Castles in the Air


One of the points of difference between the Turnbull government and the Shorten opposition is negative gearing. We would all still be here next week if the current regime and the proposals were discussed in full, so how about we attempt to do the ‘helicopter’ version. Just keep in mind that this article is general in nature and doesn’t consider your financial situation.

Broadly speaking negative gearing is a method of reducing your taxable income. You do this by purchasing an asset where the expenses from the asset are greater than the income you gain from the asset. As the asset is ‘income producing’ and you lose money on it, you can take the loss from other taxable income when it comes time to doing your tax return.

To negative gear effectively, you need to purchase something that will remain steady or increase in value. So buying a car and leasing it to an Uber operator wouldn’t be a good idea because the car is almost certain to decrease in value, regardless of the use it gets. By contrast, property and shares are excellent choices as both asset classes can produce an income (income producing) and frequently the expenses incurred in the purchase and maintenance of the asset (interest, fees and in the case of property, rates, maintenance, body corporate and leasing fees and so on) can easily and quite legitimately outweigh the income received from the asset. When you add up the costs, take away the income and then subtract it from your income from other sources such as your job, if you’ve done it correctly, your income for taxation purposes reduces to something under $80,000 per annum and voila, you qualify for one of the lower levels of income taxation.

Traditionally property and shares rise in value over time, so as well as writing off your losses you can usually sell for more money than you paid when the time comes. This is known as a capital gain. Capital Gains Tax is where you make a profit on the sale of an asset and the government of the day puts their hand out for some of the profit. Simplistically, the tax is calculated by adding the purchase price to the price of any capital improvements (say a new kitchen and carport), then subtracting that number from the sale price less the costs of the sale (real estate fees, legal fees and so on). If you hold the asset for more than 12 months, the current practice is for the tax to be calculated on only half the profit. If you hold a property for say four years and make $50,000 in capital gains, the government will only tax you at your marginal rate as if the profit was only $25,000.

On Easter Monday, Fairfax titles around Australia were reporting one of the strange outcomes of the current negative gearing policy settings. To be blunt
Sydney's housing affordability crisis is being artificially inflated by up to 90,000 properties standing empty in some of the city's most desirable suburbs, experts say.
While there is always some variation in rental returns, it seems that property in areas with higher capital growth are statistically more likely to be empty. And we’re not just talking ‘margin of error’ stuff here: in Sydney City, Haymarket and The Rocks, one in seven dwellings (somewhere where people are allowed to live) is vacant. If you go way out west, areas around Casula and Green Valley have a vacancy rate of around one in forty-two. Melbourne isn’t immune to the empty property trend with an estimated 82,724 or 4.8% of properties across the city being empty.

Admittedly, some of the empty dwellings in Sydney City and Melbourne may be on the market, undergoing major renovation or people are on extended holidays — but certainly not all of them. Those that look at the real estate advertising, either on line or in the ‘dead tree’ format, would be well aware of articles discussing the current capital gains that can be made in real estate with barely a mention of rental returns. Late in March, the question was whether Hobart or Brisbane were the places to buy now as housing prices were likely to increase substantially in the short term.
While the Sydney market peters out, Brisbane and Hobart are warming up with the Australian Bureau of Statistics Residential Property Price Index rising 2.5 per cent in Hobart and 1.6 per cent in Brisbane over the December quarter.

Domain Group data for the 12 months to January 2016 also showed Brisbane’s median house price increased 2.5 per cent to $485,000, while its median unit price was flat at $410,000. Hobart’s median house price grew by 2.4 per cent to $340,000 and its unit price jumped 9.7 per cent to $290,000.
There are a few fundamental problems with property investment. While those who already own property in one of the ‘hot spots’ are laughing all the way to the bank — sometimes to get the equity loan for the overseas trip, the massive renovation or the fancy car — those that grew up or rent in the locality can’t afford to purchase a first property in the area they are familiar with. In addition, those who purchase properties for investment can’t carve off $50,000 worth of the property should they have a requirement for the cash in a hurry.

The real problem here is that people are buying property for the wrong reason. A property is a place for people to live. It should be noted that a property only has to be available for rental before the ATO will allow negative gearing, there is no requirement that the property be rented, the property be advertised for rental if it is vacant or the rent value be appropriate for the market. The cynical could suggest that the way to maximise your negative income from a property is to leave it vacant as no income less expenses adds up to a greater tax loss than some income less expenses. The short term pain is alleviated by the increase in value of the property when the property is sold due to favourable capital gains taxation treatment where you keep something over 75% of the profit.

Like property, there are a number of factors that usually indicate if a share purchase should be made. In contrast to the oft repeated mantra of property sales “location, location, location”, the intrinsic worth of a share to an investor is usually calculated using a number of ratios. They are Price/Earnings Ratio; Earnings Yield; Return on Equity and Dividend Yield. This Fairfax article discusses what each of these terms actually means, should you wish to know more. For the moment let’s just consider one point; most of the share indicators are based on the price of the share in relation to the dividend (payment of a small proportion of the profit from the company’s operations).

Property prices and affordability are currently based on what capital gain is likely to be made over the short to medium term, not what rental income is received should the inner city unit you have purchased as an investment be actually used for its intended purpose. To be fair, some of the demand for property is generated by overseas residents attempting to purchase assets in Australia but this is estimated to be about 15% of the market, rising to 20% by 2020.

The point to all of this is that investors have manipulated the property market with the co-operation of the government. They have artificially increased the value of property, diminished the ability of your and my kids ever owning a place to call home, created the potential for a housing bubble and potentially reduced the number of ‘real’ properties available for rental or purchase which has caused a housing shortage.

There is also a waste of resources in having one in seven properties in Sydney City empty. The electricity and water supply organisations have to assume the property will be used for the intended purpose when calculating the potential demand for electricity, water and other services. This causes an overbuilding of infrastructure to service the affected areas — capital that could better be used to reduce utilities prices.

It seems that if you buy a property you can game the negative gearing/capital gains tax systems better than if you buy shares. If your property is empty, there is no income to account for when ‘losing’ money on the rates and taxes incurred when owing a property. Most Company Boards wouldn’t consider a request that they don’t pay a dividend this year solely to assist you in maximising your potential for reducing your taxable income.

Surely any investment decision should be made on the return expected on the investment, as well as the potential for profit on the sale? Most are, but for some reason the potential rent that could be earned on property is discarded. Some are happy to only accept the potential future capital gain assuming that someone in the future wants to buy a five-year-old property that no one has ever lived in. It’s too bad if the market does crash for some reason or other. Ironically, the rental income per square metre in inner city Sydney would be significantly greater than the rent you could expect to receive at Casula or Green Valley, so the ‘price/earnings ratio’ of an inner city property would be more attractive than the ratio for a property in the outer suburbs where vacant properties are statistically fewer.

Turnbull and the Coalition want to keep the existing policy settings; probably a good thing if you need to reduce your taxable income to under $80,000 and can’t use other tax management practices such as companies, splitting income etc. Shorten and the ALP don’t. Shorten wants to remove the ability to negative gear property unless the particular property is a ‘new build’. While the first owner of a property could negative gear the property regardless of whether a tenant was in place, logically a long standing tenant in a property paying a realistic rent per week would become the preferred situation if the property was onsold.

Shorten also claims that considerable research, time and effort has gone into the ALP’s proposed policy, that will go part way to addressing issues such as tax avoidance, housing availability and housing prices being out of reach if you are unfortunate enough to be trying to purchase your first property somewhere close to services like shopping, education, transport and health care in one of our larger cities.

It is probable that investors will return to the fundamentals of investment should the ALP scheme be implemented leading to a stabilisation of housing prices, an increase in property available for rental and slower rates of housing price growth. This will come about because investors won’t be pushing first home buyers out of the market and properties won’t remain empty for years.

There is also significant upside when it comes to eliminating the budget deficit (we’ll leave the inevitable discussion on Modern Money Theory for another time). The Balanced Budget Commission, established by the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia, believes the budget deficit can be eliminated by 2019.
The Commission finds that in order to eliminate the budget deficit by 2018‒19, spending should fall by $2 billion and revenue should climb by $15 billion.

It sets out five options for achieving that goal, all of which include a cut in the discount applied to the capital gains tax along the lines proposed by Labor.
In response to Turnbull’s claim that removing negative gearing and increasing capital gains tax will reduce investment, Commission Chair Mr McClintock said:
It doesn't mean it is a bad activity, but you can say there is too many billions of dollars going into that activity and we cannot afford that. With things like negative gearing, the inflation rates are lower, there is a strong argument to suggest you can lower that and still produce an environment where people are willing to invest. Our judgment call is that, yes, of course, it will have some marginal impact, so will everything, but it's a manageable impact.
Really, it doesn’t take the skills, research and knowledge of the CEDA to suggest future affordability of housing and availability of properties for rent or purchase outweighs the perceived right of others to reduce their contribution towards the provision of services to the entire community — aka minimisation or avoidance of taxes. Unfortunately, only one of the two major political parties has demonstrated that they see the connection.

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The shifting risk of superannuation


Since the 1980s, Australia has changed the way we prepare for our retirement. Rather than depending on an aged pension from the government and some personal savings, greater emphasis has been given to superannuation and building retirement incomes in that way. All three remain in play for retirement but for most employees superannuation has become the major component.

As part of the Prices and Incomes Accord, used throughout the Hawke-Keating years, compulsory award superannuation was introduced in 1986. At that time, it involved only a 3% contribution and was aimed more at helping control wages and inflation by having an effective wage rise paid into superannuation. It was legislated for all employees in 1992, as the Superannuation Guarantee, and the level of contribution has been progressively increased.

Treasury had already foreseen that the retirement of the ‘baby boomers’ generation would place a prohibitive cost on government if that generation was primarily reliant on the old age pension for its retirement income. In that regard, the mandatory superannuation contribution was a way of reducing government expenditure into the future: there was not enough time to make the baby boomers entirely independent of the government pension but it would at least reduce the amount of pension to which they were entitled.

Another issue for the Treasury, later addressed by Howard and Costello, was the superannuation liability the government was accruing for its own employees. At the time, the government made no forward commitment for that liability, anticipating that it would simply meet its superannuation liabilities from consolidated revenue in the year they fell due. Treasury, however, began pointing out that the amount was growing exponentially and could have serious budget implications in future years. Hence, the Future Fund was created to help meet those costs.

Superannuation for government employees, both state and federal, was traditionally a ‘defined benefits’ model, meaning the amount of superannuation to be received at retirement was predetermined by a formula. (Some large corporations, and other public bodies, both here and overseas, also used ‘defined benefits’ models.) In such schemes, it could be said that the employer bears the risk. Although the government did not put money away towards its future liability, if it had invested such funds there would have been years where its income from investments exceeded the accrued superannuation liability and years where it fell below: whether an employer ends up ahead or behind overall is entirely dependent on the success, or otherwise, of the investments.

Over the years there have been a number of significant changes: firstly, in the amount mandated to be paid into superannuation. Before his defeat in the 1996 election, Keating was discussing raising the contribution to 15% of a person’s income, through a combination of both employer and employee contributions. That never made it into law but during the first Rudd government it was decided that the amount should be increased to 12% by 2018 — that was considered the bare minimum to achieve a moderate level of retirement income over a person’s working life. It was legislated by the Gillard government to be achieved by July 2019. The Abbott government, however, when rescinding the Mining Tax in 2014 also extended the period over which the 12% would be achieved — instead of July 2019, it would now be 2025. The change was opposed by Labor and the unions, but also by the Financial Services Council and Industry Super Australia, but supported by business as it reduced its contribution for the immediate future, keeping it at 9.5% until 2021.

The Abbott government may have supported business with its decision but it did nothing to help the government’s long term budget problems. Delaying the increase only served to reduce the amount of superannuation workers would accrue, therefore leaving an entitlement to a larger part-pension from the government, whereas the real aim of the Superannuation Guarantee and the increased contributions was to reduce the government’s contribution to retirement income. Given the Abbott government at that time was carrying on about the ‘debt and deficit’ disaster, such a decision was contrary to the rhetoric and merely created additional budget expenditure in future years.

The taxation treatment of superannuation has also changed over the years. From 1 July 1988, the Hawke government introduced a tax on superannuation contributions but reduced the tax on superannuation benefits. Before that there was no tax on either contributions or fund earnings and people paid normal personal tax rates on their superannuation income stream.

The Howard government’s ‘simplification’ of superannuation included the abolition of tax on superannuation income for those aged over 60. Although some seem to believe that this applies to all superannuation, it applies only to benefits that have already been taxed at the contribution and earnings stage. A personal example involves my wife and I. We both paid additional income into our public service superannuation scheme but my wife did so via salary sacrifice and I simply paid into my superannuation from my after-tax income. Now my wife pays tax on that portion of her superannuation which comes from her additional contributions but I do not because my contributions were already fully taxed: without that concession I would effectively be paying something over 50 cents in the dollar, as the money would be taxed twice. It is the same principle that applies to ‘fully franked dividends’: if a company pays its dividends from its after-tax profit then those dividends are tax free for the shareholders.

The Superannuation Guarantee has been effective in drawing people into superannuation. In February 1974, only 29% of employed persons were covered by superannuation and the majority of those were in the government sector. That had reached 90% in November 1995 and 93% in August 2002. While the proportion has varied slightly in recent years, it has remained around 90% of all employed workers.

It has also given rise to a huge amount of ‘savings’ held in superannuation funds. It started slowly. At the end of 1991, before the Superannuation Guarantee was implemented, there was $146 billion in superannuation savings — equivalent to 38% of the nation’s then total GDP. That rose to $1.2 trillion by the end of 2007: equivalent to 110% of GDP. Again there have been fluctuations in recent years but superannuation savings have remained at a level of about 90‒100% of GDP.

