First published February 6
It’s “fake news”, says Donald Trump.
After a shocking week in which Australia has its nose rubbed publicly in its own mess by the US, President Donald Trump makes Islamophobia official US policy, threatens to invade Mexico and our PM confesses he paid $1.75m out of his own Cayman Island account to buy his own mandate - as you do- a grateful nation can at last heave a sigh of relief. Malcolm’s incredible slap-down - and its leaking to the Washington Post never happened. Hit the reset button.
Surely Malcolm Turnbull would provoke no-one to hang up on him - not even a fellow egotist. As Phillip Adams puts it. “ …Turnbull doesn’t suffer fools, the only problem is that to Malcolm we are all fools” while Peta Credlin observes a rich businessman turned politician who can bully and leak is hardly new to politics. But it never happened, OK?
Relief comes late in the week from the man who has changed US diplomacy to 140 characters or less. US President and playground bully, Donald Trump tweets that “fake media has lied” about “a very civil exchange” over what he still calls “a dumb deal”; “the worst deal ever” to swap our largely Muslim refugees for US Latinos, a deal he views with extreme prejudice, calculated ignorance and stupidity. “They want to send us the next Boston bombers.”
Eureka! Scott Morrison high-fives Peter Dutton. The pernicious lie that our refugees are terrorists is one their party has actively fostered for years along with the myth that turning away refugees reduces the chance of terrorist attack.
No matter, moreover, that the Boston bombers were Chechen migrants, a people excluded from Trump’s Islamophobic travel ban. Mad Mullah Morrison rushes back to his 2GB pulpit to praise the US travel fatwa which excludes Trump’s business pals, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Afghanistan.
“We have got a good history around this and really the rest of the world is catching up to Australia now,” ScoMo crows.
... illegally detained for years ...
It’s a lie Turnbull told delegates at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants last September. That “good history” has cost us a massive $9.6 billion in three years, not to mention the incalculable cost to Australia’s reputation, putting us in breach of international human rights law 40 times. Children have fled conflict; sought our asylum - only to be illegally detained for years in conditions which expose them daily to abuse, neglect and violence.
Oddly, information about our “good history”: is suppressed. Criminal sanctions apply to anyone who reports abuse on Nauru and Manus. Good history? In a world which has over 21 million refugees, Australia takes 13750 annually.
But it’s all sweet, now The Donald makes nice. White House Press Secretary Sean “Slice-n-dice” Spicer stresses in a presser, Friday, that the US will honour the deal “in some way”. “We’re going to vet these people in accordance with the agreement that happened and we’ll continue to have further updates as we do,” says a man whose debut was to convey “alternative facts” to boost the size of his President’s inauguration crowd. What could possibly go wrong?
Being Trump-chumped takes the gloss off born diplomat Turnbull’s masterstroke of the week. He’s rebooting and reinventing himself. Again. Hacks helpfully remind us Kerry Packer once threatened to kill him. Hairy-chested Malcolm threatened to whack Packer back. Turnbull hagiographer, Annabel Crabb records his response: “Well, you’d better make sure that your assassin gets me first because, if he misses, you better know I won’t miss you.” Such a way with words.
It is going to be a big speech. Huge. A nation is on tenterhooks; walking on egg-shells, awaiting the master tactician’s much-vaunted reboot at the National Press Club Wednesday. Everything is put on hold. Somehow the windy, wittering, toff-waffler will pull out all his stops in a heart-warming, soul stirring; inspiring, visionary, headland speech.
A bold new policy agenda has been slow-cooking in the Point Piper kitchen where Turnbull’s inner circle holds court under former Sydney Mayor Lucy who wields the wooden spoon, helped by the unimpeachable Arthur “safe pair of hands” Sinodinos, numbers man James McGrath, whose maiden speech called for the sale of the ABC and “keep Tertiary policy out of the campaign”, anti-Gonski Education Minister Simon Birmingham.
”... hacks make Apple fanboys look fickle ...”
Malcolm will descend from the mount like Moses. Or so we are led to believe by the army of scribblers contemporary LNP PMs can count on to puff any little fluff into a divine wind. Especially Turnbull, Australia’s eternally re-rising, self-saucing soufflé. Gunner Turnbull is always in the wings somewhere, about to morph into Super Mal. Some Press Gallery hacks make Apple fanboys look fickle. Yet, now, even Laurie Oakes calls for Turnbull to abandon the TPP or get off the pot.
