Where are the crooks?



Ask Tony Abbott where the crooks are and he would repeat what he said when he set up the Royal Commission into Union Governance and Corruption: the crooks are clustered in the unions, particularly the construction unions, and most of all in the CFMEU. The last two words of the Commission’s title capture Abbott’s diagnosis. Unions are corrupt; the Commission’s task was to ascertain how corrupt.

Abbott contended that union officials were stand-over thugs who bullied and bribed construction firms to get what they wanted. He cited their behaviour as criminal, immoral, and reprehensible. No one is denying malfeasance in the union movement, yet there have been only 20 referrals from the Royal Commission, and so far no charge has been laid against any union official. Time will reveal how many crooks there really are.

Although Abbott has been ignominiously pushed into the background where no sensible person takes him seriously anymore, the diagnosis of corrupt behaviour in unions has been endorsed by his successor. Malcolm Turnbull has enlarged the extent of their ‘unlawful behaviour’ by asserting that it is a drag on productivity. He wants the Australian Building and Construction Commission reinstated in order to increase the productivity, competitiveness and profitability of the construction industry. He has added an economic twist to his pro-ABCC argument. If the ABCC bill is rejected again by the Senate, he will use that as a double dissolution election trigger.

The 2014 Productivity Commission report said that the evidence for aggregate productivity increases and cost savings was weak during the time of the ABCC. ACTU Secretary, Dave Oliver said: "Since the ABCC was abolished productivity has in fact increased and industrial disputes have decreased; the only thing that's increased…is the incidence of workplace accidents, injuries and unfortunately fatalities as well." But that has not inhibited Turnbull in pressing his economic case. After all, facts are irrelevant when making political points, especially at election time.


The point of this piece though is not to argue a contrary position on the ABCC, but to look around to check whether the crooks are confined to unions.

Where are the crooks?

Liberals need look no further than their own party. In recent days the Electoral Commission has refused to pay the Liberal party’s NSW branch more than $4.4m until the party reveals the secret donors who poured about $700,000 into its coffers before the 2011 state election. Now it happens that at the time Arthur Sinodinos (previously Chief of Staff to John Howard and now a Senator) was the party’s treasurer and finance director. He has indignantly denied any knowledge of the secret donors and the refusal to reveal them, has threatened to sool his lawyers onto the Commission, and has demanded a retraction of the statements that implicate him. The truth of the matter may emerge, but in the meantime Sinodinos is suspect, and is being pursued by Labor. As Tanya Plibersek said:“It beggars belief that the treasurer and finance director of the Liberal party of NSW didn’t know about an elaborate arrangement to channel hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal donations to the Liberal party.” Many will agree with her.

Of course Sinodinos has form in amnesia. You will remember his lapses of memory when he faced the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry to defend what he did to earn an alleged $200,000 salary from Australian Water Holdings after he left the public service. He seemed to be doing almost nothing to warrant that huge salary. The commission also heard that Sinodinos, a former AWH director and NSW Liberal Party treasurer, stood to make up to $20 million if AWH won a lucrative contract with the state-owned Sydney Water company. He denied any knowledge of donations from AWH to the Liberal Party although he was a key player in both. Even the ever-loyal Abbott was concerned enough to have him stand down from parliamentary duties temporarily. No charges have been laid regarding this matter, but suspicion remains in the minds of many who wonder how anyone so involved in both sides of a huge money transfer could not know about it.

Sinodinos comes across as a plausible fellow, so no one is calling him a crook. But how many more inexplicable lapses of memory will people tolerate before doubt about his integrity gives way to certainty about his lack of it?

Anyway, we know there are crooks in the Liberal Party. Former Victorian state director Damien Mantach embezzled $1.5 million of party funds and is now behind bars.



How many crooks does it take for the NSW state branch to accept large donations from banned donors, hide these donations from the Electoral Commission, and be prepared to forgo $4.4 million due to it from the Commission rather than reveal the donors? There is much more to come out about this ugly matter; perhaps in time we will be able to identify the crooks.

Let’s cast our net wider. Where are the crooks?

Look at the banks. We need go no further than the CBA.

How many crooks did it have in its financial planning arm? How many financial advisers were there who invested clients’ money in ventures where they earned fat commissions but which failed because they did not carry out due diligence, where they put their personal gain so far ahead of clients’ interests that they lost their clients' life’s savings? CBA chief Ian Narev has apologized profusely, but many are still awaiting the promised compensation.

How many crooks have they still got in the claims division of Comminsure, where scores of clients have been denied their legitimate insurance claims because the fewer the claims the bigger the bonuses that flow to the claims managers?

How bad is the culture of our premier bank when it enabled such behaviour to flourish? Are there more crooks there hoping not to be exposed?

Other banks are not entirely blameless.

Where are the crooks?

Looking further afield at industry, how many crooks were there at Volkswagen when it ‘engineered’ false emissions data to mislead the public and the regulatory authorities? What did VW CEO Martin Wintercom know? Was the culprit Falko Rudolph, head of diesel engineering, or Burkhard Veldten, head of software design, or Heinz-Jakob Neusser, head of development at VW, or Wolfgang Hatz, head of research at Porsche, all now suspended or left? Plenty of suspected crooks to choose from there!

Where are the crooks?

Closer to home, there was 7-Eleven where for years franchisees cruelly underpaid their workers, particularly students on temporary visas. It was later revealed that this was with the knowledge of the chairman of 7-Eleven, Russ Withers, who was forced to admit liability and offer recompense. He and chief executive Warren Wilmon have both announced their resignation from the company.

Where are the crooks?

Let’s look at the wider scene where the ATO reported recently that almost 600 of the largest companies operating in Australia did not pay income tax in the 2013-14 financial year. We are entitled to ask how many crooks there are out there avoiding paying their proper share of tax. They all insist that what they do is legal, and perhaps in the formal sense it is, but how moral is it to make huge profits in this country but contribute nothing via taxes to support the services the community needs, and ought to have? Many are household names: Qantas, Virgin Australia, General Motors, Vodafone, ExxonMobil, Warner Bros Entertainment, Lend Lease and Ten Network Holdings. Others made huge profits but paid miniscule tax: Apple, Microsoft, Google, VW and Spotless.

How many crooks does it take to achieve these immoral outcomes?

This piece is long enough already. To expose all the crooks out there would take ten times as many words. I hope though that this piece does demonstrate that to imply that the crooks are clustered in the unions, and insinuate that by comparison big business is populated with blameless individuals who are as pure as the driven snow, is entirely fictional.

Where are the crooks? They are everywhere. So why is the Turnbull government so ruthlessly targeting unions, and specifically the construction industry and the dreaded CFMEU?

It's political of course! To appease the Abbottites, Turnbull feels compelled to adopt Abbott policies, use Abbott catchphrases, even recite his appalling slogans that demean and condemn the whole union movement and unionists with it, knowing full well that only a tiny fraction likely deserve the condemnation he heaps upon them.

How obscene, how outrageous is it to revile just one small part of industry, the construction industry, when we know that crooks abound all through industry and commerce, even in our most prestigious institutions, the banks; when we see corruption in the Liberal party itself? And all this Turnbull does to gain political advantage.

When might we see him launching a Royal Commission into Banking, or a Royal Commission into Tax Avoidance, or perhaps a Royal Commission into the Liberal Party? Don’t hold your breath!

Where are the crooks? We know!

What do you think?
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Please comment on other instances of corruption.

Expose other crooks.

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May your god go with you


It seems that the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is the keeper of the morals and ethics of a number of conservative politicians in this country. So does the ACL really represent the views of Christian Australia, or is it an attempt to enforce the views of a small group of people upon the majority?

To look at the views of the ACL, we need to do a bit of bible study. Those who will tell you that the bible is an accurate historical document have a fundamental problem in that the New Testament (the bit about Christianity) was written sometime after the events occurred. If we assume for a minute that the subject of the New Testament was actually born on 25 December 0AD, he died somewhere around March or April 33AD – despite the Gregorian calendar that we follow today not being developed until well after the 1000AD mark. While the common claim is that the New Testament was written hundreds of years after the event, this link to the Christian Apologetics and Research Institute argues that the various sections of the New Testament were all written by those who had direct knowledge of the events (or those who knew those with the direct knowledge) so were basically complete by 100AD.

Considering that we are now in 2016AD, it’s likely that in the previous 1900 or so years, various changes have occurred either through the length of time taken to commit the events to a permanent record, translation, intent or error. The Christian Apologetics website argues that while error is possible, the intent of the text remains the same. Given that most of us can’t remember what we had for lunch a month ago, or the exact circumstances and timelines behind an important event that occurred a year ago, the position that the bible text is an exact report of events that occurred years prior to the recording of them is as ‘pure’ today as it was when it was written is a leap of faith (sorry!) that is difficult to justify on a logical level.

For those who believe in a religion, be it Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or anything else for that matter, the book of faith for their particular brand of religion certainly suggests a way to live that is moral and ethical. However, it is doubtful if the books should be taken as an absolute truth. For example, the old testament of the bible, shared between the Jewish and Christian religions, prohibits the eating of products from pigs as it is ‘unclean’. Is there a deep spiritual meaning here or is it something as basic as that unless pig meat is cooked or cured properly, some pathogens survive? Science and modern technology do have their uses.

The ACL’s website will tell you that their work is to ‘see Christian principles influencing the way we are governed, do business and relate to each other as a community’. They also claim to be non-party political or aligned to any denomination of Christianity. It seems that principles in this case is a selected cherry picking of the bits they like out of the Christian holy book, the bible.

The ACL is currently in the news for it’s obsessive opposition to anything to do with acceptance of people who identify as LGBTIQ and by inference, same sex marriage. In their view, even the Safe Schools program, designed to prevent bullying across the spectrum of school students is claimed to be promoting sexual experimentation rather than being a valid response to a number of bullying issues – most of which have nothing to do with gender.

Continuing the biblical theme of this article, the Huffington Post religion site notes:
‘there are really only seven passages in the Bible that refer directly to homosexual behaviour, and none of them are associated with Jesus’

Compare that to the more than 250 verses on the proper use of wealth or more than 300 on our responsibility to care for the poor and work for justice, and you appreciate quickly that homosexuality was not exactly a major theme of the Bible.
The article in Huffington Post goes on to list the passages of the bible as well as discussing how the scholars see the relevance of the passages to the 21st Century interpretation placed on them by conservative commentators.

Jeff Sparrow discussed the historical roots of organisations such as the ACL in The Guardian. He makes these points:
Specifically, the ACL’s distinctive tradition comes not from the Holy Land but from the United States, where the American religious right first took shape in the early 1970s.

As Randall Balmer explains in Politico, Christian conservatism became a political force in the US at tail end of the civil rights era. Indeed, the religious right emerged initially to oppose desegregation – that is, to defend institutionalised racism against African Americans.

