Thou shalt not hate

In the words of The Monthly, If the name Milo Yiannopoulos means nothing to you, congratulations on being a normal, well-adjusted person. Yiannopoulos is someone we all aspire to be the complete opposite of. He was until very recently, an alt-right figurehead and said all the ‘right’ things. According to The Guardian he did a fine line in Islamophobia, misogyny, transphobia or harassment. Out Magazine, (which takes pride in its LGBTI heritage) called him a ‘super villain’. Recently, The Monthly reported:
Here in Australia, Yiannopoulos has many fans on the right. Andrew Bolt called him “fabulous” in one of his multiple appearances on The Bolt Report. Bolt's Herald Sun colleague Rita Panahi thinks Yiannopoulos is “razor sharp, insightful and funny”. Former Liberal MP Ross Cameron regards him as “an ancient form of genius”. Writing in the Spectator, Daisy Cousens described him as an “intelligent, charismatic, witty, stylish, and unbearably handsome powerhouse of a man”.
However, it seems that even the alt-right has boundaries. A Youtube video recently came out (pun intended – Yiannopoulos is gay) where he seemed to endorse intimate relations between older men and boys. He lost his job as a Senior Editor on the Breitbart (extremely conservative) news website, a book deal and some speaking engagements. Let’s give credit where it is due, those who severed connections with a person who seemed to endorse paedophilia did the right thing. However, it also brings into question why hate speech against religions, gender and those who have a different sexual orientation is permitted by the same organisations – as they are all just as abhorrent as the straw that broke the camel’s back on this occasion. Let’s face it, by supporting Yiannopoulos while he promotes hate speech, the organisations also gave implied support for his positions on those other issues. Severing the connection when Yiannopoulos seemingly ‘crossed the line’ demonstrates the principal.

The Guardian reported that during a meeting of an ultra-conservative group in North Carolina, the ‘Islamification of America’ was being discussed:
The Muslim Brotherhood, a culturally conservative organization founded in 1928 that briefly took power in Egypt after the Arab Spring, is the focal point of paranoid rightwing fears about a supposed Islamic plot to infiltrate and subvert American institutions from within and impose sharia law.

“A tactic that the Brotherhood has established over the years is establishing the presence of Islamic centers or mosques, which for them means a recruitment center for jihad, and forming a permanent foundation wherever they’re allowed to exist,” Jones said, continuing to read from Stakelbeck’s book [The Terrorist Next Door].

Jones’s presentation was repeatedly interrupted by comments about killing Muslims from Frank del Valle, a staunchly anticommunist Cuban immigrant, with little or no pushback from the others in the room.

“Can we not kill them all?” Del Valle asked, about 15 minutes into the presentation, during a discussion about the differences between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam.
But it wouldn’t happen in general society in Australia, would it? Well it does actually. Madonna King wrote an opinion piece for The Brisbane Times recently based on the reaction to Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s recent appearance on ABCTV’s QandA. You may remember that Adbel-Magied contradicted some of the more conservative panellists’ views on the Islamic religion and Sharia Law with some facts based on her understanding of the religion as a practising member of the faith. In the piece, King rightly labelled Australians as haters pointing out that while you and I certainly have the right to decide if we agree with Abdel-Magied’s opinion, she does have the right to vocalise it without people starting petitions for her to be sacked from her job presenting a show on ABCTV’s News 24 station, which is what happened on this occasion.

Let’s look at another example. Pauline Hanson was recently reported as suggesting that young women will deliberately get pregnant to receive some perceived advantage from the LNP Government’s proposed changes to family benefits. Quite probably she is partly right — generally a small minority will take any advantage that they can find and turn it to their perceived advantage. Hanson’s argument seems to be:
I’ve gone through a bloody tough life myself as a single mother and held down a part-time job. I had no assistance, no help from anyone. But we have such a welfare handout mentality.
Apart from the fact that single parent payments, family allowances and tax ‘breaks’ for families have been the practice of Australian Governments of all political persuasions for a number of decades, meaning Hanson could have received help if she met the criteria, her rhetoric seems as shallow and self-serving as her claim not to be a professional politician despite being first elected to the Ipswich City Council in 1994, followed by running for the seat of Oxley in the Federal Parliament in 1996, then failing to be elected at most elections between the end of that Parliament and the commencement of the current one.

The issue here is that considerably more young women will use the benefit as it was intended, to ensure that while babies and their parents are both going through a major change in their living and financial arrangements, there is some assistance from the rest of our society to make the financial transition slightly easier. Remember that the children who benefit from the government’s ‘largesse’ here are those who will be paying for the roads and medical services that the naysayers such as Hanson will consume in twenty to thirty years’ time when they are retired and contributing far less taxation (if any at all). All Hanson is really doing here is inflaming the anger in those who follow her particular brand of politics when they see pregnant women or young families walk past. It’s not healthy for the victims and certainly not healthy to the level of political conversation in Australia.

Of course, our ‘major’ party politicians wouldn’t stoop to using hatred to achieve political ends –would they? Don’t be silly, of course they do. As blogmaster Ad Astra recently noted in his article Abbott’s legacy of destruction, former Prime Minister Abbott’s opposition to action on climate change wasn’t a divine revelation that there was another and better way to mitigate the man-made influence on global temperature increase caused by increasing emissions of carbon dioxide, it was purely political. It is worth looking at Abbott’s head of staff’s (Peta Credlin) statement on Sky News again.
Credlin made her comments during an episode of Sky’s Sunday Agenda: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and when he cut through, Gillard was gone.”
As Ad Astra wrote,
The article continued with Credlin's comments:
“It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know.

“Okay, okay, okay. Let’s just provide some context. Australia has a complicated history in trying to do what many countries have already done – put a price on carbon emissions.

“Emissions trading scheme proposals contributed to the demise of Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader in 2009 and Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010. Julia Gillard finally introduced a carbon-pricing scheme in 2011.

“It was Tony Abbott who re-framed Gillard’s scheme as a “carbon tax”, even though after the first year the price on carbon emissions was no longer fixed, and was instead set by the market.

“Abbott rode the anti-carbon tax movement all the way into The Lodge and eventually had everyone, including Labor and the media, calling it a carbon tax".
How about we call that for what it is. Abbott lied to get the Prime Ministership. He traded off the future liveability of this country for his personal ambition.

Both Hanson and Abbott (amongst a number of other politicians from all sides of politics) also support or have supported in the past the forcible incarceration of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru while claiming to uphold ‘good Christian values’ not only in their daily lives but in their public lives. While neither ‘Thou shall not hate’ nor ‘Do unto others as you wish others do to you’ are listed in the 10 Commandments, they both have some textual context in the holy book that Abbott, Hanson and others claim to follow. How is changing an environmental imperative to a political argument, denying a benefit the country can obviously afford on the basis that some may abuse it, or treating people poorly in the Australian detention camps, not demonstrating pure and utter hatred to those who don’t meet particular world views of some extremely narrow minded people?

It’s somewhat hypocritical to suggest that ‘good Christian values’ are a part of your life while overseeing hate speech, active persecution of others for daring to hold alternative beliefs or not caring for the world we live in and are leaving for our descendants. You would have to wonder how these people can live with the basic contradiction that is obvious to a large proportion of society – if you have good Christian values, you should live by them.

Someone who should have some idea of what represents ‘good Christian values’ is the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. He has previously made statements on climate change, education, helping those who need a hand, paying your way in life and recently made a statement on refugees which has been widely reported. Even the extreme right wing Breitbart News (yes, the same august journal that accepted the resignation of Yiannopoulos) headlined their report with:
In powerful language, Pope Francis said Thursday that Jesus abhors hypocrisy and it is hypocritical to call oneself a Christian and at the same time not be welcoming to refugees, even if they belong to a different religion.
Pity those who routinely preach their ‘good Christian values’ will not put two and two together. Thou shall not hate.
What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Twenty Twenty-Four – our Orwellian destiny?

Have you ever felt overtaken by the velocity of world events? Have your ever felt overwhelmed by the pace of change? Have you ever wondered what the world will be like in Twenty Twenty-Four, forty years after George Orwell’s prophetic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Studying the facts and contemplating what the world will be like in just seven years is alarming, such is the pace of change we see all around us. We can avoid distress by burying our heads in the sand, or we can take a clear-eyed look at the future and reflect on how best to manage it. Many choose the more comfortable option; in this piece let’s choose the latter.

This piece draws heavily on an article in Scientific American on 25 February of this year Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, which carried the subtitle: We are in the middle of a technological upheaval that will transform the way society is organized. We must make decisions right now. The article was written by an illustrious group of authors: Dirk Helbing, Bruno S. Frey, Ger Gigerenzer, Ernst Hafen, Michael Hagner, Yvonne Hofstetter, Jeroen van den Hoven, Roberto V. Zicari and Andrej Zwitter. Their CVs are at the foot of the article.

Most of you will not wish to read the Scientific American article in full, as it is very long. To make this piece readable, I have attempted to distill the essence of it, but to portray its message accurately I have quoted much of it at length. Therefore, this is a rather long piece, but as it focuses on an issue of critical importance to our future, I have not attempted to oversimplify its content. I hope you will have time to digest it.

If you think that our society is light-years away from acting out Orwell’s fantasy, reflect on the current angry debate around clause 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, the way in which the Department of Human Services has given the media personal details of a complainant against Centrelink in order to punish her publicly, and on the recent emergence of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ in the US.

To remind you of the plot of Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four, here is the beginning of a summary:
Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother.

The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thought-crime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.
The rest of the summary, provided by sparknotes can be read here.

First, some facts from the Scientific American article. Remember, some of these are predictions, and therefore may not be accurate. They may, indeed likely will, change over time.

As the digital revolution accelerates, how will it change our world? Here are some statements from the article:
The amount of data we produce doubles every year. In other words, in 2016 we produced as much data as in the entire history of humankind through 2015.

Every minute we produce hundreds of thousands of Google searches and Facebook posts. These contain information that reveals how we think and feel.

Soon, the things around us, possibly even our clothing, also will be connected with the Internet.

It is estimated that in 10 years’ time there will be 150 billion networked measuring sensors, 20 times more than all the people on Earth. Then, the amount of data will double every 12 hours.
This is known in the artificial intelligence world as Big Data, a phrase we will hear more and more.

Everything will become intelligent; soon we will not only have smart phones, but also smart homes, smart factories and smart cities. Should we also expect these developments to result in smart nations and a smarter planet?

Artificial intelligence is contributing to the automation of data analysis. It is now capable of learning, thereby continuously developing itself.

Algorithms can now recognize handwritten language and patterns almost as well as humans and even complete some tasks better than them. They are able to describe the contents of photos and videos.

News content is, in part, automatically generated.

In the coming 10 to 20 years around half of today's jobs will be threatened by algorithms.

Today, algorithms perform 70% of all financial transactions.

40% of today's top 500 companies will have vanished in a decade.
Just reflect on that – during the next ten years, by 2027, 200 of the top 500 companies will disappear – 140 of them in the seven years to 2024!

What will replace them? What will workers in those companies do after they have gone? Will there be alternative work? If not, how will they live? Are governments planning for this eventuality? Are there any who are?

The article continues:
It can be expected that supercomputers will soon surpass human capabilities in almost all areas somewhere between 2020 and 2060.

Technology visionaries, such as Elon Musk from Tesla Motors, Bill Gates from Microsoft, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and physicist Stephen Hawking are warning that super-intelligence is a serious danger for humanity, possibly even more dangerous than nuclear weapons.

One thing is clear: the way in which we organize the economy and society will change fundamentally. We are experiencing the largest transformation since the end of the Second World War; after the automation of production and the creation of self-driving cars, the automation of society is next.

With this, society is at a crossroads, which promises great opportunities, but also considerable risks. If we take the wrong decisions it could threaten our greatest historical achievements.

In the 1940s, the American mathematician Norbert Wiener invented cybernetics. According to him, the behaviour of systems could be controlled by the means of suitable feedbacks. Very soon, some researchers imagined controlling the economy and society according to this basic principle, but the necessary technology was not available at that time.

Today, Singapore is seen as a perfect example of a data-controlled society. What started as a program to protect its citizens from terrorism has ended up influencing economic and immigration policy, the property market and school curricula.

China is taking a similar route. Recently, Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google, invited the military to take part in the China Brain Project. It involves running so-called deep learning algorithms over the search engine data collected about its users. Beyond this, a kind of social control is also planned. According to recent reports, every Chinese citizen will receive a so-called ”Citizen Score”, which will determine under what conditions they may get loans, jobs, or travel visa to other countries. This kind of individual monitoring would include people’s Internet surfing and the behaviour of their social contacts.

With consumers facing increasingly frequent credit checks and some online shops experimenting with personalized prices, we are on a similar path in the West.

It is also increasingly clear that we are all in the focus of institutional surveillance. This was revealed in 2015 when details of the British secret service's "Karma Police" program became public, showing the comprehensive screening of everyone's Internet use.
Is Orwell’s character ‘Big Brother’ now becoming a reality for us?

Under the heading ‘Programmed society, programmed citizen’, the article goes on to describe how all this happened under our very eyes:

Everything started quite harmlessly. Search engines and recommendation platforms began to offer us personalised suggestions for products and services. This was based on personal and metadata that has been gathered from previous searches, purchases and mobility behaviour, as well as social interactions. While officially users’ identity is protected, it can be inferred quite easily.

Today, algorithms know pretty well what we do, what we think and how we feel – possibly even better than our friends and family or even ourselves.

Often the recommendations we are offered fit so well that the resulting decisions feel as if they were our own, even though they are actually not our decisions. In fact, we are being remotely controlled… The more is known about us, the less likely our choices are to be free and not predetermined by others.
This is startling. It is only a small step from manipulating our buying behaviour to manipulating our political and social thinking and behaviour, just as happened to Winston in Nineteen Eighty-Four via the Thought Police.

The alarming predictions continue:
But it won't stop there. Some software platforms are moving towards ‘persuasive computing’. In the future, using sophisticated manipulation technologies, these platforms will be able to steer us through entire courses of action, be it for the execution of complex work processes or to generate free content for Internet platforms, from which corporations earn billions.

The trend goes from programming computers to programming people.
These technologies are also becoming increasingly popular in the world of politics:

Under the label of ‘Nudging’, governments are trying to steer citizens towards healthier or more environmentally friendly behaviour by means of a ‘nudge’ – a modern form of paternalism. The new, caring government is not only interested in what we do, but also wants to make sure that we do the things that it considers to be right.
The magic phrase is ‘Big Nudging’, which is the combination of Big Data and Nudging.

This appears to be a sort of digital sceptre that allows one to govern the masses efficiently, without having to involve citizens in democratic processes. Could this overcome vested interests and optimize the course of the world? If so, then citizens could be governed by a data-empowered ‘wise king’, who would be able to produce desired economic and social outcomes almost as if with a digital magic wand.
Can you imagine how George Brandis would use the metadata he insists he must gather to ‘protect us from harm’. The fact that he is unable to explain what metadata is leaves us exposed to the manipulations of others who do know.

‘Nudging’ is already happening here.

When Centrelink client Andie Fox wrote an opinion piece for Fairfax Media claiming Centrelink had ‘terrorised’ her while chasing her for a debt she believed she did not owe, as reported in ABC News, Fairfax published an article from the Government's perspective, suggesting Centrelink was being ‘unfairly castigated’. In the article Ms Fox's personal information, including her history of claiming the Family Tax Benefit and relationship circumstances was exposed. The Department of Human Services, with the approval of the Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, supplied the information. Subsequently, the Department defended its ‘right’ to expose such intimate details in defence of its position, thereby ‘nudging’ any other potential complainant to back off, or else!

There is a downside though to such ‘nudging’ behaviour.
The scientific literature shows that attempts to control opinions…are doomed to fail because of the complexity of the problem. The dynamics of the formation of opinions are full of surprises. Nobody knows how the digital magic wand, that is to say the manipulative nudging technique, should best be used. What would have been the right or wrong measure often is apparent only afterwards.

During the German swine flu epidemic in 2009, for example, everybody was encouraged to go for vaccination. However, we now know that a certain percentage of those who received the immunization were affected by an unusual disease, narcolepsy. Another example is the recent attempt of health insurance providers to encourage increased exercise by handing out smart fitness bracelets, with the aim of reducing the amount of cardiovascular disease in the population; but in the end, this might result in more hip operations.

In a complex system, such as society, an improvement in one area almost inevitably leads to deterioration in another. Thus, large-scale interventions can sometimes prove to be massive mistakes.

Criminals, terrorists and extremists will try to take control of the digital magic wand sooner or later – perhaps even without us noticing. Almost all companies and institutions have already been hacked.

A further problem arises when adequate transparency and democratic control are lacking: the erosion of the system from the inside. Governments are able to influence the outcomes. During elections, they might nudge undecided voters towards supporting them, a manipulation that would be hard to detect. Therefore, whoever controls this technology can win elections by nudging themselves to power.

In order for manipulation to stay unnoticed, it takes a so-called resonance effect, where nudging is customized to each individual, an ‘echo chamber effect’. In the end, all you might get is your own opinions reflected back at you. This causes social polarization, resulting in the formation of separate groups that no longer understand each other and find themselves increasingly at conflict with one another.

In this way, personalized information can unintentionally destroy social cohesion. This can be currently observed in American politics, where Democrats and Republicans are increasingly drifting apart, so that political compromises become almost impossible. The result is a fragmentation, possibly even a disintegration of society.

Owing to the resonance effect, a large-scale change of opinion in society can be produced only slowly and gradually. The effects occur with a time lag, but they cannot be easily undone.

It is possible, for example, that resentment against minorities or migrants get out of control; too much national sentiment can cause discrimination, extremism and conflict.
Are we not already seeing this play out before our very eyes as Hanson supporters and right wing bigots vent their spleen?

Let us suppose there was a super-intelligent machine with godlike knowledge and superhuman abilities: would we follow its instructions?

This seems possible. But if we did that, then the warnings expressed by Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Stephen Hawking and others would have become true: computers would have taken control of the world. We must be clear that a super-intelligence could also make mistakes, lie, pursue selfish interests or be manipulated. Above all, it could not be compared with the distributed, collective intelligence of the entire population.
Let’s jump to the end of this very long piece to give you ‘the bottom line’. Here is the heavily redacted conclusion written by Yvonne Hofstetter, lawyer and artificial intelligence expert: When intelligent machines take over societal control, Orwell style!

Cybernetics is the science of information and control, regardless of whether a machine or a living organism is being controlled. Cybernetics promises: “Everything is controllable.”

For Norbert Wiener, inventor of cybernetics, the digital era would be a paradise, as the world has never produced such amount of data and information as it does today.

In the digital age, machines steer everyday life to a considerable extent already. We should, therefore, think twice before we share our personal data.

Control refers to the control of machines as well as of individuals or entire social systems like military alliances, financial markets or, pointing to the 21st century, even the electorate. Its major premise: keeping the world under surveillance to collect data. Connecting people and things to the Internet of Everything is a perfect to way to obtain the required mass data as input to cybernetic control strategies.

Wiener proposed a new scientific concept for cybernetics: the closed-loop feedback. Feedback, such as the ‘Likes’ we give, and the online comments we make, is a major concept of digitization. Does that mean digitization is the most perfect implementation of cybernetics? When we use smart devices, we are creating a ceaseless data stream disclosing our intentions, geo position or social environment. While we communicate more thoughtlessly than ever online, in the background, an ecosystem of artificial intelligence is evolving. Today, artificial intelligence is the sole technology being able to profile us and draw conclusions about our future behavior.

An automated control strategy, usually a learning machine, analyzes our actual situation and then computes a stimulus that should draw us closer to a more desirable ‘optimal’ state. Increasingly, such controllers govern our daily lives. As digital assistants they help us making decisions in the vast ocean of options and intimidating uncertainty. Even Google Search is a control strategy. When typing a keyword, a user reveals his intentions. The Google search engine, in turn, will not just present a list with best hits, but also a list of links that embodies the highest (financial) value rather for the company than for the user. Doing it that way, i.e. listing corporate offerings at the very top of the search results, Google controls the user’s next clicks. This, the European Union argues, is a misuse.

But is there any way out? Yes, if we disconnected from the cybernetic loop. Just stop responding to a digital stimulus. Cybernetics will fail if the controllable counterpart steps out of the loop. Yet, we are free to owe a response to a digital controller. However, as digitization further escalates, soon we may have no more choice. Hence, we are called on to fight for our freedom and our rights afresh during the digital era and in particular with the rise of intelligent machines.
Is that frightening enough? It ought to be. Not only are we being subsumed in the cybernetic loop where we inadvertently give the very feedback that the manipulators of our choices crave, but also we are largely unaware that we are being categorized, manipulated, ‘nudged’ and inveigled into positions not of our choosing, but those chosen by others – chosen for their own purposes, whether they be commercial, or more sinisterly, political.

Be afraid, very afraid!

Big Brother is watching you!

Thirty pieces of silver

Disappointment, disillusionment, disgust, desperation, desolation, despondency, and above all simmering anger - these are the emotions so many Australians have had, and still are experiencing when they reflect on Malcolm Turnbull’s period as prime minister. And this applies to many Labor supporters, who welcomed Turnbull’s overturning of Tony Abbott. Surely, they thought, nothing could be worse than the appalling Abbott.

Yet, despite Turnbull looking and speaking like a prime minister, in such stark contrast to the malevolent Abbott, with his reckless abandonment of the values and principles we all know Turnbull once embraced, in just over a year he has killed off any respect he initially had. We deplored so many of Abbott’s principles, but at least he stuck to them. Turnbull has turned out to be a shameful turncoat, ready to betray his beliefs for thirty pieces of silver.

We are astonished, dismayed and saddened.

This piece is a companion to the last published: Abbott’s legacy of destruction. It exposes the other side of the deeply tarnished Abbott/Turnbull coin. The two pieces need to be read in parallel.

Ten pieces of silver to abandon climate change action
Of all his fine principles, shall we ever forget Turnbull's stand on climate change!

He supported Kevin Rudd’s push for an emissions trading scheme – even crossing the floor to do so! You will remember his much publicized proclamation:

I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.

What a tragedy it was that Rudd reneged on his promise to work with Turnbull to achieve bipartisanship to bring in an ETS. We could have had one many years ago. We now are as far away from an ETS as ever.

In December of last year, Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg was foolish enough to utter the words: “…we know there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme”. Hard right-wingers Cory Bernardi and Craig Kelly went ballistic, Tony Abbott chimed in to repeat his longstanding opposition, and Murdoch’s Chris Kenny wrote a column in The Australian warning Turnbull that it was ‘political madness’ to re-consider an ETS.

Turnbull’s retreat was rapid. Within 24 hours he was insisting: “We will not be imposing a carbon tax and we will not be imposing an emissions trading scheme, however it is called, an emissions intensity scheme is an emissions trading scheme. That is just another name for it. That has been our policy for many years now.”

Suitably chastened, Frydenberg soon echoed Turnbull’s words, adding apologetically: “I have never advocated for a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme; that is why the Government won’t proceed with one.” Ben Eltham, writing in New Matilda commented: Somewhere...a rooster crowed twice.

Although we all remember Turnbull’s 2009 proclamation, he has made many other utterances, from which he has retreated. They can be found in the archives. Some may surprise you. Take a look at them: You will find them here:

Here are a few of them:
“Climate change is a global problem. The planet is warming because of the growing level of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. If this trend continues, truly catastrophic consequences are likely to ensue from rising sea levels, to reduced water availability, to more heat waves and fires.

“I do not believe we can effectively move Australia to a lower emission economy, which is what we need to do if we're going to make a contribution to a global reduction in greenhouse gases, without putting a price on carbon.”

“…some years from now if there's a global emissions trading scheme agreement, as many have hoped for, then I'm sure Australia would be part of it.”

“The question of whether or to what extent human activities are causing global warming is not a matter of ideology, let alone of belief. The issue is simply one of risk management.”

“If Margaret Thatcher took climate change seriously and believed that we should take action to reduce global greenhouse emissions, then taking action and supporting and accepting the science can hardly be the mark of incipient Bolshevism.”

“We are already experiencing the symptoms of climate change, especially with a hotter and drier climate in southern Australia - the rush to construct desalination plants is an expensive testament to that.”

“Look at countries like China, they are determined to dominate all clean technology areas, putting lots of money into wind, solar, electric vehicles and battery storage. America's political impotence, caused by their terrible partisanship, will see them left behind.”

“Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that on this vital issue of climate change we are not simply without a policy, without any prospect of having a credible policy but we are now without integrity. We have given our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted.”

"Direct Action is “a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing” and a “recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”.

“First, lets get this straight. You cannot cut emissions without a cost. To replace dirty coal fired power stations with cleaner gas fired ones, or renewables like wind let alone nuclear power or even coal fired power with carbon capture and storage is all going to cost money. To get farmers to change the way they manage their land, or plant trees and vegetation all costs money. Somebody has to pay. So any suggestion that you can dramatically cut emissions without any cost is, to use a favourite term of Mr Abbott, "bullshit." Moreover he knows it.”

“I believe that politicians should speak the truth all the time. Invariably there will be occasions when you make statements that are factually incorrect due to an error.”

