The week in politics is rocked by the astonishing news that the NSW Liberal Party is in a spot of bother.
Leaping nobly into the breach, diverting attention from the Liberals’ deepening crisis, Malcolm Turnbull offers to take us all back to 1942, with a bizarre, last-minute proposal that states levy their own income tax.
Naming and shaming states for wasting federal funds on fairy-floss such as health and education the PM was all over the one IPA proposal that Tony Abbott had overlooked.
Stirring up a wasp’s nest of state premiers who, Colin Barnett aside, are angrily demanding the PM return the $80 billion Abbott cut from hospital and school funding was a crafty high-risk gesture or, as Annabel Crabb, gushed over the crossbench wedge, “typically Turnbullian”.
By Saturday, Shorten has the PM on the back foot. The Labor leader calls Turnbull’s COAG stunt a “humiliating farce” provoking Turnbull to snarl back that state premiers could never ask federal government for any funds ever again.
Having rejected his best offer, (made without a scrap of documentation), the state premiers must stop snivelling about going broke and take whatever further cold cuts and other stale leftovers from the IPA menu are fed them in the May Budget.
Now it has his number on cut-throat competitive federalism, Labor has been quick to exploit both the mean spirit of the PM’s less than innovative proposal and the hasty manner in which it was made, an urgency, Mr Turnbull explains, which was brought on by the draft cabinet document being leaked the previous day.
...evidence of corruption surfaces…
Not only is his COAG leadership looking weak, the PM’s anti-corruption-in-construction election plank is looking flimsy as evidence of corruption surfaces in the NSW ICAC into Liberal funding. Most of his party’s funds in NSW seem to come from prohibited donors.
Funding is big in the NSW Liberal Party HQ. It has ended the careers of many state politicians including wine buff, former Premier Barry O’Farrell.
When it’s not fundraising, or running our most populous state, the NSW Libs provide a helicopter launch pad for those born-to-rule federal politicians, such as Bronwyn Bishop, whose every waking moment is dedicated to keeping McKellar safe from ISIS attack.
Bronnie’s former mentor, local hero and darling of the NSW dries, IPA apostle Tony Abbott surfs on stoically, juggling his expert advisory work in Ukraine with his many international speaking engagements and random acts of domestic sniping, endlessly driven by his need to “make a contribution”.
Tony’s contribution in Ukraine is to serve on President Poroshenko’s International Advisory Council. Poroshenko assures him that all his council members are “an author of economic or democratic miracle in your countries.” Tony’s noble ideals surely would have commended him, too, had Poroshenko been pressed further.
Renowned also for its pursuit of the noblest ideals of community service, public discourse and intellectual inquiry, the NSW Liberal Party, suddenly, is struggling to account for $690,000 of its own funds. Or access any of their $4.4 million war chest, until they can tell the NSW Electoral Commission who gave them the money.
The NSW Liberals seem to have misunderstood the disclosure rules in the exchange of money for influence popularly known as fund-raising. Consequently its funds have been frozen by an Electoral Commission headed by Justice Keith Mason, a former president of the NSW Court of Appeal who is unfazed by Arthur Sinodinos’ threats of legal action over its “flawed” report that has led to media outlets labelling him corrupt.
“A cherry on top of a compost heap”
“A cherry on top of a compost heap” in Paul Keating’s recent assessment of Malcolm Turnbull whose “greatest risk is that he turns into a sultana,” dashes to his cabinet secretary’s defence with a form of words not even Arthur could find comforting.
“My understanding is that Arthur Sinodinos has said he was not aware [of the banned donations] and he has done so at the ICAC hearings, which were some time ago.”
While $4.3 million may not be much personally to Turnbull or many other party members and small change to some of its bigger sponsors, it would be nice to have these funds on hand especially with a bit of an election coming up. Turnbull is peeved lest the process damage his rapidly weakening election prospects.
Not only does the banned donors’ scandal besmirch the pristine Liberal brand, along with the Mantach scandal, it casts a shadow over Arthur, “I don’t recall” Sinodinos who has made it clear, many times, that he knew nothing of his party’s arrangement to collect illegal donations. An aide will be employed to find his car in the carpark and to remember where he lives. He is unlikely, on the other hand, to take Simon McInnes’ lead.
Simon McInnes, NSW Liberal Party financial director admitted to the ICAC that his party hid the identity of property developer donors and companies who “sought privacy”, by means of “The Free Enterprise Foundation,” a trust set up to receive such donations, but says he “thought it was legal”. McInnes has since resigned.
The ICAC has also been told by senior party fund raiser, Nick Nicolaou, that Arthur Sinodinos was present when the Free Enterprise Foundation was proposed as a way of accepting funds from banned donors. Natasha Maclaren-Jones, party state president, has testified that she asked Mark Neeham, party secretary, for a list of donors on November 9, 2010.
