Image for NATION: Government by circus and sideshow diversion

*Pic: Tnarik Innael, Flickr of Peter Sellers at the height of his powers … “Fall-guy Cormann, to his credit, turns in a performance worthy of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Jacques Clouseau, another archetypal buffoon whose paté-thick accent and surreal logic could fox any questioner. Not that he’s trying to be funny. As Clouseau, himself, once observed. “There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them.”

Urban Wronski ... a reincarnated Bob Ellis

Leaked to the Saturday Paper this week, a damning UNHCR report shows we are destroying the mental and physical health of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island by neglect and abuse and the torture of indefinite detention. To be formally conveyed to Immigration Department staff Tuesday, the report will be decried … and ignored as an ‘operational matter’.

A draft was made available months ago but Minister Dutton, who it is revealed this week, has only a skeleton communications staff of 82 and a mere $8 million in his media and public relations budget can’t be expected to comment on everything. Luckily Pyne’s tribute to his adviser Jack Walker who falls on his sword and Trump’s “Gropegate” help us through the information drought. 

Also helping is a rich bill of fare of government diversions, distractions and denials. These include a bankers’ circus in Canberra a renewable war on renewables, an innovative front in its war on government spending, a data-driven war on the poor, while The Budgie Nine, a class act, fight their own rearguard action for the Trouser Liberation Front.

Meanwhile, The Australian breathlessly reports Saturday from the front of our war on asylum-seekers that “up to 22” Syrian refugees set to come to Australia may have links with terror. Tony Abbott, meanwhile, touring the Old Dart, a MacArthur parked, vows “I will return” in a travelling side-show psycho-drama all his own.

Also featuring are some quality fringe productions, such as Brandis Pettifogger-General and The Budget Repair Crisis. Rubbery figure Federal Treasurer Scott, “Black Hole”, Morrison and self-parodying Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, lampoon “open and transparent” government in an hilarious satirical sketch, part of the long-running Budget Repair Series.

In the BRS a fictitious crisis is repaired by cutting taxes to companies and the rich while slashing welfare and government spending, increasing poverty and inequality and tearing up the fabric of an open and civil society, while Labor is blamed for everything that can’t be pinned on” external economic headwinds”.

... exclude many from technical education ...

Simon Birmingham, another class act, lampoons flaky TAFE courses. He is exposing shocking rorts by private tertiary education providers to divert us from his government cutting $3.2 billion from tertiary funding and imposing restrictions which will exclude many from technical education. Dubbed “a total overhaul”, The Birmingham Solution includes changes for the HECS scheme to get students to pay back loans sooner and will be the means whereby many Australians are shut out of tertiary education.

But the bean-counting black hole spotters - who pretend to run the economy - take the cake. Entitled “taking out the garbage” the ScoMo-Cormann Grand Final routine sees the comedy duo secretly bury the Coalition’s final 2015 budget outcome, near its NBN, its tax reform fiasco and Abbott’s promised surplus in the first year of government.

No press conference is held; not a jock shocked; not a word is heard from a treasurer who can talk the hind legs off a deaf donkey.  History is made. Coalition openness and transparency 2016-style is a post on a Treasury website on a Friday of a Grand Final holiday, confirming that the government’s unchecked spending has doubled its budget deficit in three years. For years Liberals howled about Labor’s debt and deficit disaster. Now they are shamed into silence.

The jig is up the following Monday, when, on ABC 7:30, Leigh Sales shirt-fronts Cormann over the Coalition’s reckless over-spending.

“When you first came to power you predicted that the 2015/16 deficit would be $17.1 billion. What you posted on Friday showed that actually in reality what it’s turned out to be is $39.6 billion,” Sales begins, icily, turning Stormin’ Cormann to boudin water; swiftly tipping his liquidity into the dark abyss between Liberal rhetoric and reality.