In 1971, the US government decided to withdraw tax exemptions from racially discriminatory schools. That included Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist college in South Carolina that claimed a scriptural basis for segregation. The university did not admit black students at all; later, it enrolled married black students but promised to expel any student who engaged in interracial dating (or who even supported an organisation that advocated interracial relationships).

The conservative political activist Paul Weyrich, working closely with the Reverend Jerry Falwell, rallied Christians in support of Bob Jones University’s right to receive tax breaks. Crucially, the campaign was pitched less as a defense of the college’s racism than as a matter of religious freedom: Weyrich roused a Christian constituency by warning evangelical leaders that the government was taking control their institutions. It was only later that Weyrich and Falwell redirected the anger at federal interference in Christian schooling into campaigns around “values” issues such as abortion and pornography.

The Australian Christian Lobby was founded in 1995, in fairly direct imitation of the Christian Coalition of America. There’s no suggestion that the ACL ever embraced the segregationist politics of Bob Jones. Nevertheless, you can still detect traces of that early history in the ACL’s persistent invocation of “religious freedom” when making its case against same-sex marriage.
See the contradiction? Note the number of references in the bible to proper use of wealth and responsibility to care for the poor and work for justice that the Christian conservative movements seem to routinely ignore when you look at their history of supporting segregation, racism and the framing of their arguments as religious freedom or values issues. Certainly conservative Christians have a right to be heard, but you wonder how the ACL can justify their request for exemption from the Discrimination legislation during the lead up to the same sex marriage plebiscite as caring for the poor and working for justice. As The Saturday Paper rightly comments:
This is an outrageous nonsense. If Shelton’s [Managing Director of ACL] arguments depend on vilification, they are scarcely arguments. They are bigotry. They are hate.
While a number of LNP politicians seem to be on the same wavelength as the ACL, others in the commercial world have a greater sense of morals. Mark Allaby, a senior executive with Price Waterhouse Coopers was recently instructed to resign from his seat on the board of ACL.
A spokesperson for PwC said that one in 10 of the company’s staff participate in board or advisory roles outside of PwC, but they’re not given a free pass to join any board they want:
“When it comes to employee participation on external boards, if a conflict arises between an employee’s board role and the best interests of PwC, we would request that they step down from that board”
Interestingly, Allaby continues his directorship at the Lachlan Macquarie Institute. The Institute’s vision includes the following text:
What we seek to achieve by this programme is the transformation of the nature of politics and governance in Australia. By helping develop the character and intellectual foundations of future politicians, journalists, advisors and public policy influencers before they step into public life, we will begin to see more decisions made based on a solid understanding of what is good, true and beautiful in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
You have to ask if it is the ‘true’ revelation, or the ‘conservative’ revelation where apparently bullying and vilification of children and adults in our society are considered to be acceptable.

Back in 2014, Eureka Street looked at the rise of the ACL and identified a few reasons why the Lobby has continued to grow. Among the conclusions:
Like most other pressure groups, the ACL, founded in 1995, boosts itself shamelessly in its search for donations and members. It claims to be a 'Voice for Values' and boasts 30,000 members. It reckons it has become 'one of the premier political lobbies in the country' and that it is 'growing in size and influence'. These are big claims, but measured by its growth and positioning ACL has been successful.

First it has effectively taken over the term ‘Christian’ in politics, though it does not claim to be the peak Christian voice. The name says it all. The major churches are fading by comparison, their image blighted by child sex abuse and falling attendances.

It is a sleight of hand, of course, to infer that the 64 per cent of Australians who are Census Christians subscribe to the ACL agenda. Half of them are Christian only in name and the other half includes many progressive Christians who do not accept at all any purported representation by the conservative ACL. But church leaders, like the new Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, also on this year’s program, have enhanced ACL’s image.
Eureka Street is published by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order.

If your takeout from Eureka Street is that not all Christian groups identify with the ACL, you’d be right. Forty religious leaders, most of them Christian, have written an open letter to the prime minister asking for him to arrange a vote on same sex marriage in parliament in the term of this government. Turnbull has so far refused.

There is evidence that ACL is far from the moral and ethical Christian organisation it claims to be. These people claim to be the interpreters of the Christian faith in today’s Australia yet seem to have completely forgotten the many references to proper use of wealth and responsibility to care for the poor and work for justice while skating around the scholarly interpretation of the few references to homosexual behaviour found in their source document – the bible. Readers of the bible are reminded far more of the responsibility to care for the poor and work for justice as well as use wealth properly than any reference to the material the ACL is so concerned about. We have also seen that as the bible was not written until some time after the event, it is hardly likely to be an accurate record of events as they occurred. In addition, some of the prohibitions in the bible seem to be there for purely physical reasons – such as the prohibition on eating pig meat (routinely ignored by even the most conservative Christians).

Perhaps the real reasons ACL is against same sex marriage is shown in a recent debate on Sky News. Lyle Shelton, the Managing Director of ACL, was asked:
how does, on this Valentine’s Day, my marriage and my relationship with Adrian of 18 years affect your marriage?
The response beggars belief.
“Well,” Shelton replied, “if the definition of marriage is changed, it’s no longer assumed that millions of people like myself who are married… that I’m married to a woman. So that affects me straight away! People no longer assume that I’m married to a woman, I’d have to explain myself.”
So the almighty scare campaign, including a request to exempt the no case from discrimination legislation, is a response to one person’s concerns that he might have to one day explain that he is married to a woman (if that matters anyway). For Pete’s sake!

How about we leave this sordid example of framing a debate so the actual issue is clouded in layers of waffle and misinformation to John Faulkner, a 65-year-old gentleman who asked this question on the ABCTV’s QandA in late February.
“I’m a 65-year-old Australian Christian. At least I try to be,” Faulkner started.

“There are many Australian Christians who support marriage equality but they don’t remember appointing [Managing Director] Lyle Shelton and the ACL to speak on their behalf. The example of Christ is completely contrary to what the ACL is promulgating with its hate campaign.”

Who gave Mr Shelton and the ACL the right to speak for all Christians on the matter of marriage equality?” [bold added]
The response was:
“Yes, our name is Australian Christian Lobby but just as the Australian Labor Party, they wouldn’t claim to speak for all workers.”
If that is the case – they represent a small proportion of a small and declining percentage of the Australian population. Isn’t it time the majority of Australians told the conservative rump that while we understand they have a problem with some issues – it’s their problem, not ours?

What do you think?
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The Peter Principle again – has the GOVERNMENT reached its level of incompetence?



It is not often that we see The Peter Principle played out before our very eyes. We saw it recently with ex-PM Tony Abbott and his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin as they were promoted from opposition where they were deemed to be competent, to government where they were manifestly incompetent. This calamity has been described in The Peta Principle – how Abbott rose to the level of his incompetence.

In describing his management principle, Laurence J Peter asserted that as managers are promoted, they rise to the level of their incompetence because the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate's performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. We have written about The Peter Principle before.

In illustrating his principle, Peter used the example of a head gardener in a botanical garden. He was a genius at gardening. He knew his botanicals, where to place them, and their needs for sunshine, shade, water, drainage, nutrients and pruning. He had ‘green fingers’. So good was he that when the position of manager of the garden became vacant, he was considered an obvious choice. He accepted it, albeit regretful that he would be leaving the garden for an office. He failed. He was all at sea with budgeting, ordering supplies, and managing staff and the payroll, and he missed the outdoor life. He had been promoted to the level of his incompetence. He exemplified the Peter Principle: ”managers rise to the level of their incompetence”.

If we begin with the premise that in opposition the LNP was competent in as far as it was able to effectively mount a case for election, and was successful at the ballot box, let’s examine whether that competence has been sustained after its promotion to government. Let’s not get diverted by its tactics, reprehensible though many of them were.

This piece opens for discussion several, but not all areas of government. A verdict about the government’s competence in each is offered. You are invited to make your own assessment, something you will soon do at the ballot box, now that Malcolm Turnbull has made his momentous announcement about the election. In Howard-like style he asks: “Who is best able to lead Australia in the transition from the mining and construction boom to the ‘new economy’?” You will soon have your say.

Bill Clinton said: “It’s the economy, stupid”. That seems like a good place to start.

The national economy
Malcolm Turnbull cited Tony Abbott’s lack of economic leadership as one of the prime reasons for his leadership challenge. There was good reason for this. The first Abbott/Hockey Budget, ideologically driven as it was, turned out to be a disaster. The electorate, even Coalition supporters, rejected it as unfair, and key elements are still stuck in the Senate. It was incompetently handled, but Abbott still wears it as ‘a badge of honour’. The 2015 Budget was a pathetic attempt to square the ledger, but it failed too; business groups criticized it, as it did nothing to reduce the deficit, which Joe Hockey had promised would be eliminated in the government’s first term.

Just a few days ago, the Australian Office of Financial Management stated that gross government debt is now $413.7 billion, up $140 billion since the 2013 election.

The fact that the deficit is ballooning is a measure of the government’s incompetence in financial management. Its attempts at reducing expenditure have been offset by an almost equivalent amount of new expenditure. It has turned a messy puddle into a quagmire, with no obvious exit. LNP supporters blame the economic headwinds: falling commodity prices, the end of the mining boom and the volatile dollar, but these are the realities managers of the economy have to face. Hockey and Abbott were hypercritical of Wayne Swan when he faced similar conditions, but sought to make these conditions as excuses for their own failures. A further sign of its incompetence is that as yet the Coalition has been unable to come up with a plan to correct the deficit. We are still in limbo as we wait for the Green Paper on Tax Reform, now months overdue. Conflicting statements from LNP members have confused the situation. Nobody seems to know what’s going on. Can we expect any clarity now that the election has been announced?

What about the players?

Hockey was incompetent as Shadow Treasurer. Full of loud-mouthed criticisms and arrogant promises, he offered no cogent plan for fiscal management; he just said he’d fix the problems, and quickly. In government he was patently incompetent, so much so that his colleagues, and even past PM John Howard, advised Abbott to remove him. Abbott didn’t, and Hockey was swept away with Abbott on 15 September 2015.



Hockey’s sidekick, Mathias Cormann, survived, but whether or not he is competent is impossible to say. Whenever he appears on TV, no matter what the questions, he responds like an automaton programmed with clichéd answers that have marginal relevance to them. As he departs each interview with a self-satisfied smile, can anyone understand what he has been on about? He may know his stuff, but who knows whether he does?

The new Treasurer, Scott Morrison, got a tick of approval from his supporters for ‘stopping the boats’ and when he became Minister for Social Services, he got a tick for being tough on welfare recipients. He was seen as a rising star in the LNP firmament; there were whispers that he was prime ministerial material. What a disappointment he has been. Has he been promoted to the level of his incompetence?