Neeham responds that, “Arthur went through the list today with key members of the finance committee”. The initials “AS” appear beside 36 potential leads which he was to follow up. Maclaren-Jones herself tells ICAC, “I left the detail of fundraising and the contacting of donors to Arthur Sinodinos and Paul Nicolaou and others.”
Sadly for Arthur, his seven page letter to the Commission requesting his name be retracted is spurned. Justice Mason refuses to retract reference to Sinodinos, even adding that the “arrangements” Sinodinos was involved in “provided the factual and legal matrix upon which non-requisite disclosure was made by the party”.
...Eric Abetz, knew nothing…
Also unaware of financial irregularities, albeit in his own fiefdom, the Tasmanian Liberal Party, former Workplace Relations minister, real estate zoning expert, Eric Abetz, knew nothing when it was revealed that its treasurer Damian Mantach had been fiddling the books. Abetz was, however, on the ball during “utegate” in 2009.
The arch conservative Tasmanian senator, a paragon of modesty and commitment to public good who regularly reminds his PM publicly of the folly of trying to rule without himself or Tony Abbott or both back in cabinet, this week took time out from his gruelling crusade for reinstatement.
In a recent Fairfax interview, Abetz buckets his current Prime Minister with another timely reference to his poor judgement in the Godwin Grech affair. Ever the noble and loyal servant, Abetz claims to have taken the rap for Turnbull.
Equally public-spirited and fair-minded, Tony Abbott is busting a gut to get Mal re-elected, he says, announcing a brilliant scheme to bus himself around the marginals, gifting his services to Liberal victory. The failed PM is clearly in it for the long haul, despite the Australia Institute’s polling that shows most Australians want him to quit.
A gift that keeps on giving, Abbott has, so far, received a series of firm but polite refusals from the likes of Scott Morrison and Christopher Pyne who say they would prefer to do their own campaigning, especially on education funding which will be a key issue.
If you cut funding, you get better results, according to Education Minister Simon Birmingham pointing to recent data from Tasmanian schools. On this logic, the nation eagerly looks forward to the day when federal government will cut all funds to all schools entirely including private schools enabling all to lift their standards.
...his unswerving commitment to inequality…
“We are not wedded to the full Gonski” claims the PM tossing off another arresting phrase highlighting his unswerving commitment to inequality of educational opportunity. He reassures private schools that they will continue to get their money as part of his government’s unswerving commitment to the needs of the elite.
“I suspect no federal government would retreat from funding and continuing to support the non-government school sector because there would be a concern that they would not get a fair go from state governments,” the Sydney Grammar School old boy explains, in his ceaseless advocacy on behalf of the privileged and entitled.
Also clearer by the day is Turnbull’s wise decision not to discuss too much with Scott Morrison who is out contradicting his PM by claiming states’ taxation power would not cause any overall increase in the tax base, because states would not be allowed to increase their income tax surcharge to meet higher health and education costs.
Turnbull spouts the opposite view, concluding that, such discretion ultimately goes to the central logic of the change which is to make states responsible politically for funding their own schools.
“I’m a cautious sort of fellow,” says Morrison in response to Leigh Sales’ question to him over the yawning abyss between the two but stops short of asking him who leaked the cabinet tax proposals to COAG on Thursday.
Morrison’s caution is, of course, legendary as refugees on Manus and Nauru whose incarceration is officially part of a glacial-paced processing instituted when he was Immigration Minister.
Richard Flanagan points out…
Rash acts of humanity and compassion could easily backfire on all us, Peter Dutton cautions this week when he confirms that Australia will not be rushing to process Syrian refugees in case they turn out to be terrorists, a slur which Richard Flanagan points out on ABC radio brands them with the very thing they are escaping.
Speaking at an international refugee meeting in Geneva, whose organisers were hoping might evoke offers from nations such as Australia to open their doors to more refugees, Dutton dashes hopes by declaring that governments need to tighten their borders and quickly send home migrants not in need of protection.
Whilst bragging about its act of compassion as one of its achievements, the Abbott/ Turnbull government is dragging its feet in honouring its commitment to alleviate the suffering of those dispossessed by Assad’s regime. Only 29 refugees out of the much heralded intake of 12,000 have been re-settled in Australia.
All of this means that Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop is exceptionally well placed at the moment to make a case for nations to open their doors and their hearts to the biggest humanitarian crisis currently facing our world. We expect to hear any moment of a compassion breakthrough.
Ms Bishop is attending a meeting of fellow attention-seeking busybodies and a few others in Washington DC for the Nuclear Security Summit, where, in an attempt to divert us all from our real responsibility to humanity, world leaders are discussing how to protect uranium and plutonium from falling into the hands of terrorists.
Fifty countries and four international organisations attending the summit manage to get the phrase “dirty bomb” into the news by raising the prospect that evil terrorists might make one as if the bombs the US detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were clean.
