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Turnbull government marks two years of inertia, paralysis and failure.

“It’s been two years of great achievement … But above all it’s two years since I became prime minister building on the outstanding work of the Member for Warringah. And what that has done is delivered strong jobs growth.”

Malcolm Turnbull marks two years in office with a tribute to his nemesis Tony Abbott; a falsehood set in a farrago of lies.

Great achievement? Don’t mention the NBN. The ABCC was adulterated to buggery. The Gonski 2.0 con a $22 billion cut for education. Media reform? A path for Rupert The Sun-King to gain even more power. Strong jobs growth? The unemployment rate is stuck stubbornly on 5.6%. Over 730,000 people are out of work for more than a year. Every one of us is working fewer hours.  Most Australians are steadily getting poorer while the rich and the very rich prosper.

But in our Orwellian political arena, up is down. Back is forward; black is white. Our PM, the most over-promoted, least-attractive, poseur in our political history, leads his underwhelming, overweening parliamentary jeer-squad over the top.

Embracing their inner lout again this week, MPs set about bullying AGL, defaming “shifty” Bill Shorten and throwing such a hissy fit of denunciation, eye-rolling, finger-pointing, mocking, crowing and hectoring of demon Labor, as they can muster to divert from their imminent mugging by a host of scandals, self-inflicted crises and policy failures.

Gavin Hanlon, our most senior NSW water wallah resigns two months after it is revealed that he offered to share confidential government documents with irrigation lobbyists. Of course it’s nothing to do with our Water Minister, Kiwi, Barnaby Joyce. Not even a federal matter. And, Oh my, just look over there. Shorten’s telling lies again.

“We have seen this all before, because the Leader of the Opposition has a pathological pattern of behaviour to deceive, to falsify and to mislead the Australian people …” crows Josh Frydenberg rightly disputing Labor’s claim that NSW power prices would rise by $1000. Yet Liberals warned of $100 lamb roasts and Whyalla disappearing off the map, if carbon emissions were to be priced, in a carbon tax scare which Peta Credlin and Tony Abbott now freely admit to inventing.

Team Turnbull’s plan is a back-to-the-future attack on Labor as the party of high electricity prices in a re-run of Abbott’s astonishing success, yet it’s unlikely that NSW consumers whose bills Frydenberg claims increase by only $300 will feel upbeat – especially given that the privatisation of electricity was sold to them as a way to lower power tariffs.

Its ABCC scandal, on the other hand, is electrifying. Nigel Hadgkiss, their “tough new cop on the construction beat” confesses he published false information about site entry. He did not bother to read it, he says. Restoring law and order to building sites by appointing an industrial cop who breaks those laws himself would cause most ministers to reflect.

Not so Employment Minister, lip-readers’ friend Michaelia Cash despite being hoist by her own petard appears entirely unrepentant. Ms Hard Cash wins this week’s Government own goal of the week award. And Stand by Your Man award.

Ms Ready Cash tapped Liberal pal Hadgkiss to head the ABCC when she knew that he had broken the Fair Work Act himself.  There was no cabinet appointment process just a lousy $426,160 a year  She tells the senate that she first learned about Nigel’s behaviour in October last year but her office quickly modifies that to “learning of the allegations”.

“Merely because behaviour is alleged in a court process does not make it a finding of fact,” she shrieks on Thursday.

It’s a sobering thought, given forty-one, thirty year old unsubstantiated allegations about Lionel Murphy are released by Federal Parliament to help divert from pressing scandals and to help assuage the Coalition’s insatiable fetish for bashing Labor activists even after they’ve shuffled off stage left.

Never to be outdone, indignant that there is no posthumous Royal Commission into Murph, Merry Gerry Henderson eagerly puts his boot in also just to put aside for a moment The Australian’s sterling contribution to the respectful and mature hatred so consuming the national mood in what the government so fondly calls the same sex marriage debate.

Gerry finds 41 serious allegations to salivate over but allegations they remain. It’s a point The Oz, oddly, seems to lose sight of.

Perhaps Coalition MPs, too could bear Ms Cash’s distinction in mind when next they rise to repeat the Chiquita mushroom allegation or any other from two years of unproven allegations against Bill Shorten in the TURC.

Undeterred and in the spirit of a post-truth week, Cash proceeds to paints Hadgkiss as some kind of martyr,

“Mr Hadgkiss has played a pivotal role in restoring the rule of law to Australia’s building and construction industry, despite relentless opposition and appalling intimidation from lawless construction unions and their political supporters.”

Cash admits to knowing for almost a year, then, that Australian Building and Construction (ABCC) chief had broken the laws he was supposedly enforcing.

