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Tag Archives: Operation Sovereign Borders

Arise Scott Morrison, Lord Sixwords of Cronulla!

There’s little doubt that Scott Morrison is the Abbott Government’s most notorious minister. We read about him almost daily, largely about his hard-line towards asylum seekers, and given his new portfolio we await similar stories about a hard-line attitude towards welfare recipients. But apart from his regular appearances in the media we know little about him. George Venturini sheds more light on the man, taking us through a four-part series about the enigmatic Scott Morrison.

Arise Scott John Morrison, Lord Sixwords of Cronulla!

But why Sixwords? Simple: Eine Sprache, ein Gezetz, ein Kultur – translated into ‘One Language, One Law, One Culture’ for the benefit of the ‘boys of Cronulla’, Morrison’s grand electors.

Scott John Morrison, born on 13 May 1968, is a member of the Australian House of Representatives for the Liberal Party. He was elected in the 2007 for the federal Division of Cook, an electorate in the southern suburbs of Sydney, which includes Cronulla, Caringbah, Miranda and Sylvania. After the Liberal Party was elected to government at the 2013 federal election, Morrison was appointed the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

At age 46 he became the most powerful person in the Australian Government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

When on 8 December 2009 Morrison became Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship he won the accolade from the newly elected Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who referred to Morrison as “a great talent who was one of the bright new stars of the new generation of MPs.

Five years later no other minister, not the Prime Minister himself – or his Deputy, the Foreign Minister, not the Attorney-General, reached the same unchecked control over the lives of other people. He became the only minister not answerable to anyone for his decisions – a dictator within the most Right-wing government in Australian history.

At 8.06 in the morning of 8 December 2014 the House of Representatives passed the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill, which had been approved in the early hours of the day by the Senate and returned to the House as amended, into Act 135/2014.

The Act is a very complex, lengthy piece of legislation, which restores the failed policy of temporary protection visas introduced by the Howard Government – a process which, once lifted, increased the number of boat arrivals. The resolution of “Asylum Legacy Caseload” refers to the failure by the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments to “stop the boats” – which would become one of the slogans of the Liberal/Country Party Opposition during the electoral campaign concluded with victory of the Coalition in September 2013.

“Stopping the boats” of the Orwellianish described as ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’ has been for years ‘the policy’ of both wings of what passes for a tropical rendition of the Westminster System in Australia: the Conservative Coalition and the Australian Labor Party. It was to become the ultimate step of cruelty to asylum seekers which began with the introduction in 1992 of mandatory detention of such arrivals.

In fact the new Act will go much further than what appears as a house-cleaning operation. It frees Australia from any obligations associated with the Refugee Convention and half a dozen of other international treaties or conventions to which Australia is a party – but by which it has long ceased to abide.

The Act confers upon the minister, Morrison until 21-23 December 2014 and after that his successor, and his Department of Immigration and Border Protection the power to return people to persecution, torture and possibly death; that decision is not subject to judicial review.

For all practical purposes Morrison would become and his successor will henceforth be effectively above the High Court.

How did Morrison get there?

As Nick Bryant, a former BBC correspondent from Australia, noted in The Monthly of February 2012, Scott Morrison was born and grew up in Bronte, one of the affluent eastern suburbs of Sydney, now one of the wealthiest enclaves of Australia’s richest parliamentary constituency. His family background, however, could hardly be described as part of the élite. Rather, Bryant wrote, “it was strongly Christian and communitarian.”

His father was a police commander who founded the local Boys Brigade in Bondi Junction, played rugby for the local Randwick team and was an active member of the local Returned and Services League of Australia. His mother worked in administrative positions. Outside their day jobs, Morrison’s parents ran youth programmes for the local church. His father was involved in aged care and served as a local-government councillor for 16 years.

Scott Morrison was an active member of the Uniting Church in Bondi Junction, and became “a dedicated Christian”. He is now a Pentecostal, a member of the most rapidly growing denomination in Australia. He worships at an American-style mega-church called ‘Shirelive’ in his constituency, where the ‘gospel of prosperity’ is preached in an auditorium which can accommodate over 1,000 members. With its water baptisms and designer-shirt pastors, ‘Shirelive’ has close ties with the better-known ‘Hillsong’ community. The founder of Hillsong, Harley Davidson-riding pastor Brian Houston, is one of Morrison’s mentors.

In Who’s Who Morrison lists the church as his number one hobby. The inaugural speech that he delivered on 14 February 2008 reads in part, as will be seen, like a personal testimony delivered on the last night of a church retreat. It is heavily larded with passages from Jeremiah and also from the Book of Joel: “Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

Maybe there was not enough money in the family to send young Scott to one of those (too many) private schools which are designed to instil ‘the values’ of Australian society in young aspiring leaders: conformity, a ‘Christian’ education, ‘good manners’ and the feeling that a ridiculous and backward looking uniform, cadet training, a traditional tie, a fanciful head-cover, and plenty of money would ‘buy an education first’, and the entry into the better-offs later. Still, Morrison’s formal schooling was privileged: he was sent to Sydney Boys High School, one of the best in the public sector. He proceeded to the University of New South Wales, where he received an honours degree in applied science, studying economics and geography. It is there, perhaps, that young Scott established his values and aspirations in life – officially: marketing, tourism, property, politics. [Emphasis added] The Italics seem critical. The official Parliamentary page describes his occupations before entering Federal Parliament: National Manager, Policy and Research Property Council of Australia 1989-95; Deputy Chief Executive, Australian Tourism Task Force 1995-96; General Manager, Tourism Council 1996-98; Director, NZ Office of Tourism and Sport 1998-2000; State Director, Liberal Party (New South Wales) 2000-04; Managing Director, Tourism Australia 2004-06; and Principal, MSAS Pty Ltd 2006-07.

After graduation he was fortunate, despite some ‘rough seas’: while in the employ of the Tourism Task Force he found a way of jumping ship to its main rival, Tourism Council Australia. Afterwards, the Tourism Task Force changed its employment contracts to prevent others from “doing a Morrison”.

When the New Zealand government looked around to set up an Office of Tourism and Sport, it favourably considered an application by Morrison. He distinguished himself for promoting the highly acclaimed ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign, but also came under fire from the Labor Opposition for acting as a sidekick to the tourism minister who had appointed him. When his benefactor was forced to resign for corrupt practices, Morrison lost his protector. He turned that to his advantage and was able to terminate in advance his contract, at a price – in his favour of course.

In March 2000 Morrison returned to Sydney, where the Liberal Party offered him an appointment as State Director. The Liberal Party prides itself on being a ‘broad church’. It is quite possible that in Sydney Morrison came into contact with one sample of such ‘liberality’. One comes to think of one Lyenko Urbanchich, or Ljenko Urbancic. The precise name is of no importance. His activity in the Liberal Party is. Arriving in the l950s, Urbancic found his natural den in the Liberal Party in Sydney. It was he who invented ethnic branch-staking in Australia. Through that every aspect of nefarious activities took place, particularly the profound hatred for Jews which had become one of Urbancic ‘specialities’ as broadcaster of Radio Ljubljana, in that part of Yugoslavia which was occupied by Fascists and German troops.

Having joined the pro-Nazi party Zbor in early age, while at university Urbancic became a capable organiser and propagandist. In early October 1943 he wrote his first pro-Nazi article and organised the first SS-supported Home Guard volunteers – the Slovensko domobranstv, Slovene Home Guard. Domobranci Urbancic wrote for Jutro newspaper, another source of collaboration with the Fascist-German occupiers. From the very beginning of his career he had pledged his blind loyalty to General Leon (or Lav or Lev) Rupnik, Slovenia’s puppet ‘president’. At the end of the war Urbancic fled from Slovenia, was later arrested but released from British custody in 1948, and arrived in Australia as a Displaced Person in late 1950.