“I've been around in public life for a long time. I think people know what I stand for. They know that I have strong convictions, committed principles and I'm prepared to stand up for them.”
How laughable! Turnbull has shown over and again that he will not stand up for his principles when members of his rabid right wing stamp their feet and demand that he toe the line he agreed to get their votes to topple Abbott. We have seen that time and again, but nowhere more flagrantly than over the issue of climate change.

The man who so strongly supported an ETS now refuses to have a bar of one.

After Turnbull replaced Abbott, climate pundits were excited. Corporate advisor, Paul Gilding, insisted that there was great support from Malcolm Turnbull on renewable energy and climate change: “Turnbull actually supports climate action and has long understood the economic implications of the transition required. And rather than being fearful of those implications he embraces them – seeing the inherent opportunity in a transition away from coal and towards a technology-driven transformation of the renewable energy system. The influence of this over time, on the business community and on public attitudes will be long lasting and leave a legacy for a generation.” How disillusioned Gilding must be now!

But as we have seen in the last couple of months, ever since September when in South Australia a ‘once in fifty-year storm’ tore up transmission towers and blacked out the entire state, Turnbull has become a fierce critic of the targets set for the adoption of renewable energy, initially blaming the state’s dependence on renewable energy for the disaster, later capitulating in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary.

He and his minders, having decided that ‘energy security’ will be the defining issue in the months ahead, have attacked Labor and the Greens relentlessly as ‘ideologically driven’ incompetents whose ‘utterly unrealistic renewable energy targets’ will not be achievable, and will drive energy prices skyward. Turnbull has ruthlessly abandoned his long-held principles in the pursuit of political gain, for himself and the LNP.

Turnbull castigates those who seek to transition to renewables rapidly, and now supports coal mining. He even allowed his Treasurer to bring a lump of coal into parliament to mock Labor. He now talks of ‘clean coal’ technology, as if it was an imminent and financially viable possibility, which experts in the field insist it is not. His behaviour is no different from that of Abbott who proclaimed that ‘coal is good for humanity’ and would be around as a major source of energy for many decades!

He is Abbott personified, but without a skerrick of principle left!

Now, a coalition of eighteen business, energy, investor, climate and welfare groups, including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Council of Social Services, and the ACTU, has called for an end to partisan energy politics and urgent action on global warming in the knowledge of its devastating effects on business, investment in energy, agriculture, the environment, and indeed life on this planet. But Turnbull and his government are not listening!

This whole piece could be about Turnbull’s shameful retreat from the urgency of global warming, but let’s visit some other of Turnbull’s inglorious retreats.

Ten pieces of silver to ‘demolish the NBN’
Who will ever forget PM Abbott’s infamous instruction to his then Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull: Demolish the NBN? Abbott wanted it destroyed only because Labor had proposed and designed it, a groundbreaking Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) proposal that would have placed Australia at the forefront of modern Internet communications, and would have given it a competitive advantage over its neighbours and overseas' rivals. After the Abbott intervention, thanks to the lily-livered, mendacious response of Turnbull, a tech-head who made his fortune in Internet communications with the sale of his OzEmail, we now rank a lowly 45th in the world for Internet speeds.

Although Turnbull knew full well that FTTP was the superior option, he messed around trying to convince us of the merits of a Multi Technology Mix (MTM) that included Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC), Fixed Wireless, and a Long Term Satellite Service, as well as Fibre to the Node (FTTN) where fibre was rolled out only to street corner boxes, with ageing copper wire making the connection to the premises. Turnbull’s selling spiel was that Labor’s FTTP was prohibitively expensive, too slow to roll out, and sotto voce unnecessary for Australia’s needs. FTTN, with its lower speeds, would be OK for this nation, which he continually implores to be ‘agile and innovative’.

The facts are that the FTTN rollout is arguably no faster than was planned for Labor’s FTTP, the speeds are poorer, and the cost is likely to be the same as for the FTTP, or higher. In other words, to placate the malevolent Abbott, Turnbull’s counterintuitive interference with the original FTTP plan has resulted in Australia gaining nothing, and we have lost a golden opportunity to be world leaders.

Once more, Turnbull has sacrificed his ideals, abandoned his technical know-how, and deliberately deceived the public about the touted merits of the Coalition’s FTTN MTM hotchpotch, leaving us no better off financially or logistically, but much worse off technically with an already out-of-date NBN that will soon need expensive upgrades.

Moreover, he has tried to convince us that the fast 100Mbps speeds promised by FTTP are not necessary, as many taking up the NBN are choosing slower speeds. But what about business and industry that need to send large files around the world; what about farmers who need to be in rapid touch with world prices and trends? Turnbull seems to be channeling the tech-ignorant Abbott who said that the speeds needed only to be good enough to send an email, or for his daughters to download a movie!

Turnbull, who does know the technical facts better than anyone else in his party, has sold his principles and values simply to gain political advantage for himself and his party. He has lied.

In answer to a question about the Coalition’s NBN on Q&A last year Turnbull obfuscated. Writing about it in Delimiter Renai LeMay said:
“On last night’s episode of Q&A, Turnbull did nothing to address persistent criticism of the Coalition’s NBN policy. Neither did he address – at all – Labor’s reworked NBN vision.

"Instead, what we got was a repeat of the standardised set of talking points which virtually every Coalition MP has been parroting about the NBN for the past two to three years.

"I find this insulting, to say the least.

"Turnbull is clearly aware that the NBN debate has moved on and that the country is now having a nuanced discussion of how the NBN project should proceed over the next decade, incorporating technologies such as HFC cable, FTTP and perhaps even new models such as Fibre to the Distribution Point.

"The Prime Minister’s failure to address that debate in any way, shape or form shows his lack of respect for the public; and also his determination not to meaningfully engage on the matter of the NBN. The increasing likelihood that the Coalition will not refine its NBN policy for the election reinforces that impression."
Once more Turnbull has recklessly sacrificed his ideals for a pottage of political advantage.

Ten pieces of silver to abandon marital equality
This piece is already long enough; so let’s conclude with Turnbull’s shameful retreat from his principles on this contentious matter.

Turnbull has always advocated marriage equality, and believes that a parliamentary vote would secure its legislative passage. Yet, despite public opinion strongly favoring marriage equality, and a majority in favour of a parliamentary vote to settle the matter, Turnbull will not budge from his commitment to the hard right of his party to have a plebiscite, which we all know was Abbott’s delaying mechanism that would give opponents the opportunity to disseminate emotive dissent, thereby creating doubt in voters’ minds, which the religious right hopes will result in a negative vote.

Turnbull has no religious, social or ideological objection to marriage equality – indeed the contrary is the case. Yet he is shamelessly sacrificing his long-held principles on the altar of political expediency, simply to placate the rabid religious right in his party, and thereby hang tenuously onto his prime ministership.

Do you need any more evidence that Turnbull has sold his political soul for thirty pieces of silver? On three crucial fronts: global warming, the NBN, and marriage equality, he has sold out so that he could grasp, and now cling doggedly onto leadership. There are many more of his values that he has sacrificed for silver: The Republic, Medicare, urban planning, and asylum seeker policy. But enough is enough.

What are voters feeling about him now, just eighteen months into his prime ministership?

Disappointment, disillusionment, disgust, disrespect, despair, despondency, desolation, and above all, intense anger.

What a political and personal price he has paid in return for his thirty pieces of silver!

What do you think?
What are your views about Malcolm Turnbull?

Have you other examples of how he has sold out his principles and values?

Let us know in comments below.

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Climate change, power and coal

You may have noticed it’s been a bit hot lately. In fact, if you were born after 1985, you have never experienced a cooler than average month. Let’s just read that again so it really sinks in – if you were born after 1985, you have never experienced a cooler than average month.

The UK Government (amongst a lot of other experts in the field) states that Climate Change is happening, noting that
3 of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century and in the last 30 years each decade has been hotter than the previous one. This change in temperature hasn’t been the same everywhere; the increase has been greater over land than over the oceans and has been particularly fast in the Arctic.
It’s probably stating the obvious to suggest the UK Government is by nature conservative, as the Conservative Party is the ruling party at present. The same UK Government website goes on to list a number of detrimental effects of life (as they know it) changing in the UK as a result of climate change.

Regardless of the date you choose to start to measure from, and the scale of the graph you choose to draw, there is an upward line going to the right. Great if you’re looking at a company’s sales or share price, not so good if you are looking at the health of the world we want to leave for our descendants.

A number of scientists explain climate change as similar to pouring water into a bath. There is a lot of water in the bath and the water level is continually moving upwards. Dependent on where the spout you are using to pump water into the bath is located, there is a reasonable chance that the waves created by the water entering the bath will appear to reduce the height of the water in the bath on a momentary basis at points along the waveform; your brain will see though that the level is still rising. Climate change is where we are continually pumping chemicals into the atmosphere, which changes the way heat is dissipated. Let’s look at the UK Government’s website again:
Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other gases, such as methane, in the atmosphere create a ‘greenhouse effect’, trapping the Sun’s energy and causing the Earth, and in particular the oceans, to warm. Heating of the oceans accounts for over nine tenths of the trapped energy. Scientists have known about this greenhouse effect since the 19th Century.

The higher the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the warmer the Earth becomes. Recent climate change is happening largely as a result of this warming, with smaller contributions from natural influences like variations in the Sun’s output.

Carbon dioxide levels have increased by more than 40% since before the industrial revolution. Other greenhouse gases have increased by similarly large amounts. All the evidence shows that this increase in greenhouse gases is almost entirely due to human activity. The increase is mainly caused by:
  • burning of fossil fuels for energy
  • agriculture and deforestation
  • the manufacture of cement, chemicals and metals
About 43% of the carbon dioxide produced goes into the atmosphere; the rest is absorbed by plants and the oceans. Deforestation reduces the number of trees absorbing carbon dioxide and releases the carbon contained in those trees.
So what does our ‘adult’ and ‘mature’ government do when South Australia again suffers electricity shortages? It claims that the fault for the outages is solely due to the state’s high (by Australian standards) use of renewable generation capacity. To emphasise the fact, Treasurer Morrison acts like a 5 year old taking his new toy to show and tell by bringing a lump of coal into Parliament.

Turnbull started this crusade when the entire South Australia power supply went down in September 2016. Turnbull claimed that the network was not secure:
Today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said several state Labor governments — not just in SA — had set “extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic” targets for renewable energy use.

“If you are stuck in an elevator, if the lights won’t go on, if your fridge is thawing out, everything in the kitchen is thawing out because the power is gone, you are not going to be concerned about the particular source of that power,” he told reporters in Launceston.

“You want to know that the energy is secure.”
While Energy Minister Frydenberg did acknowledge that the September 2016 power failure was caused by a significant weather event, ‘home town hero’ Senator Xenophon claimed that South Australia had become the laughing stock of the nation.

The reality is that the weather caused significant damage to not only the interconnector from Victoria and the national grid, it also caused significant damage to high voltage towers that took power from the base load generation equipment in South Australia around the state, as well as local cables that feed power into people homes. To make it even better, Turnbull knew that the September 2016 blackout had nothing to do with renewable energy.
Turnbull said: “What we know so far is that there was an extreme weather event that damaged a number of transmission line assets knocking over towers and lines and that was the immediate cause of the blackout.”

However, Turnbull also linked the blackout to South Australia’s use of renewable energy, calling it a “wake-up call” for state leaders who were trying to hit “completely unrealistic” renewable targets.

He said state governments needed to stop the “political gamesmanship” that had seen a state like Queensland set a 50% renewable target when renewables accounted for only 4.5% of its current energy mix.

“What’s the pathway to achieve that? Very hard to see it. It’s a political or ideological statement,” Turnbull said. “We’ve got to recognise that energy security is the key priority and targeting lower emissions is very important but it must be consistent with energy security.”
Seems that the facts weren’t allowed to spoil a good story, as this event preceded President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway’s invention of the ‘alternative facts’ term by some months.

Fast forward to 8 February 2017 and 40,000 South Australians underwent the torture, euphemistically called ‘load shedding’ – where the electricity supply doesn’t meet the demand. Intelligent Energy Systems have suppled three graphs which explain the problem. The ‘National’ electricity grid (which doesn’t operate in the NT or WA) works on an economic free market system. The economic theory being that if the demand is there, various operators of the (generally) privatised power stations will bid for the ability to supply power. On 9 February, according to the ABC:
South Australian Treasurer and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis slammed AEMO for choosing not to turn on the second unit at Pelican Point on Wednesday.

"AEMO admitted that they got their demand forecast wrong in SA, and when they realised that, it was easier for them to load shed customers than turn new generators on," he said.

But Mr Koutsantonis also revealed that three generators were out of action due to technical issues.

"There were communication problems on Eyre Peninsula, which meant 75 megawatts of Port Lincoln baseload generation could not be dispatched into the system," he said.
Yes, you read it right, the market regulator chose to ‘load shed’ rather than ask a South Australian power generator to commence generation. In essence, the market regulator chose to withdraw power from 40,000 people rather than generate more power! And Turnbull claims it is because South Australia uses too many renewable energy sources. Isn’t the Liberal Party the party of small business – don’t they understand how the free market works? If they did (and actually wanted to ‘fix’ the problem), surely they would be asking the market regulator A(ustralian) E(nergy) M(arket) O(perator) why it is not allowing the market to operate?

Maybe there is an ulterior motive here. Remember Treasurer Morrison passing a lump of coal around Parliament a couple of weeks ago? Remember Turnbull’s ‘stirring’ speech accusing Opposition Leader Shorten’s apparent desire to live in a waterfront mansion? Remember the brouhaha surrounding the shortage of electricity in a state that does successfully generate a fair proportion of its electricity need from renewables? Perhaps, according to Paula Matthewson, writing on The New Daily’s website they are all related.
Onlookers may have been puzzled to see the coal passed along the government’s frontbench and then among its backbenchers (in direct contravention of the parliamentary rule against the use of props), but the purpose of the Treasurer’s behaviour was clear.

Mr Morrison set out to prove to agitating Liberal conservatives that, if there’s going to be a change of Liberal leader, he is the man to take the fight to Labor on totemic conservative issues such as coal-based electricity.
There are a few points to note here. Apparently Queensland has larger spikes in demand for power than South Australia does. Surely, if there is a reason to question how individual states manage the generation of power, all eyes should be looking at Queensland!
The vast majority of Queensland’s energy is supplied by coal and gas. In 2015, Queensland had just 4% of its supply coming from renewables, compared to South Australia, which had 41%.

“Clearly these figures show that other dynamics like market concentration and gas prices are contributing to these price spikes and volatility, not the penetration of renewable energy,” McConnell [Dylan McConnell from the Climate & Energy College at the University of Melbourne] said.

While the events in Queensland have not raised an eyebrow, the smaller volatility in South Australia last year hit the front page of newspapers around the country, with politicians and rightwing commentators blaming the state’s reliance on renewable energy, calling for a halt to renewable energy expansion.

The push against renewables was supported by the coal lobby too, with the Minerals Council of Australia saying the reliance on renewables “exposed families and businesses to higher prices, supply instability and greater reliance on imported power”.
The right wing of the Liberal Party also genuinely believes that climate change isn’t happening and carbon pollution reduction processes don’t work! Well, no it doesn’t actually:
Peta Credlin admits the climate change policy under Julia Gillard's Labor government was never a carbon tax, but the coalition used that label to stir up brutal retail politics.

Credlin, the former chief of staff to Tony Abbott when he was prime minister and now a political commentator for Sky News, said the coalition made it a "carbon tax" and a fight about the hip pocket rather than the environment.
And finally, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has calculated:
"Clean coal" plants that the Turnbull government has flagged could get clean energy subsidies, are more expensive than solar, wind and gas-fired power and would lead to higher electricity price rises, analysts have warned.

Support for what the government calls "clean coal" stations - ultra-supercritical plants, which still emit greenhouse gas - would also be at odds with a 2015 OECD agreement under which Australia agreed not to fund any type of coal power in developing countries if cleaner options were available.
What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Abbott’s legacy of destruction
Ad astra, 26 February 2017
Do you sometimes wonder how the Turnbull government has managed to get itself into such a mess?

Of course Malcolm Turnbull must shoulder much of the blame himself. A piece that I will post next week: Thirty pieces of silver attests to this. By sacrificing …

Abbott’s legacy of destruction

Do you sometimes wonder how the Turnbull government has managed to get itself into such a mess?

Of course Malcolm Turnbull must shoulder much of the blame himself. A piece that I will post next week: Thirty pieces of silver attests to this. By sacrificing his long-held principles and values on the altar of his enduring ambition to be Prime Minister no matter what the cost, he has brought about many of the vicissitudes he is now enduring.

A look further back though uncovers a set of circumstances and decisions that were made before Turnbull assumed leadership, made by just one man – the malevolent Tony Abbott – who masqueraded as Prime Minister from 18 September 2013 to 15 September 2015, three days short of two years. Yet in that short time he managed to destroy so much of what this nation needs, leaving an untidy mess for his successor, who still struggles to repair the damage.

Abbott has not changed. Just a few days ago he once more exhibited his destructive nature when he publicly attacked Turnbull’s leadership and policies, which he predicted would lead the LNP to electoral defeat if it "didn't lift its game". This time his destructiveness was aimed at his leader and his party.

If you need any persuasion, it will not take too many examples to convince you of Abbott’s destructiveness. Here they are.

Deliberately ineffectual action on climate change
There is no more disastrous area than this to illustrate Abbott’s destructiveness.

It was well before his election as PM that Abbott exposed his denial of the reality of global warming. In July 2009, he told the 7:30 Report he thought the science of climate change was "highly contentious" and the economics of an ETS "a bit dodgy…”.

Then he let it slip at a meeting in Beaufort in October of that year that "The argument is absolute crap … However, the politics of this are tough for us. 80% of people believe climate change is a real and present danger." He toyed with the idea of supporting Rudd’s ETS proposal, as he thought it would not be "a good look for the Opposition to be browner than Howard going into the next election". He habitually thinks politically.

Quizzed about his Beaufort remarks by Laurie Oakes, Abbott said: "I think that the science is far from settled on all of this. But there are good prudential reasons for taking reasonable precautions against significant potential threats. That's why I think there is a strong case for an ETS but it's got to be the right ETS. It's got to be an ETS that protects Australian jobs and protects Australian industries... I am confronted by a hostile Liberal audience on this particular issue; I am trying to bring them around to support the position of the leader and the shadow cabinet.” When challenged about his Beaufort meeting statement, Abbott said he had used "a bit of hyperbole" at the meeting rather than it being his "considered position". Later, he conceded that on climate change he was a bit of a ‘weathervane’.

Clearly, Abbott saw political advantage in opposing action on climate change.

We all knew back then what Abbott’s climate change tactics really were, but just a few days ago Peta Credlin publicly exposed Abbott’s political chicanery. An article reporting this in BuzzFeedNEWS began: “Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin has let slip that one of the most damaging political campaigns in recent Australian political history was based on bullshit.”

Credlin made her comments during an episode of Sky’s Sunday Agenda: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and when he cut through, Gillard was gone.”

The article continued with Credlin's comments:
“It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know.

“Okay, okay, okay. Let’s just provide some context. Australia has a complicated history in trying to do what many countries have already done – put a price on carbon emissions.

“Emissions trading scheme proposals contributed to the demise of Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader in 2009 and Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010. Julia Gillard finally introduced a carbon-pricing scheme in 2011.

“It was Tony Abbott who re-framed Gillard’s scheme as a “carbon tax”, even though after the first year the price on carbon emissions was no longer fixed, and was instead set by the market.

“Abbott rode the anti-carbon tax movement all the way into The Lodge and eventually had everyone, including Labor and the media, calling it a carbon tax".
There it is – the brutal truth - straight out of the horse’s mouth!

'Direct Action' fraud
To placate voters who believed that Australia ought to take some action to combat carbon pollution and global warming, Abbott invented the Coalition’s ‘Direct Action Plan’. From the beginning it was a hoax. This is how Turnbull described it: “Direct Action is “a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing” and “a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”.

As part of the DAP, Abbott created his ‘Green Army’ that was supposed to employ lots of young people in conservation pursuits, but we will never know how big or effective it was because it was axed by PM Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison before a review of it had been undertaken. We certainly didn’t hear much of what it was doing. Another ‘fig leaf’.

Abbott tried to convince voters that his DAP would cut emissions with little cost. Turnbull’s assessment was blunt: “First, let’s get this straight. You cannot cut emissions without a cost. To replace dirty coal fired power stations with cleaner gas fired ones, or renewables like wind let alone nuclear power or even coal fired power with carbon capture and storage is all going to cost money. To get farmers to change the way they manage their land, or plant trees and vegetation all costs money. Somebody has to pay.

"So any suggestion that you can dramatically cut emissions without any cost is, to use a favourite term of Mr Abbott, "bullshit." Moreover he knows it.”

Abbott engineered an LNP party room vote against an ETS, challenged Turnbull over his support for it (known then as a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) and defeated him as leader by a single party room vote. But in the end it was Kevin Rudd who put the final nail in the ETS coffin by shamefully reneging on action to combat climate change which he had pompously proclaimed was: “The greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”.

Enough said. Climate change denial, abolition of the ‘carbon tax’, deliberate inaction via the DAP, opposition to an ETS and to existing renewable energy targets, together expose Abbott’s careless and destructive approach to the problem of global warming, which left unchecked will destroy our planet.

And in the process, Abbott injected his own brand of personal invective against his arch enemy, Julia Gilliard.

Demolition of the NBN
Here is another stark example of Abbott’s destructiveness. I hardly need remind you of Abbott’s infamous instruction to then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull: “Demolish the NBN” after Labour had launched its groundbreaking Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) National Broadband Network, which would have given this nation a competitive advantage in a globally-wired world.

Instead, Turnbull’s multi-technology mix, combined with a second rate Fibre to the Node (FTTN) scheme has left us languishing 45th in the world of Internet speeds, behind schedule in rollout, and likely even more expensive than Labor’s plan. You know the distressing details of a good system ruined by Abbott’s malevolent interference, all in pursuit of destroying what his opponents had created.

In the process, he has set this nation back, damaged our competitiveness, left individuals and businesses struggling with an inadequate, fault-ridden system, and all this from a Liberal leader, who ought to have embraced the NBN as essential to our nation’s prosperity.

Abbott sacrificed his Liberal principles in pursuit of destructive vengeance against his political opponents. Shameful! Disgraceful!

Strangling marriage equality
Abbott wishes the status quo on marriage to remain. Whilst conceding that a relationship other than between a man and a woman can be legitimate, he maintains that “…however deeply affectionate or long lasting it may be, the relationship between two people of the same sex cannot be a marriage because a marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman...

Whilst most people would concede that he is entitled to his opinion on this issue, the question is whether he is entitled to impose his views on the whole electorate. We know that his religious affiliation governs his attitude, which is understandable. But it is his devious way of engineering a decision on this matter that is so despicable and destructive of social cohesion.

He knows full well that the elected members of parliament are entitled and indeed competent to reach a decision on this matter, but fearing that this might result in a positive vote for marriage equality, he has deviously pushed the decision to a plebiscite under the pretence that this is the most democratic approach. He pushes this line despite a clear majority of the electorate being in favour of marriage equality, and also in favour of a parliamentary vote deciding the matter. While they are not objecting to a plebiscite, they see it as unnecessary, a waste of taxpayers’ money with a price tag of $160 million, and a pointless delaying tactic. The Coalition’s hard right inveigled Turnbull into agreeing to a plebiscite in return for their vote for him to topple Abbott.

Abbott knows that opponents of marriage equality will use the debate leading up to the plebiscite to unleash their venom on LGBTI people who are already vulnerable. The so-called Australian Christian Lobby, which does not represent any church or religious group, is ready and well funded to launch destructive opposition that will upset, damage and threaten the mental health of LGBTI folk. There is fear that those already on the edge may take their own life, so fragile are they.

Shortly after becoming PM, when the ACT Legislative Assembly passed the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013, a bill to allow same-sex couples to legally marry, Abbott mounted a federal government challenge to this decision in the High Court, which ruled that the Act be dismantled as it clashed with the Federal Marriage Act 1961. This was Abbott’s first win; he is determined to have another, and kill off marriage equality once and for all.

Does Abbott care? No. A man with such destructive predilections is more concerned about political triumph than he is about the feelings and wellbeing of LGBTI folk. This issue is redolent with his mix of deviousness and destructiveness.

Imposing his moral views on others.
We know that Abbott has strong views grounded in his religious upbringing as a Roman Catholic. But he is intolerant of the views of others. Here are a few examples:

He is a trenchant opponent of embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia, and is uneasy about abortion, which he insists should be "safe, legal and rare". You will remember that in 2006, as Health Minister, he opposed access to the abortion drug RU486 so strongly that an angry Parliament voted to strip health ministers of the power to regulate this area of policy. Religious conviction overrode any vestigial concern Abbott might have had for women with unwanted pregnancies.

In his 2009 book Battlelines, he advocated at-fault divorce agreements between couples, which would require spouses to prove offences like adultery, habitual drunkenness, cruelty, desertion, or a five-year separation before a divorce would be granted. He argued that this would be a way of "providing additional recognition to what might be thought of as traditional marriage".