As superannuation became more widespread, the cost to government revenue of superannuation tax concessions increased. The Hawke decision in 1988 to tax contributions was a way of bringing forward government revenue — previously government had to wait until a superannuation benefit was paid to gain any tax revenue. Despite that, Treasury figures for the 2014-15 Budget show that tax concessions on contributions cost the government $16.3 billion in foregone revenue, and a further $13.4 billion for concessions on superannuation funds’ earnings. The evidence is that these concessions benefit most those on higher incomes. The top income decile actually receive something like 37% of the benefits of superannuation tax concessions and the top 20% receive about 60% of the benefits. It was also found that there were 475 people with super balances in excess of $10 million who were earning tax-free income of about $1.5 million each year. Labor has proposed a policy that partly addresses this but the emphasis is on ‘partly’. It really captures only the top 2% and will raise revenue by only $1.4 billion a year (on average) which is only a fraction of the total value of revenue forgone but it is better than nothing — it is perhaps a ‘gentle’ approach in an election year.

In 2012, in a 20-year review, the CPA raised some other concerns about the impact of the Superannuation Guarantee:
The greater accumulated superannuation has allowed households to become more accepting of risk and debt in the knowledge that a payout is coming on retirement. The increased debt has allowed households to enjoy a higher standard of living during their working lives than their actual income could support. This higher standard of living has produced increased expectations for retirement. Against these expectations is the reality that they cannot pay for the higher expectations, as the superannuation is required to repay debt.

… It is now twenty years after the SG was introduced, and superannuation savings minus household debt effectively equals zero. [emphasis added]
The risk is magnified because nearly all new superannuation is an ‘accumulation’ model. Even new commonwealth public servants, since the Howard years, have been placed in accumulation funds (or can select the fund of their choice). That basically means that the amount of superannuation accrued over a person’s working life is entirely dependent on the investment choices made by both the individual and the superannuation fund.

As an example of how that may work, I will base the following on the premise that, on average, the superannuation grows at the rate of the stock exchange index for the All Ordinaries. If I had $100,000 in superannuation as at December 2004, when the index was 4053, it would have grown to $167,300 by October 2007 when the index reached 6779. However, the GFC then hit and by February 2009 the index was down to 3297 meaning my superannuation was then worth $81,350. The market index has still not reached the highs of 2007. At the end of January this year the index was 5059 (superannuation value of $124,800) and at the end of February 4948 (superannuation value of $122,000). So while my super may be above the original $100,000 in 2004 it is still $40,000 below the peak of growth in 2007 and has grown only slightly over $20,000 in 12 years, or on average about 2% per year (rounded). There are other factors that influence the growth of superannuation and it should be noted that total market capitalisation is now almost as high as it was in 2007 although the index is lower.

The point, however, is that in an accumulation fund all the risk is borne by the individual. The employer no longer has an interest in what happens to the money once it has been paid into an employee’s nominated fund, whereas in defined benefits schemes the employer bears the risk and therefore maintains a real interest in the growth of superannuation investments.

The volatility of the stock market is a double-edged sword. It may occasionally offer higher returns but it can also crash, wiping out millions in superannuation savings, and since the GFC the market recovery has been extremely slow — after over eight years the index is still 25% lower than its October 2007 peak. There is some evidence that since 2000, superannuation invested in fixed interest deposits (including government bonds) would have provided a slightly better return than investment on the stock market. But the default superannuation fund, which a majority of people do not bother to change, is what is called a ‘balanced fund’, which is meant to include elements of stock investments, fixed term deposits and sometimes commercial real estate. Many Australian superannuation funds have a higher proportion of stocks in their balanced funds than European superannuation/pension funds which have been reducing their exposure to stocks since the GFC.

So where does that leave the employee now largely reliant on his or her superannuation investment for retirement? — between a rock and hard place!

Some European countries had pension systems more akin to a defined benefits scheme where retirees were guaranteed a fixed proportion of their final working income — it was an expensive model which some countries are now trying to change and it was partly funded by a ‘pension’ or social security levy that all employees paid during their working lives but government picked up the balance.

Australia, however, began with a government guaranteed and funded pension, which is now guaranteed at 41.76% of Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE) for a couple or about 27.7% for a single pensioner but that provides a modest standard of living, not much more than a safety net.

I don’t see why we can’t have a government defined benefits model for all workers, funded, as in the present superannuation model, by a combination of government, employee and employer contributions. Such a model would remove the risk from the individual and place it back with government and to a lesser extent employers. After all, the government, more than any other institution, is able to bear risk.

But no political party is going to change this. Markets now rule. Our retirement income is now determined by market manipulators who are seeking nothing more than making a profit from their share and bond trading. The effect that has on superannuation funds is not a consideration. Superannuation funds (and individuals) can change their investment choices but in most cases that tends to come after the event, so to speak, when losses have already been incurred. It is not a model that guarantees an adequate retirement income and, to that extent, will not reduce government outlays in providing pensions and part-pensions. If it is not achieving the aim of significantly reducing government outlays, why not use that funding to contribute to a genuinely adequate retirement income?

In my view, it is time to reconsider the model for our retirement incomes, not fiddle while the markets burn!

What do you think?
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What can we expect in the coming election?


[Saint Malcolm?]

Apart from the obvious statements, we can also tell there is an election in the air as, after six months of inactivity, the Turnbull government has engaged in a flurry of policy announcements — or in some cases what should be termed policy ‘thought bubbles’. That is not to mention the concomitant increase in television advertising for existing government programs and policies.

Until recent times, the government had made few major announcements. Early on there were funding packages for domestic violence and the purchase of army vehicles but those were obviously developed prior to Turnbull becoming prime minister. His major announcement was the innovation package on 7 December, long on rhetoric and promises but short on substantive actions and new funding. Many of its proposed actions required no direct funding whatsoever, such as legislative changes for venture capital investments, employee share schemes and changes to bankruptcy and insolvency laws. Some had a potential impact on government revenue into the future, such as the tax incentives for early stage investors that will cost $51 million in each of 2017‒18 and 2018‒19. There was some direct funding for certain aspects of the package but it seems much of this was also funding redirected or rebadged from existing related programs. Essentially the strategy focuses on innovative business start-ups, improved collaboration between business and research institutions, a small investment in STEM teaching and digital literacy in schools, and the government itself setting an example in adopting new digital technology.

In The Conversation, Tim Mazzarol, Winthrop Professor, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Marketing and Strategy at the University of Western Australia, suggested that it was a start and was implementing some changes that had been sought since 2008. He quoted another professor, Mark Dodgson, that the money announced for the strategy did little more than ‘get us back to square one’. Mazzarol pointed out that successful start-ups were a very small percentage of businesses and many do not grow beyond ten employees. He referred to his attendance at a Business Council of Australia round-table regarding enhancing industry-research collaboration:
‘… there was also a recognition that many large firms, particularly foreign owned multinationals, do very little fundamental R&D in Australia. The pipeline for STEM graduates into industry and the willingness of many large firms to serve a “Keystone” role in local business ecosystems is currently missing.
So is the Turnbull plan missing the real issues?

On 29 February, Turnbull told Cabinet:
The challenge for us this year is to ensure we lead Australia in a way that delivers a successful transition from an economy that has been buoyed by a mining construction boom to the new economy.

That transition is the big challenge and the big opportunity for us and so in this election year we know that the choice will be who is best able to lead Australia through that transition, who is best able to deliver the innovation, the investment, the infrastructure, the jobs that are going to ensure that our children and our grandchildren have the great, high paying jobs of the 21st century.
Turnbull may be telling his Cabinet that but it is not exactly inspiring stuff for the electorate: probably the explanation for so many television advertisements now trying to sell it as important for our economy and for our children — the latter a deliberate advertising ploy.

There have been more uninspiring announcements but announcements that fit with Turnbull’s background in merchant banking. On 16 March, it was announced that, in accord with the Harper Review, Section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act, regarding the misuse of market power, would be changed to prohibit those ‘with substantial market power from engaging in conduct that has the purpose, effect or likely effect of substantially lessening competition’. On 21 March, Morrison announced changes to support financial technology. He said:
FinTech is going to revolutionise how consumers and businesses, as the drivers of economic activity, interact. This is going to have big implications for demand in the future. We need to be part of these changes and we have got to work out the best way to engage with FinTech and prepare for the financial system and economy of the future.
And on 30 March, Morrison announced that the ASX would lose its monopoly on share clearing, ‘a move by the Federal Government to encourage competition’.

On issues that may gain more voter attention, there was an announcement to create ‘Health Care Homes’ to coordinate treatment of those with multiple chronic conditions (note, however, that this is only for multiple conditions, not a single chronic condition). And on 23 March, a $1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund was announced. This at last abandoned Abbott’s attempts to do away with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) as the fund would be administered jointly by it and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). However, whereas ARENA was previously able to make grants, the new arrangements will operate on a debt and equity basis.

And there was Turnbull’s promise on taxation reform where he initially said ‘everything was on the table’ but has subsequently taken the GST, negative gearing and superannuation changes off the table. They ran the idea of corporate tax cuts ‘up the flag pole’ but it remains to be seen whether they will make their way into the budget. Personal tax cuts seem to have disappeared, as too expensive, despite Morrison earlier having emphasised the need for such cuts to overcome bracket creep.

At the COAG on 1 April, Turnbull took another ‘thought bubble’ to the table: the idea that states could re-introduce their own income tax but it was firmly rejected by the Premiers and Chief Ministers. The idea was underpinned by the concept that states and territories would take over complete responsibility for education in government schools (and eventually hospitals), something which was also being pursued by Abbott and Hockey. I warned that this was likely in my piece ‘A smile is not enough’ early in February:
The Turnbull government is still pursuing the Abbott government policy of a transfer of powers to the states. Morrison has floated the idea that the states should receive a guaranteed share of income tax. The underlying idea is that the states become solely responsible for schools and hospitals and the commonwealth covers Medicare, the PBS and universities. Given that education and health are issues which the electorate sees Labor as better able to manage, the cynic in me suggests that this is also a political strategy to take away one of Labor’s strengths at the federal level.
State income tax was abandoned in 1942 and the idea that we could have different tax regimes between states runs counter to the concept of a national economy and would add to the complexity for businesses that operated in more than one state, whereas Turnbull and Morrison keep proclaiming the need to reduce red tape for businesses. We will now have to await the budget to see whether the Turnbull government can achieve any form of taxation reform to take to the election: the prospects do not look bright.

So far, very few of the government’s policies appear likely to inspire the voters. Perhaps Turnbull has a ‘vision’ with his innovative, agile economy but there is little substantive to talk about, little to grab the imagination of the voters.

Labor on the other hand has been releasing detailed policies for over twelve months, a strategy that has not been followed by Oppositions for twenty years. In that time, Oppositions have taken a low-profile approach and offered little in the way of major policy or have made such announcements only in the last week or so of an election campaign. The reasoning behind that approach was that the early release of policies allowed time for the government to refer them to the public service, or external consultants, to pull them apart and pick holes in them. The fact that the government has done little damage to Labor policies so far may suggest that the ‘holes’ are few and far between.

The government response to Labor’s proposed changes to negative gearing brought not an attack on the detail but a ‘fear campaign’ and it could not even get that right with contrary claims that house prices would fall and house prices would rise.

Labor is also proposing changes to the tax treatment of high income superannuation, changes to the tax concessions for capital gains, an increase in tobacco excise and a target of 50% renewable energy by 2030.

Abbott, following his classical three-word pattern (he seems to have no other) has labelled these as ‘five new taxes’: a housing tax, a seniors’ tax, a wealth tax, a workers’ tax and a carbon tax. He ignores, of course, that, for example, an increase in tobacco excise will help reduce future health costs as more people give up smoking and that the so-called ‘carbon tax’ will actually promote and invigorate the renewable energy industry in Australia, thus creating more jobs and boosting the economy.

In the absence of inspiring Turnbull policies, I would not rule out Turnbull adopting a similar approach. As a matter of principle he would not use Abbott’s phraseology but he may well attack Labor’s ‘new taxes’ — or perhaps he will give Abbott his head and allow him to run such a campaign while Turnbull himself can remain aloof from such tactics. Don’t rule out anything!

Underpinning the Turnbull approach is the report of Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) and the legislation for the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Turnbull has recalled parliament with the aim of passing the ABCC legislation and has threatened to use it as a double dissolution trigger if it is not passed (that, of course, after having already achieved changes to Senate voting). In other words, union ‘corruption’ will be a key election issue although Turnbull is trying to cloak it as an economic necessity, claiming it will improve productivity in the construction industry (although the Productivity Commission found no significant improvement in productivity when it previously operated).

Probably more importantly, Turnbull can use the idea of union corruption and the TURC report to attack Shorten personally. Although Shorten was cleared of any wrongdoing by TURC, the Liberals earlier showed their hand by suggesting that Shorten had sold out the members of his union in sweetheart deals with businesses — despite the fact that the deals Shorten negotiated appeared to achieve successful outcomes for both his members and the projects in which they were involved. Surely the Liberals should be supporting successful business outcomes! No, not if it impedes an attack on Shorten. I think we can expect a lot more of this during the election campaign.

Unless the government pulls a rabbit out of the hat in its budget — and so far most of its rabbits appear to have been DOA — it appears to have little to take to an election. Its policies do not match those already put out by Labor, although there is some overlap as in, for example, support for STEM subjects in schools. Its grand vision may be a vision but it is not an inspiring one for the electorate as it consists mostly of words and legislative changes which will not impact most people — what interest do people have in ‘FinTech’, the removal of the ASX’s monopoly or changes to laws relating to venture capital?

Polls consistently show issues like education and health are major concerns for the electorate — they are issues which Labor is usually seen as better able to manage. Turnbull and the neo-liberals have not yet achieved their aim of transferring education and health to the states, so they will remain in play for the coming election and the government is not looking strong on them at the moment.

The economy is also ranked highly by voters as an election issue and Turnbull will claim that only he can take Australia towards the new economy of the 21st century (as he told his Cabinet) but that somewhat misses the point. When people say they are influenced by the economy, they usually mean issues like unemployment, wage rises and inflation, not some grand vision of an agile economy. At present wages growth is the slowest it has been in twenty years and that is the sort of issue voters will look at when assessing the health of the economy.

