Loose lips sink ships. “Hockey owes me”, a brief indiscretion over a mate’s favour – now disputed by both – almost blows HMAS Chum Bucket, the Coalition’s yellow submarine out of the water, this week. Yet “chum-gate” is merely the latest scandal in a series of political depth-charges that threaten to sink the rudderless tub that is the Morrison government.
Trump-like, Morrison retreats into howling down shonky Bill Shorten. No-one can trust Bill. His policies mean bigger taxes, sky-high power prices and a government run like a union (of thugs). He recycles Howard-era fear of boat people and blends in a bit of the budgie smuggler’s carbon taxing, big spending big Labor Scare Campaign of 2013.
No-one can get a straight answer out of ScoMo. He doesn’t run commentary, he says, or he’s just getting on with the job when journalists dare venture a question about Helloworld Travel. He denies that Joe Hockey instructed staff to meet on 26 April 2017 with Helloworld travel subsidiary QBT before it lobbied for government.
“I’m advised embassy staff did not meet QBT or other staff in relation to the tender and embassy staff have met and corresponded with a whole range of travel providers to discuss the embassy’s travel requirements.”
Labor’s Jim Chalmers responds that DFAT has documented Hockey’s request.
“The prime minister is denying something of which there are reports of documents which exist from officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – that is a very serious matter.”
Morrison shrugs it aside. Always he’s got better things to do than be accountable. He simply repeats his facile, clapped-out Canberra bubble mantra; nobody outside the Canberra bubble cares (about dodgy, dirty deals or wanton profligacy).
ScoMo goes OS. No. Not to China where mystery shrouds major Chinese port Dalian’s decision to ban further imports of Australian coal. That would require leadership and independence from Trump’s US China-bashing policy. He pays a flying visit to New Zealand, his maternal grandfather, Sandy’s homeland, but he’s careful not to outstay his welcome. Not every Kiwi is thrilled to see him given the Coalition’s deportation policy. And not all former colleagues love him.
In 1998, Morrison was inaugural Managing Director of New Zealand’s Office of Tourism and sport, a body offering advice to government where he reported to NZ Tourism Minister, Murray McCully but was not universally popular. “Hard man” ScoMo, as he was seen, takes credit for the 100% Pure NZ campaign, for which he contracted M&C Saatchi – whose services he sought for his later controversial campaign at Tourism Australia “Australia, where the bloody hell are you?”
Morrison and McCully clashed with the independent NZ Tourism Board and a number of officials and board members resigned during his tenure. Morrison, himself, resigned in 2000, one year before his contract was up. As with Helloworld Travel, or with his termination from Tourism Australia he himself has never given a satisfactory explanation.
In 1999, the NZ Auditor General challenged Morrison’s handling of an independent review and found two payouts of staff in 2008 to be unlawful. The auditor’s report was critical of Morrison’s job performance in ways that are echoed by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), nine years later, which finds his management of Tourism Australia marred by non-consultation, making unilateral decisions, not observing due process and restricting board access to information. Little appears to have changed since.
Not everyone hates him. Tim Fischer is a big fan – as is Martin Ferguson but Fran Bailey, Tourism Minister at the time, observes of Morrison, “I’m sure he’s learned how to work with people better these days. His career has certainly had a few twists and turns.”
In his quick trip across the ditch, Friday, Morrison cops an earful from Kiwi PM Jacinda Ardern about all the Aussies born in New Zealand his government is repatriating, even though most have no family in the land of the long white shroud. It’s another diplomatic triumph as he cops a mouthful from Ardern. The NZ Herald reports,
“Ardern didn’t mince words. She employed the strongest criticism yet of any New Zealand Prime Minister or foreign minister about deportations of Kiwi offenders… The New Zealand people have a dim view of the deportation of people who move to Australia as children and have grown up there with often little or no lasting connection to here.
Ardern’s referring to 1,500 NZ citizens deported since 2015. Coalition “immigration reforms” grant the Department of Home Affairs power to deport foreigners on nebulous ‘good character’. Last year, 600 Kiwis were deported on this criterion alone. It can be a death sentence. In the last three years, at least four people have died in Australian detention centres (where Kiwis are now the largest group. Before 2015, they were not even in the top ten).
Or they die immediately following deportation. Fatalities may be higher. Neither nation keeps records of deaths. 15,000 Kiwi citizens will be deported in the next ten years. Morrison is not receptive to Ardern’s appeals. She will not give up.