Abbott harbours hard line moral attitudes. He is unconcerned about what others believe. He will not change his beliefs to accommodate others, no matter how damaging his position might be to them..

This piece is already long enough. I could mention the 2014 Abbott/Hockey Budget that brutalized the less well off, and his punitive attitude to asylum seekers, but there is no need here to elaborate further on Abbott’s legacy of destruction. If you need any more detail, I recommend Wikipedia’s account of Abbott’s career.  

Abbott is politically combative, adversarial, vengeful, and pitilessly destructive.

His dictum is that if an opponent develops a policy framework, it must be destroyed, simply because it is not his or his party’s. No matter how beneficial it might be to the prosperity, competitiveness or security of this nation it must be destroyed. No matter how beneficial it might be to groups or individuals, it must be destroyed.

It is Abbott who has shaped so many of the adversarial policies with which Turnbull has now to grapple. It is Abbott’s destructiveness that has left a trail of damage and distress that will take years to rectify, if indeed they ever can be.

This man, who promised 'There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping' after he was overturned by Turnbull, after lurking in the shadows for years has finally come out into the open with a clear intent to destroy his nemesis, and his party with him.

Last Friday he launched an all-out assault on Turnbull and his government, even suggesting another set of Abbott slogans: ““In short, why not say to the people of Australia: we’ll cut the RET, to help with your power bills; we’ll cut immigration to make housing more affordable; we’ll scrap the Human Rights Commission to stop official bullying; we’ll stop all new spending to end ripping off our grandkids; and we’ll reform the Senate to have government, not gridlock.”

It is now obvious to everyone that Abbott’s destructive hand is around the throat of his party and its leader. Writing in The New Daily, Paula Matthewson put it this way: “The increasing intensity and destructiveness of Mr Abbott’s behaviour belies his claim to be interested only in protecting the Liberal Party’s conservative ethos. His behaviour is not one of protection but of destruction; a flagrant display of smashing the bat and ball, then setting both alight to prevent anyone else from playing.”

What a destructive blight on this fair nation Abbott has been, and continues to be. Has there ever been anyone worse?

What do you think?
What are your views about Tony Abbott?

Have you other examples of his destructiveness?

Let us know in comments below.

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Is trickle down economics a fraud?


The spectre of trickle down economics continues to haunt the political landscape, emerging again and again like a ghostly zombie from a dark, damp cave where it quietly moulders, refusing to die, always ready to be summoned by a believer.

Not often is the term ‘trickle down’ uttered, and when it is, it is by opponents of the concept. Instead, the proponents tell us that giving tax cuts to the top end of town will benefit those at the bottom through more jobs and better wages.

At his National Press Club address at the beginning of February, PM Turnbull again cited his plan for tax cuts to business as central to the rejuvenation of the economy, to increased competitiveness, and to the creation of more jobs and better pay for workers. Scott Morrison has been harping on this theme for months as he pushes the government’s proposed 50 billion tax cuts to business.

Donald Trump is singing from the same song sheet. He plans to stimulate job growth through massive cuts to corporate tax, reducing it to 15%, and simplifying and lowering personal tax.

In other words, these leaders are gambling on trickle down economics doing the job.

What is the truth about this longstanding economic device? Unfortunately, in this post-truth era, in this weird phase of ‘alternative facts’ the ‘truth’ is whatever one wants it to be; words can mean whatever you want them to mean, Humpty Dumpty style, or should I say Kellyanne Conway style?

For months now, I have been researching ‘trickle down economics’, sometimes known as ‘supply side economics’, a term preferred by advocates who feel offended by the more pejorative term. I have read dozens of articles from many sources.

My conclusion is that political ideology is the most significant determinant of the attitude politicians have to the trickle-down concept. Conservatives are more likely to be believers; progressives more likely to be skeptics.

There have been several pieces on The Political Sword on this subject over the years: In April 2011, after the publication by Queensland University’s professor of economics, John Quiggin, of his book Zombie Economics: How dead ideas still walk among us  (Princeton University Press, 2010), there was a TPS piece: Joe Hockey should read John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics. Quiggin’s exposé was about how discredited ideas in economics don’t die, nor are they alive, they are simply ‘un-dead’ – zombie like. Here is an abbreviated account of what that piece had to say about trickle down economics:
"Trickle-down economics is an idea that whatever benefits are given to the wealthy, they will filter down to the poorest…As long as there have been rich and poor people, or powerful and powerless people, there have been advocates to explain that it’s better for everyone if things stay that way. While great economists such as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mills and John Maynard Keynes have supported income re-distribution through progressive taxation, and most economists still do today, there are still some who argue that we should let the rich get richer and wait for the benefits to trickle down to the poor.

“Quiggin gives example after example showing the trickle down hypothesis is false, and caps this with a telling graph of household income distribution in the US from 1965 to 2005 that shows that those on the 95th percentile for income steadily improved their position by over fifty percent, while those on the 20th percentile and below were static. Here is another graph of incomes in the US for a similar period - from 1970 to 2010:

“Quiggin points out that the biggest challenge of the failure of the trickle-down hypothesis is to understand why and how inequality increased so much under market liberalism, and how it can be reversed.”
Increasing inequality is perhaps the most serious outcome of applying trickle down economics.

In April 2015 there was The trickle down effect, that, among other things, described the differing approaches of the governors of adjoining states, Minnesota and Wisconsin, to workers’ wages, and showed that rather than boosting the wealthy, giving a proper basic wage to workers had a more positive effect on the state economy. This is sometimes described as ‘middle out’ economics that proposes that the most potent driver of an economy is the spending power of the middle class, not the upper class. You can read about this here and here.

'Middle out economics’ is more likely to diminish inequality, whereas ‘trickle-down’ increases it.

In May 2016 there was another: Trickle down economics breeds inequality that emphasized the way in which trickle down accelerated inequality.

For anyone seeking to explore the history of Trickle-down economics, Wikipedia gives a good account. Here is an abbreviated version of the Wikipedia entry.

It may surprise you to learn that the trickle-down concept dates back to 1896, when Democratic Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan used the metaphor of a ‘leak’: “There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.”

The economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted that ‘trickle-down economics’ had been tried before in the United States in the 1890s under the name "horse and sparrow theory." … “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”

It was humorist Will Rogers who first referred to the theory as ‘trickle down’ policy.

Since 1921 the dominant philosophy in Washington has been that the object of government was to provide prosperity for those who lived and worked at the top of the economic pyramid, in the belief that prosperity would trickle down to the bottom of the heap and benefit all. The first known use of ‘trickle-down’ was in 1944, while the first known use of trickle-down theory was in 1954.

The ideological divide between believers in trickle-down and non-believers is captured in the words of Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, who alleged that "Republicans simply don't know how to manage the economy. They're so busy operating the trickle-down theory, giving the richest corporations the biggest break, that the whole thing goes to hell in a hand basket.”

In 1992, Republican Senator Hank Brown said, "Mr. President, the trickle-down theory attributed to the Republican Party has never been articulated by President Reagan and has never been articulated by President Bush and has never been advocated by either one of them. One might argue whether trickle down makes any sense or not.” That sentiment prevails! ‘Trickle-down’ is not often articulated, but its modus operandi, tax cuts to the wealthy, is.

Here are some more excerpts from Wikipedia
In the 1992 presidential election, Independent candidate Ross Perot called trickle-down economics ‘political voodoo’. In New Zealand, Labour Party MP Damien O'Connor called trickle-down economics "the rich pissing on the poor". A 2012 study by the Tax Justice Network indicates that wealth of the super-rich does not trickle down to improve the economy, but tends to be amassed and sheltered in tax havens with a negative effect on the tax bases of the home economy.

In 2013, Pope Francis referred to trickle-down theories in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium with the statement: "Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
If the income share of the top 20 percent (the rich) increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, suggesting that the benefits do not trickle down. In contrast, an increase in the income share of the bottom 20 percent (the poor) is associated with higher GDP growth.”

A 2015 report on policy by economist Pavlina R. Tcherneva described the failings of increasing economic gains of the rich without commensurate participation by the working and middle classes.

In the 2016 US presidential candidates debate, Hillary Clinton accused Donald Trump of supporting the ‘most extreme’ version of trickle-down economics with his tax plan, calling it "trumped-up trickle-down."
Trickle-down has a long and continuing history!

Let’s look now at a few more expositions on trickle-down.

You might like to start with a short 2014 article by Kathleen Miles from The Huffington Post: Next Time Someone Argues For 'Trickle-Down' Economics, Show Them This that has a telling graph. It addresses a favourite saying of conservatives: A rising tide lifts all boats, and after providing salient facts, concludes: “a rising tide has lifted a few big boats and washed the rest aside. Note how well the top 20% are doing compared with the bottom 20%.

Next, try this one from 2015: Trickle down economics is wrong, says IMF. It begins:
Adding another nail to the coffin of Reaganomics, a recent study published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has concluded that, contrary to the principles of “trickle-down” economics, an increase in the income share of the wealthiest people actually leads to a decrease in GDP growth.

“The benefits do not trickle down,” the authors of the study write, directly contradicting the theory that US president Ronald Reagan popularized in the 1980s. Reagan argued that decreasing the tax burden for the rich investors, executives, corporations and the like, would not only increase their own income but stimulate broad economic growth as they create opportunities for others’ increased prosperity…

“But the IMF study’s five authors say we should instead focus on raising the income of the poor and the middle class. “Widening income inequality is the defining challenge of our time,” they write. “In advanced economies, the gap between the rich and poor is at its highest level in decades.”

“Raising up the poor appears to have a dramatic effect: A 1% increase in the income share of the bottom quintile results in a 0.38% increase in GDP. Meanwhile, a 1% increase in the income share of the top 20% results in a 0.08% decrease in GDP growth.”
This article highlights perhaps the most damaging effect of the application of trickle down economics – increasing inequality of income and wealth.

For those who need a more detailed appraisal, try How Trickle-down Economics Works, first written in 2008 by Jane McGrath and reproduced this year. After six pages of informative analysis the article concluded:
“Trickle-down economics remains highly controversial. Recently, George W. Bush faced harsh criticism for his tax cuts. Despite staunch political opponents to trickle-down policies, some maintain that the general consensus among economists today is that the theory works. Nevertheless, you'll still find plenty of controversy surrounding trickle-down economics among politicians. Many, including Barack Obama, contend that it failed. During a hurting economy, Obama won the support of voters by promising to tax the wealthy and ease the tax burden on the lower-income bracket. So as of 2008, the tide of public opinion certainly shifted away from supply-side thinking yet again. Time will tell if opinion will shift back again."
For a contemporary view, try this article: Can Trump make 'trickle-down' economics work? by Paul Davidson in USA Today. It concludes: “Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, says tax cuts do lead to stronger investment and job growth, but those benefits “are generally overstated.” He says they “do not pay for themselves” through additional tax revenue, citing the ballooning national debt during Reagan's term. That doesn’t mean slicing business taxes doesn’t have advantages. Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter says lowering the corporate tax rate – highest among advanced economies – would make the USA more competitive as a location for multinationals.”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

There are many more I could quote, some supporting, some denigrating trickle down economics, but enough is enough. What can we conclude?

The evidence is that giving tax breaks to business DOES work – their competiveness does improve. Giving tax breaks to the wealthy DOES work – they become wealthier. What the proponents of tax cuts won’t concede though is that the benefits of these tax cuts DO NOT trickle down to those at the bottom.

The evidence about the trickle-down effects of tax breaks has not been subject to rigorous appraisal. Those supporting it select facts and figures that prop up their case, as do those refuting it. Seldom does one read a well-balanced appraisal.

Economics is complex. There are many variables. It is not possible to control for all except one, or even a few. So where trickle down seems to have provided benefits to the economy, other factors have been operative, as was the case in Reaganomics.

In my view, the evidence is STRONGLY AGAINST the benefits of tax cuts for the top end of town trickling down to lower income earners in the form of more jobs and better wages. The touted benefit of trickle-down for those at the bottom has all the hallmarks of a fraud. Bernie Sanders says the same. I know though that most conservatives would disagree.

Finally, we ought not to expect a sudden change in economic thinking. In the field of science, a theory is tested continuously against accumulating contrary evidence until it finally overwhelms the theory, whereupon a ‘paradigm shift’, as described by Thomas S Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions occurs, the theory is discarded and is replaced by a more plausible one. In my view, that will not occur with the trickle-down theory. Economics seems unreceptive to paradigm shifts.

We can expect that conservatives will continue to promote the merits of trickle down economics (but not in those words), and will continue to implement its basic instruments – tax cuts for the top end of town and the wealthy – satisfied that benefits will trickle down to those at the bottom of the heap, a position that aligns with their ideology and their positive orientation towards those at the top, most of which are their supporters.

Progressives will argue the opposite, pointing to the undeniable evidence that the net effect of the application of trickle-down is to steadily increase inequality in income and wealth between those at the top and those languishing at the bottom. This is the most dangerous and damaging outcome, as widening inequality fosters discontent, discord, social disruption, and when extreme, revolution.

Facts, figures, reason and logic are of no value in this debate. Those whose political ideology is conservative will continue to believe in and apply trickle down economics; those whose ideology is progressive will continue to oppose it. There will never be agreement. The impasse is incapable of resolution. So we had better get used to it!

What do you think?
What are your views about trickle down economics?

Is there any prospect that agreement between believers and non-believers can be reached?

If you were in politics, what would you do?

Let us know in comments below.

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Would you believe that I am a 25 year old self-made millionaire and spend my life travelling around the world — only if I can fly in an Etihad A380 equipped with “The Residence” three room suite (only plebs travel First Class apparently!). I also have bankers beating a path to my door to lend me money for my latest development proposal — after all anything I touch turns to a platinum - plated investment opportunity.

You’re right, the statements above are overblown and you could make the claim they are alternative facts (aka completely made up fantasies). The bio listed here is far more accurate, although the alternative facts I have presented sound far more appealing than getting on the bus most mornings to go to work. Rest assured that if I need to borrow money from a bank, I am the one approaching them, cap in hand and demonstrating that they have a better than equal chance of getting their money back one day. For some funny reason, banks seem to want you to prove that you are who you are and, more importantly, have the capacity to repay your debts. In case you’re interested, my credit card limit precludes me from even dreaming about Etihad’s ‘The Residence’ class travel.

Kellyanne Conway must live in that rarefied space where banks don’t look for evidence of a capacity to repay, airlines happily allow you to travel ‘at the pointy end’ and the facts are variable dependent on the message you want to give, regardless of the consequences. Conway is the ‘councillor’ to President Trump who defended some overblown claims by Trump’s Press Secretary (Sean Spicer) by commenting that Spicer’s defence of the claim that more people attended the Trump inauguration than anyone else’s were merely ‘alternative facts’.

If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny. Spicer was clearly wrong as the photos of Obama’s 2009 inauguration (above, on the left) and Trump’s 2017 version (on the right) demonstrate. As NBC (America) reported:
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gathered the press to deliver a five-minute statement Saturday in which he issued multiple falsehoods, declaring erroneously the number of people who used the D.C. metro on Friday, that there was a change in security measures this year and that "this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe."

"These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong," Spicer said Saturday.

Asked on "Meet the Press" why Spicer used his first appearance before the press to dispute a minimal issue like the inauguration crowd size, and why he used falsehoods to do so, Conway pushed back.

"You're saying it's a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that," she told NBC's Chuck Todd.

She then went on to echo Spicer's claim on Saturday that it wasn't possible to count the crowd, despite Trump's team's accompanying insistence that it was the "largest audience".
The problem is, as reported by NBC:
Conway also suggested that Todd's insistence on asking why Spicer delivered a demonstrably false statement could affect the White House's treatment of the media.

"If we're going to keep referring to the press secretary in those types of terms I think we're going to have to rethink our relationship here," she said.
Trump’s ‘counsellor’, Conway, is suggesting that if an NBC reporter doesn’t ‘toe the line’ and report what he is told to report, NBC may have difficulties in gaining access to the US President’s press conferences. It might be that limited or no access is actually a good thing as it would demonstrate that at least one US based news organisation didn’t (wasn’t permitted to) drink the same Kool-Aid as the rest of the press pack that surrounds Washington DC.

It’s probably a bit hard to ‘toe the line’ when a week later, Conway cited the ‘Bowling Green massacre’ when defending Trump’s 90 day ban on any immigration from certain middle eastern countries.

There was no massacre in Bowling Green USA:
Conway was referring to the case of two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, who were arrested in 2011 and later convicted of attempting to send weapons, explosives and money to al Qaeda in Iraq for the purpose of killing American soldiers.

"Neither person is charged with plotting any attacks on American soil," David Hale, then U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said at the time. "These charges relate to activities that occurred when they were in Iraq, first of all. Secondly, they relate to conspiracy to aid al Qaeda in Iraq."

The men, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi and Waad Ramadan Alwan, admitted to using explosive devices against U.S. soldiers in Iraq in the past, but there were no deaths connected to the plot they were involved in while living in Bowling Green.
When the (in this case inconvenient) truth was pointed out to Conway, she claimed that she was referring to the ‘Bowling Green terrorists’, and that Obama had also tightened immigration requirements for people coming from Iraq and what Trump was doing was no different.

Not only was the ban ‘stayed’ by a (US) federal judge in Seattle, as the judge agreed with the argument that the ban was unconstitutional, the ban does not affect all middle eastern countries. It’s entirely co-incidental of course that the ban doesn’t include countries where Trump has business interests. This is in spite of Saudi Arabian and Egyptian nationals being almost entirely responsible for the 9/11 attack in the US — which caused the death of over 3000 people.

Of course we don’t know for sure that Trump personally still has business dealings with Saudi Arabia and Egypt as he has yet to release his financial affairs — which is ironic as he was one of those screaming for the release of Obama’s birth certificate claiming that, as Obama was born outside the USA, he could not be President. (Obama was born in Hawaii.) Others however have gone into Trump’s business empire with some rigour. Published on The Guardian’s website, Aryeh Neier comments:
In identifying Muslim-majority countries from which refugees and visas will be blocked because of concerns about terrorism, Trump left out Saudi Arabia. Yet most of those who hijacked airliners to attack New York and Washington DC on 9/11, the deadliest terrorist episode in history, were Saudis.

Does Trump shy away from offending Saudi Arabia because he has business dealings with wealthy Saudis? Or because he expects them to curry favor by patronizing his new hotel in Washington? We don’t know. By refusing to release his tax returns and by refusing to divest himself of his businesses, he raises such questions.

Another country left off the list is Egypt. Yet the leader of the 9/11 hijackers was Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian. Was Egypt omitted because Trump is developing a warm relationship with the country’s brutal dictator, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi? Again, we don’t know
Trump has domestic problems as well with his less than transparent business dealings where Trump is the ultimate owner of a number of buildings and facilities that have leases in place with the US government. For a start, one of Trump’s companies has a lease over an old building owned by the US Post Office. His company has turned it into an expensive hotel. The property lease has a clause that specifically prohibits any ‘elected official of the government of the United States’ from holding ‘any share of part of this Lease’. While Trump has nominally handed his business interests over to his family to run, Trump can revoke the trust, which was amended three days before his inauguration, at any time according to The Guardian.

While the embellishments of the Trump Presidency in Washington DC really are not that important in Australia, there are some similarities with Australian politicians. The most notable of this ‘select’ group is former Prime Minister Abbott who led an opposition and government that promised $100 lamb roasts should the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme come into effect; a faster and more affordable NBN which clearly isn’t the case — fibre to the premises as originally promised by the ALP can cope with 100mbps or better — and a mature and stable federal government.

After refusing to discuss his donations to the Liberal Party prior to the 2016 election, Malcolm Turnbull (or President Trumbull if you believe the Trump administration) finally revealed that he donated a staggering $1.75million in the current financial year which means that his largesse did not have to be reported until sometime in 2018. Given the most recent election was on July 2, 2016, Turnbull must have made the donation on election eve or soon after the election to help pay his party’s election debts. Given that $1.75 million is a sum of money of far larger value than the majority of the Australian population will ever be in a position to give away, you would have to wonder about the state of the Liberal Party’s balance sheet and what influence the donation gets Turnbull over the workings of the Liberal Party and by association the Australian government.

Not that the Liberals are the only ones that construct alternative facts and hide relevant information. Pauline Hanson, who bills her ‘One Nation’ party as the party of non-politicians, was first elected to a political office as a councillor for the City of Ipswich in Queensland in 1994. She entered federal parliament in 1996. Twenty-one years later, Hanson is in parliament again after failing to be elected on a number of occasions over the past two decades. Nearly a quarter of a century in most professions would suggest that you are making a living from the profession. The only real change to Hanson’s divisiveness and negativity is that the Asians who were going to ‘swamp Australia’ in 1996 were replaced by Africans in 2006 and by 2016 they too had been replaced by the Muslims, still going to ‘swamp Australia’. Of course, Hanson has never had to actually demonstrate how she would implement her policies.

Trump is innately conservative and obviously has people around him who believe they can say anything and get away with it. He also seems to have a lack of understanding about the need for transparency and compliance with rules that have been developed to protect both the elected leaders of the USA and the people of the USA. Abbott, Turnbull and Hanson clearly believe in similar theories, as some of their actions demonstrate.

The issue for all of us is that people like this selling of simple naive political concepts, that translate well to media, diminish the standard and quality of political discourse for all of us — as it seems the only way to get the attention of those listening to the populism is to disappear down the same rabbit hole. So instead of having a rational debate over something as critical as efforts to mitigate climate change, we were treated to the then alternative prime minister of this country, Tony Abbott, running around the countryside in a hi-viz vest shouting no new taxes. While he did eliminate that particular ‘tax’ once he convinced some of the Senate crossbenchers to support the move (which took some time), he increased and implemented other taxes. Our current political leader is supporting a failed process that is scamming those in our community who have accessed social security benefits while supporting reductions in taxes paid by business.

Australia thankfully is not the USA. Australia can do better than a political leader who clearly doesn’t see a problem in being xenophobic, economical with the truth while brooking no discussion on issues that are relevant. How about we ask our politicians to treat us as adults and have a discussion, rather than repeat populist claptrap?

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Selfishness is political poison

Amid the contemporary chaos of national and international politics do you wonder what's behind it all?

Is there a common factor that might explain our own federal government’s failures, its incompetence, and its appalling behaviour?

Is there an explanation for the words, behaviour, and punitive actions of Donald Trump?

Is there a common theme that explains Brexit, and the rise of extreme right wing and conservative movements across Europe and in America?

This piece argues that selfishness in all its forms is a deadly poison that infiltrates, damages and eventually destroys a nation’s political principles and values. It is a lethal poison because it places self-interest ahead of the common good, and thereby brings in its wake inequality, unfairness, disadvantage, disentitlement, dispossession, disenfranchisement, repression, hopelessness, poverty, despair, and eventually destruction.

Long ago philosophers and clerics spoke of the Seven Deadly Sins. They are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

Their origin is attributed to the ‘Desert Fathers’, early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD.

If you reflect on their nature, there is a common thread running through them – selfishness. Those who lust, want what others have; those who exhibit gluttony, want more than is reasonable; those who are greedy, want more than their fair share; and those who show envy, want what others have. Selfishness is at the core of most of the Seven Deadly Sins.

We don’t have to look far to see selfishness at play in politics the world over.

Let’s begin with the most grotesque example: Donald Trump.

In his adult life Trump has exhibited selfishness. He has lusted after money; he has lusted after fame; he has lusted after power. He now has all three.

Of these, power is the most intoxicating. We have seen him wielding it ruthlessly in public, showing off his signature on Executive Orders, the most potent of all being his Immigration Order that bars for 90 days refugees and people from majority-Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya) from entering the US. Last week Trump signed an Executive Order barring Syrian refugees indefinitely, and halting the US refugee resettlement program for four months.

He has issued several other orders, but his Immigration Order is the one that has evoked the most reaction from the public in the US and overseas. Massive rallies in the US and around the world continue to protest against its unfairness. US public officials have challenged the constitutionality of his action. A federal judge in New York granted an emergency stay, temporarily halting the deportation of people detained under Trump’s Order. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates defied Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration. So, as he was wont to do on his TV realty program The Apprentice, he fired her! Yet Trump may find that the legal challenges to his power - the law versus executive power – may be what bring about his undoing. America values its laws.

Overseas governments have expressed dismay at Trump’s Immigration Order, describing it in derogatory terms. A notable exception is our own PM, who has ‘declined to comment’ in public, an action consistent with his timid behaviour. He says he will comment in private to Trump, but who believes that when he’s beholden to Trump to take our Manus Island and Nauru refugees.

Trump’s punitive and selfish behaviour masquerades under clever framing designed to appeal to his supporters: ‘Put America First’, or simply ‘America First’. To the unthinking that seems reasonable. Already our own Treasurer is mouthing ‘Australia First’, and now our Opposition Leader is talking about 'Aussie First', both hoping to entice those who find that an attractive proposition, and in the process draw One Nation supporters their way.

But it’s the other side of the coin that offends. While on the superficial face of it putting one’s country first might seem reasonable, the corollary is that all others are second or lower down the pecking order. It distracts the electorate from the distress, the pain, the dispossession, and the desperation of hundreds of millions around the world who through war or natural disaster have been rendered homeless and destitute. What does putting one’s country first mean for them? Already we see the answer in Trump’s suspension of the US resettlement program and his indefinite barring of Syrian refugees.

