Monthly Archives: February 2014

Quick Shots – 26/Feb/2014

Manus Island Breakout

I’ve been busy writing a script. Yes. I’m a paid writer at the moment so I’ve been a little quiet on this front. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been following the news. This business on Manus Island is turning into something rather awful as messengers keep getting shot. At the crux of the issue is fundamentally how this government actually sees the role of government and how it fits into what we might call a democracy. That’s right, we’re actually seeing a coalition government that has very little tolerance for what it takes to be a democratic government save for the bit – the election – that got them in.

I guess we ought not to be surprised when the government subcontracts out the detaining of asylum seekers, then it also subcontracts out the security to private firms. And it should not surprise us that such firms might have far less ethical staff or formal procedures when compared to a government organ, and that it should lead to mishandling a population like the detainee asylum seekers. What is worse is perhaps that the minister of immigration Scott Morrison would lie to us about the status of Manus Island and its riot. There is no other way of putting it. He made announcements to effect that were otherwise to information that he had already obtained. This is lying – in spite of Scott Morrison’s protestations to be otherwise. Worse still has been the general lack of transparency about the whole handling of asylum seekers, which admittedly not a new problem with this government but a fundamental philosophical one.

All this culminated in ALP Senator Stephen Conroy accusing General Angus Campbell as aiding a cover-up. The furore has been rather telling. Today, the Defence department chief David Hurley came out swinging in defence of Campbell. Now, the Coalition are carrying on as if some great offence has been made by Stephen Conroy. You sort of worry about how the Coalition sees the military because they’re essentially using the privilege of the military operations to say “we can’t tell you what we’re doing.” The problem with this is that it places the military out of reach of proper scrutiny. Worse still, the Coalition Government’s accountability is taken away with it, so there’s really no telling what this government is doing, but no, they’re not telling. They are effectively saying the chain of command of the ADF stops at the Prime Minister’s office for him to use at his leisure. This should be constitutionally debatable – not that anybody would bother – but it should be debated.

To add insult to injury the same government wants to break custom and break open the cabinet papers from the Rudd Gillard government so there is absolutely no quid pro quo there; worse still, they *only* do things that suit themselves for no good reason other than it suits themselves.  I can’t think of a dirtier modus operandi than that, and if that’s not anti-democratic, I don’t know what is. But I digress.  The more salient thing is that the Coalition Government has adopted the military chain of command and military protocol as its defence for not being held accountable to the Senate of the land. This is a bit like ancient Rome on the eve of the Triumvirates. You could make a cartoon of Senator Publius Conrus in a toga summoning Consul Claudius Morrisus to account on the Senate floor and Claudius Morrisus says he cannot discuss the said matter because it would affect the operations of General Pompei Campbellius in North Africa against the pirates at sea. In fact that’s exactly what it is, and what we’re seeing is the Coalition Government actively trying to limit the control of military from the Senate.

I can’t tell you how disturbing this is, because any time you cut the military loose from government control like this, it sets a precedent. A precedent which will be abused at some point in the future, even if there is not much harm today. I understand David Hurley’s protestations but he is *wrong*. This *is* a problem for Australia and Senator Conroy is correct in asking General Campbell whether the ADF is politically in bed with the Liberal National Party to such a degree that it would take such military operations out of the purview of the Australian Senate.  History is full of military operations done outside of government purview that turn into major political disasters. The Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria in the 1930s was such an entity that refused to be accountable to the Diet of Japan. The 1960s CIA is such an organ that created the conditions for the Bay of Pigs and in a roundabout way brought about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The rise of the Triumvirate in ancient Rome was exactly this problem, where the Roman army ended up being a privatised organ of ambitious citizens. It killed their republic – which in fact might jive well with Tony Abbott’s anti-Republican position.

Which is to say (and jokes aside), not only is this Coalition Government not very well versed in science, it appears it is not very well versed in history. And where it seems to discount scientific findings with spurious and casual disdain, it would also ignore lessons of history at its peril. In that light, I can’t say I’m impressed with Defence Department chief David Hurley or the other indignations hurled at Stephen Conroy for his remarks by Tony Abbott and company.