For over two decades he stacked Liberal branches along the eastern sea-board part of New South Wales. His control of the Liberal Ethnic Council of New South Wales, set up in 1977, was absolute. His faction was openly called ‘the Uglies’. It did not die with the death of Urbancic in 2006; on the contrary, it continued by the care of an Upper House’s member – with quiet success. The key to that is anti-Semitism – broadly defined, and most of the time discreet, whispered, nudge-nudged and wink-winked. The transfer of that prejudice was to embrace in an attitude of diffidence, in time mounting to hatred, for most people from the Middle East (in a convenient Anglo ‘definition’): ‘the Arabs’, the Turks – who won at Gallipoli, the Lebanese – often lambasted as ‘bloody Lebs’, the Iraqis attempting to take refuge after ‘the good, real-Australians’ had recently invaded and devastated their country, and of course the Israelis, and the Palestinians. So Morrison was, quietly at first, in his comfortable milieu.

Morrison presided over the organisation of the Liberal Party in New South Wales, earning the praise by future Prime Minister John Howard, who said that he had never seen the state party better organised.

In 2004 Morrison landed the position of Managing Director of the new government tourism body, Tourism Australia. The Federal Member for North Sydney, Joseph Benedict “Joe” Hockey – who since his re-election in 1998 held a number of ministerial portfolios including Small Business and Tourism, Human Services and Employment and Workplace Relations, who was later made Minister for Financial Services and Regulation, and since the return of the Coalition to government in 2013 has been Treasurer – secured for Morrison the position of Managing Director of Tourism Australia 2004-06. The salary was a not insignificant: $350,000, yearly. Morrison gained a tremendous success, in Australia, with the campaign based on the slogan “Where the bloody hell are you?” Abroad he encountered considerable troubles, particularly in England, where the adjective ‘bloody’, so commonly used in Australia, is considered ‘not kosher’ according to the advertising regulations, which incidentally had not been read and/or understood by the enthusiastic Morrison. Americans and Germans had no problem with the word. The Japanese, to whom the publicity was principally directed, did not understand a word of the slogan. As far as they were concerned the campaign flopped.

There were also problems with the board of Tourism Australia, the nine members unanimously regarding Morrison as aggressive, intimidating, arrogant, authoritarian, secretive and exclusive. The matter was settled by allowing Morrison to resign, quietly but under no uncertain pressure. The matter carried a tag of $300,000 for a ‘gentlemanly separation’.

The time was not too far for Morrison to demonstrate “through [his] actions his Christian faith and the value [his] family placed on public and community service.” and to declare, as he would in his inaugural speech in February 2008, that: “In our family it has never been what you accumulate that matters but what you contribute.”

It was probably after the ‘separation’ that Morrison turned his attention to securing a seat in the federal Parliament. He had taken up residence in the seat of Cook. The Division of Cook, an Australian electoral division in the state of New South Wales, was set up in 1969 and is named for Captain James Cook, who mapped the east coast of Australia in 1770. The division, located in the southern suburbs of Sydney, includes the suburbs of Cronulla, Caringbah, Miranda and Sylvania.

The seat was held by the mild-mannered Bruce Baird from October 1988 to November 2007. Baird had held seriatim the posts of Minister for Transport, Minister for Sydney’s Olympic Bid and Minister for Tourism between 1988 and 1995, in a New South Wales Coalition government. He had an interest in Tourist Training Australia and the Tourism Education Service. But that was the only thing that Morrison and Baird had in common. Baird along with fellow Liberal members of parliament Russell Broadbent, Petro Georgiou and Judith Moylan would actively oppose mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

In April 2007, when Baird announced that he would retire at the next election, a fierce battle over his successor ensued. One Michael Towke was initially pre-selected as the Liberal candidate, but allegations surfaced that Towke had engaged in branch-stacking and had embellished his résumé. The allegations were subsequently proven false. But the damage had been done – by careful arrangement.

The ‘Right’ and the ‘Left’ in the Liberal Party engaged in one of the most vituperative pre-selection campaigns in the State history.

Morrison was not supported by either side, Baird remained decently neutral, and Morrison – who ostensibly had remained out of the fray – finished a long way back on the first ballot, receiving just 8 votes, against 82 to Towke.

It was then, and because of the arranged allegations, that the state executive of the New South Wales Liberal Party rushed to dis-endorse Towke and to hold a new pre-selection ballot. Morrison won the seat at the election; he is the current sitting member.

Scott Morrison presented himself as a Liberal moderate in his first speech to

As Julian Burnside, a prominent Melbourne barrister and human right advocate, recently pointed out, once in government, Morrison unrelenting, programmatic cruelty to asylum seekers, “sat oddly with his avowed religious views, and his maiden speech in Parliament, delivered on February 14, 2008.

Among other things, Morrison said: “I turn now to the most significant influences on my life – my family and my faith. Family is the stuff of life and there is nothing more precious … For me, faith is personal, but the implications are social – as personal and social responsibility are at the heart of the Christian message …”

He drew on the example of William Wilberforce (the great English anti-slavery campaigner). He quoted Desmond Tutu as saying: “we expect Christians … to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked” and was inspired to add: “These are my principles.”

It is lucky he identified his principles so clearly, because no one would be able to discover them by watching his behaviour as immigration minister.

As minister, Morrison was more concerned to ensure boat people were treated so harshly that the prospect of being locked up in Manus or Nauru would act as a “deterrent”: it had to look more alarming than the risk of dying on the sea in the attempt to reach safety. He was responsible for holding more children in detention than any previous government. He presided over a system that was calculated to humiliate, degrade, damage and break people. And, worse than all that, Morrison deceived us into thinking that all this was being done for the benefit of the Australian public.

Morrison’s conduct as immigration minister is impossible to reconcile with his stated Christian beliefs. He visited the detention centre at Manus Island on September 26, 2013, and delivered a clear message that the transferees would remain at the centre until they went home or resettled in a country other than Australia. This stands awkwardly alongside a passage from Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me”, a message at the heart of the Christian teaching he claims to embrace.”

Morrison was not destined to stay on the Opposition backbench for long. The Leader of the Opposition in 2008, Malcolm Turnbull, believing that he would recognise a fellow traveller from the ‘moderate wing’ of the party, elevated him to the Shadow Ministry as the spokesman for Housing and Local Government. But it was the immigration portfolio handed to him by the new Leader, Tony Abbott, in 2009 which provided the vehicle for his rise to prominence.

Some of his colleagues have criticised such rapid move to ‘the right’ under Abbott and have accused Morrison of “supreme opportunism”. The test was not long a-coming.

In December 2010, 48 asylum seekers died while attempting to reach Christmas Island by boat. Morrison’s attitude to the event was bitterly criticised by both the government and his own party for comments he uttered after the tragedy.

On 15 February 2011 the then Shadow Immigration minister questioned the decision of the Gillard Government to pay for relatives of the dead to attend funerals in Sydney.

Afterward fellow Liberal and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey denounced Morrison’s statements, saying that that he would “never seek to deny a parent or a child from saying goodbye to their relative.” Morrison acknowledged that the timing of his comments might have been insensitive, but did not recoil from the comments themselves.

“Do you think you run the risk of being seen as heartless on the day of these funerals to be saying – to be bickering over this money?” asked ABC reporter Barbara Miller, whose report that morning was broadcast on the programme AM.

Here is what Morrison replied: “When it comes to the question of do I think this is a reasonable cost then my honest answer is, ‘No, I don’t think it is reasonable.’ ”

The Fairfax press published a column which called him a “cheap populist”, with the outburst “harmful to the national interest”.