Human beings are innately tribal at all levels of society. So looking after oneself and one’s own first seems natural and reasonable. But much of humanity has moved beyond that. It has recognized that those less fortunate deserve our attention, respect and support. Trump’s actions erode those worthy ideals, principles espoused by the great religions of the world. His actions have rekindled tribal instincts among many. A contemporary survey in the US reports that over 40% of respondents supports Trump’s immigration stance.

Yet there are hundreds of thousands who do not. They are out in the streets in the US and elsewhere, shouting ‘Let them in’. They despise Trump’s actions. They see the selfishness of his Orders, the arrogance of his actions, and the ruthlessness of his demeanour as destructive of the moral fibre of the US. They see him leading compliant Americans down a path of self-interest: US first, and to hell with the rest of humanity no matter how much suffering these people are enduring. Despite his quasi-religious words, his actions and behaviour are anti-Christian, but equally anti-Muslim, and anti all the great religions of the world that show concern for the poor, the dispossessed and the destitute, and seek to improve their condition.

Trump is leading his nation, and dragging compliant nations along with him, down a path of extreme selfishness and concomitant disregard for all others. It is the antithesis of responsible and caring behaviour. It is reprehensible. It is destructive.

Is there no one, no leader, no nation that will stop him?

Justin Trudeau has spoken out. He has made it clear that Canada welcomes refugees.

Most other nations are mute. Some European leaders have condemned Trump’s action, but have fallen short of renewing a welcome to refugees. They are terrified of the electoral consequences. We are witnessing the emergence of extreme right wing groups in France, Germany, and now even in the Netherlands, so that the contest at their next elections will be between the right wing and the extreme right wing. The progressives are being left behind.

Why have these extreme groups arisen? Selfishness again. They resent the levels of immigration from the Middle East and Africa that has seen millions of refugees trudging into Europe or arriving on the overcrowded boats of people-smugglers. The Brexit outcome demonstrated the unexpectedly high level of anger and resentment many Britons felt at the high level of immigration to the UK from Europe. They wanted their country back again.

We here are not immune from these sentiments. From Abbott to the arrogant Morrison to the loathsome Dutton, the anti-immigrant sentiment has been handed down, echoed by our timid PM, and applauded all the time by Pauline Hanson and her supporters. Collectively they have garnered the support of much of the electorate.

Wherever we turn, we see the ugly face of selfishness, an attitude of ‘me-first and too bad about the others’. Politicians have it within their power to counter this but few chose to do so. Justin Trudeau has. But our weak lily-livered PM and his conservative puppet-masters have chosen not to. Their self-interest is incompatible with concern about the common good.

If decent people feel despairing about the morality of governments around the world; if they feel deserted by our own federal government, it is because of selfishness, obsessive concern for personal survival, disinterest in the principles so poignantly expressed in the actions of the Good Samaritan, all the time accentuated by weakness and ineffectiveness in caring for anyone but their own.

Is selfishness the ultimate Deadly Sin?

What do you think?
Do you agree that selfishness is the root cause of most political conflict and discord?

If not, name what you regard as a more basic ‘sin’ in politics.

Let us know in comments below.

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‘Computer says ‘no’
2353NM, 29 January 2017
Once upon a time, someone came up with an economic theory that robbery was good for the economy. The theory was along the lines that the robbers get some extra cash and most of it will reappear in the economy at some point soon after the robbery; the bank or shop is insured for the loss so it gets its money back; and as the number of robberies per annum doesn’t exceed the insurance premiums that banks and shops pay, the insurance companies are not out of pocket either. More...

Computer says ‘no’

Once upon a time, someone came up with an economic theory that robbery was good for the economy. The theory was along the lines that the robbers get some extra cash and most of it will reappear in the economy at some point soon after the robbery; the bank or shop is insured for the loss so it gets its money back; and as the number of robberies per annum doesn’t exceed the insurance premiums that banks and shops pay, the insurance companies are not out of pocket either. Of course, the theory is rubbish as stealing money (regardless of the rationale) is just wrong: staff and innocent bystanders who are the real victims of robberies are likely to need considerable physical and mental health support for a long time and so on.

Some apparently have a similar attitude to Centrelink benefits. In reality Centrelink pays out billions a year to those who qualify, according to some criteria or other, for financial assistance from the government. In any general population, there will be some who determine (for their own reasons) that their need is more important than others and, as this obviously not going to be met by compliance with ‘the system’, they will rort the system to get what they believe is their genuine entitlement. Centrelink’s billions are a good target as they have plenty more money to give away and a little extra won’t hurt.

In December 2016, Australia trundled off again to the silly season. It could be so named because of the number of public holidays, that people are nicer to each other than usual or there are a number of religious commemorations jammed into the month-long period. The ‘silly season’ is also a period when institutions (lets pick on governments and political parties here for examples) bring out unpopular announcements that they hope will be hidden by the decrease in attention generally shown by those who are searching for the latest toy at 2am in the morning, concerned about the results of the ‘summer of sport’ in their particular field of interest, or dreading the forced interaction with cousin Eric at the in-laws yet again. So what does the government try to hide in plain sight in December 2016? The obvious answer is that Centrelink unveiled their new ‘wizz-bang’ fraud detection system.

No one here is suggesting for a second that those who do commit fraud should get away with it. The concept is as silly as bank robbery being good for the economy. However, to be effective, a fraud detection system needs to have some rigour behind it to ensure that those who are doing the right thing are not unfairly targeted. Centrelink’s doesn’t.

When you apply for a benefit from Centrelink you are required to provide certain information regarding your financial affairs (as well as personal information so they can identify you). Some Centrelink benefits are targeted at those who ‘need a hand for a little while’ — such as those who have run out of sick and holiday leave while suffering a serious illness or the temporarily unemployed. It is highly probable that for a large proportion of the financial year in question, those that ‘need a hand’ would not qualify for a benefit as they earn too much (not that you have to earn much to disqualify yourself from most benefits). As you would expect, Centrelink looks at your income at the time a benefit is needed rather than the whole year’s income to determine if a short-term benefit is payable and the decision is made on that information.

All well and good you might suggest, and you’d be right, except that when Centrelink’s computer is given information from the Tax Office’s computer, which is only interested in your income for the year, there is a problem. The Tax Office may report that a person earned well in excess of the benefit cut off in a particular financial year (currently they are looking back six years). Centrelink’s automatic fraud prevention system then questions why you received a benefit for a part of the year. Rather than referring it to a person within Centrelink who can see that for three months of the year, the person was residing in the ICU at the local hospital, between jobs or in some other circumstance that determined that they ‘needed a hand’, the automated letter is sent out and a debt collector engaged.

And there’s the problem. Rather than quickly realise that a mistake has been made, correct the error and actively chase those who do defraud the system, Centrelink senior management and government ministers seem to be comfortable with something like 20,000 letters a week being dispatched with demands for payment being made prior to any discussion of the accuracy of the claim being considered and most of the letters being blatantly wrong. It could be considered to be a fraudulent business scheme; a swindle which is coincidentally the definition of a scam. Ironic really, when another section of the federal government runs the Scamwatch website. In fact, Deputy PM Joyce and acting ‘responsible’ minister Christian Porter are singing the praises of the system.

There are many others who have written about this issue and the seeming double standard surrounding parliamentary members’ travel claims — that frequently are in the tens of thousands. The co-incidence of now ex-Health Minister Sussan Ley being on the Gold Coast ‘for work’ when a unit she was interested in purchasing was up for auction has been done to death, as have the claims of a number of other ministers. The Shovel has an interesting take on the events as well, which given the history of this government, has that slight ‘ring of truth’ to it.

The interesting thing about Sussan Ley’s ‘impulse’ purchase of the unit on the Gold Cost is that it wasn’t a recent purchase. It was made in 2015 and while the reputed $800,000 unit on the Gold Coast may sound excessive to you, me and clearly most Australians, really the unit isn’t that expensive for where it is.

The real question is who mentioned the purchase to the media in the middle of public outrage over the government’s debt collection practices — regardless of whether the practices are legally or morally correct?

Of course, since the unfortunate relegation of Sussan Ley, others were jockeying (to a greater or lesser level of success) for the position of health minister. The ‘prime minister in waiting’ Tony Abbott did his chances no favour when he chose to speak out on the renewable energy target for 2020 (that his government implemented). Pauline Hanson certainly wants Abbott back in the Ministry, which may also be more of a hindrance than a help in the short and long term.

Turnbull has replaced Ley with Greg Hunt (former environment minister for both Abbott and Turnbull) who seems, in current LNP terms, a safe pair of hands. Environmentalists may decry his actions while environment minister, but he did generally keep environmental issues off the front page which is something other portfolios in the Turnbull government can’t seem to achieve:
Having been environment minister in the Abbott government, Hunt is used to difficult portfolios. In that role he oversaw the abolition of the carbon tax and the creation of the government-funded Direct Action scheme that pays polluters to reduce their emissions.

In 2016 he was named "best minister in the world" by the World Government Summit — an honour recognising his work to protect the Great Barrier Reef and his contribution to the Paris climate talks.
Ley has taken a bullet for the team and the world rolls on. Other ministers, including Bishop and Cormann, are also being questioned on travel expenses incurred on official business at what seem to be exclusive social events. Clearly there is more at play here than the ill-advised purchase of a unit on the Gold Coast.

Not being an insider, how does that work? Is there somebody somewhere who trawls through the workings of government looking for potentially embarrassing material that can be released at the opportune time to make a political point; is it sheer incompetence; or, worse still, is it a belief in one’s own importance so great that somehow thousands of public moneys used ‘on official business’ when you happen to go along to a property auction in your private capacity ‘while you’re there’ is acceptable practice?

In all probability, it is one of the latter two possibilities. Just before the 2015 ‘silly season’, you might remember that Treasurer Morrison announced that he was to delay the release of a taxation discussion until 2016. He would not rule anything in or out of the discussion paper which led to every interest group in the country urging the priority of their special interest as being more important than others’ special interests. The inevitable debate went on so long and hurt the government’s standing rolling into 2016 to the extent that they nearly lost the double dissolution election.

The Abbott/Turnbull government has been plagued with stuffups. From the NBN fail where the second rate hybrid system promoted by Turnbull (while communications minister) as cheaper and quicker while delivering slower and no cheaper service to Australians; through to the inhumane treatment of humans at detention centres owned and managed by the Australian government — where even the government Audit Office has reported that political expediency has overruled good governance in the supervision of the contractors engaged to do the work:
Out of $2.3 billion paid over 40 months, $1.1 billion was approved by officers without the appropriate authorisation and another $1.1 billion was paid with "no departmental record" of who had authorised the payments.

The ANAO also concluded the contracts themselves lacked effective guidelines and management mechanisms, owing partly to the "great haste" with which the detention centres were established in 2012‒13. Many faults persisted in later contracts, the ANAO said.
And to prove that this government will commit the same errors again and again, it appears that the current Centrelink debt collection system will be expanded to include those on disability, age and family related payments.

The Abbott/Turnbull government is out of touch with the reality of Australian life. The continual scandals, the exorbitant waste of money on things like detention centres and travel expenses while sending out debt letters to those who have needed to use their entitlements under the welfare system, while embroiled in continual argument over which faction of the Liberal Party should be running the country is unedifying at best. No wonder the Hansons, Xenophons and so on are getting some political traction.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Watch this space in 2017

As with most political issues, the following few questions are inter-related: Turnbull’s future may well depend on the economy, on whether or not a new conservative party forms and whether there is a Trump-inspired trade or currency war between China and the US; our economy may well depend on what Trump does in relation to China, let alone whether Morrison displays any understanding of economics; and so on.

Will the Australian economy improve or continue to stagnate?

In December we had the news that the Australian economy had contracted by 0.5% in the September quarter. Most of the pundits do not expect that to be repeated in the December quarter, which means we would avoid a recession (which requires two consecutive quarters of contraction).

On the other hand, commodity prices are still weak, although better than they were, and if a US/China trade war erupts may weaken again. Every reduction in commodity prices flows through a large segment of our economy, affecting the supporting businesses and often, through reductions in the workforce, local businesses, and the impact then multiplies ultimately affecting government revenue. The Christmas season may help us avoid a ‘technical recession’ (that magical six months) but will we see another quarter or two of contraction during 2017?

This year will also see the end of car manufacturing in Australia. That has implications across a number of industries and, as some commentators have noted, it has been car manufacturing that has driven much of the technological innovation in the manufacturing sector. Turnbull’s ‘innovative and agile’ economy may become a little more wobbly as a result.

The end of car manufacturing will lead to increased unemployment, not only in the car industry but in the companies that previously relied on providing parts to that industry. Couple that with the lack of wages growth (the lowest since records have been kept) and the government will be losing more in income tax revenue and paying more in unemployment benefit, making it that much more difficult to achieve its stated aim of bringing the budget back to surplus.

The economy did not go well in 2016 and the prospect for 2017 isn’t all that good. Even in his MYEFO in December, Morrison lowered the estimated rate of economic growth for both financial year 2016‒17 and 2017‒18. The new forecast rate of growth isn’t even enough to absorb new entrants into the workforce (usually accepted as about 3%) and that is without considering that the economic growth forecasts for the past few years have proven optimistic. Certainly don’t expect a boom year but how bad it may be we will have to wait and see.

Will Scott Morrison ever understand the budget?

Ever since the Abbott/Turnbull government was elected, and returned last year, the government’s budget deficit has continued to grow. Low commodity prices, over which the government has no control, and slow wages growth, which government policies have actually promoted, have not helped.

Morrison, however, continues to focus on government spending rather than revenue raising. Although he has backed away somewhat from his earlier statement that the government had a spending problem not a revenue problem, his actions have remained focused on reducing spending. (I won’t get into the MMT argument here.)

The government has ignored the opportunity to borrow money at historically low interest rates to fund infrastructure. Although it is now talking more about infrastructure, it appears it may be at a time when interest rates could be on the rise again — US interest rates are certainly likely to rise during 2017 which may force some other countries to raise theirs in order to maintain their currency.

Our Reserve Bank still has capacity to reduce interest rates (although such reductions have done nothing to stimulate the economy so far). If it does reduce interest rates, and the US increases rates, the Australian dollar is likely to drop in value. The government will claim that helps exporters but it will increase the price of imports which may not help our ‘terms of trade’ and will also potentially lower our living standards by making imported consumer goods more expensive at a time when wages are barely growing — not something that would enhance the government’s electoral appeal.

Turnbull’s ‘innovative and agile’ economy and the promise of company tax cuts — which he continues to espouse despite it being unlikely to pass the Senate — are not issues that inspire the average voter. If any benefits are to flow to the economy from such ‘policies’, they will be well beyond the next election, so Turnbull and Morrison can’t look there for short term budget improvements but they seem to have no other plans to help the economy and by implication the average voter.

Will Morrison and Turnbull finally concede that they also need to raise revenue in the next budget? That will be one to watch although I expect that, if so, they will do their best to obscure the fact.

Will there be a new conservative party?

Cory Bernardi is creating a nation-wide conservative movement but not yet formally a new conservative party. It will be interesting to watch where that goes in 2017 and whether it turns into a fully-fledged political party.

The Liberal party will no doubt do its best to stop it happening as it would further split the conservative vote, although that may not be an issue until the next federal election. If such a party comes into being during 2017, it could have serious implications for the government because it has only a one seat majority in the House of Representatives. Even if only one or two Liberal or National members in the House were attracted to the new party that would create a situation where not only does the government have to negotiate with crossbenchers in the Senate but also in the House to have legislation passed. Although the conservatives already seem to wield considerable influence in the Liberal party room, if they held the balance of power in the House, that could actually increase their influence. That may even be a consideration in the formation of such a party: if they wish to create Australia in their conservative image, having a couple of members in the current House could help them achieve that, or force Turnbull to another election earlier than he would wish.

The electoral implications are that the conservative vote could be split between the Liberals, One Nation, the Nationals and the new party, leaving open the possibility that Labor would lead on first preference votes in more House of Representative seats and have an improved chance of winning them. And it is likely that a proportion of the preferences for a new conservative party would flow to One Nation (and vice versa) before they flowed to the Liberals, so it would be very interesting.

The timing of the creation of such a party could be determined by the election timetable. The earliest a federal election can be called, other than another double dissolution, is August 2018 but such a party may like to test its electoral appeal at a state election. WA has an election in March which now seems too soon to establish the party and create an organisation geared for an election. SA goes in March 2018 and the earliest Queensland and Tasmania can go to an election is April 2018 and May 2018 respectively: so to be ready to contest one of those the new party would have to be created no later than the latter half of this year.

Will Turnbull remain prime minister?

Personally I think he will in 2017 but 2018 may be a different story — unless he voluntarily decides to toss in the towel, deciding it is just too difficult to govern his fractious coalition and cope with the constant negotiation with the Senate crossbenchers (and potentially House cross benchers) to have legislation passed.

As indicated above the earliest an election can be called is August 2018. I doubt he would dare have another double dissolution before then as that would not go down well with the electorate (but if he loses members in the House to a new conservative party he may be forced to). But if the economy continues to stagnate, or underperform as a result of a US/China trade war, that will reflect on the government, as economic performance always does even if the government has little real control over many aspects of the economy, and he may well foresee that he cannot win the next election — although he could leave an election as late as possible (May 2019) in hope that things will improve. Much will depend on his own vanity and desire to be prime minister or whether he sees a short stint as having achieved his ambition.

Another key factor will be the possible creation of a new conservative party. For Turnbull that could be both a blessing and a curse. A ‘curse’ for the reasons described above but a ‘blessing’ if it freed him to express more of his liberal philosophy rather than the conservative agenda. A Malcolm Turnbull who again expressed liberal views would probably reignite his support in the electorate but then both he and the Liberal party would need to decide what to do about it. While a more liberal Turnbull may attract votes, it may be just as difficult to form government if a new conservative party also attracts votes: in fact, a more liberal Turnbull may draw some votes from Labor and the Greens while some of the Liberal base goes to the new conservative party — that would really redefine the political landscape in Australia. It could also lead to a minority government and I doubt Turnbull would want to be in that situation.

Turnbull will have much to ponder particularly in the latter half of the year unless there is an unlikely improvement in the economy and unless the Liberal party is able to forestall the formation of a new conservative party or even the growth of conservatism in its own ranks. Will Turnbull want to continue to lead unless those things come to pass? Will the conservatives in the party room decide to move against him for a genuinely committed conservative leader rather than one who panders to them only to keep the job? After all, the result of the 2016 election means Turnbull does not lead from a position of strength.

Abbott has spoken against the rise of a new party and will some in the Liberal party see Tony Abbott as the one who can provide a bulwark against defections to a new conservative party or even its creation? Although perhaps not intended, the pressure created by threats of a new conservative party may well enhance the chance of an Abbott return to counter it.

Will Trump really threaten the world as we know it?

While Trump may cause problems for the US with his apparently contradictory promises to halve the company tax rate, spend billions on infrastructure and improve the US budget bottom line, their impact on Australia will play out indirectly through the international financial system. Of more direct consequence to Australia could be his trade and foreign policies, particularly relating to China.

Trump may wish to be more friendly with Putin and Russia but he will have to remember that China and Russia are still close, if not as close as once they were. He also sees North Korea as a threat but will have little scope to do anything about it without Chinese support although he thinks that using trade as a lever may also force China to act. He may think he is a good negotiator but he and his appointees will run up against expert negotiators and some, like the Chinese, are certainly willing to play the ‘long game’, something which Trump and his ilk seem unable to do.

Australia may continue sitting on the fence and use ‘diplomatic speak’ to suggest that differences should be resolved diplomatically but that may become more difficult under a Trump presidency. Will Australia be forced to side with either the US or China on some key issue? That will be a difficult position for Australia given that they are two of our biggest trading partners.

On trade, Trump is keen to scrap US involvement in the TPP which will effectively be its demise. Turnbull has consistently insisted that the TPP is essential to Australia’s future, so what will its demise mean for that future? It will be another piece of Turnbull’s economic plan that fails to materialise — which in the case of the TPP may not be a bad thing.

The main concern is a potential trade war between China and the US. If the US becomes more protectionist and imposes tariffs on Chinese imports, that may reduce Chinese production which in turn will reduce demand for Australian resources, with all the economic consequences that implies. It could also mean that China sends more cheap goods to Australia that formerly went to the US and that could further undermine what manufacturing we have left unless we also declare that they are ‘dumping’ goods in Australia and impose punitive tariffs which will essentially be biting the hand that feeds us. If this scenario unfolds, Australia will be in a difficult place economically and in how to respond to the challenges it throws up.

In turn, it may also mean that China pays more attention than it already does to developing nations in Africa and the Pacific and that will have foreign policy implications for Australia. We have been cutting our foreign aid budget but if China redirects its effort, we may be forced to do more in that area or accept further growth of Chinese influence in the region — which way will we go?


The above are just a few of the questions that could arise during 2017.

Others include:
  • Will the housing bubble burst and the construction boom come to an end?
  • What will be the effect if we lose our AAA credit rating, not just for government but for our banks?
  • How will Australia deal with Brexit and the need to negotiate separate trade deals with the EU and the UK?
  • How will we address problems meeting our climate change commitments under the Paris agreement?
And of course there are the perennials such as how we handle refugees and Australian Muslims which will be influenced by the rise of the conservative forces.

It may prove to be an interesting year both here in Australia and internationally.

What do you think?
What are your answers to the questions?

What other questions will Australia face in 2017?

Let us know in a comment below. We may use some of your suggestions for future articles.

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In 2017 – let’s be the change we want to see

Well look at that. 2016 is finished and 2017 has arrived to present us with more challenges. To be brutally honest, 2016 wasn’t the best of years for those who prefer progressive policy, equality and fairness for all. Later this month, Donald Trump becomes president of the USA; at the time of writing Malcolm Turnbull still survives as prime minister of Australia; and the likes of Cory Bernardi and George Christensen seem to be in charge of the LNP’s policy settings, probably in spite of what Turnbull would like to think. In the past, articles at this time of the year have suggested that no one really cares about politics because the beach, tennis and cricket are too appealing. While the beach hasn’t lost its charms (depending on the weather and the crowds), the tennis has the same identities as 2016 and the test cricket is a matter of concern as 2016 concludes.

If it makes us feel any better, it seems that as 2016 ended, Turnbull was under the pump with the state premiers openly critical of Turnbull’s backdown on looking at pricing schemes to limit carbon emissions. Probably even more surprising was the Business Council of Australia slamming the government for ruling out such a scheme. It’s not often that ALP premiers and the Business Council agree on something so fundamental. On top of that, there are outbreaks of logic about the emptiness of Turnbull’s 'Jobson Grothe' (sorry, that should read ‘Jobs and Growth') slogan that nearly lost him the election held mid-year. While there have been 25 years of economic growth, the September 2016 quarter resulted in a 0.5% contraction, the first for 5 years. As the 'leftie elites' at the ABC reported:
The only way for millennials to save, for households to pay down their debts, for all of us to have good job prospects and more security and to avoid that credit crunch, is for the Government to go back on everything they have been saying for years, and to increase its spending.

An increasing number of experts are now going against the mainstream, and making the point that for the rest of us to save, the Government has to borrow.

"Voters have been force-fed this neoliberal line that is without foundation in theory, history, experience or practice," said Professor Mitchell.
Australia’s treatment of refugees is now an international talking point. The New York Times recently published a feature article on the issue noting that:
In Peter Dutton, the immigration minister, the country has its own little Trump. Last May he portrayed the asylum seekers as illiterates bent on stealing Australian jobs, and he has suggested “mistakes” were made in letting in too many Lebanese Muslim immigrants. His soft bigotry resonates with enough voters to sway elections.

At the same time, Manus and Nauru are a growing embarrassment to Australia, a party to all major human rights treaties. “There is an increasing realization that this is unsustainable,” Madeline Gleeson, an Australian human rights lawyer, told me.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull knows this and needs a way out. After Omid Masoumali, a young Iranian, burned himself to death on Nauru this year, a cartoon by Cathy Wilcox captured Australia’s shame. Above a man in flames was the caption “Not drowning.”
Before we all decide to give up amongst the doom and gloom, there are a few things we should try. According to Jay Rayner’s article in The Guardian, a tub of Haagen Dazs salted caramel ice cream may help. While I can’t offer any personal experience, it might be worth a try.

Or we can take the example of some notable Australians who have suffered greatly at a personal level and turned the suffering into a positive message for the greater good.

Daniel Morcombe was waiting for a bus on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in December 2003. He was going to a shopping centre to buy Christmas presents. He never made it to the shopping centre or home afterwards. Daniel was 13. For eight years, his whereabouts were unknown. In August 2011, a person who used to live on the Sunshine Coast was charged with Daniel’s abduction and murder and he was convicted in March 2014.

Bruce and Denise Morcombe are Daniel’s parents. They had every right in the world to retreat into their remaining family and mourn Daniel’s disappearance but they didn’t. In 2005, they set up the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, and pledged:
The Foundation's key role in the community is the education of all children about their personal safety. By directly assisting educators and parents through the funding and development of child safety educational resources as well as assisting young victims of crime, the Foundation continues to empower all Australians to make their local communities safer places for all children.