In his typical rumbunctious style, he was quick to pronounce the government’s fiscal problem as a spending problem, not a revenue problem. This reflected his aversion to increasing taxes, and his penchant for reducing them. Economists were astonished. They despaired that he would ever understand Economics 101. Now he tells us that his much vaunted promise to lower personal income tax is 'off the table' because the Budget can't afford it! But lower company taxes might be affordable! Is it Morrison’s ineptitude that is holding back the long-awaited tax reform package? His inconsistent communication to the electorate bespeaks uncertainty. He has shown no evidence that he can do the job to which he has been promoted. He seems to have risen to the level of his incompetence.



The new Assistant Treasurer, Kelly O'Dwyer, holds little promise either. Her attempt to transmit a message on house prices should negative gearing be changed was inconsistent with her leader’s message. She looked incompetent. In fact between them, Morrison, O'Dwyer and Turnbull predicted house prices would go up and down. Then Peter Dutton, way outside his portfolio, chimed in that changing negative gearing, Labor style, would "bring the economy to a shuddering halt". They can’t all be right; the question is: ‘who has the most incompetent position on this issue?’

For his part, Malcolm Turnbull has done nothing to reassure the electorate that the economy is now in good hands after the Abbott/Hockey calamity. He has shown no signs that he has a grasp of economic management, that he has a cogent plan for tax reform, that he sees a way forward towards a balanced budget, that he has practical plans to realize his grandiose concept of an exciting 'new economy' based on our agility in seizing opportunities, and that he can manage the transition from the mining and construction boom to this new economy. He may be competent, but leaves us with the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps he's not up to his job either.

Verdict: The government looks incompetent in economic management. It has yet to prove otherwise.

Industrial relations
Turnbull mouths strong words about the need for IR reform, talks often about ‘union corruption’, but although there have been 20 referrals from the Heydon Royal Commission into Union Corruption and Governance, no charge has been laid against any union official. He wants Sunday penalty rates reduced to Saturday rates, wants to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and wants the 'Registered Organizations' Bill passed. He threatens that if these are resisted in the Senate when it is recalled for three days on 18 April, that will bring about a double dissolution election on 2 July. Like his colleagues, he is afraid of a ‘WorkChoices’ – style campaign by the unions, but seems prepared to risk it.

Whether or not Turnbull’s threats are hollow, and whether he is competent in IR, will soon be obvious.

With Michaelia Cash as his bellowing Minister for Employment to assist him, the prospect of a balanced outcome in the IR arena seems remote. Is she competent? How can we tell? Her utterances are so strident, so exaggerated, so aggressive, so ocker, it’s hard to dissect away the rhetoric to find the substance, if indeed there is any.

Verdict: Turnbull and Cash are probably incompetent in IR, but prepared to take a risky gamble in this gladiatorial arena.



Climate Change
From past history we know that Turnbull has a grasp of the science of global warming and its sequelae. He is competent in as far as he understands the problem, the risks and the solutions. He also understands the inadequacies of the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan to abate carbon emissions, and has berated it in disparaging terms.

His fault is in embracing Direct Action as a reasonable approach to planet-threatening global warming. That is reprehensible rather than incompetent.

Turnbull’s advocacy for renewables seemed to have blown away by the fossil fuel advocates in his own party, but he has now announced he is dumping Coalition plans to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and has heralded plans to essentially de-fund the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and replace it with a new 'Clean Energy Innovation Fund'. In view of his past utterances, who knows how much to expect from him on climate change? Bill Shorten believes he has Turnbull's measure in a debate on renewables.

When it comes to his Environment Minister, it is impossible to tell whether or not Greg Hunt is incompetent. I suspect that he does understand climate science, but that in the pursuit of the LNP’s conservative ideological position of climate skepticism, if not denial, he is prepared to abandon science and inflict his gobbledygook on the electorate to give the impression he knows what he’s doing and is protecting us all from environmental harm. For the first time this week though Hunt at last did seem concerned about the degraded state of the Great Barrier Reef. But is there anyone who really believes what this man says? Is he incompetent or simply deceitful?

Verdict: Turnbull and Hunt look incompetent. More likely they are just devious.

Education policy
Here is an area of government where there has been vacillation, indecision and ambivalence. Turnbull knows the value of education, but enslaved by LNP attitudes to the Gonski reforms, has beaten a retreat from the funding that is needed in years five and six. The previous minister, Christopher Pyne, exhibited his incompetence in both the Gonski reforms and the university reforms he tried to implement. He fashioned the mantra: “You can’t solve the schools problem by throwing money at it” as an excuse for doing nothing, and managed to alienate the university student population with his ‘user-pays’ style reforms of the university sector. Having ripped billions of dollars from university funding, the university Vice Chancellors were willing to accept Pyne’s funding model, simply to survive. The matter has not yet been resolved.

Despite styling himself ‘Mr Fixit’, Pyne proved to be incompetent.

Now a nasty row has blown up over the Safe Schools program, which the arch-conservatives in the LNP want defunded. The review that Turnbull foolishly asked the new Minister for Education and Skills, Simon Birmingham to carry out to placate them, has scarcely done so. Predictably, they now question its findings, and some want another. They will never give up their quest to destroy the program, despite its widespread acceptance. Their bigoted language has been shocking. Now we know what to expect from these reactionaries when the pre-plebiscite ‘Sexual Equality’ debate begins!

We have written about this in Safe Schools, Unsafe Politicians

It is to be hoped that Simon Birmingham will make a better fist of the portfolio than his predecessor.

Verdict: Pyne incompetent; Birmingham, Turnbull under test.

Healthcare
Healthcare has always been a problematic area. With the ageing of population, and the escalating cost of an increasing variety of medical interventions, funding the health budget is a headache for any government.

Regarded by the AMA as the worst-ever Minister for Health, Peter Dutton demonstrated his gross incompetence when, in pursuit of savings, he tinkered with Medicare, tried to introduce a co-payment for GP consultations, and in the process put the entire medical profession offside. He failed so badly that Abbott decided to replace him with Sussan Ley.

Ms Ley shows more promise. She is smart, well informed, and has established a better relationship with the profession. Her problem is that she is labouring under the Treasurer’s budgetary constraints that demand savings be made.

Turnbull says little about health, but has maintained the severe cuts to health funding for the States that Abbott and Hockey introduced. He is currently wooing Premiers with modest promises of increased funding.

Verdict: Dutton incompetent; Ley and Turnbull under test.

National Disability Insurance Scheme
Turnbull decided to not have a minister dedicated to oversee the NDIS; instead he has placed it in the Social Services portfolio under Christian Porter who comes to the post with a good reputation. The scheme is underway, but will be expensive as it expands. How well Porter will do under the current budgetary constraints, remains to be seen.

The previous minister, Mitch Fifield, seemed to be doing a reasonable job but he has gone to higher places.

Verdict: Jury still out on Porter.

There are several other areas of government where incompetence is stifling action, but let’s conclude with the NBN.

National Broadband Network
Here is the dilemma. We know Turnbull is a tech head, and is a strong advocate of fast broadband. But from the moment he was instructed by Abbott to ‘demolish the NBN’ that Labor had initiated, he has fiddled with it, diluted it with old technology, underestimated the cost and rollout time, and has thereby given us a second class hybrid scheme when we ought to have had the very best to compete on the world scene.

So is he incompetent or simply compliant with the Treasurer’s demands to cut costs. The sorry story is detailed in More about Puff the Magic Malcolm

Whether the new Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, can salvage some of the wreckage Turnbull has created is still to be determined.

Verdict: Turnbull is probably under the thumb fiscally, but has been incompetent in implementation, rather than incompetent technically. Fifield is under test.

So there it is. The analysis points to significant areas of incompetence in government departments, and gross incompetence among several key ministers.

Too many ministers have risen to their level of incompetence. The Peter Principle has struck again!

Turnbull has yet to demonstrate that he is competent to run an effective and efficient government, especially with fractious reactionaries snapping at his heels. He has dilly-dallied about the upcoming reform packages, the thrust of the Budget, and until this week about the likely timing of the election and whether it will be a double dissolution one or not. Until last Monday morning he seemed indecisive and all at sea – not a sign of competence. Now that he has taken the election plunge we shall see if there are signs of competence hidden beneath his urban exterior. So far he's kept them well hidden.

The jury is out, but it will be the voters who will bring in their verdict when the election is held, whenever that might be. Turnbull will be awaiting their decision with trepidation.




What do you think?
What are your views about PM Turnbull’s competence six months in?

How do you rate the competence of his key ministers?

How do you rate the competence of the Turnbull government?

Does it deserve re-election?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.


An ode to Mal Brough

Malcolm Thomas Brough was born in December 1961. He is the current member of parliament for the seat of Fisher, based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Between 1996 and 2007, he was the member for Longman, based on Brisbane’s outer northern suburbs. Brough recently announced his retirement from parliament would take effect at the next election. His brother Rob is also reasonably well known around the country as the host of a retired version of the TV game show Family Feud and he still reads the news on a regional Queensland television network.

Mal Brough was an army officer and ran some small businesses on the Sunshine Coast prior to his entry into parliament. He was also ‘noticed’ early by the powers that be in the Liberal Party. Despite being elected originally in 1996, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business in 2000, Minister for Employment Services in 2001, Assistant Treasurer in 2004 and went on to be the Minister for Revenue. In January 2006 he was appointed Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, a position he held until he lost his seat (along with John Howard) in the November 2007 election.

As minister for indigenous affairs Brough was the minister behind the Northern Territory Emergency Response in 2006, where the claim was made that reductions in social security payments and an increase in presence of ‘the authorities’ would somehow combat alleged high rates of child abuse and neglect in the outlying settlements of the Territory.

The Monthly, in an article from September 2013, paints a less than appealing side of Brough’s personality.
The Northern Territory intervention, the declaration of what amounted to martial law in Aboriginal communities awash with grog and plagued by child abuse, seemed the perfect vehicle for the captain-turned-politician. As indigenous affairs minister, he could bark out orders and expect them to be obeyed. Certainly, Howard thought Brough’s military background equipped him with the “right style” for the job. “His army training had given him a mix of authority and mateship,” he wrote admiringly in his memoir.

In making the case for the intervention, Brough projected the air of a commander addressing his troops on the eve of battle. The Australian public, he declared to parliament, were “willing to put their shoulder to the wheel when they feel that finally they can help to improve the lot of their fellow Australian citizens — the first Australians.” He concluded: “This is a great national endeavour and it is the right thing to do.”
Once he was out of parliament Brough became president of the Queensland Liberal Party for five months until the merger of alleged equals with the Queensland National Party was to occur. Brough resigned as president as well as a member of the party. According to The Monthly: “I’ve just had a gutful, quite frankly,” he told Fairfax Radio.

