“Yes we have no bananas. We have no bananas today.” (Frank Silver, Irving Cohn from, Make it Snappy 1922.)
“For every person who voted for us … I just want to say how completely and utterly humbled I am,” lies Barnaby.
“This has been a stunning victory and a great demonstration of the strength of the coalition,” says the PM.
A surreal political week reaches peak bullshit, the communications strategy of our era and one of the greatest dangers we face as a people and as a nation, Saturday.
It’s the talking up of Barnaby Joyce’s victory in the New England by election Saturday. Professional political con-artist, Malcolm Turnbull gives four cheers for his side-kick Joyce. Two stooges in concert in Tamworth, he and his deputy are dressed like stock agents on a Saturday night out. Costume is vital to any Nationals’ occasion.
The duo shriek Collins St farmer chic in matching blue checked shirts and nattily contrasting cowboy hats, light for the local and dark for the Canberra ring-in dude. Turnbull grins like a barracuda. Busts his chops as if he’s just won Lotto. There’s a holler and whoop from the crowd before he’s back on the mike with another crock of whoppers.
“Thank you for getting the band back together”, says the PM to his ruddy-faced sidekick. More whoops.
The nation looks on warily. Joyce’s re-election rubber-stamp after 16 years of ineligibility in Senate and Reps is the end of a bizarre anti-campaign in which our unseated sitting candidate rarely appears outdoors. He deigns to appear in public, let alone debate the other 16 candidates. Cannily, he calculates, it’s not worth his while.
None of the out of town blow-ins, he knows, offers any real competition to Himself, a sitting member who is owed a massive Section 44 victim sympathy vote. He sets up his victimhood well. Cleverly makes it all about injustice.
It’s a complex, paradox-ridden balancing act and is part of the key to the paralysis afflicting national politics.
Despite being top dog, BJ plays the underdog who’s been cruelly and unfairly thrown from office. The ABC encourages this view.
Other media also obligingly depict BJ as another victim of ‘the citizenship crisis’, as if it were some rogue virus; negating his own responsibility. Like many other MPs Joyce was just too slack to check his own citizenship eligibility. Yet government chatter turns now to changing to law to protect the negligent.
By Saturday, Turnbull will crow. His deputy PM’s re-election represents a thumping endorsement of federal government policies. And the wisdom of allowing candidates to check their own eligibility. But who are The Nationals? Do they even know themselves? How does Barnaby re-take New England? Time for a closer look.
“Bananas” Barnaby Joyce, New England’s celebrity MP, leads a motley rural mob of likely lads, ladettes in hats, self-interested mining shills and big-noting populist con-men like himself. Despite their pretentious name, the Nationals are local and parochial. Little is as it seems in the hugely over-promoted victory in New England.
As with Donald Trump’s supporters, Nationals’ contradictions are endless. For one, the Nats’ electorates offer refuge, of sorts, to a growing rural poor, whose numbers are swollen by increasingly transient Australians forced by rising rents, falling real wages and skyrocketing utility prices to migrate to regional and country towns.
Yet our poor folk in the bush get little joy from their MPs, although George Christensen did cross the floor, in June, to vote with Labor against the abolition of Sunday penalty rates for retail and hospitality workers. Nationals are generally right behind the Liberals’ crippling war on the poor, a plan that has seen wages and welfare stagnate.
The Nats’ big role is to add a second anti-Labor party to our politics – and joy to the hearts of our business class.
Mining interests love them. Ironically, Nationals MPs obsess over their own patch of turf while remaining hostile to those environmental and climate change policies which would help them conserve it.
Naturally, like former leader John Anderson some go on to top PR jobs in resource extraction after politics. Matt Canavan, who effortlessly relays Peabody and Adani Coal propaganda is already almost a full-time mining lobbyist.
Yet they are mysterious. Barnaby Joyce is privy to the top secret Coalition agreement which gives his party total control of the Prime Minister. The government won’t show it to Labor, even under Freedom of Information. Opposition Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon mounts a legal challenge.
And they are conflicted. The Nats say they represent farmers but as primary production dwindles to 2% of GDP, they are far more likely to be lobbyists for Big Cotton and other rural, corporate interests which need the likes of Barnaby to help them suck the life out of the Murray Darling Basin, for example, at scandal-ridden Goondiwindi.