The Foundation is strongly committed to the development and education of Respectful Relationships for children and teenagers in our schools and communities and also assisting in reducing the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the Child Protection sector.
The Foundation has developed and made freely available a number of resources and phone apps that target school children across Australia. Most of the material is free. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation also raises awareness through activities such as the 'Day for Daniel' where schools are encouraged to discuss 'stranger danger' and similar issues with students. Bruce and Denise Morcombe’s list of achievements is extensive and ongoing, with seemingly no chance of slowing down in the near future:.
The Daniel Morcombe Foundation remains committed to Child Safety Education and developing Harm Prevention resources that help educate children, teachers, parents, carers and their families to 'Keep Kids Safe'.

In addition, the Foundation now has a strong focus on building Respectful Relationships within our schools and communities through proactive education. Coupled with our core messages of Recognise, React, Report, this will enable children and young adults to act positively and appropriately while staying safe.

The Foundation continues to develop new cutting-edge resources that are required in our ever-changing cyber and physical world. We are committed to fund new projects and initiatives in partnership with Universities, Police, community and educational organisations to ensure an on-going commitment to child safety and respectful relationships. These resources will continue to be made available and accessible to all communities (free of charge) throughout Australia.
Clearly the Morcombe family made the decision to tell Daniel’s story rather than bottle it up. They had the good sense to gather people around them who knew how to get a story out, and publicise the story relentlessly. Like a lot of public good programs, no one can really say how many kids’ lives have been saved by the work of the Morcombes in the past 11 years and how many will be saved in the future, but the real point is this: instead of asking why it happened and blaming the bus company (the bus Daniel was going to catch broke down and a replacement one was full prior to getting to Daniel’s location, so it didn’t stop); the police for not finding Daniel immediately; themselves or any one of the other thousand or so coincidences that could have saved Daniel, they resolved to do something to 'fix it'. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation is successful and rightly so. I know my kids have been exposed to the 'Day for Daniel' message and are well aware of some protocols that may help them to escape a similar fate to Daniel’s — as are thousands of other school aged kids around Australia. Rather than being consumed by it, the Morcombes turned their grief and agony into a movement that clearly makes the society we live in a better place to be.

Rosie Batty was the 2015 Australian of the Year due to her work in countering domestic violence in Australia. Unfortunately, Batty has personal experience of domestic violence as well as witnessing her son being murdered by an ex-partner at Tyabb, Victoria, during 2014. As the website for the Luke Batty Foundation states:
Everyone in Australia was hugely affected by the manner in which Luke was killed and communities from far and wide responded generously by sending to Luke’s mum Rosie, hundreds of cards, an abundance of beautiful flowers, and donations, both large and small
The Luke Batty Foundation website and Batty’s telling of her story has certainly brought awareness of issues around domestic violence against both women and men in this country. Once there is awareness, there is the opportunity to take action to hopefully eliminate the problem from our society. Batty’s ongoing work will continue to promote solutions to the issue of domestic violence.

Like the Morcombes, no one would have blamed Batty if she had withdrawn into an environment where she had caring people around her and questioned how and why the events surrounding the murder of her son occurred. She hasn’t — obviously deciding that her suffering can be better used in creating a public good.

The Morcombes, Rosie Batty and others who have turned adversity into good can teach us all a lesson in relation what looks like the rebirth of the ultra-conservative/alt-right/delcons or whatever terminology you want to use.

There is a version of an old saying that suggests that if at first you don’t succeed — don’t try skydiving. While flippant, the answer to the excesses of those like Bernardi, Christensen and Dutton in pushing Australia into being a mean and dispirited collection of minions is to keep pushing the case for the alternative. You too are perfectly capable of writing an email or letter to a politician that is party to something that offends you. You too can write a post on a blog. There is no magical formula that is shared by 'the elite'. Should you choose The Political Sword as your media of choice we’ll even help you (just click on the 'Contact' link at the top of this and give us an idea of what you want to write about). You too can 'like', 'share' or post something on your social media account. A ground swell of support can work miracles.

Marketing experts tell us that personal recommendation has far more influence than advertising or statements by those who are not trusted as highly (such as politicians). The same people will also suggest that emails and correspondence critical of the actions of public figures and companies are read and if there is a sufficient volume, action will be taken to address the concerns. Some will tell you that you have no idea: ensure that you have some facts to back up your argument and be prepared to lay the facts out calmly and logically.

Bloggers and social media posters do get noticed. Greg Jericho enjoyed a quiet life blogging as 'Grogs Gamut' until Mark Scott, then managing director of the ABC read something Jericho wrote on his blog about the quality of journalism during the 2010 election. Scott used the comment in a missive to his staff about the quality of the election news coverage. Jericho now writes for The Guardian and the ABC websites after The Australian outed him claiming 'the public interest'.

So, in 2017 don’t just sit there and yell at the TV when Turnbull or his minders put yet another nail in the coffin of the society where people are supposed to be equal, where we care about each other and those who are not as well off as we are, and we care about the quality of life of those that follow us — do something about it.

Apart from being part of the change you want to see, you’ll feel much better if you do try to change the world.

If issues discussed in this article have affected you or those close to you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 44 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

Happy New Year from the people behind The Political Sword. The site is being regularly monitored so please keep it clean and play nice or we will be forced to use the delete button. Apart from an article scheduled to appear mid-January, our regular commentary recommences on 29 January. We look forward to your readership and active participation this year.

Recent Posts
The real bullies
2353NM, 4 December 2016
A Brisbane 13 year old committed suicide last week because, according to his mother, he was being bullied. He identified as being gay and apparently was being bullied at school. Rather than join the chorus of those who instantly know what was going on and speculate for a week or so until something else comes along, how …
The buck stops where?
Ken Wolff, 11 December 2016
The old adage says 'the buck stops here' and it applies to managers, CEOs, government ministers and similar people when they take responsibility for what happens in their organisations, including mistakes. When applied in full it leads to people …
The barbie bigot looks back on the year
Ken Wolff, 18 December 2016
G’day ev’ryone. Welcome back to the barbie. The big news of the year has been elections, both here in Oz an’ in septic-land.

I’ve been a bit quiet since the election ‘cause, after all, the result was a bit hard to …

The barbie bigot looks back on the year

[Editor’s note: the use of ‘septic’ in this article is from the rhyming slang — ‘septic tank’ rhymes with ‘Yank’, so ‘septic’ equals ‘Yank’.]

G’day ev’ryone. Welcome back to the barbie. The big news of the year has been elections, both here in Oz an’ in septic-land.

I’ve been a bit quiet since the election ‘cause, after all, the result was a bit hard to take (an’ it was a bit cool an’ wet for a barbie for a while). Mal scraped in by a seat an’ really spat the dummy in his election night victory speech. It wasn’t really a victory at the time, ’though he claimed it was. Victory speeches are meant to be mag ... magnamus … gracious, but not Mal. He couldn’t understand how he almost lost. All the gloss an’ glitter, an’ the smile, were gone an’ he didn’t seem to know why.

He blamed Labor lies about Medicare. I hate to tell ya Mal but they weren’t lies. You didn’t even call ’em lies until half-way through the campaign — an’ it was a long campaign that bored us sh*tless. You fin’lly had to say you wouldn’t privatise Medicare but ya took a bloody long time to say it! An’ you couldn’t deny you’d frozen the Medicare rebate — right through till 2020. You reckoned you were lookin’ after Medicare but if freezin’ the rebate isn’t a threat to Medicare, I’m not sure what is.

But let’s go back a bit. Early in the year poor Mal an’ his mob were lookin’ pretty perplexed. His mob couldn’t understand how their great white hope had become an albatross ’round their necks. Then Mal had a brilliant idea. He’d recall parliament to vote on that thing about the construction industry watchdog. What a joke that is! If he really thinks there’s corruption in the buildin’ industry, why doesn’t he go after the buildin’ companies? No, it’s the CFMEU his mob is after. Can’t have a strong union tryin’ to save workers’ lives! More than a hundred poor buggers die on construction sites ev’ry year. Imagine if a hundred pollies were dyin’ at work ev’ry year — they’d soon do somethin’ about that, wouldn’ they! Yeh, all right, like some of me laughin’ mates here, you prob’ly think a hundred pollies dyin’ ev’ry year ’ud be a good thing — no-one ’ud miss ’em, right? — but I won’t get side-tracked about that.

Anyway, then he does the double dissolution thing. He thought he’d get rid of people like the Motorists Party and Palmer’s mob. He got rid of them all right but even the blokes an’ sheilas ’round me barbie could’ve told him a full Senate election ’ud lead to more dingbats in the Senate, not less. Too smart by half, poor Mal!

Look what he got instead. The Ranga Redneck made a comeback and got three of her mates with her. What a rabble! One of ‘em thinks climate change is crap, all a plot by scientists — the only thing I’ll say in ’is favour is he’s bonkers enough to put his silly ideas out there. Then there’s the one who nicked the car keys an’ writes funny — as in strange — letters to magistrates. The Ranga Redneck had to remind him that it’s not jus’ the One Nation Party but Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party — she’s the boss! They make Ricky-the-car-nut an’ Glenn-the-brick-bookend look like Einstein.

An’ for the election, Mal had his great slogan — jobs an’ growth. What about jobs an’ growth? — nothin’. Jus’ jobs an’ growth. No plan. No ideas. Did he think jobs an’ growth ’ud magic’ly spring outa the ground jus’ ’cause he kept sayin’ it? It certainly seemed like it. After all, he was the god who’d saved the Liberal mob an’ things should happen just at ‘His Word’: an’ Mal said, ‘let there be jobs’ an’ there was … sweet fanny adams.

He might’ve won the election but you wouldn’t think so. His mob ’ave done bugger all since. They couldn’t organise a chook raffle in a pub. (I did think of another comparison involvin’ a brothel but I can’t use that at a family barbie.) They managed to lose a coupla votes ’cause some of ’em ’ad gone home. They even managed to support a vote that they were useless — which was fair enough when ya think about it but not a good look. An’ at the end of the year, look at the shemozzle they got into with the backpacker tax. 32.5%, 19%, 15%, 10.5%, 13%. Anyone else wanna make a bid? The hammer goes down on 15%! — only ’cause ol’ Ricky-of-christmas did a deal for the Greens, p’rhaps ’cause christmas was comin’. He wanted to play Santa to the farmers who norm’ly aren’t too keen on the Greens.

Mal an’ his mob had a bit of a setback when the PNG court blokes ruled we couldn’t keep the poor buggers on Manus Island any more. They fin’lly announced that they think they’ve done a deal with the septics to take ’em but we’ll hafta wait an’ see. An’ after doin’ that, they’ve sent Oz’s biggest peace time flotilla up north to stop more boats comin’. The blokes sellin’ boat places to Oz will obviously be tellin’ the customers that now you can get sent to septic-land — what a bonanza that is for ’em! An’ the government knows it. Why else send all the extra patrol boats.

An’ then there was the union stuff at the end o’ the year — the double dissolution stuff. First, Mal got the union regulation law through the Senate but have a look at how he did it. He had to get the Xylophone an’ the Beard-with-a-mouth on-side, an’ to do that he gave ’em more protection for whistleblowers. Wha’do ya reckon? — are there more whistleblowers or more unionists who need protectin’? I think you know the answer. One good thing may come of it though when it comes back to bite ‘em on the bum — ’cause one day someone’ll blow the whistle on one of their big corporate mates or even, with a bit o’ luck, on the Libs ’emselves. That’ll be worth waitin’ for.

Then they got the construction watchdog up as well at the las’ minute. Even more giveaways than a teevee show to do that one an’ whether it’ll still be able to bark is anyone’s guess. I’ll admit a coupla things the Xylophone got for his vote aren’t too bad. There’s s’posed to be more gov’ment work for Oz companies an’ they won’t get the work if they don’t pay their subbies on time. A few of me mates like that idea but wish it applied to all buildin’ companies. Was it worth it jus’ to get the watchdog in place? Mal obviously thought so. I think he even managed a smile again an’ reckoned it showed how well he was governin’ — ya reckon? In December we got the news that our economy has gone backwards — that’s good gov’ment for ya! So much for Mal’s great economic plan — you know the one — Mal’s imagin’ry friend.

But you hafta wonder who’s really runnin’ the show? The big St Bernardi barks an’ Mal jumps to attention: eyes Right; by the Right flank turn; yes, sir! Not the Mal people thought they were gettin’ an’ so his popularity has gone down the plug hole.

Of course ol’ pommy Tones is still hangin’ about, snipin’ from the sidelines, tellin’ all an’ sundry he’s still ready for the top job. If you think that could never happen, look at what happened in septic-land. If Trump can get elected there, don’t rule out Tones becomin’ PM again. If we get Tones back, would we also get Credlin back? That’s somethin’ to think about!

That gets me to the septic election. (Nice how I did that, ay?) How did Trump win? The views ’round me barbie are mixed but gen’rally we think the poor ol’ septics had Hobson’s choice — a ranting idiot or a sheila with so much baggage she was lucky she was still standin’ up under the weight. An’ Trump’s as silly as the Ranga Redneck’s mate. He reckons climate change is a Chinese plot. I’d like to see the two of ’em together on Q&A to argue that out — whose plot is sillier, yours or mine?

Me an’ me mates don’t agree with most of what Trump said but he obviously pushed some buttons for the septics — ’specially the white workers, the ones who lived in places where jobs were becomin’ as hard to find as rockin’-horse sh*t. He reckoned he can help ’em but whether he can’ill be another story.

After all the rantin’ an’ bulldust he went on with during their election, I was a bit shocked to hear his victory speech. (You know what I mean by ‘bulldust’ but after the rockin’-horse one me missus jus’ told me I can’t say that again while the nippers are still runnin’ about.) Mal could’ve taken a lesson from ’im. Think about it. Trump rants an’ carries on all through the election then gives a gracious victory speech. Mal is gracious an’ calm for most o’ the election then rants an’ raves in his victory speech. A nice pair o’ polar opposites there. Which approach would you prefer? Prob’ly neither of ’em. Why can’t politicians jus’ be honest? We know most of ’em couldn’t lie straight in bed.

That was one of Hill’ry’s problems apparently. Too many people jus’ didn’t believe her. But they thought the Donald was tellin’ it like it is. I think that jus’ means the septics are gullible but leavin’ that aside, since he was elected he’s been backtrackin’ a bit on some o’ the things he promised. Does that make him jus’ like all the other pollies? — say an’ do anything to get elected an’ then forget most of what they said — an’ yet he was the one sayin’ he wasn’t like other pollies.

Even the deal Mal thinks he’s done on the poor buggers we’ve got on Manus and Nauru could come unstuck with the Donald as president. Him an’ his supporters aren’t too keen on migrants, ’specially Muslim ones.

The Donald promised so much bigoted stuff he’ll put half of septic-land off-side if he carries through. He was so bigoted in his statements that Brandis would’ve been proud. I thought I was bigoted but I’m an amate’r compared to him.

I think the septics are between a rock an’ a hard place. If the Donald delivers what he promised, they’re in for a rough ride. An’ if he doesn’t, it’ll also be a rough ride ‘cause some of his supporters won’t take a lack of action lyin’ down. An’ when ya think about how many crazy septics have got guns an’ how many of the crazies supported the Donald … no, that doesn’t bear thinkin’ about …

The problem is some o’ the problems won’t jus’ stay in septic-land. Many of the Donald’s promises will affect the rest of us ’round the world — it won’t jus’ be the septics gettin’ the rough end o’ the pineapple. If he upsets the Chinese the way he’s promisin’ to do, Oz will get dragged under in the backwash. Here at me barbie, we’re hopin’ he doesn’t carry out ev’ry promise. Not somethin’ you usu’lly think about a polly. Most o’ the time, we wish they’d keep their promises — but not this time!

I s’pose we could say that, at least here in Oz, Mal didn’t make many promises to keep so we can’t be disappointed. An’ even some he did make are gettin’ changed a lot by the Senate — which is mostly a good thing. You might say we almost got the election right. Mal might’ve scraped in by the skin of his teeth but we gave him a parliament that really ties up what he can do.

The septics gave the Donald’s mob control of both their houses of parliament — whatever they call ’em. We know what happens when that happens. We saw it here in Oz when Little Johnny controlled both houses in our parliament. Not a pretty sight for workin’ people. So, if the Donald really wants to change things in septic-land, he prob’ly can. The septics don’t seem to think about that balance like we do. I dunno why. I don’t pretend to understand septics. Some of ’em are nice people but … Well, I’ll say it. In my bigoted view they can be a bit stupid at times.

An’ there was one big difference ’tween the two elections that I’ll say somethin’ about. The passion! Look at the septics an’ the bloody rallies they have. Thousands of ’em screamin’ out for their candidate. An’ then they had those big demonstrations about ‘not my president’. They can be passionate about their elections. On the other hand they don’t hafta vote unless they feel like it. Only half of ’em bothered to. P’rhaps with the Hobson’s choice they had, that’s understandable. So you’ve got half not botherin’, an’ half so passionate. Not a good thing!

Look at Oz. No big rallies — unless ya count those stage-managed election launch things for the party insiders an’ they’re really jus’ done for the telly. People standin’ on street corners handin’ out flyers for the local candidate, includin’ the local candidate. The image of Tones handin’ out flyers on Manly wharf on a rainy day I thought was a classic. People only votin’ ’cause they have to — but mostly ’ud rather be doin’ somethin’ else. An’ when we do get to the polling booth we have a sausage sanger. Very calm and lay-back. Which would you prefer? Me an’ me mates are quite happy with the way we do our elections. We don’t want people rantin’ ev’ry five minutes, stirrin’ up passions ya can’t put back in the bottle. A few years ago at one of me barbies, me an’ me mates decided we could solve the world’s problems — as ya do after a few beers. The answer? Export Oz beer an’ meat pies to the world so that ev’ryone becomes as apathetic as us. Passion is the killer. Passion for a cause or a political party leads to wars an’ riots. Sit back. Have a beer an’ a pie an’ chill out. That’s the Oz way. Pity the rest of the world hasn’t caught on.

Well, that’s me for the year. The best to all of you an’ your families from me an’ mine for the festive season. An’ hope you have a great festive barbie.

What do you think?
Has the barbie bigot captured the essence of the political year?

Let us know in a comment below.

This is the last scheduled article for TPS in 2016; however never say never — so check back with us occasionally. The people behind The Political Sword wish you and all whom you care about a wonderful festive season and a great 2017. Our next scheduled articles will be published on 1 January 2017, then mid January with a return to regular publication from 29 January. Keep well, stay safe and take care.

Recent Posts
The rise of political staffers: how people disappeared from policy advice
Ken Wolff, 27 November 2016
In October Attorney-General Senator George Brandis got into a stoush with Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson which ultimately led to Gleeson’s resignation. At one point Brandis attempted to turn the issue into an argument …
The real bullies
2353NM, 4 December 2016
A Brisbane 13 year old committed suicide last week because, according to his mother, he was being bullied. He identified as being gay and apparently was being bullied at school. Rather than join the chorus of those who instantly know what was going on and speculate for a week or so until something else comes along, how …
The buck stops where?
Ken Wolff, 11 December 2016
The old adage says ‘the buck stops here’ and it applies to managers, CEOs, government ministers and similar people when they take responsibility for what happens in their organisations, including mistakes. When applied in full it leads to people …

The buck stops where?

The old adage says ‘the buck stops here’ and it applies to managers, CEOs, government ministers and similar people when they take responsibility for what happens in their organisations, including mistakes. When applied in full it leads to people resigning if more serious mistakes are made even though the mistake was not personally made by them. But nowadays modern managers are more likely to point the finger down the ladder and say the blame lies there. What has happened to the old concept of responsibility?

In my recent piece about the rise of political staffers I used the example of Barnaby Joyce blaming a ‘rogue’ staffer for changes that were made to Hansard that should not have been made. Not a hanging offence but even for a mistake of that nature Joyce did not want to take responsibility nor even to blame his Chief of Staff (who should be responsible for the operation of his office) and instead it was an unnamed staffer lower down the pecking order. No doubt it probably was a junior staffer who made the ‘mistake’ — if mistake it was and not a direction to that person from someone higher up — but it still occurred on the watch of Joyce and his Chief of Staff. They are the ones who should have procedures in place to ensure such mistakes do not occur and it is for that reason that the old adage applies.

In my early years in the public service I had one departmental secretary who I would describe as being akin to a regimental Colonel: he was somewhat aloof from the staff, worked through the department’s hierarchy and everything had to be done ‘by the book’. He did, however, defend the department strongly to outsiders, including when appearing before parliamentary committees. It was like the old attitude that the regiment (read department) can do no wrong but woe betide the junior officer (read line manager) if a mistake was made. The next manager in the hierarchy would be summoned to the secretary’s office and given a dressing down. That manager, in turn, would pass the ‘dressing down’ along the line until it reached the individual who had made the mistake. In the case of more serious mistakes the threat was that it would be noted on an individual’s personnel file, including the line managers who had overseen the mistake.

The problem with that approach was that it could, in the case of serious mistakes, appear to be a cover-up. The secretary would accept responsibility and defend the department to the outside world but ‘kick bums’ internally — out of public view.

Then came the new secretaries, schooled in modern management theory. They were taught that people are important, not just cogs in the hierarchy, and would call people by their first names. Some of them were also happy to be called by their first name. They would sometimes call upon the person actually doing the work to brief them, not just the line managers. So far, so good. Most of us would agree that some old-style managers did not treat people well when operating with a hierarchical approach.

But these new managers were less likely to bear the brunt of mistakes. Perhaps because they did involve themselves with people down the line and did not always follow the hierarchy, they were quicker to point the finger to where a mistake was actually made. You were supposed to feel that you had let them down but, to my mind, that was a little hypocritical. While the new style was meant to make you feel part of the team, the captain of the team was as likely as not to abandon you when the proverbial hit the fan and push you into the firing line, no longer accepting responsibility.

In modern corporations we see CEOs, already on huge salaries, continue to receive bonuses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not a million or two, even when company turnover and profit has dropped and the share price has fallen. Are they held accountable or accepting responsibility for the success of their corporation when that happens? Why do their boards allow it to happen? It seems just another step in the diminution of responsibility in the modern corporate world. It takes something on the scale of the Volkswagen deception on emission testing to force acceptance of responsibility at the highest levels but, even then, only after the deception is discovered. Why was it allowed in the first place?

Since President Truman a number of US presidents, including Obama, have had the sign ‘the buck stops here’ on their desk, but consider Nixon and Watergate. Nixon denied all knowledge of the break-in. Even when it became clear that members of his staff were involved in organising it, he still denied any involvement. It was the leaking of the Oval Office tapes Nixon kept that made clear it was not just a case in which he should accept responsibility for the actions of his staff but that he had been personally involved. He operated on the principle that if it was difficult to find the truth, he had scope to deny responsibility and that seems to have become common for modern CEOs and politicians — hence we now have the term ‘plausible deniability’.

We saw it in Australia with the ‘children overboard’ affair (also referred to in my previous article). Political staff have learned from the Nixon experience and now work to keep their minister at arm’s length from awkward situations, so there can be ‘plausible deniability’. Staff kept the corrected advice about the children overboard from Howard so that he did not need to lie when he maintained the story. When it eventually came out the blame was shifted to the public service, rather than staff in Howard’s office because, in the hierarchy between ministers’ offices and the public service, ministers’ offices do not make mistakes (at least not publicly). And I can point to the hierarchy that operates between government departments where the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) also does not make mistakes. In an example when I was still in the public service a mistake (of a minor nature) was made, based on advice from PM&C, but it was the head of the agency in which I worked who accepted ‘responsibility’ for the mistake — he was subsequently ‘looked after’.

When he was first elected Howard introduced a strict code of conduct for his ministers whereby they were held responsible for their behaviour, their pecuniary interests, gifts, travel entitlements and so on. But he lost seven ministers upholding that standard and soon retreated from it. So when it was revealed that Peter Reith and his son had run up $50,000 dollars in six years, from 900 locations around the world, on a ministerial phone card, the government ‘toughed it out’ — Reith did repay the money and retired at the next election. It was Nick Minchin who promoted the idea (now known as the Minchin protocol) that ministers, and other parliamentarians, should be allowed to repay any misuse of tax-payer funded entitlements and, if that was done, no further action should be taken. Both sides of politics initially accepted that idea to reduce ‘losses’.

By the time of ‘choppergate’, when Bronwyn Bishop used a helicopter for a short trip to a Liberal Party fund raiser and charged it to her tax-payer funded travel, then Prime Minister Abbott stood by her until that became untenable — both the media and members of his own party continued questioning it. In that circumstance, simply repaying the money was no longer enough and Bishop had to resign her position as Speaker.

Turnbull lost three ministers in the first six months of his tenure as PM: Jamie Briggs, Mal Brough and Stuart Robert; the first for inappropriate behaviour towards a female public servant; Brough stood aside pending police investigations into the Ashby-Slipper affair; and Robert for having an indirect financial stake in a company he assisted in Beijing.

