A life-threatening political and constitutional crisis is brewing for the Turnbull government this week as three Ministers of the Crown face contempt proceedings in Victoria’s Supreme Court.
No big deal; just a politically motivated, orchestrated attack on judges for being hard left activists who are soft on terror, while, off Broadway, the Coalition’s out of court settlement of a class action on behalf of all those it detains illegally on Manus Island blows the lid off its regime of secrecy, cruelty and denial of responsibility in a week where federal government with economic management in its DNA racks up a record debt of over half a trillion dollars.
Adding fat to the fire, Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus QC calls on Malcolm Turnbull to explain why he publicly backed Health Minister Greg Hunt, Minister for Social Services, Robo-Claw and the War on the Poor, Alan Tudge and invisible assistant treasurer, Michael Sukkar.
Dreyfus demands Turnbull explain why, the day before last Friday’s court hearing, the Prime Minister “backed in his ministers’ comments, on 3AW, despite knowing this matter was before the court the following day”.
Helpfully he notes the court proceedings could have “potentially serious” results. “It is incumbent on the Prime Minister to explain why he thought it was a good idea to validate the criticisms.”
Turnbull waffles “… in a free society a person is entitled to criticise the conduct of the courts or of a judge,” but this diminishes a concerted attack by three of his cabinet ministers on judges over an appeal which was still sub judice and, therefore, prohibited from public discussion.
Criticising conduct might, at a stretch, include the lads’ orchestrated slagging off at judges for being “hard-left activists”, “divorced from reality,” and conducting an “ideological experiment”
It might still have to contend with the judges’ view that the comments were “unfounded, grossly improper and unfair”, but Turnbull’s gloss cannot, surely, accommodate Michael Sukkar’s slur?
“It’s the attitude of judges like these which has eroded any trust that remained in our legal system …”
It’s all part of an action packed week of diversion, denial and disinformation. Oh my, Gonski 2.0 will rip $ 4.6 billion from Catholic Schools. But, look over here. Someone’s thrown a dead moggy.
“We’ve got a judiciary that takes the side of the so-called victim rather than the side of common sense,” suppository of nonsense, Tony Abbott pipes up, helpfully, articulating the Trumpish contempt for the rule of law that features in the Coalition’s approach to government this week.
Bugger the humdrum stuff of responsible government when lads can play politics instead.
Best Crosby (dead cat on the table diversion) goes to Peter Dutton’s secret citizenship test, a solution dog-whistling a problem, which is finally revealed to include a written English language test in a nostalgic bid for the official bigotry of White Australia. Anyone can become a citizen provided he or she has a university level of written language proficiency. And if Dutton says so.
No matter that Australia has no official language. It’ll help keep the Muslims down.
Illiteracy and innumeracy or cultural ignorance have seldom held back any conservative politician, while proposed changes to the law will set up the former Drug Squad detective, an acclaimed model of fairness and openness as final arbiter. He’ll get to decide who becomes a citizen and who’ll be deported. The bill gives Dutton the power to overrule decisions of the AAT.
Creating broad executive powers with minimal review undermines the rule of law, ironically, said to be one of the fundamental values which underpin Australian citizenship, writes Sangeetha Pillai, Senior Research Associate, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Law School, UNSW. Clearly, she fails to appreciate Dutton’s value to the PM.
More changes, in fact, are afoot to increase Benito Dutton’s arbitrary power by bestowing upon him a Homeland Security Department, merging several government outfits such as the AFP and ASIO in our fight against terrorism as the price of Dutto’s loyalty to Turnbull in the climate wars.
News comes this week, however, that the US style mega-department model which incorporates intelligence, police and security agencies is out of favour with the PM who now favours something akin to the bijou British Home Office, whose recent brilliant success in preventing terror, safeguarding citizens and accounting for lives lost in an entirely preventable fire in a high-rise building is matched only by its success in breaking up families in the name of immigration.
Happily, the government has far too much on its plate at present and the decision can safely wait until December when it can be announced when everyone is on holiday. Unlike the despatching of junkyard Abbott who goes barking, frothing mad over Finkel and demands urgent attention.
“Go fuck yourself” Abbott tells Craig Laundy. It’s an “ugly” bust-up, Liberal MPs report, in a three-hour session held Wednesday. All of Finkel is reduced to how we need to keep coal at any cost. Besides, coal is OK now. It’s clean and there’s carbon capture and storage. Low emission coal.
It’s clear this week that if the boys have read Finkel they have not understood a word. The discussion of the blueprint becomes an excuse to air the same stale platitudes and lies. Renewables are too expensive. We will always need coal because it’s cheap and reliable.
Reductive? Utterly deluded? Never. It’s all part of the cut and thrust of the Coalition’s richly democratic, inclusive joint party room; the fabled broad church, where any member can howl another down. It’s Liberal individualism. Abbott’s tantrum will foster party unity and goodwill.
