Image for NATION: Facing mutiny ... Abbott goes on the attack

The Week that Was ...

Captain Abbott, an Odysseus in speedos, found himself once again staring down mutiny on Monday as HMS Team Australia limped into port, divided over national security.

The vessel was leaking badly. Team Australia had weathered some punishing offshore squalls and was coming apart at the seams, it seemed. Yet somehow disaster was averted by a government which went on the attack.

A quick fix suddenly presented itself: Peter Dutton would just have to have another go at Gillian Triggs. Dutton called for the Human Rights Commission chair to resign over her comments on the consequences of our turning back asylum seekers. His call summed up a key theme of government business of the week, the persecution of dissenters.

Dutton alleged on Sunday’s Andrew Bolt show that Triggs linked her criticism to a recent Indonesian execution of two Australians but the evidence shows otherwise.

Last week, at a forum in Adelaide, Triggs simply asked: “Have we thought about what the consequences are of pushing people back to our neighbour Indonesia? Is it any wonder that Indonesia will not engage with us on other issues that we care about, like the death penalty?”

If Dutton is to be given the power of deciding citizenship, as seems likely under the government’s proposed new anti-terrorism law, he has so far displayed little of the discernment or discretion that would inspire trust. But trust went out the window for the government all over the shop last week. 

A FIFA scoundrel had pocketed 45 million of our hard-earned bribe, it was discovered, as Sepp Blatter’s incredible empire began to fall apart under allegations of systematic bribery and corruption. Perhaps the money could be forwarded to the Indonesians. Julie Bishop had to explain to Indonesia why a massive cut in our aid to our neighbour was not payback for their executing two of our finest and most famous young drug-runners.

Labor, doubtless, will be blamed.

The terms of trade continued to run away from us and although the world iron ore price was up to $60 per tonne from its low of $50, it was still a third of its price in the boom we banked on lasting forever. The root cause of the downturn is the slowing urban migration of Chinese country folk into cities, which in turn dampens the market for construction steel. Labor, doubtless, will be blamed.

The UN was disgusted by Australia’s slacking off on climate change while our cavalier dereliction of duty over the Rohingya crisis remains an international scandal. But no-one will preach to us, thunders Abbott.

Wagging its finger at Australia for wasting its time with direct action proposals that did not stack up, the UN found our carbon abatement targets too low to be real or fair. The US was underwhelmed by our support for its latest oil war given that Iraqi soldiers had just deserted their posts and run screaming from the enemy, a tactic not in any training manual.

A commitment to Australian boots on Iraqi sand was expected all this week. It seemed ever more likely as the government repeatedly denied having any such plan. Few are taken in.  Denial is this government’s prelude to action.

As for having no plan, chaotic adhocracy is the Abbott government’s modus operandi. Julie Bishop’s news that fiendish death cult ISIS plans to recruit experts to help with gas warfare is, moreover, surely evidence we are being prepared to fight pure evil on the ground, despite our letting Assad get away with it for years. Expect more on this score soon. Who knows? Someone in the Pentagon may even dust off the old WMD tactic again. 

The PM stuck his finger up in response to all critics. He was a fighter! Rats in the ranks and Bill Shorten’s overtures of cooperation over small business tax breaks alike found themselves rebuffed, if not repulsed, by a macho PM in full flight. Abbott treated the nation if not the world to a brazenly unreconstructed, tough-guy, hairy chest-beating, vote-winning simian display of authority. The junkyard dog was back on attack.

...the government voted against itself..

In a stark reminder of its real commitment to bipartisanship and its increasing contempt for the role of parliament, the government voted against itself rather than allow Bill Shorten to expedite the passage of a small business tax-relief bill by tabling his party’s assent.

Abbott capped this bizarre act with another rough rebuff. Having secured Labor’s assent in principle to new laws stripping citizenship from ISIS supporters and anyone else Peter Dutton suspects, the PM refused to give Labor a briefing on the new bill. And his odd-ball hardball act was, it seems contagious. 

Australia was grilled over its carbon emission targets. Environment Minister Greg Hunt, on Bondi Beach for the launch of the ‘One Tree Per Child’ initiative was in top form. Approached for comment over international concern as to whether Australia’s target of five per cent reduction by 2020 is fair, Hunt obliged with ‘No with respect, your statement carries a presumption that is false, untrue, incredible and inaccurate.’ Just what you would hope really from a consultative government committed to transparency, about to enter world negotiations on 30 November to save the planet’s future.

