Image for NATION: Super Mal of Monaro

Image from Mamamia, HERE

First published September 4

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird? It’s a plane? No it’s super-Mal soaring high above the Monaro Plains! Up, up and away!

Faster than a speeding ballot or a same-sex marriage postal survey. More powerful than a speeding locomotive loan fast-tracked for approval in Adani’s boondoggle. Able to leap tall infrastructure building in a single bound.  Or soar above the heap of mounting crises from Abbott’s sniping to impending High Court hearings that could derail his government.

Parliament is about to resume. A new Newspoll looms and two challenges to the Coalition’s postal thingy thought bubble could be decided next week. The dual citizen juggernaut thunders on while four years on, the Coalition has forgotten to get an energy or environment policy. And the government is tearing itself apart over marriage equality.

As it continues to do over climate. Helpfully, our resident international expert on climate change denial, Dr Tony Abbott announces he will be the star speaker delivering a paper entitled “Daring to Doubt” at The Global Warming Policy Foundation which holds an annual gabfest in London. His selfless gesture is certain to help his party agree on a CET.

When the going gets tough, the tough get airborne. Super-Mal, son of Ming, scion of “the sensible centre”, hurtles across the political firmament, all fizz and spin; a sky-rocket without a stick; a whirlwind of technological agnosticism and baseload bull dust. Up? Turnbull even tells Leigh Sales he’ll win the next election. Attacks her “cynicism”.

It’s impossible to keep up with him. Two days after he says the government has no plans to build a coal power station, Turnbull pledges federal support to Queenslanders hoodwinked into thinking this could fix their tripling power bills.

Why? The PM must appease his masters, of course. South Australian Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis writes:

”... Liberal Party that is completely beholden to the coal lobby”

“ ... the only thing standing in the way of lower prices, improved grid security and meeting our carbon reduction commitments is a divided Federal Liberal Party that is completely beholden to the coal lobby.”

Then there are MPs who have to be obeyed. Kiwi-Barnaby Joyce and his former chief of staff, Signor Canavani our Italian Senator are both noisy advocates for a mine whose only value is the profit in it to investors up for a boondoggle.

Super Mal would be easier to follow, however, if he satisfied Joel Fitzgibbon’s FOI request that he release his secret squirrel deal with the Nats, the Coalition agreement.

Turnbull refuses because it is private and not an “official document of the minister”. The case, currently before the Federal Court, promises to be a protracted legal stoush.

Yet it’s a lose-lose for the PM. A new coal power plant would not offer consumers lower prices, despite coal lobby spin.

AIG (Australian Industry Group) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance say electricity prices could double if new coal-fired power stations are built. Experts also say more coal-fired power generation is not needed. 680 MW of privately funded renewable energy projects are pending with $1.5 billion of new investment and more than 1200 direct jobs.

Yet, with an election announcement in the wings, QLD Opposition Leader, former Newman government treasurer, Tim Nicholls will fast-track a project using the latest high-energy, low-emissions (HELE) technology, to be built and run by the private sector if he wins. The QLD LNP has already proposed that Australia quit the Paris Climate Agreement.

Queensland Energy Minister, Mark Bailey, says another coal power plant is one of the most irresponsible policy propositions, ” he’s ever heard.  With eight huge generators Queensland is already the powerhouse of the nation. It does not need a ninth. Nor is it persuaded by coal lobby propaganda that new power stations are somehow clean.

... Turnbull government’s complete and utter failure to get real about energy

The state already has four HELE plants, all burning black coal and using you-beaut “super-critical” steam technology. They emit only 10% less than stations burning the same fuel with regular technology. Queensland’s proposed new coal-fired power station is a litmus test in the Turnbull government’s complete and utter failure to get real about energy.

But why listen to cynicism? (Turnbull-speak for scepticism.) Innovation reigns. Up, up and away. Turnbull’s Coalition 2.0 upgrade replaces government with an eternal loop of announceables. Cameras show a PM doing stuff and looking tough. Fuddy-duddy consultation and collaboration are as yesterday as facts in a post truth, Trumpian universe.

Our new anti-terror partner, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, doesn’t let any of that consulting stuff hold him back.

Just to help duelling Duterte uphold the rule of law, Australia pledges help to the Philippines’ President in his battle in Marawi, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announces. Eyes in the skies, not boots on the ground she adds hastily.

