First published May 8
Capping a week of monster surprises, Mitch Fifield, Arts Minister 2.0 , announces government will help media moguls to become even more powerful just as the PM is due to sup with Rupert Murdoch and a conga line of suck-holes at a nosh-up for Australian-US sycophants on USS Intrepid, a New York war-porn museum inside a WW2 aircraft carrier, Thursday.
The billionaires’ relief package is timed for Turnbull’s emergency dash to kiss Rupert’s ring and a unique opportunity to fawn over Rupert’s protégé, Donald the Wunderkind, Trump, while Trump still believes he’s trashed Obamacare, bigly.
Should our government get its way, however, with its media laws, Australians could be reading only of the President’s amazing victory.
While changes proposed will need parliamentary approval, they include repealing the two out of three cross media ownership laws and the 75% reach rule which currently prevent Australia’s media giants from consolidating.
Turnbull’s backers hope there’s a poll bounce in truckling to Trump but either way, it’s a key step in the Coalition’s philanthropic mission to the rich. The $12 billion dollar little Aussie battler could do with a bit of a hand up just as the nation needs more media concentration if it is to be certain that the news it hears and sees is government-approved.
Will Fairfax now at last be free to marry Nine Entertainment? How will the proposed new laws help the 125 workers or the 25% of its journalists Fairfax just made redundant? Do the new “reach” and “two out three” “reforms” allow a virtual monopoly? No time for any further discussion. Look over there, it’s the Ugly Budget Show.
But first a word from funny man and Trump fan Happy Harold Mitchell, chairman of Free TV Australia, the industry group that says it represents the free-to-air networks. Mitchell argues that the changes were needed to help protect Australian media companies from overseas technology giants, such as Facebook and Google.
4.5 billion from its Australian business in 2015 virtually tax free
“Broadcasters must be able to effectively compete with the giant multinational media companies taking advertising dollars out of Australia,” Mitchell says straight-faced. Yet Murdoch’s US business was able to take 4.5 billion from its Australian business in 2015 virtually tax free. Expect Scott Morrison to offer more of the same hogwash Tuesday.
Tuesday will be huge. Everyone’s on edge lest they bugger up The Budget Process or, somehow, mar the “finishing touches” being applied to the Frankenstein’s monster Morrison is building. Or, rather, the monster we are all constructing such is the power of the collective fiction of the Almighty Budget reborn, or recreated, every year.
So powerful it can destroy the futures of those yet unborn, the Budget Monster usurps entire governments and oppositions alike. The Ugly Budget dominates all rational discussion of the economy.
The nonsense of Budget Repair, for example, is widely accepted as justification for cutting government spending while giving tax cuts to the rich.
Forget jobs and growth. Forget the slogans about delivering on its promises. As Treasury will have told ScoMo, the Coalition has in fact delivered budget unrepair. Its policies have massively increased the deficit and helped retard economic growth.
Jobs will continue to be part time and casual while the unemployment rate won’t budge much from 5.25-5.75%, helped by the ABC’s Fran Kelly and the many others in the Coalition cheer squad who say this is “relatively good”.
Expect half measures from the faint-hearted. The Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss warns of a “hodge podge”. High Priest Morrison, the Malcolm Roberts, of the economy says his budget won’t “tickle the ears of the ideologues”.
... abandoned some of its neoliberal magical thinking ...
Yet after years of ear-tickling about bringing the budget back into balance and its worship of the free market, the government has abandoned some of its neoliberal magical thinking in favour of something which might win it a few more votes.
It will still, however, cling to its trickle-down superstition that making the rich richer is good for all of us.
Gone is debt and deficit disaster. Some debt is good, especially if it’s an excuse to boondoggle. “Good debt” is money borrowed by government for an inland Queensland rail that will never pay its way or an Adani mine that’s a fiscal and environmental liability and other pork-barrel projects that it sanctifies in the holy name of infrastructure spending.
Neoliberal economics has failed spectacularly worldwide but this government puts gut feeling first as Barnaby Joyce says. He can move a whole government department to help his electoral prospects despite no feasibility study no modelling or supporting evidence.