Under the terms of the formation of the LNP in Queensland, existing MP’s were guaranteed pre-selection for the 2010 election, and moderate Liberal Alex Somlyay in Fairfax as well as former Liberal but at the time National Peter Slipper in Fisher chose to take advantage of the guarantee, despite Somlyay recovering from throat cancer and Slipper’s less that stellar local reputation. It is claimed that Tony Abbott offered Somlyay an overseas posting to ‘free up’ a seat for Brough but the offer was refused. While the matter was referred to the Australian Federal Police, nothing ever came from the complaint.

It is history that Slipper accepted the offer from the ALP Government to become Speaker of the House subsequent to the 2010 election — and subsequently resigned from the LNP. Brough announced his intention to ‘serve the people of Fisher’ in December 2010 for the 2013 election knowing that pre-selection guarantees were a one off deal for the 2010 Federal election. The LNP’s leadership would have preferred James McGrath, the architect of Campbell Newman’s Queensland election victory and a former advisor to Boris Johnston, Conservative Party Lord Mayor of London, to be the candidiate in 2013. By the stage of the preselection however, Brough had built up local support and was subsequently selected to be the LNP candidate. Slipper ran as an independent.

Brough and Slipper’s aide, James Ashby, met during 2012. The details of that and subsequent meetings, together with the subsequent unofficial release of Slipper’s official diary entries by Ashby to a News Australia journalist via Brough are still under investigation by the Australian Federal Police. Independent Australia has written extensively on what they have termed Ashbygate — should you wish to read further, their reading list is here. Turnbull government ministers Christopher Pyne and Wyatt Roy are also under investigation over the same issue.

There is no way to know what the federal police are investigating, as quite rightly they will announce the area of their enquiry (in this case the misuse of official information — namely the diaries of the Speaker of the House) but not the specifics. It would be akin to the state police announcing that they will be knocking on the door at a specific address at 2.30pm in seven days’ time to look for evidence of an armed robbery. No doubt, if the evidence was in existence, it would not be where the police told the world they would be looking in seven days!

Having said that, investigators don’t just start looking into people’s lives because they drive a silver car, are holding a busload of people up on Monday morning when they can’t find their bus card or other meaningless justification. There has to be evidence of some potential misdeed reported to the authority with jurisdiction prior to an investigation being launched. Apart from the resourcing issue (investigations cost money for staff wages, telecommunications, office space and the rest of it), there has to be a reason to place people under a certain amount of (possibly unfair) speculation surrounding being the subject of ‘investigations from the authorities’.

It could also be suggested that politicians, as leaders of the community are held to a higher level of behaviour than others. Is it equitable? Probably not, but it is easy to argue that those who make the rules for others should clearly abide by the rules.

For instance, police, public officials and so on are expected to avoid conflicts of interest and uphold the laws they have a responsibility to enforce. Justices of the Peace — who are volunteers in the legal system — are not permitted to accept any reward for their services (in Queensland at least) and are expected to report any conviction made against them to the relevant government office. Should such a report be made, the expectation would be the Justice of the Peace will be asked to resign their office.

Malcolm Turnbull obviously knew when he appointed Brough, Pyne and Roy to his front bench that there was a possibility the investigations that were underway would produce evidence of some misdeed. As we have already discussed, the police don’t investigate people for the fun of it.

So why did Turnbull appoint them? Surely he has enough political smarts to realise that appointing three ministers who potentially will have to resign in disgrace wouldn’t be a good look — as well as being (several) ‘free kicks’ to the opposition parties. But then again, Turnbull doesn’t seem to consider how his choices and actions will be received at all. Perhaps it is a ‘born to rule’ mentality; perhaps it is that he believes the triple twists (with pike) that he has performed over the past few months since becoming prime minister; or perhaps he believes that we all want him to be prime minister so badly, we’ll accept anything.

To be fair, conversations about refugees, climate change, tax cuts, budget repair and so on are all things that Turnbull inherited from Abbott, and it does take time to turn around the workings of any large organisation including the federal government. Upon gaining the prime ministership, Turnbull claimed there would be a great deal of difference between him and his predecessor(s). Last November, Mark Kenny from Fairfax observed
Turnbull is in a hurry and his core message is the same to all of them [the impressive array of summits he attended soon after gaining office]. Australia, he wants them to know, is back — back in the international community, back participating in multilateral forums, back in the digital economy, back in the climate change discussion, back in the 21st century.

His oft-made observation that the household internet names — Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and Netflix — would still be in short pants if they were people, is designed to communicate his relaxed relationship with economic disruption, with change as opportunity rather than threat.

Such observations fit perfectly into Turnbull's nuanced Australia presentation — one that eschews dogma, and instead synthesises solutions as needed, applying the best arguments and policies for a given problem. Results are all that matters, he says.
By 9 February 2016, even Andrew Bolt was questioning the ability of Turnbull to get anything done. Michael Gordon, The Age’s political editor discussed Turnbull’s metamorphosis from charming persuader to brazen scaremonger, from agent of optimism to voice of doom, and from true believer to barrister with a brief. Gordon, unlike Bolt, actually made an attempt at analysis of the problems Turnbull faces:
The dangers are everywhere: recalcitrants on the backbench who will revolt if Turnbull proposes anything they do not like; a Treasurer still struggling to justify his can-do reputation; and the prospect of Australia's longest election campaign since the 10-week odyssey of 1984.

But the biggest danger is that the approach invites cynicism on two fronts. The first is that Turnbull's scaremongering is at odds with his previously stated convictions on negative gearing. Just like his embrace of a plebiscite on marriage equality, or "direct action" on climate change. This is why he needs to announce his tax plans sooner rather than later and focus on his blueprint for the future.
Turnbull was communications minister in the Abbott government. So let’s have a look at NBNCo something he had carriage of — the NBN. You might remember the ALP were going to connect over 90% of Australian properties to a fibre cable, much faster that the currently available ADSL and ensure that those who missed out on the direct fibre connection were to receive access to similar speeds through the use of satellites. The LNP claimed that the network proposed by the ALP was gold plated, the roll out too long and not worth the money it was going to cost. Turnbull’s plan (after Abbott made him communications minister and publically gave him the task of destroying the NBN) was going to be completed much sooner, much cheaper and more affordably. So how’s that going? According to an internal NBNCo report:
the giant infrastructure project has fallen two-thirds short of its benchmark construction timetable. Connection costs to each house or business are also blowing out. The model had been marketed to voters as superior to Labor's NBN because it was ‘Fast. Affordable. Sooner’.

The ‘final design’ process for connections — needed before construction can start — is running far behind schedule, according to the February 19 report.

The Coalition's NBN roll-out is beset by delays and rising costs. While 1,402,909 premises should have been approved at the date of the report, the figure was sitting at 662,665 — 740,000 fewer than planned. The snapshot says NBN Co has achieved 29,005 fibre-to-the-node ‘construction completions’, while noting its internally budgeted target for this period was more than three times that at 94,273.
So sooner — nope; cheaper — probably not; affordable — not only is it looking like not being any more affordable to build, but the running costs are higher as each of the ‘nodes’ on street corners to convert the digital signal from the fibre to the analogue signal used in the household copper connections needs a power connection and electricity to operate.

The NBN failure is entirely Turnbull’s fault as he was the minister who had carriage of the project for an extended period of time. It was on his watch; he was responsible and the argument that he inherited the mess when he took over as prime minister is clearly a fiction.

Sometime in the next six months, Turnbull is going to be appearing on your TV and on your internet screen suggesting that he leads a government than can creditably manage this country for the next three years. Just remember:
  1. how he has managed the NBN rollout since 2013 (it was his job under Abbott),
  2. his ethics in the appointment of Mal Brough to his ministry, as well as
  3. how the ultra-conservatives are still driving the real agenda
and the only reason he’s there is that his party determined the previous bloke was worse.

What do you think?


On which leg does the Liberal Party stand?


The Liberal Party often describes itself as ‘a broad church’, particularly when its parliamentarians are expressing different views. It is to be expected that political parties will contain within them people with different views on some issues but it seems the Liberal Party has a basic philosophical dilemma.

John Howard famously described himself as ‘an economic liberal and a social conservative’ and referred to the philosophic traditions of John Stuart Mill (considered the ‘father’ of liberalism) and Edmund Burke (the ’father’ of conservatism) for those positions:
Mill and Burke are interwoven into the history and the practice and the experience of our political party.
The words of Mill emphasise the central role of the individual:
The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to attain it.
In that regard, speaking at the launch of The Conservative at Parliament House on 8 September 2005, Howard said:
… we are a party that is committed to the role of the individual. … If you look for evidence of the classic liberal tradition within our embrace and within our activity, we think of our commitment to labour market reform. … labour market reform is about transferring power from institutions to individuals.
When working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs during the Howard years, it became quite apparent that we were not supposed to talk about ‘Aboriginal communities’. The whole government approach to both white and non-white people was about individuals and families. But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (including Noel Pearson who had some influence with that government for a while) spoke of families and communities, not individuals. The overlap of course was families but even that was understood in different ways with the government thinking in terms of nuclear families and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in terms of extended families. Little wonder there was not common ground on most issues.

And in Battlelines Tony Abbot put it this way, echoing Mill:
… the Liberal Party is concerned about the rights, responsibilities, opportunities and place in society of each person. We want each person to be empowered, as far as reasonably possible, to live the life he or she thinks best.
In his book, Abbott also refers to Howard’s approach to policy:
… policy should meet three criteria: does it strengthen the family, give individuals more incentive and hope, and give preference to private over government enterprise?
The last element captures what has become the modern neoliberal approach of small government and a fervent belief in competitive capitalism, that private enterprise will always provide better outcomes than government services.

The more extreme version of this approach is captured by Senator Leyonhjelm when he opposes mandatory wearing of bicycle helmets and measures to reduce smoking — it is not government’s role to protect people from themselves, as this amounts to the ‘nanny state’ (although it ignores the cost to the wider community of such behaviours). Although not a member of the Liberal Party, there are a number in the party who share such views.

Edmund Burke was not initially seen as a conservative. As part of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, he supported greater freedom in Ireland and opposed the British war against the American colonists. It was his reaction to the French Revolution that ultimately was to make him the ‘father’ of modern conservatism but that was also consistent with some of his earlier works. He rejected the idea of a ‘social contract’, as espoused by Hobbes and Locke, suggesting instead that the relationship between individuals and the state was a product of history and while change could occur it should be gradual — as it had been throughout history. The ‘natural law’ was a result of that evolutionary process but also based on god’s law as that was reflected in ‘man’ as a creation of god. From that he supported the institutions of society: so he could support the role of both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches (although favouring the Anglican). What he disliked about the direction of the French Revolution was that it was based on a ‘vision’ of society and was making enforced changes to achieve that, rather than allowing a gradual and natural evolution. (He accepted England’s ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 primarily because it returned England to its traditional form of governance and society.)