Bishop’s caught on the hop with her own state becoming a foreign country.  WA Liberal Party delegates vote to:

“examine the option of Western Australia becoming a financially independent state”, late Sunday afternoon in a motion which manages to combine Liberal revolutionary ardour with its legendary commitment to fiscal prudence.

Yet her drift is clear.  In no way does sending the odd RAAF Orion to spy on his people mean we condone Duterte’s war on drugs which has caused the death of up to 13,000 Filipinos in “extrajudicial killings”, double-speak for murder.

But the Pres is on to it. “There is a possibility that in some of police incidents there could be abuses. I admit that,” Duterte tells reporters in Manila. “These abusive police officers are destroying the credibility of the government.”

Duterte nails it. Doubtless our nation has much to gain from supporting the regime of such an enlightened ‘strong-man.’

Junking the Commonwealth’s clunky federalism ...

Our PM is inspired. Junking the Commonwealth’s clunky federalism for a united states of xenophobia, homophobia and atychiphobia (fear of failure) Super-Mal, soars effortlessly above the High Court, the constitution and the rule of law.

Beware you cynical 7:30 reporters, Stalinist revisionists, defacers of public monuments; all other evil-doers in our midst.

And bankers. Just look how we’ve put the wind up the banks, boasts ScoMo. No Royal Commission is required. ASIC and APRA are doing it all anyway, the wordsmith and former tourist-tout now Federal Treasurer gloats. Then there’s my Banking Executive Accountability Regime (BEAR) which I will be introducing into the Parliament before the end of the year.

It’s “the take action now approach which the Turnbull Government continues to drive right across government”.

Like any “take action now” hero, Mal knows how to look the part. Tough? Does all his own image consultancy. Stylish to the core, our death-defying PM breaks out his emergency leather bomber jacket, Monday and ‘copters to Cooma. Time for a spin recycle.  Renewable? Bernard Keane notes, clean green Turnbull pumps Snowy Hydro PR back uphill, reuses it.

Carpe diem. Let’s do another showy, Snowy Hydro 2.0 whopper in a chopper. Spearhead this week’s instalment of “Malcolm malgré lui,” another ritual tussle with his brothers, the power barons, part of Mal’s epic struggle with himself, his party and anyone who answers back. He’s keeping the lid on power prices, he says in the whopper of the week.

The lid is part of “a comprehensive package” to put “downward pressure” on energy prices.

... thanks to our hugely defective price-setting system

“Operation lid-on” is Wednesday’s well-staged show-of-farce in which Turnbull and side-kick Futz Frydenberg eye-ball energy executives. Cameras roll. A breakthrough is announced on ABC. Companies will mail consumers on how to get a discount on prices which on average have doubled in the last year thanks to our hugely defective price-setting system.

Turnbull’s embarrassing stunt will apply the same downward pressure that we’ve long exerted on petrol prices by driving to a cheaper outlet. None. The ACCC this week reports that Australian petrol prices at the bowser are at their lowest for 14 years. Gross retail margins, however are at record highs. Companies are not “passing on their savings”.

Yet it’s not trickle-down - it’s the consumer at fault. Taking a leaf out of the neoliberal playbook, the ACCC exhorts motorists to shop around. Oil companies could write letters to tell motorists which servo has the best prices each day.

Back at the showdown with Mal, Josh and the power CEOs, sparks fly. A quid pro quo situation arises. In return for writing a million letters, energy executives request the government set a Clean Energy Target.

A CET is all that remains of a sensible carbon emissions policy. Like the Cheshire Cat’s smile it is all that remains to a Coalition whose grasp on carbon pricing was destroyed for narrow political gain by Tony Abbott and his anti-climate science followers including Craig Kelly who recently claimed that renewable energy would kill people this winter.

The claim is helpfully repeated by Andrew Bolt.

... a way to build uneconomic, toxic coal-fired power stations ...

Our electricity cartel’s request for certainly over a CET doesn’t make the news. It won’t pass the party room either. Given the entrenched opposition from the Coalition’s right, the key component to Alan Finkel’s government-friendly report will be ignored as Turnbull desperately tries to find a way to build uneconomic, toxic coal-fired power stations while feigning concern for the environment, public health, industrial health and safety or a commitment to renewable energy. 

“Technology agnostic” rivals” innovative” in the battle of the buzz-words but nothing can disguise the dismal fact that the Coalition has failed comprehensively to devise either an energy or a real environment policy in four years of government. Nor did it ever really intend to. The Murdoch press helps by wilfully misrepresenting the shift to renewables as a false dichotomy - a choice between jobs or clean energy. It’s standard coal lobby propaganda.