Laundy tries to speak. Abbott prevents him by repeatedly interjecting. A slanging match ensues which leads to chaos. Government hacks speed to brief the Press gallery how it’s just a vital exercise in democracy. The Finkel fracas degenerates into another Turnbull proxy war on Abbott.
There, there, Tony don’t hold yourself back. Tell us how you really feel. Really? Never mind.
It’s enough to get any boy band back on the road. Cap’n Abbott and the Carbonistas, a gospel rock revival group are all over Canberra airwaves this week. The boys reprise “gimme that coal-time religion” a toe-tapping gospel hymn of praise to blind faith in a toxic black rock as the nation’s true salvation while still maintaining their trademark grievance and sense of entitlement.
Dr Finkel has winkled out Malcolm Turnbull’s opponents en masse in what may be another crafty manoeuvre in our wily PM’s crafty plan to establish his leadership over Tony Abbott. Whatever his plan, the “sensible centre” is rendered insensible all week by Old King Coal and his chorus.
What is too silly to be said can be sung, Voltaire once observed, but even he did not foresee the Coalition’s holy coalers, its mad right-wing. All croon such complete nonsense in response to Finkel, a fudged blueprint for the future that ignores new technologies and cheaper renewables, that they reveal a damning incapacity to engage in any responsible, rational or informed debate.
Cult claims, moreover, show breathtaking levels of wilful ignorance and brazen deception. Just one example will suffice.
“Coal is by far the cheapest form of base load power,” Abbott cons 2GB listeners on Wednesday, recycling Peabody fossil-fuel propaganda. The problem is not base load but peak load but Abbott wouldn’t know the difference. Nor does he seem to know that even Finkel concedes networked renewables are more than capable of supplying cheap, reliable base-load power.
As for cheap, experts forecast a doubling in electricity prices if new coal-fired stations are built while coal is no longer seen as a form of base load even in China.
Last year China’s State Grid’s R&D chief Huang Han dismissed coal’s claim to be an indispensable source of “base load” generation. As the network operator builds out its clean power sources, coal-fired generators could only serve as “reserve power” to supplement renewables.
Incapable of little more than sloganeering, the vacuous Abbott’s role in the climate wars is to set a back-marker in our national conversation. After decades of paralysing, time-wasting “debate” the government can then achieve a compromise; build a few coal-fired power stations itself. The media is full of constructive suggestion on how the politics should be taken out of energy.
Both sides need to come to a sensible compromise; adopt at least half of government idiocy?
Coal? As even a failed former Health Minister, impossibly indulged by his crafty mentor John Howard, Abbott should know, coal poses one of the most significant health issues of our time.
While mining, transport and burning must be included in any cost calculation, coal imposes an incalculable cost on the health and well-being of those whose lives are affected, if not ruined by pollution, economic losses and environment damage to water sources, land and food production.
No-one on Coalition megaphone 2GB will challenge Abbott’s blatant lies but they could also point to huge costs in climate change and extreme weather events caused by coal burning.
Cheapest? Costs of coal are soaring across the globe. All published studies indicate that the true cost of coal is much greater than the market price. There’s complete consensus. Coal is crap, Tony.
Energy ministers and other coal lobby lackeys typically pretend coal is cheap. Yet its real costs are passed on to the long-term budgets of other departments. Even our Chief Scientist admits this.
In a Senate estimates hearing at the start of the month, Alan Finkel noted: “The actual cost of bringing on new coal in this country per megawatt-hour is projected to be substantially more expensive than the cost of bringing on wind or solar.”
Abbott has not read Alan Finkel’s work. Nor will he. His mind is made up. He and Russell Broadbent are convinced, moreover, that any emissions-lowering policy will boost power prices.
Abbott and his Carbonistas show a Malcolm Roberts’ level of scepticism on climate change.
When Senator Roberts asked if it were a scientist’s role to be sceptical, Alan Finkel replied: “All the scientists I know have a healthy degree of scepticism, but healthy is an important word there.
“You have to have an open mind, but not so open your brain leaks out.”
Doing the coal lobby’s bidding involves a type of lobotomy but the Coalition has been at it for some time. Denying reality in climate change is another proud tradition which goes back to St John Howard who squandered the entire proceeds of a mineral boom while weaseling out of any real responsibility for the environment or climate. It’s never been serious about either.
Half of Alan Finkel’s panel may be well be power corporation representatives but pandering to vested interests in energy is a long-term trend for us. In 1997 we took an industry lobby to negotiate Kyoto. As Sarah Gill notes we “comprehensively cheesed off” the European Union by demanding a free ride and, after almost derailing consensus, we refused to ratify Kyoto after all.