Their loyalties can be murky. Barnaby’s our nation’s Minister for Water. Yet when ABC’s Four Corners alleges Barwon-Darling valley farmers are taking more water than they are entitled to, it’s nothing to do with him, or federal government. “State issue.”
Yet in a Shepparton pub-talk, he’s every farmers’ champion, backing irrigators against greenies. Farm profits are more important than the environment. A recording shows him making extraordinary promises.
“We’ve taken water and put it back into agriculture [ministry] so we can look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show, basically sending you out the back door.”
Happily, no-one asks Barnaby about water in the campaign. But up in Goondiwindi, farmers report rorts in the “Healthy Headwaters” program. Irrigators replace water sold back to the Commonwealth with extra floodwaters caught off the plains, utterly subverting the Murray-Darling Plan’s aim.
Phlegmatic to the core, Barnaby’s not fussed. It’s not a matter for the commonwealth he maintains.
Healthy Headwaters appears to have been falsely entered on Goondiwindi invoices currently under investigation by Queensland’s major organised crime squad (rural). While Barnaby’s been looking after irrigators, there’s enough accrued evidence of corruption for SA to order a Royal Commission. “A states’ issue”, he insists.
Joyce is untroubled by awkward questions on his anti-campaign trail. A no-show means no-one holds him to account. Yet river issues form only part of Barnaby’s story. Nats are also big on fracking, a process of hydraulic oil and gas extraction known to contaminate, deplete and ruin the water table for farming and safe drinking.
In March, he endorsed a South Australian government plan to pay farmers 10 per cent of royalties for allowing gas wells on their land. The scheme should be rolled out nationally, with an exclusion of prime agricultural land.
“I can’t see people who start making hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of dollars a year having a backlash,” Joyce tells Fairfax Media. Bugger the environment, Barnaby. Buy complicity in eco-vandalism.
Joyce has also been accused of conflict of interest. In September, the Turnbull government demanded NSW accelerate approval of the Santos project at Narrabri, north-west of Sydney, to “ease a looming gas shortage”.
So its spin machine claims. Barnaby lists land at Gwabegar, west of Narrabri as part of his pecuniary interests.
He downplays his purchase of the land. He had no idea he’d bought CSG reserves when he paid $572,000 dollars for a thousand hectares of mongrel country on two blocks in 2006 and 2008. He denies receiving advice from his pal former Nationals leader, John Anderson, who became chairman of Eastern Star Gas in 2007.
Eastern Star co-owned explorations rights to PEL 428 a neighbouring area- before being taken over by Santos.
Given all his power, influence and sheer hide, however, Teflon Barnaby causes a stir with his invisible campaign stunt.
On the stump, it’s deathly quiet. You can almost hear the boys from the banks duffing cattle and forging signatures on contracts as they foreclose on farm mortgages in Tamworth’s main drag. Even the $9 per week Fijian fruit-pickers turn down their radio. Trust crafty old Bananas to run a silent auction instead of a campaign.
BJ’s fifty but the old stager uses a New Age, anti-campaign approach. Innovative. He stays up-tight and out of sight until voters re-elect him and the next episode of Barnaby goes Bananas begins all over again. Or when Turnbull goes down in harness. BJ’s mob will make a bold showing in any new coalition opposition portfolio carve-up.
New Age? No self-respecting modern local hero or anti-hero wants to risk over-exposure. Appear on the hustings? Debate the other 16 candidates? Don’t waste my time. Sagely, BJ stays right away from public fora.
His campaign team confirms the former deputy PM will “not be participating in any public forums or debates”. It’s all due to the Melbourne Cup Field of “out-of-towner” candidates, volunteers The Armidale Express.
Not even BJ can keep it up. Duty calls. He must flip off a man’s hat in The Graman Hotel near Inverell Monday. The Deputy Prime Minister then calls his bare-headed victim a “fuckwit” reports the jihadist Labor-left- wing-greenie ABC news.
“A line was crossed. The man was bringing up family matters“, Barnaby tells Fairfax. It’s a win for New England gallantry. The Nationals’ leader also sets a new community liaison benchmark to his followers.