At home, trade winds threatened to blow us back on to the rocks of recession. A housing bubble would help it along. Even John Fraser the Liberals’ hand-picked, head-hunted Secretary to the Treasury discerned, he said, a bubble in the Sydney housing market, a housing bubble which apprentice treasurer, Josh Frydenberg mistook to mean higher prices on ABC Insiders Sunday. The member for Kooyong’s apparent confusion did not stop him denying any bubble exists. What would the Head of Treasury know about it anyway?

Similarly David Murray’s caution that the present exemptions for rich retirees made our super unsustainable were dismissed by Frydenberg, despite Murray’s expertise. Super was something the PM had promised would remain untouched, he said as if this were a real option.

Nor did it phase the assistant treasurer that the ERC was leaking as badly as Cabinet. ‘What matters, he said, sagely, reciting his talking points, is that we are getting on with the business of government.’

...green shoots all across the economy…

That leaks imperil effective government is evidently not part of Frydenberg’s reasoning. ‘Why, there are green shoots all across the economy,’ he volunteered, remembering another part of his script. In fact the only green to be seen shooting in the non-mining sector is in housing construction and that could be a whole bubble of trouble rather than cause for more mindless applause.

Frydenberg also put on record this week his government’s meaning of the phrase ‘well-received’ as in Hockey’s ‘well-received’ second budget. Expect to hear more of this phrase. The truth is that there has been no rush of support to the government or ‘budget bounce’ as had been hoped by the Coalition.

‘Well-received’ translates into ‘has not been howled down’ except by families and low income earners, a large number of Australians who will be 15 billion dollars out of pocket as a result of cuts that remain from 2014 and new ‘savings’ read cuts in the 2015 budget according to Dr Cassandra Goldie of ACOSS. $6 billion has been slashed from family payments and 1 billion has been cut from health.

Happily for Abbott and his crew, however, a complete coalition capsize was averted, if only in the end, by a solid ballast of lies, denials, Tea-Party clap-trap, neo-con con-artistry, homophobia, xenophobia, sundry finger-pointing, blaming of Labor, witch-hunting and rabid scare-mongering. Not only are ISIS-groomed seventeen year olds about to kill us all in our beds, ISIS is planning to make war by chlorine gas. Bishop would have us believe ISIS needs to recruit experts to achieve this.

Some of us, however, have not forgotten the use of chlorine in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Doubtless there would be some local experts already available.

Keeping to his cunningly reversed course, Crusader Abbott sought salvation for himself and the nation by fighting terror, fighting Shorten and fighting rats in his cabinet. He would even enlist the back bench in the fight. Pit front against back bench. Teach a lesson to those dogs who’d dare find fault with his decision to grant Peter Dutton supreme power over citizen-stripping.

...promoting a mindless tribalism…

Within his party, in parliament and on international commitments, Abbott continued to do his best to boost his fortunes by promoting a mindless tribalism. Ask not what you can do for your nation, but whose side are you on? This tribalism usurps and infects politics with self-interest, self-absorption and indifference if not hostility to others. It is a primitive herd-like mentality set to diminish us all; further weaken our over-stretched social fabric; destroy our democratic birthright. 

Team Australia, never a tight ship at the best of times, continued to list to starboard and to take on water as a result of ‘operation leak-back,’ where the crew had leaked against the captain in retaliation for his leaking against them a decision they had yet to take.

Abbott had to take a stand. ‘Personal and political consequences,’ he thundered, will rain upon the head of each and every rat found leaking. Except when I, myself leak, or when Wonder Woman Credlin leaks to our Daily Telegraph.

It was, he crowed, a ‘come to Jesus moment’ for his crew. Christ-like he promised to walk on leaked water; turn back all leaks for all time. Yet, so badly holed was his omnipotence that barely a messianic moment had elapsed before the next leak occurred. Yes. His very sermon against leaks was leaked to the press. It was a telling sign of his decline since February’s leadership spill.

Luckily, Hockey was still full of bullshit. He bounced back like a celluloid doll but with less credibility. On Wednesday, he was cracking hearty over a ‘terrific set of figures,’ fresh from the ABS. He was elated to discover that he had something he could spin.

In truth the ABS figures contained no measure of any substantive economic gain. But you couldn’t shut Hockey up on the miracles he had wrought in Australia’s economy. He assured a sceptical nation once again that we were on a credible path to recovery or a surplus or whatever it is you want to hear before we pull the double dissolution lever.

Hockey sallied forth to babble all over breakfast television, claiming a blip in forecasts was iron-clad evidence of a credible path to economic recovery. Besides, hadn’t he just made tampons cheaper and cheap utes tax deductible for tradies?  The economy was set to take off.