Caught unawares and always prone to equivocation, the Leader of the Opposition gave the remarks a lukewarm endorsement during the course of an interview with a notoriously Right-wing radio station. He said: “It does seem a bit unusual that the government is flying people to funerals.” Morrison’s comments were met with condemnation from former Liberal leaders. One called the comments “inhumane”. Another expressed his hope that “Scott Morrison is just a fringe element in the party.

Morrison was actually meaning what he said – and much more. In a very short time, understanding how quickly and conveniently the Liberal Party was lurching to the extreme right, he readied himself to become the hard-Right’s poster boy. It did not matter that he would associate with the militantly illiterate loud-mouths of re-emerging Australian racism. He thought it convenient, nay dutiful, that he should speak for his electors, no matter how degrading their views.

Within the Liberal Party it was not outrage to motivate criticism of Morrison’s attitude; rather it was fear that the mouthpiece of such vileness was being too ambitious and going too fast in the quest for ‘higher duties’.

Reaction to Morrison’s utterances encouraged leaks from party proceedings. One came from a Shadow Cabinet meeting in December 2011. In Abbott’s absence, Julie Bishop had been chairing the meeting. She had opened up a discussion on which issues should be prioritised the following year. The record of the meeting showed that Morrison had asked, in an agitated fashion: “What are we going to do about multiculturalism?” The question could be interpreted either way, but then Morrison made his position clear: “What are we going to do about concerns about the number of Muslims?”

For a long time multiculturalism had been a word of contempt in Cronulla, and Morrison was assuming the position of spokesperson for the people in his electorate.

There had been sectarian clashes and violent acts in 2005 in Cronulla, and they had subsequently spread to nearby suburbs. The situation became particularly tense on 4 December 2005 when a group of volunteer surf lifesavers were offended by a group of young men of Middle Eastern appearance, with several other violent assaults occurring over the following week. These incidents were widely commented on in the Sydney media and are considered to be a key factor in a racially motivated confrontation the following weekend. Racial tension was already prevalent among the two racial groups due to the Sydney Gang Rapes of 2000, among other social incidents. The Sydney gang rapes were a series of attacks committed by a group of up to fourteen Lebanese Australian youths against real-Australian women and teenage girls, as young as 14. Described as ethnically motivated hate crimes by officials and commentators, the crimes were covered extensively by the news media, and prompted the passing of new laws which likely contributed to the degree of the escalation, even though a later review by New South Wales Police found that the initial incident was no more significant, of itself, than other fights between the two racial groups.

A crowd gathered on the morning of Sunday 11 December 2005 and, by midday, approximately 5,000 people gathered at Cronulla beach to protest against the recent spate of violence against locals. Fuelled by alcohol, the crowd turned to violence when a young man of Middle Eastern appearance was spotted on the beach. He was surrounded by a crowd outside a local hotel and attacked, along with similar attacks later that day. Retaliatory riots also took place that night and on subsequent nights, resulting in several more assaults, including one stabbing and even some attacks against ambulance and police officers, and extensive property damage.

The attacks were widely condemned by local, state and federal members of parliament, police, local community leaders, and residents of Cronulla and adjacent areas. A large number of arrests were made over the subsequent months, from both the initial riot on 11 December and the retaliatory riots held over the subsequent nights. Travel warnings for Australia were issued by some countries.

Morrison had not yet reached federal parliament.

But he was there in February 2013 when he was accused of vilifying asylum seekers with his hard-line reaction to the charging of a Sri Lankan man living in Sydney on a bridging visa with the sexual assault of a university student. He said that the police should be notified of where asylum seekers are living in the community if any anti-social behaviour has occurred, and that there should be strict guidelines for the behaviour of those currently on bridging visas while they await the determination of their claims.

Image from radioaustralia.net.au

Image from radioaustralia.net.au

The new code of conduct was released by the Immigration Minister for more than 20,000 ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ living in the community on bridging visas. Before the end of the year the government announced a new rule which requires asylum seekers who arrive by boat and are in Australia on temporary visas to sign this code of conduct. Morrison repeatedly defended the use of the term “illegal arrivals” to describe asylum seekers and he had earlier said that asylum seekers have been referred to as “illegal arrivals” who “turn up illegally” on “illegal boats”. He further said that “I’ve always referred to illegal entry” – as opposed to claiming asylum, which is legal – commenting “I’ve never claimed that it’s illegal to claim asylum.”

On 18 September 2013 Morrison launched Operation Sovereign Borders, the newly elected Coalition government strategy aimed at stopping unauthorised boats departing for or reaching Australia. The practice has been controversial as it violates, amongst others, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In February 2014 Morrison was accused of “bungling” and “desperate cover ups” over the release of information about the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati on Manus Island. Initially Morrison had claimed that Barati was outside the boundaries of the detention centre when he was killed. Morrison subsequently retracted that claim following reports confirming that Barati was in fact murdered inside the detention centre, and therefore while under his duty of care as minister of immigration.

In September 2014 another Iranian asylum seeker, Hamid Kehazaei, was pronounced brain-dead as a result of severe septicaemia, after reportedly seeking treatment on Manus Island for days. Scott Morrison’s policies and perceived negligence have been the focus of numerous protests against conditions in detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

To be continued . . .

Updated 4/4/2016. Click on the links to access Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Dr. George Venturini has devoted sixty years to the study, practice, teaching, writing and administering of law in four continents. He is the author of eight books and about 100 articles and essays for learned periodicals and conferences. Since his ‘retirement’ Dr. Venturini has been Senior Associate in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash; he is also an Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University, Melbourne. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.

Opaque and irresponsible

Tony Abbott promised to “restore accountability and improve transparency measures to be more accountable to you”.

This is a reminder of just a few of the stories that put pay to that hollow pledge.

They began their era of accountability by denying Freedom of Information.

Freedom of Information

“An attempt by technology media outlet Delimiter to retrieve the ‘Blue Book’ incoming ministerial briefing of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull under Freedom of Information laws has failed, with the Federal Government as a whole appearing to standardise around interpreting its rights as blocking such documents wholesale.”

“The first Abbott government budget will see the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) closed, and its functions assigned to other government agencies. This back-to-the-future move is likely to make it harder and probably more expensive for long suffering FOI users.

The budget shows that the FOI review function will be transferred back to the AAT from 2015 with the Attorney-General’s department responsible for overseeing the Freedom of Information Act and issuing FOI guidelines. In essence Attorney General George Brandis will be expected to drive the decades-long effort to change the culture of secrecy to one of openness and facilitation of access to information.”

The next step was to gag ministers and employees.

Keeping Ministers in check

Prime Minister Tony Abbott admits that he has ordered all ministers contact his office before speaking to the media, saying his government needs to speak with a ‘‘united voice’’.

On Wednesday, an email leaked to the Australian Financial Review, Mr Abbott’s senior press secretary, James Boyce, informed ministerial staff that all requests for interviews, right down to ABC local outlets, must be vetted by Kate Walshe who has taken over leadership of communications in Mr Abbott’s office.

In the leaked email, Mr Boyce wrote: ”All media co-ordination and requests should go through Kate first. This covers all national media interviews on television, radio and print. This includes any ABC local radio or ABC television interviews, the Sunday program, Sky News, and metropolitan print media longer-format interviews, etc.

“With any regular appearances on shows such as Sky AM Agenda, they should first have been coordinated through Kate at least the day before.”

Social Media Gag

On Sunday, Samantha Maiden reported that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had issued new social media guidelines that included a clause instructing employees that there “is an expectation” to dob in colleagues if they see them do anything on social media that might contravene the code of conduct. Such things included being “critical or highly critical of the Department, the Minister or the Prime Minister”.

The new guidelines made it a contravention of the code if anything you did on social media “could be perceived” as “compromising the APS employee’s capacity to fulfil their duties in an unbiased manner”. While this was particular to comments made about “policies and programmes of the employee’s agency”, it could be applied to other matters.  “Such comment does not have to relate to the employee’s area of work.”

