Trump’s “surrender summit”, his love-in with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki, Monday, almost upstages our long-running local political panto, “Look out, Bill’s behind you”, performed with gusto all this week by our glorious Coalition, a collective of climate change deniers, rent-seekers, lobbyists and sundry other butlers, maids of the mining, banking and corporate oligarchies which run our nation with Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch’s tender assistance.
Five by-elections are to be decided by next Saturday. Energy and Environment Minister Frydenberg is stuck up on the high wire above a party divided over the National Energy Guarantee, (NEG) a squalid compromise between the changes needed to lower carbon emissions by phasing in the renewable generation the nation needs to make to meet even its modest Paris targets – and his PM’s need to appease its right-wing coal warriors. The suspense is electrifying.
Best trick in the greatest trick-show on earth, a marvel of illusion and sleight of hand, is to cast the Coalition’s internal conflict as somehow between opposition and government. Much time can be wasted; attention diverted, in blaming “the other side” for energy policy failure.
In truth, the Coalition has never had a real energy policy. Their MPs are too busy brawling. Even their think tanks are at odds with each other. And Tony Abbott is quick to exploit divisions as a stalking horse to bring down his PM. Yet sadly, his coal warriors must lump the latest expert advice.
In June last year, The Finkel Review called to prolong the operation of coal-fired power stations beyond their fifty-year life expectancy as our cheapest option. Now the Australian Electricity Market Operator, which runs the national grid, (AEMO) says it’s cheaper to stop at fifty years -if the coal-fired clunkers can even last that long.
AEMO has other hard truths for the pro-coal, Monash Forum. First, it’s prepared to say “clean coal” is a chimera. So-called “Clean coal” is prohibitively expensive. Solar, wind and storage are what we need and all we can afford. Busted also is the mantra of Turnbull’s government; the myth that a 50% renewables target is “reckless” or “irresponsible.”
Best of all, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that the falling cost of rooftop solar will help solar push coal out of the market. Giles Parkinson sums up: governments need to get out of the way; leave investors and operators to it.
“The transition is inevitable, only the pace of it is under question if politicians and vested interests seek to erect road blocks in the form of a NEG, an abolition of rooftop solar support, or the power and inertia of the incumbents.”
But none of this will take government MPs eyes off the by-election show. Look out, Bill is right behind you!
Tassie senator, Eric Abetz gets his head on ABC Insiders, Sunday, to spruik for the Liberals in the Braddon by-election; a bit of mind-numbing, bumper sticker sloganeering which passes for argument in our post-truth, post fact politics. The Tasmanian economy is booming, he claims. “A real vibrancy.”
Why? When the Tasmanian people voted Liberal in state and national elections, the “economy was turbo-charged”. Unemployment is down from 8.1% to 5.9%, he reckons.
No-one on Insiders says that 5.9% is still a shocking figure, especially if you’re one of the thousands out of work. Nor is any thought given to the proliferation of poorly paid and part time underemployment. Half of all jobs now have no security; no sick leave or holiday pay. Above all, no-one challenges Abetz’ assertions which imply Braddon, which takes in Tasmania’s West and North-west is benefiting from a super-charged state economy. In fact, it’s the opposite.
452 mining jobs and 1,392 manufacturing jobs have gone in the past five years. The region has 444 fewer businesses over the last four years. On other indicators, such as increasing the area of agricultural land under cultivation, or decreasing the number of insolvencies, the West & North West region also lags behind, reports The Australia Institute.
So why does the former minister for employment gush over Braddon’s “prosperity”? What policies are working?
Abetz can’t nominate one, concrete, Liberal policy responsible for the Tassie turnaround. Let’s hope it’s not just a reflection of population growth from immigration pushing up property prices as retirees seek somewhere they can still afford to buy a house. The Chinese are now Hobart’s second-largest immigrant group writes Martin Flanagan in Fairfax.
