Image for NATION: Abbott trashes the Rule of Law. Housing bubble. Q&A ...

The Week That Was ...

Whilst they professed their undying loyalty, fealty and overwhelming devotion to the great charter in public, our MPs trampled Magna Carta in the mire of the tribal blood-sport that now displaces national politics.

Turning his back on the national interest and the common good, Tony Abbott went after Bill Shorten in a bid to paint Labor as soft on terror by proposing a bad new law as a wedge in a gambit that involved appearing to sacrifice the rule of law to look tough on terror. 

Abbott took time out, however, to shoot the breeze on Allan Jones’ radio show, declaring his own hatred of wind-powered electricity generation on aesthetic grounds while pocket speaker Bronwyn Bishop took over from Dutton’s efforts last week in roughing up Gillian Triggs in the campaign to silence all dissenters in our holy war on people smugglers. We stopped the boats. That’s all that matters, he said, repeatedly. Yet our methods were little short of extraordinary by all report.

A boat bound for New Zealand had been turned around by what is said to be Australian officials paying off the crew. Operation Bribe-back dominated the first day of parliament. A right royal fiasco was emerging. New Zealand would have welcomed the refugees. The Indonesians were fit to kill us. Time to batten down the hatches, boys, said Captain Abbott. Mum’s the word on operational matters.

Forget policy. What matters is whose side are you are on and what can you get away with. Federal government, rattled to discover it might foster the people smuggling trade it demonises, reverts to its opposition strategy of attacking the man. Abbott is back in his element; doing the one thing he knows. Kill Bill. Get Gill. Who gives a fig for the common good, or justice and the rule of law?

What matters are results.

Bribe back the boats. Lie about it. Let our border force boys be creative. We will do whatever it takes. They are keeping us safe. We won’t say how. We don’t comment on operational matters. What matters are results. We are at war with all people who ask smart questions.

By Tuesday, Labor had dropped the ball. Suggestions that it, too, had bribed sea-farers in the people trade, were enough to halt an attack which deserved to continue. Julia Gillard came out to deny ever paying people smugglers but by then the opposition had gone soft on holding the government to account. And the people’s right to know.

A plucky Tanya Plibersek picked up the slippery pill late in the week. But she may call all she likes for a full explanation. Tony Abbott will continue to refuse as long as he knows he holds the trump card of cheap, xenophobic, populism. As long as we let him.

Paul Sheehan reminds us, most of us closed our hearts and minds to refugees long ago. Now the PM wants us to close our eyes and stop our ears. We will do whatever it takes, he soothes, to keep you safe.  Transparency? You really don’t need to know. And you can keep your criticism to yourself.

In the meantime an increasingly despotic LNP government turns viciously on its critics. It scorns and mocks and undermines those who seek to hold it to account. Even if it is their job. Labor is said to be ‘rolling out the red carpet’ for terrorists because Mark Dreyfus reminds a reporter our courts cannot try a person in his absences. Labor is about to steal our super.

pay lip service to ideals they daily scorn or flout.

Even uglier was its disgraceful attack on Gillian Triggs whose job it is to hold the government to account. The context of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta magnified the indictment of our representatives’ capacity to pay lip service to ideals they daily scorn or flout.

Bronwyn Bishop’s public bullying of Gillian Triggs on ABC’s Q&A was another shameful act in an orchestrated campaign to undermine the Human Rights Commissioner and flout the rule of law. The Commissioner’s independence is intended to act as a check on executive power.

Similarly the PM’s plan to set up a kangaroo court in the Immigration Minister’s office for those whom Dutton suspects should have their citizenship violates the separation of powers.   

Monday night it fell to Speaker of the House and Minister for ejecting Labor MPs, Bronwyn Bishop to take up the cudgels; smearing Triggs with the lie that the report on children in detention was politically motivated. Bishop urged Triggs to shape up or ship out.

‘There is a time, and I think Gillian recognises it, that as a statutory officer you have to decide whether you’re a statutory officer, fulfilling that role with security of tenure, or whether you wish to say, ‘I want to be part of the political debate’ and stand for office and run to become part of that political process.’

Clearly the only free speech this government values is its own.  And some of its mates’. It has a tame commissioner, Tim Wilson, formerly of the IPA, lined up waiting in the wings. It seeks Gillian Triggs’ scalp for the Human Rights Commission’s report on children in custody. 

The Human Rights Commission, along with the judicial system, has its own job to do under international convention and Australian law.  Abbott’s campaign to discredit it undermines the rule of law. It violates the principle that independent actors are given specific roles as checks and balances to the government’s political power.

At least a handful of LNP cabinet members still believe in the rule of law but they will be denied access to the final draft of the citizen-stripping bill, a sham got up simply to win more political kudos than the alternative. It be far simpler but less theatrical to modify the existing law dating from 1948 under which dual citizens forfeit their Australian citizenship if they take up arms in the service of a foreign army against Australia. If there is a need. Yet, as Brett Walker warns, banishment is problematic.