Raids to confiscate damning evidence in a case before the International Court were the next step

Timor l’Este

“A lawyer representing East Timor in its spying case against Australia says his office has been raided by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

Bernard Collaery says a number of agents seized electronic and paper files on Tuesday afternoon from his law practice in Canberra.

He says the agents identified themselves as working for ASIO and the AFP, and would not show his employees the search warrant because it related to national security.

East Timor will launch a case in The Hague alleging the Australia Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) covertly recorded Timorese ministers and officials during oil and gas negotiations in Dili in 2004, allegedly giving Australia the upper hand.

Mr Collaery also says a key witness in the Timorese case – a former spy turned whistleblower – has been arrested in a separate raid in Canberra.”

Next on the list…muzzle the ABC and journalists (unless you are Andrew Bolt)


Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stepped up his criticism of the ABC, accusing the national broadcaster of being unpatriotic in its coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks and asylum seeker abuse claims.

Mr Abbott also questioned the ABC’s newly established Fact Check unit, saying he wanted the corporation to focus on straight news gathering and reporting.

“A lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s,” he said in an interview with Ray Hadley on Sydney radio station 2GB.

“I think it dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone’s side but its own and I think it is a problem.”

Brandis’ National Security plans.

The attorney general, George Brandis, would decide who would be prosecuted under a controversial new provision in national security legislation designed to head off a homegrown Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden.

The reforms proposed by the Abbott government are intended to make it easier for the peak spy agency, Asio, to monitor computers and computer networks. They also contain provisions which create a new offence punishable by five years in jail for “any person” who discloses information relating to “special intelligence operations”.

The broad wording in the proposed anti-leaking provision has prompted some leading criminal lawyers, the journalists’ union and media companies to warn the change could criminalise not only the initial disclosure, but any subsequent reporting of Snowden-style intelligence leaks.

An explanatory submission by Brandis’s department to the new JPCIS inquiry makes it plain that it will be the attorney general who decides who will be prosecuted under the new provisions.

We don’t want no stinkin’ accountability….

Open Government Partnership

THE Abbott government is reconsidering Labor’s pledge to sign Australia up for a major international transparency and citizen engagement initiative.

Australia was expected to formally enter the Open Government Partnership this month, joining 63 other nations in rolling out action plans to make their governments more open and accountable to the public.

Boys Own meets the bastard child of Secret and Magnificent Seven. 

Operation Sovereign Borders

The current management arrangements for Operation Sovereign Borders have little to commend them. They confuse accountability and provide scope for too much buck-passing. Their only obvious virtue, if it can be called that, is that they provide a veneer of military respectability for what, underneath, is an unedifying spectacle. And it has given employment to former major-general Jim Molan, who apparently had some hand in designing the operation’s ”concept”. Molan says he is, of all things, the operation’s ”troubleshooter”. It would be interesting to know how many targets he’s hit thus far, with what effect and at what cost.

In general, the provision of information on the operation’s workings and the public accountability about it fall well short of reasonable expectations. Some restrictions on operational grounds will be necessary but blanket bans on fessing up about all ”on-water matters” are absurd. It’s the equivalent of the ridiculous notion in sport that ”what happens on the field of play, stays on the field”. If current habits were to be extended to under the water, on the land and under it, and in the air, the accountability shop could just about be shut up.

UN denied access to offshore detention camps

Inspectors from a UN working group say they were denied access to Nauru after an initial invitation from the Nauruan government to investigate conditions in the detention centre.

The group’s leader Mads Andenas told a New Zealand radio station access had been cancelled, with the Nauruan government citing “practical reasons for it not being suitable, practical for us to come”.

Professor Gillian Triggs blamed the Abbott government for blocking the visit.

“Behind this is the Australian government pulling the strings in relation to who denies the UN access, but it’s just outrageous to deny the UN,” she told Fairfax Media.

“It’s an astonishing thing to do, to deny the very groups that are set up to monitor these matters globally with the consent of most of the international community, including Australia,” she said, following a National Press Club address on Wednesday.

Professor Triggs was similarly denied access to the Nauruan detention centre in February by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on the grounds that the commission’s jurisdiction did not extend beyond Australia’s borders.

Human rights advocates say this is the second time in a month that UN delegates have been refused access to Australian detention centres offshore.

Last month a delegate from the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, was refused a meeting with asylum seekers and G4S in the Manus detention centre.

Children in detention

“The Refugee Council is demanding Immigration Department staff be sacked if they were involved in a cover-up about the scale of mental health issues among child asylum seekers in detention.

Yesterday a Human Rights Commission inquiry was told that Immigration Department officials reacted with alarm at figures showing the extent of mental health concerns among young detainees.

“[They] asked us to withdraw these figures from our reporting,” psychiatrist Dr Peter Young said.

Any hint of government corruption may not be discussed.  

Suppression Order

Australia has secured a super-injunction order barring its media from reporting on a corruption case implicating top leaders from Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam in deals with the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).

The case stems from the long-running allegations of bribery involving RBA subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia to obtain contracts to supply polymer notes to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries.

According to WikiLeaks, Canberra invoked grounds of “national security” in order to secure the so-called super-injunction, claiming that censoring reports on the matter would “prevent damage to Australia’s international relations”.

“With this order, the worst in living memory, the Australian government is not just gagging the Australian press, it is blindfolding the Australian public,” WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange said in the statement. “The concept of ‘national security’ is not meant to serve as a blanket phrase to cover up serious corruption allegations involving government officials, in Australia or elsewhere… Corruption investigations and secret gag orders for ‘national security’ reasons are strange bedfellows.”

MP expenses

Under pressure to explain why taxpayers should spend thousands of dollars to help politicians compete in sports events and attend colleagues’ weddings, Mr Abbott said there would “always be arguments at the margins” and changing the rules would achieve nothing.

“I’m not proposing to change the system,” Mr Abbott said on Thursday.  “You don’t want members of Parliament to be prisoners of their offices.”

Liberal Party slush funds

The sensational corruption inquiry into alleged Liberal Party slush funds is expected to be adjourned within days to give investigators time to examine new evidence.

Federal ICAC

It is time the Liberal Party accepted that corruption among politicians, public officials and businesspeople is not confined to the states or to its opponents.

The NSW Labor conference unanimously passed a motion that Labor’s national conference next July debate support for a federal ICAC.  The federal ICAC would have royal commission-style powers to investigate MPs and public officials in relation to bribery, travel expenses and donations, while providing advice about ethical and legal duties.

The Labor motion even proposes a federal ICAC tackle white-collar crime, as the Serious Fraud Office does in Britain.

Former NSW ICAC chief David Ipp has told the ABC it is ”so screamingly obvious that there is a breakdown in trust” and that a federal ICAC is required.

Yet the Liberals have rejected every attempt to create one.

Abbott has questioned the need for it, notwithstanding his party’s appalling record on travel expenses.

We will not see the promised cost benefit analyses for anything costing over $100 million.  The NBN has become a secret.  Anything you want to know is commercial-in-confidence, or on-water, or a matter of national security, or before the courts.  We will decide what we tell people in this country and how they will be told.

In contrast….

Peter Slipper

“In June, Mr Slipper’s lawyers argued the charges should be dismissed under the Mental Health Act because of the former MP’s state of mind.

The court was told that Mr Slipper’s life had spiralled into one of despair as a result of the criminal allegations, but the magistrate ruled the trial go ahead for the sake of the public interest.”

Royal Commission into Union Corruption

I will be recommending the establishment of a Royal Commission to inquire into alleged financial irregularities associated with the affairs of trade unions.  It will inquire into the activities relating to ‘slush funds’ and other similar funds and entities established by, or related to, the affairs of these organisations.