Certainly, The High Court’s upset him. Barnaby’s stripped of his office by seven judges dim enough to claim he’s a Kiwi despite his First Fleet ancestors in the local cemetery. So unfair. No-one’s more ‘Strayan. Even Malcolm Turnbull knows that. So why is Barnaby not on the hustings? His nation needs him. The suspense is incredible.
Everything rides on BJ’s re-election, an RM Williams-Gina Rinehart-Santos-Murray-Darling cotton joint-production. But Nats are more than lobby group sock puppets. Our gerrymandered electoral system, helps too.
Nationals get seven times as many seats in parliament as The Greens for less than half the votes. Nats get at best seven per cent of the national vote, David Marr reminds viewers on ABC Insiders Sunday.
But our democracy loves a helping hand. New England receives $170m in community grants from the Federal pork-barrel, for example. Labor-held NSW seats average $3m. And Barnaby’s got some powerful sponsors.
Gina just wants to give her old pal, Barney, more money: he’s the Minerals Council’s nation’s best ever farmer. Santos needs the Resources Minister’s silver-tongue to keep spruiking the benefits of fracking while the Nats go ape-shit without a top banana in control. When Barnaby’s not on top of them, his sidekicks run amok.
NSW Nats’ leader, State Deputy-premier John Barilaro tells 2GB the PM should give the people his resignation as a Christmas gift. Barilaro’s compliments of the season come as renegade Nationals rampage without “strong leader” Barnaby. They side with Greens and Labor to force Turnbull into ignominious retreat over his long-held opposition to a banking royal commission. And it’s all his own fault.
“Turnbull is the problem, the Prime Minister is the problem,” Barilaro tells 2GB who assume he’s speaking only for himself. “He should step down, allow for a clean-out of what the leadership looks like federally. And whoever governs the country needs to make sure that they put the country and its people first.”
Quickly, “barrel of laughs” Barilaro gets a slap-down from serial cabinet leaker Julie Isabel Bishop, an aspiring leadership contender herself, it is whispered – if mainly, at this stage, by Peter Hartcher and Latika Bourke.
He’s “irrelevant”, Bishop lisps. He’s not even in our party room. So there. Yet Barilaro can give the PM as much cheek as he likes. Besides, Turnbull’s runt of a government needs Bananas for its lower house majority.
Barnaby rallies to his PM’s cause. Turnbull is a mate, he says. Besides, he did not know what Barilaro was going to say about Turnbull. If he had, he’d have told him not to. Yeah. Nah. That’s the leadership you get with Bananas. And the loyalty. Then, just so you know you can trust his judgement, Barnaby goes barking. Foams at the mouth.
Barilaro’s comment is the “worst possible insult in politics … worse than drowning a dog, worse than murder”.
Barilaro almost distracts the nation from the government’s weekly witch hunt of “Shanghai Sam”. Yet even Dastyari-bashing, 2.0 is upstaged briefly by the most bizarre PM’s presser in Australia political history, Thursday.
The PM backflips over banks. He has to. The Nationals sans Barnaby threaten to cross the floor unless they get a royal commission and he hasn’t got the numbers. Yet if he’s forced into it, he’s had time to tip off the banks.
It’s a sensational performance; a double back flip with pike. Ayatollah Turnbull and ScoMo – Where the bloody hell are you? -his all-singing, all dancing former tourist tout cum refugee jailer cum treasurer steal the political show with an amazing improvisation. It’s incoherent, illogical and ultimately inexplicable but ScoMo tries his best.
“S’ a lot of politics in this. That politics was damaging our economy. It was damaging the credibility of our banking system,” Morrison tells Coalition megaphone and One Nation comfort station, Channel Seven’s Sunrise next morning. He sticks his chin up for the camera in an alarming Benito Mussolini impression.
“Sometimes in politics you’ve got to take the least worst option.” He waves a letter from the banks. So he claims.
The truth is that the Nationals have helped force the federal government into an inquiry it doesn’t want. Labor gets blamed, of course, but no-one sees it as anything but an attempt by a PM desperate to save his political skin.
The letter is a theatrical prop too far. “Is that a permission slip?”, snorts Bill Shorten, warming up. He’s close. Yet the government has chosen terms of reference which include superannuation, one of the few areas of financial industry doing the right thing for members, as The Australian Financial Review’s Laura Tingle points out.