At the moment, I believe the policy issues are mostly in favour of the Labor party so don’t expect policy to be the major battle ground in the coming election. It may play a part but Turnbull is more likely to focus on union corruption. Expect a dirt campaign aligning Shorten and Labor with the ‘corrupt’ unions. Expect personal attacks on Shorten regarding his time as a union leader. Expect some suggestions that it is the unions that are holding us back from the golden age of an agile, innovative economy. Expect attacks on Labor as the party of high taxes and high spending (although that is traditional Liberal fare).

And, of course, expect Turnbull to present himself as the saviour, the only one capable of leading our country into the new golden age.

What do you think?
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Inequality will be a hot button election issue



‘Inequality’ is a term used by economists. Joseph Stiglitz has been writing for years about its damaging effect. His book: The Price of Inequality is a classic. More recently, Thomas Piketty entered the arena with his Capital in the Twenty-First Century and hypothesised about the genesis of inequality. He asserted that the main driver of inequality, namely the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth, today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. He reminded us that political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past and could do so again. But is anyone listening?

No matter who writes about inequality, the conclusion is the same: the gap between those at the top and those languishing at the bottom of the pile is widening in many countries, ours among them.

A more familiar way of talking about inequality is to talk about ‘fairness’, a concept every Aussie understands. The ‘fair go’ is valued by most of us. Who would argue against the idea that everyone should have a ‘fair go’?

So look out for emphasis on fairness during the election campaign. You will hear it from Bill Shorten and Labor people; you might not hear much about it from LNP people, although PM Turnbull has often insisted that whatever changes his government makes to the tax system, they must be ‘fair’. We are still waiting to see his version of fairness. Although aware of the angry reaction of the people to the unfair 2014 Abbott/Hockey Budget, he is still seeking approval of many of the elements of it in the Senate. Treasurer Morrison does not seem to have 'fair' in his vocabulary.

Have you noticed that ordinary people are becoming increasingly fed up with the inequality we see day after day where those at the top of the pile gain advantages over those at the bottom? In the past few weeks we have seethed as we saw instance after instance of this. More of this later!

If you question whether inequality really is a problem in this country, take a look at these statistics, which are based on a 2015 ACOSS study: Inequality in Australia: a nation divided:

• Inequality in Australia is higher than the OECD average.
• A person in the top 20% income group has around five times as much income as someone in the bottom 20%.
• There is an urban and regional pattern to income inequality, with people in capital cities more likely to be in the top 20%, while those outside capital cities are more likely to be in the bottom 20%.
• Wealth is far more unequally distributed than income. A person in the top 20% has around 70 times more wealth than a person in the bottom 20%.
• The top 10% of households own 45% of all wealth, most of the remainder of wealth is owned by the next 50% of households, while the bottom 40% of households own just 5% of all wealth.
• The average wealth of a person in the top 20% increased by 28% over the past 8 years while for the bottom 20% it increased by only 3%.

In other words inequality is steadily increasing.

If you need more evidence, read the 2014 study by The Australia Institute: Income and Wealth Inequality in Australia by David Richardson and Richard Denniss.

While everyone concedes that the rich are steadily getting richer, conservatives salve their consciences by insisting that ‘all boats rise with the tide’ as prosperity increases, a convenient but false metaphor that implies that as those at the top get richer, so do those at the bottom, and at the same rate. Whilst it is true that all boats rise equally with the tide, it is not true that the poor get richer at the same rate as the rich. Study after study over many years show that while in good times the poorer do get richer, they do so at a much slower rate than the rich. Thereby the gap between rich and poor widens and inequality rises. Conservatives still believe in the old trickle down effect, although it’s long since been debunked as fiction.

It has always been the case that while the rich get richer, the poorest have lagged at the back of the pack wallowing in poverty. Many of the revolutions over the centuries have been the tragic outcome of this inequality. Les Miserables tells this story poignantly.



Inequality results in social unrest, social disruption, and in the end, if unresolved, in revolution. It is a risky state of affairs. And the people are revolting against it.

Read what Nick Hanauer had to say in 2014 about the dangers of increasing inequality in: Politico: The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats

In the US, Bernie Sanders has attracted massive grassroots support by railing against income inequality. In contrast, conservatives embrace inequality. A 2014 article in newmatilda.com by clinical psychologist Lissa Johnson What Makes Them Tick: Inside The Mind Of The Abbott Government concludes: “The two ideals most dear to our Government’s extremist ideological heart could be exposed for what they are: change-aversion and inequality.

Inequality comes in many guises. Some are obvious to all; some are subtle.

Let’s take a contemporary example. The purpose of the Gonski schools reforms is to iron out inequality. Inequality of opportunity exists in schools that have many children from poorer postcodes or disadvantaged homes, where the children have disabilities or are of other than Anglo-Saxon ethnicity. These schools need extra resources. Despite the oft-repeated LNP mantra that the problem of inequality in schools cannot be solved ‘by throwing money at it’, the undeniable fact is that money is needed for the extra teachers and teaching resources required. Notwithstanding that, the latest LNP ploy is to suggest that poorer outcomes might result when funding is increased! It’s all about avoiding properly funding years five and six of Gonski. Add to this the Turnbull suggestion that the federal government might focus on funding private schools and leave states to find the funds for public schools, and you have a recipe for deepening inequality. The well-funded private schools where the wealthy send their kids will leave the poorer schools further behind.

Voters are sick and tired of the LNP attitude to Gonski, which Abbott gave the impression he endorsed (we are on a unity ticket with Labor on education) before the 2013 election, only to walk away from properly funding it afterwards. They are sick and tired of the inequality of opportunity at public schools and the politicisation of school funding. It’s not fair and they want it fixed.

In the last few days we heard that in the tertiary sector student loans debt in Australia will likely top $185 billion in the next decade, much of it irrecoverable because graduates will not reach the income threshold where repayment of their loans begins. The reason they will not earn enough is that the courses they took did not qualify them sufficiently. Why? Because they were shonky courses, run by shonky operators, whose prime objective was to line their own pockets. They had no concern for course quality or outcome. Making money was their aim. They are crooks that have accentuated inequality. They prospered from students’ fees, which were borrowed from HELP. The students have nothing to show at the end except a massive debt, which the LNP is now threatening to retrieve from the student’s family, and even from deceased estates.

Education will be a hot issue at this election.

If you’re interested in seeing how good education might be delivered, in how excellent healthcare might be provided, in how women might contribute to good governance, be sure to see Michael Moore’s most recent brilliant film: Where to Invade Next. You will be astonished.

Next, take the recent scandal revealed by the leak of the Panama Papers. Here we have a flagrant example of the rich and powerful ferreting away their wealth in tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax. Presidents, prime ministers, politicians, sheiks, and thousands of wealthy individuals and businesses are implicated, 800 from this country. Some may have legitimate reasons for having assets overseas, but many are deeply suspect. Why does, for example, Wilson Security, which guards the ATO, have a need to open an account with Mossack Fonesca?



PAYE workers have no option but to pay their legal share of tax: the wealthy have the means of minimising it, or avoiding it altogether. The ATO reported recently that almost 600 of the largest companies operating in Australia did not pay income tax in the 2013-14 financial year. Many are household names: Qantas, Virgin Australia, General Motors, Vodafone, ExxonMobil, Warner Bros Entertainment, Lend Lease and Ten Network Holdings. Others made huge profits but paid miniscule tax: Apple, Microsoft, Google, VW and Spotless.

That’s not fair. That’s inequitable. The voters are sick and tired of unfairness. And yet the Turnbull government is contemplating giving business a company tax break!

As if that’s not enough to turn our stomachs, we now have our most prestigious banks behaving like shonky back room operators. We have our most prominent bank, the Commonwealth Bank, employing loans traders who put their bonuses ahead of their clients’ welfare, invested clients’ funds in dubious schemes, thereby losing their life’s savings. We heard about claims managers in CommInsure who refused or unreasonably held up legitimate claims in order to bolster their bonuses. Then we heard that ANZ and Westpac harbour BBSW traders who have knowingly rorted the bank bill swap rates to make massive profits for their banks.

It’s wrong, it’s unfair, and we are fed up. What sort of unethical behaviour, what kind of culture allows such shonky practices in our most prestigious institutions? Yet when this unseemly culture was questioned, we heard a very senior banker, David Murray, ex-CEO of CBA, angrily castigating those who questioned it. Take a look.



And while the top brass in the banks allow this toxic culture to develop and thrive, they are pocketing millions in salaries, bonuses and shares.

There are now calls for a Royal Commission into Banking, from Labor and the Greens, and even some Nationals who are angry about how some of their rural constituents have been treated by the banks. But there has been a noticeable lack of enthusiasm shown by the Liberals, who insist that ASIC can deal properly with the rorts, the corruption, the unfair behaviour. Yet they haven’t. Some regard it as useless!

Some Liberals have labelled calls for a Royal Commission as a ‘stunt’, and the bankers are up in arms – they’ve had enough enquiries they say! What a contrast this is to the relish with which the LNP pursued the unions via the Heydon Royal Commission into Union Governance and Corruption? Maybe the growing community sentiment will pressure government to establish a Royal Commission into Banking Governance and Corruption. Wouldn't that be nice!

Not long ago we heard of the corruption in NSW through its Independent Commission Against Corruption, ICAC. Countless politicians were shown to have their noses in the trough, ruthlessly exploiting the advantages of their positions. Many were forced to resign. The people are angry and fed up.

Only a week or two ago it was revealed that an elaborate mechanism had been set up to funnel donations from banned donors to the Liberal Party in NSW via the ‘Free Enterprise Foundation’. Key figures feigned ignorance, but the Liberals, having been caught out, were embarrassed. Key figures feigned ignorance, but the Liberals, having been caught out, were embarrassed. The NSW Electoral Commission is withholding some $4 million due to the NSW Liberal Party until it reveals its list of donors.

Reflect now on housing affordability. Young people, (and their parents), despair of ever owning their own home because competition from investors and the well-off using negative gearing to acquire a second or third dwelling are pushing house prices ever upward, so that now in Australia and particularly Sydney we arguably have the most unaffordable housing in the world.
The people want something done about negative gearing and the associated capital gains tax concessions. Labor has promised to do so and save the billions of revenue lost. The LNP, after talking about it, seems to have backed off.

Think too about the superannuation tax concessions enjoyed particularly by the very wealthy, who are able to deposit large sums into their fund for their retirement with minimal tax implications, a privilege not enjoyed by the poorer. Inequality again. Ordinary people want to see these perks for the wealthy, which cost the government billions in lost revenue, reduced or removed.

All these examples illustrate how those with wealth and those who have influence, those enjoying the view from the top of the tree, put themselves ahead of those beneath them, those they are supposed to serve. They prosper and profit while the rest languish and the inequality gap widens and widens.

Whichever way we turn we see this. More than ever the ordinary people are waking up to the reality of inequality, are angry about it, and are incensed by the reluctance of politicians to acknowledge and address it. They are fed up with unfairness, and want something done about it now.

They want the crooks, the shonky operators, the corrupt, and those responsible for the inequality brought to heel and punished. They have had enough. They want the system cleaned up. They want change!

Any politician guaranteeing to do so will get their support at the ballot box; those who don’t or won’t will be ignored.

Inequality will be a hot button issue at the upcoming election.




What do you think?
What are your views about inequality in this country?

What do you want done about it? What party is likely to act?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.

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The calamitous Abbott lies in wait



You may wonder why anyone would waste time writing about this man, erased from the top job by his own party, and discredited in multiple ways by commentator after commentator. For me, the reason is twofold. First, he is still confronting us day after day in the media, and just as importantly his successor is doing so poorly that some want Abbott to return.

He lies in wait hoping to do so. All the while his appalling legacy hangs like a dark cloud over his party.

I looked for an adjective to place in the title. Some of you might have chosen: catastrophic or disastrous or dreadful or tragic or devastating or destructive or ruinous or shocking or scandalous or appalling or dreadful or outrageous or deplorable or shameful or contemptible or despicable or disgraceful or woeful or even loathsome. While any or all might be applicable, ‘calamitous’ seemed to me to be the most appropriate. The Free Dictionary defines ‘calamitous’ as “having extremely unfortunate or dire consequences; causing ruin or destruction”. That description seemed to me to fit Abbott better than any of the others.

Abbott’s calamitous legacy is everywhere to be seen.

We need go no further back than the recent COAG meeting to feel the drag of the Abbott legacy on deliberations at that forum. PM Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison are encumbered by the ball and chain of Abbott’s decision, at the time of the 2014 Budget, to cut around $80 billion of funding to the states: $30 billion from schools and $50 billion from hospitals. I will not burden you with the convoluted arguments around this except to say that Labor claimed $80 billion was removed, while the LNP claimed it was never in Julia Gillard’s budget anyway. Despite denying the Budget had been cut, Abbott claimed he would achieve $80 billion in ‘savings’ over 10 years by reducing forward spending on schools and hospitals. Work that out if you can. If you want to probe deeper into this sorry tale, read the ABC’s Fact check: Does the federal budget cut $80 billion from hospitals and schools?, and look at the conclusion: The debate over the $80 billion figure - whether a cut or a saving - is hot air.”

Hot air or not, the premiers and first ministers are livid that this money, needed to run their schools and hospitals in the coming years, will not be forthcoming from the federal government, leaving them in a dire situation. Turnbull decided on the risky strategy of offering them the capacity to raise tax themselves to fund these essential services, announced it just a few days before COAG, provided no documentation for this momentous change before or at the meeting, and received the anticipated thumbs down. Now Morrison is out declaring that the PM ‘called the premiers’ bluff’, and they chickened out! Believe that if you can. The premiers are insulted and furious. What a way to encourage consensus!

All this serves to reinforce the sad fact that Abbott’s calamitous budgetary legacy hangs like a rotting albatross around the government’s neck.

And it’s not as if Abbott regrets any of his actions; indeed he is out and about insisting that he was right in his decisions, all of them, and that Turnbull is now following his policies and taking them to the election. This has forced Turnbull onto the back foot, declaring that his government is all about ‘Continuity and Change’on which subject 2353NM has written such cutting satire.

Let’s look deeper into budgetary matters.