Now be that as it may, Stephen Conroy is still a nincompoop in my books. It pains me to defend him. But that’s the nature of having truth on your side – it’s defensible to be truthful. Morrison and his lies are not defensible in any way shape or form. The endorsement that at least Morrison is not a wimp from Tony Abbott, is a bit like claiming the best asset of Maria Sharapova’s tennis game is her grunt. It amazes me that the Coalition don’t worry about things like the truth or facts; instead they worry about form. They just seem to love it when they can push the envelope of hypocrisy as far as it can be pushed, if it looks good to them and their punters. I really worry about the mental health of people who think this is a good government or for that matter better government than they were getting under the Rudd-Gillard ALP.

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Lobbyist Heaven

By The Lobbyists Of The Lobbyists, For The Lobbyists

It’s been clear for some time that Tony Abbott is hardly what you call a statesman representing Australia in his capacity as Prime Minister. In fact he’s the dead opposite; forever the partisan brawler, he’s happy to blacken the name of the opposition to international audiences. He’s been full of cheap shots in his addresses and interviews to the world so I don’t think there’s any dispute that his is a government that is decidedly not governing for all of us.

That, naturally begs the question, on whose behalf exactly is Tony Abbott governing?

The best answer just might be lobbyists. The difference between SPC and Cadbury genuinely seems to have come down to the closeness of the Cadbury company to the orbit of Tony Abbott, as evinced by the Cadbury logo on Tony Abbott’s bicycle0riding shirt. Similarly, the business of winding back the reforms to the financial planning industry predicated on the alleged cost burdens imposed on the financial institutions. “300million!” thundered Arthur Sinodinis four times in Parliament as he presented his retched argument in favour of making it easier for financial instutions to rip off unsuspecting Australians. I was as if the whole Storm Financial thing never happened. You could of course easily and readily read through that 300million dollar figure that the lobbyists from the financial planning industry had somehow bent the ears of the government to make it go back to the crappy way it was before.

The disregard for the advice of ASIC as well as the unrepentant, brazen, one-eyed-ness as court rooms still pick over the bones of Storm Financial indicates that the Coalition really are in the pockets of the financial planning lobby and that’s just that.

The more salient permutation o this problem seems to have erupted over the healthy food rating website that was taken down. It turns out that there is a staffer who is married to a board member of a company that makes junkfood, and it is this staffer who took down the website. Since then the Coalition has been trotting out Senator Fion Nash to answer questions except she’s not answering. She is of course denying there’s a conflict of interest when actually it’s the very working model of a conflict of interest. Sometimes you wonder if politicians resort to this kind of rhetorical idiocy in the hopes of bluffing the public but as the saying goes even blind Freddie can see that it’s a problem.

I guess that wouldn’t be notable in of itself if it were an isolated incident in this government but it’s not. They’ve taken an axe to anything that concerns itself with climate change or Green/renewable energy. Why? Because the fossil fuel lobby is in their faces about trying to shut down the Carbon Pricing and see if they can keep pushing for the same kinds of profits they’ve been milking from fossil fuels. In other words, the Coalition government is supporting and abetting uncompetitive, underhanded practices in a market in which it claims it doesn’t interfere.

Yeah, right.

Pretty soon the alcohol lobby and the gambling lobby and the tobacco lobby are all going to crawl out of their lairs and start throwing their dollars around. It’s only a matter of time; and all the progress we made in trying to control their influence will be curtailed by this cavalier, irresponsible and downright duplicitous government.

I guess this is what the best democracy money can buy looks like.

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And Then There Were None

Toyota Heads For The Door

The breaking news is that Toyota is quitting manufacturing cars in Australia:

“Toyota Australia today announced that it will stop building cars in Australia by the end of 2017 and become a national sales and distribution company,” the company said in a media statement.

“This means that local manufacturing of the Camry, Camry Hybrid and Aurion vehicles, as well as the production of four-cylinder engines, will cease by the end of 2017.

“The decision was not based on any single factor. The market and economic factors contributing to the decision include the unfavourable Australian dollar that makes exports unviable, high costs of manufacturing and low economies of scale for our vehicle production and local supplier base,” the statement said.