But the question remains, why did they misuse their entitlements or their position in the first place? Like Nixon, do they not accept any responsibility for their behaviour unless caught? Do they not have principles that would tell them it shouldn’t be done, that as public representatives they do have a higher standard of responsibility? — or even some level of personal responsibility to operate within the guidelines? And why do those above them defend their actions or remain silent, waiting until the furore dies down?

Compare that to Andrew Peacock in 1970 offering his resignation after his then wife appeared in a television advertisement for Sheridan Sheets. Perhaps it could be construed as gaining an indirect benefit from his position as a minister in the Gorton government. His resignation was not accepted but it shows that responsibility was taken more seriously then even for trivial matters.

Similar examples of relatively minor offences occurred in relation to customs declarations during the 1980s. In 1982 Michael MacKellar and John Moore lost their places in the Fraser ministry over a colour television. MacKellar had returned from overseas with a colour television but declared it as black and white; Moore was Minister for Customs at the time. In 1984 Mick Young stood aside from the Hawke ministry pending an investigation into his failure to declare a Paddington Bear, which gave the incident its name; the investigation found he should have been more careful but had no intention of evading the duty and he returned to the ministry.

Then there is ‘misleading the parliament’, one of the worst crimes a government minister can commit. In the Westminster system, in both the UK and Australia, that was supposed to lead, in the old days, to a minister’s resignation or sacking, even if the ‘misleading’ was unintentional. That was because ministers were considered to have a responsibility to ensure everything they told the parliament was truthful — after all, they had large government departments to advise them. Even if the advice they received was shown to be wrong, they accepted responsibility because they should have checked further, had processes in place to verify the information or been more circumspect in their statement. That is often part of the political game, to prove that a minister’s statement has been based on incorrect advice. We have seen that, after the event, in the Chilcot report in the UK which examined the advice on which Blair made the decision to join the US invasion of Iraq.

In the Whitlam government both Jim Cairns and Rex Connor were sacked for misleading the parliament over different aspects of ‘the loans affair’. In the Hawke government John Brown lost his ministerial position in December 1987 for misleading the parliament regarding tenders for a theatre in the Australian pavilion at Expo 88. But no-one has stood down or been sacked for that offence since — that is 29 years in which no-one apparently has misled the parliament (not even Brandis)!

Nowadays, the word ‘intentional’ seems to have crept into that crime, so to be a sackable offence the minister must intentionally mislead the parliament.

Look again at the ‘children overboard’ in that light. Did Howard mislead the parliament? — yes. Unintentionally? — probably, but only because correct advice was withheld from him. So where does responsibility now lie if ministers are denied the information that would prevent them misleading the parliament? Should the buck still stop with them? — if a culture of protecting the minister at all costs has grown in their office and they have done nothing to discourage that, then perhaps it does.

Yes, there are varying degrees of mistakes, from minor errors to serious infractions. Would the colour television or Paddington Bear incidents merit being stood down in the modern climate? Even minor mistakes, however, are less often these days accepted by CEOs and ministers — as in Barnaby Joyce’s case. MacKellar would now likely have pointed to the staffer who filled out his customs declaration for him. Mick Young could have blamed his wife (if he dared) as the Paddington Bear was in her suitcase.

Some offences are not ‘hanging offences’ but they are now blamed on someone down the line. Resignation may not be required for minor offences but the people in charge should at least accept responsibility and explain how they will ensure such mistakes do not happen again.

So in this modern world if CEOs, prime ministers and ministers are no longer responsible, who is? It seems the buck stops with you and me, as voters and as shareholders. With the lack of principle shown by our leaders, both political and corporate, and their seeming inability to say ‘I am responsible’, it is you and I who need to place pressure back on them to do their job as it should be done. It is time we told them you are responsible for what occurs in your office, in your department, in your corporation; you are responsible for the actions of those under you; it may not always be a sackable offence but the buck stops with you regardless and you had best remember that!

What do you think?
Why do you think modern CEOs and ministers have abandoned the idea of being responsible for their organisations, let alone their own actions?

What can we do to make them accept that responsibility?

Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
Trump’s Uncertainty Principle
Ad astra, 23 November 2016
Way back in 1927 German physicist Werner Heisenberg described the Uncertainty Principle that applies to quantum mechanics. It states that the more precisely the position of a particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. With apologies to …
The rise of political staffers: how people disappeared from policy advice
Ken Wolff, 27 November 2016
In October Attorney-General Senator George Brandis got into a stoush with Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson which ultimately led to Gleeson’s resignation. At one point Brandis attempted to turn the issue into an argument …
The real bullies
2353NM, 4 December 2016
A Brisbane 13 year old committed suicide last week because, according to his mother, he was being bullied. He identified as being gay and apparently was being bullied at school. Rather than join the chorus of those who instantly know what was going on and speculate for a week or so until something else comes along, how …

The real bullies

A Brisbane 13 year old committed suicide last week because, according to his mother, he was being bullied. He identified as being gay and apparently was being bullied at school. Rather than join the chorus of those who instantly know what was going on and speculate for a week or so until something else comes along, how about we look at the culture that seems to be genuinely regretful when a tragedy such as the death of a Brisbane school boy occurs but votes for and allows much greater crimes against our society to be celebrated.

Prime Minister Turnbull appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 a few weeks ago and left no one in doubt that in his opinion the ‘elite media’ at the ABC was keeping the issue of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in the public view. Now Section 18C is the bit of the legislation that doesn’t allow you to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ someone based on their race or ethnicity . The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has been a leading light in the calls for this section to be repealed since radio announcer and newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt was found guilty of an offence under the section in 2013 in regard to two articles he wrote in 2009. The IPA claims that Section 18C restricts ‘freedom of speech’. According to the IPA:
First, it has become a major touchstone for a growing debate about freedom of speech in Australia. Since the Bolt case in 2011 there has been a sustained campaign in favour of repealing 18C. This campaign was partly born out of the deep concern about the provision being used to silence a prominent and well-respected columnist in a mature liberal democracy such as Australia.

But it also brought to the fore the idea that governments have passed laws which restrict this most fundamental human right, and that something must be done to turn back that tide.

Second, political activists and their lawyers have come to realise that section 18C can be used to aggressively pursue political goals.

The case against Bolt was not merely a group of offended individuals making a legal complaint in an effort to remedy personal loss. It is possible that the complainants could have made out a defamation suit against Bolt. But the case was pursued using 18C as a battering ram because of the negative perception that would be created by a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The problem with the IPA’s (and by association Turnbull and his conservative LNP colleagues) argument is the existence of Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act. According to the Human Rights Commission website:
Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act contains exemptions which protect freedom of speech. These ensure that artistic works, scientific debate and fair comment on matters of public interest are exempt from section 18C, providing they are said or done reasonably and in good faith.
In the same week as the schoolboy died in Brisbane, Australia’s Immigration Minister claimed that his predecessors (ironically from the same side of politics) in the 1970’s did the wrong thing by allowing refugees from Lebanon to enter the country because some of their grandchildren were now radicalised Muslims. According to, Dutton made the argument:
Australians were “sick” of over the top political correctness, the Minister told media after a Greens Senator said his comments might be factual but they weren’t “productive”.

Mr Dutton rejected suggestions his comments were whipping up racism.

Instead, he blamed the “tricky elite”, Opposition leader Bill Shorten and Greens MPs for making the remarks a big deal to win political points.

“I want to have an honest discussion,” he said.
Dutton may have evidence to back up his original claim:
The advice I have is that out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 of those people are from second and third generation Lebanese-Muslim background …
But he conveniently overlooks the fact that every person charged with a crime in Australia since 1788 is either an immigrant or descended from immigrants. As reported:
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten issued a statement calling on Mr Dutton to apologise for his remarks.

“Enough is enough,” Mr Shorten said.

“Our hardworking migrant communities shouldn’t have to tolerate this kind of ignorant stupidity and he needs to immediately apologise.

“It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull to show some leadership and pull his Immigration Minister into line.”
Shorten is right to a point: enough is enough and Turnbull should pull his Immigration Minister into line; however, Shorten’s political party still supports the indefinite detention of refugees in sub-human conditions, or their refoulment to their original country, contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention (to which Australia is a signatory). Shorten is sitting on both sides of the ‘barbed wire’ fence here.

What is really interesting, however, is Turnbull and Dutton using the term ‘elites’ as an insult. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, elite has two definitions, although it is doubtful if Turnbull and Dutton are referring to the one involving typewriters. So we are left with one definition — broadly, the best part or the socially superior. Others have already done the Turnbull is ‘more elite’ than you or I thing seriously or in fun than it’s possible to do here, so it’s not worth repeating the blindingly obvious.

While Dutton may not as be as well off as Turnbull, he’s not going to be ‘short of a bob’ as he gets older — unlike a lot of those in Dickson he claims to represent. Dutton will be sitting on a parliamentary pension when he leaves parliament as well as his superannuation as a police officer (for which of course he has to wait until his late 50s or 60 to access, along with the rest of us) rather than eking the increasingly hard to get pension out until the next payment.

Paul Bongiorno, writing in The Saturday Paper suggested:
Whatever way you cut it, Australian politics in the past week travelled further down the low road of ignorance, prejudice and bigotry. It’s the new fashion propelled by the extraordinary success in Britain and the United States of politicians who push these buttons.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, already a practitioner in the dark arts, quickly took his cue in an interview with Andrew Bolt on Sky News. Bolt suggested that former prime minister Malcolm Fraser got the Lebanese refugee program wrong in the late 1970s. Dutton agreed “mistakes were made”. When parliament resumed, Labor wanted to know what these mistakes were. The answer was profoundly jarring.
Of course Dutton’s response was that a number of the people most recently charged with terrorist related offences were Lebanese Muslims, a failure of the Fraser Government. Bongiorno went on to suggest:
What should be remembered is that Dutton, who is fast becoming the leading conservative voice in the Liberal party, is a Queenslander. A clue to his approach could be the alarm at the spike in support for One Nation of which his fellow Queenslander, Attorney-General George Brandis, speaks. A hot microphone picked up his frank conversation with Victorian Liberal party powerbroker Michael Kroger this week. In what he thought were private remarks, Brandis revealed support for One Nation is already running at 16 per cent in the Sunshine State. He is convinced it will win seats at the next state poll.

In 1998, One Nation peaked at 22 per cent to capture 11 seats in the state parliament and deny the Nationals and Liberals government. Adding to the alarm is the Palaszczuk Labor government’s reinstatement of compulsory preferential voting. According to the sotto voce Brandis, this could lead to a split between the merged Liberal and National parties that form the LNP. The ABC’s election analyst Antony Green believes that had preferential voting existed at the last state election, Labor would have won a majority on Greens preferences.
Politicians playing politics is to be expected and both Turnbull and Dutton have been around long enough to be ‘good at their game’. However, as the leaders of the country surely they should be the moral elite as well as the financial elite. As Shorten suggested, Turnbull should have pulled his immigration minister into line. As Bongiorno wrote:
Fraser’s immigration minister, Ian Macphee, was scathing in his reaction to Dutton. In a statement released through the Refugee Council, he said the attack was “outrageous”. He said: “We have had a succession of inadequate immigration ministers in recent years but Dutton is setting the standards even lower. Yet Turnbull recently declared him to be ‘an outstanding immigration minister’. The Liberal Party has long ceased to be liberal.
From Turnbull, all we heard was crickets (nothing).

Not that the politicians are the only ones who seem to be practicing the ‘game’ of kicking groups of people while they are down. Fairfax reported in the last week of November that a number of Caltex franchisees seem to be paying their staff considerably under the award rate of pay for working all hours of the day or night in an environment that has a number of hazards to the physical and mental well being of the employees. Caltex isn’t the only organisation that has been accused of underpaying staff with, according to Fairfax:
One in four Australian workers who checked their pay through a union-run online wage calculator found out they were being ripped off, with staff in the restaurant business the worst affected.

Based on nearly 20,000 workers' pay details entered into the Fair Pay Campaign Calculator over three weeks, more than half of all restaurant industry submissions (60 per cent) showed staff were being denied minimum rates of pay.
And it gets worse:
"It's horrifying," said Maurice Blackburn employment principal Giri Sivaraman.

"It's horrifying to think that so many people across a wide variety of industries are getting underpaid.

"This isn't a case of a few bad apples — you can't isolate it to one type of job, one industry, or one employer — this is systemic wage theft, and it's just so widespread."

Another troubling result from the data related to employment in Australia's pubs and clubs, where nearly 92 per cent of casual staff who used the calculator to check their wages found out they were being underpaid.
Sivaraman is already assisting a number of people who were underpaid by 7-Eleven franchisees in the related scandal earlier this year.

It’s probably unfortunate for Caltex that they are a public company and under Australian listing laws, they operate in an environment of continuous disclosure. So we know their profit for 2014 was $493 million and the 2015 ‘record’ profit was estimated to be between $615 and $635 million at the time the Sydney Morning Herald reported in December 2015. Their franchisees and other smaller businesses (along with the corporate structure of 7-Eleven) have considerably fewer requirements for publicly reported financial results.

While Caltex is probably not responsible legally for the actions of its franchisees, it is responsible for the contracts it has with the franchisees and, as they have been in the industry for a long time, they should by all rights know the costs involved in the 24 hour a day operation of a petrol shop. In a similar way, 7-Eleven corporate should know the costs of running a corner shop or petrol shop. It seems on the face of it that either Caltex and 7-Eleven both charge the franchisees too much or the franchisees are greedy. Regardless, if you were a small shareholder in a large firm that was involved in underpayment of wages, you would have to be concerned at the senior management of the company who stood by and watched the business’s name be trashed due to taking advantage of those who could least respond to bullying and intimidation.

So how does all this relate to a Brisbane schoolboy who committed suicide?

According to the boy’s mother, he was bullied because he believed he was different to the ‘ordinary’. Regardless of the matter of the school knowing about the claims or acting on them, some of the students at the school seemed to think that it was acceptable practice to tease or bully someone who was ‘different’. Do you wonder where they got the idea that their actions were acceptable behaviour? Could it be they were following the behaviour of Turnbull or Dutton (or Abbott)? Surely the actions of big business of imposing conditions on contractors that conspire to ensure they cannot comply with Australian laws for the payment of staff while making a profit is also bullying.

It is a sad indictment on Australia, if at the same time as we rightfully decry bullying at schools and similar institutions, we allow our political and business elite (in the true sense of the word) to get away with bullying consumers of a certain media channel, grandchildren of migrants from the 1970’s or those who have to work in lower paying and (let’s face it) rather insecure employment.

Teenage boys who suicide should be mourned – and those that victimise or bully anyone should be called out. Pity our national elite seem not to think so.

If you or someone you know is suffering distress, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Australia represented by a prime minister and a staffer!

In October Attorney-General Senator George Brandis got into a stoush with Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson which ultimately led to Gleeson’s resignation. At one point Brandis attempted to turn the issue into an argument about what constituted ‘consultation’ but the real issue was that Brandis had decided his office should have control of what advice could be offered by Gleeson — Gleeson would not have been allowed to provide advice unless the request for advice was first approved in Brandis’ office.

The Solicitor-General acts as the first counsel of the commonwealth and in 2013 and 2014, appeared in matters involving constitutional law, extradition, migration, native title, trade practices, taxation, corporations, customs, international arbitration and criminal law.

Section 12 of the Law Officers Act 1964 sets out his/her functions:
The functions of the Solicitor General are:
  1. to act as counsel for:
    1. the Crown in right of the Commonwealth;
    2. the Commonwealth;
    3. a person suing or being sued on behalf of the Commonwealth;
    4. a Minister;
    5. an officer of the Commonwealth;
    6. a person holding office under an Act or a law of a Territory;
    7. a body established by an Act or a law of a Territory; or
    8. any other person or body for whom the Attorney General requests him or her to act;
  2. to furnish his or her opinion to the Attorney General on questions of law referred to him or her by the Attorney General; and
  3. to carry out such other functions ordinarily performed by counsel as the Attorney General requests.
Part (b) does not rule out independently providing advice to people listed under (a) but simply specifically spells out that the Solicitor-General must provide advice when requested by the Attorney-General. While Brandis as Attorney-General is the ‘first law officer’ of the land, his decision to effectively control what advice Gleeson could provide, and to whom, clearly has political implications and that comes about largely through the number of political staffers who now occupy ministers’ offices.

Paul Grimes, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, resigned in March 2015 after a letter to his minister, Barnaby Joyce, that questioned the minister’s integrity. It arose from an incorrect statement Joyce had made to the House. Joyce quickly corrected his statement (on the same day) but the issue was that changes were also made in Hansard to Joyce’s original incorrect statement. Joyce blamed a ‘rogue’ staffer. It is standard procedure that parliamentarians are allowed to amend draft Hansard records but this is meant to be primarily for grammatical and similar errors — in other words, just tidying up their sentences. It is not meant to allow substantive changes to what was originally said. As in Barnaby Joyce’s case, errors of fact are corrected by an additional statement to the parliament.

I can certainly imagine that a junior staffer may have been given the task of ‘tidying up’ the minister’s statement in the draft Hansard and taken that a step too far. The question, however, was whether or not the minister knew, or had even directed, that the substantial change be made. Grimes’ letter suggests that he thought Joyce was directly involved. Even if not, Joyce should at the very least have accepted responsibility for what was done in his office because the changes would certainly have been cleared by a senior person in the office (as would have been done in the public service, so that such a change would never have seen the light of day).

The Joyce episode shows the modus operandi of political staff in ministers’ offices, where protecting the minister is always the first priority. A classic example was the ‘children overboard’ affair. Staffers in the office of then Prime Minister Howard kept from him the public service advice (from the Department of Defence) that the original interpretation of events, that refugees were throwing their children into the water, was wrong. That allowed ‘plausible deniability’. Howard could truthfully claim he had not lied because he was not advised of the new information — his staffers had made sure of that!

Although the people in ministers’ offices are often simply referred to as ‘staffers’, as a former public servant I take the view that for the most part they are ‘political staffers’ — they are both appointed politically and provide politically oriented advice. Their first allegiance is to their minister and their primary role is to protect him or her and ensure their minister is presented in the best light (they use ‘spin’). Their increasing role since the 1990s has to a significant extent overtaken the advisory role of the public service. The old system was not perfect but neither is the new system.

Historically the public service provided ‘frank and fearless’ advice to ministers. That was possible for a number of reasons. One was that departmental secretaries had permanent tenure. There are arguments for and against that but in its favour was that secretaries could give advice a minister may not like and not feel vulnerable for having given it. Secondly, for a long time departments saw their major client as the people for whom they had portfolio responsibility — during my time in the public service that was, for the department and agencies in which I worked, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people — which meant the advice often provided to a minister was intended to assist those ‘clients’, not necessarily the minister. I can’t recall exactly when, but around 1990 that began to change with public servants being told their primary responsibility was to the minister and yet this at a time when political staffers, already with a primary responsibility to the minister, were growing in number and power. Thirdly, ministers’ offices were originally staffed by public servants from the minister’s department, many just undertaking administrative and secretarial tasks. But there was usually a departmental PPS (Principal Private Secretary) to the minister whose major role was as a conduit for two-way advice flowing between the department and the minister. They were usually up-and-coming relatively senior people and that PPS role gave them insight into the political requirements of a minister’s office, which stood them in good stead for future promotion. I had a boss during my time who undertook that role and he was later often consulted by the departmental secretary on the political implications of advice we were proposing and/or a political strategy we may need to pursue to have it accepted. So it wasn’t as though the public service ignored political ramifications but, at the time, saw them as of lesser importance than ‘sound’ advice. And after weighing the advice, or even ignoring it, the minister always had the final say.

All that changed.

It was Paul Keating in 1994 who did away with permanent tenure for departmental secretaries. He was of the view that the public service should pay more heed to ‘the will of the government’. No doubt Labor’s history contributed to that view. When the Whitlam government was elected in 1972 it inherited a public service that had known nothing but Coalition governments for 23 years. For that reason Whitlam and his ministers did not trust the public service. It could be argued that the Whitlam government may have lasted longer if it had taken more notice of public service advice but, on the other hand, that may also have slowed its reform agenda. And when the Hawke government was elected in 1983, the public service had had Coalition governments for 31 of the past 34 years — not something to instil confidence in the public service for a new Labor government.

Keating’s changes paved the way for Howard, after 13 years of Labor governments, to wield the axe when he was elected in 1996. He removed six departmental secretaries, or a third of the total number at the time. If they did not already know it, secretaries were then made well aware that their job depended on providing appropriate advice, not frank and fearless advice. Rudd did not remove any when elected in 2007 and Abbott kept it to only three on his election in 2013. While the public service has often been criticised by government ministers, of all political persuasions, for being ‘risk averse’, the uncertainty regarding the security of secretaries was only likely to make that more so.

At the same time the number of political staffers was on the rise. During the Howard years, from May 1996 to May 2006, the number of ministerial staff increased from 294 to 445. On AIMN Kaye Lee also quoted another set of figures from Adam Creighton (in The Australian’s ‘Business Review’ of June 2014) that from 1984 to 2014 the number of staff for federal parliamentarians had more than doubled to 590 — including about 420 for ministers and 88 for the opposition (which is traditionally given 21 per cent of whatever the government has). On top of that there were 925 electorate staff whose main task is ensuring the re-election of their member of parliament (including ministers) — so that is another political role. A minister then has three key sources of advice, his political staffers, his electorate staff (who can also provide information on local community views) and the public service but two are definitely political and the third, the public service, has become more political in recent years. Of course, lobbyists also come into this as another source of ‘advice’ although it comes from a clearly partisan and self-interested perspective.

At the start of his prime ministership, Howard restructured the prime minister’s office, creating his own Cabinet Policy Unit (CPU) of political appointees. He also made the Secretary to Cabinet a political position whereas previously that role had been filled by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Turnbull has an advisory structure in his office that includes five main areas: international affairs, including foreign and national security policy; social policy; climate, water, infrastructure and cities policy; innovation and higher education policy; and economic policy. He did, however, appoint a public servant as his Chief of Staff, which was an acknowledgement of previous practice.

Since the Keating years, the prime minister’s office has grown from about 30 staff to over 50. Other ministers have between 10 and 20 staff on average.

While policy may still be determined by Cabinet and ministers, advice now comes from many sources and is generally interpreted by the political staffers before it lands on a minister’s desk. Even advice from the public service that implementation of a policy may create problems can often be ignored in favour of advice from political staffers that the policy may be a ‘political winner’.

There is no need to revisit the history of Peta Credlin in Tony Abbott’s office except to say that she portrays the ultimate power of a political staffer. She attended Cabinet meetings, advised Abbott on policy, controlled access and advice to Abbott and also exercised a degree of control over other members of Abbott’s party. Even many of those who supported Abbott thought that was a step too far.

The ‘children overboard’ affair showed one way in which these political staffers protect their ministers: politically damaging or risky information may never appear on a minister’s desk — they are basically deciding what information it may be ‘dangerous’ for a minister to know. Nowadays they also influence the advice the public service provides as advice will often not reach a minister unless it has been endorsed by the political staffers. I know from experience that, in some situations, public servants have virtually to negotiate with the political staffers what advice will go to a minister. What has advice come to when it has to be ‘negotiated’!

Operating that way, political staffers have even undermined ministers having the final say on policy issues. If ministers do not see appropriate advice, both pro and con a policy position or potential problems with implementation, how can they make a legitimate decision? Decisions simply become echoes of political views.

The Barnaby Joyce example shows, at the least, that political staffers may not fully understand parliamentary procedures (let alone public service checks and balances). Departments have people skilled in those procedures and processes of checking to ensure little goes wrong. At worst, it was an example of blatant over-riding of those procedures, whether by the minister or his office, all in the name of protecting the minister.

The Brandis situation exemplifies the efforts to politicise advice, no longer wanting independent or frank and fearless advice but only that advice suiting the political agenda or ‘the will of the government’, to use Keating’s words.

It seems to me that the changes that took place simultaneously within the public service and in ministers’ offices were the wrong changes at the wrong time. Surely the growth in the number of political staffers should have provided more scope, not less, for the public service to provide frank and fearless advice, leaving it to the political staffers to assess the political implications and advise the minister so that she or he could then make a balanced decision. Instead, the public service was also changed so that the advice it provided already took account of many of the political aspects. There seemed no one left who was considering the interests of the people for whom departments were responsible.

If voters are dissatisfied with politics, I suggest one reason is because most policy now is driven by politics rather than basic or frank and fearless advice about what may be good policy for particular groups of people. If both the public service and political staffers advising ministers now consider the minister is their most important ‘client’, it is little wonder that people feel left out. It is because they are!

What do you think?
Do ministers need as many as staff as they have when they also have whole public service departments to advise them?

Where does the balance lie between political advice and ‘frank and fearless’ advice?

Is Ken right in suggesting that the politicisation of policy advice has effectively removed people from the equation?

Let us know in comments below.

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Trump’s Uncertainty Principle

Way back in 1927 German physicist Werner Heisenberg described the Uncertainty Principle that applies to quantum mechanics. It states that the more precisely the position of a particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. With apologies to Heisenberg and quantum physicists, the uncertainty principle seems to be a suitable metaphor for America’s President Elect.