Abbott’s fiscal legacy is the aftermath of his 2014 Budget, which is still causing anguish for the Turnbull government. Several measures designed to reduce spending are still held up in the Senate and are unlikely to be passed. The unfairness of that budget still hangs like a bad smell around the Coalition, even among its supporters. Hockey’s bluster about ‘ending the age of entitlement’ for those on ‘welfare’, while puffing Cuban cigars, still sticks in people’s craw.

Yet Abbott tells an audience in Japan that he wears that budget as ‘a badge of honour’! He is unrepentant; he would do the same budgetary damage again.

And he lies in wait to do so.

This week we saw the re-emergence of the Hockey/Abbott ‘we must live within our means’ mantra. Turnbull and Morrison, hoping this homely metaphor would resonate with voters, didn’t bother to explain how that applies to the federal budget. Perhaps they hope it will remind voters of the old virtue of saving before buying, or of using old-fashioned lay–by, notwithstanding the fact that homeowners certainly do not use this approach to purchase the new home. They borrow heavily and pay it off of later, just as governments ought to do.



The LNP wants voters to believe ‘living within our means’ equates with cutting expenditure, assiduously avoiding any hint that ‘means’ = income = revenue, and that increasing revenue would have the same result.

In last week’s Crikey Bernard Keane points out: “
…there's been no talk at all of ‘living within your means’ while government spending as a proportion of GDP went from 24.1% of GDP in Labor's last full year to 25.6% of GDP in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and then to 25.9% this year. Nor was there talk of ‘living within your means’ when the Abbott repealed the carbon price (cost: $6.2 billion over four years), the mining tax (cost: $3.4 billion over four years) or tax and superannuation changes announced by Labor but abandoned in December 2013 ($3.6 billion over four years, and much more over the long term), significantly exacerbating not merely the government's short-term fiscal position but crimping long-term revenue growth as well.”
It’s simply rhetorical claptrap designed to frighten voters into believing that Coalition members are prudent and ever-reliable stewards of the economy who will not waste taxpayers’ money, while Labor members are profligate spenders determined to tax us to the hilt to give the community the healthcare and education it needs: “Every time Bill Shorten opens his mouth it will be to tax you more”. Obviously, this will be an election slogan.

Since we began with the COAG skirmish on healthcare and schools funding, let’s look at Abbott’s legacy there. It still blights the Coalition.

New health minister Sussan Ley is still grappling with Abbott’s intention to emasculate Medicare, to introduce a co-payment, and to reduce spending in an area that inevitably will demand more as the population ages and as medicine offers more treatment options. Her introduction of ‘health care homes’ has puzzled doctors. Professor Brian Owler commented: “I’m president of the AMA, I’m a brain surgeon with a PhD, but I can’t keep up with the government’s planning process”.

In response to Bill Shorten’s promise to improve and properly fund healthcare, Ley is sounding desperate as she shouts at him telling him that he must “put up or shut up”.



The cost of the NDIS frightens the LNP, so their response is to restrict its development, always looking for ‘savings’ instead of doing what is required: raising more revenue to support this essential service that the people want and need.

After assuring us that he was on the same page as Labor over the Gonski reforms, Abbott’s legacy has been to obfuscate about the funding of years five and six, a position recently adopted by Turnbull, who is now talking about abandoning the funding of public schools and focusing federal funding on private schools!

Abbott’s legacy lingers, and he lies in wait.

Let’s look now at Abbott’s calamitous legacy in the vexed area of immigration policy.

Abbott (or was it Peta Credlin) thought that political capital could be accrued by demonising asylum seekers who came uninvited by boat. He learned that from John Howard. ‘Stop the boats’ became one of his infamous three word slogans, with which he flogged Labor mercilessly, claiming throughout that this would solve the problem of boat arrivals created by Labor. Not wanting to be seen as encouraging the arrivals, Labor allowed itself to become entangled in a web of derogatory dialogue about people smugglers and ‘illegals’, as Abbott termed boat people.

Abbott’s legacy is continuing antagonism towards asylum seekers among a significant proportion of the electorate. This has spilled over into anti-Muslim sentiment and the formation of Anti-Muslim groups such as the far right-wing United Patriots Front, who unveiled a “Stop the mosques” banner at the Collingwood AFL game last weekend, and a political group calling themselves Party For Freedom, which is opposed to multiculturalism and open borders, which was responsible for picketing and riots at the Halal expo in Melbourne this week.

Abbott’s extravagant language directed at Islamic State, his incendiary use of the term ‘Team Australia’ to divide Australians into them and us, and his provocative stance towards Muslim leaders accentuated the antagonism. He set a fire of hatred that still burns in the heart of many Australians. He could have taken an accommodating line, as did Malcolm Fraser who had to manage thousands of boat people from Vietnam. Fraser’s approach resulted in the cheerful integration of these Vietnamese immigrants into our society. Instead, Abbott preferred hostility, antagonism and the divisiveness this entails.

This is Abbott’s calamitous legacy. Yet he lies in wait.

He not only defends his divisive ‘stop the boats’ immigration policy, he has been abroad promoting it to anyone in the Eurozone who will listen as the way to solve the immigration crisis in Europe and the Middle East. The misery that so many asylum seekers suffer in detention is testimony to Abbott’s hard-hearted, punitive policies, but politics keep him on this hateful track.

Take now his calamitous attitude to climate change.

At times climate change skeptic, sometimes outright denier, always coal and oil advocate and renewables opponent, Abbott has gifted his do-nothing-to-curb-the-use-of-fossil-fuels legacy to Turnbull, who accepts the reality of anthropogenic global warming and knows what ought to be done about it, but is lumbered with the Abbott/Hunt Direct Action Plan that holds little promise of reducing our carbon footprint or meeting our emissions targets. Yet there is Turnbull lamely advocating it. Meanwhile, one thousand kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef has already been bleached, and more is threatened.

Turnbull knows that if he puts a foot wrong, Abbott is lying in wait, aided and abetted by a coterie of deniers, who would have this man back in a flash.

Abbott’s calamitous legacy in the field of communications is legend.

Look at what he’s done to the NBN. ‘Demolish the NBN’ was his command to Turnbull, not given because we did not need fast broadband for a myriad of reasons, commerce and health care to name but two, but because it was a Labor initiative.

Excruciatingly, Turnbull put himself through fiery hoops to placate Abbott but still save the NBN. As a result we now have a substandard multi-technology FTTN system that uses outdated equipment and ageing copper wire, that is not as fast as promised, is rolling out slower, and looks like being more expensive than Labor’s FTTP system, which experts insist should have been the target from the beginning.

Abbot’s destructive NBN legacy is still playing out, and is inhibiting what Liberals repeatedly insist our economy needs: ‘jobs and growth’.

I could go on for many more pages, so let’s conclude with Abbott’s legacy on two social issues: marriage equality and the Safe Schools program. He remains opposed to them both.

Although in favour of marriage equality, Turnbull has meekly gone along with Abbott’s delaying tactic of a post-election plebiscite, which he knows is Abbott’s way of maiming it, and perhaps killing it off altogether.

Abbott, always lurking in the background, has announced that Safe Schools, which is already doing so much to reduce gender-related bullying, should be defunded.

Abbott’s calamitous legacy on social issues haunts Turnbull. Abbott lurks on the backbench where he lies in wait.

When he’s not sitting on the backbench, he’s overseas soliciting photo-ops with such celebrities as Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Britian’s David Cameron, President Poroshenko of the Ukraine, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and even Henry Kissinger. Back home, he’s all over the place, never averse to a pic with group after group, and now he’s on his annual Pollie Pedal. He’s not sitting back like a vanquished leader: he’s promoting Abbott wherever he can! Take a look at his Facebook page.

>

Among the conservative clique that still supports Abbott, he talks about ‘the second Abbott government’, which he insists ‘will be better than the first’!

Although an Abbott comeback still seems fanciful, he certainly believes in it, notwithstanding the recent ReachTel poll of 743 voters in his Warringah electorate, where almost two-thirds of respondents, including half of all LNP voters, said he should quit parliament at the coming election.

The calamitous Abbott lies in wait, ready to attack. His storm troopers are ready. They know that a winning strategy is to first weaken the enemy, then mount a surprise attack.

The commercial shock jocks, incensed by PM Turnbull’s refusal to appear on their programs, are spreading adverse publicity about him, which is weakening him. Several of the LNP’s traditional supporters in the media are writing columns critical of Turnbull. Softening him for an attack is proceeding apace.



Close to Abbott is a group of offended conservatives. These men meet in the so-called ‘monkey pod room’. They are urging his return and planning for it. Eric Abetz is still angry about his demotion. He says he has so much to offer. Kevin Andrews is angry and again has offered to stand should the party wish to replace Turnbull. Cory Bernardi is so angry about how the conservative clique is being treated by Turnbull that he is talking of forming a new conservative party. George Christensen is angry about the Safe Schools program and is echoing Abbott’s hostility. Government House Whip Andrew Nikolic remains a fervent Abbott supporter. Although Turnbull won the leadership contest 44 to 34, when Andrews stood against Julie Bishop for deputy, he garnered 30 votes, an indication of the strength of the conservatives in the Liberal party.

Following a discordant week for Turnbull and with the latest Newspoll of 51/49 TPP to Labor reflecting voter discontent with the LNP, the troops are contemplating an attack on Turnbull.

Meanwhile, Abbott lies in wait, believing he is the man for the top job, while still mouthing sanctimonious words of support for his adversary.

Nobody knows what the weeks ahead will bring. Despite the improbability of a second Abbott government, in the crazy and unpredictable world that federal politics has become, nothing is impossible. The vengeful wrecker intends to show that this is so.

All the time the calamitous Abbott lies in wait.



What do you think?
What are your views about Abbott’s desire to return to the top job?

Will there be a second Abbott government?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.

For Facebook users, we have a Facebook page:
Putting politicians and commentators to the verbal sword – ‘Like’ this page to receive notification on your timeline of anything we post.

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Continuity and change


Malcolm Turnbull’s re-election campaign started well. He tried out ‘continuity and change’ as a slogan when announcing the potential election date of July 2. While it might have been accidental, pinching the ‘meaningless’ election slogan from a US political satire could be seen as an indicator of the standard of the research and advice Turnbull is getting. When the star of the TV show tweets
and one of the show’s writers comments
maybe it’s time to suggest the execution of the plan lacked something!

While the comparison to Veep and the US TV show House of Cards Twitter account sending up Turnbull’s recall of parliament is pretty funny and certainly embarrassing on day one of the really long election campaign, there is a serious issue with the pseudo-electioneering and the rationale for the recall of parliament in April.

Turnbull’s rationale for the recall of parliament is that it is time to stop playing games and pass the ABCC and Registered Organisations Bill through the Senate. The ABCC legislation, if passed, will re-create the Howard era Building and Construction Commission that had the right under law to investigate alleged corruption in the building and related industries. Despite the demonstration of not asking the question until you know how it is going to be answered, the Heydon Royal Commission did find some issues of apparent concern in the building industry. It is also worth noting that the same Royal Commission found nothing against either current Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard (not that small details like that will stop the whispering campaign from the ultra-conservative elements of the media and politics).

In the words of Turnbull, the 2013 Senate election results were an embarrassment. To ‘fix’ the problem, the Coalition and the Greens passed a bill through the parliament that (until they work out a way around the legislation) eliminates the ability of ‘preference whisperers’ to be elected through ‘back room deals’. Understandably, most of the crossbenchers in the Senate (who voted against the Senate voting bill by the way) object to the characterisation. Funnily enough, the same crossbench Senators are not all that interested in passing the ABCC legislation, because they claim, it has fundamental flaws. Fresh from working with the government to pass the Senate voting legislation, Greens leader Richard Di Natale claims Turnbull ‘is adopting the same tactics that people in the construction industry — he says — are using. That is, bullying tactics, that is using a piece of legislation to bludgeon his way through the Senate.’ The views of Di Natale and the other crossbench Senators can be read here.

Apparently a lot of the concern from the crossbenchers isn’t around the actual prospect of an anti-corruption body ‘supervising’ the construction industry, but the lack of a federal corruption body across other areas of federal influence. Queensland Senator Glenn Lazarus is quoted as saying ‘I said to Malcolm I’m happy to vote for the ABCC if he makes it an ICAC or equivalent’.

Actually, it’s a pretty good argument. The Coalition government wants to re-establish the ABCC to minimise the ill effects of corruption in the building industry (conservative political code for the building unions). Most if not all states in Australia have an ‘anti-corruption watchdog’ that will investigate alleged corruption across government, politics, workplaces and so on. The federal government doesn’t have a similar body.

What Turnbull is now saying (as Abbott was saying when he set up the Heydon Royal Commission) is that there is corruption in the building unions. Abbott was very careful with the powers he gave Dyson Heydon to ensure that the Commission didn’t stumble across another ‘bottom of the harbour’ where the Costigan [building industry] Royal Commission in 1982 followed a paper trail and found a tax avoidance scheme that was estimated to have cost the country billion dollars in unpaid revenue. (By the way, a 1982 billion is worth a lot more than a 2016 billion dollars.)

We’ve seen above that Senator Lazarus for one will vote for the ABCC if the scope of the proposed anti-corruption powers is not limited to just the building industry. Turnbull’s not budging and Attorney General Brandis has stated the government wants to pass the legislation in its current form. The position is rather illogical. What Turnbull and Brandis are saying is that while they want to eliminate potential corruption in the building industry, there is no corruption (or even worse, no corruption they want to eliminate) in other areas of society where federal legislation rather than state legislation applies.

Claims of corruption do to an extent besmirch a reputation, regardless of the veracity of the claim. In the recent Queensland Local Government elections, a number of councillors (and potential councillors) were reported to the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission. The Commission eventually warned political operatives that false reporting was wasting time and money as well as asking the Queensland parliament for a new criminal offence in regard to false reporting used to injure someone’s reputation. If there is nothing to hide, surely a prime minister would welcome an independent body to investigate and determine the accuracy of corruption claims.