It will address increasing concern arising from a wide range of revelations and allegations involving officials of unions establishing and benefiting from funds which have been set up for purposes which are often unknown and frequently unrelated to the needs of their members.


Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation. 

Atifete Jahjaga

I refuse to live in fear!

The tactic of a bully is to keep their victims living in fear of what could happen so they are grateful when they don’t get beaten or abused. They make their victim believe they are powerless by cutting them off from their support and telling them only the bully can look after them. This is exactly what our own government is doing. It is their tactic of choice in so many areas.

In the past, Australia was a country who willingly offered safe haven to refugees. We recognised their need for a home which complemented our need for population growth. As time passed, the contribution made to our society by those we embraced became obvious and we are the richer for it in so many ways. We are a wealthy multicultural society who used to lend a hand. Those days are gone.

We must spend whatever it takes, and alienate whoever we must, and inflict terrible physical and mental harm, to save the nation from the invading hordes of asylum seekers who will threaten our way of life. They will impose Sharia law, take your jobs, clog up your roads and hospitals, and are just waiting for a chance to kill you. Yes I am sure that’s why they are fleeing their homelands, leaving family and friends, risking their lives on unseaworthy vessels – just so they can come and turn Australia into what they are escaping from.

I do not fear refugees and we can easily accommodate 30,000 a year if not more. We should be welcoming them, assuring them they are safe now, and assisting them to become productive members of our society.

Climate change is real. It is not a conspiracy by bankers for world domination. It is not collusion by scientists to get funding. It is not a fake perpetrated by the IPCC. I refuse to believe the conspiracy theories though I am terrified by the consequences of our inaction. The government has inculcated fear about carbon pricing into the community – Whyalla will be wiped off the map, lamb roasts will cost $100, the cost of living will skyrocket – none of which happened.  They tell us that wind farms are bad for our health and when that didn’t run, they revert to they are ugly?

We were told that the mining tax would hinder investment in Australia with investment and jobs going offshore. This scare campaign was also a lie. We have the resources and a stable economy, the investors are banging on our door. The high Aussie dollar caused by the success of the mining industry is what is hurting jobs and sending industries offshore, but Hockey hastened to reassure the miners that they will not have any of their subsidies cut or tax increased.  In ‘fear’ of the miners choosing to rape another country instead, we have gotten rid of our environmental protections and given virtually open slather for the short term cash grab of developing our finite resources.

Our country is not broke. Using great big numbers about possible debt in ten years’ time and inflated deficit figures is purely designed to scare us. Why do that? Don’t you want business and consumer confidence? This scare campaign is purely political to exaggerate the problem, blame it on Labor, and use it as an excuse to implement their corporate agenda and social engineering.

People struggling on the old age and disability pensions are terrified about the recommendations from the Commission of Audit. We can reassure the miners but we cannot reassure the pensioners. They have to wait in fear so when they only have to pay $6 instead of the recommended $15 as a co-payment to the doctor they will feel grateful.

We are told that our health system is unsustainable yet the government didn’t ask the people in the industry how it could be improved. We straight away go to the scare campaign of we can’t afford this so you must pay. The experts have said there are many ways that expenditure could be better spent and areas of waste that could be eliminated but starting with preventative health is patently counter-productive.

The same applies to the old age pension. We have now scared everyone by saying they will have to work to 70 yet once again the experts disagree with the fear campaign being spread. Hockey said the number of people aged 65-84 would quadruple by 2050. The ABS says otherwise. They do three predictions – high, low, and medium – their high range estimate is 2.5 times growth in that age bracket. Hockey predicted that only 37 per cent of the population would be of working age in 2050, yet the best available estimates from the ABS show it is in fact between 61 and 63 per cent.

The scare campaign about unions is the government’s way of cutting us off from our support. What collective voice do the people have other than the unions? Who offers protection for our workplace rights other than unions? Who can represent individuals other than unions? Reducing the minimum wage or the availability of Newstart is not the best way to tackle unemployment. There are so many better ways like investing in new industries such as renewable energy, and investing in education and supporting research to develop the industries of the future – something we have been amazingly good at in the past.

George Brandis even wants to change the law to protect bigots and bullies.  Apparently they have every right to offend and humiliate people.  What sort of crazy backward thinking is this, done in the name of freedom?  Next, will we be defending the rights of countries to commit human rights abuses?  Oh, wait……

We must stand up to this government who consciously, willingly lies to its own citizens to keep them in unnecessary fear. We must point out their crazy priorities where we waste hundreds of billions on fossil fuel subsidies, tax rebates for superannuation and private health insurance, fighter jets, paid parental leave, grants to polluters, Operation Sovereign Borders, lifetime gold passes and entitlements for politicians, political advertising and campaigning and the like, while insisting that our most vulnerable must live in poverty and fear. We must expose their lies about debt, deficit, and the affordability of our health and welfare system.

You are the one who should be afraid Tony – be vewwy afwaid – because I refuse to live in fear and will do everything in my power to make sure the Australian people know the truth so we can protect ourselves from the bully by ending this relationship at the first opportunity.


The Wheat and the Chessboard

Image courtesy of abc.net.au

Image courtesy of abc.net.au

As this government goes from bad to worse it appears that they have no vision. Sadly they do, suggests regular guest writer Sean Stinson. Their plan is simple: slash and burn. 

They certainly are out of control if that is their aim.

Sean urges that the momentum from the March in March needs to be not only maintained, but taken to a higher level.

So it looks like there is going to be a March in May. I’d have to say I’m a little apprehensive – or maybe just lacking in confidence. The March in March was an unprecedented display of people power, with over 100 000 of us taking to the streets across the country, and although largely ignored by mainstream media, it’s something our grassroots movement can be rightly proud of. Can we do it bigger and better in May?

The only shadow of doubt I have is that March was perhaps some kind of social anomaly, a novelty which may not bear repetition. Nonetheless I remain hopeful. I have hope because I know it takes a special commitment to participate in a public protest. I am no role model. Until March I hadn’t been to a protest since Iraq II. Back then it was to send a message to the government that we wanted no part in Bush’s unjust war. Twelve years on and we are protesting a whole range of issues. We want compassion and open borders. We want gender equality. We want protection for our oceans, forests and aquifers. We want jobs, education and healthcare. We want our government to direct its focus away from continued reliance on fossil fuels and to get behind a clean energy industry that has the potential create massive employment with minimal ecological impact. (Seriously, who hasn’t thought about this?). Some have criticised the March in March for having a lack of focus. I could not disagree more. Our message is loud and clear: The Abbott Government is not acting for the common good of the free and sovereign people of Australia.

Some have argued that this government never really had a plan beyond winning the election and punishing Labor. I think otherwise. We’ve seen six months of economic slash and burn. Their actions to date have been to talk down the economy to justify savage cuts in public spending, while talking up the ‘issues’ (carbon tax, mining tax, boats) to fuel public opinion. Driven by the blind ideology of market supremacy, they plan to sell off all our public assets, carve up our natural resources and sell them to the highest (foreign) bidder, while attacking wages and conditions at home to effectively create a new class of working poor. It is Thatcherism plain and simple, and we all know how that worked out.

Don’t be fooled. Operation Sovereign Borders is a fireworks display. Royal commissions and Knights and Dames are political noise. MYEFO was the official launch for another political lie. Apparently we now have a $667bn gross debt. (“Product image for illustration purposes only. Actual product may vary”). The actual figure is $123bn, which in a $1.5tr economy amounts to about approximately 8.2% of GDP – I wish my personal debt was as low. Abbott says he wants to raise defence spending to a whopping 2% of GDP, while Hockey tells us we can’t afford Medicare. Where is the sense in this?

