Three weeks after its slender election victory, the Morrison government is all at sea. Three Chinese warships steam into Sydney Harbour uninvited. Spring our ring of steel. Laugh at our border security. PLA navy sailors roam The Emerald City, on a four day sleepover. And a shop. Cans of infant formula walk out the door. Sailors can double their money re-selling Aptamil back in China. Pooh-poohing “conspiracy theorists”, The Australian eagerly spins a yarn that the Chinese warships are on a “baby milk raid”.
Taken by surprise, but never taken aback, ScoMo is OS. Unplugged. He plucks a ukulele, which he gifts to a grateful Manasseh Sogavare, newly-elected pro-China PM of our newly-rediscovered Pacific nation “family” in The Solomon Islands Honiara. The PM’s stunt is all part of a cunning plan to woo The Hapi Isles back to us. The mass logging operations on “the lungs of the world” on the tiny island of Vangunu by Axiom Holdings, of which self-described “corporate doctor” Malcolm Turnbull was chairman, 1991-2, part of an act of catastrophic environmental vandalism, are not mentioned.
Multinational timber companies have logged ninety per cent of Solomon Island rainforest. Now logging is decimating remaining trees at 19 percent the sustainable rate. Its national forest will disappear by 2036. Whilst Unilever has been a major exploiter of local rainforest in the past, today eighty percent of timber is exported to China.
Embedded reporters spurn rainforest issues; focus, instead, on helping ScoMo spin his warship story, ” It’s a regular, reciprocal, visit.” The PLA is on its way home after “anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden”, a mere 12,271 km away? Shiver me timbers.
Inexplicably also missing the PLA visit memo, former Raytheon employee, Andrew Hastie pal, Defence Minister Brigadier (ret) Linda Reynolds is a big fan of the Libs’ “merit-based” exclusion of women. She’s not on hand to greet sailors personally. It’s no big snub. Linda probably has her work cut out not instructing the AFP to raid the ABC, not calling Ben Fordham at Nine’s 2GB and certainly not putting the wind up Annika Smethurst, News Corp’s Sunday Telegraph political editor.
So much not to do, so little time. It’s a week of surprise visits, lightning raids on our nation’s credibility, our attenuated, attention-span and an orchestrated attack on the heart, the liver and the lights of our democracy, our free press. And plausible deniability.
As with the week’s AFP raids on a free press, China’s visit to Sydney is not what it seems. Parading 700 well-armed fighting men along with your latest, state-of-the-art frigate and supply ship and amphibious landing craft is no show of force. No upstaging of Morrison’s diplomacy. No coincidence with the eve of the Tiananmen Square anniversary. It’s just part of today’s beaut “rules-based global system” keeping us safe.
So what if the warships dock in Sydney just as ScoMo tries to bribe Honiara with offers of loans to help them build an undersea Huawei-free communications cable to spike China’s influence in the Pacific? Why would our PM be in Sydney just to honour a visit from our major trading partner? ScoMo is in The Solomons, en route to the UK where important myths about D-Day, saving Europe from fascism, and presenting HM The Queen with Winx The Authorised Biography all demand to be commemorated or performed in person.
Luckily Morrison has time to announce his government’s catchy new policy of “Pacific step-up” a revamp which turns out to be just as bad as the old in ignoring climate change. Even older is his bold, new, back-to-the-future Kanaka 2.0 offer.
In the 1860s, Australian blackbirders began to lure what would amount to at least 30,000 Solomon Islanders to work on sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji. New recruits got six pounds per year, a fixed rate for forty years, despite wage inflation elsewhere. Blackbirders and entrepreneurs, Robert Towns and John Mackay are commemorated in Queensland place names and in civic statues today.
Following this having a go but decidedly not a fair go tradition, Australia will gift $2.7 million over three years to Honiara’s government to help it fly Solomon Island FIFO workers here to be wage slaves on Aussie farms where they’ll “fill labour shortages in Australia” or undercut local workers by being paid lower wages and working longer hours in harsh conditions. Half of all our migrant, temporary workers are underpaid. Hundreds of workers and millions of dollars in underpayment are involved.
The exploitation of migrant workers in Australia, a key report published last March, after a two-year inquiry by the federal Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, concludes that wage theft is widespread. A third of Australia’s foreign workers are paid less than half the minimum wage, and wage theft is especially severe in fruit and vegetable picking, according to Wage Theft in Australia, a survey undertaken by academics Bassina Farbenblum at UNSW and Laurie Berg at UTS. The Fair Work Ombudsman, they say, needs help.