In the same week that Turnbull made his ‘decisive’ call telling the crossbench it was his way or the highway, the NSW Electoral Commission released a report advising the NSW Liberal Party that it was not going to pay $4.4million in public funding until the Liberal Party disclosed who donated around $700,000 to the party via the use of a Trust Fund before the 2011 NSW state election.

The treasurer of the NSW Liberal Party at the time was Arthur Sinodinos, Turnbull’s current Cabinet Secretary, who claims that he had no personal knowledge of the donations. Sinodinos has also instructed his lawyers to write to the NSW Electoral Commission ‘inviting’ them to remove references to him from the report and publish a correction on their website. The ALP are calling for Sinodinos to stand aside again, (he was forced to do so as assistant treasurer when Abbott was prime minister over some allegations regarding his employment with Australian Water Holdings between stints in parliament), the Liberals are suggesting it’s time to move on. As they say in the classics, the matter is far from over.

The NSW Electoral Commission believes that the NSW Liberal Party is hiding the names of political donors. Regardless of who did or didn’t know about it, the danger in hiding political donations is that you or I don’t know if the legislation passed is the best outcome for the country rather than the best outcome for the specific interests of a donor to a trust that ends up in political party coffers prior to an election. This is no better than collusion on a building site. Turnbull could be arguing for the elimination of collusion on the building site but not the hiding of political donations, or dubious decisions made by federal politicians or employees. Glenn Lazarus is right — if the federal government is to have a corruption body, why limit it to a specific industry (that conservative governments have used as a whipping boy for generations)?

You would have to wonder if the strategy was put together by the same crew that decided ‘Continuity and Change’ was firstly meaningful and secondly hadn’t already been used by someone — and a satire no less. Apart from the reference to HBO series Veep, which airs on Foxtel in Australia (and if Turnbull’s staff knew about it, did they think that no political journalist in Australia would watch a US political satire — really!), Continuity and Change is also an academic peer reviewed historical journal published by Cambridge University Press. Turnbull was one of the Internet Company pioneers in Australia and you would think his staff would have the ability to search the internet as search is your friend.

Continuity and change was an explanation for Abbott’s claim from the other side of the world that of course he would support Turnbull — the policies are the same (and hasn’t he been doing a great job supporting him so far!). Maybe the Coalition looked at the ALP’s 2013 election campaign when Rudd didn’t mention anything done by that person with the ‘G’ name (Gillard), or the 2010 campaign when Gillard did the same thing with the ‘R’ name; and decided that this strategy effectively tied the ALP’s hands behind its back, as both Rudd and Gillard had made some valuable contributions to the financial and social wealth of Australia. So they decided to at least acknowledge Abbott’s existence. It is of course debatable if Abbott did do anything worthwhile while prime minister — we might go there another day.

The thing is that the Coalition voted twice on Abbott’s prime ministership. The first time in February 2015 when 39 out of the 100 MP’s and Senators decided that an empty chair was a better option as no one ran against Abbott in the leadership spill. The second time, Abbott was trounced (remembering he originally only won the leadership by one vote anyway). Turnbull is asking us to believe that he and the ultra-conservatives led by Abbott are on the same page, and the continuity is what we need; in which case why go through the hassle of replacing Abbott? We’re also supposed to believe that corruption in the building industry is rife; yet there is absolutely no corruption elsewhere in the federal sphere. Both arguments have holes large enough to drive the mythical Selina Meyer’s campaign bus through.



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The small government myth


Politicians are a strange breed. They will spend millions at election time attempting to convince you that their side is better than the other because they will better manage the country. They will also tell you that they have irreconcilable differences with their opponents and in essence, it’s their way or the highway.

Of course the reality is somewhat different. In the past few weeks the Australian public have observed the farce of an overnight Senate sitting when the Greens and the LNP had already come to a deal to pass the legislation at the root of the so called angst. Sure, the politicians ‘signed up’ for this childlike behaviour to prove political points and lay down a perception of what they and other parties are alleged to stand for.

The people who staff the Senate chamber, the Comcar drivers and so on would not be in a mood to appreciate the political and ‘image’ benefits of this action - they were missing their kids’ bedtime, a dinner date, coaching the Under 14’s sporting team - because they were hanging around all night just in case the Senators came to a realisation at 2am that bed was really a better idea than reinforcing the ‘narrative’ that they were better than ‘the other guy’ to a really small group of people, as most really didn’t care.

Let’s call the farce for what it is – marketing. Somehow the behaviour in the Senate was supposed to convince you to change your vote – just like a toothpaste advertisement on TV is supposed to convince you that Brand X will clean your teeth so well, you’ll exceed your wildest dreams. Was it successful – probably not in any meaningful way. But the entire cohort of Senators contributed. You could suggest that they are all the same.

There is however a difference between the respective mindsets of the two major political parties in Australia. In the 1980s, the Hawke Government hosted a summit in Parliament House. The outcome was a consensus decision that for Australia to grow holistically, all sections of the community must make some of the changes and reap some of the rewards for the changes made. Part of the success of the package – known as the Accord was the agreement between industry, unions and the government to pursue economic and cultural growth.

The Accord lasted most of the Hawke and Keating government era and to be fair a lot of the work undertaken by Hawke and his treasurer Keating set the country up for the impressive run of economic growth that has occurred since – even during the tech wreck and GFC that pulled a lot of other similar economies into recession in the past 20 years.

Keating’s ALP lost to Howard’s Liberal/National Coalition in 1996. The Hawke Accord had at its heart the concept that if the economy grew, all should receive some direct benefit from the growth. Howard tried a different tack:
Official statistics show that between the time Howard came to power in March 1996 and the time he lost office in December 2007, per person household incomes grew by about 25 per cent in real terms. But when you dig a little deeper, things look less rosy, for the rising economic tide did not lift all boats by the same amount.

Economic inequality grew through that period, as did relative income poverty, says Professor Peter Whiteford of the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy.

Household income for the top 10 per cent went up 60 per cent.

“It was the highest for any OECD country for the period,” says Whiteford.
For the median household, it went up about 53 per cent. For the poorest 10 per cent, it went up about 37 per cent.

So the story is that everyone did better, but the rich did much better. It was the economic boom that drove incomes higher, but it was primarily the government’s approach to tax and welfare policy that caused the inequality.
One example of Howard’s methods was the replacement of the federally operated Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) with the ‘Job Network’. Whiteford in the article linked above claims:
The introduction of the Job Network saw the stripping out of about $1 billion of assistance for people unemployed long term.

There was the welfare-to-work policy that shifted single parents and people with disability off to the lower Newstart allowance.

They redirected money away from those on working-age benefits towards older people generally, and particularly the upper middle class.
Apparently Howard also wanted to introduce income splitting (where the earner of the majority of household income could gift some of it to the lesser earner and reduce both party’s income tax liability) but didn’t win the argument within the Government. It fits with his traditional views of the husband being in the workforce and the wife staying at home and ‘homemaking’.

To be fair Hawke and Keating also enthusiastically privatised some functions of Government. However, generally the businesses that Hawke/Keating privatised were stand alone operations where the public were encouraged to (re)purchase some of the equity in the business. Howard’s concept was to invite existing private enterprises and some non-profit organisations to initially compete with and then completely take over the operation of government services – such as the CES or the current proposal for the privatisation of the payment of benefits incurred by Medicare.

This brings about a fundamental question of government in general – what is it there for? Should government take an active role in society to attempt to equalise as far as possible the expectations of those in the society (sometimes termed ‘big government’), or should it be a body that enables private enterprise to provide services while providing some oversight (sometimes known as ‘small government’)?

While both concepts will certainly increase the wealth of parts of the community, which one is fairer to all those who live in a society? Clearly the Howard era Coalition government were firm believers in enabling private enterprise – as those who had the financial and intellectual capital to become part of say the Job Network couldn’t set themselves up in business on a ‘wing and a prayer’ – rather they needed sufficient staff, business systems and so on to meet the government’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

While the theory that once those who had the financial and intellectual capital would support those on lesser incomes and innovate to ensure that the service was provided at a lesser cost than the Government could do it, the reality was somewhat different. If you think about it for a minute, the number of people that apply, choose not to apply, choose to actively seek work or those that don’t really doesn’t matter. So it really doesn’t matter how job ready people are, how many job applications they have prepared in the past week, or if they have completed a thousand how to get a job courses, unless an employer really wants to offer anyone a job, the job isn’t available.

Because is it admittedly difficult to measure if a local business has an opening for another worker or Woollies is opening a new store in Upper Timbucktoo West in nine months’ time, the Government has to justify the decision and demonstrate that the system works in another way. So we again look at KPIs – only the indicator this time is how many jobs people have applied for, how many contact hours they have with their job councillor and so on which ultimately is meaningless.

Rather than attempting to measure how we as a nation are increasing the common wealth of all citizens which will lead to jobs being created for those who need them, we pay the Job Network providers to produce courses and measure success rates of those who are, in a lot of cases, victims of their own circumstance. Most people who are unemployed really do want to do meaningful work – even if it is at the local Meals on Wheels or other volunteer organisation. In fact, you could argue that if government was actually looking after its citizens effectively, organisations such as Meals on Wheels would not be necessary.

Really, there is a whole new bureaucracy formed, but because none of them are public servants, the Coalition government claims they don’t interfere in business, they don’t have a bloated bureaucracy and they are driving a small government agenda. If members of the Job Network can demonstrate that people are job ready, they get paid – regardless of the actual success in getting people into work. A 2007 report discussed the problems of the Job Network providers being motivated by profit rather than an objective of finding a job for all who want one.

Small government seems to be a mantra of the conservative chattering classes. The gold standard in middle and upper income support from Government is the Howard Costello years with the generous family benefits, frequent tax cuts and so on. It’s all very well for the government to support the better off, but if the government looks at applying stimulus to an entire community there is hell to pay.

You may remember that one of the Rudd government’s targeted measures to ensure Australia didn’t become a victim of the late noughties Global Financial Crisis was the delivery of a means tested $950 to most taxpayers in Australia. The theory being that regardless of how the money was spent (as opposed to saved), there would be a benefit and demand generation in the economy. Stories abounded of large screen televisions being out of stock, or the increased takings at the local TAB or pokies palace. Thinking about it for a minute, the electronics stores and pokie places also employ people who get to keep their job and pay as a result of the continual revenue created in their place of work – and the staff then buy such luxuries as food, petrol, tyres and maybe a night out at the movies themselves. Then the people who work at the food and petrol shops then get to keep a job and spend money and the process continues.

If anything Rudd’s $950 no strings attached cheques favoured those on a lower income as $900 is a greater proportion of someone’s annual income if they are on $50,000 per annum than it would be for someone on $100,000 per annum. However, the criticism was effectively suggesting those on a lower income didn’t have the right to make expenditure decisions.

It seems the fundamental question does have an answer. If we want to allow those who already have considerable financial resources and influence to further increase their wealth, we support the actions of conservative governments, as the Howard era statistics above demonstrate. The small government mantra is as much of a myth as the concept of trickle down economics that has been previously discussed here on The Political Sword.

When the Republican Governor in Utah can understand that direct assistance to those in need (in this case giving them a roof over their head) is a good use of public funds as discussed in this article we published last May, why does our federal government choose to continue to believe that company tax cuts, seeking bids to run government services and not considering any change to benefits enjoyed by the better off is an acceptable practice in 2016?

Let’s finish with the words of Tim Dunlop writing on the ABC’s The Drum website
In other words, by hiding behind the rhetoric of "small government" the right has managed to co-opt the functions of the state and bend them to the benefit of private firms and individuals at the expense of the majority of citizens.

We are told government has to cut back on health, education, childcare, infrastructure and other public services, while public money is funnelled to private businesses. All under the guise of "small government".

It is the ultimate democratic sucker punch.


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Where are the crooks?



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

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

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

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


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

Where are the crooks?

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Other banks are not entirely blameless.

Where are the crooks?

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

Where are the crooks?

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

Where are the crooks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are the crooks? We know!

What do you think?
What are your views about PM Turnbull’s attack on unions?

Please comment on other instances of corruption.

Expose other crooks.

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.

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May your god go with you


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the players?

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have written about this in Safe Schools, Unsafe Politicians

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

Verdict: Pyne incompetent; Birmingham, Turnbull under test.

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Dutton incompetent; Ley and Turnbull under test.

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

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

Verdict: Jury still out on Porter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

How do you rate the competence of his key ministers?

How do you rate the competence of the Turnbull government?

Does it deserve re-election?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.


An ode to Mal Brough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?


On which leg does the Liberal Party stand?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?


Malcolm’s Bitter Harvest



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



How has this all come about?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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




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

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Then along came his actual behaviour as prime minister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What then went wrong with Tony Abbott?

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.


Let’s talk about tax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It does not say house prices would drop.

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

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

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

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

It’s time to follow the money.

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


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

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

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

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

What do you think?


Safe Schools, Unsafe Politicians



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

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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.


Turnbull and authenticity

Question: What do Donald Trump (Republican Presidential hopeful) and Jeremy Corbyn (Leader of the British Labour Party) have in common? Well it can’t be their politics.

Trump comes from the right hand side of the spectrum — he wants to keep the ‘illegals’ out, defeat Islamic State, favours traditional marriage (he’s been married three times), argues that climate change is a hoax and government borrowing and stimulus measures are detrimental to the US and objects to Chinese and Japanese interests manipulating their currencies and flooding the US with low-cost exports (despite Trump branded products coming out of China).

Corbyn by contrast voted against bombing Islamic State interests in Syria, supported investing in infrastructure to grow the economy, creating a National Education Service, renationalising British railways, scrapping tuition fees introducing rent control in unaffordable areas and investing in the arts.

The answer is they both seem to be saying what they believe, not necessarily what their minders and party hierarchy want them to say. They are both outsiders from the party machine and appear sincere, qualities which resonate with voters, as even if the voter hasn’t personally met the leader there is a connection.

One of the current management-speak buzzwords is authenticity. A dictionary definition of the word is ‘the quality of being authentic; genuineness’ which sort of seems obvious really! Corbyn and Trump are not the only people in the world to have entered politics claiming to acknowledge and reflect on the concerns of ‘the common (wo)man’, but it could be argued that these two who are diametrically opposed politically have similar abilities to represent their views in a way that resonates with people.