“Together with one of the most open and fragmented automotive markets in the world and increased competitiveness due to current and future  free trade agreements, it is not viable to continue building cars in Australia.”

The response from the ALP can be described a apoplectic.

‘‘None of this was necessary, this was never inevitable. What is the alternative for the 30,000 auto workers in Victoria?”

Mr Carr said the Labor government had budgeted $200 million to help Toyota build the next-generation Camry in Australia beyond 2017.

”This government has a viciousness to it, a callous disregard for the social consequences,” he said.

”Toyota made it very clear that they need a long-term consistent globally competitive policy suitable to attract future investment.”

Unions laid the blame for the announcement on Prime Minister Tony Abbott, saying the closure came as a result of the Coalition ‘‘refusing to support investment in Australia’’.

So much for being “open for business”. After only 5months in government, the Abbott government has managed to chase off all three car manufacturers right out of Australia – and with them will go skills and experience. I wonder what Bob Katter might have to say about all this. I seem to recall that he was of the view that some industries needed to be preserved no matter what. I just can’t imagine any part of the political spectrum liking this at all except for the Dries in the Liberal Party.

Which all goes to show this is all very ideologically prosecuted, much like everything else they seem to have on their agenda. When you think of the enormity of losing the entire automotive industry except for the dealerships, this is is a devastating attack on the unions.

Looking ahead, I guess this sets Australia up for signing up to the TPP and pulling down tariffs on automobiles coming into Australia. When you think about it, not only will the reduced tariffs apply to American and Japanese cars, they will apply to luxury brands from Europe. You’d have to say this was a win-win for the rich people who hate unions and love a cheaper BMW or Mercedes Benz. What’s not to like? 30,000 jobs in Victoria and South Australia gone? Who cares about those dole-bludgers-to-be? The dripping contempt is palpable.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 08/Feb/2014

Burning Hands, Burning Pants

It’s been a truly crappy few weeks in politics. First there was reportage by the ABC that Royal Australian Navy personnel had burnt the hands of asylum seekers in their recent turn-back-the-boats escapade. I won’t go into how fraught and awful this exercise is in of itself, because we know the politics around it are as barren as the minds that conceived it. What I do want to recount is the extraordinary sequence of events which followed.

First there was the Prime Minister slamming the ABC and accusing them of gross inaccuracy in their reporting, and that somehow the national carrier is institutionally incapable of speaking on behalf of Australia’s interests. Now, this was kind of weird because Australia’s interests in this instance seemed suspiciously to be interchangeable with Tony Abbott’s interests as a politician. If the stretchmarks were showing, it got ugly when there was an announcement made that there would be an efficiency review of the ABC.

The Navy and the Australian government denied the allegations and have continued to deny them since they were first aired.  It has looked like for all money that the ABC journalists on the ground were too keen to couch this as a problem for the Abbott government. In essence, they’re saying the ABC journos involved are liars.

Of course, taken aback by the ferocity of the criticism, the ABC made noises about being more true to the stories they are reporting, but independent of the furor, Fairfax sent a journalist to find these people who allegedly had their hands burnt. It turns out that the ABC didn’t just make this stuff up, it wasn’t an exaggeration of an idle claim.

This week, in the Tanjung Pinang immigration detention centre on a little island off the coast of Sumatra, that changed. Fairfax Media conducted the first extended face-to-face interview with Fasher, who says he was an eyewitness to the incident, and he told his story in unprecedented detail.

His account has been consistent from the first. He says he has no doubt that what he saw at close quarters on about January 3 was three people’s hands being deliberately held to a hot exhaust pipe by Australian naval personnel to punish them for protesting, and to deter others from doing one simple thing: going to the toilet too often.

And here’s the pic.

Burnt Hand of Sudanese man

Late yesterday, the breaking news was that Defence Minister David Johnston called for an inquiry in to the ABC just about at the same time Fairfax was breaking the news corroborating the ABC’s original story. This is pretty stupid stuff so I am compelled to quote here:

”I don’t want to do anything that might complicate that task of stopping the boats and frankly I don’t want to do anything that would cast aspersions on the professionalism of our naval and customs personnel. I have nothing but respect for them … and I have seen nothing that credibly casts any doubts on that professionalism.”

