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Despite win-spin, Turnbull government ends week in chaos and contempt for the people

By David Tyler

“A bunch of bong-sniffing, dole-bludging, moss-munching, glue-guzzling, K-Mart Castros are again vandalising Parliament. And stopping other opinions being heard”.

Queensland LNP senator and PM’s Assistant Minister, James McGrath, sneers at twenty members of the Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance who disrupt Question Time mid-week with a plea to end the punitive detention of the 1300 innocent men women and children held on Manus and Nauru. “Close the bloody camps now,” they urge. Even worse, WACA is back next day abseiling down the building with a banner; putting red dye in the water feature.

For a moment, the government is flummoxed; shocked to hear the people they represent speak up, out of turn in parliament. Yet no-one heeds the message. MSM turns not to the protesters’ concerns but how best to keep the people out the people’s house. Democracy is under attack, squawk Shorten and Turnbull in unison. Only The Greens applaud the protesters. But nothing happens. To those suffering the torture of indefinite detention in the open air rape camp on Nauru and on Manus, the government’s Christmas present is the cruel hoax of false expectation of resettlement in the US, a prospect which recedes daily in the wake of news of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team opposition.

Turnbull is typically conflicted. Earlier, he seemed cautious about a proposed $60 million security upgrade to parliament house which includes 2.5 metre high barriers. “We have always got to make sure the people’s house … is as open and accessible as it can be and we try to get the right balance there” says the leader of a government whose secrets and lies over Manus and Nauru include making government operations off-limits to journalists and criminalising whistle-blowers.

Turnbull’s Australian people are free to marvel at the architecture, listen to Question Time, even take a selfie, provided they don’t get fancy ideas about inspecting policy, expecting accountability or, God forbid, voicing their outrage about our government’s human rights abuses on Nauru. The new, you-beaut, security measures are voted in on Thursday in what constitutes the government’s biggest victory all week; part of its drive to curtail, if not outlaw, the impertinence of political dissent. Oddly, no-one from the repeal 18C brigade leaps forward to defend the protesters’ freedom of speech.

The right to protest has long offended the Coalition, especially should it impede oil rigs and coal mines. Australia’s offshore oil regulator is censoring documents about BP’s plans to drill in the Great Australian Bight because environmental campaigners could use the information to “oppose all drilling activities” there. If they could understand them. The plans, it tells Greenpeace, who requested details under FOI, are too “technical” for the public to understand. Yet the FOI Act states that government agencies cannot consider whether releasing information “could result in confusion or unnecessary debate”.

Accountable to Energy and Resources Minister Josh Freydenberg, The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority told a senate inquiry in November that BP’s application “was still in play” and the company could sell its right to drill to another company if its application was successful. NOPSEMA, which is said to be reviewing its transparency is our gatekeeper for information which in all other OECD countries is a public document.

Similarly, Attorney General George Brandis aims to change the Environment and Biodiversity Act to restrict green groups from challenging major developments under federal law after Adani’s Carmichael Mine was challenged on environmental grounds in what Brandis attacks as “green lawfare”. Labor opposes any such change.

Its gang-bashing of Bill Shorten, rudely interrupted, a rattled government scurries out of the House by the nearest exit, leaving only its supercilious sneer behind, a dysfunctional, discombobulated Cheshire cat, its lily-livered leader cowed in yet another humiliating retreat. Later, safely behind an ABC microphone, Turnbull urges reprisals. The protests, he thunders, are an appalling “denial of democracy” … an affront to the Australian people. Unlike Coalition asylum seeker policy or an ABCC which makes it harder for construction unions to protect workers who risk their lives to earn a living.

Construction sector fatalities rose between 2005- 2012 during the last ABCC. On historical data, Turnbull’s reintroduction of the ABCC will cost another ten deaths a year, calculates Bernard Keane. As it stands, big companies can “get away with murder”nsays CFMEU Queensland District President Stephen Smyth. Mining giant Anglo American pleads guilty this week to disregarding safety obligations, causing the death of worker Paul McGuire at its Grasstree mine, North-West of Rockhampton. The company settles with a paltry fine of $137,000.

While concessions to cross-benchers by a government desperate for any kind of victory mean that the heavily amended ABBC bill amounts to a re-badged Fair Work Building and Construction according to Andrew Stewart, University of Adelaide employment law expert, it still empowers Michaelia Cash to impose on Commonwealth contractors, a new building industry code of practice. This will spread to other major construction firms. The code will strike down Enterprise Bargaining and prevent “virtually everything” unions would seek to negotiate.

