear submarines, all week, although Defence Minister, Marise Payne is unconvinced. She’s right.  Abbott had ample time to declare himself a fan of floating reactors well before his prime ministership sank before the end of its maiden voyage. He just wants to scuttle Turnbull. Party-pooper Payne fires a salvo across his bows.

“We don’t have a civil nuclear industry, we don’t have the personnel or the experience or infrastructure, we don’t have the training facilities or regulatory systems that you would need to design to operate to construct a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines,” she says.

Apart from that, Tony, you know all this. You made the call. Remember. When you were briefly PM. Ouch again.

“What we are in fact doing is delivering the plan to acquire the plan that was set out and agreed by Tony Abbott and his team in 2015,” she says. It’s a forlorn appeal to a former PM who put the flip into flip flop commitment, the MP who warned Kerry O’Brien that he often lied – “gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks”

For The Guardian’s Jason Wilson, who builds a case that Abbott is a loose unit, “This was not only a blunder, but a revelation of the kind of confessional impulse that needs a national stage. After a while, you start to feel like a therapist, sitting in silence while Abbott regales us with his symptoms.”

In fact, as PM, Abbott ignored a sub submission from Australia’s peak defence industry group in May 2015. Australian Industry Group Defence Council chairman Chris Jenkins and Australian chief of French Industry giant Thales, told him to reconsider a nuclear option for replacing the ageing Collins class subs. It remains a great pitch.

No need to worry about having no local nuclear plant. New subs are so efficient they almost never require maintenance. No need to build if you don’t want to. Just lease a few of the bastards off the yanks. Trained crew? These babies practically steer themselves. What could possibly go wrong?

Now, torn by regret, lyrically, ever the tragic ham, Abbott cries. “Not more robustly challenging the nuclear no-go mindset is probably the biggest regret I have from my time as PM.” It’s pure, dramatic, poetry in a performance guaranteed to heighten anyone’s sense of the cruel suffering inflicted on those deprived of relevance.

His biggest regret? Even by Abbott’s yardstick, it’s an utterly incredible claim. But the CIS can’t get enough of him.

A powerful right wing lobby group which styles itself an Australian Libertarian think tank, the CIS is a big wheel in the oxymoron of Australian conservative politics. Tony’s no Tory; more of a radical ratbag with a grab bag of soundbite ideas. Some are socialist. Take state coal power. Yet his attention-seeking is a win-win for both parties.

Like the IPA, which set most of the Abbott government’s agenda, the CIS also keeps its donors’ names secret but it will get great mileage out of publicising the former PM’s nuclear conversion as evidence of its capacity to influence even those of our political class, like Trump, who are notoriously difficult to brief in anything but sketch outlines.   

In return, Abbott is able to strut his stuff, this week, in front of both IPA and CIS, Australia’s most conservative and influential think tanks. The exposure can do his campaign no harm. A successful spill is impossible, he has only a handful of backers, but his regular sniping and undermining helps Turnbull toward the magic 30 dud News Polls.

Showing off his capacity as a quick nuclear study is a bonus for Abbott. His game plan is to highlight Turnbull’s not so secret plan to convert to nuclear its diesel submarines from French builder DCNS, despite no conversion ever having been done. The hulls are shaped differently. Some experts doubt it can be done.

The first DCNS Shortfin Barracuda submarine is not scheduled until the 2030s. Whilst the late delivery gives plenty of time to work out a solution to the retrofitted nuclear propulsion problem, it also means that the Collins subs will have to remain in service until the 2040s, becoming less safe as they age and requiring expensive refits.

Technical issues alone mean the whole project is a huge blunder, according to Jon Stanford  a director of Insight Economics and past head of the Industries Division in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

“If you asked someone to devise a new submarine program with the highest risk factors at every stage, you could not have done a much better job. It will almost certainly end in tears and possibly a catastrophe,” a senior defence official told The Daily Telegraph in September last year.

Yet with a commitment to a drawing – “the development of a detailed design” –  only at this stage, it is not too late to change course and Abbott knows this. He is also counting on causing maximum embarrassment to his PM.

Some unkind souls also interpret Abbott’s nuclear submarine proposal as revenge on Christopher Pyne, who, in a late night session at The Star Casino’s Cherry Bar has confirmed what the conservatives have always believed is Malcolm’s secret plan to turn the Liberal Party to the left. It’s all about legalising same-sex marriage. And more.

