There’s something about the debate around asylum seekers that taps into the darkness in the souls of millions of Australians. There’s a reflexive suspicion and bigotry which is being manipulated and forged into hatred by wordsmiths on the government payroll. It’s a practice of the black art of propaganda which is despicable and verges on the evil. It comes from those clever enough to know the power of language to manipulate and immoral enough to care little of the consequences. Walkley Award-winning ABC journalist, David Hardaker
A pit-bull about to snap his leash, at least in his own fantasy, “Walter Mitty” Morrison lunges at Bill Shorten, across the despatch-box. ScoMo scowls, hunches, juts his jaw. The corners of his mouth turn down. He stabs the air with a forefinger; face twisted in fury and frustration. No nuance here. It’s less dog-whistle than honking fog-horn.
But it captures the tone of a week in which the government abandons any policy platform for a fear campaign based on a farrago of lies and a swill of wilful disinformation eagerly relayed by Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Stokes and others. Honk. Welcome to Tampa 2.0, the Coalition’s all-new recycled Kill Bill campaign with embedded media.
ScoMo will kill Bill Shorten on border security. You can read about his tactical genius in The Australian or anywhere in mainstream media, (MSM). All follow Murdoch’s lead. Nothing is said of ScoMo’s contempt for parliament, no protest over a PM with so little regard for democracy that he said weeks ago if the bill was lost he’d just ignore it.
ABC News Sunday night even has a segment allowing ScoMo to trash Labor for being weak on border protection after some nonsense poll that Kerry Stokes’ IPSOS gets up.
You guessed it. There’s a bounce for the Coalition! Already editors say it’s caused by Labor’s position on asylum-seekers. Cranking up the fear factor as we steam back to the future, is Attorney-General, Christian Porter, a name Charles Dickens would have loved for any character with a compassion bypass or a Centrelink, Robo-debt, bagman.
“Hundreds of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru will undergo fresh security and character assessments as the Government prepares for an “influx” of medical transfers, AG Christian Porter says, reports Jane Norman for our ABC.
There’s no time to ask him about his contempt of parliament in trying to collude with Speaker, Tony Smith in supplying not-to-be-tabled legal opinion that Labor’s proposed Medivac Bill was unconstitutional.
In a rare win for democracy, Tony Smith tables the opinion that the Medivac Bill required doctors to be paid and therefore is unconstitutional because the senate can’t make bills which involve increasing expenditure. Labor’s response is an amendment stating that panel doctors would not get paid; making their positions voluntary. It is beyond scandalous for an Attorney-General to connive at such tactics but he’s not part of the MSM narrative.
No right of reply from Labor. Just another reminder of the way our national broadcaster has been subjugated through funding cuts and PM and Cabinet phone calls to the top floor of a corporatised ABC. Journalists’ union the MEAA is calling for a shake-up of the ABC to try and protect it from political interference, seeking a Board with more “independent, accountable and experienced” directors. It won’t happen under this government.
In a moment of epic self-parody, Communications Minister, Fifield offers to do an independent review himself.
Little is made of the Coalition’s historic defeat in the House over the Medivac Bill. Yet others are on their way. There’s a bill about making small business lawsuits more small-business friendly where they won’t have to pony up if they lose the case, which they mostly do, against a corporation with a big enough kitty to buy the best silks.
Disgraced former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, making a comeback, is prepared to rip the Coalition apart to get this bill through he says (or words to that effect) if need be because when he’s not spruiking for SANTOS or backing Big Cotton against the survival of the Murray Darling Basin, he’s always been a supporter of the little man.
Barnaby is also keen on the big stick, until recently part of the Coalition energy plan – it doesn’t have a policy but it does have a series of postures. Errant companies would be forced to get their prices down and to lift their game. Now work experience treasurer Josh Frydenberg has tried to soft pedal the hard paddle. Joyce won’t let him. Expect a hoo-ha over the big stick resolved by some judicious media leaking of Barnaby-busting bombshells.
There’s also Greens’ Senator Jordon Steele-John’s motion calling for a Royal Commission into the abuse of the disabled. Expect ScoMo to embrace it now and just shelve it next to The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry which will also gather dust unless he can do something to nobble industry super – unlikely now the Coalition is a minority government.