Unaccountably, Turnbull’s address is a Fizza; another grab bag of flatulent platitudes, false or meaningless assertions and hollow boasts - “we are the most successful multicultural society in the world.” Plumbs new depths even for a PM whose ear for rousing speech is pure tin. Who else could draw attention to his own dullness?
“Balancing the budget can sound a bit prosaic - something to satisfy the tidy instincts of the bean counters - but it is a profound moral issue,” he waffles.
Who else but Turnbull could seek the high moral ground as he churns out Liberal fiscal fetishism, an affliction which goes back all the way to Peter Costello’s “black hole”? Forget that deficit spending got us out of a hole in the GFC. No matter that balancing the budget is irresponsible economic nonsense, a type of voodoo now widely held, along with austerity budgeting, to have dragged Europe into deflationary quicksand. It’s become a Liberal article of faith. The PM is giving his party what he thinks they want to hear.
Budget balancing is a profound moral issue? God help all of us - even the bean counters. Nothing about a fair and just society, arresting the galloping inequality fostered by decades of neoliberal stupidity and rule by mining, business and finance lobby which is irreparably destroying our social fabric? Nothing about the dire need to release 1250 refugees detained illegally on Manus and Nauru islands of abuse and torture which infect our body politic and demean us all?
A pregnant Kuwaiti woman detained on Nauru, hostage to our own xenophobes’ morally bankrupt domestic political agenda urgently needs hospital treatment. Help is held up on the whim of our combined Border Force and Immigration department before she is flown to The Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital for treatment. Peter Dutton says nothing lest people smugglers update their business model. An 82 strong communications unit helps him keep stumm.
... Hunt wants a US-style system ...
Turnbull needs a word with his wordsmiths. They’ve helped him over-promise and under-deliver. Again. Context is not so easily ignored. Turnbull’s empty rhetoric is upstaged by such pressing realities as his war on the poor and the vulnerable under Centrelink’s Robo-debt Clawback while corporations avoid tax. Education is now reduced to bean counting. Health is all flexible delivery options while pensioners put off doctor’s visits they can’t afford and people die on gurneys. Newly appointed Health Band-Aid, Greg Hunt wants a US-style system, a prescription for disaster.
Even Peta Credlin, who suffered Abbott’s agonising 2015 reset can tell Turnbull his “… speech lacked a plan, and clear deliverables, to demonstrate to ordinary people that the government was focused on the things that matter to them.”
A final word on Turnbull’s high-sounding nonsense. Australia is “A beacon of harmony in the midst of diversity, founded on a deep tradition of mutual respect in a world of rising intolerance.” It must be why we are cherry-picking Christian refugees from Syria. Canada has rescued 800 times as many. Turnbull’s words help explain why last September, Essential pollsters found 49% of respondents in favour of a ban on Muslim immigration.
Turnbull tricks up his makeover with ornate garnish but nothing can disguise stale leftovers. His speech serves up his dud 2016 policies and warns us off Bill Shorten and Labor who will trash our energy security and give us big power bills with their mad belief in renewables. It’s rehashed and reheated with a fresh topping of unicorn droppings; new clean coal.
Clean coal is a fiction; a climate-denier’s fantasy. A Jay Gatsby, the rock of Malcolm Turnbull’s world is fastened securely to a fairy’s wing.
Just as with Abbott before him, nothing can save the PM from his re-set failure, not even the whole Liberal frontbench, it seems, a nodding, smiling claque, a unique and disturbing- turn of events in itself. Yet luckily, the rest of the week in politics is utterly consumed by the scandalous canard that Trump has hung up in Turnbull’s ear; called his refugee resettlement deal “dumb”, the “worst possible deal”. Apologists are all over this like a rash.
Turnbull has the guts to stand up for his nation sucks Mark Kenny, doubtless eyeing off the PM’s media backgrounders’ stock PR image in Saturday’s The Age, again. The PM is depicted bolt upright, jaw down, a deal-broking pose, dwarfed by a clunky handset from a fixed line telephone that appears to pre-date John Howard. It looks as if the PM is jumping to attention at the sound of his master’s voice. Or he’s strayed into a remake of Get Smart.
Will the deal proceed?
Turd polishers and pig lipstick appliers go into overdrive. Laurie Oakes sees the great vacillator “showing his mettle” while for The Guardian Australia’s Jacqueline Maley, Turnbull is the “grey rock” of textbook responses to malignant narcissists. Much speculation ensues. Did Turnbull stand his ground? Will the deal proceed? It seems highly unlikely. As it stands, the deal only commits the US to allowing refugees to “express an interest” in being resettled in America.