Labor sticks to its post in Parliament at least when the government clears out fearing the protesters. It’s a brief respite in the LNP’s war on Bill Shorten. A succession of MPs are howling down the Opposition Leader, rubbishing his union history and accusing him of post truth politics and lying before trumpeting its own fiction that passing its bastardised ABCC bill and resolving its backpacker tax fiasco are somehow victories; vital to running the country and not just desperate political expediency, critical only to saving Turnbull’s bacon. Parliament is given over to hysterical denunciation and personal attacks. Like a bad rash, the madness of “Good Captain” Abbott’s regime flares up again.

Even Laurie Oakes is disgusted. The government’s conduct is “grubby, unedifying, unpleasant. A week of brinkmanship, horse trading, and undisguised cynicism”. The Coalition’s unrelenting kill Bill invective is primitive, shrill and eerily reminiscent of March 2011 when Tony Abbott stood next to a sign urging “ditch the witch”, near another sign reading “JuLiar Bob Brown’s bitch”.

An ugly undertone of misogyny enters as Liberals itch to ditch Kimberly Kitching, Labor’s recent appointment to a casual senate vacancy by repeating unsubstantiated allegation made in Tony Abbott’s $46 million Heydon Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption 2014. The smear was made during the long witch hunt into unions which led to only one criminal conviction but provided many a handy stick to beat Labor with all this week.

“The Leader of the Opposition deliberately parachuted into the Senate Kimberley Kitching to become Senator Kitching, who is alleged to have fraudulently filled out the safety tests for six union leaders in the Health Services Union,” Pyne crows, labelling the new senator a “Captain’s Pick”. Pyne, the mouth that roars, hyperventilates with confected outrage.

Parachuted into a portfolio he might not stuff up, Pyne is currently fighting a turf war with Marise Payne who refuses to tell Senator Labor’s Kim Carr who is the senior Defence Minister in a partnership which has yet to be clarified, Labor Senator Don Farrell points out, more than three months after Turnbull’s government was sworn in, despite ABC reports of duplication and confusion from Defence and industry.

In July, Turnbull promised something better. “I believe they want our Parliament to offload the ideology, to end the juvenile theatrics and gotcha moments, to drop the personality politics”. Instead, he has presided over more of the same, subtly undermined by his patent insincerity, his own, inner lack of conviction, achieving a hollow, stagey theatricality; a bad, toothless, flea-bitten, parody of Abbott’s junkyard dog.

The government line is that Labor is not the Labor Party of old; the party of Hawke and Keating but one ruled by militant unions and bosses who exploit their members. It’s a high-risk strategy which invokes invidious comparison between Fizza Turnbull and two real Prime Ministers. Further, “hard-working Australians” may not be wooed by Liberal nostalgia for a time when neoliberal Labor PMs traded off workers’ wages and conditions for companies to increase their profits; increasing inequality, vastly shrinking union membership and eroding Labor’s traditional support-base.

The semi-slavery of an itinerant and readily exploited expanding migrant rural workforce is the sordid reality behind the backpacker tax which is tricked up in parliament as a favour to rich white tourists. Instead, it is the result of an unregulated underpaid and increasingly illegal cut-throat labour market exploited by farmers and fruit growers to meet the ever lower prices offered them by our dog eat dog supermarket duopoly plus upstart Aldi. The real crisis lies not in the government’s utter incompetence in levying an effective backpacker tax rate, but in our economy’s growing dependence on ever cheaper part-time or contract and piece rate labour, a legacy of the neo-liberal Hawke and Keating regimes.

Labor’s Accord with the ACTU removed union opposition to Labor’s neo-liberal “reform” agenda, helping governments to strip away hard-won rights and drive down living standards. Risky or not, however, the Shorten-is-no-Keating nor-is-he- Hawke tactic diverts attention from Attorney-General George Brandis, whose crisis-ridden tenure must surely end soon. Brandis awaits a Senate inquiry into how he directed Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson to argue in the Bell Group High Court case or his role in an alleged deal to dud the ATO of $300 million in 2015. Brandis’ retirement is imminent judging by Turnbull’s perfunctory support. “Of course I do,” he says when Labor asks if he still supports his AG.

Labor knows union-bashing failed the PM miserably last election. And as for harping on about how unfit your opponent is to be the nation’s leader, look how well that worked recently for Hillary’s campaign against Donald Trump. Labor’s most powerful indictment comes from the protesters’ banner outside. It reads “Labor: No opposition to cruelty”.