Braver to shelve rather than face another embarrassing defeat, or risk being seen to lack mettle or bottle.
By Sunday, it’s all ScoMo’s show. Super-ScoMo will run rings (of steel) around a limp Labor leader who …
“…cannot be trusted on our borders and Australia cannot trust Bill Shorten on border protection,” despite their being not a cigarette paper between the two parties on the absurd fiction of border protection.
Protect 25,760 km of coastline? We can’t even protect Australia’s greatest river system, the Murray Darling Basin. And isn’t Australia over the demonising of refugees? Polls suggest that we have rediscovered our humanity. (Unless you count Kerry Stokes’.)
But not ScoMo. Dropping his bundle, Morrison unleashes a Kill Bill missile of character assassination, mangling metaphor, misquoting mentor John Howard and causing untold collateral damage to his own credibility.
Yet it’s a one stop shop. The sloth in ScoMo is cheered that all he need do is assassinate Shorten’s character. Paint him as an untrustworthy union-thug-puppet; or an arriviste who is somehow also flexible enough to be a class traitor who parks his shoes under the Pratt family table, (a Turnbull-News Corp creation), a straw man which those sedulous echo-chambers the ever-reliable and totally authoritative Liberal focus groups or party polling respondents claim to loathe.
“You’ve got to have the mettle, you’ve got to have the ticker, you’ve got to have the resolve (he can’t remember bottle) to actually see things through and implement these decisions and not roll over to whatever wind might blow your way to make you compromise Australia’s national security and trade it away,” ScoMo preaches.
The unsubtle subtext is ScoMo’s public pat on the back by himself for himself about himself; his own mettle; his ticker. Where was that ticker in February 2014, when Iranian Reza Barati was clubbed to death on Manus Island? Morrison told parliament that Barati was outside the compound. It took him a week to correct the record.
Behrouz Boochani, winner of this year’s Victorian premier’s literary prize, who has been held captive on Manus for six years gives eloquent testimony to the regime of sadistic cruelty which began on Morrison’s watch.
“For days on end after the riot the Manusian residents and local guards told the refugees that they were just following orders. They claimed they were not to blame and it was all the machinations of the Australians. This was a well organised plan. They wanted to put the refugees in their place; people who only wanted to know how long they had to remain in prison. There was just one objective to their plans: to make the refugees return back to their countries by giving them a severe beating.”
ScoMo’s campaign strategy is a captain’s call. In a flash, ambitious sycophants leap up to praise the idea. Scott Morrison? Why, he’s a virtual Clint Eastwood. The Saturday Paper’s Karen Middleton reports that former Howard (man of steel) advisor, David Gazard tells Sky News this week: “I reckon it’s ‘make my day’ [for] Scott Morrison.”
If it’s on Sky it must be true. Mainstream media, or the Rupert and Kerry Show recycle the preposterous line that being defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives allows ScoMo to focus on William John Shorten’s weak, untrustworthy character. Call out Bill for being flaky on borders and national security?
Genius. Checkmate in one move.
Yet, sadly for the Coalition, it’s not 2001. Winds of change are blowing – and Peter Dutton’s fate blows in the wind. His dysfunctional Department of Home Affairs is again in damage control after it’s revealed that it has awarded a contract via something called a “closed tender” to Paladin, a mob which operates out of a beach shack on Kangaroo Island – which is a step ahead of the reef foundation that didn’t even apply for its $444 million grant.
Nor did The Great Barrier Reef Foundation – an idea floated by a group of businessmen while waiting for a plane – even have to go through “a tender process”. But then its board members were all models of probity, supported by corporations which are bywords for integrity and tax minimisation: BHP, Qantas, Rio Tinto, Google and Orica.
Paladin, naturally, also boasts a post office box in Singapore, a handy tax haven which does not tax capital gains.
An Australian Financial Review scoop finds that as Australians return to work, the Coalition pays $109 million to the Paladin Group, which is clearly being given a go for having red-hot go, as ScoMo loves to say. Pick winners; damn the bludgers. Bugger any social contract nonsense that gives a go to those who can’t have a go.