Being authentic is actually quite difficult. Not only do you have to present your ideas in a way that people can understand and respond to, you have to demonstrate that you also share the ideas and implement them in your personal and professional lives. While Corbyn and Trump have no ability to govern ‘authentically’ at this stage, they will be held to account for the actions that they can control — such as their behaviour at rallies, media occasions and public appearances. In addition, they would be expected to promote their apparent values and demonstrate how genuine they are in their interactions with their staff and the public. Incidents such as greeting a member of the public warmly, appearing to listen to their concerns and stage whispering that the person was a nutter soon after would place a large dent in their credibility.

Justin Trudeau in Canada brought his party from a distant third in a three horse race to government in a short space of time. This article in The Guardian soon after Trudeau won discusses the problems Trudeau faces; namely that he promised real and immediate change — now he has to deliver. Written soon after his ascension to power, this Huffington Post article lists some of the expectations of Trudeau. Yahoo News suggests that ‘After stumble, Canada’s Trudeau glides through first world trip’. It’s a good start, but there is a great deal of expectation. To be fair he was probably ‘helped’ by his predecessor as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, making increasingly banal, personal attacks on Trudeau, including TV advertising criticising his hairstyle. Now that Trudeau has the top job he has to deliver on his authenticity in the view of the Canadian electorate, which will probably be a harder ask than the promotion.

It could be argued that Bob Hawke was an Australian authentic leader (before the term came into vogue). After a long career in the union movement, earning the reputation for being a builder of consensus to resolve conflict, he entered Parliament in the 1980 election. He challenged Bill Hayden for the leadership on 16 July 1982 and lost; then challenged again on 3 February 1983 almost at the same time as then Prime Minister Fraser was calling an early general election. Fraser lost the election and Hawke as prime minister won the next four elections until the eventual challenge and replacement by Paul Keating in 1991.

Soon after election, Hawke convened an ‘Economic Summit’ during April 1983 where political, employer and union leaders met over a number of days at Parliament House in Canberra to form a national consensus on future economic policy. The ‘Prices and Incomes Accord’ between the Hawke government and the union movement, where the unions promised to minimise wage increases and the government promised to minimise inflation, introduce a ‘social wage’ and increase spending on education and welfare was a result. As well as the economic reform managed by Hawke and his Treasurer Paul Keating, he also modernised legislation regarding industrial relations and social security while introducing legislation covering World Heritage area protection, outlawing sex discrimination, safeguarding privacy and establishing organisations such as ATSIC and the Australian Postal Commission. While Hawke’s personal reputation was not immaculate either before or during office, he publically promised to give up drinking while he was prime minister:
There is no doubt that excessive drink sometimes brought out an unpleasant personality change which, had I continued to drink, would have made me unfit to be Prime Minister.
The point here about Hawke is the authenticity he demonstrated as a leader, of both the union movement and government, to encourage people to accept compromise for the common good. Those that can remember the era would probably also remember that when the ‘Summit’ was announced, there was general derision that it would not end well. The reality is that the Accord held for the majority of the Hawke years as prime minister albeit with various amendments to reflect changing conditions and circumstances.

Unlike Kevin (I’m from Queensland and I’m here to help) Rudd who sold his message well, Hawke demonstrated that the item they purchased in the election was as advertised on the box. While Rudd did sign the Kyoto Agreement and say sorry to the stolen generations, Hawke delivered meaningful change on an ongoing basis, leading to a long term of prime ministership. While Rudd was afraid to use his political capital to push through action on climate change, Hawke made brave and calculated decisions for the betterment of Australia — and took the majority of the voters along on the ride with him. Howard also took calculated decisions that could have used a lot of his political capital: namely the GST, gun control and his treatment of refugees. It seems that while those actions were acceptable to the majority of voters, his attempt to restructure workplace relations crossed the line.

The history of the challenges between current Prime Minister Turnbull and former Prime Minister Abbott is well known and it’s not worth re-hashing it here. Suffice to say that the (reasonably) recent challenge to Abbott by Turnbull was not the first vote on his leadership. The first one was in February 2015, where no one put up their hand to replace Abbott. Abbott won by a less than convincing 61 to 39. Just think about that for a minute; 39 of his own colleagues preferred ‘anyone but Abbott’ less than two years after a ‘famous’ election victory.

Clearly Abbott, in the view of the majority of his colleagues, had lost his mojo, so to try and get their message across, the baton was passed to Turnbull (despite his previous history). AAP (via Yahoo News) reported:
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said Mr Turnbull's personal quest for the top job was now fulfilled but she wondered where that left the country.

"He's very smooth and I think that'll work for him in the short term but people will very quickly come to see that smoothness as a sort of slick merchant banker approach to public life," she told ABC radio.
ALP Leader Bill Shorten said:
“I think it is a good thing for this country that Tony Abbott is no longer PM of Australia,” Mr Shorten said.

“I certainly believe that with the change in leadership in the Liberal Party, the chances of having an intelligent discussion and negotiation, I certainly hope they’ve improved.”
So how’s Turnbull going? Well for a start, he hasn’t changed much as predicted by Plibersek. Despite the claims of being a new government with new ideas, the ‘steady as she goes’ mindset doesn’t bode well for the LNP when part of Abbott’s problem was that one of the key deliverables in government was a budget in May 2014 that still hasn’t passed the Parliament in full — hardly the work of an authentic leader.

While Shorten’s personal approval has taken a gigantic hit with the advent of Turnbull’s prime ministership, William Bowe’s Pollbludger (an average of the polls taken in the last month) suggests that the ALP is doing considerably better in the polls than Shorten’s popularity and a win in 2016 is not a laughable suggestion. Bob Hawke in what has become an annual speech at the Woodford Folk Festival is reported to have said
When asked whether the Member for Wentworth was a threat to his party, Mr Hawke replied "of course he is".

But he was far less effusive of the PM's predecessor, who he said "wasn't a great prime minister but he was a decent man".
So Hawke suggests that Turnbull is at least competitive — but is he an authentic leader? He was rolled in 2009 because he supported the ALP’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Now he supports the LNP’s Direct Action, just as Abbott did. Turnbull was the leader of the Republican movement in the late 1990’s when the referendum was held: today he supports Abbott’s monarchy. Turnbull in 2009 supported same sex marriage: today he supports Abbott’s plebiscite (if it ever happens). So what are the differences. The SMH article linked above gives a few wishy-washy examples where the words have ‘wriggle room’ so large that you could drive a bus through.

Maybe that’s it. Turnbull has tweeted that he likes catching the 389 or 333 bus to Circular Quay from his electorate office. Abbott (if he used public transport) would get the Manly ferry. Turnbull also seems to dress better than Abbott (and probably would never be seen in ‘budgie smugglers’). Small and incremental change doesn’t win elections, just ask Malcolm Fraser (who lost to Hawke in 1983) or the various LNP leaders in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Stephen Harper may also have a few comments from a Canadian perspective.

Shorten came to fame as a Union leader who managed to achieve results for his members while maintaining the ability to work with management — sound familiar? Turnbull is showing no signs of authentic leadership, except for a predilection for ‘nice’ suits and catching buses. As soon as he suggests a change, Andrews, Abetz, Abbott or Bernardi get on the airwaves and the suggestion is taken quietly down a dark alley; then strangled.

With an election later this year it’s not a hard choice to find the authentic leader and he isn’t on the 389 from Bondi.

What do you think?


The year of the union

For the Chinese, 2016 is the ‘Year of the Monkey’ but I think in Australia it may well be the year of the union — although not in a positive way. As it is an election year, and in the light of the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) report in December, we can expect the Coalition government to have a lot to say about unions during the year. Turnbull, in releasing the TURC report, has already indicated that he will make union ‘corruption’ an election issue if his legislation to implement the TURC recommendations, including the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), does not pass parliament.

Unions of course will not take this lying down. The ACTU responded to the release of the TURC report by stating:
The ACTU rejects any accusation of widespread corrupt, unlawful behaviour in the union movement. We take a zero-tolerance approach to unlawful conduct, whether in the union movement or elsewhere. Isolated instances of unlawful conduct must always be referred to the police. Unions stand united to ensure any individuals convicted should feel the full force of the law. There is no place for crooks in our movement.

The ACTU welcomes sensible discussions about best practice governance. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull must allow space and time for these discussions to occur. This report should not be used to rush legislation that removes employee rights.
It also saw that the TURC report and a Productivity Commission review, which recommended a reduction in penalty rates, were related:
It is clear from the timing of the Royal Commission’s report that these two reports were always designed to attack the rights and pay of working people and undermine unions who defend their rights and pay.
We do not often see issues discussed in terms of workers’ rights in Australian media but the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC, representing 180 million workers world-wide and currently led by former ACTU president Sharan Burrow) has rated Australia as having ‘regular violation of rights’. This appears in the ITUC Global Rights Index which tracks legislation that limits workers’ rights and actual incidents of violations: these are tallied together and each country then given a score between 1 and 5, where 1 represents rights being generally guaranteed and 5 being no guarantee of rights.

Australia’s score of 3 means:
Governments and/or companies are regularly interfering in collective labour rights or are failing to fully guarantee important aspects of those rights. There are deficiencies in laws and/or certain practices which make frequent violations possible.
By comparison, the USA scores 4 (systematic violations of rights) and Brazil 2 (slightly weaker collective labour rights than those with a rating of 1 but certain rights have come under repeated attack).

Interestingly, however, the USA, since a 1977 Supreme Court decision, has had a rule that public sector workers who benefit from union representation — such as higher wages and improved conditions — can be made to pay their fair share to the union and a number of states did introduce laws to enforce this. In other words, in the land of ‘free enterprise’ the union basically can claim a ‘fee for service’. (That is currently being challenged in another court case, with a ruling expected in June 2016).

In Australia, governments across the country have introduced ‘fee for service’ models into all sorts of public services but refuse to recognise it in respect to union activities and are doing as much as they can to undermine unions and workers’ collective rights. In fact, ‘fee for bargaining services’ is explicitly made illegal in Australia, other than union membership dues — but because a person cannot be made to join a union, it is possible in Australia to have ‘free riders’ who benefit from union bargaining without making any contribution. (The ‘free rider’ effect was what led to the original US Supreme Court decision.) In that regard, the ILO (International Labour Organisation) has found that in Australia, although less than 20% of employees are union members, 60% of employees work under collectively bargained conditions.

The ITUC provides quite a long list of the problems in Australia — note that these relate to a period up to early 2014: the link is here but also click on ‘In Practice’ to see the rest of the list. It includes:
  • employers have a discretionary right to refuse to bargain with representative trade unions
  • prior authorisation or approval by authorities is required to hold a lawful strike
  • restrictions with respect to the objective of a strike (eg economic and social issues, political, sympathy and solidarity reasons are not allowed)
  • authorities’ or employers’ have power to unilaterally prohibit, limit, suspend or cease a strike action
  • employers are using delaying tactics to avoid collective bargaining
  • individual agreements are undermining collective bargaining
  • many employers (particularly in the mining sector) do their best to frustrate trade union activity
Some employers try to avoid bargaining with a union and the ITUC assessment provides one extreme example:
The employer went to great lengths to avoid bargaining with the union by closing the mine for three months (to avoid certain transfer provisions in the Fair Work Act), hiring a small number of employees (21 from a required total of over 400) who were thought to be non-members, and negotiating an agreement directly with the employees and excluding the union. The employer essentially forced the employees to relinquish their rights to be represented by the union by having them appoint themselves as their own representatives for the bargaining.
In America, and to some extent in Australia, this is done under the banner of the ‘right to work’. That is a neo-liberal banner that claims each individual should be free to choose the manner and conditions of their work and not be ruled by external influences — like collective bargaining and union involvement. It was an idea that was originally abandoned in Australia in the Harvester decision in 1907 when Mr Justice Higgins determined that:
The provision of fair and reasonable remuneration is obviously designed for the benefit of the employees in the industry; and it must be meant to secure to them something which they cannot get by the ordinary system of individual bargaining. [emphasis added]
Since the 1970s, however, individual bargaining has eased its way back towards centre stage.

The attempts to reduce workers’ rights and working conditions, and remove unions from the equation, has been reflected in agreement negotiations in the Australian Public Service. Some public servants have not had a pay rise since 2014 as, at the direction of the government, public service departments delayed negotiations or included proposals that staff could not agree to. One interesting approach was to offer to maintain conditions but to remove them from agreements and make them ‘policy’. In December 2015, the CPSU (Community and Public Sector Union) warned staff in the agriculture department that:
If your rights are taken out of your agreement and put into policy, they can be removed or changed at any time. In some agencies that have voted yes this is already happening!

Just weeks after a small majority of workers said yes in DSS, management moved to change their consultative arrangements in a way that meant union delegates were no longer being consulted.
Effectively taking unions out of the industrial relations loop is part of the ‘right to work’ approach and has been pursued by the Howard, Abbott and now Turnbull governments. Turnbull may cloak it in fine words but the intention of his proposed legislation in response to the TURC report is to further erode the influence of unions.

All this may not mean much to many in the electorate but there are 1.6 million union members in Australia: that is the ABS figure for 2014, whereas the ACTU claimed late in 2015 that the membership in its records suggested a figure of 1.8 million. Either way, that is certainly the lowest level of union membership in the workforce since detailed records have been kept: it has come down from about 40% of the workforce in 1992.

While the official ABS figures suggest union membership is down to 14% of those in employment, that is slightly misleading because the ABS counts owner-managers of both incorporated and unincorporated enterprises and many, if not most, of those would not be likely to join a union in any case. Union membership only for those who are employees is somewhat higher at 17%, or 19% if we use the ACTU figure.

As at 30 September 2015, there were 15,259,399 enrolled voters in Australia. Union membership, therefore, represents between 10.5% (using the ABS figure) and 11.7% (the ACTU figure) of voters — which gives unionists about half the electoral power of those aged 65 and over, who represent 21.8% of the electorate (which also gives a clear indication why the ‘grey vote’ is so important). Even so, about 12% of the electorate is a figure that cannot really be ignored and especially so if one considers that there may be influences to non-union members in a person’s family or circle of friends.