You should be concerned. This government is out of control. Legalising hate-speech (repealing section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act), repealing the Future of Financial Advice laws, and dissolving the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission were not policies anyone voted for at the last election. Nor was signing off on preferential trade agreements giving foreign corporations the right to challenge our laws and sue our government for lost profits. We are starting to see responses from all sectors of the community and there is a foul mood in the air. This government has really managed to piss off a lot of people in just six months in office. It’s not news that the ‘haves’ in our society suddenly outnumber the ‘have nots’; it’s been that way for centuries. The news is that Abbott and his mates have gone too far in too short a time and people are waking up to them. The government stinks, and the peasants are revolting [sic].

Revolutions throughout history have been violent and bloody. Fortunately we don’t need a revolution, because we already live in a democracy. What we do need is to send a strong and clear message to the government and let them know just who is in charge. Governments have a mandate to govern for the good of the people, not to outsource responsibility to free markets, and certainly not to take away our liberties. We are already seeing our rights eroded at state level. Victoria and Queensland have both passed new laws threatening freedom of assembly and freedom of association. There is a wave of rightwing thuggery spreading like cancer though our whole political system, and we need to put an end to it now. We can’t afford to wait till the next election. At the rate we’re going in three years time there may be nothing left to save. To borrow a few words from a fellow flag waving leftie, we need another Protest in April, a May Moratorium, a campaign of Justice in June and July, Action in August, a Solidarity Walk in September, Opposition in October, Say No in November, and a Double Dissolution in December.

I am reminded of the mathematical problem of the wheat and the chessboard, and wonder if this simple formula could not also be applied to taking back our country? Imagine if everyone who marched in March brought someone else along in May, be it a friend, family member, work colleague or a stranger. Do you see where I’m going with this? We’ll take to the streets in regular protests calling for equality, sustainability and accountability. And if we are serious, by December we will be over a million strong, and then we will call for a dismissal. Maybe even a long overdue Bill of Rights.


The Peter Principle

Tony-AbbottThe Peter Principle suggests that people will tend to be promoted until they reach their “position of incompetence”, and that is exactly what we are seeing with this Coalition government.  They had six years in Opposition to develop their policies, and access to the Parliamentary Budgetary Office to cost them, but when it came to the crunch the cupboard was bare.

The assessment of the potential of an employee for a promotion is often based on their performance in the current job.  Tony Abbott has been described as a very good Opposition leader.  Personally I can’t see it, but that’s because I think all members of Parliament have been elected to help run the country.  Achieving anything was never on Abbott’s radar.  His entire being was devoted to “attack dog” and truth and decency were no impediment.  He wanted to win at any cost as Tony Windsor revealed.  But what now?

Over six months in and it is patently obvious that the Coalition have no plan at all other than to “slowly and methodically” pay hundreds of millions of dollars to private consulting firms and mates to see if they can come up with a way to make the Coalition’s election promises feasible.  We have well over fifty reviews and audits and white papers and green papers in progress.  Any discussion of policy or direction turns into “the mess left by the previous government”.  They fail to realise that they were elected to fix this perceived mess rather than waste time bemoaning it.  You don’t employ a new CEO to sit there saying “wasn’t me, was the other guy”.

The Royal Commission into the home insulation programme is a blatant attempt to discredit the previous government.  The money would be far better spent implementing the recommendations from the eight inquiries we have already had.  The Royal Commission into unions is another blatant attempt to discredit all unions, silence the collective voice of the workers, and taint the Labor Party for their traditional association with the unions.  There do seem to be some problems in the construction industry but this would be far better investigated by a police task force who can actually prosecute people.  If I was giving evidence about intimidation by bikies I would rather talk discreetly to the cops than to a televised circus who has no power to lock anyone up.

In the ultimate display of NIMBY, the Coalition is claiming success in its promise to “stop the boats”.  If the boats have stopped why are we paying the US $3 billion for unmanned drones and spending $7.5 million on orange disposable life rafts and $5.7 million on an intelligence gathering technology that aims to locate ”security threats” on the water before they reach Australian shores.  Not to mention the $16.8 million cost of extending naval vessel, the Triton, for six months and the $25 million cost of increasing the contract for the armed patrol vessel, the Ocean Protector.  All they have done is build a very expensive dam against the rising tide of refugees, thus inundating transit countries who are far less able to help these people than we are.

They remain committed to spend $22 billion on paid parental leave even though the productivity commission said replacement wage PPL was inequitable, very costly, and of little benefit.  All expert advice is that childcare is far more important in improving female workforce participation.

In the face of concerted worldwide action on climate change and investment in renewable energy, they insist they will “axe the tax” and get rid of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.  This has nothing to do with making your electricity bill cheaper.  If they truly wanted to do that they could easily make power GST free just like fresh food and encourage competition through the renewable energy sector.  This is once again just a blatant attempt to discredit the previous government by blaming everything that happens on the “carbon tax” which is in fact a temporary fixed price emission trading scheme if we want to be correct.

For a government who wants to cut red tape, Direct Action and PPL are going to be administrative nightmares.  We already see Operation Sovereign Borders requiring “the co-operation of 15 departments” – how many public servants will these three policies alone occupy?

Rather than being flexible enough to react to circumstances, or adaptable to changing conditions, or willing to take expert advice, the Coalition have a script which they are determined to deliver regardless of the cost or what is happening in the rest of the world.

The author of the Peter Principle suggests that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”  Rather than seeking to promote a talented “super-competent” junior employee, Peter suggested that an incompetent manager may set them up to fail or dismiss them because they will likely “violate the first commandment of hierarchical life with incompetent leadership: [namely that] the hierarchy must be preserved”.  We mustn’t have any of those pesky scientists or expert public servants or, God forbid, women, showing us up.

Peter goes on to say that “Staff who find themselves with what they consider to be incompetent superiors may try to “manage upward” and support or manipulate them to be more effective, or may simply devise ways to minimise the damage and influence they have on the organisation.”  Peta Credlin is never more than a few feet from Tony.  She sits at the table with world leaders carefully managing what her creation says and does.

A similar theory was proposed by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon series. In his 1996 book, The Dilbert Principle, Adams suggested that “the least smart people are promoted, simply because they’re the ones you don’t want doing actual work.”  We really need to find something to keep George Brandis occupied or he is just going to keep spending a fortune on trashy books to fill his gargantuan custom-made bookcases, and on “networking” at weddings.  Other than approving raids and redefining human rights, George has spent a lot of time correcting grammar in preparation for ‘repeal day’ – the so-called bonfire of regulations.

The deregulation of financial advisers should give us all a clue about the mentality of this government.  They have our money to invest but they refuse to be obligated to invest it in our best interest.  To paraphrase Gough Whitlam…

Well may they say God save the Queen, because nothing will save the country (other than an election).

Let’s buy an island

Nauru (image by wikitravel.org)

Nauru (image by wikitravel.org)

For the amount of money we are spending keeping asylum seekers away we could buy them a country and build luxury resorts for them to live in.

According to the United Nations, in 2012 there were 60 countries in the world whose annual GDP was less than $10 billion.  Nauru came 192 out of 193 with a GDP of $121 million.  The CIA World Fact Book has them last with “n/a” next to their name. But when we look on a per capita basis, Nauru is rolling in money compared to PNG and our newest potential gaoler, Cambodia.

Per capita GDP in Nauru is $12,022 (though if you added in the people in detention camps that would drop significantly).  No wonder they sent the families and unaccompanied minors there.

PNG is not so lucky, ranked at 136 out of 194 countries, with $2,187 per person.  But they too are well in front of Cambodia who is ranked at 162 with a per capita GDP of $944.

By comparison, Australia’s GDP is over $1.5 trillion, or about $70,000 per person, but apparently these other countries are better able to handle our refugee problem.