Similarly, ScoMo’s second Budget will preserve the delusion that ripping $48 billion out of the budget in the form of tax cuts for companies will lead to increased productivity, more jobs and higher wages if you say it often enough. Or that welfare is a cost not an investment in a socially cohesive, fair and decent society.
The Market, Amen, must be left to its own devices - mostly. ScoMo will subsidise Adani’s coal mine even though other mines won’t be able to compete. The Coalition will pop up a second Sydney airport while energy companies rob us blind with the help of a market regulator they helped to create and a government keen to protect it.
Undeterred, coal industry shill, Matt Canavan, our quixotic Resources Minister tilts at Westpac Bank again. This week, he accuses a bank of conflict of interest for not falling in with his government’s plans to subsidise Carmichael, a monster coal mine project we don’t need, which won’t pay its way and will become a stranded asset.
... a cruel hoax ...
On cue, Adani vows to get its railway lines from Whyalla steelworks, a gesture that is hailed as a “lifeline” by Canavan and much of MSM. Yet the steel represents one per cent of Whyalla’s total output. A one off order of 56,000 tonnes of railway line is not a ‘lifeline’ for Arrium Steel but a cruel hoax,” says The Australian Institute’s Richard Denniss.
Under fire from The Incredible Sulk, Tony Abbott, over his Australian values and Gonski 2.0 cons and with the monster of Manus Island at large again after a Border Force worker alleges that Peter Dutton is lying, intrepid Turnbull acts decisively.
He scoops up Lucy and a tuxedo. Dashes to New York. It’s a last ditch bid to cure his electoral scrofula; the laying on of hands by a White House incumbent that guarantees all Australian Prime Ministers a boost in the polls. Or used to.
Turnbull is even up for a Trump love-in staged by Rupert Murdoch in New York, a city that doesn’t trust either of them.
“We’re not babies”, cries man-baby Donald Trump whose self-awareness at 70, like his political self and his emotional maturity are still works in progress. Monster baby Donald is ever ready to reset reality; get the mythic US Australian Alliance back on track with a bit of mature and responsible denial. As adults do. A few brazen falsehoods always help.
No. He never threw his rattle out of his pram or hung up on Turnbull over that” worst deal ever” to swap refugees.
“We had a good call. You guys exaggerated that call. It was an exaggeration. We’re no babies. That was a little bit of fake news.” Enabling, Turnbull nods. “That’s right”, he lies.
... desperate to get his refugee deal ...
Their relationship is rebuilt on mutually agreed dishonesty. The lie sits well with their mutual exploitation of the ANZUS myth. Trump’s handlers are counting upon an expanded Australian troop commitment wherever, whenever it sees fit; Turnbull’s desperate to get his refugee deal. And butch up for the right wing of his own party.
Next, Trump denies all grounds for conflict. “We have a fantastic relationship ... I love Australia. I always have.” “It’s one of the great, great places. One of the most beautiful places on earth. Greg Norman’s here today, a friend of ours.”
The US President is a guest at the American Australian Association Battle of the Coral Sea Commemorative Dinner on USS Intrepid, a refurbuished WW2 aircraft carrier which sits in the silt and the General Electric’s factory’s PCBs of The Hudson River at New York’s West 46th Street.
Turnbull’s mob has moved heaven and earth to book him facetime with the president, even if it’s only a quickie. Now the dinner has come up, our PM has jumped at the chance, even if he has a Budget in the oven at home.
Nicknamed the “Dry I” or “The Decrepit” for the time it spent in dry dock and its incredible run of bad luck, the Intrepid suffered four, separate, kamikaze attacks. It was torpedoed once. It’s not the White House, it’s not Mar-a-Lago but it’s a perfect venue for a lame duck PM, to hoist himself out of range of Tony Abbott’s sniping and to declare fealty to his liege Lord Donald of the USA.
First up, Australian economic refugee and New York parvenu, 86 year-old Rupert Murdoch introduces Trump. Rupert’s father, Keith started the American Australian Association in 1948, an outfit dedicated to” building strategic alliances between the two nations” a process which entails ways of helping wealthy Americans make money out of Australia.
‘These are dangerous times,’ Murdoch observes, windily ‘and we must be, as this great carrier is called, “Intrepid,” that is to say, fearless and bold in our resolve to advance the frontiers of freedom, and in defense of our nation’s shores.’ Putting his mouth where his money is, courageously, he’s turned Fox News into The Trump Show, a paid advertorial.