In the same speech referred to earlier in 2005, Howard laid out his conservative credentials:
I am sceptical of radical reform in society. In fact, I’ve been a profound opponent of radically changing the social context in which we live. As Liberals we support and respect the greatest institution in our society, and that is the family. There is no institution that provides more emotional support and reassurance to the individual than the family. There is no institution incidentally which is a more efficient deliverer of social welfare than a united, affectionate, functioning family. It’s the best social welfare policy that mankind has ever devised.
Tony Abbott, when Health Minister in the Howard government, also clearly expounded the conservative approach to change (from speech notes at the Queensland Press Club, August 2005):
… the Howard government has never shirked fundamental reform, if it is necessary to solve serious problems. By the same token, conservative governments don’t lightly make systemic changes. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “if it is broke, fix it, don’t throw it away” are good conservative instincts … To some extent at least, nearly all reforms end up illustrating the iron law of unintended consequences. The theoretical benefits of structural change need to be weighed against the real costs of the disruption which significant change always entails.
Abbott continued his very conservative social position when prime minister with his deliberate procrastination over marriage equality for non-heterosexual couples, his expressed discomfort with homosexuality and his views on the role of women:
What the housewives of Australia need to understand, as they do the ironing, is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price - and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up.
And he believes passionately in the importance of Western and christian values:
Western civilisation came to this country in 1788 and I’m proud of that …
But, like Howard, he adopted a liberal (or neoliberal) economic approach. As he is reported to have written recently:
The government’s economic narrative had been clear from the beginning — lower taxes, less regulation and higher productivity.
Each is a neoliberal approach offering less government involvement and keeping wages down, as productivity in the neoliberal world is chiefly measured by the input price of labour.

Turnbull arrived as prime minister, professing both liberal social and economic views. It was a little more old-style Liberal and an approach that caught the public’s attention after the very conservative social values of Howard and Abbott. But, to date, he has disappointed by maintaining Abbott’s conservative social policies.

How can the Liberals wind these two strands of thought into a single political philosophy? On the surface, it would seem that there are some inconsistencies between the two: liberalism emphasises the right of the individual to make their own decisions meaning ‘small government’ and minimal government regulation and, as Howard claimed about labour market reform, giving more power to individuals over institutions.

In October 2014, when the Mining Tax was repealed, the legislation also included slowing the process to increase superannuation for workers. Senator Lazarus, then speaking for PUP which had agreed to the changes, and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, both emphasised that this gave individuals more money in their own pocket. Cormann went so far as to suggest people could now decide what to do with their extra money:
"This is not an adverse, unexpected change as it will leave Australian workers with more of their own money pre-retirement which they can spend on paying down their mortgage, spend on other matters or save for their retirement through superannuation as they see fit," Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the Senate.
That is a classic liberal, or now neoliberal, approach.

The conservative, however, emphasises traditional values, slow incremental change and the maintenance of society’s institutions.

Back in 2001, then Treasurer Costello, gave a hint of the Liberal link between liberalism and conservatism by suggesting that reduced government involvement (liberalism) left more space for society’s established institutions (conservatism):
… we ought to get governments out as far as possible, out of family lives, you ought to let non-government institutions of society, like the family and the school and the community and the church take a lot of slack.
So, is that the key to the Liberals’ combination of liberalism and conservatism? It may work if both sides of that divide take a moderate position but it appears that in more recent times both the liberals/neoliberals and conservatives have taken more strident positions within their respective philosophies. That makes the combination of the positions within the Liberals that much more difficult.

The conservative side is represented by Senator Cory Bernardi:
Society will always do better where citizens have a belief in justice, honour and private morality. Where individuals are reduced to the satisfaction of personal appetites society will decline. The need to preserve society is at the very heart of conservatism and the absolute moral truths that are required for this preservation are not subject to change.

Today, despite different backgrounds, those of us who are willing to respect the traditions and history of this country can join together under one national banner as Australians. this is the kind of unity that the conservative will embrace, not the superficial and divisive ‘diversity’ talk of the radical, who prefers to constantly re-create the nation according to some momentary fashionable utopian image and denounces all patriotic sentiment as jingoistic and bigoted. [emphasis added]
More recently, in regard to the Safe Schools program:
Senator Cory Bernardi told the ABC the program was seeing children "being bullied and intimidated into complying with a radical program".
"It's not about gender, it's not about sexuality," he said.
"It makes everyone fall into line with a political agenda.
"Our schools should be places of learning, not indoctrination."
Although Bernardi’s views are now considered more extreme, they are entirely consistent with the Burkean tradition, emphasising traditional values and dismissing utopian visions of society.

By way of contrast, if we go back a little in Australian political history, it could be argued that until the 1980s Australia adopted a conservative economic approach, with tariff protection for our industries. Both Labor and Liberal supported that approach. The Liberals had a more liberal approach to social issues and Labor sometimes adopted more radical social policies. Currently, it could be said that the Nationals now represent both conservative economic and social positions. Since the 1980s, Labor has also adopted a more liberal/neoliberal economic policy but remains more committed to a radical or progressive position on some social issues, meaning that it is more willing to undertake government intervention to support social outcomes.

Have the Liberals adopted conservative social policies because Labor now mostly shares the neoliberal economic approach and that is less a point of differentiation between the parties? Did it have to express such views to stand apart? It does use its liberal philosophy to oppose Labor’s interventionist approach but underpins its opposition with its conservative philosophy — that is, the individual should be free to make their own decisions but within the framework of the traditional values and institutions (which some would argue, as in the marriage equality debate, actually restricts the freedom of the individual).

So which leg do the Liberals really stand on? Are they liberal or conservative? Or, as John Howard professed, do they jump from leg to leg depending whether it is a social or economic issue? Are the two approaches really compatible? We do have to remember that, historically, the liberal and conservative traditions in Australia drew together not for any reason of a logical marriage of ideas but to present a united front against the ‘socialism’ of the Labor party which was considered more dangerous than the differences between the liberal and conservative philosophies.

The modern versions of liberalism and conservatism seem to have moved from middle of the road positions to more extreme positions making the matching of the two philosophies more difficult and that seems to be reflected in the current problems and disagreements within the Liberal party.

While those more extreme positions remain in play, it will be difficult for the Liberal party to present a united front. It may remain a ‘broad church’ but it will be a church divided.

What do you think?


Malcolm’s Bitter Harvest



It would be trite to begin with the platitude: You reap what you sow. To Malcolm Turnbull though, that cliché must have an ominous ring about it as he reflects on his past. To what extent has he brought upon himself the political troubles that afflict him now?

His career was illustrious before he entered federal politics, but once inside the rabbit fence the rules changed and so did he.

Brought up by his father, he had a sound education at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney, from which he graduated in Arts and Law, and on a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford he took a degree in Civil Law.

He is remembered as an adventurous barrister defending Kerry Packer against the ‘Goanna’ allegations made by the Costigan Commission, and is famous for his success in the ‘Spycatcher case’ when he took on and defeated the UK government, which was trying to suppress the publication of the book of the same name by Peter Wright, a former MI5 official.

He tried his hand at journalism, moved into merchant banking and became managing director and later a partner at Goldman Sachs. Subsequently he showed his entrepreneurship and technical skills when he oversaw the expansion of Internet Service Provider OzEmail, which he later sold for $60 million. He was Chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, and entered federal politics in 2004.

Even his opponents acknowledge his intelligence, his enterprise, and his substantial achievements. So how has it come to this?

This week, Bernard Keane began an article in Crikey: The Abbott legacy: Turnbull heads for the worst of both worlds with: “
The political chattering class owes the people of Australian an apology. Nearly all of us, to a woman, were badly off-beam about the transformation of Australian politics last September. We were overcome with a sense of relief that the chaos and debacle of the Abbott era was over…

“Enter Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull the adult, Turnbull the brilliant communicator, a changed Turnbull who had learnt his lessons from 2009 and would now lead a rational, mature, consultative government. He promised to give us a genuinely Liberal government, in contrast to the reactionary rabble he had just ousted, and he promised reform via an intelligent conversation with the electorate. The years of destructive, negative politics from Abbott, the years of internecine squabbling from Labor, were at long last over.

“For a while it seemed to work. Turnbull was charming and, yes, Prime Ministerial. He refused to rule out reform options, insisting he was going to change politics by refusing to play those sort of petty games…

“Then it went wrong. Turnbull's government is adrift, there's open warfare within it…the much-vaunted tax reform package will be barely worth the term ‘minimalist’, with almost every worthwhile tax reform now ruled out because of backbench pressure, the desire to run an uncluttered scare campaign…

“What we missed in the relief rally that accompanied Turnbull's ascension was that merely because there was a new prime minister, that didn't mean the underlying causes that drove Australian politics into the ground in the first place had vanished. They were still there, and still capable of damaging politics and policy.”


Many of us, while enjoying the prospect of a more progressive prime minister to replace the reactionary conservative Abbott, had our reservations.

Puff the Magic Malcolm published on 18 February on The Political Sword, began with an initial optimistic paragraph that ended: “Most important though was his stated vision for this nation: it was upbeat, forward-looking, encouraging and exciting…” But the second and third paragraphs read: “
Those of us who have followed politics for many years had reservations though. We remembered how after his rather brutal takeover from Brendan Nelson to become Leader of the Opposition in 2008, he offered much promise to his party and to the electorate. Many applauded particularly his enlightened views on global warming and his collaboration with Kevin Rudd to mitigate it. But after a promising start, an ill-considered instance of over-reach brought him undone. Failing to do the due diligence required of an accomplished barrister, a disturbed Liberal mole in Treasury, Godwin Grech, led him up the garden path with a fake email. He remained there, stranded and exposed as one too obsessed with bringing down a prime minister and his treasurer. ‘Utegate’ uncovered a fatal flaw in Turnbull’s personality. He did not recover fully until he removed Abbott in September last year.

But everyone knows that to garner the votes he needed to replace the unpopular Abbott, he had to compromise many of his beliefs and principles. Just how many, and to what extent, we would soon discover.”
Turnbull has sown the seeds of his own decline, and possibly his own destruction.

He took on the leadership with some cherished principles and beliefs:
- the need for action on global warming
- the need for marriage equality
- the need to move to a republic
- the importance of the Gonski school reforms
- the need for superfast broadband for all
- a cities policy with emphasis on public transport
- the need for sound economic management (which he believed his predecessor lacked).

One by one he has diluted or abandoned each of these:

Far from his support for an emissions trading scheme in the Rudd era, and his sarcasm about the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, which he described as a ‘fig leaf’ for doing nothing, on becoming PM he immediately endorsed it, took it to Paris, and left us looking dangerously inattentive to climate change in the eyes of the world. And recently he has done nothing about the decision of Larry Marshall, chief executive of CSIRO to slash 110 positions in the Oceans and Atmosphere division, effect a similarly sharp reduction in the Land and Water division, and reorient climate change activities. Overseas climate scientists are alarmed that they will lose an important data-gathering source. Turnbull has been unmoved.