Yet there are some extraordinary if not recklessly indulgent union-bashing performances. Turnbull repeatedly trumps up his rhetoric insisting absurdly that the Labor Party “is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CFMEU”. Barnaby barnyard Joyce goes barking mad and attempts to throw the dictionary at the Opposition leader’s character. Shorten is “swarmy and lubricious.” He reads a scabrous, unsubstantiated TURC allegation until stopped mid-blow job reference by the speaker. Joyce has no problem, however, parroting his PM’s outrageous lie that the ABCC will reduce housing costs, a lie which has drawn censure from The Australia Institute’s senior economist, Dr Jim Stanford.

Stamford, has recently published a report rebutting what he says is the Prime Minister’s “appalling” ideological claim that a tougher construction union watchdog would make houses more affordable. There is no link between construction costs and rising house prices. The property bubble is not the fault of unions.

Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull repeatedly mock Wayne Swan for being the author of Joe Hockey’s backpacker tax. It’s a transparent lie which reveals more about the speaker than the object of ridicule. Turnbull could be talking about himself and his ABCC or his capitulation to his right wing or his Faustian deal with the Nationals to become Prime Minister.

“The hypocrisy of this Leader of the Opposition knows no bounds. He has no regard for consistency. He has no regard for accuracy. He is concerned only with seizing one political opportunity after another—no principles, no integrity, no consistency, no accuracy and no regard for the truth. Except there is one truth we all know about this Leader of the Opposition: he will stop at nothing to pursue his own political self-interest”.

The parliamentary year ends with Turnbull having managed to tidy his sock drawer, says Lenore Taylor. The Backpacker tax which was Hockey’s solution to the debt and deficit disaster so urgent a year or so ago will raise less than a spit in the bucket over four years. Expect instead an expansion in the cash in hand work force. Expect more overworked, underpaid, scammed Pacific Islanders and Malaysian pickers in orchards, vineyards and packing sheds. Getting big companies to pay their tax or getting a fair return from our gas exports which should be worth $400 billion over the next ten years, according to the Tax Justice Network are far more productive tasks which the government has squibbed.

Despite the government “getting on with the job” or “ending the year with a win” spin on a pliant media; despite all the lies that houses will become cheaper in a “win for the economy”, its last week is a tour de force of chaos and crisis beneath the smokescreen of its war on Bill Shorten, its attack on unions and hence the wages and conditions of the average worker. $50 billion’s worth of tax cuts to companies, promised this year as a first priority, can only further increase inequality and divide a society which is increasingly polarised between those few at the top and the rest.

Best SNAFU comes on Thursday. The government could pass a backpackers tax rate of 13% in the senate Thursday. It has the numbers. Instead, it waits to be rescued by The Greens, an inexplicable move which costs it $100 million which will go to Landcare. Pressed (lightly) for an explanation, the PM says he loves Landcare and wouldn’t hear a word against it.

The ABCC, which has never been another cop on the beat, or a tough watch dog, is gutted of its ugly STASI-like powers and is all trussed up like a Christmas turkey with local preference rules, economic benefit strings and such trimmings as Doug Cameron’s hire Australian unless there is “no Australian suitable” for the job clause which has nothing to do with the spirit of the act but which will bugger the 457 Visa and impose more red tape and expense on a body in a bill which was supposed to streamline construction and lower building costs.

In the end the self-styled Fixer, a self-satisfied Christopher Pyne preens. “We’ll do a deal with anybody to get things done,” he says on Friday, making a virtue out of the sheer, unbridled, horse-trading of the government of the turning bull in its last week of the year where doing something, anything, is preferable to searching for the right thing, the democratic thing, the just thing. Not a word about principle, ideal or dedication to the common good.

“All tip and no iceberg”, to quote Paul Keating, Turnbull’s government, for the elite by the elite, ends the year spruiking success but all it has to show is a big, new, security fence.

This article was originally published on Urban Wronski.



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  1. Ross

    Nice summary David.
    In the last four years has this government done one single thing, enacted one single piece of legislation, that has at least tried to make Australia a better place for all who live in and visit this wide brown land? You can recite several excellent Labor initiatives off the top of your head from when they were last in government.
    With this coalition government nothing springs to mind. Not one in four years that I can recall.
    The question then has to be asked ”why are they there?”

  2. Ella

    David Tyler, an informative and thought provoking read…thanks.
    As for;
    “a bunch of …dole-bludging…..are again vandalising Parliament…Stopping other opinions being heard” REALY?

    It is the LNP who are vandalising our democracy, our environment, our standard of living not to mention our (used to be) cohesive society.

