Image for NATION: The ‘opportunistic Trots ...’

*Pic: of Andrew Wilkie from his website ... did not hold back in describing Barnaby Joyce as a sadist ...

“They are a bunch of opportunistic Trots hiding behind a gum tree trying to pretend they’re the Labor Party,” claims Paul Keating getting stuck into the Greens in his pal Albo’s inner western Sydney seat of Grayndler which the Labor MP has a chance of losing to the Greens. It’s splendid invective, vintage Keating and a marked contrast with most of the language of this dull, passionless, pedestrian campaign.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, it is true, has not held back, denouncing Barnaby Joyce as a sadist and the people who control live export as monsters but his is a rare flash of brilliant conviction amidst the dross of the week’s official campaign speechifying.

Similarly empassioned, addressing 2000 in Double Bay, but minutes away from Turnbull’s harbourside mansion and in the PM’s electorate of Wentworth, former Liberal leader John Hewson accuses the Coalition of being a national disgrace over its failure to put climate change at the heart of its campaign.

Short term politicking from both sides left targets that were inadequate and policies that weren’t going to meet those targets, said Hewson as good a definition as any of the government’s Direct Action bogus climate change policy. Climate should be bipartisan, Hewson thunders to much applause. Only the politicians would disagree. The sitting member headed for Launceston instead.

Launceston, nevertheless, is chuffed Friday when caretaker PM Malcolm Turnbull, turns up to honour a promised prior visit postponed because of the floods. The PM tops Labor’s promises by pledging $7.5 million to the $18.1 million City Heart project, launched in 2014, to “revitalise” the city. It is a fair effort from a PM who risks his own seat feeling left high and dry.

The man who would be Prime Minister is happy just to tick the boxes.

Stick to the plan he says. It is his take on stability, the word he offers as his campaign signature, at the bizarrely late Liberal campaign launch on Sunday where he also comes up with “power-sharing fiasco”, a term he repeats three times and which might also apply to his own Faustian compact with the right.

Turnbull is trusting to inertia and popular aversion to three PMs in as many years, an aversion carefully cultivated with the help of mainstream media, to get him across the line.

...rhetoric of jobs and growth.

The PM is out doing the dull stuff; covering Labor pledges in Bass, an electorate which his party polling tells him is marginal with a history of unseating sitting Liberals, an electorate which has more than its fair share of battlers who see through his government’s rhetoric of jobs and growth.

The median individual income in Bass Coast Shire is $489 per week. In the 2016 March quarter, the unemployment rate was 7.40% and rising.

Yet Turnbull’s speech seems to suggest everyone will either get a new job building the new campus or become a university student.

Not much to woo the average punter here but it’s typical of a campaign in which the ordinary Australian is lucky (or not as the case may be) to get a question out on Q&A or like Melinda the single Mum, who bravely buttonholed the PM in Moorabbin in May by interrupting his small business mutual love fest. Melinda had real questions about the cost of living and her children having a chance in life but she turned away when she spotted Turnbull’s true indifference behind that energiser battery smile.

Turnbull’s stump speech in Bass is a fizza, too. And is it wise to take time out from electors closer to home? Shouldn’t he be at least back-chatting Hewson? As a campaigner, Turnbull doesn’t seem to do savvy. His sloganeering is wooden; his fulmination against the dire evil of Labor’s negative gearing and softness on borders is as unconvincing as his fixed grin.

Another $150 million will help UTAS move to a more central Inveresk campus, with a similar move for the Burnie campus. As the PM explains, coaxed into life by the allure of a Latinate abstraction, it means “ensuring Tasmanian cities realise their enormous potential as international hubs for both education and tourism.” You can’t say his speech has a ring to it. More an ear of tin.

...preach the gospel of uncertainty…

Nothing excites the PM more than spruiking potential unless it’s to preach the gospel of uncertainty as he does later that night like some latter day antipodean Heraclitus waxing philosophical in response to a question on Brexit from Leigh Sales on her ABC 7:30 Report.

“(Brexit)‘s a reminder, Leigh, of a point I often make: that we are living in a period of rapid economic change, we’re living in a period of volatility and we have to embrace that.”

Only Turnbull can pitch 21st century technobabble while posing as the strong leader of a “rock-solid” stable government able to withstand anything Brexit could throw at it. Only his government has the
adhesive: an economic plan which cuts taxes for companies and those on higher incomes.

Sales deigns to challenge him on the reality of his government’s internecine division and self-eviscerating instability, its 17 cabinet ministers, its 3 resignations, its fund-raising fiasco. Not to mention the divisions and indecision revealed in its failure to cobble together a tax reform policy. Perhaps he’s bored her into submission, too. But wait, there’s more.

Turnbull’s even throwing in a set of free trade deals. Post Brexit that is some call. Yet no-one feels secure or loved at home. There’s a week to go but the writing is on the wall.

The PM could lose his own seat; so deep runs discontent in Wentworth especially among its sizeable gay community. Turnbull’s electorate feels abandoned and rejected if not betrayed by their local member’s latest revelation that government MP’s may not be bound by any plebiscite on same-sex marriage. Some commentators suggest the issue may even cost him the election.