Marriage equality has become the proxy for the struggle in the Liberal Party between right and left. It also acts to focus the fear and rage of those Liberals who instinctively retreat from change; those whose lack of adaptive capacity leaves them open to a rampant paranoia that the modern world is a leftist plot against them.

Pyne’s indiscreet comments assuring gay marriage supporters of a victory sooner than later are calculated to offend and enrage those conservatives who remain resolutely opposed to change and suspicious of Turnbull.

It also provides Abbott with a receptive host for his wormholes as he continues his white-anting of Turnbull.

Posing as a conservative, he’s happy to coin a new breed of Liberal to make it clear that he’s making up a deficit in the current government. Not only is he self-sacrificing, he’s duty bound to continue indefinitely.

“I’m in no hurry to leave public life because we need strong Liberal conservative voices now, more than ever.”

For his part, Turnbull makes it clear that he is not going to hang around. Sunday he announces that he will leave parliament should he no longer be PM.

Some claim that Abbott’s strategy has all gone awry because his week of Turnbull-bashing has not led to a conservative uprising. If anything he’s been met with a chorus of put downs from those on the right.

Peter Dutton is wheeled out to claim “the Liberal Party operates at its optimum when we do have a broad church, when we do have people across the spectrum”, and that it was good to have a diversity of views in cabinet because “you have a more rounded discussion” and better decisions as a result.

Better decisions? Turnbull takes to listing his government’s achievements on social media. It’s a thin list which includes the Gonski 2.0 makeover boosted as a such as a new plan for education funding and contentious visa reforms. “Plans for an intervention on gas exports” are counted as achievements. And of course there is that magic faraway tree of action on a second Sydney airport.

Dutton’s defence and Turnbull’s list are as unconvincing their own way as Abbott’s manifesto, a big bucket-list gig routine featuring a good half-dozen bad ideas, or flip-flops and snappy, empty platitudes and hollow slogans.

Other coalition members during the week do their best to bring the rogue to heel. Some point out his contradictions. His advocacy of things he never stood for before. None will succeed. The ultimate test of his case against Turnbull’s ineffectual and indecisive leadership lies in what he can get away with. He’s made it clear this week that he will continue as long as it takes to exact his revenge on the man who deposed him.

Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, tells Abbott he can’t reinvent the past. It’s a futile reproach. As a former follower of BA Santamaria, Wilson points out, Abbott is necessarily committed to living and thinking totally against the grain of the present, and dreaming of an impossible restoration of the past.

 

Corks pop over Gonski 2.0 con but Turnbull government has nothing to celebrate.

Corks pop and peals of laughter ring out over the disco beat of a ghetto-blaster cranking out a Donna Summer number from Liberal offices deep inside Parliament House, safe from the world outside and Canberra’s winter frost.

She works hard for the money, MPs sing along with Donna.  It’s 2:00am Friday before MPs can celebrate a pay rise, a tax cut and a six week break. Overseas holidays, aka tax-deductible study tours, in warmer climes beckon.

All raise a glass to Remuneration Tribunal members, John Conche, Ewen Crouch and Heather Zampatti, for their fair decision to grant federal parliamentarians and senior public servants a 2% pay rise. Years of experience as company directors of banks and investment houses help John, Ewen and Heather achieve arms-length objectivity.

The rise coincides with government’s decision to scrap the deficit levy even though the deficit is still $30 billion. Selflessly, it eases the burden on our highest income earners and lowers the top marginal tax rate to 47 per cent.

Yet many ordinary hard-working Australians will lose their recent minimum weekly wage rise of $22.20, a rise deplored as devastating by the Australian Retailers Association, negated by the loss of penalty rates from 1 July.

Or will they? Our rapidly expanding precariat and those in the trendy serfdom of the gig economy, or a quarter of our workforce face pay cuts of up to $63 for working a public holiday after July 1. Some pin their hopes on gorgeous George Christensen, who even promises fabulous mining jobs in his quest to do something for them.

All talk and no walk, sneers Labor. Coal mining employs 0.5% of the nation’s workforce. Yet a workers’ champion is born as Deadly Duterte fan-boy George crosses the floor to support Labor’s bill to reverse penalty rate cuts.