...a stroke of genius.
Ms Bishop’s solution to the challenges of our international responsibility and our contribution to security and its time and place is a stroke of genius. We will be selling uranium to Ukraine.
Making her announcement on April Fool’s Day, the month of the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown, Bishop also has the chutzpah to be attending what is supposed to be a nuclear security summit.
President of the nation which gave the world Chernobyl, Petro Poroshenko can’t stop laughing. Ignoring the Espoo Convention, an international framework agreement around what is termed “transboundary environmental impact assessment”, he is just a hands-on kind of guy.
Call it cutting corners if you like, he’s just doing what it takes to keep his ancient reactors running and is now poster boy for our yellowcake cheer squad, the Minerals Council of Australia.
Of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors, four are already past their use by date with six more to expire in 2020. Australia has suspended uranium sales to Russia but now sees fit to deal with Ukraine where two thirds of the nation’s nuclear reactors will be dangerously obsolete within five years.
...ignoring of the UN Secretary-General’s call…
None of this is mentioned by Ms Bishop who is also keeping quiet about her government’s ignoring of the UN Secretary-General’s call for Australia to have a dedicated risk analysis of the impacts of the uranium sector.
Ignored also is our own Joint Standing Committee on Treaties which last year cautioned against the Turnbull government’s controversial deal to sell our uranium to India. Both deals reflect a government which is prepared to put the interests of Australian mining above all other considerations, including international stability and safety.
A model of stability and safety, Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann speaking on ABC Insiders Sunday innovatively blames the Gillard government for the economic mess his government finds itself after only 927 days in power.
Cormann dazzles audiences with his references to policy levers, trajectories, fiscal gaps and envelopes but no-one thinks to ask him how a government flash as a rat with a gold tooth when it comes to economics jargon, could have taken so long to formulate coherent policy or fail so spectacularly to reach agreement over its taxation plans.
Or how the needs of property developers can upstage the suffering of refugees or how mining companies must have the last word on everything.
• Latika Bourke, Fairfax: Panama Papers mass leak unveils the secret tax havens of the 1 per cent Every Monday to Friday I’ll be delivering a personally-curated newsletter. Call it the double espresso of news – the morning news kickstart for busy people who want to know what they need to know before they get going. This week: The Panama Papers, Bob Ellis, Jap subs etc ...
• ABC: CSIRO management discuss ‘clean cut’ of 120 staff including climate scientists, emails show CSIRO staff are furious after emails revealed the organisation’s management discussed how to make ‘clean cuts’ of up to 120 staff in the Oceans and Atmosphere Division. The emails from January, obtained by the ABC, show senior management discussing how to best cut the division. One suggested it should shed the jobs of 120 scientists working in government-funded climate change research. The email said it should consider a “clean cut”, eliminating all capability associated with climate science. …
• John Hayward in Comments: Malcolm’s integrity continues to shine like a beached mackerel in the moonlight of the current El Nino. First was his offer to let the state govts pick up the political tab for his govt’s savage cuts to services. Then we notice that his government shows all the outward signs of responding to the sort of inducements that Unaoil has been offering to certain kinds of governments. This, on top of the report that his own funds are heavily involved in the oil industry. Now the revelation that 21-32 trillion bucks of global money are basking in off-shore tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands, where a goodly portion of Malcolm’s own $157M reportedly resides. All these things make it harder for poor Mal to sell the bottom 99% of the income scale on the necessity of swallowing his austerity pill. Much more analgesic excitement is needed.
• The Crikey Tribute by Guy Rundle: vale Bob Ellis, Australia’s finest prose writer Reading Bob Ellis was an invitation to be courageous. There’s only one man who could really do justice to a Bob Ellis obituary, and he has just died. Ellis — screenwriter, diarist, critic, raconteur blah blah blah — was always a dab hand at them, and the last decade or so of his life appears to have been taken up with them: obituaries of Labor as was, Australia as was, the world as it might have been, the tone always finely judged — a melancholia about lost possibilities that did not preclude the pleasure of taking joy in life, in the next movie, the weather at Palm Beach, the doings of the children. In fact each depended on the other. What was the mere foreground to what had never been, could never be.
• news.com.au: Labor in front of Coalition in two-party Newspoll THE Turnbull government has lost its two-party lead to Labor for the first time since Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister, according to the latest Newspoll. The Australian is reporting that the Bill Shorten-led opposition is now ahead of the Coalition — 51 per cent to 49 per cent — in two-party terms. It is a six-month low for the Turnbull government amid speculation of a possible double-dissolution election. Labor’s primary vote has climbed two points to a six-month high of 36 per cent, at the expense of the Coalition who dropped two points to 41 per cent. The Greens are also down one point to 11 per cent. According to the poll Mr Turnbull remains the preferred prime minister but his lead over Mr Shorten dropped 10 points from 31 to 21 points.