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Tag Archives: Alexander Downer

Surplus to requirements, ScoMo?

Applause, stamping, hoots and catcalls resound up and down our wide brown land as another big week in Oz-politics lives down to expectations, as John Crace says of Boris Johnson, now the incredible sulk, after his inevitable Brexit flip-flop just flops with a not-so-super Saturday vote to delay, a thinly-disguised ploy to sink the whole mad shebang in the middle of the Irish Sea. Brexit continues to make fools of fools, says Crace.

A week when our parliament is actually sitting, despite its increasing rarity, has a similar effect. This week the government tries to fool us that Labor is in government and to blame for all kinds of feckless fiscal ruination.

Like our own populist tosser Morrison, professional political clown, Boris is clueless about what to do – that’s for “girly swots” – and neither narcissists can take advice – so every waking hour is an epic battle with reality.

At home, a fever of anticipation erupts at the chance of being re-tied to Britain’s apron strings with beaut new trade deals, an agile Coalition with economic management in its DNA can whip up in weeks. Or a year. Tops.

“We are match-fit and ready,” ScoMo’s already promised Boris, an MP with whom he feels an immediate affinity. Scott’s got his mandarins all sworn to secrecy and totally Sco-Motivated to all-new levels of public service loyalty and fidelity. It’s not just manspreading or mugging for the camera in Fiji’s Rugby change-rooms, ScoMo channels the blokey banality of the footy coach in his unsubtle instructions to our public servants.

“It’s the bacon and eggs principle – the chicken is involved but the bacon is committed,” he says.  Boom-Boom. Somehow, it’s all about how ministers can only set direction by being sensitive to quiet Australians, whose deepest desires can only be deduced through some miraculous phatic communion.

“Look beyond the Canberra bubble” says our PM, who is nothing but Canberra Bubble. A former Liberal apparatchik and player in the game of mates before being called to lead his people as prophet and seer; a high priest of populism and neoliberal revival. As William James and Bertrand Russell said of the turtles who hold the flat earth in its place in creation, for ScoMo, it is Canberra Bubble all the way down.

How good is a well-done Free Trade deal? Our brilliant new Free Trade Agreement with Indonesia has been quietly simmering since 2012. Morrison promised it August last year, when after six years it had progressed to a most promising single page but hopes no-one recalls. Then – as now- the fact of its brevity does not mean that it is not miraculously close to conclusion.  He’s doubtless been out praying. And the spirit’s there.

We only have to “paper it”, as President Bone Spurs says, faking a breakthrough in his tariff war with China.

Stealing the show is Gladys Liu, MP (via AEC poll-booth signage simulation) for Chisholm who’s finally sorted her membership of Chinese organisations known to ASIO. She’s clear of them all, “she thinks”. Or is she?

In a flash, Rupert’s Hun is on to her, protesting Ms Liu’s links with top property developer Chen Guo Jing, whom the MP described as one of her “good friends” in her maiden speech. Chinese language sites call Chen the “implementer” of the Australasia Belt and Road Advocacy initiative, The Herald Sun adds helpfully.

Gladys is now well beyond hapless Sam Dastyari’s villainy in the latest instalment of rabid Sinophobia, Yellow Peril 2.0. She’d resign immediately but “Mandate” Morrison’s government has only a one seat majority.

Rushing to assist, is cuddly Peter Dutton, the Minister for Home Affairs, whose portmanteau portfolio covers everything best left unsaid. Whilst we love to profit out of China’s coal and iron custom, its tourists and its students, whose insatiable thirst for knowledge causes them to take up full-fee paying places in tertiary institutions, there’s just one thing about our biggest single trading partner. Its government’s values suck.

“Our issue as I’ve said before is not with the Chinese people,” Dutton thunders. “My issue is with the Communist Party of China and their policies to the extent that they are inconsistent with our own values.”

Aussie values include lying, spying, cheating and stealing as the case of East Timor reveals. Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery are still holed up in a secret trial in Canberra where they are not even permitted to know the charges against them – except the bleeding obvious; they have embarrassed the government by reporting the fact that Canberra bugged the cabinet rooms of Timor-Leste in 2004 in order to draw up geographic boundaries which would yield Australia more than its fair share of gas and oil.

Alexander Downer is still pouting. Lord knows how his friendship with ScoMo’s going now he’s promised Trump he’ll snoop on the spy-master; find out just how Downer morphed into a small “L” Liberal; set the Mueller Inquiry on to that fake Russian collusion witch hunt. Be very careful with your bus-travel, Alex.

As fans of Q&A, Sunrise and The Drum would know, freedoms come into (and out of) the grab-bag of Aussie values a fair bit, in what is fondly termed “our national conversation”, (but which isn’t ours or even national – and so often turns out to be a power elite talking to itself in public).

Freedom? Sheesh! It’s right up there with crony capitalism, gambling, racism and elder abuse- yet we are currently debating how we know just how much freedom of speak we are allowed to have? Seriously.