The bill is lost 73-72, Tuesday but George is hot to trot. Or walk again. His breach of party discipline further wounds a PM so agile and innovative it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll stand for next. Low emission coal-fired power?

The electorate has written him off. Essential Research shows Labor continues its steady lead 52:48. Newspoll is a week late but still shows 53:47 to Labor. One Nation is up a point despite adverse press recently.

Despite his flip-floppery and Morrison’s budget lunge to the sensible centre provoking screams of Labor-lite from the lunatic right and doing more harm than good, our Mal for all seasons has 14 consecutive bad Newspolls to prove his unpopularity. Although he deposed Abbott after 30 bad polls, he now says it’s no benchmark.

Paul Bongiorno quotes polling analyst Andrew Catsaras says a close look at the poll shows that “nothing is happening here”. Gonski 2.0 won’t help and Finkel is a resounding tinkle. Mal’s now as unpopular as Bill Shorten.

Yet it’s not all bad at the top. While Australians’ average income is $80,000, our PM’s pay will increase from $517,504 to $527,852. Barnaby “Bat-poo” Joyce pockets $416,191. Luckily we’ve saved $18 billion on schools.

Everyone’s toasting Gonski 2.0. It’s a brilliant pea and thimble trick to cheat millions of ordinary hard-working Australians, as, Mal’s mob so fulsomely flatters its victims, of their birthright. Yet it’s been sold not only as an increase in funding but a brave new system which is “sector blind and needs-based”. Spin? Marketing genius.

Bugger equal access to education for everyone. Gonski 2.0 subsidises the rich and perpetuates privilege. It locks in federal funding for private schools while poorer states are left to struggle to find the money for public schools.

It’s radical. Epoch-making. For the first time ever, private schools will be guaranteed eighty per cent of federal funding. States and Territories will get twenty. States can find their own money for public schools, with what’s left over from funding hospitals and any other small change they can find down the back of the federation sofa.

Or they can bugger off. The Coalition’s ultimatum to the states plumbs new depths in state-commonwealth relations, trashes Malcolm Turnbull’s 2015 promise:

“ There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls. We need to be truly consultative with colleagues, members of parliament, senators and the wider public.’

Consult? States were presented with a fait accompli. Education Minister, Simon “Bolivar” Birmingham, refused, moreover, to enter into long-term consultations with States on future arrangements. Bugger federalism. States were also excluded from appearing before the Senate inquiry hearing on Gonski 2.0.

In a final tour de force, Birmingham turned to coercion. He threatened to cut funding to public schools if Gonski 2.0 were not passed by the Senate. Only public schools would suffer in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. All private schools would have their funding guaranteed.

Birmo’s bullying evokes Howard’s special deal in 2000 which guaranteed private schools their Gonski 1.0 funding. Funds continued after Tony Abbott cut public sector funding in 2014 two years before the end of the agreement.

Elite winners such as Loreto Kirribilli, Brigidine St Ives and St Aloysius’ College in Milsons Point received more than $5 million a year over the Gonski amount because of Howard’s funding guarantee; safeguarding privilege.

It’s no way to build a new national funding system, however loudly the private school claque may applaud.

Gonski is “the best special deal that private schools have ever had”, writes Save our Schools’ Trevor Cobbold, a former Productivity Commission economist.  But such schools have ridden a winner since 1964 when their pork-barrelling potential was exploited. MPs saw schools as a wonderful vehicle in vote-buying and opened the public purse, ending a century of no support.

Since 1964, the private funding juggernaut has continued apace. We are avidly recreating the colonial system of the 1850s; replacing free and secular education with a system that embeds inequity and division.  Fee barrier aside, private schools are exempt from discrimination legislation and can select students as they wish.

There is no evidence whatsoever that private schools offer higher education standards. Research does show that once you take their parents’ privileged backgrounds into account, students fare no better in the private system.

“We allow people to opt out of a government service and then send us a bill for obtaining the same service from a private provider. We are happy to buy a car for the chap who finds public transport distasteful,” notes Cobbold.

The private system enjoys huge subsidies. Their latest windfall boosts the $12 billion that our proudly “pragmatic” neoliberal government blithely currently lavishes on them. Private schools, in essence private businesses, receive from the federal treasury more than nine times the combined annual budget of SBS and the ABC.