    As for stopping other voices being heard…..NOT TRUE!

    We the public have heard all the lies, half truths , “post truth” spin from a government that feels it has to yell and bellow hoping that it might turn their lies into truth.

    I stand with the “moss-munching” brave , thoughtful, clever young people who have the courage of their convictions and they don’t rip us off like our MPs, with their greedy “gold plated travel cards”, humbug expenses on top of the very lucrative pay …do they really earn it?

    The LNP could learn from them… because to me they have NO courage , NO conviction other than those imposed on them by their vested interests , the far right, and the likes of bellowing Barnaby Joyce.

    They have done nothing of value to build a cohesive society.

    As for the Union and Labor bashing ,
    I wonder which of the gutless wonders will come out and condemn those who have ripped of workers super entitlement by exploiting loop holes in the system …and some employers are reducing their compulsory contribution ( ref. ABC 24)…etc ..etc

  3. David Tyler

    No, Ella, I was quoting Paterson. Totally in support of protesters who are driven to extreme measures to call for an end to human rights abuses. Wanted to show how dismissive and how full of confected outrage, the Turnbull government’s response is. Opposition not much better.
    As for super, you are right. Don’t hold your breath. This is the mob that actually opposed increasing employer super contributions and then howls about the numbers who need an age pension.

  4. David Tyler

    Oops McGrath – not Paterson

  5. Roscoe

    mmm, not real impressed with Tanya’s comment on the protesters

  6. Michael Taylor

    Neither was I, Roscoe. To suggest to people that if they wanted to make a change then they should run for parliament (not those exact words) smelled of arrogance to me. “I’ve done it, therefore I’m special la de la de da”.

  7. Douglas Pye

    Your article is interesting and informative -. thank you David . Your use of the word ” Contempt ” in your article header really caught my attention, because CONTEMPT (in my opinion) is the base of the world wide Neoconservative code of conduct.

    CONTEMPT for the ‘general populace’ and any other folk who do not subscribe to their ‘ survival of the fittest’ principles.

    Whilst we take exception to, and mount arguments against the multiple actions of our current Australian Government, we are simply dealing with their ” actions” ….. and totally missing the ‘ Intention ‘ which accompanies their ‘ Attitude .’.!

    When we find we have elected a Government which holds us in CONTEMPT , what does this say to / about US ? or our System ?

    The words ‘ Symptom ‘ , and , ‘ Cause ‘ come to mind ?

  8. Ill fares the land

    It is kind of staggering that the rejoinder from the government wold focus on two things – one is that the protesters are a bunch of “lefty revolutionaries” (in this day and age, anyone who disagrees with any view, however absurd the view is, is a “foul lefty”) and the other is that they are actually stifling debate.

    The goal of conservatives is essentially to stifle debate and to invent endless distractions from the horror and evil they are wreaking on society. The last thing conservatives want is debate and it is staggering how much energy gets expended by conservatives on that goal – to ensure that there is as little discussion as possible. In fact, the confected conservative outrage over this protest, which is, I might add, the right of the people, is no more than another means of distracting people from the appalling acts that the conservatives try to sell us as “good governance”. The conservatives shudder at the thought of open debate, because of the secretive nature of their political agenda. In order to stifle debate, conservative governments have to impose ever greater restrictions on freedom of ideas, speech and movement – which is of course counter to their cries for “small government”, but of course they only mean small government in the areas that allow their supporters and patrons greater freedoms – the population at large needs to be pacified with lies and trinkets (if the trucks loaded with Soylent Green are coming, it must be Tuesday) and if that fails, restricted by limitations on freedoms.

    Since there was no compelling need for the ABCC legislation, or at least no compelling need for the ABCC absent a focus on comparable regulation of the actions of greedy corporations, the passage of that bill was, of itself, both heinous and trivial (and anything that gives the truly vile Cash an opportunity to tell the world how wonderful she is is simply vomit-inducing). So the dirty little deals done to achieve the passage of an appalling piece of legislation are therefore even more reprehensible.