Word comes this week that former Amnesty poster-boy Phil Ruddock’s religious freedom bill which would have restored some of the losses felt by the anti-marriage equality brigade pleases neither church nor state.

Given that it was a solution in search of a problem – religious freedom is already protected in law -it is hardly surprising but will ScoMo’s “top priority” just go?  Leave privilege unprotected? Impossible.

But don’t rule out another inquiry. At present the draft bill offends all parties – and cross-bench Tassie Senator, Jacqui Lambie can’t see the need for it. Unlike her sympathy with national security justifying expanding state power even further. We’re world leaders in this field.

Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Edward Santow, notes Australia has “passed more counter-terrorism and national security legislation than any other liberal democracy since 2001”.

Instead of agonising nightly on The Drum about how we need to “get the balance right”, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier just to ask government permission? A journo with a story that seeks to hold a government department accountable must run the story by the government first. It’s the position favoured by Mike Pezzullo who is the eyes and ears of Dutto’s Home Affairs mega-department. What could possibly go wrong?

In the meantime, Attorney-General Christian Porter confirms, on Sunday’s ABC Insiders, that his government will continue to intimidate journalists by refusing to rule out AFP raids. He pretends that the AFP is at arms-length from government. Hilarious. Lie. The AFP comes under the (big right) wing of Minister Dutton.

Turning the thumbscrews, Porter would be “seriously disinclined”, he reckons“to sign off on the criminal prosecution of journalists” for public interest journalism, but says he cannot give any guarantees. No-one on Fran’s panel calls Porter on his pretence that the AFP is independent of the federal government of the day.

Canberra Times veteran, Jack Waterford reminds us that never in its forty years’ operation has the AFP come up with a finding which might embarrass a sitting government – apart from Abbott’s Peter Slipper witch hunt.

“The AFP behaves rather more as a department of state, pathetically anxious to please the government of the day. The department seems to lack internal checks and balances, and sometimes seems to put outcomes ahead of process and sound management, and seems to lack people with the courage to stand against any of the enthusiasms of its secretary,” observes the former editor and investigative journalist of 43 years’ service.

We can’t blame Fran Kelly – or any of her guests for not nailing the minister on the furphy of the AFP’s independence or the farcical pretence that as Attorney-General, Porter is led, like a lamb, to slaughter offending journalists.

But don’t shoot the mixed messenger.

Our ABC is under extra pressure in the form of a ripper new bill for silent Australia due in the house early next week. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2019 requires the ABC to set up a Regional Council, at a cost of $100,000 PA to help it contribute to a sense of “regional” identity” as well as “a sense of national identity” and to reflect “geographical”, as well “cultural diversity”. Sounds as simple to get sorted as the Nicene Creed.

Accompanying the push to the bush, a second bill is a sop to Pauline Hanson. It’s an ABC “Fair and Balanced” yard-stick-slogan-logo-thingy while the bill also orders Aunty to supply regional content – even though this is totally impossible on a reduced budget. The result is to give the government a new big stick or two to beat the public broadcaster into compliance. Or soften it up before it’s sold off as in the IPA wish-list.

“This regional push by the Coalition government is no benign shepherding of the ABC back to its core duties. It’s actually designed to tie the corporation up in red tape and shift its attention away from national coverage – and the machinations of federal government” warn Sydney University’s Fiona Martin and Michael Ward.

News this week that Dili wants a $5bn refund to compensate for gas and oil illegally taken is likely to be music to Josh Frydenberg’s ears given that he’s making it clear that his government’s surplus fetish does not mean “surpluses are like a trophy in a cabinet,” The AFR’s Jennifer Hewitt reports. But that’s exactly what it means.

It takes genius to con so many Australians for so long that a meaningless line on an annual budget is a sign of good management – let alone the allied bullshit about “fiscal responsibility” and “living within our means”. Yet to claim a budget surplus means anything at all, is a hoax. And a cruel hoax when it means that NDIS applicants, for example, are made to wait or face stricter qualifying tests to “save up” a surplus.

The only reason a budget surplus ever comes in handy is as a brake on inflation,Greg Jericho reminds readers of The Guardian Australia. No danger of that now where even the Reserve is begging the government to do something about a shrinking economy. Would Joe Hockey squander his $80 billion gift/investment in 2014?

The Opposition is addicted to panic and crisis”, Bovver Morrison hollers across the despatch box as he accuses Albo of a stacking a tantrum. Not only is ScoMo a past master at projection, he knows we live in the present. In the eternal now of modern politics, he assumes that few will recall the metanoia of Tony Abbott’s hyper-partisan opposition’s debt and deficit disaster fear campaign when Labor borrowed to get us out of the GFC.

Forgotten, also, he hopes, is Abbott’s brief-lived Coalition government led by “warrior” Peter Credlin with its war on the poor, on indigenous Australia and on workers amongst others. We have yet to recover from its sick militarisation of compassion – the paramilitary Border Force with its ludicrous uniforms and cruel protocols.

Clayton’s PM Junkyard Abbott’s sidekick BJ helped warn us all that Whyalla would be wiped off the map or that we’d being paying hundred dollars for a lamb roast. They rushed to kill off their carbon tax scare.