Needs based? Or greed, with at least a whiff of droit du seigneur or good old-fashioned ruling-class entitlement?

Lauriston Girls’ School, for example, with annual fees of $25,000, will get an increase from Gonski 2.0 of $4093 per student over 10 years, while the public school in Tennant Creek, with three-quarters of its students in the lowest quartile of disadvantage, must make do with a paltry $1300 a student over the same decade.

Tanya Plibersek cites , Geelong Grammar, with 70 per cent of its students in the top quartile of advantage, will get an increase of $2309 while Wanguri Primary School in the NT, with a quarter of its student body from Indigenous families, will surely struggle to get by with a mere $565.

And Birmingham’s making noises about not “throwing money” at the issue; expecting more bang for those bucks.

Even worse, the federal contribution is capped. Under-funding is, therefore, assured given that few states ever meet the 80% schools need. In 2016, for example, NSW found 71%, 66% in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, 72%  and 67% in the Northern Territory.

Prospects are even bleaker for Tasmania, which has the largest proportion of low socio-economic students in Australia and where 85% attend public schools. Its Labor Government slashed state funding for public schools between 2009-10 and 2013-14 while the Liberals cut further in 2014-15.

Public school funding did increase slightly overall, because of increased Commonwealth funding but this was outstripped by a massive, five-fold increase in government funding of private schools. It can only get worse.

Unlike Gonski 1.0, there is no incentive for states to increase or maintain their level of funding in order to qualify for federal funds. If anything, under-funding is almost guaranteed.

State and Territory governments already punish public schools by cutting funding by $732, or 6.6%, on average, per student, while increasing funding for private schools by $161 per student, or 6.9%, according to records from 2009-10 and 2014-15, the last five years for which official figures are available.

The bill, which passes the lower house around 2:00am is a wonderful victory for spin and wedge politics. Not only is Gonski 2.0 “the most significant reform to school education in Australia’s history” says another former failed Education Minister, Christopher porkie-Pyne.

The $50 billion dollar MP maintains his seat of Sturt in SA by a dodgy pork-barrel submarine-building contract yet he paints Labor’s Gonski opposition as petty politicking.

Politicking? In 2014 Pyne erased all mention of Gonski from every government website including reference to the original 2011 report. Amazingly, all were re-instated early last month, as Gonski became a sales pitch.

“Transparent, right and fair,” gurgles Turnbull mimicking Tony Abbott, a vacuous three word slogan personified. All hope of any rational, national conversation is torpedoed by MPs whose speech blends the language of advertising with the front bar inanities, platitudes and half-stewed certitudes of some imaginary country pub.

Our brave new political discourse echoes tabloids and shock-jocks to weave a “shallow, facile and ill-informed” world, as Jeremy Corbyn notes. Emotions are massaged as exponents swap headlines and reductive bumper sticker slogans in a caricature of debate. When two-dimensional superficiality triumphs; issues wither and die.

Advertising and propaganda techniques impoverish our “national conversation” about education funding. Slogans such as “needs-based” or “sector-blind” remain unexamined; unexplained. Incessant repetition is provided instead. Gonski 2.0 is just another chance to dumb-down issues, whip up fear and to patronise constituents.

“It will end decades of arguments about the school funding wars,” breakfast TV celebrity, near-sighted Liberal hack, former Education Minister, Christopher Pyne periscopes on Nine. Can Mr Magoo not see that Labor has already declared war? It will fight Gonski 2.0 all the way until the next election; restore every dollar cut.

Opposition to Gonski 2.0 will be wide and enduring. Turnbull’s government will face stiff opposition from not only from supporters of systemic Catholic schools but from a wide group of others dedicated to educational equality.

Teachers, in particular, will not take kindly to what is already seen as an attack on their profession in another part of Gonski 2.0 that has received no real public discussion and been through no real consultation process.

Little comment has followed Birmingham’s plan to include with Gonski 2.0  NAPLAN tests for every year level; annual literacy and numeracy reporting requirements; performance pay for teachers (including student results); a year 1 phonics test; contracts and performance pay for principals; and more Independent Public Schools. These arbitrarily imposed conditions  must be met to access any funding. The implication is teachers are slack.