He says he thought the laws would be repealed and didn’t bother checking. Why would he? She says she had no proof and besides, he only admitted to the breaches this week.  Why would she check?

In like Flynn, Hadgkiss was immediately appointed, in 2013, by then Employment Minister, Eric Abetz, to head the Fair Work Building Inspectorate. Shortly after his appointment he told inspectorate staff not to correct misinformation to employers that they could direct unions where they could hold their on-site meetings, advice which was left uncorrected for two years, despite warnings from CFMEU and Commission staff.

Hadgkiss admits in a 25 page agreed statement of facts tendered to the Federal Court Tuesday that, in December 2013, he directed his agency to not publish changes to right-of-entry laws that were of benefit to unions. Above all to workers.

The coalition has always claimed that Howard’s ABCC brought a 20% increase in productivity, a lie refuted in Productivity Commission reports. Not only did construction activity decrease, it became more dangerous. Now it’s even worse.

Deaths in construction soared to 19 in the first six months of 2017, equivalent to 38 per year, the worst rate on record. Under Abbott, deaths became more frequent but under Turnbull, the rate at which workers are killed has accelerated.

The fatality rate is even more worrying given the industry’s unprecedented three consecutive years of investment decline under the Abbott-Turnbull government with a corresponding slump in output. The ABCC was supposed to revitalise the industry. Construction would boom once government relaxed the red tape in a new era of deregulation.

Malcolm Turnbull even gave it his best Neoliberal benediction,

“Deregulation, enabling businesses and individuals to pursue their own dreams, their own freedom, is the way to deliver the prosperity upon which all depends.”

Pressed by Leigh Sales, recently to list his achievements, the PM was quick to instance the ABCC. No hint from Sales that construction industry activity or its safety record since Turnbull’s ABCC revival is an indictment of his government.

So, too, is the slump in residential building which headed for a 31 per cent decline according to BIS economics. Jobs? Tens of thousands of construction workers could find themselves unemployed in 2018.

The Australian Construction Industry Forum predicts construction industry could shed as many as 166,000 jobs over the next three years as a deterioration in engineering construction dovetails with the slump in residential building,

It’s a big cloud gathering but Pollyanna Scott Morrison is still inanely braying “better times ahead”. Perhaps he has to. The alternative is unthinkable.

The Cash scandal, together with Stuart Robert’s sensational revelations, would bring any other government to its knees.

Robert is alleged to have made his eighty-year-old father, Alan, a director in his IT service business, Robert International, which he ran with his wife, Dorothy, so his son’s business could continue to receive tens of millions in government contracts.  It also links Robert to GMT Services, an IT business with which Robert says he has “ceased involvement”.

Any normal government would be rocked to its foundations but the Coalition has the answer. More loud shouting. Slurs.

You can’t let Shorten “slither in”. Malcolm Turnbull’s morphing into Tony Abbott with a bigger vocabulary and a better postcode is almost totally complete two years after he hauled the mangy junkyard dog before his own kangaroo court.

Turnbull 1:0  still in his suavely debonair Q&A leather jacket stage, couldn’t tell Tony that, as PM, he was a hopeless joke.

Worse. It was the savage god, the economy, that ravenous beast that made him do it. He had to knife his PM, he said, in his languid, lofty, hollow, vowels primarily, because Abbott was hopeless with budgets and spending. Simply no idea of how to act like an economic leader, or what tie to wear, let alone how to keep a Cayman Island company or trust afloat.

How Turnbull’s Abbott hatchet-job has come back to mock him. The 2017 budget is big-spending and high taxing. Yet the economy is going backwards. Hours worked, to take the single most reliable indicator of jobs created, have been below 85.10 in the 22 months since Morrison became Treasurer and Cash became Employment Minister.

The lowest under Labor was 85.7.

Despite the nonsense about total jobs created – meaningless without population growth, jobs wound up and above all attention to the steady decline in total hours worked, unemployment is stuck at 5.6%.

While profits are at record levels, wages growth hasn’t budged from 1.9%, for the last four quarters is a record low. It helps to put the lie to trickle-down if not the entire corpus of laissez-faire Neoliberal economic theory.  Wages as a proportion of GDP are at their lowest since records began in 1959.

Today, economic leadership amounts only to repeating “our economic plan.” And “strong jobs growth.” Yet, in keeping with all true contrarian experience, every claim the Turnbull team makes about the economy, employment or their goals is refuted by the experts.