Fall-guy Cormann, to his credit, turns in a performance worthy of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Jacques Clouseau, another archetypal buffoon whose paté-thick accent and surreal logic could fox any questioner. Not that he’s trying to be funny. As Clouseau, himself, once observed. “There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them. “

The Finance Minister’s answer to how his government could more than double the deficit? Cormann’s evasion is fluent gobbledegook. “We have several budget updates since the one that you mentioned and we have explained in some detail how, for example, external global economic headwinds and the impact on global prices or key economic exports and the like impacted on our revenue collections in particular.”

... a carefully nurtured fiction ...

The economic headwinds are a carefully nurtured fiction like the crippling cost of health or how education must be flushed of corruption or how our unsustainable welfare spending will send us bust. Similarly, unreliable renewable energy, we are told, threatens to destroy the national grid and massively increase power bills. These myths help justify or disguise the transfer of costs from government to an increasingly impoverished public, a process of redistribution of wealth and power upwards that began under Hawke and Keating.

Sales does not ask Cormann how tax cuts for business and for wealthier Australians will help the budget bottom line. Tax evasion by multinational companies doing business in Australia has clearly nothing to do with the budget deficit.

Black Hole Morrison is obviously not going to appear. He’s got real blokes’ stuff to do; talking footy on commercial media. And Cabinet doesn’t just leak by itself. As for 7:30’s side of the sideshow, no-one on the show will nail Nigel (Sgt. Schulz) Scullion on news of several government briefings surfacing this week which prove he lied when he knew zip, nada, nothing of Don Dale. The Nationals’ Nigel Scullion is another MP, who, like the Treasurer, is in cabinet only to make up the numbers. And after Chris Uhlmann’s scapegoating renewables for causing disaster in SA there are simply no questions left and no-one to ask them as to why the ABC led the government jihad on clean energy.

Thank God, we have profiteering banks to keep us safe and a government which has the nous to get tough on turbines. But look over there! A massive $4.8 trillion welfare burden is set to destroy us all in 70 years.

Eight out of 10 Australians go to work so they can fund the nation’s welfare bill, The Daily Telegraph lied to readers last November as part of its brief as the propaganda arm of Tory government in Australia. The Tele trusts its readers will be too shocked to notice it’s nonsense: for starters, only half of government comes from income tax anyway. War-lord Christian Porter plucks an even scarier figure out of a Pricewaterhousecoopers report, hoping no-one can calculate that $4.8 billion is a drop in the bucket of the $360 trillion estimated to be government revenue over the same period. 

Facts don’t matter. That his government has been spending like a drunken sailor does not stop Porter, on Q&A Monday from his war on the poor and the elderly. They are ruining us, he says, with their wilful, expensive dependency. Eva Cox points out that his scary figure which includes child care is further boosted by counting in the elderly and the age pension.“Since 70% approximately of the population ends up on the aged pension, it means it looks much bigger and much worse than it actually is.” An expert and a woman over a certain age, Cox is dismissed, derided and ignored.

... get bludgers off welfare ...

Porter’s expensive new data-sets and algorithms, “as used by insurance companies”, - no less -  will get bludgers off welfare and into non-existent jobs, but leave untouched tax cuts for the rich, superannuation breaks, negative gearing among other all middle-class handouts. It helps the government pretend that it is doing something new, when, in fact, research on welfare goes back to Ronald Henderson’s report in 1973. Henderson gave us the poverty line, research which is sufficient for the Australia Institute to calculate that there is now an unprecedented gap between the poverty line and what an unemployed family receives.

“A single adult is $189.71 below the poverty line,” Senior Research Fellow at The Australia Institute, David Richardson reports and a married couple with two children is $210.96 below in just two of what are welfare’s truly shocking figures. Porter’s reforms mean reducing even further our cruelly inadequate, demeaning and begrudging support.

War on the poor, nevertheless, helps the Coalition distract us from the fact that it is cutting the family allowance amidst other ideologically driven government spending cuts. Turnbull must keep sweet with his hard right even if it means turning himself inside out as he does with lunatic logic over renewable energy this week.

SA’s power crisis proves we need more government-subsidised coal-fired power plants to secure our energy from natural disasters caused by global warming caused by carbon emissions caused by burning coal to make electricity -  not that a Coalition, whose MPs still mostly believe that climate change is crap - will ever admit to the connection. Renewables are to blame.