The problem is that union members are not evenly distributed across electorates. Although I do not have actual figures, I suspect they are disproportionately represented in what are strong or safe Labor seats which is why the government believes it can launch its union attacks. It knows the attacks may cost votes in Labor seats but that will make no difference to an election outcome. It is hoping that by bashing the unions, it can gain enough votes in ‘swinging’ seats to hold on to government.

The government, however, should note that, as reported in The Guardian, Essential Research found in 2015 that 62% of Australians believed unions were important (that figure had increased since 2012) and 45% believed workers would be better off if unions were stronger (compared to 26% who thought workers would be worse off). Given those figures, government attacks on unions can backfire if that 62% begin to believe that the government is going too far — as they did when Howard introduced WorkChoices.

Before people start believing the government’s rhetoric regarding unions they should consider some of the facts, even as revealed by the ABS which by no means can be considered a propagandist for unions. The median weekly income for employed persons in a union in 2013‒14 was $1,200 compared to $960 for non-union employees (and the mean was $1,295 compared to $1,162). Overall 24% of those in employment did not have paid leave entitlements: while this includes the owner-managers, it would also include some casual and part-time workers. Of union members, however, 91% had paid leave entitlements.

In America, workers have no nationally mandated paid leave: it is entirely a matter for employers and employees and to some extent state and local regulations. It was found in 2006 that workers who were union members in the USA received on average 13 days paid leave and 8 paid public holidays while non-union workers received 9 days paid leave and 6 paid public holidays. Given our experience in Australia, it is difficult to comprehend that the amount of leave a worker is entitled to can be dependent on whether or not one is a union member.

Even with all the changes that have taken place in Australia, the Fair Work provisions include ten nationally mandated minimum standards including:
  • a standard 38-hour week
  • four weeks paid annual leave
  • ten days paid personal/carer’s leave each year and two days paid compassionate leave for each eligible bereavement
  • long service leave
  • a right to request flexible working arrangements
While these conditions may now be legally mandated, they did not arise out of the blue nor out of the goodness of heart of employers or government. Those conditions, now accepted as the norm, were fought for over many years by unions. If the role of unions is further diminished in coming years, where will improvements in workers’ conditions come from in the future?

Turnbull may think he is on a winner bashing the unions but the effectiveness of his campaign will depend on two crucial external factors:
  • the effectiveness of any union campaign against the changes he proposes (they did, after all, mount an effective campaign against WorkChoices), and
  • whether the 62% of Australians who support unions perceive that he is going too far (the unions will certainly do their best to foster that view)
So his task will not be easy and can unravel and backfire on him and on the Coalition’s electoral chances. Despite the risks, I believe Turnbull and the Coalition will persist with it because it is consistent with their neo-liberal economic agenda and has the support of their big supporter — big business.

What do you think?
Why did Turnbull promise to make union ‘corruption’ an election issue? Is it no more than his pursuit of an ideological agenda in support of big business?

Please let us know what you think are the pros and cons of Turnbull’s approach both for the Coalition and Labor.


More about Puff the Magic Malcolm



In the first of this short series, I described how after the disaster of Tony Abbott, the promise that Malcolm Turnbull brought to prime ministership was already fracturing as he fails, day after day, to live up to his own values, and reneges on his strongly held views. Abbott flagrantly and unashamedly broke his promises. With Turnbull it is subtler; he is saying and doing things that we all know are contrary to his position. This is perhaps most obvious with the issue of climate change, a matter that was covered exhaustively in the first in the series.

This the second, deals with Turnbull’s position on marriage equality, the Gonski reforms, the NBN, Australia becoming a Republic, his immigration policy, his cities policy, and his economic policy.

Marriage Equality. Everyone who has been listening to Turnbull knows that he is strongly in favour of marriage equality. He has said so many times in parliament and out. Moreover, he advocated a vote in parliament to determine the matter. But once he became PM he reverted to Abbott’s delaying tactic of a plebiscite after the next election. Although he would regard the result as binding on the parliament, his old guard of conservatives, Eric Abetz, Cori Bernardi et al vow to vote as they wish, irrespective of the views of the electorate. It seems as if this conservative clique is calling the shots, and Turnbull does not feel secure enough in his hold on leadership to stand up to them. What a disappointment from the one who challenged Abbott on the grounds of poor leadership!

The hope that Turnbull would reverse the Abbott tactic, and either have a vote in the parliament or at least hold the plebiscite at the time of the election, thereby saving an estimated 160 million dollars, has so far been dashed. If he is hoping to run either of these lines, he is leaving it pretty late,

Disappointingly, the promise of a Turnbull different from Abbott on this important social matter has been tarnished.

The Gonski school reform is another area where Turnbull’s promise is fading. He talks about the need for innovation, agility and entrepreneurship, but doesn’t add that these attributes are built on a foundation of sound education that starts in preschool and extends to university and beyond. And it must be available to all who can benefit from it. The Gonski school reforms were designed to bring this about. After telling us all pre-election that he was on the same Gonski page as Labor, Abbott reneged post-election on the vital last two years of funding. Any hope that Turnbull would see the fallacy of curtailing spending on education was dashed after he and his education minister repeated the same weary line that ‘you can’t solve the schooling problem by throwing money at it’. Apart from being a stupid thing to say, suggestions about how the government would solve the problem, with or without money, were never forthcoming. So Gonski is in limbo.

The creation of a smart, innovative, agile nation will have to wait until Turnbull works out what to do about school education. His attitude to education accelerates disillusionment about him.

The NBN project has been a great disappointment for those who expected him to handle the NBN project with skill and flair. We all know he is a tech-head, a nerd when it comes to communications gadgets, the founder of OzEmail, one of our earliest email services. We remember that he was instructed by Abbott to ‘demolish the NBN’ which Labor had initiated, but hoped he would find a way of maintaining its initial design, which was to provide a super-fast broadband service to 97% of Australians with ‘fibre-to-the premises’ (FTTP) technology. He salvaged the NBN from Abbott’s onslaught by adopting a multi-technology approach, and substituting the inferior ‘fibre-to-the-node’ (FTTN) option, where fibre extends only to boxes on street corners, with Telstra’s old copper wire finishing the connection to the premises. In doing so, he lumbered this nation with a second rate facility just when we needed to be world leaders in an increasingly competitive global environment.

In a comprehensive assessment of the Coalition’s FTTN NBN in September 2105, Richard Chirgwin, telco analyst and journalist writing in The Register, gave credit for some aspects of the government’s rollout, but was scathing about many, for example, in the critical areas of technology, the rollout timeline, speed, and the cost, He wrote:

The Liberal Party's pre-election policy document stated ”Our aim is that everyone in the nation should have access to broadband with download data rates of between 25 and 100 megabits per second by 2016”.

“That timeline was quickly exposed as optimistic and the "aim" unrealistic. The universal 25 Mbps service promise has now been pushed out to 2020.

“Fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), however, has to be regarded as the greatest disappointment of the policy: the government has failed to deliver either the rapid rollout or the amount of savings promised in the policy.

“Approximately 65 per cent of the FTTN portion of the rollout is expected to be completed by 2016-17. The remaining 35 per cent will be deployed in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and will in most cases be in areas served by HFC [Hybrid Fibre Co-Axial technology] networks”, the policy stated.

“At the most recent NBN presentation, the company hopes to activate 1.8 million premises on FTTN by 2018. That's a little late. Also, absent a full footprint plan detailing which premises will receive which technology, it's impossible to say if the promise of 65 per cent FTTN completion is on track.

Verdict: Promises not kept.
Turnbull was scornful when he spoke of the cost of Labor’s NBN, which he deemed prohibitively wasteful. He ought now to be eating his words. Chirgwin had this to say:

Cost: By far the worst performance is in the matter of the cost of the NBN.

“The pre-election assertion that [Labor’s] FTTP network would cost $90 billion was quickly revised down to $73 billion, which is still a lot of money, but at the same time, Turnbull's statements about the cost of his multi-technology model have repeatedly been revised upwards.

“The $20.4 billion capex [capital expenditure], and peak funding of $29.5 billion, were obsolete within a year, and after several revisions, the most recent estimates for the NBN build are peak funding of between $46 billion and $53 billion.

“The government protected its own books by the simple expedient of capping its investment. To meet the balance, NBN will have to raise its own debt.

Verdict: The government has performed no better than its predecessor in making cost forecasts.”
You can read the sorry story in full here.

The use of the image below to head Chirgwin’s piece tells the story.



In summary, Turnbull’s demonized Labor’s FTTP NBN, and made wild promises about how much cheaper the Coalition’s FTTN NBN would be, and how much faster it would roll out to more homes. Once again he brought disillusionment to many – another Turnbull promise remains unmet.

Australia becoming a Republic has been a Turnbull dream for years. He was a member of the Australian Republican Movement since its formation in 1991 and later chairman. He headed the ARM team at the 1998 Australian Constitutional Convention, but John Howard’s manipulations thwarted his endeavours and the referendum in 1999 was lost, a stinging defeat that still lingers in Turnbull’s memory. Yet his advent to prime ministership kindled hopes that at last this nation might move away from being a constitutional monarchy to becoming a republic. Writing in The Age, Tim Mayfield expressed this hope in Australian republicans take hope from Malcolm Turnbull's ascent.

Expect yet another disappointment on this front. Perhaps understandably after his bitter 1999 defeat, he seems in no hurry to address the republic issue. He seems to be unwilling to spend any of his considerable personal political capital on this venture, especially in the face of resistance from his monarchist colleagues.

Political survival is more important to him than pursuing the cherished principle of Australia becoming a Republic.

Immigration policy has been dealt with here recently in Australia’s diabolical dilemma. We are still waiting to see if Turnbull returns the 267 adults and 72 children now in Australia on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. NZ Prime Minister John Key has shown his compassionate face by offering to take them. Will Turnbull persist with the harsh Abbott policy, or show that he has a more benevolent attitude?

Cities policy was hailed as one of Turnbull’s most enlightened moves. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in September of last year, in an article titled: Turnbull government's cities portfolio: What does it mean and will it work?, Nicole Hasham reported the reaction of Committee for Sydney chief executive Tim Williams: “…the decision to appoint a Minister for Cities is simply an idea "whose time has come". Hasham continued: “Infrastructure chiefs across the nation have been buoyed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's enthusiasm for urban planning, including Jamie Briggs' appointment as the first Minister for Cities and the Built Environment and the government's new willingness to consider public transport investment."

That was then. What has happened since? We know what happened to Jamie Briggs, so how will his successor, rural MP Angus Taylor, fare? Turnbull has rejected suggestions he has downgraded cities policy in his ministry reshuffle.

At the very least,we expect Turnbull to discard Abbott’s environmentally destructive pro-roads, anti-public transport attitude.

Anthony Albanese, who carries the splendid tag: ‘Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Shadow Minister for Tourism, and Shadow Minister for Cities’, is sceptical about progress so far. Here’s what he said a few days ago about Turnbull’s disappointing performance so far:



This piece could go on and on cataloguing Turnbull’s disappointing performance, so let’s finish with his economic policy.

Nobody disagrees with his view that this nation needed to be ‘agile’, ready to grasp the abundance of opportunities here and overseas. We all agree that in the wake of the downturn in mining the economy needs to reshape itself. The renewables industry was just one such opportunity for readjustment in our economy.

Underpinning these needed adjustments is the acute need for fiscal reform. Nobody questions the need for tax reform, industrial relations reform, or welfare reform. The Turnbull government’s progress on these fronts has been slow, erratic, minimal, and flawed. It could hardly have been much worse.

The GST was the first target. Labor made its position plain from the beginning. But the Coalition procrastinated, bumbling along insisting it was still ‘on the table’, until finally a few days ago its abandonment was announced by Turnbull, followed by his treasurer. Even after that, Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash, was insisting the GST was still on the table! The disorganization and indecision was awful. No reasonable person would deny Turnbull and Morrison the right to have the effect of changing the GST modeled by Treasury, but with all the punch that Treasury has, why did it take so long for Turnbull and Co. to reach the same conclusion Labor reached months ago?

Reasonably, Turnbull rejected any change on the grounds that the net benefit would be too low, and the political cost too high. He has always emphasized that ‘fairness’ must characterize any change to the tax mix, but the lack of fairness inherent in this regressive tax was not his stated reason for rejection. Lack of fairness was Labor’s prime reason for rejection. It knew that increasing the level and scope of the GST would increase the already-high level of inequality in this country. Inequality does not feature in Turnbull’s arguments.

The removal or reduction of concessions that favour the wealthy in superannuation, negative gearing and capital gains tax has always been a fertile field for increasing revenue. But the top-end-of-town oriented Turnbull government has shied away from these obvious opportunities. Turnbull challenged Abbott on the grounds of his poor economic leadership; we are still waiting to see if Turnbull’s is any better.

Labor has outlined its policies, as have the Greens, but the Turnbull government flounders, adding indecision to uncertainty. I believe this is principally because of treasurer Morrison’s ideological obsession with reducing taxes. He sees removing concessions as tantamount to increasing taxes.



At his National Press Club address last week we saw the fiscal dithering of the Turnbull government writ large as Morrison waffled for 46 minutes telling what we already knew about the tough financial situation this country is in, that repairing it would be a long haul, taking on Test Match dimensions rather than those of a 20/20 Big Bash (no doubt he thought this was clever framing), and that any tax relief would be ‘modest’, and a long time coming. While using his copious words to berate Labor’s proposal, we did not hear one word from him about the Turnbull government’s policy on negative gearing, superannuation and capital gains, or for that matter on any other fiscal policy. The speech was vacuous and insulting to the NPC audience that gathered expecting to get at a least a morsel of information on these crucial matters.

Morrison was attacked repeatedly the next day on talk back radio over his arrogant disrespect for those seeking information about important government policy, but fobbed off his assailants with his usual torrent of words unstoppably tumbling from his loquacious mouth. Bernard Keane of Crikey in his brilliant piece: Waiting for ScoMo - in which no policy happens, twice, aptly described Morrison’s NPC speech as “…more a one-hander version of Waiting for Godot, the play in which, famously, nothing happens, twice.