It seems we are searching out the poorest countries in the world and setting our spin doctors onto them to convince them that it will be profitable for them to go into the detention camp business.  No doubt we give them some foreign aid, and that is a good thing, but they also have expectations of employment for their own people and a boost to local businesses and the economy.

This leads to problems as we have untrained locals acting as security guards in very tense and difficult situations.  We also have very poor local communities seeing asylum seekers housed and fed and given free medical services.  Little business goes their way because supplies are flown in so resentment spreads.  We have desperate people locked up inside, angry local people outside, and untrained local guards between them.  The whole situation is a breeding ground for disaster.

And how much is it costing us to create this purgatory which can only descend into hell?

It’s hard to be accurate about this so let’s look at what we DO know.

The Coalition have budgeted $9.5 billion over the next three to four years for offshore detention camps.  This amount is predicated on the assumption that arrivals will fall significantly.

Analysis of budget and immigration data suggests that, if the newly expanded refugee centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea operate continuously at full capacity, and if the average asylum seeker’s claim is processed in 143 days (a figure cited previously), the cost to Australian taxpayers per detainee will be about $220,000.  However, if the current torrent of refugees slows to 5200 arrivals a year, then the average cost per asylum seeker will rise to about $457,000.

The estimates exclude additional expenses of the offshore scheme, such as the costs of customs and naval operations.

The Refugee Council says processing an asylum claim offshore costs about five times what it does in Australia.

We are also planning on spending $3 billion for seven giant unmanned drones

On-water operations are not only secret, they are very expensive.

Two frigates ($207,000/day each), seven patrol boats ($40,000/day each) and numerous Customs vessels (unknown cost – let’s say $56,000/day total).  That makes $750,000 per day or almost $275 million for the year.  I realise they may not all patrol every day but throw in $2 million to refurbish the patrol boats we gifted to Sri Lanka and a few $70,000 life rafts and other such sundries (like poor Angus Campbell’s airfares) and the estimate shows we are talking serious money coming out of our defence budget.

The budget also set aside $1.1 million for the role of Special Envoy over two years.  That role was given to Jim Molan who has been notable for his absence since the election.  Considering the state of affairs one would have thought our Special Envoy, the architect of the tow-back policy, would have been in there sorting this mess out.

The list of related expenses is endless.  Flights backwards and forwards by Bishop, Morrison, Abbott, and their entourages, plus various other politicians visiting detention camps, including Tanya Plibersek and Sarah Hansen-Young, and the exorbitant travelling allowances that accompany overseas travel, would all quickly add up.

Add the cost of the Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention, the independent inquiry into the violence on Manus Island, the investigation into possible abuse by naval personnel, reports by Amnesty International and various other groups, and the immigration and coronial inquiries into the deaths of asylum seekers whether in their attempt to get to safety, or by their own hand when all hope was lost, or now by the hand of those paid to protect them.

Administrative costs, advertising, printing, hundreds of public servants, all devoted to keeping asylum seekers away.

There has been recent talk of a “wage explosion” which the statistics showed was a load of hogwash.  But not so for the military top brass of whom there are many.

In Labor’s last budget, military spending increased across all departments.  The largest cost blowouts will occur in wages and salaries and supplier costs.

The joint office of the Chief of Defence, General David Hurley and Defence Secretary Dennis Richardson will receive a $22 million boost to $164 million for next year.

The wages bill for their “small personal offices” and attached agencies tasked to “drive” strategic reforms will rise by $3 million and the supplier bill will balloon by $18.5 million.

The combined military wages bill across the three services will climb by an impressive $274 million. Senior officer (Lieutenant Colonel and above) numbers are set to expand by 59 positions and the number of “star” ranked officers in the Army will grow by two to add to the highest number of generals in the western world.

The total number of star ranked officers in the Australian Defence Force will grow to 190 to manage a force of 58,000 troops or one for every 305 people in uniform.

The ratio of generals to troops is well above countries such as the USA, Britain and Israel and according to one insider is approaching the levels in Thailand, a force that has been ridiculed by Australian officers for being “top heavy”.

The ranks of senior public servants have also expanded dramatically in recent years with several three-star equivalent deputy secretaries doing the job of one just a few years ago.

In 2010, the director of Strategic and Defence Studies at the Australian National University and former senior defence official, Hugh White, said the expansion of the general’s club reflected an institutional weakness within defence.

“There is no policy or objective reason for the rank structure,” Professor White said.

Strategic analyst and defence budget expert with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Mark Thompson, said there were two explanations for the blow-out in senior ranks: The high operational tempo of the force and the fact that Defence had been swimming in money for years.

“That makes it easy for them to promote someone,” Mr Thompson said.

I don’t have today’s figures but, in 2010, Lieutenant Generals were paid between $242,000 and $250,000 a year, Major Generals $189,000 to $208,000 and Brigadiers between $127,000 and $184,000.

People are rightly concerned about the cost to the nation of our approach to the asylum seeker problem but what they must realise is it’s keeping them out that is costing us a fortune.

We have an immigration target of about 200,000.  If we made 50,000 of those positions for refugees and, after health and identity checks were carried out, gave them visas that allow them to live and work in the community whilst their claim is processed, we would save ourselves a fortune.  Those who found jobs would be paying taxes.  Those on welfare would be spending the dollars in the community.  Their children could be attending schools and we could provide adult education making jobs for our teachers, social workers and support groups, and training a new workforce.

If the human rights abuses don’t trouble you, if the vilification from the rest of the world doesn’t trouble you, at least think of the cash.

With that sort of money we could buy a country and build resorts to live in.

Update:  “The Abbott government has spent $2.5 million on lifeboats to send asylum seekers intercepted at sea back to Indonesia.
The figure, revealed in letters tabled in the Senate by Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash, indicates the gov…ernment is paying more than $200,000 per lifeboat, each of which is understood to be used only once.”


Things we CAN afford

I know times are tough and that we will all have to tighten our belts (well so the government keeps telling me).  The list of things we can’t afford grows longer and more depressing every day.

But take heart.  The list of things we can afford is also growing.

We can afford to spend $9.5 billion over the next four years locking innocent people up in offshore detention camps (though that figure might lower as we kill them off).

We can afford to use a naval flotilla to ward off a few fishing boats.  Under Operation Sovereign Borders two frigates, seven patrol boats and numerous Customs vessels will patrol the seas between Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef and Indonesia.  Anzac Class frigates cost about $207,000-a-day to operate compared with $40,000-a-day for Armidale Class Patrol boats.

We can afford orange life rafts which cost about $70,000 each to leave on Indonesian beaches after one use each.

We can afford to make a gift of two patrol boats to the Sri Lankan Navy and even spend $ 2 million refurbishing them first.  Tiger shooting anyone?

We can afford $14 billion in fossil fuel subsides over the next four years because Lord knows they need our help.

We can afford to give $3.2 billion to the worst polluting companies.  This is not to save or create jobs, it’s a handout so they can upgrade their factories and lower their bills.

We can afford to give $5.5 billion a year to new parents.  The richer you are, the more you will get.

We can afford to spend $40 billion? on a fast internet system that very few people will be hooked up to.  Greenfield developments just became a whole lot more attractive.

We can afford $1.5 billion for the east-west link without seeing the full business case because the state government has refused to make it public (even to Tony).  This is despite the pre-election promise that no infrastructure project over $100 million would go ahead without a CBA.

We can afford to give Rupert Murdoch $882 million because he knows how to shuffle money between companies to avoid paying tax.

We can afford to spend about $600 million on two new bigger planes for Tony so he can accommodate the Murdoch press and his personal film crew in VIP luxury.

We can afford to buy a fleet of bomb proof BMWs for Tony at a cost of about $5 million.

We can afford to pay $300 million a year interest on the money Joe Hockey borrowed to gamble on the foreign exchange market.