...internationally obliged to co-operate with the suppression of terrorism.

“The problem is that we are internationally obliged to co-operate with the suppression of terrorism and to do that by having criminal law which provides for appropriate prosecutions of alleged terrorists. You can’t do that by refusing to have them back.”

The bill dispenses with the courts, giving the decision to the Immigration Minister, because, as the PM blurted out on radio last week, involving the courts is always perilous. Abbott, clearly has no faith in the legal system and is backing a single minister to get him a better result.

Abbott was keen to tell parliament he had support. He even verballed former national security laws monitor, Brett Walker, a distinguished leading lawyer in this area.

Furious, Walker was quick to issue a press statement clarifying his true position. The courts should be an essential part of any such bill. Yet the PM continued unapologetic, unscathed, almost unchecked. Wedging Bill Shorten mattered more than the law.

...he scents Shorten’s blood.

In parliament Abbott did divulge that the final draft of the controversial bill would be seen by the AG and the Immigration Minister and Malcolm Turnbull. The Foreign Minister is sidelined, as are all others who may dissent. The PM is more concerned with the roar of approval he anticipates from the mob. And he scents Shorten’s blood.

Mates like anti-wind-farmer Alan Jones are vital to the Abbott government’s access to the mob. And the argument cannot be pitched too low just as long as it floats the shock jock boat. ‘I know what the people are thinking’ Abbott says during the week. Shorten is soft on terror. For ‘the people’ read Alan Jones’ listeners. It’s called talkback radio but anyone who disagrees is rubbished on air. 

Bugger global warming: renewable energy is so ugly. Abbott uses Sydney radio to tell us that he hates windmills. Like Hockey he needs to say so. They look bad. Bound to be bad for you. ‘Visually awful,’ he says - unlike, it would seem, a nice clean coal-burning smoke belching power station.

Reasoned discourse, dissent and difference continue to be pushed to the wall. Mud-slinging and dog-whistling remain our PM’s own special way of fostering a ‘national conversation’ on energy. On our responsibilities as global citizens. On the process of accountability itself.

As modelled by Bronwyn Bishop on Monday’s ABC Q@A, the much-touted national conversation that the LNP urges upon us is all one way. Shut up and listen to our platitudes, prejudices and lies. Hector your critics. Threaten them when you can.

Royal commissions come in handy, here. They sound so legitimate. Even ABC sound-bites help carry the lie that Shorten’s turn before the Heydon Commission into unions is not just a political witch hunt. Abbott gets the boot in early. 

Abbott accuses Bill Shorten of ‘identity theft’

In Cairns on Friday to flog a White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, Abbott accuses Bill Shorten of ‘identity theft’ - almost - in the former AWU head’s workplace negotiations. 

Ironically his government’s white paper is a tissue of lies, based on rent seeking, opportunism and romanticism which flouts countless expert studies attesting to its national economic, social and environmental madness. But this is not a mob to fuss over serving self-interest or ignoring science.

‘Verging on identity theft,’ says Abbott. How or why is left unsaid. The PM’s smear is a mere appetiser to the meal he will make of Shorten’s appearance next week at the show trial that is his government’s Royal Commission into Trade Unions. Doubtless the commission will appreciate his helping hand in its independent decisions.

Senator David Leyonhjelm, at times, such as on gun control, a cup short of the full tea-party is all over commercial news with skeletons of this magnitude which Shorten must explain. Shorten is ‘haunted by his days as a union boss’ according to another. In fact when he appears on ABC’s Insiders on Sunday, he is proud of being a modern bloke and an accomplished negotiator who has moved beyond class warfare. Much good may it do him.

Bill Shorten is already convicted in the Murdoch media over alleged union support of his campaign to the tune of $300,000. The smear campaign has already found him guilty of something unspeakably shifty despite union support being perfectly legal.

another Craig Thomson already.

What is not reported is that it is only about half of Roslyn Packer’s 2013 gift to the LNP of $580,000 in 2012-13. In the commission also Shorten is guilty until he proves himself innocent. In the court of popular opinion he is another Craig Thomson already. Reports have it that his former wife has been interviewed. Must be dodgy.

The LNP receives twice as much money from all donations than Labor but this week we were being worked up over Shorten’s ethics in accepting unnecessary support. Joe Hockey should know. Is it as unnecessary as an allowance paid to a wealthy treasurer who rents a house his wife owns in Canberra?

Worse, Shorten was ‘ripping off’ the workers he was representing. In reality, he helped negotiated a series of rostered days off into flexible RDO’s. But the media pack is baying for blood. Murdoch TV says that Shorten’s personal life is under scrutiny from the Royal commission. Guilty. Guilty Guilty. 