Nobody cares, ScoMo? For all your nihilism, your Trumpista populism, the week sees the Canberra bubble burst by a series of sensational revelations. Top of the bill is the hyper-reality melodrama of “Hockey owes me” a rip-roaring, cigar-chomping, trough-snouting show of cronyism and corruption which Mark Dreyfus dubs “chum-gate”, in which Joe Hockey’s bestie Andrew Burnes’ Helloworld Travel company appears set up to win a billion dollar government contract.
Not all contracts are open, especially when the Commonwealth seeks “procurement” on Manus Island. Officials use a “limited tender” meaning no other bidders. They have to, they tell senate estimates. There are no other bidders. No-one good wants the work.
Yet this is a side issue. As the Australian Financial Review (AFR) investigation puts it, the committee wants to know “how Paladin, despite its lack of capacity, expertise or track record in the sector, appointed as the government’s main service provider on the island, becoming the recipient of contracts worth $423 million over 22 months.”
Yet journalists at the AFR quote locals who contest the government’s version and who suggest there were others who would have liked to tender for the contract. Greens senator Nick McKim gives Home Affairs a serve.
“The Paladin contracts, and the unexplained increases, yet again raise serious questions about lack of probity and due diligence inside Home Affairs. It’s an absolute disgrace that a shonky operator like Paladin is raking in the millions while comprehensively failing to provide even the most basic support for many hundreds of vulnerable refugees.”
Former CEO Craig Coleman broadly agrees with McKim. Three weeks before they gained the contract, he alleges, Paladin was,
“not well prepared to perform the role provided for under the Proposal” . He puts his view in documents he has filed with a court as part of an employment dispute with Paladin. Home Affairs cannot, of course, offer any insight and any further comment would be inappropriate given that the firm is to appear before a judge later in the year.
Yet more news does emerge of the shadowy Paladin Group’s receipt of over $A420 million over two years. A security firm is paid $1600 per refugee, per day, to pay locals to watch over men on Manus who pose little threat of escape? At least that’s the theory. News comes this week from two Manus detainees that Paladin does nothing.
Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize, Behrouz Boochani, who has been held on Manus for six years reports,
“What I am seeing on the ground is that Paladin, they … are doing nothing,” he tells Guardian Australia. “In Australia, people ask this question now. But this question for us is for years, not only for Paladin, but all of the companies. How do they spend this money? It is a question for us, not only Paladin, [but for health contractors] IHMS, PIH.
Paladin is part of a pattern where major “offshore processing” contracts are awarded in a limited tender process. Home Affairs deputy-secretary Cheryl-Anne Moy, explains to a senate estimates committee, this week, that companies are reluctant to run our gulags where human beings are illegally detained indefinitely without charge; with no other cause than they desperately needed to flee their country of origin by boat, instead of being part of the sixty thousand or so who successfully fly in with QANTAS and other airlines. Border protection or punishment? It’s sadistic cruelty.
“Primarily the people who expressed some interest early on and then decided that they wouldn’t tender gave us the reason that there was too much noise for their organisations – they were international companies – around regional processing.”
Too much noise? Try a reluctance to be part of a punitive, illegal scheme to deny refugees human rights.
Dutton’s mob is conceding that it can’t find competent contractors because no-one good wants to work on Manus? Time to close the camps. Bring the men to Australia. Let some take up residence in Australia – but shut down Manus.
The Guardian reports major flaws in the work of Pacific International Hospital, (PIH), a PNG healthcare provider which receives $21.5 million for ten months’ service from the Australian government to look after men we placed on Manus six years ago, despite its chairman, PNG Deputy PM being found guilty of misconduct in the use of public funds.
More alarming, PIH’s expertise, competence and treatment standards are a grave cause for concern amongst refugees remaining on Manus. Coroner,Terry Ryan, confirmed their worst fears during his 2016 coronial inquest into the death of twenty-four year old Hamid Kehazaei, who died in September 2014 from a treatable leg infection. His inquest found that PIH staff did not understand that Kehazaei was critically ill, despite hearing the alarms from his life support machines.
PIH staff failure to respond directly contributed to Kehazaei’s subsequent cardiac arrest. Equally disturbing, however, bureaucrats failed to book him on the next available flight to Brisbane. As Ryan reports,
“An urgent transfer request from a doctor had languished while an immigration official queried why medication could not be sent to the detention centre instead, and then referred the request to a superior who did not read it until the next day.”
As the Coalition prepares to take asylum-seekers to Christmas Island for treatment, will it follow Coroner Ryan’s eight recommendations? These include proposing that Home Affairs enact a new written policy which puts the clinical needs of detainees first when medical transfers required the approval of Australian immigration officials.