... paid no tax on its offshore gas projects ...
The alliances include Chevron. The US-based multinational pays its CEO $20 million a year yet in the last two years has paid no tax on its offshore gas projects in Australia. Rupert’s American Australian Association gave Chevron’s CEO an award in 2014.
The Association’s president, former US Ambassador to Australia, John Berry, has urged Turnbull to meet Trump early in his presidency. Turnbull rushes to comply even if it leaves Abbott a loophole and Scott Morrison unsupervised around key Budget leak time.
The Donald’s stand up includes his love affair with everyone he’s ever met from Australia, like Greg Norman and Rupert Murdoch - including its Prime Minister whom he’s just kept waiting three hours in order to talk himself up on Fox news; explaining how bigly he’s scuttled Obamacare, even though he still has to get the bill past the Senate.
Above all, he vows theatrically, the two nations have “a bond sealed with the blood of our fathers and grandfathers.” (Gina Rinehart is there but the women don’t get much of a mention. Sunday she’s in the NT News urging Turnbull to cut spending like Trump.)
The Donald hails a fawning Malcolm Turnbull as a fellow late-bloomer, deal-maker and man of the world, monstering his guest, finessing that excess of affection and patent insincerity that so many celebrities confuse with affirmation. The two nations are blood brothers. Together, we beat back the Japanese; turned the tide of the Second World War.
Now, side by side in the war on terror, we reach out to new enemies. Why, there’s the “enormous risks” Kim Jong–un’s regime has been unleashing with its “reckless and dangerous” conduct, Turnbull obliges, woodenly - but on cue.
Breathless hacks spin the event as their “first face to face meeting” which it is - for a whole forty minutes. Or thirty-five before the wives are let in. Ivanka’s book has been described as a strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes. Her father’s speech, like his account of what was discussed is something similar. Trump bumper stickers.
... Turnbull Trump kiss and make up ...
Face to face? In a post fact, Trumpocene era, two can meet by tweet; just being there doesn’t cut it much any more - but the martial staging of the Turnbull-Trump kiss and make up is lavished with careful attention to detail. It’s all about the vibe and the venue.
Love is in the air, albeit belated. A huge bromance. Huge. OK. It’s had its rough patches but true love never runs smooth.
“Got a little testy, got a little testy but that’s OK” Trump ad-libs before returning to script. That Call is woven into his blokey, hokey, narcissist’s shtick, along with how Greg Norman showed up The Donald but saved him embarking on a career as a golf pro.
Turnbull half-grins. His rictus is confined to the bottom half of his face, as if by some inner border force ring of steel. They are two of a kind; both socially inept spoilt brats, utterly consumed by their mutual, fruitless search for approval - along with their love of money and things and their mission to help people like themselves get richer.
Both have done work on their routines. Trump 2.0 loves Turnbull 2.0, tonight, in public at least. Loves Australia. Wonderful country. He’ll visit someday. Has friends there. The genius of convention has kitted him out in a monkey suit - a costume favoured by Sinatra’s rat pack and countless other crooners, stage magicians and entertainers.
It suits him. Trump looks better, as a riverboat hustler, a con man without the Freudian slip of a tie dangling down past the waistline. Turnbull, however, looks wary, edgy and ill at ease. But it’s hard to relax with Peter Dutton acting up and with respected small “l” Liberal Ian McPhee arguing that the Immigration Minister has too much power.
Former Fraser government Immigration Minister McPhee makes a strong case for Peter Dutton’s powers to be reined in and calls for a halt to plan legislation to expand them.
He is “disgusted by the power accorded to current ministers regarding the lives of people fleeing persecution”.
In a powerful rebuke to Turnbull and his capitulation to the right, McPhee not only finds constitutional fault with the practice of increasing the Immigration Minister’s power, he has a dig at the Coalition’s values.
... Such power should be exercised humanely ...
“Ministers now exercise power that is mostly beyond the review of judges,” he said. “Such power should be exercised humanely and in accordance with morality, not absolute law. “The law and its practice is now unjust. It is un-Australian.”