Tingle calls the targeting of industry super an “ideological fatwa”. It clearly an extension of the government’s war on workers and their attempts to organise their labour to protect their rights and conditions through unions.
Not only has the government allowed the banks to dictate the terms of its own inquiry, it has connived at a Clayton’s Royal Commission to take aim, equally, at the banks’ only competitor, industry super funds. It is an outrageous political stitch-up. To make it more absurd, it blames Labor.
“We just couldn’t allow a politically hi-jacked inquiry to be taking place” says Matthias Cormann Thursday with a straight face. Yet that is precisely what the government has delivered.
An in-form Shorten calls it a “bank flip”. A “super bank-flip”, perhaps, also, given its designs on industry super? A super-size me (broad and vague) commission?
Of the $2.6m banks donated to the major parties last year, Labor received $1m, however. Even if the attack on workers’ savings provides fresh resolve, on past form, the Opposition is unlikely to pursue banks too far.
Best total bank receipts for a party in government, however, go to the Liberals who received at total of $12,716,470 in donations from Macquarie, NAB, CBA, ANZ and Westpac between 2013 -2016.
Money talks but best colour and movement goes to “dragged kicking and screaming” to a Royal Commission a popular offering by Nationals MP, George Christensen, who vowed he’d cross the floor to vote for a Commission and who now not so secretly promises to resign if his PM does not. He later reneges as expected.
At least he can be credited with helping supply the right imagery even if turns out he hasn’t forced Turnbull into doing anything. Is it all a sham? So far all signs suggest a bravura confidence trick. Amazingly the PM calls a Royal Commission the very day the banks write to him begging for one.
Their letter shows that the banks will set their own terms of reference. Clearly, this is no royal commission. As the terms of reference, the year limit and the appointment of Ken Hayne, QC, Dyson Heydon’s stablemate as its Chief Commissioner make clear, it not about fixing the banks but about helping banks access union super funds.
Will an inquiry damage the credibility of the banking system as Morrison and his PM maintain? The banks have done a good job of that themselves; they can thank their own conduct. Since the GFC, our Big Four banks have paid out over a billion dollars in fines and compensation for rorting their own clients.
Ian Verrender, points out, moreover, our regulatory authorities have a track record of letting banks off lightly.
Are they “too big to fail or too big to jail?”, asks former Deutsche Bank analyst Mike Mangan now CEO of funds manager 2MG. Mangan summarises our banks’ transgressions during the past decade from the Storm financial crisis to rigging Malaysian currency markets and providing bad financial advice.
Complaints are broad and range from farmers to small business and households. Issues include banks’ usurious profiteering, their fee-gouging, money-laundering and their almost complete contempt for the law.
On ABC Insiders, Mark Riley warns the government will be challenged by “expectation management”. He means the nation will be angry at its betrayal when it discovers that the Royal Commission into the banks is not the Royal commission everyone was hoping for. Already any change in regulation is ruled out as is any change in policy.
“… the Commission is not required to inquire into, and may not make recommendations in relation to macro-prudential policy, regulation or oversight… ”,
No-one but the banks and a government desperate to buy time will be happy with a Clayton’s inquiry with terms so wide and vague as the one outlined Thursday. The Coalition will quickly live to rue its chicanery.
Above all, as Marr points out, there will be no forum for story-telling, a place for farmers, for example, to share their stories of how they were sold financial products they couldn’t manage and then thrown off their land.
In stories there is part of the path to healing; part also of the process of calling to account those government subsidised and protected institutions we have allowed to grow into monsters preying upon our lives.
In its absurd theatre of calling a royal commission it didn’t want but its weakness forced it into, as in its faux self-congratulation in the New England by-election on a victory it didn’t win for policies which continue to fail even the popularity test, the government again reaches peak bullshit. The nation is ill-served by such duplicity.
Its banking commission is clearly a hoax, a poorly disguised way of pretending to heed calls for an inquiry while providing the means for banks to access Industry super while it furthers its ideological war on unions. More than duplicitous, it is an attack on some of the most vulnerable members of society in the interests of profiting the rich.
It’s shameful betrayal of trust and responsibility.