Their subsequent revoking of a price on carbon has helped lead us to record carbon emissions ever since.

ScoMo opened Christmas Island just for his Medevac scare, an extension of his asylum-seeker paranoia, a rabid and irrational fear febrile of others.  Jacqui Lambie may now help him get to revoke the Medevac Bill.

Yet he proceeds with his name-calling, baiting and jeering at Labor for what they might do to ruin us all. It helps create an illusion, as Katharine Murphy of the Guardian observes that Labor is in power -yet by some miracle that Morrison, a solo act throughout his career, is a PM primum supra pares (first above the rest).

In a moment of madness, Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon proposes a bipartisan war cabinet for the drought. Settle down, Fitz. That would be like a union between the arsonists and the fire-fighters. Besides, could you really trust any of them on their past performances? No-one else in the world takes their climate figures seriously.

Australia is a world leader in climate change abatement per capita in the Coalition’s Gospel according to Morrison. Doo wah boy, Gus Grassgate Taylor, Minister for Global Warming Energy and Big Irrigation does backing vocals.

“The comments made by the Prime Minister at the UN, that we are going to meet our emissions targets, was a gross misrepresentation and was staggering for someone in his position,” protests former Liberal leader, John Hewson, addressing the Round Table in Canberra. Global warming heretic Hewson favours regenerative agriculture. Expect his immediate retribution via ridicule in some Rupert rag.

Reverting to wilful ignorance and disinformation, the Australian economy is not tanking a bit, insists the PM, despite this week’s IMF growth downgrade by almost twenty per cent from 2.1 to 1.7. On the contrary, our nation’s growth something to shout about in parliament.

“Australia’s economic growth is the second highest if compared to the major Group of Seven economies, and the government has helped create 1.4 million new jobs,” ScoMo misleads parliament.

Reliant on resources, Australia lacks diversification of exports and its economy is now more like that of a developing country with fewer prospects for growth, reports the Harvard’s Atlas of Economic Complexity. It predicts growth to slow to 2.2% over the next decade, ranking us in the bottom half of countries

Australia is not even in the G7, however much ScoMo loves to boast about his special invitation to observe last August’s meeting; a token of his government’s leading role as hyper-partisan US ally in the ruinous trade war between Trump’s administration and China.

As for jobs, his claim covers six years. Growth doesn’t even keep up with population.

A stoic ScoMo won’t be spooked by international events; or lift a finger to stimulate a stagnant economy. All this – and more – promises the PM’s turd-polish unit, which accidentally emails the media its jumbo economy super-savers’ pack of lies meant for Coalition MPs, this week.

It’s an innocent mistake. And easily made. Our media lead the world in recycling government press releases. No heads will roll this time. The chooks just get an extra feed of MPs’ “talking points”, the rich mix of fantasy, lies, evasions, disinformation and other conversation-stoppers confected non-stop by the PM’s spin doctors.

Australia’s national net debt is now a record $400 billion plus, according to Matthias Cormann’s own Finance Department’s report last Friday. It’s a peculiar type of nincompoopery that can take Labor’s puny $174 billion net national debt and double it in six years, despite some of the most favourable global economic tailwinds in history, yet the Coalition is on track to get to $700 billion in a canter.

The biggest issue for the economy remains the decline and fall of our household incomes. This will not be revered by some slick tax cut. Nor will it show any improvement, whatsoever, if the government having utterly no idea what to do by way of stimulus measure clings to the mantra of a budget surplus.

But that’s not in the talking points.

There’s so much to crow about it’s not funny. Cue standing ovations from the poor, the elderly, the under-employed and those who need wait only a matter of months before they’re trampolined off welfare and back at work at the local widget factory.

Above all, Australia is God’s Own Country and as the PM reminds a national prayer breakfast, Tuesday,

“The only prayers that you can be assured are never answered are the ones that are never prayed.”

Our latter day saints, the nation’s hard-working farmers are clearing land at record rates yet some find the time to take out of helping cause the problem to wax ecstatic over Drought Relief; the Coalition’s most shameless pork-barrelling since its 1700 kilometre Inland Rail boondoggle. No-one’s getting any money for a year and the $7 billion doesn’t add up, former farmer’s lad Alan Jones berates the Prime Minister.

Jones asks how all of the drought relief grandstanding that’s been going on three months is going to feed a cow?

How good’s a Farm Household Allowance worth a measly $250 a week? $5 million for rural financial counselling? $115.8 million that Morrison says “went directly to drought communities”. Morrison finally gets to talk. He embraces the theme of weed eradication. Jones cuts in, “Oh, PM, don’t talk to me. I’m a farmer’s son, you’re not.” 

When the IMF tells you the economy is down the gurgler and your own Finance Minister reports the same – When Alan Jones gives you a bollocking, ScoMo, you may need more than a new set of talking points.