Apart from the brutal legacy of its colonial past and its involvement in post-colonial exploitation, Australia may be belatedly realising how its climate change denialism and its cult of thermal coal; its abject failure to curb its own greenhouse gas emissions and its cuts to foreign aid help our Pacific neighbours reach out to China for aid instead.
But, in a post neoliberal, post-truth, Trumpian universe nothing is ever our own fault. Like Sydney’s Chinese warship fiasco. It isn’t true and it’s someone else’s fault.
Why, look! The visit’s just something else retired Defence Minister, Pyne, forgot to pass on. Not a show of force by China at all, on the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Papa Morrison says there is no need for over-analysis by experts or media. Nothing remotely resembling gunboat diplomacy to see here.
NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian is also in the dark, but leaving Premiers out of the loop is part of ScoMo’s Trumpista leadership style. Speak up more in COAG, Gladys.
Similarly, the Chinese government obliges by sparing its own citizens from overthinking. It gets a scratch crew of two million online censors to block internet sites which might tell its people how Chinese government troops brutally fired on student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen 4 June 1989. Precise figures are impossible to obtain, even with a free press, but two thousand may have been killed. As many as ten thousand are believed to have been arrested.
Thousands of other uprisings which spread to other centres, including Shanghai city, were also brutally repressed.
The Sydney PLA display catches ScoMo off-guard but he rallies later. Perhaps it’s jet-lag after nearly thirty hours in flight. Is he into the Tories’ class A recreational drugs enjoyed by so many otherwise promising successors to Theresa May? Unlikely.
ScoMo’s off and racing, wowing the Queen with, “How good is Winx?” a half-hour riff on a single platitude. A torrent of reports quote him explaining how well it all went. Her Majesty is spell-bound. Pity Phil is otherwise engaged. Taking the air. A twenty minute session becomes thirty-five. Or does it just seem longer? Lucky Queen.
Meanwhile, Dutton’s stakes rise as he wins the Alter-Copy-Erase media trifecta as a top staffer in Defence, or somewhere in the vast and powerful Home Affairs super-ministry, kits out his AFP with extraordinary warrants to raid the press on three separate occasions while both his PM and he, himself are OS. Nothing to see here.
A steward’s inquiry would just be a waste of time. Any Senate estimates committee will be treated with what in six years has become a show of open Coalition contempt for accountability and a painful reminder of the politicisation of the Public Service. Consider how the former minister for Environment, Melissa Price, was bullied by Queensland’s coal-pushers Matt Canavan and James Paterson into passing Adani’s flawed plans for water and wildlife conservation even if it meant the abdication of due diligence.
No-one’s home in government, Sunday, when a group of leading water scientists slam Adani’s “flawed” plan to protect groundwater near its Carmichael mine. Seven leading experts, from four major universities, warn that Adani’s water plan jeopardises Doongmabulla Springs seven kilometres south-west of its proposed excavation site.
The mine will bring extinction to a range of flora and fauna which currently depend upon the springs. Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science will meet this week to review Adani’s water management proposals. Yet, as we’ve seen with earlier federal government approvals, it’s important that we don’t get too carried away with the facts.
Cayman Island MDB company bagman and Energy Minister, Oxonian old boy, Angus Taylor finally nails how to evade our rising carbon emissions. It’s all good news. Everyone else in the world will breathe easier by burning our LNG. Official statistics can’t be trusted. So our greenhouse gas emissions are rising for the third year in a row? The good news is how our gas exports lower pollution in other countries. Genius. Gus wins most far-fetched stretch of credibility at less a canter than a rising trot.
Labor’s climate change and energy spokesman, Mark Butler, notes soberly that the data shows we are not on track to meet our Paris targets. “Not only did Angus Taylor not release emissions data by the deadline set by the Senate last Friday … the Liberals will try every trick in the book to avoid scrutiny of their record on tackling climate change.”
Best trick of the week for avoiding scrutiny, however, is getting the AFP to raid journalists for their sources, a reminder of the police state we’ve become. Important laws have been broken? National security is at risk? Spare us.