But at least in his post-address talkback appearances he did introduce us to the ‘unicorn’ frame. Morrison is not much better at picking apt metaphors than he is at picking apt fiscal policies. Let me take you down a side road for a bit.

We all know what this mythical creature looks like, but why did Morrison use the unicorn as a metaphorical frame?

I looked through Renton’s Metaphors but found no reference to the unicorn. Wikipedia did not help either. In fact it said: “In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin…its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness.” Not what Morrison intended!

Another source asserts that chasing unicorns is looking for the right job. Surely not what Morrison was thinking!

In the Hebrew Bible it was often used as a metaphor representing strength…a wild, un-tamable animal of great strength and agility. Agility is what Malcolm desires; perhaps Scott does too!

I suspect though that his metaphorical meaning is that ‘chasing unicorns’ is the pursuit of something that, for all intents and purposes, is unobtainable, as unicorns don't exist.

He might have been wiser to tone down his rhetoric by choosing a more understandable metaphorical frame – perhaps ‘chasing rainbows’ would have resonated better.
That’s enough about the cascade of disappointments that have come flooding from our new PM, his treasurer and much of his ministry. To many, Malcolm is a likeable fellow. Well-educated, well-spoken, dignified, prime ministerly, he held out such promise to an electorate tired of the combative, aggressive Abbott. Turnbull heralded a new era for voters tired of the embarrassment of having Abbott as our leader, relieved that at last we had one who could make us feel secure, if not proud.

Then the disillusionment began. Day after day, as the Coalition vacuum cleaner sucked up policy opportunity after policy opportunity into the dust receptacle of abandoned prospects, disappointment grew.

Disappointment is contagious. Initial goodwill towards Turnbull is fading day after day as he and his government dither, ply us with platitudes, make faraway promises, dishonours them, does nothing, goes nowhere, marches on the spot, yet talks as if they have grand plans, sadly for a distant and receding future. Reflect on what Morrison said in his NPC address and you will see what I mean.

Some Labor supporters might want to see the Turnbull government fail, but even those must be demoralized by the reality that the awful Abbott government that did so much damage has been replaced by a torpid do-nothing outfit that seems lost in the political wilderness without a compass.

The Magic Malcolm that so many welcomed seems to have gone up in a Puff of Liberal Blue smoke.




What do you think?
This second pieces concludes this short series on Turnbull’s shortcomings and his backsliding as he fidgets under the repressive thumb of the reactionaries in his own party. If he cannot cast off the conservative curse, clamber out from under the repressive influence of the Abbott-led opponents, he may never show us the Real Malcolm Turnbull, whose values and genuine beliefs have made him so popular with the voters.

Will he be crushed into humiliating submission, crippled by forced conformity, curtailed in every move his better self tells him to make, incarcerated by those who gave him power? Even Laborites hope not. We know the Malcolm of old; we were hoping for something better this time around. But so far we have experienced only disappointment and disillusionment.

Do tell us what you think in the comments section.

Puff the Magic Malcolm



The precipitous ejection of Australia’s worst-ever prime minister last year brought such a sense of relief to the electorate that the arrival of Malcolm Turnbull in his place gave him the status of a knight in shining armour rescuing the damsel in distress. Even some who support Labor were not just relieved, but pleased. He looked like a prime minister and he spoke like one with measured eloquence. His urbanity had popular appeal, his smile was engaging and the way he handled criticism stylish. We no longer felt embarrassed by our prime minister. Most important though was his stated vision for this nation: it was upbeat, forward-looking, encouraging and exciting.

Those of us who have followed politics for many years had reservations though. We remembered how after his rather brutal takeover from Brendan Nelson to become Leader of the Opposition in 2008, he offered much promise to his party and to the electorate. Many applauded particularly his enlightened views on global warming and his collaboration with Kevin Rudd to mitigate it. But after a promising start, an ill-considered instance of over-reach brought him undone. Failing to do the due diligence required of an accomplished barrister, a disturbed Liberal mole in Treasury, Godwin Grech, led him up the garden path with a fake email. He remained there, stranded and exposed as one too obsessed with bringing down a prime minister and his treasurer. ‘Utegate’ uncovered a fatal flaw in Turnbull’s personality. He did not recover fully until he removed Abbott in September last year.

But everyone knows that to garner the votes he needed to replace the unpopular Abbott, he had to compromise many of his beliefs and principles. Just how many, and to what extent, we would soon discover.

We have watched with curiosity the turn of events since he toppled Tony Abbott in no less a brutal way than he toppled Brendan Nelson and no less brutally than Abbott toppled him in December 2009. We have been disappointed that the promise that surrounded his ascension to prime ministership, a post he had coveted for so long, has been steadily eroded. We have been dismayed about the principles he has abandoned. We kept hoping that soon he would reveal his genuine views, his cherished values and beliefs, his intentions for policy renewal. So far, there’s been precious little. Disillusionment threatens.

Ken Wolff has alluded to this in A smile is not enough. We have the Turnbull smile, day after day, but not much else to engender confidence in him and his governance. In Americans aren’t the only ones with blinkers, 2353NM has drawn attention to the antediluvian attitude of the Turnbull government to climate change, one inherited from Abbott, but as yet unchanged.

Let’s dissect his period in parliament into bite-size issues, in this and subsequent pieces.

Climate change is a good place to start, because it was Turnbull’s avant-garde approach that encouraged Kevin Rudd to vigorously address global warming, which Rudd described as ‘the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time’, and to come up with an emissions trading scheme to mitigate it. Rudd and Turnbull were almost to the point of bipartisan agreement on such a scheme until Rudd lost his nerve and Turnbull lost his position as leader in early December 2009. Rudd was spoofed by falling popularity in the electorate. But it was a conservative clique in the LNP that was opposed to an ETS that turfed out Turnbull in favour of Abbott. An ETS was so close. Australia could have been a world leader in carbon pollution mitigation; now it is a laggard.

But that’s not where the story ends. Deprived of his preferred carbon trading mechanism, Turnbull described Abbott’s alternative scheme, his Direct Action Plan, as a ‘fig leaf’. On 7 December 2009, Turnbull’s website spelt out his views as a backbencher: “So as I am a humble backbencher I am sure he [Abbott] won’t complain if I tell a few home truths about the farce that the Coalition’s policy, or lack of policy, on climate change has descended into.”

It goes on:
"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.

“Second, as we are being blunt, the fact is that Tony and the people who put him in his job do not want to do anything about climate change. They do not believe in human caused global warming. As Tony observed on one occasion “climate change is crap” or if you consider his mentor, Senator Minchin, the world is not warming, it’s cooling and the climate change issue is part of a vast left wing conspiracy to de-industrialise the world.”
That’s enough for now; you can read the lot here.

Look now at the comments Turnbull made to Tony Jones eighteen months later on Lateline, in May 2011. Suitably abbreviated, they tell us what Turnbull believed then:
"Well, Tony, honestly, I don't want to comment on the direct action policy. I'm happy to describe it to you. If you want a commentary run on it, you should ask Tony Abbott or Greg Hunt about it.

“It is what it is. It is a policy where, yes, the Government does pick winners, there's no doubt about that, where the Government does spend taxpayers' money to pay for investments to offset the emissions by industry.

“…I think there are two virtues of that from the point of view of Mr Abbott and Mr Hunt.

“One is that it can be easily terminated. If in fact climate change is proved to be not real, which some people obviously believe - I don't. If you believe climate change is going to be proved to be unreal, then a scheme like that can be brought to an end...

“Or if you believe that there is not going to be any global action and that the rest of the world will just say, ‘It's all too hard and we'll just let the planet get hotter and hotter,’ and, you know, heaven help our future generations - if you take that rather grim, fatalistic view of the future and you want to abandon all activity, a scheme like that is easier to stop.”

“…if you want to have a long-term solution to abating carbon emissions…if you want to have a long-term technique of cutting carbon emissions in a very substantial way to the levels that the scientists are telling us we need to do by mid-century to avoid dangerous climate change, then a direct action policy…where industry was able to freely pollute, if you like, and the Government was just spending more and more taxpayers' money to offset it, that would become a very expensive charge on the budget in the years ahead.”
You can see the whole interview and read the transcript here.

Speaking in August 2010 at the launch of a report demonstrating the technical feasibility of moving Australia to a 100% renewable energy nation, Turnbull said, inter alia: "We are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we’ve got…. We know that the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic. We know that extreme weather events are occurring with greater and greater frequency and while it is never possible to point to one drought or one storm or one flood and say that particular incident is caused by global warming, we know that these trends are entirely consistent with the climate change forecasts with the climate models that the scientists are relying on…. We as a human species have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after us.”

Turnbull’s full speech is here.

Turnbull could not have been clearer then about his views on carbon abatement and the Direct Action Plan.

Now let’s look at what he said recently when challenged with his earlier statements. Writing in The Guardian, in Is new Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull already a climate change turncoat?, Graham Readfearn reports that in response to a question in his first QT, Turnbull said:

”[Opposition leader Bill Shorten] is highlighting one of the most reckless proposals the Labor party has made. Fancy proposing, without any idea of the cost of the abatement, the cost of proposing that 50% of energy had to come from renewables! What if that reduction in emissions you needed could come more cost-effectively from carbon storage, by planting trees, by soil carbon, by using gas, by using clean coal, by energy efficiency?”

Readfearn continues: “Turnbull [once] said that to ‘effectively combat climate change’ the nation ‘must move… to a situation where all or almost all of our energy comes from zero or very near zero emissions sources’.

“But now it seems, Turnbull wants to ridicule an idea that he enthusiastically supported five years earlier.

“Turnbull once described the government’s Direct Action climate change policy as ‘fiscal recklessness on a grand scale’ but now thinks the policy is a ‘resounding success’.”


Readfearn concludes: “In 2011, Turnbull said it was important that even within the debates between the merits of a carbon price or Direct Action, people should ‘not fall into the trap of abandoning the science.’

“But now, Turnbull is defending his government’s weak targets on climate change that, if they were replicated by other countries around the world, analysts say would likely see the planet warm by 3C or more.

“Not only is Turnbull abandoning the science, he is abandoning his previous common sense position on climate for what a former Turnbull described as a policy that was no more than a fig leaf.

“To quote Turnbull himself, building a future without a reliance on fossil fuels for energy is ‘absolutely essential if we are to leave a safe planet to our children and the generations that come after them’”.


He carried these views all the way to the Paris Conference on Climate Change Policy and Practice, and has not changed them since.

Perhaps this is Turnbull’s most disappointing abandonment of principles and policy since resuming leadership. After all he has said in the past about climate change, it defies understanding. It highlights how prepared he is to discard values, indeed morality, to gain and keep office. Hope that once in office he would revert to his previous values and beliefs about climate change has so far been dashed. His radical change of approach about this crucial issue, when he knows full well the truth about global warming, depreciates his authority and demeans him as a trustworthy leader.



There are more examples of the man so many welcomed as a fresh breath of air after the oppressive atmosphere that Abbott created, now reneging on his promise of a different government and shelving his promises of policy reform. Apart from his shameful reversal of his climate change principles and practice, his prior attitudes to same-sex marriage and the republican cause are now in doubt. He has toned down Abbott’s inflammatory rhetoric on terrorism and Muslims, but continues to embrace Abbott’s punitive immigration policy. These issues are for another piece.

Writing in The Age in February of last year before Turnbull knocked off Abbott, Julie Szego draws attention to instances of his backsliding even prior to his getting the top job. We were warned:

…having earlier affirmed the importance of the ABC, he made a conspicuously lame attempt to explain the cuts to its funding. When the changes to racial vilification laws were proposed, he similarly stammered his way through media interviews on the subject, his opposition to those changes easily discerned.

“He also backed legislation for a data retention scheme, even though he had questioned the need for such a scheme when the previous Labor government introduced its metadata plans and even though he had reportedly been left out of the deliberations about the controversial laws. Again he was forced to an unconvincing sales pitch about the measures. "I hope with clarity and precision, I am explaining what the [security] agencies are seeking," he said, drawing inevitable attention to the proposals' complete lack of clarity or precision.

“Amid such policy humiliations, Turnbull keeps the public on side with the odd self-deprecating remark, a tilt of an eyebrow, a wry grin. He exudes a knowing irony. Turnbull might be the consummate politician for the digital age. More than any other politician he seems to understand how a well-placed gesture or subtle turn of phrase on Q&A get multiplied and amplified on social media, spilling into the 24/7 cycle in a perfect feedback loop.

“In contrast to Julia Gillard, he's unlikely to try to reboot his image in the midst of an election campaign, or at all. We all know he's not "the real Malcolm", and he knows we know. Thus far, inauthenticity has worked a treat for him. The opposition hopes that should Turnbull ascend to the top job, he'll end up terminally wedged between his personal convictions and those of his party. Perhaps he will. Then again, Labor might find that if it fails to offer a substantive policy alternative it risks shrinking the political fight to a personality contest.”


Which leads to the title of this piece: Puff the Magic Malcolm, which is clearly a take on the well-known song: Puff the Magic Dragon. While some believe that song was all about puffing weed, the three songsters, Peter, Paul and Mary insist: "... it's a song about innocence lost … a loss of innocence and having to face an adult world” Has Malcolm lost his ‘innocence’ in the adult world of ruthless uncompromising party politics?

What do you think?
Following pieces in this short series will address Turnbull’s emerging shortcomings and his backsliding as he squirms under the oppressive thumb of the reactionaries in his own party. Will he fulfill the hopes of so many that he will cast off the conservative curse, crawl out from under the repressive influence of the Abbott-led opponents, and show us the Real Malcolm Turnbull, whose values and genuine beliefs have made him so popular with the voters?

Or will he be crushed into humiliating submission, crippled by enforced conformity, curtailed in every move his better self tells him to make, imprisoned by those who gave him power? Even Laborites hope not. We know the Malcolm of old; we were hoping for something better this time around.