You’d think that Brett Whiteley in Braddon would be a Liberal shoo-in; riding the Tassie tiger economy. Yet, in a flash, Abetz reveals his real reason for being on ABC; he’s not expecting a Liberal victory. “Always a five per cent swing away from government in a by-election”, he says, a cross between a politician and a half-baked talking fortune cookie.
Abetz neglects to mention Craig Garland, a Wynyard fisherman and an independent widely tipped to attract ten per cent of the vote in Braddon. Labor could benefit from his preferences. Locals clearly warm to Garland’s pungent populist mistrust of Abetz’ and others’ narrative of a booming Braddon blessed with incredibly successful Liberal politicians who create an overnight economic turnaround.
“I’ve had a gutful of the lot of them,” Garland says. “They treat the electorate as if we’re brain dead, as if we don’t think.”
Or don’t care. And it’s not confined to Tassie. On pause is Girls Make Your Move, a $600,000 plus social media “influence” campaign which pays young women to get themselves liked on Instagram as they post images of themselves kickboxing, yoga, surfing, roller derby, rock climbing and drinking alcohol. Some have also been posting racist abuse but no national health reform is perfect.
The innovative approach to fitness, by commodifying attractive young women in their bathers, is to be “paused and reviewed” reports media savvy, Health Minister, Greg Hunt, this week while the government continues its incredibly successful policy of getting Australians off disability support pensions, merely by tightening up on eligibility criteria.
Not to be left out- or drowned out, our PM echoes Peter Dutton’s dog-whistle; Melbourne, “he hears”, is an African gangland. “You must have your hands over your ears not hear it.” He’s pitching to the hearts and minds of One Nation voters in Longman, whose Liberal National Party candidate, “Big Trev” Trevor Ruthenberg, is a Campbell Newman throwback.
Trumped also is the racist card played by ten-pound Pom, Gina Rinehart’s butler and Monkey pod dog-whistler, Tony Abbott, who says immigration is a great, big, huge, new issue wrecking everything. And it’s all Labor’s fault, because, as he bleats, on 2 GB, his regular talk-back-if-you-dare-radio pulpit, a cess-pit of ignorance and popular prejudice,
“the Labor Party is in the grip of, I suppose, ethnic activists in certain respects”.
Ethnic activists? Seriously? There’s panic in the ranks and at Point Piper HQ as Super Saturday’s 28 July by-elections loom closer. Arses must be covered. The PM pops his head out of our local version of a Fox-hole to caution party faithful that “the odds are against his government snaring an historic victory” as Channel 10 puts it. Odds? Snaring? Nothing to do with the candidates?
Longman’s legendary Liberal-fabulist candidate, Grim Digger, Trevor Ruthenberg, lies about a medal he never got – an innocent mistake it’s taken six years to correct. “He never wore the medal”, he never received, he explains, helpfully, surpassing peak plausible deniability, as things go bad in Braddon. ReachTel surveys 700 voters for The Australia Institute; finds a 3.3 per cent lift since June in Labor’s primary vote to 36.3 per cent, while Liberals dwindle 4.1 per cent to 42.9 per cent.
Even more confronting, the poll finds sixty per cent of voters want company tax increased or kept the same. Few are tricked by the trickle-downers. Must ScoMo blow his bags in vain? Around seventy percent support keeping Sunday and public holiday penalty rates. In a rush of typically public-spirited generosity, Peter Dutton, Home Affairs, Grand Pooh-Bah, throws in a few brand-new CCTV cameras for Burnie in Braddon, despite receiving no local, formal request.
Trickle-Downers struggle in SA, too as Mayo voters rebuff Georgina, returned prodigal daughter of the local Downer dynasty, after 20 year’s absence, reduced to a blow-in. She puts on a marvellous ventriloquist’s dummy act. She cannot so much as squeak in public without her PM, her former PM or some other top Liberal by her side. It’s a brilliant show. You can barely see their lips move.