We can afford two Royal Commissions at God knows what cost (the 2001-03 Cole royal commission into the building industry cost around $100 million) because 8 investigations into the Home Insulation Scheme weren’t enough – we want to get Kevin and Peter.  The other one is so we can get Julia and Craig and shut the unions up.

We can afford to give Cadbury $16 million because they sponsor the Pollie Pedal ride.

We can afford to give the Manly Sea Eagles $10 million to upgrade their oval because it is in Tony’s electorate and he is the number 1 ticket holder.  We can also afford to give the Brisbane Broncos $5 million because they are owned by Murdoch’s Newscorp.

We can afford $4.3 million for a research company to trawl through millions of Australian social media posts to advise the government on its immigration policies.

We can afford $2.2 million legal aid for farmers and miners to fight native title claims

We can afford to pay Tim Wilson, a man with absolutely no relevant qualifications or experience, $320,000 a year to be an extra Human Rights Commissioner appointed by George Brandis without interview or consultation.  To pay Tim, the programs that may have to be cut on anti-bullying and education for older Australians were just a doddle anyway compared to what Tim can bring to the table.  The fact that Brandis was present at the IPA 70th birthday bash is just happy coincidence.  What a guest list that was.

We can afford to pay Price Waterhouse Cooper to do a study into childcare while the Productivity Commission finishes its study into childcare because Sussan Ley had to have something to talk about first week on the job.  I have no idea how much that would cost but, as they are fondly known as Pick Wallets Clean, childcare workers who were asked to give back their payrise may be a little perturbed.

In fact we can afford countless reviews and audits and consultants and committees and investigations.  I think we are up to about 50 so far but that could be old news.  Considering each of the panel on the Commission of Audit get $1500 per day (and that’s only one review and doesn’t count their office and staff expenses) collectively this has to be in the hundreds of millions.  The cost of white papers and green papers makes red tape look attractive.

As Opposition leader, we could afford to pay Tony Abbott well over $1 million a year in claimed entitlements.  This is on top of his wage and does not include any staff wages.  It’s travel and office expenses.  I can’t wait to see how much he claims as PM.

We can afford to pay for Members of Parliament to go to weddings and wineries and book launches and football matches and real estate hunting tours.  We can afford to buy books for them and build furniture for them and hire private jets for them.

We can afford to pay for Kirribilli House, the Lodge, the other place we rented for Tony and his family that no-one is living in, and the digs at the police barracks (what’s that all about??) as well as being away from home allowance.

We can afford for Parliament to spend two weeks asking about a convicted Egyptian jihadist terrorist kept behind a pool fence and I don’t know how many weeks on AWU slush fund, Slipper, Thomson.  If we took out the daily boat count, there is very little left to justify what we paid them to be there running our country.

We seem to be able to afford a lot of things.  The question is….

Can we afford this government?

Operation Sovereign Borders. Doubly Disillusioned.

Image from theconversation.com

Image from theconversation.com

Over the past several years Tony Abbott has electioneered on two platforms:  that climate change is crap and that asylum seekers arriving by boats are “illegals”. Abbott also chose to create a sense of urgency, a sense of fear, the fear of the other and an impression that somehow the Australian people were under threat. The nationalistic name which Abbott conjured up, Operation Sovereign Borders consists of the same overblown rhetoric reminiscent of the Bush/Howard era, and is described in the Coalition’s Policy document as a response to “a national emergency”.

With the coming of Tony Abbott to power, Operation Sovereign Borders was described as “gearing up”, and as endorsed by The Australian newspaper, put into action by immediately “shutting down the flow of information on the arrival of asylum vessels and the transfer of people offshore”:

All requests for information from Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Immigration – on issues ranging from boat arrivals, to detention centre capacity levels, the numbers of detainees on Manus Island and Nauru, or violent incidents in the detention network – are now directed to the mobile telephone of Mr Morrison’s press secretary.

This is of such importance, such an emergency that all enquiries must immediately be directed to . . . a press secretary?

The Sydney Morning Herald hence reports:

The public might never be told whether the Coalition is meeting a key election promise in having the navy turn back asylum seeker boats, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has said.

The above is the entire crux of the matter: we might never be told whether or not Tony Abbott is meeting a key election promise and the very promise which for many, won him the election.

It was 27th April 2012 when the headlines from news.com were ablaze with the following:

TONY Abbott will tell Indonesia that people smugglers “disgorging” asylum seekers are like Australians smuggling drugs into Bali should he win government.

The Opposition Leader today said that, if elected Prime Minister, he would fly to Jakarta in his first week to explain his policy of turning back people smuggler boats.

And he would call a double dissolution election if he can’t get his tougher border security measures, including re-introduction of temporary protection visas, through Parliament . . .

“Every illegal boat marks a failure of foreign policy, a failure of security policy and a failure of immigration policy.”……..

Then Immigration Minister Chris Bowen responded with the statement that Abbott was putting relations with Indonesia at risk by again pledging to turn boats back.

“Mr Abbott’s claim that he will have a ‘Jakarta focussed’ foreign policy is questionable as he rides roughshod over the repeated and clear message from Indonesia that they would not agree to towing back the boats,” said Mr Bowen.

It seems that as a matter of public information this issue no longer exists with the urgency now relegated to weekly information sessions or via Scott Morrison’s press secretary, that every illegal boat which “marks a failure of foreign policy” will be information disseminated perhaps accurately but certainly not in a timely manner. Urgency has drifted to once a week information sessions.

Is it that Prime Minister Abbott has  little desire to fulfill his previous commitment to call a double dissolution election on this issue? “Failures” may or may not be known by the public, or even more suspect:  Is it that the Abbott government intends to set its own asylum seeker policy up for failure?

By making conditions so onerous and insulting for the Indonesian government is it that Abbott has a ready-made fall guy?  The vast majority of Abbott’s rhetoric is that he will tell Indonesia what he intends to do with their country – from turning boats back to their shores, to buying fishing boats (en mass it is assumed) from Indonesians, to setting up “transit ports” on their soil. All rhetoric speaks of infringements against Indonesia’s sovereign rights to do what they want in their own country. For Operation Sovereign Boarders to succeed it needs the cooperation of the Indonesian Government, which has not, and will not be forthcoming. For their failure to comply with Abbott’s infringement upon their sovereignty I can see that they are nicely being set-up as the fall guy.

That is only one are of failure. There are possibly more.

Again from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Under Operation Sovereign Borders two frigates, seven patrol boats and numerous Customs vessels will patrol the seas between Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef and Indonesia.

Anzac Class frigates cost about $207,000-a-day to operate compared with $40,000-a-day for Armidale Class Patrol boats.

Seven frigates at $207,000 a day means that Operation Sovereign Boarders would cost the taxpayer over $520M a year for the Navy’s contribution alone. Then there are the Global Hawke Drones, if he decides to go ahead with them, at a cost of $US218M each. How many might he want? In an environment of a budget emergency, how long before the taxpayers rest a little uneasy about the enormous expense of detecting or intercepting the boats that are apparently going to stop coming?

Then there are other logistics. Officials would conduct health checks on the ship or at the port, and the smuggled people would be taken to nearby airports for charter flights direct to Nauru and Manus Island. They can’t go to Indonesia, of course, because Indonesia have sensibly rejected Tony Abbott’s invasive plan.

And which port, by the way?

So we are now back to where we were at any period over the last six years, but at a higher cost to the taxpayer. However, Tony Abbott can no longer blame Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard so he will directly blame Indonesia. Will this be an excuse to not call a double dissolution? We’ll see.

Operation Sovereign Borders will not only go down as Tony Abbott’s biggest policy flop but one of great expense.

But we’ll never hear about it.

* A post by Michael and Carol Taylor

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