His comments are made in “Playing God”, a report by Liberty Victoria’s Rights Advocacy Project, released Thursday, calling for current powers to be reduced and for bills to expand them even further to be abandoned.
Report author Lauren Bull points to the creation of a monster, a minister whose powers include “discretions to approve, refuse, or cancel visas, to detain or re-detain an asylum seeker without warning, to send asylum seekers to offshore detention centres and, even in some cases, prevent reviews of decisions not to grant protection visas.”
“Under Australian law, no other minister – not even the prime minister – is given anywhere near as much unchecked power.”
Dutton is accused of lying by a Border Force Officer on Manus who this week has given further information to ABC’s Barrie Cassidy which supports the police chief and other locals who deny the Minister’s allegation that shots were fired into the detention centre because of sexual misconduct by detainees against a young Manus Island boy.
Peter Dutton has refused to alter his version of events, a version which effectively blames the asylum seekers for the disturbance.
The Immigration Minister has not only failed in his duty of care to provide a safe environment for the asylum-seekers, preferring instead to offer the lame excuse that PNG is responsible, but he has damaged the reputations and endangered the well-being of those in the camp with his implication of sexual assault.
His actions have exacerbated the already strained relationships between asylum-seekers and Manus Island locals.
... demanded an apology from Fairfax ...
While Dutton claims he has information to support his allegations, he refuses to make the information available. He has even demanded an apology from Fairfax and the ABC for a report which he claims is based on discredited witnesses.
Dutton’s conduct is completely unsatisfactory and a breach of his ministerial responsibility. It may be that with the unprecedented increase in his powers that he has been led to believe, wrongly, that he is not answerable to anyone.
Malcolm Turnbull urgently needs to exercise his leadership and stand Peter Dutton down, at least until the incident is resolved. Should the Prime Minister fail to do so, it will irrevocably weaken his authority as leader, let alone a leader who professes Australian values of fairness and justice. The consequences for the welfare of detainees could be dire.
Malcolm Turnbull needs to take time out from his attempts to boost his approval ratings with stunts such as the public forelock tugging with the US President and such as his recent crackdown on 457 Visas and his rhetoric on Australian values which seem little more than a dog-whistle to the intolerant and a shirking of our responsibility to refugees.
Australians deserve more from their government than an abdication of independence in foreign policy. Our alliances with other nations can be maintained without so much overt servility and undignified, fawning obeisance.
Given what we have seen of Donald Trump’s utter unsuitability in ability, temperament or experience to be an effective president and given what we know of those whom he has chosen for his administration and his advisers, it would be prudent, surely to exercise prudence, restraint and discernment.
Instead we are like hysterical teenagers stricken with Trump-mania.
Similarly, it does not advance a democratic nation’s best interests to indulge a wealthy and powerful profit-seeking elite who would seek a monopoly in reporting the news or in any other of the functions of modern mass media.
It is not beyond a government that it is genuinely committed to a free, fair and open society to actively support an independent and diverse press.
Certainly, the proposed new media legislation ought to be rejected for the grave and dangerous mistake it is.
Above all, the nation needs a sensible, rational economic policy on behalf of all Australians, informed by a broad range of experts, not neoliberal ideologues and certainly not a budget driven solely by an out of touch and out of favour Coalition government’s need to regain popularity by whatever means it can find.
Sadly nothing in the week’s events in politics suggests a narcissistic, immature, Turnbull government has the vision or the competence to put anyone but itself first.
*David Tyler (AKA Urban Wronski) was born in England, raised in New Zealand and an Australian resident since 1979. Urban Wronski grew up conflicted about his own national identity and continues to be deeply mistrustful of all nationalism, chauvinism, flags, politicians and everything else which divides and obscures our common humanity. He has always been enchanted by nature and by the extraordinary brilliance of ordinary men and women and the genius, the power and the poetry that is their vernacular. Wronski is now a fulltime freelance writer who lives with his partner and editor Shay and their chooks, near the Grampians in rural Victoria and he counts himself the luckiest man alive. A former teacher of all ages and stages, from Tertiary to Primary, for nearly forty years, he enjoyed contesting the corporatisation of schooling to follow his own natural instinct for undifferentiated affection, approval and compassion for the young.