What is certain is that Turnbull’s call was leaked by a senior White House official who intended to humiliate Turnbull. Also certain is that “extreme vetting” - a bit of campaign rhetoric is now a thing without any further explanation. Unless, as Peta Credlin wickedly suggests, he may have leaked it himself. He’s been known to play the victim. Just look at his campaign video depiction of himself as son of sole-parent Bruce … a battling hotel broker suffering poverty in Double Bay.
What is extreme vetting? How long will it take? Surely the three years of “processing” endured by those on Manus and Nauru is enough? Is it that no-one dare speak out in case we offend the bully in The White House? Julie Bishop argues with Reuters; pushes the line that US representatives are still interviewing refugees on Manus and Nauru. Perhaps rather than remain in LA taking photos with celebrities, she should have been dispatched to The White House.
One thing is clear. You don’t beg a bully. An attitude of supplication is no way to begin a relationship with Trump. The best thing Turnbull could do is to bring the refugees home. And he’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain by adding his voice to the many world leaders including France, Germany and the UK who have protested The Donald’s anti-Muslim travel ban, a ban which has successfully been suspended thanks to courageous Seattle Judge, James Robart who finds legal grounds to challenge the ban, legal opinion Donald Trump dismisses as ridiculous and one he will overturn.
Turnbull says he’s just “doing what a good Prime Minister does”, a job description which includes buying his own mandate as he later tells ABC 7:30’s Stan Grant. Grant leads him to confirm his $1.75m donation to his own party when it is clear campaign funds were running critically low - not that this is his gloss on it.
At $1.75m it was just one of those regular philanthropic things that he and Lucy get up to, a donation to a good cause - a theme later continued by screaming Scott Morrison on 2GB, a benevolence to warm the cockles of your heart if you overlook the calculated self-interest.
... provide Labor with ammunition ...
It may well have helped him over the line. Certainly it will provide Labor with ammunition even if only to attack his judgement and how his immense fortune isolates him from the real needs and issues of everyday Australians.
By week’s end, his ignominious dumping by Trump is so big it does Turnbull a favour. It helps sink his reboot and takes attention off his lame policies - but at the cost of a focus on his diplomatic rebuff; his skills as a negotiator; even his ticker. He’s walked softly but copped a lot of stick. His government again seems upstaged by events it could have reasonably foreseen. The Coalition begins 2017 with its inability to plan; its retreat from the real world highlighted.
While no-one could predict exactly how Trump might jump, there was every reason to suppose he’d hate the deal.
Similarly, with Trump’s anti-Muslim travel fatwa. Turnbull’s bid to defend his silence in the face of expressions of outrage from leaders around the world as permitting a quiet and effective personal word with the president rings hollow in the light of Trump cutting the phone call short, hanging up on him and allowing details to be leaked to the press.
Turnbull’s even caught napping; upstaged at the National Press Club Liberal Party love-in Wednesday. Bill Shorten has beaten him to it only the day before, calling him phony nine times in the course of his speech and in answers.
Turnbull is pilloried for his appeasement of Sun King Donald Trump. In vain, he claims that he does not comment on other nations’ domestic affairs. His record clearly shows otherwise.
Only last April his commentary on domestics included urging the Chinese leadership towards “continued openness and the rapid development of the rule of law”, which, he argued, “is a fundamental requirement of progress”. Many times has he lectured PNG, Syria, Russia and North Korea.
They know how we run our gulags ...
The Chinese are unimpressed. They’re on the UN Human Rights Council. They know how we run our gulags on Manus and Nauru. Not that they would welcome any commentary on their denial of freedom of speech, religion, and association; extrajudicial killings; repression of civil society; discrimination against Tibetans and other minorities.
The truth lies closer to home. Turnbull’s right wing will give him gyp if he goes soft on terror now. He dare not utter a peep over Trump’s Islamophobic travel ban; the persecution of a Middle East diaspora largely created by decades of US foreign policy; its war on terror. His policy reset has failed. His diplomacy has been trumped. He has been made to look a capon in the Year of the Rooster when it comes to exercising his authority in the international community.
The spotlight has swung back on his judgement, his leadership and above all his capacity to prosecute a plan. Parliament begins tomorrow and already the PM is on the back foot; he has been tried domestically and abroad and found wanting. Another dud Newspoll ( news.com.au, Newspoll: Pauline Hanson on the rise as Coalition support dives ) awaits him.
As Prime Minister he is a dead man walking.
*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.