Of all the nouns that could now be applied to the name ‘Donald Trump’, ‘uncertainty’ is the most plausible. Is there anyone who is prepared to make predictions with certainty about what Trump’s contribution to American and world politics might be?

Read these synonyms of ‘uncertainty’: unpredictability, unreliability, riskiness, chanciness, precariousness, unsureness, changeability, inconsistency, fickleness, hesitancy, doubt, vacillation, equivocation, vagueness, ambivalence, disquiet, wariness, chariness, skepticism, doubt, misgiving, apprehension, quandary, dilemma, reservation, query, and suspicion.

Read these antonyms: certainty, predictability, and confidence.

Are there any synonyms that do not apply to Trump?

In the June issue of The Atlantic, long before the presidential election, Dan P. McAdams, professor of psychology and the director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives at Northwestern University, wrote The Mind of Donald Trump, a detailed appraisal of the psychological traits that govern Trump’s behaviour. It’s a long article that is well worth the time it takes to read it.

McAdams based his analysis of Trump on the five basic dimensions of human variability, which are pretty stable across a person’s lifetime (Trump is 70):

Extroversion: gregariousness, social dominance, enthusiasm, reward-seeking behavior

Neuroticism: anxiety, emotional instability, depressive tendencies, negative emotions

Conscientiousness: industriousness, discipline, rule abidance, organization

Agreeableness: warmth, care for others, altruism, compassion, modesty

Openness: curiosity, unconventionality, imagination, receptivity to new ideas.

Who would disagree that Trump exhibits hyper-extroversion and hypo-agreeableness? He seems to be low on neuroticism, but on the ‘conscientiousness’ scale he is high on industriousness, yet low on discipline; his minders had to endure his ill discipline on the campaign trail and on social media. His ‘openness’ is questionable. He is unconventional, but who is willing to predict his willingness to embrace new ideas?

McAdam analysed Trump’s traits in detail:
“Across his lifetime, Donald Trump has exhibited a trait profile that you would not expect of a U.S. president: sky-high extroversion combined with off-the-chart low agreeableness…

“A cardinal feature of high extroversion is relentless reward-seeking. Prompted by the activity of dopamine circuits in the brain, highly extroverted actors are driven to pursue positive emotional experiences, whether they come in the form of social approval, fame, or wealth. Indeed, it is the pursuit itself, more so even than the actual attainment of the goal, that extroverts find so gratifying. When Barbara Walters asked Trump in 1987 whether he would like to be appointed president of the United States, rather than having to run for the job, Trump said no: “It’s the hunt that I believe I love.”
McAdams asked his readers to: “Imagine Donald Trump in the White House. What kind of decision maker might he be?”

He concedes that it is very difficult to predict the actions a president will take:
"Research suggests that extroverts tend to take high-stakes risks and that people with low levels of openness rarely question their deepest convictions. Entering office with high levels of extroversion and very low openness, George W. Bush was predisposed to make bold decisions aimed at achieving big rewards, and to make them with the assurance that he could not be wrong…

“Like Bush, a President Trump might try to swing for the fences in an effort to deliver big payoffs – to make America great again, as his campaign slogan says.

“As a real-estate developer, he has certainly taken big risks, although he has become a more conservative businessman following setbacks in the 1990s. As a result of the risks he has taken, Trump can (and does) point to luxurious urban towers, lavish golf courses, and a personal fortune that is, by some estimates, in the billions, all of which clearly bring him big psychic rewards. Risky decisions have also resulted in four Chapter 11 business bankruptcies involving some of his casinos and resorts.

“Because he is not burdened with Bush’s low level of openness, Trump may be a more flexible and pragmatic decision maker, more like Bill Clinton than Bush: He may look longer and harder than Bush did before he leaps. And because he is viewed as markedly less ideological than most presidential candidates (political observers note that on some issues he seems conservative, on others liberal, and on still others non-classifiable), Trump may be able to switch positions easily, leaving room to maneuver in negotiations with Congress and foreign leaders.

“But on balance, he’s unlikely to shy away from risky decisions that, should they work out, could burnish his legacy and provide him an emotional payoff.”
It has been observed that Trump reads little. He relies on his gut feelings when assessing risks, even when the stakes are high.

In his article McAdams relates a story about Trump negotiating the purchase of an estate in Scotland to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. “The estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details, but as Michael D’Antonio wrote in his recent biography of Trump, ‘Never Enough’, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage. “It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.”

Donald Trump is an actor. He is a TV reality show star. He is accomplished at acting. A week after his election he has already retreated on several policy issues that were key to his success. It looks now as if Trump’s election rhetoric was an act to attract votes from the audience that he perceived would support him strongly: working, white middle class males resentful at having lost their jobs to overseas countries because of globalization and technology.

Let’s look at what’s become of some of his pre-election rhetoric.

The Mexican wall now might be made up in part by fences. There’s been no more talk of Mexico footing the bill.

The threat to deport some three million illegal Mexican immigrants is no longer a certainty, as it was pre-election. Who can guess how that threat will play out?

It seems now that ‘Obamacare’ will no longer be discontinued and replaced by Trump’s ‘superior scheme’. How much of it will survive? Will another scheme even be offered?

NATO now seems to be back in favour with Trump, and the nuclear threat that embellished his rhetoric has been toned down.

After Trump met Barack Obama, whom he had denounced repeatedly, he began to talk about seeking his counsel. His condemnation of Crooked Hillary and the criminal Clinton family has turned into words of admiration for what the Clintons have contributed, and there’s even talk of Trump seeking their advice. The threat of criminal prosecution and gaol for Hillary has evaporated, at least for now. Trump’s acerbic comments about several of his Republican rivals and colleagues have lost much of their acidity.

Already, predictions of what President Trump might do are proving problematic. Writing in the November 12-13 issue of The Weekend Australian, Paul Kelly warns: Beware of confident predictions about what Trumpism means once the man sits in the Oval Office. This is a classic Donald Rumsfield’s notion of ‘known unknowns’ – things we know we don’t know. The smartest people in the world are clueless about how Trump will govern or what he will actually do.”

Given that Trump is a consummate actor who can be whatever Trump he wants to be at any time, who can change like a chameleon from one policy position to the converse, how finely tuned are his political skills?

He certainly tapped into the prevailing anger and resentment of unemployed white males in the rust belt. Although it was a close election (Clinton won the popular vote), Trump captured 60% of the white male vote with his promises to fix their problems.

Paul Kelly wrote: “He has mobilized a new force in the country…the key was Trump's cunning in diagnosing the ‘personal grievances’ plaguing the American soul. Trump became a symbol – the fixer, the nostalgic agent, the man who shared your anger, and he depicted a political establishment rotten to the core. His victory revealed an America even more politically divided than we grasped, with its sense of moral compass smashed to pieces.”

So far Trump gets high marks in political acumen on the domestic front for winning what the pundits and polls said was unwinnable for him. But how will he fare on the international front? Nobody knows.

Kelly’s assessment is:
"Trump’s brazen capacity to impose parts of his agenda and ditch others should not be misjudged. Remember, Trump doesn’t play by the rulebook; he just tore it up and got rewarded.

“This is a time for calm and rationality. Anger at Trump’s election is as worthless as denouncing the American public. It is as true today as it was before to say Trump is unfit to be president. But it is counter productive because he is president. History keeps remaking our realities. And Trump, inexperienced in public life, must figure out how to keep remaking himself.

“If you believe that Trump’s agenda is a danger to the world – pretty much a statement of the obvious – then the only rational response is to engage, advocate and persuade.” This is how political leaders around the world should act…

“In truth, Trump is about to enter a steep learning curve. He will be more prepared to listen to friends and supporters, not patronizing leaders who think criticizing Trump will earn them electoral kudos at home. Trump, no doubt, will treat such leaders as mugs. You don’t need a doctorate in psychology to realize Trump is a vain man with a glass jaw likely to visit retribution on leaders and countries that opt for gratuitous insults.
[He is said to keep count of insults and slights and extract revenge later.]

“The most fascinating element in Trump, however, is his dual identity. There seems to be two Donald Trumps, thereby complicating how the new president will govern: the real Trump and candidate Trump.”
What motivates Trump?

Winning, success, admiration, praise and wealth top the list.

According to Barack Obama, Trump is pragmatic rather than ideological. Judging from his pre-election pronouncements, he seems not to have fixed policy positions, nor does he have many. In that case he might not find the ideologies of the conservatives and their hard right colleagues in the Tea Party attractive enough to underpin his policies when he gets round to formulating them.

Obama has reassured us that Trump is committed to America’s four international alliances, of which NATO is the most important. Former US ambassador to Australia, John Berry, in an interview on Lateline, indicated that Trump would likely honour the deal to take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island as the US alliance with Australia was so strong; Australia is “a great friend and great ally”. The ABC reported that Australia was Trump’s ‘poster boy’! Less reassuring is the talk of the US amassing a fleet to challenge China’s incursion into the South China Sea.

Trump’s commitment to the UN Climate Change initiative is more problematic. He regards all the talk of global warming as a hoax, ”created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”, and has threatened to cut US funding for the UN initiative. Should he do so, the UN efforts to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels would be severely frustrated. Chaos in the environmental arena would result. We can only hope his advisors will persuade him not to go down that dangerous track, and instead focus on renewable energy rather than his beloved fossil fuels.

Another contentious policy area is free trade. Trump is isolationist, and threatens to put up trade barriers in the form of high tariffs on imported goods, especially those from China. The Trans Pacific Partnership, which has only lukewarm support in America, seems doomed already.

On the economic front he talks as if he is a latter-day Ronald Reagan, intent on giving massive tax cuts – from 35% down to 15% – a move that would cut federal revenues by an estimated $9.5 trillion over a decade. He lauds Reaganomics, based as it was on trickle down economics, but as Saul Eslake points out, he ignores the fact that during Reagan’s presidency “the US Federal Reserve cut rates from 17.5 to 6 per cent, and the US debt-to-GDP ratio rose from 20 to 40 per cent.” Trumponomics will do no more to benefit the unemployed and lower income workers than any other iteration of trickle down economics has. His stated intention though to build massive infrastructure might.

Writing in The Weekend Australian about Trump, John Durie noted: “The magic wand is missing, as is some magic potion. No wonder, when asked, Australia’s financial regulators were unanimous in their warning that ‘it’s too early to tell what Trump will do’ ”

All the above leaves aside the fact that the US President Elect has many personal defects. To paraphrase what I wrote in Trump is just part of the problem:
"We can see from his words and actions that on the personal front he is an ugly misogynist and a womanizer, yet is disrespectful of so many of the women who have entered his ambit, women whom he regards as his property, to do with as he wishes. He labels as liars the continuing procession of women who have accused him of sexual predation, insisting that all these claims have been ‘proven false’, and that he will sue them after the election.

“We know too that he is a bully, and has a nasty streak that shows when he calls his opponent ‘Crooked Hillary’…labels her a ‘criminal’... calls her a liar, accuses her of ‘having tremendous hate in her heart’, attacks her over her husband’s alleged womanizing, and suggests she should be drug tested before their debates.”
It’s curious that these obnoxious attributes have attracted little comment since the election; commentators are now so concerned about the domestic and global consequences of a Trump presidency that they have faded into the background. Womanizing is one thing, but the prospect that he will propel the US and the world into chaos and conflict is what Trump observers are petrified about.

’Uncertainty’ makes for anxiety, apprehension, and fear. World and national leaders are afflicted, as are international bodies, defence analysts, economists, international and national bankers, business and industry bodies, unions, refugee agencies, advocates for women, pro-choice advocates, immigration and multicultural activists, and countless men, women and even children who are now even more uncertain about the future, the future of their nation, the future of the globe as it faces multiple challenges which world leaders seem unable to manage. To add to their anguish, they now have the burden of having to deal with a loose cannon leading the most powerful nation on earth. Understandably, uncertainty and fear are the prevailing emotions.

So much depends on those with whom Trump surrounds himself, and those to whom he listens.

Isn’t is astonishing that just one man has created this extraordinary global upheaval!

What do you think?
What is your assessment of how Trump will govern?

Let us know in comments below.

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Let’s welcome President Trump
2353NM, 20 November 2016
Yes, you read the title correctly. Donald J Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America after amassing more ‘Electoral College’ votes on 8 November 2016. It doesn’t matter that Clinton won the popular vote as the ‘Electoral College’ is where you need to outperform. The reality is that close to 45% of the population used their democratic right of not voting for any Presidential candidate.

Let’s welcome President Trump

Yes, you read the title correctly. Donald J Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America after amassing more ‘Electoral College’ votes on 8 November 2016. It doesn’t matter that Clinton won the popular vote as the ‘Electoral College’ is where you need to outperform. The reality is that close to 45% of the population used their democratic right (in the US anyway) of not voting for any Presidential candidate. It’s easy to make the assumption that a lot of people either didn’t care, didn’t like the candidates or just couldn’t be bothered. Some of those may now be regretting their choice.

The internet is awash with articles by full time and citizen journalists telling us why Clinton lost or Trump won. To be honest, there is probably a grain of truth in a lot of the discussion. This isn’t another ‘we woz robbed’ or ‘wot went wrong’ monologue, history is history and Trump may last as President from 20 January 2017 to 20 January 2021 or beyond. Despite the apparently common theme in Australia that Trump is not a good thing, are we not seeing the wood for the trees here? Michael Moore of Bowling for Columbine and other documentary movies’ fame actually tipped not only that Trump would win the election last July, but which US states Trump would pick up:
You need to stop living in denial and face the truth which you know deep down is very, very real. Trying to soothe yourself with the facts — “77% of the electorate are women, people of color, young adults under 35 and Trump can’t win a majority of any of them!” — or logic — “people aren’t going to vote for a buffoon or against their own best interests!” — is your brain’s way of trying to protect you from trauma. Like when you hear a loud noise on the street and you think, “oh, a tire just blew out,” or, “wow, who’s playing with firecrackers?” because you don’t want to think you just heard someone being shot with a gun. It’s the same reason why all the initial news and eyewitness reports on 9/11 said “a small plane accidentally flew into the World Trade Center.” We want to — we need to — hope for the best because, frankly, life is already a s**t show and it’s hard enough struggling to get by from paycheck to paycheck. We can’t handle much more bad news. So our mental state goes to default when something scary is actually, truly happening. The first people plowed down by the truck in Nice spent their final moments on earth waving at the driver whom they thought had simply lost control of his truck, trying to tell him that he jumped the curb: “Watch out!,” they shouted. “There are people on the sidewalk!”
Moore suggested:
I believe Trump is going to focus much of his attention on the four blue states in the rustbelt of the upper Great Lakes — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four traditionally Democratic states — but each of them have elected a Republican governor since 2010 (only Pennsylvania has now finally elected a Democrat). In the Michigan primary in March, more Michiganders came out to vote for the Republicans (1.32 million) that the Democrats (1.19 million). Trump is ahead of Hillary in the latest polls in Pennsylvania and tied with her in Ohio. Tied? How can the race be this close after everything Trump has said and done? Well maybe it’s because he’s said (correctly) that the Clintons’ support of NAFTA helped to destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest. Trump is going to hammer Clinton on this and her support of TPP and other trade policies that have royally screwed the people of these four states. When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the ears of the working class of Michigan, and when he tossed in his threat to Apple that he would force them to stop making their iPhones in China and build them here in America, well, hearts swooned and Trump walked away with a big victory that should have gone to the governor next-door, John Kasich.
Moore also talks about ‘angry white men’ who can’t adjust to equality of race or gender, Clinton’s negatives, the Democrats who supported Sanders not necessarily supporting the Democrats eventual nominee with the same gusto as ‘their’ candidate and those who were always going to vote for Trump because doing so gives the royal finger to established politics.

And you know what, Moore is right. If you are a factory worker in Michigan who no longer has a job because the cars you used to make are now imported — or even a mining worker in the Hunter Valley or Central Queensland who has lost their job because of global markets either not requiring or finding a cheaper alternative to ‘their’ product — you too would think about destroying the system that on the face of it looks after itself, but not you.

Rightly or wrongly Clinton wasn’t a great candidate. Sure, she knew how the system worked and had the experience, as she has been a part of the system for a long time. Unfortunately, she also had made some decisions in the past that were marketed as demonstrating Clinton didn’t follow the rules when it didn’t suit her. The perception therefore is that she is there to look after herself, rather than the unemployed labourer or farm worker suffering because of changing economic circumstances.

So if you think that Clinton could refute Trump’s appeal, in the words of Moore:
… you obviously missed the past year of 56 primaries and caucuses where 16 Republican candidates tried that and every kitchen sink they could throw at Trump and nothing could stop his juggernaut.
Yes, from the other side of the Pacific, Trump is a xenophobe, narcissistic and seemingly will do what it takes to gather popularity. However, how about we look at this strategically?

Trump (and Hanson/Abbott in Australia, Farage in the UK and La Pen in France amongst others) is telling voters that if you vote for me, I will ‘fix’ your individual problem, be it health care, education, jobs, commodity prices or whatever else is the reason you are disaffected with the ‘political’ class. Trump has made that implied promise to something like 380 million people. Before he starts campaigning for his Presidential re-election campaign somewhere around 2019, he has to deliver on a lot of promises made to a lot of people. Given that it would be well-nigh impossible to understand the problems of a lot of the US population inside two years, there is Buckley’s chance of a solution being delivered. Let’s say that Trump ‘fixes’ imports, giving jobs back to the ‘rustbelt’ states that effectively elected him. Apart from the domestic replacements being more expensive and/or of lesser quality than the current import, imported products also have a supply line of distributors and resellers who would conceivably be worse off if the tap on imports is turned off. In a similar vein, a lot of those who rely on what are claimed to be ‘undocumented Americans’ to do the menial work around the home and so on would probably find themselves either doing the work or paying a lot more for a ‘documented American’ to perform the same tasks.

Trump has by implication promised to ‘fix’ the perceived personal problem of every person that has voted for him, as well as those who didn’t. It really doesn’t matter that there are a multitude of problems and, given all the good will in the world, some of the problems are so entrenched in the global economic system that they will never be ‘fixed’, Trump’s implicit promise is to ‘fix it’ and benefit all those US citizens who voted for him. When it comes time for other Republicans to challenge him for the 2020 nomination sometime in 2019, a lot of the disaffected that voted for Trump this time around will look at their individual circumstances and decide whether they are either worse or no better off. While Trump may not necessarily follow the usual political protocols, he can’t ‘fix’ everything he claimed to be able to manage in under 24 months. He is already ‘talking down’ his promise to cancel Obama’s Affordable Health initiative. Will these people (probably numbered in the hundreds of millions) accept Trump’s inevitable line that he is gradually turning things around? Or will they, to paraphrase a former Australian politician be waiting on the porch with a baseball bat?

We do have a precedent here. Campbell Newman came to power in Queensland promising to fix the state, and the people gave him a wallopingly large margin to do it (the Official Opposition, led by Annastacia Palaszczuk, could hold meetings in an eight-seater people mover and still have a spare seat). Newman instituted his vision of reform and not only did Palaszczuk form a minority government at the next election some two and a half years later, Newman lost his seat in the 89 seat Queensland parliament. You could also argue that the 2016 federal election result was a result of Abbott’s claims prior to 2013 that he would ‘fix it’ with a similar lack of actual ability to do so.

The beauty of Trump’s election is that from 20 January 2017, he is arguably the most important person in the world. The common belief is that if the US President says jump, the expected answer is ‘how high’. If Trump can’t make everyone happy in the next couple of years, do the Hansons and Farages of this world have any chance of doing so? In reality — probably not. Probably the easier question to ask is will every other political party in the world (apart from the ultra conservatives such as One Nation, UKIP, etc) be reticent about pointing out that Trump couldn’t fix it — so how on earth will Hanson, Farage or whoever else do better?

Trump in the view of a lot of people doesn’t deserve to be President because he worked outside the traditional rules of engagement. Rightly or wrongly, he convinced enough people in the right areas to trust him to deliver. While the jury is still out on the delivery of his promises, Trump is highly susceptible to claims that he is no better than the rest if each one of the implied promises he made to make things better for every American citizen isn’t happening by 2019. Trump will soon have in his command the established forces of the largest and most well-resourced democracy in the world to make the changes he considers necessary to the world’s political and economic systems. If Trump can’t do it (and the chances are he won’t in the minds of a lot of Americans) people like Abbott, Hanson and the other ‘like-minded’ people around the world have even less. Trump’s probable failure also should be concerning other political players who have been using similar arguments for a number of years — including Hanson’s One Nation Party.

Michael Moore managed to blitz the field with his tips for the 2016 US Elections. He still has one tip in play. As reported by Paste magazine, Moore appeared on American television on November 11, 2016:
During the sprawling 45-minute discussion, Moore said that he didn’t think Trump would last his whole term of office. Moore said:

This is why we’re not going to have to suffer through four years of Donald J. Trump, because he has no ideology except the ideology of Donald J. Trump. And when you have a narcissist like that, who’s so narcissistic where it’s all about him, he will — maybe unintentionally — break laws. He will break laws because he’s only thinking about what’s best for him.
In some ways, impeaching Trump would be a tragedy.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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2353NM, 16 November 2016
Housing affordability is perceived to be an issue in Australia. In some areas of Australia, the median price of a house is in excess of $1million and there is some justification in the common questions around how on earth can a young couple ever be able to afford a house in that market. There are a number of answers …

Aaand it’s sold

Housing affordability is perceived to be an issue in Australia. In some areas of Australia, the median price of a house is in excess of $1million and there is some justification in the common questions around how on earth can a young couple ever be able to afford a house in that market. There are a number of answers to the question and there are also a number of inequities that are assisting to take house prices in ‘desirable’ areas out the reach of those who are not on a well above average income.

Most would attest that the choosing of a home either to rent or buy is not the stress-free experience that is portrayed in advertising for various real estate agents. For a variety of reasons, I have recently sold and purchased a home, which apart from the angst over someone paying me as much as possible and my payment of as little as possible, gave me a few insights into the current state of play in the residential real estate market.

In short, it is easy to believe that the real estate market is loaded against those who are younger, not earning that much (when compared to those who have been in the workforce for a while), with little or no deposit to contribute to the purchase of a house to call ‘their home’.

Generally, in Australia, the suburbs closer to the CBD in each capital city receive better services. There is a better variety of shopping centres, the public transport is usually better and more frequent, healthcare and education facilities are closer and accordingly easier to get to and so on. On the downside, there is a higher chance of living in a noisier environment with closer neighbours, more traffic and congestion.

Each member of the finance industry collectively spends a lot convincing you to borrow money from them rather than the mob down the road. What they don’t tell you in the glossy advertising is that if you have less than 20% of the purchase price of your future home, you will be required to pay mortgage insurance.

Normally an insurance policy paid for by a particular person will benefit that person. Mortgage insurance doesn’t. The ‘logic’ behind mortgage insurance is to pay out the financier of the home loan should the loan default. While the lender may get all their money back, the mortgage insurer is then out of pocket and chases the borrower. The insurance premium is frequently in the tens of thousands.

While there is probably some statistical reason for the requirement for loan insurance for those with what the finance industry considers to be a low deposit, it effectively penalises those who can’t for some reason save the ‘reasonable’ deposit for the area where they would like to live. The purchaser is then forced to live further away from the CBD, in an area with less services. Sooner or later pressure is applied to all levels of government for the services to improve further out from the CBD, applying upward pressure to taxes and charges so the improvements can be funded.

According to, the time it takes to save a deposit to purchase a ‘median priced’ house in each capital city varies according to the city, number of incomes and the earnings capability of the people involved. It could take in excess of eight years to save the 20% deposit to avoid the mortgage insurance. Don’t forget that while you are saving for the eight years, the house prices will go up as will your income. However, with housing prices in some areas rising faster than salaries and wages, is it any wonder that people decide that the occasional $22 smashed avo on bruschetta is more attainable? If you follow the advice in this ABC website article, you might actually have your avo while saving for the home of your own, but it isn’t guaranteed.

A considerable number of people saving for a house are renting somewhere while they ‘save the deposit’. listed the ‘cheapest five’ rental suburbs within 10km of the respective capital city CBD during October. Looking at the Brisbane suburbs listed on the website, the latter three generally have much better access to services than the first two, which probably accounts for the difference in price. So while paying generally in excess of $300 a week to rent a place to live, people have to find a way to put a similar or greater amount away to eventually buy a house.

Unfortunately the area with the cheapest rentals is not necessarily one of the cheaper areas to purchase in, leading to people either having to save a higher deposit or accept a reduction in nearby services when they choose to commence the process of buying a house.

That’s when you meet the real estate agents and the house sellers (better known as vendors). Real estate agents generally are paid on a commission basis. The seller of the property generally pays a certain percentage of the eventual purchase price to the real estate agent for the work they have put into introducing the purchaser to the property. In the past few months I have met some really nice people working as real estate agents and some that would sell their mother for five cents.

Observation would tell you that most real estate agents work out of offices with a number of other agents. As a result, you would think that if a customer of real estate agent ‘A’ is looking for a particular type of house that real estate agent ‘B’, who works in the same office had just been employed to sell, ‘A’ and ‘B’ would talk to ensure that the property owner and potential purchaser would be given an opportunity to sign a contract of sale. You might think it, but there is no guarantee of it happening as the usual arrangement would be that real estate agent ‘B’ would have to share his commission and may not want to do so.