Having a go? In 22 months, Paladin gets paid $423 million for security on Manus Island, an oxymoron, which includes gangs of drunken PNG soldiers who shoot up the old detention centre just to keep Australians safe. No biggie. Peter Dutton has secret information on why that’s all OK. Psst. Paedophiles. A local five year old boy.
“There was concern about why the boy was being led or for what purpose he was being led away back in the regional processing centre,” Dutton later says although his slur is refuted by PNG police and refugees who point out that in fact a ten year old boy was escorted to the camp and given fruit to eat. Dutton never retracts his defamatory claim.
Alarmingly, Dutton, who is head of far too much to monitor any one thing, (namely ASIO, AFP, Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and Office of Transport Authority) claims he had “no sight of” Paladin’s closed tender processes.
He freely concedes to Sky News that there are “very few people who can deliver services in the middle of nowhere on an island”, which is his nuanced way of blaming his departmental officers and handballing to Christian Porter who dutifully appears on ABC Insiders saying how fair dinkum Paladin really is. Nothing to see here.
Perhaps “Dutts”, as he is known to his mates, is working on a reverse Nuremberg defence: “Don’t blame me. I was just giving the orders.”
Whatever the explanation, OSB’s obsession with secrecy began with Scott Morrison who elevated his rank and status as Minister for Immigration into that of a tinpot military commander who was immune to the requirements of mere ministerial responsibility, an unaccountability, he buttressed by pretending that any information would be seized upon by demon people-smugglers. (DPS) Beyond despicable, DPS were so savvy with their depravity that they even had a “business model”.
And probably a Post Office Box in Singapore.
Answering questions was out of the question. ScoMo just gave up giving press briefings. Now he just harangues, sloganeers and evades questions unless it’s an on-air rub-down with Ray Hadley. Dutts just loves them.
Dutts is no slouch, either, when it comes to getting aeroplane people settled here. Who would have thought that people smugglers would switch to planes after boats? Or people would smuggle themselves, to the profit of people-smuggler Alan Joyce and his antique QANTAS fleet?
Well, certainly not Dutts but at least he can claim the record for biggest asylum-seeker migration. In 2017-18, 27,931 asylum seekers flew in to claim protection visas.
Only 18,365 asylum seekers came by boat in 2012/2013 at the peak of the inflow in the Gillard/Rudd years. Clearly, this fact is too nuanced for ScoMo and co, and well beyond the remit of News Corp.
The government’s argument – if we may flatter it with that term – has more holes in it than any of the bodies in the execution of Corleone’s enemies scene in The Godfather.
May 2018, 460 people are moved to Australia. By last week, it’s 879. But there’s no new flotilla of boats. Not a glimpse even of a demon people smuggler’s horns. Big Brother Scott mounts the mother of all scare campaigns including a video remake of K. Rudd’s 2013 classic sermon, No boat people will ever be settled in Australia!
Even more damaging for Morrison is that his claim to have stopped the boats is fraudulent. As John Menadue and others continue to point out, the boats stopped when Kevin Rudd declared in July 2013 that no asylum seeker would be settled in Australia. Yet a ruthlessly pragmatic Coalition, seized the chance to claim victory.
Fellow imposter, Tony Abbott, of course, needed to create his own high camp paramilitary force, giving his political chicanery high-sounding nonsense titles – Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) – even though dealing with refugees in boats could be handled by our navy, in co-operation with Indonesia. But (OSB) took time.
And money. (Now “offshore detention”, or illegal, indefinite imprisonment in gulags – to cut the double-speak – costs over $4 billion a year.) And a shift in focus to boat turnbacks in violation of UN 1951 convention which has at its core a commitment to prevent refoulement. Our boat turnbacks violate this core principle.
We cheerily turn back boatloads of refugees; returning them to their persecutors. Innocents then face imprisonment, torture and death.
Stopped the boats? Operation Sovereign Borders did not gear up to turn back the first boats until 19 December 2013, when boat arrivals dropped from 48 in July 2013 to only seven in December 2013. That Morrison and Abbott stopped the boats is a lie we’ll hear a lot between now and the election. It needs to be called for what it is.