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Putting dodgy politicians under the same scrutiny as dodgy union officials

When the government decided to spend $80 million on the Trade Union Royal Commission, $17 million of which is going to Minter Ellison, Attorney-General George Brandis’ former employer, its purported aim was to ensure that registered organisations are more transparent and accountable.

The Coalition said “there is clear evidence that the money paid by members to some registered organisations is being used for personal gain and inappropriate purposes.”

Considering the number of scandals pertaining to politicians’ entitlements, the hypocrisy of this statement is astounding.

They want “registered organisations and their officials to play by the same rules as companies and their directors” and for “penalties for breaking the rules to be the same as those apply to companies and their directors, as set out in the Corporations Act 2001.” They have also called for “reform of financial disclosure and reporting guidelines so that they align more closely with those applicable to companies.”

“A dodgy company director and a dodgy union official who commit the same crime should suffer the same penalties. The Coalition believes that the members of registered organisations, mainly workers and small businesses, deserve better. They are entitled to the same protections as shareholders of companies.”

But what of dodgy politicians?

Surely the people who hold the highest positions in the land running government business should be similarly accountable to us, the shareholders?

ASIC describes the general duties imposed by the Corporations Act on directors and officers of companies as:

  • the duty to exercise your powers and duties with the care and diligence that a reasonable person would have which includes taking steps to ensure you are properly informed about the financial position of the company and ensuring the company doesn’t trade if it is insolvent
  • the duty to exercise your powers and duties in good faith in the best interests of the company and for a proper purpose
  • the duty not to improperly use your position to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else, or to cause detriment to the company, and
  • the duty not to improperly use information obtained through your position to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else, or to cause detriment to the company.

Whether politicians exercise their powers and duties with care and diligence is open to debate and whether their decisions are in our best interests is similarly questionable, but when it comes to the last two requirements regarding gaining advantage, there is considerable concern.

andrew and ginaGina Rinehart wanted the carbon and mining taxes gone. Done.  She wanted special approval to use extra 457 visa workers.  Done.  She wants a special economic zone in the north and government funded infrastructure to facilitate development.  Underway.  She wants company tax reduced.  Coming.  But she doesn’t want anyone to know how much tax she pays in case someone decides to kidnap her.  Done.

And then all of a sudden, not long before the free trade agreement was signed with China, Gina, and several other rich Liberal Party donors, decided to invest in dairy and beef cattle farms – the two big winners from the ChAFTA.

When Kevin Andrews, as Social Services Minister, got rid of gambling reform laws, was he considering the best interests of the people?

When George Christensen launched an attack in parliament on the National Health and Medical Research Council which he accused of demonising the sugar industry through their new food guidelines, did it have anything to do with his family being sugar cane farmers?

When David Leyonjhelm attacks smoking regulations, is he looking out for our welfare or is it because he receives large donations from the tobacco industry?

And what of the ultimate irony of Clive Palmer’s party having the deciding vote on repealing the carbon tax when he had a high court challenge underway and an unpaid bill of $6.8 million?

Alexander Downer, as Foreign Minister, sanctioned the bugging of another nation’s parliamentary offices to gain commercial advantage for a company who then employed him when he left politics.  There are countless examples of similar conflicts of interest and ‘reward for service’.

ICAC has shown us that many politicians use their position for personal gain and advantage for their friends and donors. The rejection of a federal ICAC by both major parties would suggest that they do not want the same scrutiny that their state counterparts and the unions are getting.

Regarding false statements, the ACCC states that:

“It is illegal for a business to make statements that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression. This includes advertisements or statements in any media (print, radio, television, social media and online) or on product packaging, and any statement made by a person representing your business.

When assessing whether conduct is likely to mislead or deceive, consider whether the overall impression created by the conduct is false or inaccurate.

Comparative advertising may be used to promote the superiority of your products or services over competitors as long as it is accurate.

Claims that give the impression that a product, or one of its attributes, has some kind of added benefit when compared to similar products and services can be made as long as the claims are not misleading and can be substantiated.”

If you apply that code to, say, climate change, our government, abetted by the Murdoch media, the IPA, and a few other vested interests, are guilty of the most heinous example of false advertising in history.

A recent study by the CSIRO showed that barely one in four Coalition voters accepts climate change is mostly caused by humans, with more than half of Liberal voters believing changes to global temperatures are natural.

“To a substantial degree, when asked, a significant fraction of the public say what they think their preferred party says.”

Obviously, the standards that apply to businesses to be truthful with their shareholders and customers are totally ignored by our government.

When climate campaigners recently took the Dutch government to court, three judges ruled that government plans to cut emissions by just 14-17% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful, given the scale of the threat posed by climate change and ordered the government to cut its emissions by at least 25% within five years.

The precedent has been set and I, for one, find the idea of Greg Hunt defending his statements about Direct Action against carbon pricing in a court of law, presumably with reference to Wikipedia, absolutely delicious.

 

Whistleblower goodies and baddies

When Kathy Jackson blew the whistle on Craig Thomson for misusing union funds, she was praised by various members of the Coalition.  Tony Abbott described her as “a brave decent woman”, a “credible whistleblower” whose actions were “heroic”.  Christopher Pyne labelled her a “revolutionary” who will be “remembered as a lion of the union movement.”  George Brandis and Eric Abetz were similarly effusive in their praise.