    Moreover, the absurd claim that if people want a voice, they should run for Parliament , is so shrilly fatuous it almost beggars description, coming as it is from those who are embedded in their party “machinery” and who have sold their asses to the party to get the prize of prizes – pre-selection for a “safe seat” where they will get elected whether they are good or woeful because the seat is Labor or Coalition. The reality is that those who enter politics as a party “hack” are already totally corrupted by the time they get to the Parliament and once they achieve “power”, their corruptibility is only magnified and their capacity for free-thought stifled because of the deals done with and favours owed to their faction/supporters. In this latter respect. both sides are as bad as one another, as even Plibersek was a big enough dolt to make this same pompous remark, although the Coalition are far more surreptitious about this. Labor’s evil backers are unions. The Coalition’s are powerful corporations and the rich, but that is a rather amorphous group that have even greater influence over policy (neither side really governs for all the people, but the Coalition certainly govern for the interests of a much smaller group), but who rarely get publicised for the amount of influence they hold. It gets worse when you consider the devious ways that business and the rich promulgate their “wish list” – via various right-wing think tanks and the Business Council, for example), who all package the conservative message into a neat piece of brain-washing that is dutifully delivered by the right-wing media.

  9. Jexpat

    “Construction sector fatalities rose between 2005- 2012 during the last ABCC. On historical data, Turnbull’s reintroduction of the ABCC will cost another ten deaths a year, calculates Bernard Keane. As it stands, big companies can “get away with murder”nsays CFMEU Queensland District President Stephen Smyth.’

    Considering that the double dissolution was called on this very issue, remarkably little was said about it during the entirety of the campiagn- and accordingly, it received almost no coverage.

    Yet another missed opportunity, right alongside the failure to call for a federal ICAC that might have swung the extra seats required to boot the Liberal Party out.

  10. Kaye Lee

    From what I can gather, no-one felt the least bit threatened by the protesters. They were annoyed at being interrupted and feigned concern that it irresponsibly showed vulnerability. Well how about when Bill Heffernan smuggled in a fake pipe bomb? Where was the outrage then?

  11. Matters Not

    no-one felt the least bit threatened by the protesters

    Pauline did apparently. While Senator Hinch opposed the building of a fence around Parliament, Senator Hanson supported same claiming: We all live in fear . From what I could see of the protestors, there were no Aborigines, Asians or people dressed in Muslim attire – all of whom scare the life out of Pauline and others – so it had to be protestors in general.

    Plenty of fear to go around in her world. And the more the better. Look at the election results.

  12. Peter F

    Is Pauline lodging a protest?

  13. Matters Not

    A couple of years ago I was in Belgrade (Serbia) and wandered past ‘Parliament’ (House of the National Assembly). Thought I would visit and have a look around, see how things worked and all that. Not a chance! Couldn’t get past the gate. The ‘officials’ thought I (we) was deranged.

    Spoke to the ‘owner’ (actually a state employee) of our favouring ‘watering hole’ that night. She too was amused. As were other patrons. It defied belief that people would be allowed to visit the House of the National Assembly. Much head shaking in disbelief when I explained how it worked in Australia. Nevertheless the direction we are going is clear.

  14. Ella

    David Tyler,
    Further to the super rip off,
    in our local rag there was a small article ,in which Mr. Morrison was claimed to have told radio 2GB that,
    and I quote;
    “Those reports are alarming”
    Really showing outrage that workers are being ripped off….???? NOT.
    The Super sector hence the government has known about this issue for a long time, so Mr. Morrison again played politics …it is easy when it is not your pocket that is being emptied!!!!
    He claimed the gov is ” chasing down multi national tax avoidance”
    What he forgot to say is that they are using a feather duster to do this.

    Rosco, I too was disappointed on hearing Tanya’s comment.

  15. Kaye Lee

    “A bunch of bong-sniffing, dole-bludging, moss-munching, glue-guzzling, K-Mart Castros are again vandalising Parliament. And stopping other opinions being heard”.”

    Does anyone else get the impression that James McGrath doesn’t get out much?

    Bong SNIFFING?

    Glue GUZZLING?

    Moss MUNCHING?

    K-Mart CASTROS? Ummmm….could someone tell James that Castro did not allow protest or K-mart

    And if we want to talk about someone’s integrity, McGrath is the slime bucket who paid a Labor staffer for dirt files to be collected on Labor MPs

    “The LNP dirt file detailed a minister’s epilepsy and childhood adoption, claims about some politicians’ sexuality, sex lives, drinking habits and health matters, and included details of the schools of the children of government MPs.”

    Ooh Ah James McGrath

  16. Ella

    Kaye Lee, as always you are informative.
    “If we want to talk about …integrity”
    The behaviour of the LNP back bench during Question Time in the last term of parliament showed a serious lack of integrity…..coming from a government that has no integrity.
    The personal attacks on Bill Shorten and Wayne Swan I found sickening…..BUT
    when you have no policies to speak of you fill the space with ……*!?*

  17. Ella

    Sorry I should have said “the behaviour of the front bench”.

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