Senator Johnston also said he was happy with assurances given to him by Defence brass.

”I have discussed this matter with senior command,” he said. ”They have assured me that there is no substance to these allegations.”

But he refused to detail measures taken to investigate the claims, instead calling for scrutiny of the ABC.

”If ever there was an event that justified a detailed inquiry, some reform and investigation of the ABC, this is it,” he said.

He said the navy had been “maliciously maligned” by the ABC’s coverage of the matter, dismissing the public broadcaster’s apology as “weasel words” by its senior management.

”I have not said much because, I have to confess, I was extremely angry. I required some time to cool off,” he said.

When asked why his department had not answered a detailed list of questions by Fairfax Media based on a detailed eyewitness account, Senator Johnston said it was a matter for Mr Morrison because it was a ”civil public policy issue”.

”When you give me something to act upon that is more than just hearsay, innuendo and rumour, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.

How stupid is that? No, really, how deeply idiotic is that?

Talk about shooting the messenger. What can we glean from this? It seems David Johnston does not read the news. If he did, he would have to admit that there is much more than “hearsay, innuendo, and rumour”. There’s the photo above for a start. Given that there is the photo now in public with the corroborating report, I don’t see how David Johnston can maintain that he is happy with the assurance given to him by the Defence brass. If he is happy, it can only because he’s one of those docile morons that happily live with the cognitive dissonance of having wildly conflicting information in his head without the need to resolve them.

Be that is it may, he says he’s really angry at the ABC. He still thinks – in spite of the countervailing evidence – the initial report deserves an inquiry into the ABC and not the Defence department. When asked about the blatant conflict of information going, his explanation for it was that it’s a “civil public policy matter”- but he’s angry with the ABC about their “weasel words”.

Sorry Senator Johnson, the only person practising weasel words in this exchange is your awful, awful, awful, stupid self.

And this brings me to the usual gripe. Who puts idiots like these in charge of the Defence department? That would be the same idiots who put Tony Abbott into the lodge: that would be us, the electorate. The government has been in for only 5 months and it seems to go from one policy disaster to the next, and when they get pulled up for it by the press, they scream bias in coverage. This is so pathetic but worse still is the way it reflects on us all. Who could have thought that democracy could yield such ghastly results? The next time I meet a swinging voter who voted for this Coalition, I think I will blame them for all of this.

But Wait There’s More!

I forgot to mention the bit where Fairfax asked 21 pertinent questions to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. This bit is good too.

Here’s the full text:

Scott Morrison’s response
‘‘The government does not give credibility to malicious and unfounded slurs being made against our navy personnel and rejects outright any allegations of unprofessional conduct by our people serving in Operation Sovereign Borders. If media outlets wish to give credibility by publishing such unsubstantiated claims, that is a matter for them.

I know and trust that our navy and Customs and Border Protection Service act in accordance with their training and lawful orders and would only use force where necessary and appropriate to deal with threatening and non-compliant behaviour, as appropriate.

There are clear rules and guidelines to govern their behaviour and use of force and they are well trained  to act in accordance with these rules.  I’ll back their professionalism and integrity every day over the self-serving claims of those unhappy that they were denied what the people smugglers promised them.’’

It is also not the government’s policy to give people smugglers a ‘how to guide’ on our operations by providing responses on the issues raised. To do so would put both the people who protect our borders and the operations that are successfully stopping the boats at risk.

The government is aware of reports on Tuesday, 7 January, 2014, of claims that four people may have fallen overboard from a suspected illegal entry vessel inside Australian waters.

These claims were rigorously assessed and acted on at the time they were made, and I am confident that they were not true.

It is important to note that the claimed incident occurred well before the suspected illegal entry vessel had been intercepted by Australian authorities.
For operational security reasons, the government will not go into further detail on this matter.’’