Luckily, our innovative PM has super powers. He can contain price rises with a re-visit to a project which gets no new funds and which is only a feasibility study on a scheme which relies on burning coal to pump water back up to the dam. It will take twenty years to build and its design guarantees it can only ever produce expensive electricity.

In a script straight out of ABC’s Utopia, Turnbull re-announces $8 million in funding towards a $29 million feasibility study on the project. The Snowy Hydro 2.0 idea was first explored in 1980 - and rejected because of the prohibitive cost.  Mal’s signature NBN fiasco has more chance of living up to expectations and promises than his Snowy Hydro 2.0 stunt. 

Some state infrastructure projects could be just the ticket to help us out of what seems to be an approaching recession. In the nation-building afterglow of the Snowy 2.0 presser, no-one brings up the construction slump. That’s heresy.

Everyone knows the Coalition has completely reformed by stopping “union thuggery” and with its hugely diluted ABCC laws. Yet, as Alan Austin reports, the nation has seen three consecutive years of decline. It’s a unique achievement.

Turnbull blamed construction workers and their union for the high cost of housing, when he re-introduced the ABCC bill in Parliament a year ago, claiming the bill would help “young Australian couples that can’t afford to buy a house because their costs are being pushed up by union thuggery.”

... no correlation between construction unionization or construction wages and the soaring cost of housing

Yet research from the Centre for Future Work reveals it’s a lie. There is no statistical correlation between construction unionization or construction wages and the soaring cost of housing. Construction wages are in fact below average for the last five years. Construction labour amounts to only ten per cent of new housing prices.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures released Wednesday show building and construction investment has now declined for three financial years in a row. It’s an alarming result especially to a Coalition which vowed to make construction its signature achievement.

Tony Abbott fantasized about becoming, “ ... a prime minister who revels in seeing cranes over our cities, who revels in seeing bulldozers at work and who revels in seeing water coming from where it flows to where it’s needed. That is the kind of prime minister that I would like to be if I get the chance.”  Instead he helped achieve the reverse.

Pleading global headwinds won’t cut it. Global trade is booming and company profits are at record highs. Explanations include the decline of real wages, low business confidence.

Yet there is also, Austin notes, a slow-down in investment from overseas which coincides with a shortage of public funds for infrastructure due to an acute loss of tax revenue caused largely by widespread tax avoidance.

Disaster dogs our super-hero at every turn.  His enemies are legion. Arrayed against Mal are eighteen straight Newspoll falls, his nemesis, the mad monk Abbott, and a perfidious, shape-stealing “slithering-Bill” Shorten, a Stalinist-Trotskyite-Castro-ite opposition leader so keen to rebuild East Germany he carries his own Berlin Wall brickworks in a knapsack.

Mathias Cormann continues his surreal attack on Shorten begun last week at Gerard and Anne Henderson’s Sydney home dining club otherwise known as The Sydney Institute, a tax-deductible charity which is handsomely supported by Telstra and QANTAS although the names of its backers or “contributors” are closely guarded.

Cormann ought to do more stand-up comedy. He could clearly use a live audience. His dire warnings that the Labor leader is “getting increasingly cocky” a novel theme which Paul Kelly in The Oz re-badges as a ” Battle of Ideas” which, somehow, Cormann is “rebooting” include the tired assertion that Shorten is consumed by the politics of envy.

... damning evidence of wealth inequality across generations

It’s a stock response to Labor’s pursuit of inequality a topic which the Coalition, with the help of the ABC, has relegated to a ‘contested area’ despite damning evidence of wealth inequality across generations.

It’s no easier to move from rags to riches in Australia than it used to be, and no easier than anywhere else concludes Dr Andrew Leigh whose recently published research creates Australia’s first very long run estimates of social mobility, using data on rare surnames among doctors and university graduates from 1870 to the present.

Dangerous Dan Tehan believes “what we are seeing from Labor and from Shorten is a desire to go back to that type of governing where government knows best, government will impose its will”. Labor is trying to turn us into Cuba. Wags on social media look forward to a decent education and health system. The Cuban heel is a tricky pivot.

Tehan’s Cuba is meant to invoke a socialist state which saps individual initiative and wastes resources. This is totally unlike a Turnbull government which can ignore its UNHCR obligations and the rule of law to turn refugees out into the street when it wants them to hurry up and return to persecution either at home or in offshore detention.