Ryan’s 140 page report also recommends that clinics treating asylum seekers offshore be accredited to a level equivalent to Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) standards. He recommends the Department of Home Affairs also conduct annual audits of clinics “in conjunction with” the RACGP.
Happily for the Morrison government, which has sensibly shut down parliament, Paladin is likely to be eclipsed by China.
The elephant in the news-room and the dark shadow over HMAS Chum Bucket‘s chartroom is, of course, China which, we learn this week, bans ship-loads of Australian coal, at Dalian, a north-east port where ninety per cent of our iron ore goes ashore. From its posturing, it’s clear no-one in government knows why China should give us the coal shoulder – but suddenly everyone can explain it all away. Alarmed? Relax. Sheesh, it’s a hole in only one end of our trade flagship.
Worth around $58bn, the coal trade is Australia’s largest export earner next to iron ore ($57bn). In 2018, we exported 89 million tonnes of coal to China, worth $15 billion, almost a quarter of our nation’s total coal exports. Now they’ve suddenly cooled off on us despite our “you beaut” free trade agreements stuck five years ago. Then it’s not a ban but just a slowing up of the process of unloading while quality control checks are carried out. Then it’s a Chinese whisper joke.
“You were saying coal not cow, right?“ China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, has a laugh at our expense. Yet in the China Daily, he upbraids ScoMo for alleging that “a sophisticated state actor” (read China) is behind the recent hack attacks both on parliamentary computers and those of major political parties.
China Daily responds by calling Scott Morrison a conspiracy theorist. ScoMo is rebuked for his Trump-like public accusations and for being a US lackey- or at least rashly irresponsible.
“… this is not the first time that Canberra’s anxiety-driven willingness to emulate Washington has prompted it to lay the responsibility for alleged spying at Beijing’s door… No matter whether he was assigning the malevolent acts to China or another country, it is irresponsible of him to cast aspersions in this way.”
Ian Verrender reports a Chinese go-slow on coal imports began months ago. Dozens of coal-laden ships are queued off ports across China as delays extend beyond 40 days.
Five harbours are under Dalian customs control but Phillip Lowe, governor of our politicised Reserve Bank -which even cautioned the Morrison government to avoid any “regulatory response” to the Banking Royal Commission which might put the brakes on lending to home buyers and businesses – is quick to point out that it’s only a few months of our exports. A drop in the national coal bucket, really.
On the other hand, (Reserve Bankers are masters of understatement; the measured anti-inflammatory, anodyne),
“If it were to be the sign of a deterioration in the underlying political relationship between Australia and China, that would be much more concerning.” Nothing like a passive, subjunctive construction to sound the non-alarmist alarm.
Given coal from Russia and Indonesia is still welcome in China, our finest political minds work feverishly overnight to assure us not to take the ban personally. This type of thing happens all the time; there’s nothing to see here. In brief, no-one has a clue what’s going on and China isn’t about to enlighten anyone. If it were a shrewd move to slow down coal consumption, then others would be subject to the same bans and caps.
Other commentators, including Verrender, see the bans as serious. Despite involving about ten per cent of our coal exports, Dalian’s indefinite ban on Australian coal imports marks a significant deterioration in Sino-Australian trade relations. As Greg Jericho notes, the incident exposes the Coalition’s spin about its Free Trade agreement with China. Revealed beneath the hyperbole is the vacuous rhetoric and the hollow promise of the free trade “breakthrough”.
“A major step in cementing closer economic relations with China” that would “be the catalyst for even further mutual gain between our two countries”, raved our then foreign minister, Julie Bishop, in 2014. Jericho calls bulldust. Had Bishop tarried after her valedictory on Thursday, someone might have asked her how it could have gone so wrong.
John “always look on the bright side” “Noddy” Birmingham, an underwhelming former education minister turned Trade Minister exudes insight and reassurance, telling an anxious nation that “it’s not an all-out ban“. Whew! Not yet. Unlike the latest case against indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru just delivered to the High Court.
Prominent refugee lawyers are preparing to prick the government’s latest thought bubble – the moving of sick refugees and asylum seekers to Christmas Island. In addition, two new legal actions will also be heard in the High Court, explains ACU Allan Myers Professor of Law, Spencer Zifcak, a former president of Liberty Victoria – class action cases which argue that the Commonwealth has acted negligently; breached its duty of care.
The lawyers will argue that the negligence is constituted by crimes against humanity.
The Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 criminalises certain crimes against humanity recognised in international law. These include:
- Imprisonment or other severe deprivations of liberty.
- Severe deprivation of a person’s rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These include freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, freedom from arbitrary arrest , the right to take a case before a court if deprived of liberty, the presumption of innocence, freedom of expression, and freedom from national, racial or religious discrimination.