Similarly, the flood of asylum-seekers which the Coalition will continue to blame on Labor was, in fact, boosted by Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison in a cynical ploy to embarrass Labor. John Menadue sums up,
“Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison in Opposition gave the green light to people smugglers by opposing the implementation of the Malaysia Arrangement in September 2011. Following the defeat in the Parliament of legislation to give effect to the Malaysian Arrangement there was a dramatic increase in boat arrivals. Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison gave the green light to people smugglers to really step up their activities.”
Thursday, Morrison’s macho plan is to filibuster. Fatuous Dorothy-Dixers and haranguing extend question time to a record 150 minutes to avoid Labor’s motion for a Royal Commission into abuse in the disability sector. It shows contempt for parliamentary process and an epic thumbing of the nose at our democracy which is a living, evolving and vulnerable institution – not as is commonly supposed – an immutable good or some fixed asset.
Stuntmaster ScoMo, later, says he feared Labor would pull a stunt. Feared? Later, realising he has made a prat of himself, he says he has no problem with the legislation. He lies that he failed to receive notice of the bill. Yet the Coalition has, itself, abused disabled Australians by effectively redefining disability and tightening eligibility.
Last year, Industry Super Chief, economist Stephen Anthony reported that our federal government has created a “false economy” by restoring the budget bottom line through cuts to the disability support pension, forcing people on to the New Start allowance of $245 a week and potentially pushing more people into homelessness.
A 63% drop in successful claims for the disability pension between 2010 and 2016 was the result, Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) reports. A government that can do this is not only cruel and heartless, it is sadistic. Cue ScoMo’s gaze.
ScoMo’s eyes turn obsidian, a spectacle all the more chilling now he’s back in rimless specs after flirting with Turnbull horn-rims. Much too patrician? Clashed with his natty PRATT baseball cap? His inner junkyard dog?
(Pratt Holdings paid no tax 2015-6 on a total income of $2.75bn yet donated $850 million to political parties.)
722 major corporations pay no corporate tax in Australia in 2016-17, despite one hundred firms reporting earnings of over $1bn in total income. No problem. The Coalition simply takes more -and more from the average wage and salary earner to compensate for its scandalous unwillingness to expect the top end of town to pay its fair share. And it saves a fortune; denying most disabled Australians their rightful pension.
A maestro of mixed messaging and a muddle-class champion Morrison is incensed at the passing of the Medivac Bill which permits sick asylum seekers to come to Australia for treatment subject to approval of a medical panel and then only at the Minister’s discretion.
Wednesday, he loses control. Control of the parliament; the argument and of the beast within himself.
“Now, I can’t describe to you the fury that is within me that I have to now go spend money on opening a centre that I didn’t need to open a week ago,”
ScoMo morphs into some petulant put-upon national boarding house matron pouting and sulking at the prospect of suddenly being asked to put up extra guests. But devious. He’ll reopen Christmas Island. Frog-march the sick parade malingerers there. It’s an Australian territory, so technically, he can avoid bringing them to the mainland.
Yet the Coalition was happy to blow $275,000 in legal costs last financial year on challenging, in court, requests for urgent medical transfers of asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. This figure doesn’t include the cost of air ambulances and subsequent treatment for critically ill patients, figures Peter Dutton must keep secret.
This year it will be more. Morrison cannot be taken seriously if the bleats about the cost of Christmas Island.
Nor does his government’s campaign impress those sampled in opinion polls. The latest YouGov Galaxy poll shows that the PM’s-all my own work -Tampa 2.0 stunt has lost support in Queensland, which pundits insist is a key election battleground, while overlooking Victoria where fear and division failed in November’s state election.
The QLD poll shows the Coalition down 3 to 35, while on a two-party preferred basis Labor is ahead on 52, to the LNP’s 48.
Worse, William Bowe’s Poll Bludger track’s aggregate of Newspoll and Essential Research shows 53.8 to 46.2 to Labor in a solid shift to the Opposition this week, much to the chagrin of The Australian and other right-wing media who were recently crowing about a Coalition “bounce” and fondly predicting a “re-set” as The ScoMo Show. By Monday, MSM will crow about a re-set based on Kerry Stokes’ aberrant IPSOS poll.
Morrison’s view in Opposition was ‘the more boats that come the better’. Nothing’s changed. Megaphoning the re-opening of Christmas Island is a blatant invitation to people smugglers. ScoMo is a desperate, ruthless Machiavellian pragmatist bent on boosting boat arrivals. What if a turnback somehow fails?