Declaring war on the unfortunate and demonising bludgers are two of this government’s specialities but Supremo Dutton ups the ante with his attack on those refugees whom illness or a family member’s illness has caused to fetch up on the mainland, thereby circumventing the death-in-life of indefinite offshore detention so lovingly prepared for them.

In one of the most shameful chapters in the Turnbull government’s history and in the history of our nation, Dutton decides to cut off all assistance and accommodation; turn out into the street seventy poor and suffering refugees whose offence is to be sent to Australia because they were too ill to withstand the torture of onshore detention.

They can’t return to Manus. Many would be in danger back on Nauru. The government’s tactic is to force them to return to their country of origin where they are almost certain to encounter persecution. It is an act of despicable inhumanity. And it’s illegal.

...complete unconcern for the personal suffering of the men, women and children involved

What makes it worse is the clear sense that it is a stunt - a distractor to take pressure off the government’s myriad other problems with complete unconcern for the personal suffering of the men, women and children involved.

Dutton complains to his 2GB host Ray Hadley about the cost. He forgets that it costs $500,000 to house each refugee in offshore detention. Or hopes we forget. The case he makes continues the demonising of those whose only mistake is to seek our refuge.

The least we can do is to allow those here to settle; bring the remaining detainees suffering on Manus and Nauru to the mainland immediately. It is a political stunt which demeans us all. It is never about the money.

No money available? News comes Saturday that the Coalition will allow a $100 million dollar government subsidy to WA mining companies to help them with the cost of their prospecting, despite such costs being tax deductions. The Australia Institute publishes a report showing 83% of Australian mining companies are overseas-owned.

Tony Abbott gets subsidised. The former Opposition junkyard dog, who was a total disaster when his News Corp fear campaign made him PM, reveals he’s racked up $120,000 plus in travel expenses just last year, a matter which Paul Bongiorno sees as a tax-payer funded anti-Turnbull campaign. “Former Prime Ministerial duties”, Abbott puts it down as.

Abbott’s out to destroy Turnbull at any price, certainly. But let’s not discount how well Abbott’s destroyed every last shred of his own political credibility in the process. His legacy of division lives on in the current postal survey compromise. 

According to some experts, The High Court is poised to disallow emergency funding to a postal poll in a challenge it will hear next week. How the government will react is not clear. On Sunday’s ABC Insiders Christopher Pyne was full of breezy mindless optimism and chose not to share any contingency plan.

... shonky sequel to Abbott’s dodgy plebiscite stunt ...

The postal vote or survey is Super minister Dutton’s cunning compromise. An unfunded optional survey, it is a non-binding shonky sequel to Abbott’s dodgy plebiscite stunt - itself a desperate delaying tactic to extricate the accidental PM from a push for by some Liberal MPs for a conscience vote on marriage equality.

“Good captain” Abbott could block democratic process in his party room while pretending to consult the people. Genius.

Despite a ripper of an argument in response to a challenge - the postal thingy is “urgent and unforeseen” and thus the government’s entitled to $122 million straight out of the kitty - no dreary legislation required, experts are not upbeat.

Professor George Williams, Dean of Law at the University of New South Wales, puts a live cat amongst the pigeons when he declares Monday, that he would be surprised if the government emerges with a victory in funding the survey.

Given the long-running debate on same-sex marriage, it is far from obvious that it fits into these categories,” Professor Williams says at the National Press Club.

“How could this expenditure be said to be unforeseen at the relevant date of 5 May 2017 when the government had a longstanding policy of holding a plebiscite on same-sex marriage? And what about this survey is urgent, except for the fact that it is necessary because of the government’s own political imperatives?

Nor does Williams fancy the chances of the seven MPs who will appear before the High Court. He also admonishes Turnbull for his abuse of parliamentary privilege in prejudging a matter before the High Court when it comes to the wretched case of Barnaby Joyce, whom the PM roundly declared will have no case to answer. “And the court will so find.” It may not.

Super Mal’s week is frenetic. It is successful, however, only as absurdist entertainment or distraction. In the end it is totally counterproductive. With every stunt, or stalling, a decision is avoided, a policy is not developed. Events scheduled in the High Court and in energy and around marriage equality and in the near total breakdown in the government’s asylum seeker management are rapidly conspiring against it.

The government’s attack on Bill Shorten won’t save it. Instead its cheap cries of socialism, of Cuban and Eastern German and of class traitor only serve to signal its utter desperation. Lacking coherent policy or the capacity to plan, forever reacting to events it can’t control, the Turnbull government heads further into chaos and dysfunction.

*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.