- Inhumane treatment i.e. treatment engaged in intentionally that causes great suffering, serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.
The argument is that the Commonwealth government has committed each of these crimes offshore.
As for Christmas Island, Human Rights Law Centre executive director, Hugh de Kretser, tells Nine Newspapers’ Sydney Morning Herald, “the legal basis for a challenge would be that the government had breached its duty of care by sending refugees and asylum seekers to a place where inadequate treatment was available”.
National Justice Project’s George Newhouse concedes a legal challenge over Christmas Island, which has inadequate medical facilities, is more likely to succeed than a challenge for those in offshore detention on Nauru or Manus.
While ScoMo is busy rehearsing his Kiwi charm offensive, Friday Labor also fires a warning shot across the bow of the Chum Bucket. And upstages him. The Opposition’s Immigration spokesman, Minister Shayne Neumann tells AAP,
“Labor, if elected, will accept New Zealand’s generous offer to resettle refugees with appropriate conditions similar to those under the US arrangements and negotiate other third country resettlement options as a priority.”
Labor reaffirms its pledge to accept New Zealand’s offer, a strategic policy announcement which wedges Scott Morrison, a puppet of his right wing, into defending an immoral, illegal and unsustainable, punitive, indefinite, offshore detention regime on the grounds that any change to it is “not in Australia’s interest”.
Opinion polls and the Coalition defeat in Wentworth suggest he’s increasingly out of touch with popular opinion. Sixty per cent of voters polled by GetUp! last Thursday support Medevac Bill reports The Guardian Australia.
Yet the nation so often learns of government by snafu, it may become inured to scandal and incompetence. Paladin alone or Chum-gate alone would be sufficient to bring other governments down. Now there’s dinnerplate.
The Morrison government must, navigate reefs of hazards as scandals arise from as far away as Manus Island and as near as the plush executive suites of our big bean-counters’ head offices with their billion dollar Sydney harbour views
Dinnerplate, involves CEOs from the nation’s Big Four accountancy firms, EY, KPMG, Deloitte and PwC meeting regularly for private dinners, as Labor’s shadow assistant treasurer and former ANU economics professor Andrew Leigh discovers.
Naturally such gatherings lend themselves to admiring the view, praising the catering and appreciating the wine list, but Leigh’s curious to know what else is on the menu – and has asked to ACCC to look into the meetings.
Allegations of price fixing; collusion over fees and monopolising markets, such as Hayne found among our banks are not easy to prove. Doubtless the bean counters are celebrating their colossal good fortune in being blessed with a Coalition government which has been prepared to pay them $1.7 billion between 2013 and 2017 for their services.
Dining together may have in no small way contributed to any or all of the big four looking after their other three mates. A similar cosy mutual self-help arrangement also appears to have been part of the Helloworld Travel pitch, although all parties vociferously deny any allegations of impropriety.
Joe Hockey, our Ambassador to the US and occasional Trump golfing partner, a former treasurer who once defended a hike in the petrol excise on the basis that poor people either don’t own cars or don’t drive very far buys $1.3 million dollars’ worth of shares in a company run by his bestie, Andrew Burnes.
Burnes, who just happens to be federal Liberal Treasurer is CEO of a travel company Helloworld Travel which stands to win a billion dollar government contract if the Coalition scraps Labor’s red tape and goes with a single travel agency.
Tragically, after the rude intrusion of Labor and sections of the media, Joe’s holdings have dropped a tad. Shane Wright on Insiders brings it up.
Cursed by a run of bad luck and mismanagement, the Chum Bucket fetches up high and dry on a dying Great Barrier Reef after freakish cyclone force winds bring a perfect storm of graft, cronyism and catastrophic incompetence. As Jim Chalmers puts it
I seek leave to move the following motion:
That the House
(1) notes that:
(a) yesterday, it was revealed the Finance Minister received free flights to Singapore from Helloworld, which he booked by calling the CEO of this ASX listed company directly, just before it was awarded a multimillion dollar whole-of-government contract by the Minister’s own Department;
(b) today, it’s been reported that US Ambassador Joe Hockey – who has a million dollar shareholding in Helloworld – helped a Helloworld subsidiary lobby for the Embassy’s travel contract;
(c) the CEO of Helloworld and one of its largest shareholders Andrew Burnes is a Liberal Party heavyweight and current Liberal Party Treasurer, with connections to a number of Liberal Party politicians;
(d) the Finance Minister told Senate Estimates yesterday that he had “a close personal relationship” with Mr Burnes;
(e) Mr Burnes was previously a colleague of the now Prime Minister during the Prime Minister’s time at Tourism Australia;
(f) since being awarded Government contracts, the share price of Helloworld has skyrocketed, making shareholders like Mr Hockey and Mr Burnes rich; and
(g) this morning, it was reported that the Herald Sun asked almost all of the 82 Liberal MPs in Parliament whether they had received free travel from Helloworld, but only 14 said they had not; and
(2) therefore, calls on the Prime Minister to investigate and report to the House how far this Helloworld scandal reaches into his Government.