The politics of Gonski 2.0 is also part of a rapid decline in the prosperity of ordinary Australians.  Workers’ share of GDP has plummeted since 1975. Then, two-thirds of our GDP was in wages; in 2014 it was just 53%. The gap between rich and poor is accelerating. The richest 1% of Australians now own 22% of the nation’s total wealth.

As the asset ownership gap widens, the rich, of course, have increasing influence. Private school associations enthusiastically endorse the coalition’s new funding model. Yet no-one can explain how it was decided that they should receive 80% of federal funds. Part of the Coalition’s spin on transparency.

Yet one the most remarkable – and distressing features of the Gonski 2.0 con is the success of government spin.

The Coalition has been assisted in its Gonski confidence trick with the support of a compliant media. Its win is paralleled in the other big issue of the week, the flogging of the Finkel Report, a campaign which began with the demonising of renewables after the SA blackout, a cause fearlessly championed by ABC’s Chris Uhlmann.

An Important Announcement on Energy Tuesday is a Gilbertian performance. Coal school quality. On TV everywhere, Matt Canavan, Josh Frydenberg and Malcolm Fraser perform Three Little maids of School Are We.

No-one mentions that Finkel is dead in the water. Instead, Turnbull has a thought bubble:

“It would be good if we had a state-of-the-art clean coal power station in Australia,” Turnbull tells a media conference in Canberra. We could have a reverse auction. (Easy to rig in coal’s favour.) Technology neutral.  Someone asks what technologies could provide “continuous” and “synchronous” power.

Turnbull can talk only of “clean coal”, gas and hydro. Gas, he notes, however, in an aside, would be too expensive.

Solar and wind with battery storage do not rate a mention. Nor do other technologies. No-one recalls that he had the clean coal bug when he was Environment Minister in 2007. Or expects him to account for the $1bn spent on it.

“We are seeing a real change in the nature of the energy market … with more variable sources of energy, more distributed sources,” the PM waffles off somewhere on his own evasive wave-length.

The April announcement that Australia would intervene in the gas market, something catchily entitled” imposing an Australian domestic gas security mechanism” is announced again. It was to have started 1 July but it has been postponed to allow consultations with the sector. It is “immediate action to put downward pressure on prices” which will probably happen next year, if it happens at all.

Best of all, the “limited merits review” which was to put downward pressure on electricity prices is put off to 2019.

The cave in to coal precedes a party room meeting to approve all of Finkel except his main point, the adoption of a Clean Energy Target. No policy. The media show reassures everyone that clean new coal is in there with a chance.

Coalition Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel continues his flawless political performance mid-week as he delivers a thoroughly dull and boring account of his report to the National Press Club. A highlight is an aside when he recalls a quotation from Giuseppe Di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, a text he read to help one of his children with their HSC.

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”. It’s an inspiring quote about adaptation, especially if you see yourself as an enlightened autocrat. Job’s done for Finkel who makes it clear that the ball is in the government’s Dark Age court. There change must contend with the likes of Barnaby Joyce.

A week ago, proudly airing his sublime ignorance on national television, the Deputy PM tells Insiders host Barrie Cassidy:

“I flew in this morning Barrie, it was a beautiful day, not a puff of wind and if memory serves me correct, it was dark last night, so you switched off your coal-fired power stations, how do you switch on the lights?” he said, before adding:  “So it’s just, we’re living in a different church to reality.”

Living very much in a different church is a Coalition which is on target to revise the CET to accept coal-fired power stations. Naturally they will be mythical High Efficiency Low Emission and clean coal even if they will take five to seven years to build. Of course they are expensive. But funds can then be provided at low-interest from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Emissions? Don’t you worry about that. Paris? Non-binding.

The week ends, we are told, with Coalition MPs going away to have a think about a Clean Energy Target after a Finkel Review which is destined to be no more that just another piece of theatre to avoid commitment to clean energy as a means to curb carbon emissions and as a cheap, economic and reliable alternative to coal. If, after four years, the party has been unable to agree on energy or climate, however, six weeks’ break is useless.

Gonski 2.0 reveals a high-handed government prepared to ride rough-shod over the states to impose a funding system which is not needs-based and certainly not sector-blind but one which will only entrench privilege and perpetuate inequality. In media management it has been a huge success and it will save $18 billions on Labor’s model but, in its style and in its substance, it can only leave a poorer and more divided nation.

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.

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