Then there’s the wretched environmentalists, all stirred up with Di Natale visiting the Tarkine and Hewson’s rabble rousing greenmail. God knows how they’ll vote.

...yearn for more personal attention…

Gone is Turnbull’s erstwhile popular standing. His local electors now see their MP as merely another politician says Roy Morgan, whose poll of The Greens’ 20 best seats this week puts the Coalition on 41.5%, down twenty points on 2013. Could they yearn for more personal attention than more of the same old stale jobs and growth slogan Turnbull serves up on every occasion?

Or do we get the slogans we deserve? No-one in Launceston or in the PM’s large media entourage presses the PM to defend his government’s proposed policy on higher education in which degrees and diplomas could become prohibitively expensive as a result of tertiary fee deregulation. No point in moving the campus if students can’t afford to enrol.

While technically only a “reform discussion paper” subject to consultation, its tertiary education policy is due to be announced straight after the election. In an attempt to reassure those who accuse it of secrecy, Education Minister Simon Birmingham has earlier claimed that his government has released more details than Labor.

“…there will not be full fee deregulation and … we can guarantee that for at least 80 per cent of students they will operate under a fixed price regime and nobody will pay a dollar upfront…”

Birmingham explains that universities will be allowed to set their own fees for 20% of their “flagship courses” from 2018.  Universities won’t get funding from the government for these “opt-in” courses.  To prevent degrees costing $100,000, course fees would be monitored by a group like the ACCC. No-one is reassured by any of this. We’ve seen how well the ACCC controls the banks.

Entitled Responsibly Investing in Higher Education, lest anyone mistake access to higher education as a basic human right and to further the neoliberal view that everything is always about investment the (draft) policy is set to delight the privileged and to further entrench privilege.

Not only are student fees likely to rise, the cut-off for fee recovery has been lowered, a sensible and practical step to ensure that no-one is ever free of their HECS debt, even if their income is subsistence level or below as in the case of the Newstart allowance or the age pension.

...staring down a giant mask of himself…

Not everyone in Bass is happy to see the PM and the local Liberal candidate. Embattled Bass MHR Andrew Nikolic proves his own military training useful choosing to fuss over his leader, filling in admirably as Kaiser Mal’s batman while staring down a giant mask of himself, part of a small group of demonstrators protesting about school funding, penalty rates and other real issues.

There are members of the United Voice union, Gonski backers and a papier mâché bobble head lampooning Nikolic, an MP who is no stranger to controversy. He caused a stir recently by refusing to debate a local Greens candidate, preferring candidates who have a chance of winning.

The Liberal campaign has seen the Nikolic gambit developed and refined by justice minister Michael Keenan who has repeatedly refused to debate his Labor counterpart, anti-terror expert Dr Anne Aly, whom he accuses of being soft on national security because once in the course of her job she recommended a terror suspect be given access to an anti-radicalising programme.

The accusation has been taken up by Julie Bishop who was also once a lawyer but who is keen to pitch in with a denunciation to boost the climate of hysteria so vital to keeping our borders secure.

Assisting with the same mission, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton holds a surreal off water press conference to announce that his government has just turned back boat number twenty eight, a statistic no-one has any way of checking because requests for information are routinely denied on the grounds they are operational matters or details which must be kept secret because their publication would only help demon people smugglers revise their business models.

Psychologist Paul Stevenson who has been an outspoken critic of conditions on Manus Island has been dismissed by email, a better outcome than the Border Force Act 2015’s prescribed imprisonment but still an indication that there is no change to the regime of secrecy which has been part of the militarisation of our duty to show compassion and care for those who seek our asylum, a regime so capably initiated by Scott Morrison under this government.

Morrison has recently made a fool of himself in claiming that he too a rich white male member of the power elite knows what Penny Wong means when she warns of the unleashing of bigotry should the coalition’s plan to hold its same sex marriage plebiscite go ahead. He, too he claims feels her pain.

Whilst his claim is ludicrous, offensive and insultingly insensitive, it is characteristic of the strategy increasingly favoured by members of the ACL and its key exponents such as Cory Bernardi who present themselves as somehow champions of mainstream opinion who are persecuted for their views. Donald Trump takes a similar position with his nonsense on radical Islam.

...a heavily reduced majority..

If Turnbull is indeed to succeed in the July 2 election, it will be with a heavily reduced majority. And slim also seem his chances of dealing with a right wing which embraces climate deniers and fundamentalist Christians implacably opposed to gay marriage.

The shock news of Brexit this week has been claimed by both sides as an argument to win votes. Labor points justifiably to its record of success in shielding Australia from the GFC of 2007-8 while Turnbull invents a stability and record of success at economic management which relies totally on John Howard’s and Peter Costello’s myth-making which has passed into popular perception, with the help of mainstream media as fact.

It is early days to reckon the effect of Brexit although its economic effects both direct and indirect are likely to be deep and enduring, despite Scott Morrison’s best strategic efforts to minimise our sense of risk.

Brexit, moreover, may be read in part as a protest against the disempowerment and exclusion of the poor; a result of the overplaying of their hand by the wealthy elite.

It points to some serious flaws in the glass of neoliberal policies including free trade which has caused industry closure, fostered policy which has increased social inequality and led to marginalisation and alienation. It carries real warnings for our power elite in Australia, too.