Kathy’s “courageous” revelations quickly led to Thomson being arrested by five detectives accompanied by a huge media pack at his Central Coast Office.  The following court cases eventually found Thomson was guilty of misappropriating a few thousand dollars.  His defence has cost him over $400,000, his career and reputation.  His prosecution, combined with the ensuing Royal Commission into trade unions and dedicated police task force, has cost the state tens of millions.

In 2012, Tony Abbott said “I think it’s to the enormous discredit of some people in the Labor movement that they are now trying to blacken [Kathy Jackson’s] name.”

Unfortunately for Mr Abbott, the investigation revealed that his hero has allegedly misappropriated far more than Craig Thomson could ever have dreamed of, well over $1 million by some accounts.  Despite the matter being referred to the Victorian police, Ms Jackson remains at large living a millionaire lifestyle.  No squad of police arriving at her door with media in tow.

We also had whistleblower James Ashby choosing to reveal private text messages to accuse Peter Slipper of sexual harassment, a charge he chose not to pursue after he had achieved the goal of destroying Mr Slipper’s career and personal life.

And then there was the “unknown” whistleblower who chose to refer Peter Slipper to the police for a few hundred dollars’ worth of cab charges rather than allowing him to pay back the money, something that many members of the Coalition, including Tony Abbott and George Brandis, have been forced to do.

The prosecution of Peter Slipper once again cost the state an amount totally incommensurate with the alleged crime and he has since won his appeal.

The Coalition’s very close relationship with these two dubious characters – Abetz had Jackson on speed dial and Pyne met up for “drinks” with Ashby – shows they had a vested interest in encouraging their revelations.

But when Freya Newman chose to reveal that Tony Abbott’s daughter had been given a $60,000 scholarship that was not available to anyone else, she was immediately investigated, prosecuted and put on a good behaviour bond.  The fact that Frances Abbott’s school was a Liberal Party donor who then benefitted greatly by Abbott’s decision to fund private colleges makes the whole thing smell of corruption.

Speaking of which, when a former ASIO employee chose to blow the whistle on Alexander Downer for, under the guise of foreign aid, bugging the offices of the government of Timor l’Este to gain a commercial advantage for Woodside Petroleum who subsequently employed Mr Downer, he immediately had his passport revoked so he could not testify in the case in the International Court and the office of his lawyer was raided and all documents confiscated.

When the Guardian and the ABC reported on leaked documents from Edward Snowden revealing that the Australian Government had bugged the phones of Indonesian politicians and even the President’s wife, they were labelled as traitors by Tony Abbott who apparently thought there was nothing wrong with the deed but talking about it was a crime.

Which brings me to, in my mind, the greatest travesty of all.

When ten members of the Save the Children organisation reported on cases of sexual assault and self-harm of children on Nauru, they were immediately sacked by Scott Morrison.

When the group made a submission to the AHRC’s children in detention inquiry providing evidence of sexual abuse, the Department of Immigration asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate Save The Children for potentially breaching section 70 of the Crimes Act, which bars the disclosure of Commonwealth facts or documents.

A secret report prepared by immigration detention service provider Transfield Services reveals the company was monitoring the activities of Save The Children staff, then accused them of providing evidence to the media of sexual assaults and protests in the detention centre.  It reveals that Save The Children staff had compiled reports documenting evidence of sexual assault, which it said had become “increasingly emotive in recent weeks”.

“Two days ago, information report 280917 was written in such a manner by SCA employees, DE and FF, and some of the allegations regarding sexually inappropriate behaviour by security guards contained within this report have been widely reported across Australian media today. DE left Nauru yesterday and the allegations have appeared in the press today.”

The Transfield report also alleges that “It is probable there is a degree of internal and external coaching, and encouragement, to achieve evacuations to Australia through self-harm actions,” though it gives no evidence at all in support of the accusation, which did not stop Scott Morrison and the Daily Telegraph from publicly repeating it last October.

Morrison’s reaction was to announce the Moss Review to examine allegations that staff from the charity acted inappropriately at the Nauru detention centre.

The Moss review, which is due to be released tomorrow, examined why 10 Save the Children aid workers were sent home from the detention centre and whether they fabricated allegations of sexual abuse.

As with the Human Rights Commission’s Forgotten Children report, the message has been ignored and the messenger has been relentlessly pursued and vilified.

In the corporate world, the Corporations Act contains protections for certain whistleblowers, including making it unlawful to persecute a whistleblower for making a protected disclosure of information. This protection encourages people within companies, or with special connections to companies, to alert the company (through its officers), or ASIC, to illegal behaviour.

Where is the same protection for people who alert us to wrongdoing by the government or its agents?  Why does Morrison accept Transfield’s report but not that of the Human Rights Commission?  Will the Moss Review investigate the sexual abuse or just the people who are trying to Save the Children?