The PM hunches over his papers. Gets Christopher Pyne to answer.
Luckily, ScoMo’s unplugging the nation’s parliament for six weeks. The Coalition’s lost the remote. No-one’s seen it since Morrison lost Wentworth, plunging his government into minority. At least Hockey Owes Me should now get a good box office. It will run back to back with Tampa 2.0, the Coalition’s end of term pantomime; another terrific show to follow up Paladin’s Cave, a $423 million mystery saga attracting rave reviews this week over at Senate Estimates’ theatre in the round.
Hockey owes me turns out to be a big show with a huge cast, stunning song and dance numbers and some beaut ensemble work from veteran performer Hockey and his a star-studded chorus. A drop-dead gorgeous performance of injured innocence from Helloworld’s CEO Andrew Burnes, who also manages to double as the Liberal Party’s federal treasurer steals the show. Forming a brilliant counterpoint to Burnes’ aria Hockey Owes Me is the pathos of the poignant testimony of disgruntled former executive, Russell Carstensen. The production is every bit as good as Tampa 2.0.
Tampa 2.0 is modelled on the false assumption that John Howard won in 2001 by getting commandos to prevent the Tampa, a Norwegian vessel from docking at Christmas Island to put ashore 433 refugees it had rescued from the water.
The popular fiction is that Tampa robbed Labor of an easy election win. In reality, as statistician Adrian Beaumont and analyst Peter Brent point out, the polls were closing after Labor’s 57-43 lead in March to 52-48 in August when Howard denied Tampa permission to its human cargo. And while the Coalition may have gained a two point lead from Tampa, it gained five points from September 11 gaining a 55-45 lead which abated to a 51-49 win in November.
And HMAS Chum Bucket? The craft is modelled on US civil warship, CSS Hunley, one of the earliest fighting submarines sporting forty feet of bulletproof iron but a most dangerous vessel to be inside.
Morrison’s crew, duck down the hatch; all hands to the pumps. Chum Bucket is leaking badly; listing starboard. Sharks circle asylum-seeker policy writes Laura Tingle who also notes that “chum buckets are buckets full of fish guts and heads and other smelly stuff” which fisher-folk cast overboard “to attract a feeding frenzy of fish, particularly sharks”.
Chum bucket first hove into view with ScoMo ranting that Labor had “gone to the bottom of the chum bucket” in seeking the truth behind Helloworld, a scandal which could blow any government out of the water. Chum bucket is Sutherland Shire satire; rebarbative wit. You can take the boy out of Cronulla but you can’t take the Cronulla out of the boy.
Julie Bishop, jumps ship, another rat joining a slew of deserters, including ship’s purser Kelly O’Dwyer, a former NAB banker whose bon voyage bon mots are missed by many Liberals, including Tony Abbott who choose to slink out precisely as O’Dwyer rises to give her valedictory.
It may be payback for her one good speech given to Victorian Liberals where she recently excoriated her party telling her colleagues the Liberals are widely regarded as “homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers”.
Displaying all the true grit and instinct for self-survival which has made her a household name, along with her enormous capacity for business travel, Princess Mesothelioma, aka Julie Bishop, a former corporate lawyer, whose sterling work for Perth legal firm Clayton Utz in the 1980s helped CSR delay compensation payouts the courts had already awarded to victims of its asbestos mining at Wittenoom.
“Even if the workers die like flies, they will never be able to pin anything on CSR,” wrote Norman Irving, the mining corporation’s personnel manager in 1977, expressing a contempt for its wage slaves distressingly familiar to students of modern industrial relations. Bishop, or Julie Gillon as she was then devised her own echo of Irving’s solicitude.
As Peter Gordon, recalls, “(She) was rhetorically asking the court why workers should be entitled to jump court queues just because they were dying.”
Gordon’s words sum up so much of the inhumanity, injustice and indifference to those lower on the social ladder as much as they foreshadow the sense of privilege and entitlement and arrogant superiority that will ultimately be the undoing of this Liberal government, a Liberal government, as Bill Shorten put it, of the donors, by the donors for the donors.
Time democracy and humanity got a look in.
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.