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.

What do you think?
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6/04/2016You do have to question the abilities of those advising Turnbull when they come up with something that even comedy writers identified as the most meaningless slogan they could think of. And, as you point out, there is really little 'change'. most of it is 'continuity' of Abbott policies, including the ABCC. As the electorate has now realised, Turnbull has not been an agent of change, as they had hoped, but just more of the same. It is little wonder they are disappointed and, as we predicted on TPS at the start February, the polls have moved against him.

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6/04/20162353NM Thank you for so starkly portraying the incongruity of the approach of the Turnbull government. On the one hand Turnbull likes to paint his government as a reforming one, yet on the other he clings tenaciously (by design or fear) to Abbott’s policies. It’s a case of promised change being severely restricted by continuity with past policies. The courage that Turnbull exhibited in engineering the coup that toppled Abbott is consistent with his history of adventurous, even daring behaviour, but it seems to have evaporated, giving way to timid, hesitant, uncertain and ambivalent behaviour that is uncharacteristic of him. Which leads to the conclusion that he is living under the continual threat of leadership challenge if he does not comply with the demands of the conservative clique in his party, which watches his every move. And lurking on the backbench is the calamitous Abbott, who lies in wait, hoping desperately for his chance to head the ‘second Abbott government’. The next piece is on that very matter. [i]The calamitous Abbott lies in wait[/i] will be published next Sunday.

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6/04/2016Folks At the end of last month we published [i]Where are the crooks?[/i]: In less than a week we have collected hundreds more of them. The Panama Papers have revealed thousands of clients, several hundred from Australia, that Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca has helped to launder money, dodge sanctions and avoid tax. The first casualty is Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, who has stepped down after it was revealed that he owned an offshore company with his wife that he had not declared when he entered parliament. He is accused of concealing millions of dollars' worth of family assets overseas, notably at a time when he was urging his people to keep their assets in Iceland to boost its economy! Read more: Then today we learn that ASIC has filed court documents that reveal how traders from various parts of the ANZ Banking Group shared information to manipulate the BBSW, a term used for interest rate swaps of six months or less. Time will tell how many crooks there are at the ANZ. Read more: Crooks are everywhere. They are not confined to the construction industry, to unions or the CFMEU, which the Turnbull government is pursuing relentlessly as it tries to reinstate the ABCC.

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6/04/2016Folks I hear today on [i]The World Today[/i] that Westpac is also involved in the BBSW scam. The program played a mocked-up version of a real phone conversation from one trader to another that exposed the fraud, knowingly being committed. Then we heard of a rant from David Murray who chose to attack ASIC because it had criticised the culture in Australian banks. Of course the culture that allows the bad behaviour we have seen at ANZ, Westpac, and of course Commbank, is appalling. Murray, an ex-banker who has held senior positions in the banking world ought to know better. He has been chastised by Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg.


6/04/2016When the ‘Continuity and Change’ slogan was launched by the PM and repeated ad nausaum by the conga line of LNP spruikers on radio and TV that day I started visualising an enhanced version. In my photoshopped version I kept the original words in typeface but inserted an adjective in handwriting (using whatever that sign is called to denote the inclusion of an extra word). The changes I toyed with read ‘CONTINUITY and /[i]duplicitous[/i] CHANGE; .../[i]self-serving[/i] CHANGE; .../[i]disingenuous[/i] CHANGE or .../[i]fickle[/i] CHANGE; but I kept coming back to my first thought, CONTINUITY and /[i]bugger-all[/i] CHANGE. That seems to sum up Turnbull’s adherence to Abbott policies. As Senator Glenn Lazarus said at the National Press Club today, the Senate has been tied up with these ‘Union’ Bills which most voters know little about and care about even less and have not had the opportunity to examine Bills that impact on everyday concerns of voters. The [i]bugger-all[/i] change theme would convey the sense of Plus ca Change...the more things change, the more they remain the same. Specifically, just about every Liberal PM in the modern era has set up an inquiry, usually a Royal Commission, to investigate union corruption. As the article points out these have the uncanny ability to backfire to some extent. The Costigan Commission became a prime example of ‘be careful what you wish for’. By the way, its official title was ‘Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union’. Abbott tried to cast a wider net with his Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption very much aiming to have Bill Shorten and Julia Gillard as part of the by-catch. Mud sticks, so some of Abbott’s aims were fulfilled but the RC was hardly a triumph for the LNP. Of course, facts are amenable in the LNP narrative and Turnbull is insisting that Dyson Heydon uncovered systemic corruption and criminality in the governance and commercial practices of the CFMEU which has coverage of construction, forestry and forest products, mining and energy production. ABS statistics and police and court findings, to date, suggest that the CFMEU is not quite the villain that it is portrayed to be by the LNP and that on-site corruption needs two to tango, ie some level of complicity on the part of the Industry. As at least a few commentators have suggested we may yet see that Turnbull has been too smart by half and that his carefully crafted plan of entrapment of the crossbenchers in the DD election threat may backfire. As far as an increasing number of voters, and now a couple of LNP backbenchers have proclaimed, there is [i]bugger-all change[/i] to their wellbeing since Turnbull knifed Abbott.