A government who is happy to destroy people’s lives for their own political ends, who silences all criticism, and who considers their own interests in front of the welfare of children in our care, is worthy of the same contempt they show for the truth.

We are being governed by a despicable group of people who have sacrificed all decency and integrity to personal ambition.

asylum seeker children protest on Nauru

asylum seeker children protest on Nauru

Trust, transparency and accountability or gimme gimme gimme?

Buoyed by their success at the 2013 election, the Abbott government has wasted no time in using their power to feather their own nest and to promote, reward and employ their backers.  Whilst all governments do this to a degree, Abbott has taken it to a whole new level of blatant nepotism and servitude to his masters at the expense of the public interest.

On the 9th of September 2013, before the count was even finalised, Julie Bishop flexed her muscles by her petty and vindictive decision to revoke the appointment of Steve Bracks as consul-general in New York.  He had been appointed in May, long before the caretaker period, and was due to start that week.

It’s not as if Ms Bishop had a better person in mind. The position remained vacant for six months until it was gifted to Nick Minchin, the man who gave Tony Abbott leadership of the Liberal Party in return for his conversion to climate change denial.

And she didn’t stop there. Despite having 18 months of his term left, Mike Rann was booted from the position of High Commissioner to the UK to make way for Alexander Downer.  This is the man who, under the guise of providing foreign aid, authorised the bugging of the cabinet offices of the East Timor parliament to further the commercial interest of Woodside Petroleum who coincidentally employed him after he left politics.

Rather than investigate this matter, which is before the International Court of Justice, George Brandis authorised raids to steal the evidence and cancelled the passport of the prime witness.

Brandis also hit the ground running to look after his mates. So appalled was he by the conviction of Andrew Bolt, he immediately set about changing the laws to protect the rights of bigots.  To champion the cause, he made the inexplicable decision to sack the Human Rights Commissioner for the Disabled, Graeme Innes, and appoint the IPA’s Tim Wilson (without advertising, application, interview, relevant qualifications or experience), to fight for the repeal of Section 18c of the racial discrimination laws,

After a huge backlash from the public, Brandis was directed to drop his crusade, and there sits Tim Wilson, drawing a salary of $400,000 including perks, with nothing to do.

Mr Wilson’s appointment followed Senator Brandis’ announcement that he had chosen former Howard government minister David Kemp – the son of IPA founder Charles Kemp – to chair the advisory council of Old Parliament House.  This position had been given to Barrie Cassidy but Brandis forced him to resign.  Along with Kemp, two others were appointed: Heather Henderson, the only daughter of Liberal Party founder Sir Robert Menzies; and Sir David Smith, whose place in history was assured on November 11, 1975, on the steps of Old Parliament House, when as official secretary to governor-general Sir John Kerr he was required to read out the proclamation sacking the Whitlam government.

Brandis, as Minister for the Arts, also appointed Gerard Henderson as chairman of the judging panel for the nonfiction and history category of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, Australia’s richest book prize.

Tony Abbott only took a few hours to begin his Night of the Long Knives. The swearing-in ceremony had barely finished when the Prime Minister’s office issued a press release, announcing three departmental secretaries had had their contracts terminated and the Treasury Secretary would stand down next year.

The head of Infrastructure Australia also quit or was sacked for his criticism of the government’s interference with the independence of his organisation.  The head of the NBN, along with the entire board, were also replaced.

All funding for the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was withdrawn.  Countless charities and advisory groups have been defunded.

Climate change and renewable energy bodies have been under constant attack with many disbanded and the rest hanging on temporarily by the grace of the Senate.

To replace all these experienced experts, we have seen an astonishing array of people appointed to high-paying positions as advisers, reviewers, commissioners, consultants, board members, envoys –

Maurice Newman, head of Tony Abbott’s 12-member Business Advisory Council, aged 76, a former head of the stock exchange and the ABC and a founder of another of the right-wing think tanks, the Centre for Independent Studies. Climate sceptic.

Dick Warburton, 72, the former chairman of the petrochemical company Caltex, among other corporate affiliations. Appointed  to review Australia’s 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target (RET).  Climate sceptic.  Also appointed was Brian Fisher.  Climate modelling done by his firm has been presented to the review panel by the oil and gas sector, as part of its campaign against the RET.

Tony Shepherd, former head of the Business Council of Australia (BCA), aged 69. Appointed to head the Commission of Audit.  Climate sceptic.  Former Liberal senator Amanda Vanstone and Liberal staffer and Chicago-school economist Peter Boxall were on the commission’s panel. Peter Crone, director of policy at the BCA, was head of the secretariat.

David Murray, 65, the former CEO of the Commonwealth Bank, appointed head of the government’s Financial System Inquiry. Climate sceptic.

Henry Ergas, 62, regulatory economist and columnist for the Australian. Appointed to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s “expert panel” to assess the costs and benefits of Turnbull’s “copper magic” NBN-lite.  Climate sceptic who recently made a video with Christopher Monckton.

