By Dr George Venturini
Since 2013 Australia has been governed by a Coalition of ‘Liberals’ and ‘National’ parties. The Hon. Tony Abbott M.P. was Prime Minister from 18 September 2013 to 15 September 2015. He was succeeded by the Hon. Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, Prime Minister from 15 September 2015 to 24 August 2018. Since that day the Prime Minister has been the Hon. Scott Morrison.
They make up the ATM government.
Quite a lot has been written in this essay about the government of Mr. Abbott and more the reader will find in a serialised contribution in fifty parts to Australian Independent Media Network by the title, The facets of Australian fascism: the Abbott Government experiment, which began on 2 June 2016. (‘The facets of Australian fascism: the Abbott Government experiment,’ theaimn.com, 2 June 2016).
The ATM phase of Australian politics which began with Abbott will be remembered for the profoundness of his three-word slogan: “Climate change = crap”.
The successor, Malcolm Turnbull, was always in politics, or rather his own type of politics.
Having graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws, he went to the Brasenose College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a Bachelor of Civil Law. For over two decades prior to entering politics, he worked as a journalist, lawyer, merchant banker, and venture capitalist. He made loadsamoney. On the side, he chaired the Australian Republican Movement from 1993 to 2000, and was one of the leaders of the unsuccessful ‘Yes’ campaign in the 1999 republic referendum. He was first elected to the Australian House of Representatives for the Division of Wentworth in New South Wales at the 2004 federal election, and was Minister for the Environment and Water from January 2007 until December 2007.
After coming second in the 2007 leadership election, Turnbull won the leadership of the Liberal Party in September 2008 and became Leader of the Opposition. However, his support of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme proposed by the Rudd Government in December 2009 led to a leadership challenge by Tony Abbott, who defeated Turnbull by a single vote. They became enemy for life. Turnbull has been accustomed to ‘have his way’, and sufficiently fortunate in that. Though initially planning to leave politics after the narrowest of defeats, Turnbull chose to stay and was later appointed Minister for Communications in the Abbott Government following the 2013 federal election.
Citing consistently poor opinion polling for the government, Turnbull resigned from the Cabinet on 14 September 2015 and challenged Abbott, reclaiming the leadership of the Liberal Party by ten votes. He was sworn in as Prime Minister of Australia the following day.
Once in power he abandoned any political principle which had once been his ticket to ride, concerned only about the appearance of leadership. As Mike Carlton would write: “He [became] the mayor of a Potemkin village. Behind the facade there is nothing. His impulses are Trump-lite: a reverence for the banks and the big end of town; a blind belief in neoliberal, trickle-down economics even as it is daily more discredited; a disdain for the disabled and disadvantaged, immigrants and refugees – anyone who does not fit the Darwinian conservative matrix. He has evidently abandoned any attempt to rein back the quasi-fascist ambitions of Benito [Dutton M.P., the former walloper who would become his Νέμεση –Nemesis] and his furious construction of a security superstate to monitor us all.
Turnbull’s reaction to Nine Entertainment’s takeover of Fairfax Media was instructive. “To be frank, I welcome the announcement,” he said. “I think bringing them together will strengthen both of them.” No sliver of doubt, then, that this further concentration of media ownership might not be for the public good. Trumpist again, all that mattered was the deal.” (‘Fairfax and Turnbull’s Potemkin village’, The Saturday Paper, 4 August 2018).
This was written less than three weeks from the final defeat in a coup de theatre.
There is a fairly diffused view that the styles of Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull may vary, but on many important issues the substance is similar.
Neither is a businessperson in the traditional sense. Donald Trump is a real estate speculator and Malcolm Turnbull is an investment banker.
John Menadue early perceived the similarities of these two ‘great men of destiny’. Barely a week before Turnbull’s demise, this is what he wrote: “On climate change, they now have very similar views. Despite what we thought were Malcolm Turnbull’s views on climate change he has turned out to be very flexible. He is now joined at the hip with Donald Trump as a climate sceptic. Both of them are committed to underwriting and even subsidising coal-powered electricity generation. By failing to address climate change they are both imperilling our planet. It is as serious as that.
Both Turnbull and Trump are committed to the ‘trickle down’ approach of large corporate tax reductions that it is claimed will promote jobs and growth.”
And there is more:
“Both Trump and Turnbull also believe that tax cuts should favour wealthy individual taxpayers despite all the global signs that it is bad for the economy and adds to inequality. Turnbull’s dismantling of [Australia’s] progressive tax system will add to inequality. People who live in harbour side mansions or grandiose hotel complexes just don’t get it.
Donald Trump both preaches and practices protection for industry as shown in his tariff increases. Malcolm Turnbull preaches free trade but in practice, he is also protectionist. As a result of his government’s policies we now have a 300% rate of protection for our ship-building industry in South Australia, a $12b annual subsidy for Private Health Insurance and an effective ban on imports of secondhand cars.