paul walter

6/04/2016Welcomed the comment about Westpac and that cretin Murray, someone who reminds me physically of Reihhard Heydrich. I think they were hoping for a big dump on Putin alone, but Putin would be small beer compared to what goes on with West European, Asian and US oligarchs. The msm gleefully told us when Labor is paralysed during the Rudd Gillard feuds and faction wars, but have been remiss in pointing out that what has happened over the last few years, stuff that makes ALP politicians virtuous by comparison.


6/04/2016The Abbott /Turnbull (LNPee) need to get through the list of demands from the IPA. Here an article on this subject....the list makes it easier to understand where we are supposed to go with this team. Overlay the 2014 budget on this list ......

paul walter

7/04/2016On the subject of the IPA :

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7/04/2016Casablanca Thank you for your insightful comment. I do like: 'CONTINUITY and /bugger-all CHANGE'. Like you, I feel Turnbull has tried to be too smart by half, and has come a cropper with the Premiers and First Ministers, and is on the way to more croppers with other issues. What disappointment he is.

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7/04/2016paul walter and Stinson107 Thank you for reminding us of the IPA wish list and how it is being played out by this government, just as predicted

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7/04/2016paul walter There s a lot more to be revealed about the shonky behaviour of our banks, despite the LNP's wish for it all to go away. It is part of a pattern of behaviour of the big players, who think they can get away with crooked behaviour and no one will notice. Well, the people are well and truly noticing!

paul walter

8/04/2016That idiot change and continuity thingie has earned a snide comment from Abbott, ever the team man, today. It is true the public want something a little more substantial than pomo waffle like "change and continuity". Proust maybe the go on a sunny day out on the sundeck of your north shore mansion, but would be of little interest to folk travelling hours a day on choked freeways to some crap job to pay off a mortgage so that bank proprietors can swindle more money off shore.


8/04/2016Productivity in the Construction Industry: Did it surge under the Coalition’s Reforms? David Peetz. Short answer, No! Prof Peetz looks at: (i) what’s it all about—what reforms are we measuring; (ii) what the official data show about productivity in that industry; (iii) why the Productivity Commission and a consultancy firm differed on the issue; and (iv) why the Prime Minister wanted to prefer the consultant’s version of events.


8/04/2016Ad Astra, paul walter and Stinson107 Good to see an article in the MSM looking at the IPA. More on the LNP/IPA nexus: Greg Bailey. The Liberal Party and the Institute of Public Affairs. Who is Whose? Arguably the most influential think tank in Australia over the last decade..

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9/04/2016Casablanca Thank you for the two links to Menadue blog pieces. They were both excellent articles, revealing as they did the profound influence of the IPA on the LNP, which threatens to increase with two IPA apparatchiks now in federal parliament, and the deceit Turnbull and his ministers have perpetrated about productivity and the ABCC. Their argument was biassed, flawed and wrong. I have bookmarked them both.


9/04/2016A bit of an historical sidenote but I find it interesting that the IPA has risen to prominence. In the Howard years that same role was filled by the (also incorrectly named) Centre for Independent Studies based in Sydney. It also had a number of Liberal and former Liberal members and had a big influence on policy during the Howard government.
How many Rabbits do I have if I have 3 Oranges?