Kevin Donnelly, the IPA-aligned former chief-of-staff to Kevin Andrews and champion of corporal punishment. Appointed to review the National Curriculum.  He then appointed Barry Spurr, author of racist sexist ranting emails, to advise on the literature curriculum.

Warren Mundine, son-in-law of Gerard Henderson. Appointed to advise on Indigenous affairs.  Has set up a nice new office, 10km away from his department.

Jim Molan, retired general and author of the tow-back policy. Appointed as Special Envoy to fix the asylum seeker problem and to advise on the defence white paper, a position he quit after three weeks citing differences with the Defence Minister.

Janet Albrechtsen, columnist for the Australian, and Neil Brown, former deputy Liberal Party leader. Appointed to the panel overseeing appointments to the boards of the ABC and SBS.

It seems the pool of “experts” nowadays is confined to the IPA, the Australian, the Business Council, and the Howard government, and climate change scepticism is an essential criterion.

Aside from jobs for the boys (and a couple of girls who think feminism is a dirty word), we have also seen the blatant promotion of the coal industry with fast-tracking of approvals. We have seen the repeal of gambling reform laws.  We have seen the delay and watering down of food and alcohol labelling laws.  We are seeing an attack on the minimum wage and penalty rates.  All of these measures are against the best interests of the people and purely designed to reward business donors.

Our Prime Minister personally introduces James Packer to international government and business leaders around the world to promote his quest to build more casinos. This is despite the fact that his company, Crown, has been implicated in bribery to a Chinese official.

In a recent report, the OECD was scathing of Australia’s record, pointing out that Australia “has only one case that has led to foreign bribery prosecutions, out of 28 foreign bribery referrals received by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) … this is of serious concern”.

One of the 28 cases referred to the AFP related to two properties in Chinese Macau part owned by James Packer’s company, Crown.

A former Macau official is currently serving a 289-year sentence for accepting bribes of up to $100 million, with various suspect projects named, including the casinos.

The OECD report notes Australian police did not launch a domestic investigation into any possibility of Crown’s involvement.

In another scandal, former Leighton Holdings construction boss Wal King has denied all knowledge of a $42 million bribe Leighton is accused of having paid in Iraq. Leighton Holdings continue to be awarded lucrative government contracts.

Another of the 28 cases referred to by the OECD relates to payments made by BHP Billiton in China. They note that, unlike Australia, the US has launched two investigations into BHP Billiton

The OECD’s lead examiners expressed concern that the “AFP may have closed foreign bribery cases before thoroughly investigating the allegations”.

The only foreign bribery investigation that has resulted in prosecutions in Australia is the highly publicised case involving the Reserve Bank subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia over which, interestingly, Dick Warburton has been investigated as a former director of Note Printing Australia.

One must wonder about a police force that can spend hundreds of thousands investigating and prosecuting Peter Slipper over $900 worth of cab charges, that can mobilise over 800 police to conduct raids leading to the arrest of one teenager who got a phone call from a bad person and the confiscation of a plastic sword, but who refuse to investigate widespread corruption in industry.

And every day it gets just a little bit worse.

A Sydney restaurant owned by Tourism Minister Andrew Robb and his family is being promoted by a government-funded $40 million, 18-month Tourism Australia campaign that targets 17 key global markets to sell the Australian “foodie” experience to the world.

The Robb family restaurant, Boathouse Palm Beach, is showcased on Tourism Australia’s “Restaurant Australia” website, which was launched in May, as the “ultimate day trip destination” just an hour from Sydney and the “perfect place for a relaxed family outing”.

Perhaps Tony Abbott’s daughters earned their job at the UN and $60,000 scholarship.  Perhaps the contract to BMW had nothing to do with them giving an Abbott girl a gig.  We will never know.

This is only a sample of how the ruling class are using our nation as their personal plaything, of how they openly flaunt convention and even the law, of how they silence dissent and promote their agenda, of how they bestow rewards.

Until this abuse of power is curtailed, politicians will rightly be reviled as the least trustworthy people in the country.

Shining a light on dark places

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The attempt to sell the repeal of Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act has led to a new page in the “phrases to repeat” Coalition script. Everyone from Tony Abbott and George Brandis to Tim Wilson is saying that it is the responsibility of the community to “shine a light on dark places”.

I realise they are referring to bigotry and racism but I think it is a laudable sentiment which should be embraced and extended.

I would like a light shone on Manus Island and Nauru and “on-water operations”. I would like to see a cost benefit analysis of our offshore detention policy. I would like to see a total bill for Operation Sovereign Borders and the incarceration of innocent people.

Add up how much we are spending on orange life rafts and unmanned drones and having a naval fleet patrolling. Add up how much we are spending on flights for politicians, aid workers, guards, journalists, asylum seekers etc to fly backwards and forwards to Indonesia, PNG, Nauru, Christmas Island, Cambodia, Solomon Islands and everywhere else we are trying to make complicit in this inhumanity. Add up how much it is costing us to keep 30,000 people locked up in limbo.