Similarly, Abbott’s leadership style was held to be deficient. How, for example, Tony spoke down to the nation. Talk about superficial slogans. “Jobs and growth.” The tosser sounded like a talking bumper sticker. Sloganeering was no substitute for advocacy and didn’t respect people’s intelligence. It was mutual. Witness 30 straight Newspoll fails.

Despite solid progress, Turnbull is still working towards the Newspoll goal but most of the other key non-performance indicators are there. Especially the slogans, arrogance and the autocratic tendencies. This week, in the bullying of AGL, there have been flashes of the Ayatollah, as the imperious Turnbull was known in his banking career.

The power play of the week has been to wheedle cajole and bully Andy Vesey, the CEO of  AGL into an undertaking to keep Liddell, the nation’s oldest, dirtiest and least reliable power station open beyond its 2022 use by date. Or sell the plant to a competitor, a proposal which has curiously been spurned by the company’s board.

No-one would buy a station which AEMO itself says is most likely to cause power blackout and which could consume a billion dollars just to get it back into commission – despite Barnaby Joyce’s claim that he knows of at least two. But he’s not telling.

The Turnbull government, however, has chosen the contrarian path issuing press releases suggesting the AGL board will take 90 days to consider keeping the station open.

In reality, the undertaking allows AGL a number of options including honouring its generation commitment by means of renewables – which was its intention in the first place.

Alarmingly, this week Morrison is not up to speed on AGL. And who knows where Joyce has got his Liddell tyre-kickers from. His place as a National party climate denier is to insist repeatedly that coal is affordable and reliable, neither of which is true but it all helps the Coalition strategy of ditching Finkel’s Clean Energy Target for something that would allow coal-burning power stations to be part of the “energy plan” a novelty in Coalition policy to date.

Expect a CET 2.0 which will have to be appropriately renamed as an ‘affordable energy target”. Whatever the government comes up with it deserves to be known as the dirty or unclean energy target. It will be billed as a product of the cabinet and party room “consultation process”. In other words what Tony Abbott’s mob tell Turnbull he must do.

An environmental, energy and economic disaster, it promises to end Turnbull’s political career.

Yet Abbott’s consultation style was hopeless, too. Nor was he big on “proper cabinet government”. Mostly he got Peta Credlin to tell ministers what they were up to – or how far they were off the pace.  And he made up policy on the hop.

Turnbull two years out is vulnerable on all these counts just as he is hamstrung by his secret Faustian pact with the Nationals. Captured by the right of his party with its climate denial and its opposition to marriage equality he is unable to exert his authority, let alone lead. Further, as Bernard Keane points out, the PM is wedged between the sudden death of neoliberalism, largely occasioned by its inability to sustain wages growth and the rise of populist resentment.

This week a conga-line of ministers turns itself inside out in a series of back-flips on everything including the Paris Climate Accord as the Turnbull circus marks the beginning of its third, surreal, year with an Orwellian tour de force.

“This will be a thoroughly Liberal Government. It will be a thoroughly Liberal Government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.”  promised Turnbull at first. Now he’s intervening in the energy market, lecturing the banks, re-jigging the gas market, even bullying AGL to keep open a costly, inefficient, unreliable, uneconomic coal-fired plant and proposing to build and run state power plants and even a railway to a coal mine or two in the best Soviet command-economy style. He styles himself as a pragmatist but his record is more one of agonising confusion.

In common with Abbott, Turnbull falls back instead upon a political style which is permanently stuck in opposition mode.

“We know that this Leader of the Opposition is shifty and he can’t be trusted,” Coalition junkyard top dog Dutton says.

“The Labor left will not allow a policy which sees boats stopped, deaths at sea stopped, children out of detention.”

Kill Bill is the now the only game the whole bitterly divided government can safely play. No wonder they do it to death. Luckily, our leaders can still rally the nation if not the party’s esprit de corps by making war on the poor, the less fortunate and those who throw themselves on our mercy.

Peter Dutton has just cut financial assistance for up to 400 asylum-seekers across Australia. Over seventy refugees are evicted in Melbourne. Fortunately, Daniel Andrews’ Labor government will provide financial support, food and shelter, “so they don’t starve on the streets” to those now facing homelessness on top of the trauma they have already endured.

The state’s support package follows Andrews’ letter to the prime minister last year offering to take “full responsibility” for asylum seekers who faced being sent back to Nauru. He received no reply.

In another surprise announcement, it is revealed that construction is well-advanced on Manus 2.0 in Port Moresby, of a duplicate detention centre to incarcerate refugees displaced by PNG’s decision to close the Manus gulag.  Details are sparse. Doubtless all has to be kept secret to spoil the demon people smugglers’ business model.