If you believe that you’ll believe anything this bunch says. What’s more worrying – apart from the tone of the reply as well as the brazen disregard for developing any kind of discourse on the subject let alone addressing fairly specific questions, is this notion that what the government does is legitimately covered in some secrecy and therefore above and beyond the citizenry and its desire to be informed. No matter how you look at it, it’s a cynical attempt to dress up something that is shonky as good and pathetic as profound. Again, we must ask ourselves how did we get here? … and we can only blame ourselves once again.

All the same, you do wonder about the education of these mendacious semantic lightweights posing as statesmen of our commonwealth. They’re shills for special interests.

They Want You To Lose Your Shirts

If you want even more evidence that they are just shills for special interests, try this one about the changes they want to make for financial planning. Pleiades sent in this one of Bernard Keane on Crikey observed behind the paywall:

First, there was the reversal of Labor’s decision to require better record-keeping and reporting for fringe benefits tax on novated leases. Note that this wasn’t a tax rise, as widely portrayed, but merely a requirement that people currently avoiding, or possibly in some circumstances evading, tax demonstrate they are doing so for the legitimate reasons they claimed. It was designed to end a straight-out tax rort perpetrated by the parasitic salary packaging industry, at the expense of every taxpayer without a novated lease. Hockey has reinstated the rort, at a cost to the rest of us of $1.4 billion over four years.

However, that’s as nothing compared to the government’s plans to reverse Labor’s Future of Financial Advice reforms, quietly revealed right before Christmas by Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos. Sinodinos proposes to dump the “opt-in” clause for financial advice fees that requires financial planners to actually get their clients’ permission to automatically skim off fees every year for advice clients have never sought and don’t want. Sinodinos also wants to get rid of requirements for advisers to reveal fees to existing clients and dramatically water down requirements designed to end the conflict of interest in which financial planners push clients into products planners stand to benefit from.

While much of the financial planning industry, large and small, is eager to move to a professional model for the financial advice that would turn away from the decades of self-interest and fee-gouging of clients, a rump of planners with close ties to the Liberals want to retain their ability to exploit the disengagement of most Australians about their superannuation in order to skim off a never-ending line of fees. The Liberals, in any event, strongly support the retail super sector of the industry, run by the big banks and AMP, which routinely underperforms the industry funds despised by the Liberals for trade union involvement.

Sinodinos’ changes may cost financial planning clients, i.e. ordinary consumers, $130 billion in lost retirement savings, which the age pension system of the future will have to help make up. It puts all other handouts by government in the shade.

At the same time, the government has also scrapped Labor’s plan to tax superannuation earnings over $100,000 a year for high-income retirees (i.e. Liberal voters) at 15% — while dumping assistance for low-income earners to increase their super contributions (i.e. Labor voters).

This government’s pretty cynical about who it helps and who it condemns. The whole process whereby they let GM close Holden’s factories in Australia and let Qantas dangle in the wind tell us that they are very much interested in smashing unions by making union employees in particular, unemployed. It sure would be one way to smash the unions if you could destroy the jobs that give them strength. So even without resorting to Work Choices which was front end bludgeon against the unions, Tony Abbott and his scabbie crew can wreak havoc on the union movement through simply letting their jobs fade.

This is some radial Thatcherite shit. No doubt there’s Rupert Murdoch cheering on this kind of thing although you wonder if all this ideological manoeuvering would be so aggressive if Murdoch wasn’t distorting the Liberals and their base into some kind of Tea Party clone.

It’s amazing that this current incarnation of the Coalition don’t want to govern for all Australians, but to remake the landscape so that they only have to govern for sectional interests. Case in point is this business of giving money to Cadbury while denying a similar amount of money to SPC Ardmona. Eric Abetz – Grand nephew of NAZI Otto Abetz – was on Insiders last week (another dismal mendacious self-congratulatory and nasty-minded effort) claiming there was a world of difference between the Cadbury and SPC situation and even threw in the Carbon Pricing as a reason these companies were  struggling (*UGH*). It might just be that Australians are lot more sadomasochistic than previously imagined and this is some grand BDSM Theatre of the absurd dressed up as politics.

Well, I for one wouldn’t mind whipping the dying snot out of this sorry lot.

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