His support for marriage equality has been seriously diluted by his acceptance of the Abbott delaying tactic of a plebiscite after the election at a wasteful cost of $160 million. In similar vein, his support for the ‘Safe Schools’ program that supports gender diversity and counters bullying of LGBTI children, has been diluted by his authorization of an ‘investigation’ into it. In both these instances, the hard right conservatives and the Australian Christian Lobby have been let loose with their divisive propaganda.

His reaction to the revisiting of the Gonski reforms was unenthusiastic. He allowed the same old negative rhetoric of the Abbott/Pyne era to resurface, thereby giving it credence: “ You can’t fix the school curriculum by throwing money at it. No alternative was offered, with or without money.

His management of the NBN after Abbott ordered him years ago ‘to demolish it’ has been no better than Labor’s, which he ridiculed in such derogatory terms. It is still far behind schedule, costs are rising inexorably and will likely exceed the cost of Labor’s NBN, and the technology is antiquated.

His cities policy and his advocacy for public transport seem to have taken a back seat. Big promises; little achieved.

And as for the superior economic leadership and fiscal management that he insisted was needed after what Abbott gave us, it has all but evaporated. After hand-on-heart promises of comprehensive tax reform and attention to industrial relations, we are now facing a desolate scene as the fiscally inexperienced Morrison struggles to formulate his May Budget with virtually all his options propelled by a fractious Abbott-led backbench into the too-hard basket.



How has this all come about?

The answer is straightforward. Abbott and his henchmen, some of whom sit on the backbench, have made almost impossible every move Turnbull wanted to make.


The hard right reactionaries, supported by the coal lobby, have made action on global warming dangerously difficult.

The same neo-conservatives, aided and abetted by the ACL, have got their teeth into the sexual equality and Safe Schools debates, and have already debased them.

The Gonski reforms sit on the shelf, opposed by the Abbott conservatives who do not believe in equal opportunity for good schooling irrespective of postcode, income and ethnicity. How many of these are themselves recipients of private education, who believe in ‘user pays’? If you can’t pay, too bad!

The NBN will remain second rate because of the mixed technology and copper wire connections to the premises. Why the LNP does not warmly embrace FTTP technology, so essential for a first world economy and competiveness, seems mysterious until one recognizes that the FTTP NBN was a Labor initiative, and therefore must be denigrated and despoiled by the LNP.

Behind all this opposition is an Abbott-led Fifth Column of reactionaries, who still bridle at what happened to their man. It is determined to show us that they were absolutely right when in power. Abbott announced last week in Japan that he wears his 2014 Budget as a badge of honour. At the weekly party meeting he again called for spending cuts, particularly to welfare, and tax cuts, which will benefit mainly the wealthy.

Abbott has another objective: to upend and replace PM Turnbull. Anyone who doubts this has a faulty memory for Abbott’s characteristics. He has always been a poor loser way back to his student days. He is a bare-knuckle street fighter who never gives up his quest to destroy his enemies – destroy, not simply defeat. Turnbull is his enemy, notwithstanding Abbott’s vow to do all he can to have the Turnbull government re-elected. This is another of his lying utterances, like his promise that there will be no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping. Now all of these are happening! His erroneous comments about the delay to the purchase of submarines were an overt attempt at wrecking and undermining.

There is now talk of the ‘Second Abbott government’. Already he is out and about with another set of slogans he believes will win government: He has condensed Labor's election promises to a threat of: ‘five new taxes’ a housing tax (negative gearing), a wealth tax (capital gains), a seniors tax (superannuation), a workers tax (smokers), and the carbon tax. It is vintage scaremongering Abbott, but his behaviour is infuriating his colleagues. He has declared open war on Turnbull.



So has Malcolm sown the seeds of the harvest he is now reaping?

Yes. His bitter harvest is the direct result of his willingness to sacrifice so many of his sacred principles and policies in order to scavenge the votes he needed for leadership.

He put his longstanding ambition to be prime minister ahead of his deeply held values and principles. He ought to have known that the Shylocks who extracted that price are ruthless operatives for whom power is all that matters. They will never give up. They are determined reactionaries, hell-bent on upholding their ultra-conservative beliefs at all costs. Indeed, some believe it would be better to lose the election in order to cleanse the LNP of the moderate elements and restore and protect conservative values. To them, that is of supreme importance.

We should not be surprised at their destructive behaviour. They will not change; they cannot. They will fight to the bitter end in what is now clearly a life and death struggle between Turnbull and his moderates and the Abbott-led extreme right wing reactionaries. Abbott told us often that the LNP is not Labor. He was right. The LNP is now set upon a course even more self-destructive than that of Labor.

Malcolm’s Bitter Harvest is upon him. He has reaped what he sowed.




What do you think?
What are your views about PM Turnbull six months in?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.


The Peta Principle – how Abbott rose to the level of his incompetence



‘What’s wrong with Tony Abbott?” It’s a question that’s been asked ever since he rose to prominence as party leader, if not before. But then the question had a whimsical ring about it. What was wrong with a leader who was so nasty, so misogynist, so belligerent, so hell bent upon the destruction of his enemies? People had their answers, answers that went back to his early days in student politics. We wrote about it on The Political Sword in late 2009 in The pugilistic politician. The conclusion was that this was Abbott’s nature, malevolent though it was.

Over the years we have seen a man who rose from ministerial ranks to opposition leader where he was deemed to be competent, to prime minister where he was manifestly incompetent.

Abbott’s rise is a classic example of a management principle enunciated by Laurence J. Peter in his famous 1969 book: The Peter Principle, in which he asserted that as managers are promoted, they "rise to the level of their incompetence." We have written about The Peter Principle before.

Let’s trace Abbott’s path. The media was lavish in its praise for his performance as opposition leader, some going so far as to assert that he was the best ever, presumably arguing that aggression, confrontation, adversarial behaviour and ceaseless negativity were the preferred ways to electoral success. Murdoch journalists particularly barracked for him endlessly. Defeat of the detested Labor government and the installation of a grown-up, adult Coalition government was all that mattered; the means, no matter how ruthless, were irrelevant.

So it came to pass. The tacit assumption, rarely ever challenged, was that Abbott’s electoral success would translate into success in government. Some of us challenged that assumption, but who was listening?

Back as far as July 2011 we plumbed the forbidding prospect of an Abbott prime ministership on The Political Sword in If Tony Abbott were PM, and again in August 2013 in Say no, no, no to Tony Abbott, we predicted the disaster that Abbott would become in government. The media though, and much of the public, were sanguine. The right-wing think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, now had their puppet captive in the most powerful position in the land. It soon filled Abbott's policy free zone with a list of 75 policy suggestions.

Then along came his actual behaviour as prime minister.

We observed it month after awful month. Many could see a dysfunctional pattern developing as Abbott tried to apply to governance the strategies that got him elected. He seemed not to see that different strategies were needed in government; he seemed to think that persistent negativity would again win the day for him. Some columnists were prepared to point this out, but the Murdoch media continued to be his advocate, making excuses for his increasingly aberrant behaviour, hoping to see some change towards effective governance. It never came. Eventually, even News Limited journalists started to show doubts, and gave subtle warnings to Abbott. But excuse making continued, hoping that soon Abbott would wake up.

There was one journalist though who wrote regular columns in The Australian, Niki Savva, who did begin to express reservations about Abbott and his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin.

Now Savva has put the cat among the pigeons with her just-published book: The Road to Ruin – How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government. Even the title is revealing: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin destroyed their own Government. Savva’s story shows how Credlin believed it was as much her government as Abbott’s. Herein lies the clue to the most extraordinary relationship that came about between Abbott and Credlin, one that achieved success in opposition but lamentable failure in government.

Although Savva’s book has been available only this week, the published excerpts and the media comments of the author and her interviewers provide enough detail for preliminary analysis.

It is not the purpose of this piece to explore whether the relationship between Abbott and Credlin was sexual in the sense they were sleeping together. Some feel affronted by this possibility; most are more concerned with the deeper relationship where Credlin seemed to have an overweening influence over Abbott, a relationship where Abbott seemed dependent on her for advice, strategies and instructions about how to run government day by day. Credlin insisted she got Abbott and the Coalition into power and that Abbott could not run the government without her. Moreover, she believed that what worked in opposition would work in government. The pattern of behaviour continued. What she failed to comprehend was that Abbott, and perhaps she too, had been promoted to their level of incompetence.

Many were worried about her tactics and her influence. Those close to Abbott were concerned, even apprehensive about her, and the way she manipulated him. Savva documents these concerns in a number of on-the-record statements ministers, backbenchers and public servants made to her. So angry and frustrated were they about Credlin’s autocratic behaviour that they were prepared to put their name to them.

What then went wrong with Tony Abbott?

Clearly, he was profoundly influenced by Credlin, dependent on her advice, and needed her instructions about what to say and how to say it. What he did not realize was that her advice was no longer relevant now that he was Prime Minister.

He wanted her to be close to him in meetings, even with international dignitaries, willing to let her run the political show, even foreign policy, happy to let her decide on his appointments, his appearances, even small details of protocol. He allowed her to micromanage his office and his cabinet, to interact with his staff, his ministers and with public servants, to instruct them, even about staff appointments, and to discipline and bully them if they disobeyed or disappointed her, sometimes in an undignified way.



Credlin’s behaviour repeatedly evoked adverse reactions and anger, among even senior people, many of whom she treated with disdain. Many of these have ventilated their longstanding resentment and frustration in Savva’s book. Many sought her removal, but Abbott would have none of that. His attachment and dependency were too great. Likewise, senior party figures warned Abbott, and at the time of the February 2014 spill advised him to get rid of Credlin. Rupert Murdoch demanded, nay ordered Abbott to sack his Chief of Staff. The advice was never heeded.

Abbott allowed Credlin to run an insular, secretive PMO that excluded many, where she overplayed her hand repeatedly, where she was dominantly in charge.

Unquestionably, she is a prepossessing woman: intelligent, accomplished, assured, and overbearing. No doubt it would have been difficult to control her, to hold her back. But it was Abbott who was selected to lead the government, not Credlin. He ought to have been in control. In Say no, no, no to Abbott, it was postulated that in government Abbott would exhibit conflicting attributes: vengefulness and weakness. He has certainly exhibited vengefulness that all can see. But only now are we seeing the depth of his weakness. Unable to govern himself, he was so weak that he handed over governance and many of his prime ministerial functions to his Chief of Staff: he openly referred to her, and it seemed, increasingly deferred to her as the ‘Boss’. The fact that this person was a woman is immaterial; it is the fact that he recklessly handed away his responsibilities to another that is reprehensible.

What is astonishing is that the work of government could be so readily handed over to a non-elected person by someone like Abbott, who shows so much machismo, who flaunts his masculinity, who enjoys so much playing the tough guy, tough enough to ‘shirtfront’ Vladimir Putin.