The $20 m building will house men who have been given “negative” refugee status, a category which includes those who have withdrawn from submitting to the cruel torture of “processing” their claims out of fear, trauma or a lack of trust.

“Those people, who total about 200, who have been found not to be refugees are to be moved into an alternative place of detention away from the regional processing centre, given that they have no lawful claim to be in PNG,” Peter Dutton tells parliament.

Sadly, it is always “those people” whenever the government speaks of refugees. Not “our people” as our common humanity would tell us or as international law would confirm. And we have only Dutton’s notoriously untrustworthy word for the adequacy or the legitimacy of the processing to say nothing of its legality under our human rights obligations.

The only possible humane solution is to bring those on Nauru and on Manus home to Australia immediately. Four years of suffering is enough. Apart from petty political point-scoring the government has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Yet such a move does not suit its increasingly narrow, right-wing agenda.

Nurturing Islamophobia and the persecution of minorities is now a mainstay of Coalition politics but in a new low, even for the fathomless enigma that is Turnbull, the week is darkened by the PM’s inaugural anti-Muslim dog-whistle.

“I notice they’re all making a sign of solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood with the Rabia sign there,” he bellows. “They might want to think about that.

Labor MPs are displaying four fingers to indicate his government has taken four years to do nothing on energy policy. It could just as easily indicate it has nothing to show in ending the illegal indefinite offshore detention of men, women and children whose only mistake was to throw themselves on our mercy.

Four years out, the Abbott-Turnbull experiment has so little to show for itself in the economy, the environment, education or any other area of policy, that it may as well take the opportunity of the closure of the Manus detention centre to rediscover its humanity and reverse its opposition to resettlement in Australia of those in off-shore detention.

Time for the PM to give his precious innovation agenda mob a real project. Nothing much else seems to be working.


16 comments

  1. Roswell

    What a delightful read, David.

  2. David Tyler

    Thanks, Roswell.

  3. ANDREW SMITH

    Turnbull has been very disappointing and it’s unclear what does he have to lose personally or materially by making an ethical stand round issues concerning the nation, vs answering noisy rump of the LNP?

    Ditto David Cameron being wedged into a vote on Brexit for similar results claiming party over nation (+ Trump election campaign), seems more about dividing the electorate and/or society making parliamentary democracy unworkable? Then their logic dictates a ‘solution’ is needed e.g. autocracy?

    In Australia it appears that the Liberal grounding and development of ‘liberal’ and/or sensible policies was lost through and to John Howard et al. in Sydney (who went to war against the ‘wets’ in Vic/Tas), branches became hollowed out, dog whistling became acceptable, and the re-energised IPA took over policy development favouring the top end of town (including global subsidiaries fossil fuels, auto, media and FIRE sectors), while Murdoch influenced media went to work on shaping Australians opinions while insularising them from the outside world, unable to make comparisons.

    While Liberals and most politicians now act like sock puppets wedged into a permanent return of old WASPish conservatism influenced by US based think tanks (careful Abbott et al, many oligarch backers of think tanks also support eugenics for the lower classes e.g. dog whistling Catholic Hispanics and their rates of ‘breeding’), obsessing round cultural issues and values, while pro big business (not small or SME business) policies are adapted or implemented without scrutiny?

    Like the Tories and Trump, they use the US nativist language of (white) now conservative working class while disappearing the presence and culture in social narratives and media of youth, minorities, workers, unions, education, diversity, environment (regulation), refugees, Catholics, other languages, Moslems, ‘immigrants’, Chinese etc. (while backgrounded by declining old ‘white’ demographics leading to more diversity in citizens and electorates?)

    Exemplifies a weird outcome whereby many former (white) working class Australians, even Irish Catholic background, are happy to adopt old conservative DLP/WASP outlook that often precludes ‘other types’, whinge and moan incessantly, and the ‘powers that be’ understand that there is a significant and evidenced shift towards conservative voting in upper age median; same median can be used as praetorian guard to protect old values and move back from more modern policies e.g. SSM.

    Last year the Liberals in Victoria had the bright idea of not attracting local diversity or natural Liberals e.g. Moslem and Chinese small business people who are conservative, in favour of branches actively recruiting US type Mormon or evangelical church goers to act as another praetorian guard (seemingly overtaking normal mainstream Protestant and Catholic culture?).

    Will they learn, or will it be like Howard who nationally had Crosby Textor developing and recommending strategy on divisive ‘wedge’ issues, but led to Howard losing sight of his own electorate’s values and interests thus losing; you don’t slag off your actual or future constituents unless you are living in an autocracy and a managed democracy?