“The point is that politicians have constructed a repressive legal regime designed to protect the executive branch of government, impede accountability to the public and exert a chilling effect on the press,” Denis Muller writes in The Conversation.
“Quiet Australians” go wild with silent joy this week as ScoMo’s Stasi, the Department of Home Affairs, sends an AFP goon squad to frighten Annika Smethurst, News Corp’s Sunday titles’ political editor, Wednesday for her 2018 story that Home Affairs wants to spy on everyone. Their seven hour search of her Canberra home, includes her recipe books and underwear drawer. “You’re knickered” some flustered Federal cop is, doubtless, just itching to say on camera. Remarkably, Smethurst keeps her cool.
Of course, there’s more. The ABC is raided the next day. Two years ago, ABC broadcast a seven part series, The Afghan Files which investigates misconduct by Australian SAS troops engaged in our longest and most futile war; a campaign which not even our masters, the United States, can explain, let alone justify. The report documents possible unlawful killings. It includes fresh details of notorious incidents, including how Australians severed hands of slain Afghan Taliban fighters.
That our national broadcaster is subjected to a search in which the AFP have almost unlimited search powers is shocking; their warrant enables them to search almost everything – and copy – alter or delete files; in brief, tamper with the evidence. But even more alarming is the way in which the raid seems calculated to intimidate; prevent other journalists from risking speaking truth to power. This is not the act of a democratic government; a free, just and open society based on the rule of law. It is tyranny.
Even 2GB Drive’s Ben Fordham is harassed Monday for reporting that six refugee boats tried to reach Australia. Are random police raids part of the price we pay to live in ScoMo’s police state? It’s a state where, over time, the government has acquired extraordinary powers of surveillance, while citizens have been progressively stripped of their right to speak up; blow the whistle or just to report the truth.
An hour after his report goes to air, Fordham’s producer is contacted by the Department of Home Affairs to advise the refugee material was “highly confidential”. “In other words, we weren’t supposed to know it,” Fordham tells Sydney listeners.
Everyone is under suspicion – just as with the reversal of the onus of proof under Robo-Debt, the jewel in our anti-welfare state crown, where Centrelink demands you pay back money they reckon you owe. Unless you can prove you don’t. It can be stressful, especially when you have no documents. Some Australians kill themselves as a result.
Some of us die as a result of just getting a letter. 2030 people don’t survive receiving their first Robo-Debt letter. The initial letter doesn’t specify how much you must pay back. Instead it asks you to confirm your previously submitted income information. Of those who are subsequently told they owe money to the department, 812 are dead.
It would, of course, be rash to make any connection. Former Minister Keenan is quick to voice caution. It’s a bit like the common explanation denying the role of climate change in extreme weather events. Causation is complex, therefore, don’t blame government.
“Any number of factors in an individual’s life could have contributed to their death during such an extended period and it would be foolhardy to draw a link to one particular cause without evidence to support such a claim,” he reassures us. And warns us off.
Acting AFP terror head Neil Gaughan is a star as Chief Inquisitor. He knows what fear can do. He can’t say, he says, whether some journalists will be charged with offences. He knows this leaves fear of prosecution dangling over as many heads as possible.
The leaks are sources of information about matters which the AFP should have been investigating -its primary focus – instead the sources become the target. The raids testify to the peril this poses to both reporters and their sources. Some have proposed law reforms protecting journalists but as many others point out, this involves all of us.
The New York Times notes: “… the real affront is to democracy, which flounders in the absence of a free press. It should be self-evident to the guardians of Australian security that rogue soldiers and overreaching surveillance are the true risk to Australia’s security, and that such threats will become far more dangerous if the wall of secrecy is made impregnable.”
ABC chair Ita Buttrose issues a statement in which she reports her protest and notes,
“In a frank conversation with the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, yesterday, I said the raid, in its very public form and in the sweeping nature of the information sought, was clearly designed to intimidate.
It is impossible to ignore the seismic nature of this week’s events: raids on two separate media outfits on consecutive days is a blunt signal of adverse consequences for news organisations who make life uncomfortable for policy makers and regulators by shining lights in dark corners and holding the powerful to account.”
In the meantime, ScoMo better get a fresh set of musical instruments to present and more books on racehorses on order if he is to continue his amazing foreign policy triumphs. He may just be able to find himself a diplomatic post to the Solomons or somewhere equally remote and low-lying when he loses office in Peter Dutton’s coup.