Behavioural psychologists and psychiatrists would relish debating the Abbott/Credlin relationship, and attempting to attach a diagnostic label.

I will not try to emulate them, but even the untrained must be asking themselves what sort of behavioural problem, what sort of psychiatric condition each might have, and what sort of pathological relationship they might have had.

‘Emotional dependence’, where an individual can’t make decisions without the other, springs to mind. The influence of Credlin is reminiscent of that of Svengali, the evil hypnotist in the novel Trilby by George Du Maurier. Colloquially, ‘a Svengali’ is used to describe a person who completely dominates another, usually with selfish or evil motives.

Whatever the psychiatric diagnosis might be, there is no doubt that Savva’s book documents the intensity and extent of the relationship that existed between Credlin and Abbott and its awful outcomes that proved to be so counterproductive and injurious to them both and destructive to the government they led.

This situation is more fitted to the drama of the theatre than to real life day-to-day politics, yet there it was under our very noses, at the pinnacle of our national government. How could such a situation have ever arisen? We have seen dysfunction in our federal government before, but nothing like this!

Who is to blame? While some point the finger at Credlin, clearly Abbott is the culprit. He was the prime minister, the one in charge. He should have been calling the shots. We at The Political Sword pointed out long before Abbott became prime minister that he would be a dud should he get that job. It was only when he got it that it dawned on him that he wasn’t up to it, and so he turned to Credlin. Too inexperienced for national governance, Linus-style, Abbott reached out for his security blanket – Peta Credlin. Sadly for him, and the nation, she could not rescue him from his own incompetence. Together they resorted to opposition tactics and wrecked the government.

An even more bizarre twist to this story is that Abbott, along with some of his sycophants, still hold out hope for a second Abbott government, an exercise in delusion of monumental proportions. Well connected people in Canberra predict that if Abbott tried to topple Turnbull, he’d be lucky now to get even a tiny handful of votes; Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews, Peter Dutton, Andrew Nikolic et al - the so-called ‘Monkey Pod’- are likely all who are still waving Abbott’s flag.

So let’s not engage in speculation about whether their relationship was sexually intimate. It matters not. The only conclusion that is tenable is that Abbott was incompetent and insecure as prime minister. He was a dud; he did not know how to govern or how to consult; he did not know how to assume the vast and widely variable responsibilities of his position.

In a classic illustration of the Peter Principle, Abbott had risen to his level of incompetence. He turned to the only one he thought could save him, Peta. But she too was a victim of this same principle; in her case, let’s call it the ‘Peta’ Principle. She had risen to her level of incompetence. She couldn’t save him and didn’t. End of story!

What do you think?
What are your views about Niki Savva's account of the Abbott/Credlin saga, and this assessment of it?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.


Let’s talk about tax

Taxes are the things that provide services to the community. They provide transport, social security, defence, education, parks, rubbish removal and so on.

While state and local government provide most of the services we Australians consume on a daily basis, the federal government is the level of government with the majority of the powers to enable taxation to be collected to provide those services. So state governments have to go to the federal government to ask for money, and local governments rely on grants from the state government (because local governments are prevented by the constitution to go directly to the federal government). Yup — it’s as clear as mud but that’s the system as it currently operates. How it works is complicated. You may remember when the Victorian state government changed in 2014 and the new premier Daniel Andrews wished to replace a road tunnel under central Melbourne with a train tunnel. Then PM Abbott, who admitted he wasn’t a fan of public transport, wanted his road-tunnel funding back. Current PM Turnbull, who posts selfies on buses and train stations, is in the process of returning the funding taken from Victoria. Clearly, the higher level of government can impose its will over the subordinate levels.

It seems that when Mike Baird (Premier of NSW) suggested he would look favourably at a GST increase during 2015, he started (either consciously or unconsciously) the great tax debate of 2016. Baird’s rationale for the comments about a GST increase was that the federal government was planning to rip $80 billion from the grants given to the states to run healthcare and education. The money from the GST goes (in theory) entirely to the states and so an increase would mean the states would get their money back.

The losers here are the members of the public as we would all have to pay the additional tax on the majority of goods and services we purchase. In addition, the discussion included proposals to widen the GST so that goods and services that are currently exempt from the tax would be a ‘taxable supply’ item. The suggestion was that the federal government would retain some of the increase to ‘mitigate’ the increased taxation on those who could least afford it.

By application and implementation, any consumption tax such as the GST mounts a greater attack on the wallets of those on the lower income levels. Various groups who have a number of clients from a low socio-economic level claimed it was a bad idea, including the South Australian Council of Social Services, which claimed amongst other things that:
… in South Australia, the current GST accounts for 9.8% of disposable household income for the lowest income households, but only 4.9% of income for the highest income households.

Broadening the base of the GST to include fresh food, education, health, financial services and other miscellaneous goods and services would make the tax even more regressive. Based on the NATSEM [National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra] modelling, SACOSS has calculated the impact of broadening the GST. Table 1 shows the impact with lowest income households paying 41.8% more GST than currently, while the highest income households would pay only 36.7% more.
The government proclaimed that an increase in the rate of the GST was only one of the options ‘on the table’; they were ‘consulting widely’; and that ‘no decision had been made’. Sounds very Yes Minister-ish doesn’t it?

During February 2016, the prime minister ruled out any increase to the GST following considerable adverse publicity generated by the Opposition as well as groups representing those that would have been adversely affected by the plan. According to the federal government, the reason for dumping the GST increase was:
After you take into account all of the compensation that you would need to ensure the change was equitable, it simply is not justified in economic terms.
Those of us with a little cynicism might be more inclined to believe that other factors, such as the number of LNP politicians who would lose their seat in an election fought on a GST increase also played a part. It also lays bare the claim that all options were on the table as well.

Fresh from his information/scare campaign (depending on your viewpoint) against the increase to the GST, Opposition Leader Shorten then announced a policy to gradually remove the opportunity to negatively gear most investments within Australia. As negative gearing is complicated to explain in writing, we’ll get Waheed Aly from Network 10’s The Project do it instead with words and graphics (assuming your internet is fast enough to avoid buffering — another LNP policy failure).

According to Network 10, 1.2 million Australians use negative gearing to reduce their income. The ‘magic’ number here is $80,000 — which is the taxable income you can earn before you advance onto the second highest income tax rate. So when Turnbull et al suggest that changing the rules on negative gearing would affect a lot of ‘mums and dads’ who have a taxable income below $80,000 he’s cherry-picking his facts. The objective of negative gearing is to get your taxable income below $80,000 so you pay a lesser tax rate and are eligible for more government benefits. (Again those of a cynical bent amongst us could suggest that those that only reduce their taxable income to $80,000 aren’t trying hard enough — but that’s another discussion altogether.)

The Conversation is a website run by academics that comments on current issues: they have the people with appropriate qualifications and experience available to look at an issue factually. So, when discussing negative gearing, the Grattan Institute — an economic research institute seed funded by the federal and Victorian governments — probably has the knowledge and ability to justify an article discussingThree myths on negative gearing the housing industry wants you to believe’ and discuss why you shouldn’t go there.

So it seems obvious, doesn’t it? Remove negative gearing and gradually the ‘budget emergency’ promoted by Abbott and Hockey will fix itself as people’s taxable income will not be altered by deliberately making a loss on investments. They pay more personal income tax, the states get money for health and education, prices for ‘entry level’ dwellings stabilise as well, causing the world to be a happier place. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Despite noted economist Stephen Koukoulas writing in The Guardian that ‘Labor’s negative gearing reform is economically responsible’, Turnbull is claiming that reducing the avenues for negative gearing ‘harms average earners’. However, Fairfax is reporting:
independent modelling shows there will be "significant" long-term savings from Labor's proposal to quarantine negative gearing to new housing investments from July 2017, eventually raising between $3.5 to $3.9 billion a year.

It also shows Labor's proposal to cut the capital gains tax discount from 50 per cent to 25 per cent would raise about $2 billion a year in the long term. It shows the vast majority of savings would be at the expense of the top 10 per cent of earners who negatively gear their properties.

It also estimates that by restricting negative gearing to new housing, the policy would "increase the share of investment housing devoted to newly built housing" by 10 to 20 per cent.

It does not say house prices would drop.

"Our modelling shows that negative gearing benefits high-income families with 52.6 per cent of the benefit going to the top 20 per cent of incomes," the paper says.

"Only 5.2 per cent of benefits go to the bottom 20 per cent of incomes. This result is mostly driven by high-income families being more likely to negatively gear, having larger negatively geared deductions, and a progressive tax system that magnifies the gains for higher income persons.

The modelling was done by the Australian National University's Centre for Social Research and Methods.

It was not commissioned by any political party, organisation or individual.
Could the real issue here be politics? The process basically benefits those on a large cash income who can’t minimise their tax through income splitting or other methods. So you are looking at those who don’t have the ability to incorporate themselves into a small business where income can be split between two or more people (such as ‘mum and dad’ businesses, where there is the potential for all the owners of the incorporated business to perform some work for the entity, and be paid accordingly). Those on a higher income and in ‘prestigious professions’ are more frequently supporters of the conservative side of politics. Those on a higher income also are more likely to look for ways to reduce their income to pay less tax — it is to their benefit to do so. To a large extent, politicians’ campaigns are funded by donations from those with the means to do so, not the taxpayer.

It’s time to follow the money.

The annual report on who donated to whom is issued by the Australian Electoral Commission in February. As you would imagine, it’s not something that you would download. ABCTV’s The Weekly looked at the issue soon after the report was issued — according to the host of the show, Charlie Pickering, they have the time to do so.


While no one is all that surprised that Clive Palmer’s Queensland Nickel donated millions to the Palmer United Party, it is somewhat concerning that the names responsible for 40% of political donations did not need to be reported. Perhaps even more concerning is that the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has never prosecuted anyone for a breach of donation law since the laws were enacted in 1918 (yes 98 years ago). Even worse, the AEC asked for details of potential breaches identified by the people that put The Weekly together. In effect, we don’t know where nearly half of the donations come from and what might be expected in return for the donation. We don’t know if someone making a decision on, let’s say, the future of negative gearing is in parliament due to the donations of property developers, finance companies and real estate agents.

If for example you asked F1 racing car driver Nico Rosberg (the gentleman on the left in the picture at the top of this article) what type of mobile phone he prefers, you wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he rubbished Samsung and Apple devices while promoting Blackberry. And why wouldn’t he? — he and his team are obviously benefiting considerably from a commercial relationship with Blackberry. Unfortunately, we’re not in the same position of knowledge when it comes to our political parties. While the proposal (referenced in the clip from The Weekly) in California to make politicians wear stickers that identify their supporters is probably over the top, there is clearly a need for some rigour in the disclosure laws in Australia.