Next, this government is carrying out a concerted campaign to discredit unions using the Craig Thomson case to justify spending hundreds of millions on a Royal Commission and the re-establishment of the ABCC. I find this hard to understand as Mr Thomson is going to gaol – doesn’t this show that we already have a system of oversight by which corrupt officials can be prosecuted? Aren’t the police and ICAC better suited to deal with bribery, corruption and intimidation?

The $24,000 that Mr Thomson misappropriated pales into insignificance compared to the amount of money that politicians have been forced to repay for fraudulent expense claims that are brushed off as “mistakes” if someone questions them. I would like a light shone on parliamentarians’ entitlements and for the Finance department to exercise better governance.

I would like to shine a light on who is actually running our government. Every time Tony Abbott meets with world leaders Peta Credlin is sitting at the table. I know she runs his office but surely there are some diplomats, economists. cultural, trade or defence experts that deserve a spot in front of her.

I want to know why Cardinal Pell and Maurice Newman feel empowered to advise the government on climate change. I want to know why Mark Textor feels empowered to wade into foreign affairs on Twitter. I want to know who are the puppet masters. (see Andrew Robb video).

Speaking of puppet masters, I want to shine a light on political donations, and on paid political advertising which is banned in the UK.

Coincidentally, in a recent freedom of speech ruling in the European Court, the UK government successfully argued that the ban on paid political advertising was necessary to achieve the “legitimate aim of avoiding the distortion of debate on matters of public interest by unequal access to influential media by financially powerful bodies.”

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority of nine to eight, that the long-standing ban on paid political advertising on television and radio in the United Kingdom does not contravene the right to freedom of expression in article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Wealthy corporations, organisations and individuals have unusual access to, and influence over, the parties and politicians to whom they donate. Hundreds of millions of dollars are donated and then spent on advertising. Not only is this a ridiculous waste of money, it makes our political parties beholden. They are focused on chasing sponsorship so they must appease those with the means to bankroll them. People back winners so they must concentrate on being popular rather than governing.

The media must have a good relationship with a politician to gain access and to be fed the leaks. The politician must have a good relationship with the media because they choose what the next headline will say and which stories will be reported. This symbiotic arrangement has degenerated so far that politicians and journalists are amongst the least respected professions in the country.  The following arrangement doesn’t add to the public’s trust.

“The $600 million lease on the current RAAF fleet of two Boeing 737 business jets and three smaller Challenger 604 aircraft will expire next year and the government will seek agreement from media companies to limit criticism of any decision to opt for bigger planes

According to senior government sources the new plan would involve aircraft such as the Airbus A-330 or Boeing 777 that can fly hundreds of passengers over long distances with fewer stops. The Boeing 777 and Airbus A-330 each cost about $250 million and both can carry in excess of 200 passengers in VIP configuration.”

And why should the media not report on this? Because the current planes “are too small to carry a full complement of press gallery journalists and crews” so let me spend my hundreds of millions in peace and you get a free ride to come film me. The taxpayers are footing the bill for Tony’s tame journos to be flown around the world presumably for free.

I would like to shine a light on corporate lobbyists and the deals they make with politicians. After leaving Parliament, an inordinate number of ex-pollies secure plum jobs with corporations they dealt with in their portfolio.

After bugging the East Timorese cabinet rooms under the guise of building them as a foreign aid project when he was Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer became an adviser to Woodside Petroleum, the company that was negotiating to exploit the oilfields. Peter Reith was appointed as a consultant to defence contractor Tenix immediately after resigning as defence minister. Health minister Michael Wooldridge signed a $5 million building deal for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and days later, after resigning as health minister, was employed by the college as a consultant.

I would like to shine a light on the truth about debt and deficit. Between PEFO and MYEFO, under the Coalition government, the projected deficit for the year blew out by $17 billion. $10.2 billion of that was due to spending decisions made by the Coalition, notably an $8.8 billion gift to the RBA, an extra $1.2 billion for offshore processing, and tax breaks for those with super balances over $2 million.

Quoting from the Coalition “phrases to repeat” sheet, you will hear every one of them say Labor left us with a debt of $667 billion. Well to quote Joe Hockey’s own MYEFO document which he produced in mid-December:

“Net debt is forecast to be $191.5 billion in 2013-14 and reach $280 billion in 2016-17.”

The figure of $667 billion comes from Hockey’s MYEFO estimation of the possible gross debt in ten years’ time. Surely between now and 2024 he will be able to come up with a solution or will we still be hearing about Labor’s debt?

Where we need a glaring spotlight is on the free trade agreements that we are rushing headlong into. With Peter Dutton insisting that our health system is unsustainable why on earth would you enter into agreements that will unquestionably send our PBS into a death spiral? Allowing the evergreening of patents and other measures to benefit the pharmaceutical companies (who just so happen to be generous sponsors of the pollie pedal) will potentially spell the end of generic medicines with a huge increase in the price we pay for our drugs.

I could go on but all this light shining is burning me out. We need all of you to be torch bearers for our country. Do as Tim Wilson urges us to do – shine a light on the dark places where this government is trying to lead us.

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