Both Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump go out of their way to accommodate influential media companies. Donald Trump has very close relations with Fox News in the US. It is his media base. In Australia the Channel 9 takeover of Fairfax could not have occurred if the Turnbull government had not removed the restrictions on cross-media ownership laws last year. In defending these changes in the law in support of the Channel 9 takeover, Malcolm Turnbull told us ‘all the media companies strongly support these [new] laws’. This is no surprise. Turnbull used to work for Channel 9. Turnbull mimics Trump in wanting to oblige particular media and especially the Murdoch media.
Donald Trump rails against ‘false media’. Malcolm Turnbull does it differently. He attempts to intimidate the ABC and cut its funding to bring it into line.
Donald Trump is direct and racist in attacking Muslims, refugees and Mexicans coming across the border. Malcolm Turnbull is more careful but his intent is the same. Asked about ‘African gangs’ in Melbourne, Malcolm Turnbull gave us the typical dog-whistling approach. He said ‘Well I’ve heard about [these gangs] from people in Melbourne… Well, I’ve heard it. I’ve heard people, colleagues from Melbourne say that there is real anxiety about crime in Melbourne. It is a real issue.’ Donald Trump would have put it more directly, but the result is the same. Both appeal to racism.
On foreign policy and defence issues, Malcolm Turnbull has quite deliberately linked himself and his government to Trump policies.” (J. Menadue, ‘Prime Minister Trumpbull,’ johnmenadue.com, 17 August 2018).
Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump have a lot in common. The language may be different but the substance is very similar.
As Greg Jericho acutely noted, “He may not be as vulgar as Trump but Turnbull uses the same playbook.” On more than one occasion Turnbull showed that he was willing to appeal to the lowest common denominator. In the end there is only one rule which counts: if business says something is what is needed, when then that is what is provided, and that is how it is justified. (‘He may not be as vulgar as Trump but Turnbull uses the same playbook,’ The Guardian, 29 July 2018).
Their first encounter confirms such a view.
Malcolm Turnbull met Donald Trump for the first time on 28 January 2017, over the telephone. A record of their conversation was to be kept confidential, presumably; and certainly Turnbull might have thought so, considering the way he spoke. But The Washington Post came in possession of the transcript and published it in its entirety. It does not make for good reading about a person with the masque of Turnbull.
After the customary profession of a vassal’s loyalty, Turnbull is heard saying: “I believe you and I have similar background”, after which Trump grabs the opportunity: “This is exactly right.”
Well, here was the man born with a sense of predestination to greatness, and a vaulting ambition to go with it, intelligent, selectively urbane and cultivated, and once Rhodes Scholar at Brasenose College, Oxford ‘mixing’ with a person of the character of Trump. Books have been written on the subject of Trump’s past history.
For the present purpose, the final judgement of the Australian National University Chancellor Professor the Hon. Gareth Evans A.C., Q.C. makes essential quoting, and with unconditional approval: “[Trump is] manifestly the most ill-informed, under-prepared, ethically-challenged and psychologically ill-equipped President in US history. Personally driven by instinct and impulse, unhampered by knowledge or judgment, he has led an administration acting so far on the basis of postures rather than policies. While the commentariat is beginning to find some comforting early signs that the adults are regaining charge of foreign policy, anyone betting on this administration delivering consistent, coherent, constructive and decent outcomes over the next four years is making a very big gamble indeed.” (‘Speech: ANU Chancellor Professor Gareth Evans explains Australia’s key foreign policy themes,’ National Press Club, Canberra, 13 April 2017).
It is quite possible that Turnbull has a much similar view of the world as Donald Trump’s – a raw opportunity for money to gain power.
So, Turnbull proceeded to say this much of the detainees at Manus Island and Nauru to such unhinged orange creepoid: “… none of these people are from the conflict zone. They are basically economic refugees from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. That is the vast bulk of them. They have been under supervision for over three years and we know exactly everything about them.” [Emphasis added]
Turnbull was trying to have Trump honour President Obama’s agreement to take some 1,250 of the detainees.
And to persuade Trump, and speaking at the same level, Turnbull later said: “ … I can say to you, there is nothing more important in business or politics than a deal is a deal. Look, you and I have a lot of mutual friends.”
Later on during the conversation Turnbull confirmed: “These guys are … economic refugees.” [Emphasis added]
This happens not to be true; and the fact that it was said a few minutes before would not make it true now. A little over two years after this conversation took place, on 19 February 2019 the S.B.S. News service at 18:30 published the figures, obtained from the Australian Government – it seems. On Manus Island there were 584 detainees, of whom 456 are U.N.H.C.R. certified refugees; 121 are persons whose claim has been rejected; and 7 are ‘under protection’- whatever that means. And on Nauru there were 431 detainees, of whom 330 are U.N.H.C.R. certified refugees; 26 are persons whose claim has been rejected; and 75 whose claim is yet to be assessed. Probably most of the 456 + 330 certified refugees have ‘lived’ in those squalid places for up to five years.
Then came the pièce de résistance. Turnbull abandoned himself to this: “I am a highly transactional businessman like you and I know the deal has to work for both sides.”
It sounds something like: “I am as good as you, mate.” (‘Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull’s phone call: The full transcript,’ abc.net.au, 10 January 2018).
Continued Saturday – Comedy without art (part 12)
Previous instalment – Comedy without art (part 10)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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