Loose lips sink ships. The Libs rush to Mayo to announce a $35 billion contract to build nine anti-submarine frigates for the Royal Australian Navy has been awarded to defence company BAE Systems. It’s déjà vu all over again as the immortal Yogi Berra would say, as locals recall Tony Abbott making a mad dash to Adelaide in 2015 to promise a fleet of submarines would be built locally by government-owned ASC despite the navy having crew for only one.
Abbott was not helped by party-pooper Defence Minister David Johnston saying he wouldn’t trust ASC to build a canoe. It did Dave’s career no harm, however. Salty dog Johnston is currently filling a specially created position – no interview – no application required – as the federal government’s first defence export advocate on an “eminent person’s salary”, typically between $2500-4500 per day but details of which must remain secret under cutting edge “commercial in confidence” nonsense.
But locals are weary of announceables. The Future Frigate employment miracle won’t begin for four years. By then, there’s a real risk that the workforce will have moved on to fruit-picking, waitressing or uber-driving or the many other rewarding employment opportunities, beloved of any neoliberal government that values employer flexibility above a living wage and which puts corporate profits and tax cuts above the need to provide adequate health, welfare and education services.
And the promise of jobs? Nothing happened then and nothing’s been signed now, sighs Ryan Richter, a local ASC employee interviewed by The Saturday Paper. Meanwhile, fifty of his colleagues are made redundant this week. A recent ReachTEL poll has Rebekah Sharkie sitting at 62-38 ahead of Downer on a two-party-preferred basis. Could Downer’s past prove her downfall?
In her time at the IPA, Downer called for the abolition of minimum wage and penalty rates. An early Trump fan-girl, she wrote a 2016 op-ed for The Sydney Morning Herald, praising his election as “a big rejection of the international environmental movement and its fatwa against carbon”.
Georgina is supposed to be the Liberals’ trump card in winning back a seat which has been warmed almost forever by her globe-trotting father Alexander’s nether regions.
Downer was Howard’s Foreign Minister for 11 years, before his role in ordering the bugging of the East Timor cabinet and his involvement in the Australian Wheat Board wheat for oil scandal led to his promotion as Tony Abbott’s High Commissioner to London.
Downer’s only just been ousted by George Brandis who is more a bloviating bully and a bore than a bon vivant but not before Alex’s secret liaison with a George Papadopoulos in a South Kensington wine bar, where he learns that the Russians have some compromising material on Hilary Clinton and plan to use it. Alexander passes the message on through Australian intelligence to the US.
Doubtless something appropriate will be found for Georgie should she fail to win Mayo.
Yet Trump in Helsinki upstages even Downer’s diplomacy. It’s not just that Trump has done no homework. He can’t. Trumpistas such as Ms Downer explain away The Donald’s manifest incompetence, as somehow refreshing, or even disruptive, as John Howard once indulged an inept Tony Abbott, who enjoyed a string of failures in cabinet before being accidentally elected PM. There are recent signs, however, from Julie Bishop that the Trump indulgence is wearing thin.
Trump’s short attention-span; his inability to sit through any type of briefing is rationalised by aficionados as a strength. It’s seen as part of his disruptive, unorthodox mystique; a positive asset to a reformer hell-bent on cleaning up the Washington swamp. Besides bringing his own swamp, the White House couch potato Fox TV addict shows total disdain for any briefing or expert advice.
So, Trump has to wing it and fails. What’s more shocking is that he prefers Putin’s denial to his own intelligence agencies’ evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The New York Times’ James Blow finds the Donald’s mind-boggling.
Putin’s track record does not inspire confidence.
He still blames Ukraine for the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and in the eastern Donetsk region, a tragedy in which 298 innocent people, including 40 Australian citizens and residents, up to 80 of whom were children died. Locals reported “a rain” of bodies falling on homes and in sunflower fields. Belongings were ransacked because rebels at first mistook the aircraft for a Ukraine Airforce fighter jet.