Gill makes the case we out-Trumped Trump in dodgy deals on climate change. Kyoto was set up for nations to agree to reduce emissions yet Australia secured permission to increase them by eight per cent. By including emissions from land clearing, we were able to inflate our 1990 baseline by 30% which made our 2012 target impossible to miss.
Direct Action dweeb Greg Hunt was fond of crowing about how we’d meet or beat our target, which amounted to 0.5% of our 1990 emissions yet our absolute emissions are rising. In 2020 they will be higher than they were in 2000. How’s that for emission reduction?
Greg’s Direct Action scam doesn’t get much airplay these days and Greg’s been shunted sideways to Health where he’s got us all on side with his declaration of love for private health insurance and how we could learn a lot from the US Health system. We’ll all heed his warning, too, on how the recent Senate easing of rules for medicinal cannabis for terminally ill patients could be fatal.
Yet Greg has voiced no regret at wasting $2.23 billion on a scheme that paid beneficiaries to plant trees that may have been planted anyway while relaxed land clearing laws in NSW and Queensland wiped out any of the gains. No apology. We understand. Taking cheap potshots at the judiciary would make big demands on your time. In the meantime, emissions continue.
As Reputex reported, last year, “the rate of annual emissions growth continues to outpace credits contracted by the [fund].” In other words, DA did less than sweet bugger all to stop polluters.
“This growth is driven by Australia’s largest emitting companies, which have … not participated in the [fund] due to the voluntary nature of the scheme, and the large up-front costs.”
Always careful with expenditure and a stickler for accountability, Captain Kangaroo, Peter Dutton, meanwhile joins Tony Abbott in continuing his government’s attack on the legal system over the momentous decision to award $70 million damages plus $20 million legal costs to 1905 Manus Island detainees in an out of court settlement this week.
Slater and Gordon, Dutton says are “ambulance-chasers”. Labor lawyers.
Abbott madly attacks the presiding judges, for siding with the victims despite the settlement being negotiated between the government’s and plaintiff’s lawyers. Dutton is in denial.
It’s no admission of liability, he claims. Rather, in the parallel universe he and his government inhabit, it is a “prudent outcome”. Certainly, it averts a six-month damages trial in which the Commonwealth and its contractors would be accused of negligence and false imprisonment.
In the real world, however, it is a momentous decision and a landmark admission of liability which blows the whistle on years of Coalition pretence that Australia’s offshore detention is the responsibility of the nations hosting our camps. It also provides direct refutation of government claims that detainees were well looked after.
Mr Kamasaee, a 35-year-old Iranian, who needed treatment for severe burns he suffered as s child, described his experience as degrading and cruel.
“I came to Australia seeking peace, but I was sent to Manus, which was hell,” he said. “Every day in the harsh sun, my skin felt like it was on fire. I was in pain every minute of every day … I cried every night until I had nothing left.
“This case is not just about me, it is about everyone who has been trapped on Manus Island. Our voices have never been listened to, but today we are finally being heard.”
No compensation can make up for the torture endured by the men on Manus. Now that the legal fiction that they are not Australia’s responsibility has been destroyed, the men should be brought to Australia immediately. PNG warns that it will close the centre permanently 31 October.
Dutton ought to resign immediately for failing his duty of care while the government needs to abandon its secrecy and explain clearly what it intends to do after the centre is closed. As in so many areas of this chaotic government, the plan seems to be to wait and see what turns up.
Backward-looking, ever desperate for evasion and diversion, the Turnbull government is beset with a series of crises. There’s more to it than nostalgia or simple coal-lust. A retreat into the past is the only option for a Coalition government caught with no policy, let alone an environment or energy policy.
It has relied instead on populist posturing on border protection and punitive detention in a regime of secrecy, unaccountability, evasion and bare-faced denial – and it has been caught out.
Time to face the music. Instead, a battle of the bands erupts as the Point Piper Set amps up its catchy Blueprint for the Future: Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market, a concerto fantasy for two conductors in homage to Philip Glass, another innovator, whose music some find challenging because it doesn’t go anywhere.
The Turnbull government’s bastardised Blueprint for a world class electricity system, widely reviled by Carbonistas everywhere as The Finkel Review may fail to provide a political road map to allow an endangered coalition a safe exit from an energy policy highway as intended but it is to be praised at least for highlighting a terminally conflicted and out of touch government devoid of ideas or real plans hell-bent on substituting politicking for policy.
Serious questions are raised over Turnbull’s lack of leadership, finally, in his endorsement of his three ministers’ extraordinary, co-ordinated political attack on the Victorian judiciary. Any democratically-elected government which sets itself above the law; which fails to respect the separation of powers between the judiciary and the parliament forfeits its legitimacy.
There’s a better than even chance, according to some experts that Hunt, Tudge and Sukkar may help it out of its misery.