Turnbull and Morrison are mouthing all the right words about making taxes equitable, understandable and progressive. The reduction in availability of negative gearing addresses all three required outcomes as well as producing some income for funding services for our community. A host of economists can give you chapter and verse on why the proposal makes sense and won’t necessarily reduce the value of your house. We don’t know what, if any, external influences any politician might be under if they come to a view that negative gearing is a valuable part of the tax system and should not be altered.

Taxes pay for government services: so next time you are stuck in a traffic jam, walk through a park or are waiting in the phone queue at Centrelink being told that your call is important, think about how governments around Australia could get more money to rectify service delivery; then think about those who receive the top 20% of income who can legally reduce their income by consciously choosing to lose money on investments. As we all drive on the roads or ring Centrelink at some point, surely we should all pay a proportionate amount for the privilege of doing so.

What do you think?


Safe Schools, Unsafe Politicians



Now we see it, the Christian-Right Liberal reactionaries digging their cruel claws into PM Turnbull over the ‘Safe Schools’ program, one specifically designed to help kids understand that different individuals have different feelings about their sexuality, and that all of us ought to understand, respect, and accept these differences.

‘Safe Schools’ is aimed at helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or intersex (LGBTI) school students. According to its website, the ‘Safe Schools Coalition’ offers “…resources and support to equip staff and students with ‘skills, practical ideas and greater confidence’ to create a safe and inclusive environment for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.”

One end point of the program is to lessen the bullying which differences in sexual identity and sexual preferences too often engender. Bullying and ridicule of those whose sexual orientation does not match their gender have superseded the bullying and ridicule heaped upon kids with red hair or freckles or short stature that we once saw when we were young. This pernicious social transformation has resulted in distress, depression and sometimes suicide. ‘Safe Schools’ was developed as an antidote; its website explains that it is: “…aimed at creating safe and supportive school environments for these same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse people by reducing homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination in schools"

Do the reactionaries see it that way? No, they see it as an assault on their ‘Christian’ beliefs. As they see it, God has ordained that there should be men and women with clearly defined and different sexual attributes. Men should be attracted to women and vice versa. No in-between position is allowable. ‘Safe Schools’ accepts the reality of a variety of different sexual orientations that do not match gender. The reactionaries do not, and never will. There is right and wrong, and they believe they are right – God and the Bible say so.

Prominent among the objectors are the usual suspects: Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz, as 2353NM mentioned in Karma is a bugger.



Bernardi told the ABC that the program was seeing children "…being bullied and intimidated into complying with a radical program", and called on the Government to withdraw funding for the program. For starters, he demanded an enquiry into the program. “’It's not about gender, it's not about sexuality,’ he said. ’It makes everyone fall into line with a political agenda. Our schools should be places of learning, not indoctrination.’

PM Turnbull has gone along with Bernardi and other Liberal agitators and has requested an investigation into the Safe Schools program. Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, will carry out the enquiry.



Appearing on The Drum Abetz acknowledged that everyone supports stamping out bullying and protecting students, but insisted that the Safe Schools program went far beyond this. He told John Barron “...trying to lock young people into the Safe Schools program's particular views about gender and sexuality is ‘unhelpful and unhealthy’, and that a clear distinction between boys and girls, ‘especially at primary school’, is something that should be protected.

“[There are] circumstances where this program suggests that if a boy feels like being a girl, he should be allowed to use the girls' toilet facilities, which might be good for him, but what about all the girls that are then submitted to a boy being in their change rooms or in their toilets?”


Abetz also argued that many members of the community did not support the Safe Schools program: “It is a program of social engineering where parents, when they get to understand what it is, rebel against it and in fact vote for their schools not to be involved.”

Now ghost-from-the-past Tony Abbott has chimed in with: “It’s not an anti-bullying program, it’s a social engineering program. Its funding should be terminated.

Writing in The Guardian, Shalailah Medhora writes that of the 495 schools in the program, only one school has quit the Safe Schools program after parents' objections. Another example of Abetz’ overblown rhetoric.

Bernard Keane of Crikey hit the nail on the head in his article: The rise and rise of Malcolm Abbott and the sex-obsessed right with these words:
This is simple cultural warfare by the extreme right within the Liberals, and it's no surprise to see the likes of Andrew Nikolic and Andrew Hastie involved.

“Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews nailed it when he said: "I don’t think these extreme Liberals are actually offended by the structure of the program, or the teachers who lead it. I just think they’re offended by the kids who need it."
Keane continued:
“These are politicians who are obsessed with sex - specifically, people who might be sexually different to their own white middle-aged heterosexual male selves. Obsessed enough that it's all they want to talk about in their party room meeting, bandying about terms like ‘cultural Marxism’ because they read it in the paper the other day. Not merely does the idea of alternative forms of sexuality offend them, it terrifies them, because it's yet another symbol of a world that no longer grants automatic ascendancy to men like them.

“Safe Schools is one more reminder that the planet no longer revolves around them. That its purpose is to protect kids, to prevent them from being bullied, is of no moment; these men were never the ones bullied at school for being different. They've always enjoyed privilege, entitlement, status.

“Turnbull might think that giving them an inquiry is the smart play - the inquiry will be controlled by the civil and sensible Education Minister Simon Birmingham. The inquiry will find no, or minor, concerns; further complaints can be addressed by noting the program has been reviewed and all's well.

“Except, the review also legitimises this kind of cultural war, a war in which LGBTI kids are collateral damage, just like domestic violence victims are collateral damage in the culture war waged by the likes of Mark Latham and Miranda Devine against their mythical ‘middle class feminist’ enemy. And reviews are never enough for the far right - their concerns validated, they will push into more areas. For middle-aged white reactionary males, there's always something about the 21st century to be outraged by. In fact, they've barely finished getting upset about the late 20th century.

“Turnbull might merely be playing for time - to hold out until the election, then once he has secured victory, move to positions that more closely match his own principles. But if there's one truth we've learnt from recent years and especially from Tony Abbott, it's that it's awfully hard to change your style once you're in power. Abbott could never shed his relentless negativity once he became prime minister. If Malcolm Turnbull thinks he can veer back to the middle after pandering to the right, it might be much harder than he thinks.”
The response of these reactionary Liberals to the Safe Schools program points to an entrenched way of thinking about sexuality. We saw it just a short time ago during the sexual equality debate. We saw similar delaying tactics. Abbott’s insistence that this matter could not be resolved by a parliamentary debate, and instead must be put to a plebiscite of the people after the next election, was simply obfuscation writ large. His hope was that this delay would kill the idea of sexual equality and its awful sequel – same sex marriage! There was the hope too that the delay would force a public debate, which would allow the Australian Christian Lobby to spread its biased propaganda, propagate its nasty attitudes, and strike fear into those unprepared for the distasteful diatribe that would surely follow. A taste of what the ACL will do and say comes from its director, Lyle Shelton, who is already mouthing off about the Safe Schools program, which he describes as “radical sex experimentation”. He has a petition to the Queensland government with almost 11,000 signatures asking for the cessation of the program. If you want to see how this man operates, and how divisive he is in this debate and the one on sexual equality, take a look at the February 29 edition of Q&A, where he proclaimed: "...gay people are stealing babies"!

Now the outspoken radical George Christiansen, in a speech to the House last week, shocked parliamentarians by likening the Safe Schools program to ‘grooming’ undertaken by sexual predators: “If someone proposed exposing a child to this material, the parents would probably call the police, because it would sound a lot like grooming work a sexual predator might undertake...”.. Such men seem unconstrained in their language and vitriol.



Writing in Daily Life, in Safe Schools is important, because LGBTQI students shouldn't need to justify their right to exist, Maeve Marsden notes: “It should come as a surprise to no one that the Prime Minister is…interested in placating the right-wing factions of his party…it is utterly predictable that he would throw the rights of LGBTQI kids to enjoy a safe school environment and better mental health outcomes under the bus."

In her article in The Age: Safe Schools program: why zealots are trying to drag us back to the dark ages, Jill Stark reveals the disturbing statistics that made the program necessary:
It was set up in Victoria in 2010 in response to requests from teachers to help them support a growing number of LGBTI students who were wrestling with their identity. It has the backing of beyondblue, the Australian Secondary Principals Association, the Australian Education Union and the Australian Council of State School Organisations.

“Adding to teachers' concerns were alarming statistics from La Trobe University's 2010 Writing Themselves In study which revealed 75 per cent of LGBTI young people had experienced physical or verbal homophobic bullying. Eighty per cent said the abuse happened at school. These students are up to six times more likely to attempt suicide and self-harm than their peers.”
Jill Stark backs up her statistics with a real-life example in her article in The Age: Go kill yourself, faggot': Gay teen says Somerville Secondary ignored bullying. 15-year-old Nathan Whitmore, who attempted suicide after being terrorised at school for two years and beaten with a skateboard says he was bullied for being gay and told: 'You're a gay faggot who everyone hates, just go kill yourself and get it over with, everyone would be happy and better off'. He claims his school failed to protect him and he is planning legal action against the Victorian Education Department, arguing that his pleas for help were ignored for two years.



Writing in the AIMN in Turnbull sells out young people to the deranged, to save himself, Jennifer Wilson says: “Turnbull’s support of those who would cause suffering to the young, based entirely on religious ideology, must be greatly discouraging to young people as well as to those adults who want to make acceptance of difference commonplace. Turnbull has made a Mephistophelean covenant with religious extremists. If there is such a thing as a soul, he has likely sold his in an exchange that benefits himself to the detriment of the young.”

There are some stark realities about these issues of sexuality and the reactions to LGBTI matters that need to be accepted.

The Christian Lobby, and the likes of Bernardi, Abetz, Christensen, et al will never be persuaded from their views; indeed they cannot change them. Their views and attitudes are hard wired into their brains; they probably have been since their upbringing as small children. Facts, figures and logical reasoning cannot change them. Argument and reasoning are useless.

As a political strategy, there seems to be just a few things that can be done:
- Use facts and reasoning to persuade those voters frightened by the rhetoric of the radicals that their facts are wrong, their conclusions flawed, their demands unreasonable and unnecessary, and that the need for the Safe School program is backed by hard evidence and sound professional opinion. The radicals are inconvincible, but the public can be convinced.

- Use political force to counter the radicals. They understand counting and votes. Don’t concede an inch, as Turnbull has foolishly done, because, as Keane points out, no matter how positive the outcomes of an investigation turn out to be, the radicals will never accept them. They will not go away. They will wage a war of attrition. Brute force is the only response they understand.

What we need is not just Safe Schools; we need Safe Politicians. It is a national disgrace that in our federal parliament we have such a motley collection of Unsafe Politicians: radical, heartless reactionaries who believe they are absolutely right and their opponents always wrong, ever ready to intimidate those whose opinions differ from theirs, primed to bully them into submission, and if they don’t succumb, to cast them cruelly into outer darkness, where they believe they belong, along with the LGBTI school students these Unsafe Politicians refuse to support.

What do you think?
What are your views about this contentious matter?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.