Recently published reports compiled from evidence gathered by teams of international investigators which include a rebel video which shows faces, implicate Russian military at least in the supply and the retrieval of the BUK-TEAR anti-aircraft weaponry used to shoot down the plane.
Nor is there much doubt Moscow helped get Trump elected. Putin, himself, admits that “patriotic” Russian hackers may have meddled in the election, although this exchange appears to have been overlooked by Trump at the summit – along with a number of other pressing issues.
The Washington Post quotes Max Bergmann of the Centre for American Progress:
Any other President — Republican or Democrat — would use this summit to confront Russia for its on-going attack on our democracy, for its illegal occupation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, for its efforts to assassinate people using chemical weapons in the U.K., and for its backing of Assad.”
The New York Times’ Charles Blow joins many other US commentators in deploring his President’s behaviour as “disloyal, traitorous”. Trump’s surrender sucks some oxygen out of our nation’s action-panicked week in politics which features a cameo performance from Abbott parrot, Craig Kelly, on how MH17 victims’ families need to move on with their lives.
“So, what is best for the continued future of the world – and it is best in my opinion that the leader of the USA and the leader of Russia at least have a good talking relationship,” he said. “And if that means some of the things that Russia has gotten away with in the past has to be slightly looked over, well, I am sorry. That is the price we have to pay, sometimes, to have good relations going forward.”
Kelly follows his insensitivity and misreading of the Putin Trump summit as “a good talking relationship” with Australian politics’ most pointed non-apology – but almost as offensive is Malcolm Turnbull’s eager sing-along to Peter junkyard Dutton’s dog-whistling alarm call that all of Melbourne is hostage to rampaging African gangs because Dan Andrews is soft on law ‘n order.
African gangs are not our only worry, however. Australia is “veering towards multicultural segregation” and must “do more to ensure the integration of migrants”, Alan Tudge, the minister who found Centrelink’s Robo-debt persecution of the poor blameless, takes up the cudgels for Dutto.
An Aussie values test for intending permanent residents would fix everything, even if the PM himself is unable to articulate what those values may be, even if he’s able to fake xenophobia.
At last, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, takes umbrage at Trump’s crimes and misdemeanours in a speech she gives in London, she tut-tuts over the way “Trump’s America is challenging the international order which has brought such peace and stability after World War Two”,
It has? Bishop’s clearly not counting its nuclear holocausts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan or its illegal invasions of Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, Granada and Afghanistan or its interventions in Latin America. Nor does she touch upon Trump’s mad trade wars which have the capacity to trigger another world recession, rather than make America great again.
Naturally, at the hint of criticism, Trump goes immediately on the offensive.
“Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia,” Trump tweets on Wednesday. “They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!”
The presser after the boys-only summit is extraordinary. Is it the money he owes the Russians? Or the pee tape Kompromat? Whatever the cause, Trump appears to crawl to Putin. Grovel. And Putin keeps him waiting for an hour before the show begins. Although the Donald later tries to walk back his capitulation – even suggesting he “misspoke”, Trump is totally unconvincing, except of course to his supporters, to whom he offers an escape hatch.
What is most shocking to many Americans and others all around the world, however, is how at the news conference after a private two hour closed meeting, Trump white-ants his own intelligence community, to buddy up to Putin, saying:
“I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be … So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
It’s an embarrassingly naïve, almost childlike remark. So, too, the president’s proposal that Putin collaborate in the investigation into himself, an alarmingly absurd idea. Trump later tries to retract the “would be” by claiming he meant to say “wouldn’t be” but he’s patently unconvincing.
Amid all the chaos on the world stage and especially the implications for Australia’s relations with America, our Prime Minister has been steadfast and has the media focused on immigration, supporting Minister Dutton and the Victorian Liberal Party and the myth of Melbourne’s ‘African gangs’ showing Victoria’s Labor Government is soft on crime – all part of the popular Coalition pantomime “Look out Bill’s right behind you”.