Our ever-vigilant, agile, innovative, protective but fetchingly slender, Federal Government has re-invented “energy security” to keep us safe from “aggressive renewable targets” and other evils which threaten to destroy our nation’s way of life. Green energy undermines our core beliefs and values and our massive subsidies to miners, coal-burning electricity generators and other multinational corporations out to do us over and destroy the planet.

Energy security, (think Peter Dutton with a three-pin plug and an endless extension lead), will protect us from natural catastrophe and bodgy baseloads caused by fickle wind and solar power which everybody knows by now caused a massive blackout in South Australia when freak storms -  nothing to do with climate change - knocked over 23 pylons.

Everybody including Greg Hunt gets into the coal lobby sponsored act. Their performance helps upstage Tony Abbott’s Quadrant revival tour of the old country in which he’s clearly campaigning against Turnbull. Abbott has no show but then, neither did Turnbull until opinion polls reached Turnbull’s current record low. How long will it be this time before the sinking ship deserts the rat?

... getting back into coal ...

Mr Coal, Environment and Energy Minister Josh Freydenberg, holds a make-believe conference of state energy ministers which he spins into a big win for energy security. It’s a first step, surely, towards getting back into coal and gas fired generation as states are pressured to revise their renewable targets downwards.

Seldom has an Australian government been so obsessed with evasion, under-handedness; seldom such meanness of spirit and deceit. Never has the nation’s expectations of fair dealing and decency been met with such contempt.

Luckily another outrage diverts our attention. Scions of the nation’s ruling class, the Budgie Nine, at a loose end in KL, set out to boost Australia’s international dick-head standing, by mooning 29 million Malaysians and anyone else watching Formula 1 on TV.  At least the boys have the foresight to plan their wardrobe; each silly young thing wears what appear to be a Cranston School class set of matching budgies, sportively printed in motifs from their hosts’ national flag.

Boys will be boys. The Daily Telegraph loves the thirty-something larrikins.  The Australian spots a bit of the Gallipoli spirit.  The media is seized by a frenzy of fawning indulgence that is typically reserved for male footballers, cricketers and other sporting heroes whose misbehaviour we licence as diminished responsibility; they are just being one of the boys.

The Budgie Nine’s antics upstage our banking bosses who bare their bums at the government in Canberra this week. How dare the government inquire into how they rig the whole system and destroy thousands of ordinary, decent Australians’ lives?  The four fat cats waddle down to Canberra to put on such a floor show of sincere contrition. It invokes Al Capone’s undying regret that he didn’t always manage to remember to pay his taxes. 

Instead of a banking industry, as it is fondly termed, we have an oligopoly which functions as a cartel to enable our banks to achieve the highest profits in the OECD.  State-sponsored - or at least condoned - monopoly is their business model. God preserve them from competition. It might push down costs to clients.

Like the Budgie Nine, the big four bankers, are rich and powerful and male enough to get away with saying and doing just about anything. Like Pyne’s advisor, Jack Walker, they’ve got mates in high places. But no-one in the banks, it turns, out lost their jobs over the crook advice dispensed, the insurance claims denied. If they act as if they own the show, it’s because they do; the rest of us pay handsomely to keep it that way.

Ian Narev CEO of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and his henchmen want us to believe that our shonky, government-protected banking system is strong because it is profitable and that profitable banks make a strong economy strong. It’s bunkum. The Big Four’s profits and huge executive salaries are boosted by collusion and sharp practice.

The strength of our banks depends on their massive investment in domestic mortgages continuing to be profitable. With household debt at record levels and rising and a housing market bubble there is no reason for complacency.

How much confidence we have in the banks is of course also a critical factor but in their totally unconvincing performances at the Canberra circus none of them gave any cause to inspire further confidence or trust. Like the government, however, they are dead keen to put on a good show. And it’s clearly an uphill battle for either party and so unfair, to adapt John Cleese that 99% of bankers or politicians give the decent 1% a bad name.

*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.