Vendors have expectations of the price they want for their properties. These expectations could be related to what is needed to ‘move on’, what they have seen the house next door sell for, what the estate agent tells the seller the place is worth or some other completely rational (to the vendor anyway) process. It stands to reason that vendors want the highest price they can get as do the real estate agents (to maximise their commission payment). The next group don’t.

Purchasers are the people who drive around the area they intend to live in, traditionally on a Saturday morning, looking at houses that they can ‘live with’. Purchasers are usually limited by some financial impost, either the deposit they have available, ability to make the repayments on a loan or the need to keep some money aside to pursue some other goal.

The vendors employ the real estate agents to sell their property with the expectation that the agent has the requisite skills to achieve the highest price. The agent also wants to achieve the highest price, as it maximises the commission paid. Unfortunately, the purchaser wants to find a house for the lowest price. In an economic sense, the real estate market cannot be a completely transparent market as the agent and vendor are both attempting to achieve the highest price — only limited by the purchaser’s negotiation skills or the need of other vendors with similar homes who also want to sell their house at the same time.

The purchaser who is attempting to buy their first home is also up against the investor. Peter Martin, the Economics Editor for Fairfax’s The Age recently looked at what could be considered to be the constant battle between owner-occupiers and investors, noting the Reserve Bank’s comment in evidence to a recent enquiry: ‘It is a truism that if an investor is buying a property, an owner-occupier is not.’

According to Martin:
What matters for a tolerable retirement (far more than superannuation) is owning the home in which you live. If you do, the age pension is enough to get by on. If you don't, you have to pay rent. Morrison's own figures show we are condemning more and more Australians to retirements burdened by rent.
Liberal MP John Alexander started an enquiry into housing prices back in the day when Abbott was the prime minister and Hockey was the treasurer. The enquiry was allowed to lapse after the recent election but Alexander was moved on about a year prior to that.

Hockey’s Treasury Department made a submission to Alexander’s enquiry. In the words of Peter Martin:
Graph 13 in its submission shows that up until the end of the 1990s the median dwelling price stayed in a tight band of 2.5 to 3 times household after-tax income. Then in the space of three years it shot up to near four times after-tax income and has stayed there ever since.

What happened at the end of the 1990s? In September 1999, the government halved the headline rate of capital gains tax, making negative gearing suddenly an essential tax strategy. Whereas before, renting out a house at a loss for tax purposes had been mainly an exercise in delaying tax because the eventual profit made selling the property would be taxed at close to the seller's marginal rate, afterwards, with the profit taxed at only half the marginal rate, it became an exercise in cutting tax.
So those with a desire to cut their tax took the opportunity given to them on a plate by the Howard government and negatively geared a house. Howard used to claim that rising housing prices were a sign of a good economy. The problem is that the investors (and more recently those from overseas) are in a position to squeeze owner-occupiers out of the market by bidding up house prices. The vendors and agents are happy — they are getting more money at the time of sale; the investors are effectively and legally writing off tax they would otherwise have to pay; and those who are trying to get their foot in the door are priced out of the market. After all the areas that are attractive to owner-occupiers because of features such as services or the natural surroundings are also attractive to investors, as the same attractions are also valuable to renters.

Take it from me, buying and selling houses is not the easy process that is commonly suggested in the advertising from real estate agencies and financial institutions. It is apparently worse for someone who is buying a house for the first time — as discussed by Erin Munro on the Domain website.

Current treasurer Scott Morrison made a speech to the Urban Development Institute recently where he called on state governments to reduce artificial constraints on housing supply. While there are probably some constraints that do require attention, maybe Morrison should take care of his own backyard first. The ALP had a policy at the last federal election to reduce the benefits of negative gearing and capital gains tax for those who invest in residential housing — maybe they were on to something.

Peter Martin suggests:
Reinstating capital gains tax and imposing a land tax would help, as would building more houses. But there is something in our psychology that's doing it as well. We seem to want to push up the prices we complain about. Adding "supply" might do no more than give us something else to bid up.
Until some rationality is restored, if someone in your family wants to buy a first house, best of luck.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Who invents this cruelty?

In the past fortnight, the Turnbull Coalition government announced proposed legislation to ensure that each person on Manus Island or Nauru sentenced to the cruel and unusual punishment for no legal or moral reason since an arbitrary date in 2013, will never come to Australia. That’s never ever; doesn’t matter if they want to visit the Great Barrier Reef before government lack of policy on climate change kills it off; doesn’t matter if the person is a famous actor, musician or movie star in their future life; doesn’t matter if the person is representing a country at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast; and it even doesn’t matter if a current refugee on Manus Island or Nauru is a head of state in the future — they won’t be allowed to visit Australia (or only allowed to visit at the absolute discretion of the minister for immigration at the time).

Blatantly unfair, unreasonable and un-called for? — certainly. Unfortunately, we should be used to the Abbott/Turnbull government doubling down on the nastiness and sheer hate defined by their policy on refugees. The Abbott/Turnbull government will tell you that they are stopping the people smugglers from sending people on dangerous open sea voyages using equipment that is clearly not designed for the purpose. Immigration Minister Dutton claims:
What we don't want is if someone is to go to a third country, that they apply for a tourist visa or some other way to circumvent what the government's policy intent is by coming back to Australia from that third country.
The Abbott/Turnbull government has a problem. After being given a lesson in humanity by the Papua New Guinea High Court when it ruled that the detention camp on Manus Island breached PNG law, Turnbull has to find a place to house the 1200 or so people we as Australians have illegally imprisoned by various governments going back to the Rudd ALP government. Politically, the government can’t let these people come to Australia as the neo-conservative right wing of the Liberal and National Parties will head further towards the divisive policies of the ultra-right wing parties such as One Nation. As well as that, if the refugees were housed in (say) New Zealand or other countries in the South Pacific, the argument could be made that refugees could simply board a plane to Australia after they had residency in the third country. Logically you would have to ask why anyone that had been treated so poorly by others would ever want to ‘darken the door’ of their oppressors, but according to Dutton it is a concern. While yes, that is a hole in the current arrangements if those on Manus Island or Nauru are successfully integrated into a third country’s society, they might want to come to Australia at a later date, has anyone stopped to think what we are potentially losing by not standing up to the vindictive and xenophobic policies of successive Australian governments?

The Political Sword looked at the contributions made to our society by refugees in March 2014. We looked at Michael Gawenda, the ‘ten pound poms’ (which include Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, the Gibb Brothers (aka The Bee Gees), Noni Hazlehurst, Alan Bond, Frank Tyson, Harold Larwood, and the parents of people such as Kylie Minogue, Al Grassby and Hugh Jackman), Tony Le Nguyen and Munjed Al Muderis. All the people listed in this paragraph have made a wonderful contribution to this country, and if the governments that supported and encouraged the immigration of these Australians had the same racist policies of the current government, we would live in a much poorer place.

This isn’t solely the view of this admittedly left of centre political blog, this letter was shared around on social media in the few days after Turnbull and Dutton announced their draconian policy.

Clearly, Dr Al Muderis makes a significant contribution to Australia and the world — as people fly to Australia from around the world just to see Dr Al Muderis.

Noni Hazelhurst, the Bee Gees and even Gillard and Abbott have also made a contribution to this country in their own sphere of influence. So why are we persecuting those that are attempting to become refugees in Australia in the twenty teens? While many were ridiculing (probably with some justification) ex-Prime Minister Rudd’s contribution to the debate at the beginning of the month, Rudd does have a few points that are worth considering. Rudd claims:
This is both bad policy and bad politics: on policy, the far right in Australia represent the worst of the xenophobic, nationalist and protectionist wave that we now see raging across Europe and America; while on politics, appeasement of political thugs like Abbott, Dutton, Abetz, Andrews and, depending on which way the wind is blowing, Morrison, only embolden the far right to demand more, not less.
This measure is about the politics of symbols, designed to throw red meat at the right, including the Hansonite insurgency, and to grovel to the broad politics of xenophobia. Turnbull, once an intelligent, global citizen, knows better.
Rudd claims that Gillard (his successor and predecessor) changed his policy.
It sought to negotiate offshore processing arrangements with East Timor and later Malaysia. These failed. Then in August 2012, the government announced the reopening of offshore processing in Manus and Nauru. The government also increased the number of refugees we would take from the UNHCR "global pool" of refugees from 13,000 to 20,000. Nonetheless, in the first half of 2013, the UNHCR delivered reports criticising the treatment of refugees, which the government sought to respond to.
It is also claimed that when Rudd regained power he made significant changes to the agreement around refugees that Australia had signed with PNG, including a clause that the Manus Island camp would only operate for one year. Rudd’s opinion article concludes by stating:
I have kept silent on Australian domestic policy debates for the past three years. But this one sinks to new lows. It is pure politics designed to appease the xenophobes. It is without any policy merit in dealing with the real policy challenges all countries face today in what is now a global refugees crisis. And it does nothing to help those refugees left to rot for more than three years, who should be resettled now.
While a lot of the article by Rudd is an attempt to justify his own past deeds, he is correct to suggest that refugees are not solely an Australian ‘problem’ and, to be realistic, Australia’s ‘problem’ is insignificant on a global scale. Rudd is also correct that far right political groups around the world are attracting votes using issues such as protectionism, isolationism and blatant racism. The Guardian runs a series called ‘The Long Read’. Co-incidentally, on 1 November, it published an article in the series titled ‘The ruthlessly effective branding of Europe’s far right’.

As The Guardian suggests:
They have effectively claimed the progressive causes of the left — from gay rights to women’s equality and protecting Jews from antisemitism — as their own, by depicting Muslim immigrants as the primary threat to all three groups. As fear of Islam has spread, with their encouragement, they have presented themselves as the only true defenders of western identity and western liberties — the last bulwark protecting a besieged Judeo-Christian civilisation from the barbarians at the gates.

These parties have steadily filled an electoral vacuum left open by social democratic and centre-right parties, who ignored voters’ growing anger over immigration – some of it legitimate, some of it bigoted – or simply waited too long to address it.
The move to the far right is not just a problem in Europe or arguably part of the reason for Donald Trump’s nomination as President by the Republican Party in the USA. The New Yorker recently published a stinging takedown of Trump and the ultra-conservatives noting:
Trumpism does not seek simply to make a point and pass on its genes to more politically palatable heirs, nor is it readily apparent why he would need to settle for this. When George Will announced his departure from the G.O.P., last summer, he offered a modified version of Ronald Reagan’s quote about leaving the Democrats—“I didn’t leave the Party; the Party left me.” But a kind of converse narrative applies to Trump; he didn’t join the Republican Party so much as its most febrile elements joined him. Trump is partly a product of forces that the G.O.P. created by pandering to a base whose dilated pupils the Party mistook for gullibility, not abject, irrational fear that would send those voters scurrying to the nearest authoritarian savior they could find. The error was in thinking that this populace, mainlining Glenn Beck and Alex Jones theories and pondering how the Minutemen would have fought Sharia law, could be controlled. (For evidence to the contrary, the Party needed look no further than the premature political demise of Eric Cantor.) The old adage warns that one should beware of puppets that begin pulling their own strings.
Australia too has its extreme right wing claiming far more influence that they deserve.

Pauline Hanson stood as the Liberal Party candidate for the seat of Oxley in Queensland at the 1996 election and was dis-endorsed two weeks prior to the election due to some extremely ill-advised remarks made in the campaign on Aboriginal welfare. In her 1996 maiden speech in the House of Representatives, Hanson claimed that Australia was being ‘swamped’ by Asians. On the morning of Hanson’s maiden Senate speech last September, the ABC looked at her claim from 20 years ago and looked at the immigration figures from the 2011 census. It found:
By 2011, the proportion of people in Australia who were born in Asia had almost doubled to 8.08 per cent.

The proportion of people born in Australia fell from 73.93 per cent to 69.83 per cent — more than eight times the proportion of people born in Asia.
In addition, the ABC reported that:
James Raymer, head of the School of Demography at the Australian National University, said the incidence of Asian migration to Australia was hardly surprising, given our geographical location in the region and the sheer size of the world's Asian population.

"The whole Asian population represents 60 per cent of the world's population … Europe only represents 10 per cent of the world's population," he said.

"There's a lot of Asians in Europe, there's a lot of Asians in North America, a lot of Asians in Canada, and they've all been increasing."
Undeterred by her previous prediction falling somewhat short of the mark, when Hanson made her maiden speech in the Senate in September 2016, she warned Australia was at risk of being "swamped" by Muslims.

As far back as 2011, Fairfax media was questioning the racism of politicians such as Cory Bernardi:
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie should be applauded for his stand against racism in the Liberal Party and, in particular, the recent comments by Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, singling out Muslims for denigration.

Does Bernardi think that by demonising Islam he will win votes, and is Opposition Leader Tony Abbott tacitly approving this latest attempt to play the politics of hate so he can watch where it goes?

This is a disturbing insight into the thinking of some senior Liberal figures. It comes from a party that has, in turn, used fear of Muslim extremism to lead us into two wars and then used that fear to prevent the victims of those same wars coming to Australia.
The current hatred of refugees isn’t logical, moral or ethical — it is a part of a political race to the bottom of the ocean. Ultra-conservatives such as Hanson, Bernardi, Trump, Le Pen in France and so on are using the misery of fellow humans to improve the prospects of a political career and are manipulating the vulnerable and hard done by to do so.

In the 1970’s, Coalition Prime Minister Fraser and the ALP both supported the arrival of hundreds of thousands of South East Asian refugees who came to settle in Australia. While the policy at the time was not universally popular, the benefits to Australia in the long term have clearly outweighed any problems. On a logical basis, the policy was fair enough — we had been part of a coalition of armies that had bombed much of South East Asia in an attempt to stop the expansion of communism. It is now history that the Vietnam War was unsuccessful, communism didn’t expand and the refugees that came here have largely integrated into our society. So why the difference with those from the middle east? We are a part of coalition of armies that are bombing that area of the world to stop the rise of ISIS. Don’t we owe something to those that are the unintended victims of having their homes bombed back to the stone age?

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, successive Coalition Australian governments, with support from the ALP, supported the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Europeans who were displaced before or during World War 2. The photos at the top of this article are not recent, they are from social media and portray Europeans using whatever they can to emigrate to North Africa prior to Hitler’s Germany taking over parts of Southern Europe. What goes around comes around apparently. And as The Political Sword observed in September 2014, Jesus was a refugee.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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On 20 October, the ABS released its labour force survey data for September 2016. The media duly reported the drop in unemployment from an upwardly revised 5.7% for the previous month to 5.6% but most also picked up that this was largely a result of a drop in the participation rate, from 64.7% to 64.5%.
The problem with conservative warriors
2353NM, 6 November 2016
A lot of employers place significant levels of trust in their employees. Retailers trust their employees to charge the customers the correct amount for the products they sell and put the money into the register; airlines trust that their employees are fit and mentally capable …
Inequality is an invasive global cancer
Ad astra, 9 November 2016
Inequality has been the subject of several pieces on The Political Sword. They have focussed primarily on income and wealth inequality, which afflicts massive swathes of the world’s peoples, consigning them to constrained lives where poverty, underprivilege, disadvantage …

Inequality is an invasive global cancer

Inequality has been the subject of several pieces on The Political Sword. They have focussed primarily on income and wealth inequality, which afflicts massive swathes of the world’s peoples, consigning them to constrained lives where poverty, underprivilege, disadvantage, and lack of opportunity has blighted individuals, families, communities, and in some instances, whole nations. Such inequality is divisive, disruptive and destructive to civilized society.

Recently we have seen the ‘inequality syndrome’ play out more strikingly and alarmingly as a metastasizing global malignancy that threatens to invade and destroy the very foundation of the harmonious social order we crave within societies, and more widely across national boundaries. Unless national and international immune systems can counter this cancer’s spread, we are doomed to ongoing discord, conflict, confrontation, warfare, and the death of our cherished institutions.

We don’t need to think back too far to remember Brexit and the reasons for it. And in the US we have witnessed a most unedifying display of the consequences of inequality played out during the long and distressing presidential election campaign.

Inequality is a global cancer that afflicts countless societies and billions of people. Chillingly, the cancer seems out of control. No one has the cure. We feel like the patient who has been told that nothing more can be done.

I will expand on this theme later, but for those who might not have been following the discourse on inequality on The Political Sword, in April there was Inequality will be a hot button election issue. Although Bill Shorten tried to make it so, Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberals were having nothing of that, so inequality was no more than a dark shadow in the background. Then in May there was Trickle down thinking breeds inequality that described standard neoliberal economic dogma that postulates that giving tax cuts to the top end of town will foster investment, grow jobs and increase wages. Although long ago debunked as zombie economics, it remains holy writ to conservatives, and is still being trotted out here and elsewhere.

The recent visit of French economist Thomas Piketty has heightened interest in inequality. In The Picketty divide Part 1, his basic theory is delineated: “
Piketty has a basic equation developed from tax data across a number of countries going back over two hundred years: r > g That is, the rate of return on capital (r) is greater than the rate of growth of income (g). Throughout the nineteenth century and up to World War I, that greater rate of return led to high levels of inequality, with wealth concentrated at the top. In periods of high inequality, the rich can hold capital up to seven times the value of total national annual income. Thus those with inherited wealth who invest their capital will become even wealthier, and will always outperform those on wages alone.”
Piketty’s views have been widely endorsed by economists, although not by neoliberal thinkers.

One reviewer of his book Capital in the 21st Century interpreted his thesis as follows: '…inherited wealth will, on average, “dominate wealth amassed from a lifetime’s labour by a wide margin. Wealth will concentrate to levels incompatible with democracy, let alone social justice. Capitalism, in short, automatically creates levels of inequality that are unsustainable.”'

For those interested in his work there was also The Piketty divide Part 2 and Piketty Un-picked.

Inequality has been a life-long interest of Nobel Laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz, whose views were discussed in Focus on political ideology: Joseph E Stiglitz. In that piece there was a summary of Stiglitz’ thesis provided by Project Syndicate, an international not-for-profit newspaper syndicate and association of newspapers that distributes commentaries and analysis. It read:
America likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity, and others view it in much the same light. But, while we can all think of examples of Americans who rose to the top on their own, what really matters are the statistics: to what extent do an individual’s life chances depend on the income and education of his or her parents?

“Nowadays, these numbers show that the American dream is a myth. There is less equality of opportunity in the United States today than there is in Europe – or, indeed, in any advanced industrial country for which there are data.

“This is one of the reasons that America has the highest level of inequality of any of the advanced countries – and its gap with the rest has been widening. In the “recovery” of 2009-2010, the top 1% of US income earners captured 93% of the income growth. Other inequality indicators – like wealth, health, and life expectancy – are as bad or even worse. The clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom.

“It would be one thing if the high incomes of those at the top were the result of greater contributions to society, but the Great Recession showed otherwise: even bankers who had led the global economy, as well as their own firms, to the brink of ruin, received outsize bonuses.”
This brings me to the main thrust of this piece. Feelings of unfairness and inequality are corrosive. We see this the world over.

Take Brexit. There are many reasons why UK voters voted for Brexit, but prominent among them was opposition to immigration. Many British folk voted for leaving the European Union because they felt alienated from their own communities because of the influx of migrants from foreign countries. Some said they hardly recognized their local community when they walked down their main street because there were so many foreigners on the streets and in business there. They were angry that these people were taking their jobs, and more poignantly taking away their British way of life. They felt they were being left behind in their own country. Anguish is the genesis of their sense of dispossession and their feelings of inequality. Their anger persists to this day. The recent UK High Court decision that only parliament can trigger the activation of Article 50 that initiates exit from the European Union, has re-activated the hope among Brexit opponents that exit might be thwarted. Brexit supporters are furious.

All across Europe, in America, in Asia, and even in our own country, there are those who strongly resent asylum seekers and even invited immigrants arriving at their country’s borders. Pauline Hanson was unapologetic when she stridently asserted: “Refugees are not welcome here”. No doubt the quarter of a million who voted her in feel the same.

The resentment extends even to benign communities. Last week, citizens of Eltham, an outer suburb of Melbourne that is largely middle class, joined together to welcome government-invited Syrian refugees into spare accommodation in a local aged care facility. They initiated a ‘butterfly’ movement, festooning fences with welcoming words. To their surprise and disappointment, their peaceful suburb was invaded at the weekend by a group of protestors angry at the welcome being extended to these distressed refugees from that grotesquely war-torn nation. This vignette is symptomatic of the invasive cancer that can spread even into peaceful communities when resentful protestors feel that immigrants are getting an unfair share of this country’s resources and welfare. The Good Samaritan came out to assist the traveller, beaten and robbed and left for dead, while the Priest and the Levite, not satisfied with simply ignoring him, reviled him for good measure.

Resentment and anger are cancerous. The cancer emerges when there is a threat to what people and communities have come to value: security, a decent job, a family home, a sense of belonging, the respect of peers, and societal harmony.

The US presidential election has exposed even more starkly the ugly side of human nature. Donald Trump has tapped into the intense feelings of inequality, dispossession, disadvantage and despair that many feel as they see their jobs going overseas, or to illegal Mexican migrants, or to Muslim refugees. Many white men in America’s rust belt have lost their once-secure jobs; with globalisation manufacturing has moved from their home towns to overseas plants. Automation and rapidly changing technology has made many jobs redundant. They feel hopeless. They harbour deep resentment that the America that was once great is no longer so, and they have been the losers.

It is not surprising then, when Trump calculatingly stirs up their resentment and promises to ‘Make America Great Again’, they believe he can, and that life would be great for them again as jobs return and prosperity abounds! They think their feelings of disadvantage and inequality would magically evaporate.

Trump has taken an isolationist, protectionist stance. He says he will tear up trade deals that he believes disadvantage America, he will build a wall to keep Mexicans out, and he will put a stop to Muslim immigration. Because he believes global warming is a hoax, he boasts that he will scrap America’s commitment to the UN climate change initiatives, and will reinstate coal as America’s prime energy source. In classic neoliberal fashion, he promises that 'massive tax cuts' will restore lost jobs. All of these ideas are anathema to clear-thinking economists, but his followers believe his every word, his every promise. He backs his promises by referring to his business success, and on the international front by stating his intention to create a supercharged military that will ensure America's global superiority. What he says appeals and gives them hope. He is their messiah, and their messianic hope cannot be extinguished. Facts and logic are irrelevant; blind faith, akin to religious fervour, is their bulwark.

There is no point in denouncing their edifice of beliefs. They are built brick by brick out of feelings of disenfranchisement, alienation, dispossession, poverty, despair, and fear. They believe that the political establishment has no concern for them, no interest in their plight, no remedy for their desperate condition. They believe, and Trump reinforces this belief every day, that the political establishment is incompetent, and like its elite backers and the media, is corrupt and self-serving. Many agree with the general thrust of his thesis, but few believe that he has the understanding, or the skill or capacity to change the establishment for the better. Ironically, his background is as a member of a powerful wealthy elite that flouts the law and uses it for personal advantage. He is a billionaire businessman who has paid no tax for a decade, and who refuses to reveal any tax details.

His singular immorality though is that in pursuit of the presidency he is deliberately amplifying the feelings of inequality and dispossession his supporters feel so intensely, and promising what he would never be able to deliver.

Inequality is much broader than wealth and income equality. It affects all facets of life. As celebrated epidemiologist Michael Marmot has shown, health inequality parallels income inequality. Those lowest on the social scale have the worst health. Yet Trump says he will abolish ‘Obamacare’, even although it has afforded health insurance for millions of poor people who previously could not afford it.

Because we now live in a global society, we are able to see what others have, here and overseas. When individuals see others prospering in peaceful societies while they languish in poverty, when they endure conflict, war, destruction and death, they feel unequal and deeply resent it. Even if those in war-torn countries were gifted a good income, their suffering and terror would continue, and they would still seek a safer place to live and bring up their children.

Inequality is not restricted to wealth and income. Just as distressing are inequalities in job opportunities, rewarding employment and decent housing; inequalities in education, healthcare, life expectancy and justice; and inequalities in the enjoyment of a productive and peaceful family life free of political, religious and racial persecution, xenophobia and hatred. These inequalities are all sources of resentment and anger, and in extreme situations, discord, conflict and social disruption.

Every day we see the malignant cancer of inequality spreading throughout the world. It has invaded the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the US and its presidential election, and even our own country as xenophobic forces seek to shape our politics and our society. The cancer of inequality has metastasized globally. Is it beyond cure? Is there the possibility of a remission? Is it possible even to excise a local metastasis?

Every day there is one commentator or another who highlights inequality as a major issue in society. Progressives echo this, but conservatives never mention it. Equality is not part of their DNA. Indeed, they regard inequality as the acceptable norm. Their policies and actions worsen inequality. They do not see its malignancy, nor do they see that it is spreading inexorably, here and elsewhere. They have no cure, because to them it’s insignificant and inconsequential, a benign condition not worthy of a politician’s attention.

When conservatives are society’s physicians, expect no diagnosis of the cancer of inequality; expect no remediation.

What do you think?
What is your view of inequality in the world?

Do you see it as a threat to global harmony and stability?

Do you have a remedy for inequality?

Let us know in comments below.

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