Long term unemployment rose 18 per cent…

Australian shares suffered their worst week in three years. Long term unemployment rose 18 per cent over the past year to 188,000 a peak not seen since late 1990, according to the ABS who report also that GDP grew only 2.3 per cent, well below the 3 per cent trend required to maintain employment.

The sixteen year high in long-term unemployment is a measure of real suffering. It is also expensive. It comes with a wellbeing cost of a record $3.9 billion in the March quarter. Workers who have been granted the smallest basic pay rise ever would not be so quick to congratulate Hockey over his GDP. Factor in population growth, moreover and real domestic product grew by only 0.8 per person. GDP itself is a poor measure of economic health for a treasurer to be flaunting. It is not, as it is presented, a simple tick of approval.

Nor do we get to keep it. In mining, eighty per cent of GDP flows out of Australia into the bank accounts of the international mine owners.  Success in stimulating investment outside the mining sector remains largely elusive.

Bilge-water rising, Abbott battened down the hatches on climate change and human rights, stopping his ears to a blast of international criticism on human rights and energy policy while his leaky craft continued to ship water in the wash-up to ‘Strip-gate’ and the lead-up to the Paris climate summit at the year’s end.

‘Strip-gate’ was not so much the kangaroo court invited by the summary revocation of citizenship at the Minister’s whim as much as Abbott’s attempt to bypass cabinet with this alarming assault on the rule of law. 

‘Here we go again,’ Gatsby Turnbull complained, according to usually reliable leaks. Cabinet, angered at another dud captain’s call from Abbott the self-styled son of God, took issue with his megalomaniacal decision to revoke all semblance of democratic process from the cabinet’s decision-making.

‘The extraordinary privilege of Australian citizenship’ must not be taken lightly, gushed Dan Tehan, member for the blue-blood seat of Wannon where a sheep could get elected if it wore a Liberal ribbon. He was bleating anti-citizenship in an excruciating online interview with Fairfax.

Those suspected by the Minister to be in bed with terrorist agents would be stripped of Aussie citizenship, if they had a spare citizenship up their sleeves, or something like that.

...rorting pensioners and other welfare fraudsters…

‘Beam me up Scotty’ Morrison acted the big softie as ever and had his five bob’s worth by suggesting that suspension would be just as good. Or else it was what the government really had in mind or something like that. Why, he could do the same with rorting pensioners and other welfare fraudsters. No wonder Dan was not across the detail.

‘All hands to the pump’ commanded Captain Kangaroo. It thus fell to the hapless Andrew Laming to make a complete fool of himself by claiming that the leak from last week’s cabinet meeting was good. It had, in fact, he fancied, had the perverse effect of reinforcing the government’s resolve within the electorate’s mind. Laming’s own resolve is the stuff of Liberal legend. 

Who could forget Dr Laming’s resolute embrace of tolerance and compassion; or his just, fair-minded perspective on civic unrest? In response to a skirmish between Pacific Islander and indigenous residents of Logan, he tweeted: ‘Mobs tearing up Logan tonight. Did any of them do a day’s work today, or was it business as usual and welfare on tap?’

Laming would do well to read Tehan’s website. Dan spells out clearly what we expect of all citizens clearly for the benefit of newer citizens.

‘For those who enjoy our citizenship there must be an acceptance of our core values; tolerance, pluralism and peace.’ Perhaps those who are already Australian citizens are exempt. Perhaps when he revokes his British citizenship, our PM will be able to practise some of these.

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times: Independent Australia: Tony Abbott is almost certainly a British dual citizen — and so he can’t be our PM

ABC: Labor accuses Government of bullying over latest attack on human rights chief

Guardian: Negative gearing should be phased out for all not just some, says economist Grattan Institute chief says shielding existing property investors from a Greens proposal to end negative gearing could create ‘intergenerational unfairness’

Amanda Vanstone, The Age: Lazy, sneaky or both: what were you thinking, Prime Minister? So you can imagine my profound disappointment, bordering on despair, when I see some on “my team” thinking it is OK for a minister alone to take away a citizen’s rights – indeed, take away citizenship – in the blink of an eye. No appeal, no judicial process, just a ministerial decision. What were they thinking? There’s nothing new and therefore sudden about dealing with terrorism that justifies this suggestion not going through proper cabinet process. In fact the very seriousness of the threat terrorism poses and this suggested response demands a full discussion. Hoping to flick it through at the end of a cabinet meeting smacks of trying to get something difficult through without proper discussion. That’s either lazy, sneaky or both.