“Be it on your head,” ScoMo shrieks. In the politics of finger-pointing, malediction always triumphs over reasoned rebuttal. If you have any kind of authority. Instead, all Minority Morrison can manage is an impression of a grown man throwing a tantrum. Now the beast takes him over. He leers at Labor’s front bench, his face a twisted mask of malevolent guile, a transfiguration evoking a Notre Dame gargoyle or Tony Abbott axing the tax in opposition.
The beast is stirring? Could the PM mean our wage crisis; the blatant beast that devours. Since 2012, wages growth has slumped to record lows, with increases of only two per cent each year – well below previous levels of 3.5 per cent. This stagnation is affecting all states and territories, all industries and all types of work.
No. It’s Pandora’s Box. Heroically, our prophylactic PM boasts to Canberra’s national Press Club not only about his government’s solicitude for our well-being – there’s a plan. “Our plan for keeping Australians safe and secure.” ScoMo government will protect us from modern living, where calamity awaits at us all at every turn.
Or mouse-click and digital swipe. “The online world has opened up a dangerous place for our children. It is the terror of parents everywhere, including Jen and me.” It is? Seriously? The terror of parents everywhere? No chance then, of teaching your children safe online behaviours – they have courses in most state schools.
“People smuggling, natural disasters, organised crime, money laundering, biosecurity hazards, cyber security, the evil ice trade, violence against women,” he declaims. Not a word about climate change – nor its devastating effects on our fauna, our fragile ecosystems, our environment that gives us life. Nor the vast new powers of the state. And nothing at all about the rise of lobbyists, the decline of democratic process and the rapid death of a free press.
Yet you can’t fault Morrison’s cheap theatricality, his hammy patent insincerity – the pantomime villain of our political stage. What a performer! But will his voice hold out? Can he keep this up for ninety days?
Highlight of a week of lowlights is our Shaman-PM’s thrilling ritual invocation of the beast in parliament Thursday. Calling up The Beast is a climax to his bizarro shock-horror show to a non-plussed mob at The National Press Club. ScoMo eagerly poses as our nation’s Red Cross Knight, a crusader against a world of unfathomable evil, from whom our virtuous, if not saintly, Coalition noblemen and women in government will ever protect us. Journos yawn; check their smartphones.
Protect us? It can’t protect itself. Naturally we are obliged to overlook the Morrison government’s recent run of minor setbacks, which include its engineering of its own defeat in The House, mid-week, an epic feat equalled only twice previously, in 1929 and 1941 by two other governments who’d lost the plot.
Both were promptly voted out of office. Morrison’s mob should call an election now.
The federal government is now floundering; threshing and gasping like a Murray Cod in its death throes in the shallows of a dying Murray River at Menindee. Yet stand by for a miraculous resurrection as Kerry and Rupert breathe life into the Coalition corpse.
Despite the odd spot of bother, not to mention ineptitude, impotence and difficulty with arithmetic, our Broad Church Coalition will leap to the nation’s defence with an invigorating new production, of John Winston Howard’s 2001 catchy standby, The Babies Overboard or Tampa Crisis election, a classic Liberal victory if not a stroke of genius in Liberal annals, is also wrongly credited with winning Howard the election.
The Coalition has some dazzling theatrics up its sleeve. Yet amongst the hysteria and the rabid scare-mongering there are many issues on which it is to be held to account. It cannot base an election campaign on the lie that it stopped the boats. Or the lie that medical help will cause us to be flooded with an armada of boat people.
Nor can it conduct a campaign with no policy to speak of, especially in energy, education, environment and climate change. Australians will not tolerate a ninety day episode of Kill Bill, the Coalition’s favourite show.
Above all Morrison’s government needs to be held to account for its contempt for parliament, the Paladin scandal, its refusal twenty six times to hold a Royal Commission into Banking and the secret deal that seems to have been done between Ken Henry and itself over the terms of the commission and above all its evasion of responsibility for the death of the Murray-Darling Basin system.
These are just a few issues to begin with. The last thing the nation needs is a ninety day season of Kill Bill. Or a Tampa 2.0. Or anything with Scott Morrison’s beast in it.
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.