  4. Glenn Barry

    Wonderful article David, as always, however you seem to be labouring under one weighty misapprehension, that Malcolm Turnbull has any humanity whatsoever.
    I know he once talked a good game, but when it has come to action and policy, his true colours have come to the fore.
    His overarching narcissism and rampant egotism reign to the exclusion of all else

  5. Steve

    The only trouble is in question time when questioned Ms cash turns it back on the Unions, specifically the CFMEU heaving people, Bill Shortens poor out comes for cleaners and the sweetheart deals by the shoppers union with fast food companies to drop wages and conditions. Works every time and blunts the opposition attacks ALP need to clean up their own back yard first

  6. Barry Thompson.

    One of the best summaries of this Government’s ineptitude I have read in a long time.
    Excellent work David, thank you.

  7. Kaye Lee

    On the “strong jobs growth” claim……

    According to the ABS, over the past year, trend employment increased by 307,300 persons which sounds good until you get to the part that says “Over the past year, the labour force has increased by 310,600 persons.”

  8. Kronomex

    Michaelia Cash using two fingers to show how large her compassion for the serfs and other assorted commoners is by screaming and shouting at how she has managed to double the size of that emotion.

    When you have nothing then attack, attack, attack to try and cover up your total loss of credibility and powers of governance

  9. helvityni

    David, you have a gift of telling a horror story in an entertaining way; I could not decide if I ought to laugh or to cry…

    And thanks for putting up the picture of my very favourite gal, Hard Cash. 🙂

  10. Tresca Cullen

    Great article, thanks David, covers so much so succinctly … i’m tempted to say “this stuff writes itself!”

    I’m still surprised at how many voters had so much faith in Turnbull in the first place. He made a complete dog’s breakfast of the Republic Vote, was easily out manoeuvred by Howard and made to look a fool. And look what he’s putting us through now. He’s just a self serving princeling with no integrity.

  11. diannaart

    Who has the worst recall of events? Politicians or the public? Politicians rely on short attention spans – both their own (convenient) short memories and the public’s, which is why blaming Labor for everything is considered a successful strategy.

    ..and it freakin’ works!

  12. Kronomex

    Diannaart, as we all know politicians, particularly the LNP, suffer from a congenital disease, passed from party member to party member, called Selective Amnesia and there is no known cure. Nor is there likely to be one in the foreseeable future.

    Oh yes, another disease the LNP suffers from is Blamus Laborius which usually strikes when things go bad for them.

  13. helvityni

    Knonomex, 🙂 for Blamus Laborious.

    If it works, it means the voters are must be rather ignorant/ uneducated; it explains the second coming of Hanson, and the rise of people like Dutton, Cash, Abbott’s elevation to PM…etc.

  14. jim

    The Abbot turnbul gov’ cuts are still taking place

    Australia doesen’t even have a reliable ABS.The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) says Federal Government budget cuts are making it impossible for staff to do their jobs properly.

    “Surveys have been cut altogether, we’ve seen changes to the methodology for doing surveys that really aren’t working properly,” said the CPSU’s deputy national president Alistair Waters.

    “Moving to trying to collect data online, that’s just leading to an awful lot of workarounds being done and often that’s just leading to interviewers having to go back into the field and re-interview people,” he added.

    The CPSU 2014 says $68 million was cut from the institution in this year’s budget. It says that came on top of a $10 million reduction the previous year under Labor.
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-09/abs-staff-say-data-undermined-by-funding-cuts/580

  15. Freetasman

    Very nice article again David.
    Regarding the government performance we can measure it in two ways:
    1) Govern for all of us and prosperite for all. Because we are not “one of them” this government is a failure.
    2) Govern for them for their class and interest and they have performed faultless achieving what you said, quote “while the rich and the very rich prosper”

    I am convinced that they govern to the second option and perhaps one day with the “trickle down” macroeconomics policy” few of the rest of Australians will get some peanuts.

  16. Chris2017

    And an ALP-Green government will be nearly as bad, only they smile. The point being that government in all shades and forms has failed and the TV cameras miss little. The hatred in the face of Cash is almost surreal until you remember she is in fact a so-called minister.. Her face wouldn’t launch a 1000 ships but would damage Waterford crystal across the land. In days gone by, a UK MP observed (of the government/Parliament) “…weeds and nettles, briars and thorns, have thriven under your shadow, dissettlement and division, discontentment and dissatisfaction, together with real dangers to the whole.”

    Cromwell’s speech dissolving the 1st protectoral parliament.

    Couldn’t have done better myself.

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