Historically show trials of ‘public enemies’ like Shorten have helped autocrats forge a type of unity. Captain Hook-or-by-Crook-Abbott pledges to keep us safe from harm by doing whatever it takes, whenever he feels like it, to make us all feel endangered, whilst he busily stirs up further insecurity, enmity and division. The biggest danger to our well-being as a nation is himself and his government of crazed neo-cons. The only leadership he seems to know is how to put the boot in. And here the government was spoilt for choice last week.

Heads to kick popped up everywhere. Let’s kill Bill,’ the government’s contribution to bipartisanship, played to packed houses in and out of parliament while the week began with yet another round of ‘let’s get Gill.’ She’s just a political mouthpiece for telling us that children should not be in indefinite detention. Any kind of detention.

Mothers got some tough love too, as support for perinatal depression was axed in another round of ‘independence-building’ in the needy and the vulnerable. Australia wants mothers who lift not lean. The $85 million National Perinatal Depression Initiative expired in 2013 leaving state health ministers to negotiate its future but Health Minister Sussan Ley told them this week that the Commonwealth would stop contributing by the end of the month. You have to be cruel to be kind.

...one of the cruellest cuts…

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley called a press conference to object to a cut which does not just hurt the mother but her whole family:
“To cut the programs that fund perinatal programs that support mothers and children is just one of the cruellest cuts [the Federal Government] could deliver to the most vulnerable families,” he said.

Yet it was not all negative. After his on-air rub-down with Alan Jones, Abbott had an innovative proposal. We are to be blessed with a new wind commissioner we never knew we needed, after the PM declared his hate for the sail on his mate Alan Jones’ hate-for-the- other radio.

It was a kick in the teeth for sacked disability commissioner Graham Innes who protested that he must continue his advocacy unpaid after the government pulled the rug out from under him. We can’t afford someone to look after twenty per cent of the population who have a disability yet we need to fork out a million dollars on a commission into wind-farms that any number of previous commissions and reports have shown to be completely safe to public health. And we had to sack Tim Flannery two years ago because we could not afford a climate commmission.

In the meantime, the barbed wire canoe that is our ship of state sails ever further up shit creek without a paddle. But the coast is clear and nothing but fair seas await on the starboard bow. No-one in government knows anything they need to explain to the people or seek their opinion on while our Good Captain Abbott already knows, he says, with a wink, what the people think. Thank God he’s here to keep us all safe.

Heath Aston, The Age: Australian housing market facing ‘bloodbath’ collapse: economists The Australian real estate market is in the grip of the biggest housing bubble in the nation’s history and Melbourne will be at the epicentre of an historic “bloodbath” when it bursts, according to two housing economists. Lindsay David and Philip Soos, who have written books on the overheated housing market, have berated the housing industry and politicians who refuse to acknowledge the existence of a bubble due to a perceived shortage of housing in the major capitals. In a blunt submission to the upcoming parliamentary inquiry into home ownership, the pair claim there is actually an oversupply of housing, just as there was in the US before the market collapse that precipitated the global financial crisis. And the largest oversupply is in Melbourne where there has been a frenzy of inner-city apartment building. They forecast the total available homes in Victoria outstrip demand by 123,000. NSW has a surplus of more than 40,000, according to their analysis, which was based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. “Contrary to the analyses of the vested interests, the data clearly establishes Australia is in the midst of the largest housing bubble on record. Policymakers are caught between a rock and a hard place, as implementing needed reforms will likely burst the bubble,” Mr David and Mr Soos state in a submission on behalf of real estate and financial services research house LF Economics. They believe the current bubble is worse than those in the 1880s, 1920s, mid-1970s and late 1980s. More here

The Age: Tony Jones apologises after claim Australian Muslims are ‘justified’ to join IS on Q&A The first Australian to be charged under the nation’s counter-terrorism laws claimed Muslim Australians who disagree with Liberal Party politicians are “justified” in joining the Islamic State on Monday night’s Q&A. Zaky Mallah, who was charged with planning a terrorist act in Sydney in 2003, drew on his own experience when questioning the panel on whether the power to strip dual national terrorists of their citizenship should rest with a government minister or the courts. … In a strident attack, Foreign Affairs and Trade parliamentary secretary Steve Ciobo said he believed the only reason Mr Mallah was acquitted of terrorism was that the terrorist offences “weren’t retrospective in application”, and that he would be glad to see Mr Mallah sent out of the country. A worked-up Mr Mallah responded …

WEDNESDAY ...

ABC: Terror citizenship laws: Lawyers divided on merits of bill to strip dual nationals of citizenship

Richard Ackland, Guardian: The hysteria over Zaky Mallah on Q&A would make Joseph McCarthy proud

Guardian: Citizenship could be stripped for damaging commonwealth property