Image for NATION: From the conundrum of the SA election to the riddle of the ASEAN Way

*Pic: of ghostly Jay Weatherall ... Flickr

First published March 19

Could Adelaide, or “Adders”, as Jeffrey Smart loved to call the Athens of the South, the staid city of churches and canon law, now be under Marshall law? How dare Labor lose when it was electric light years ahead of everyone in Tesla batteries; renewable energy?

Cue our ABC. The national broadcaster is a staunch SA regime change supporter when it’s not gunning for soft-on-crime Dan Andrews and his African gang crisis in lawless Victoria.

Chris Uhlmann led the charge; blaming renewable energy for SA’s blackouts caused by natural disaster but there has been some solid pro-Liberal teamwork from our state broadcaster, including Fran Kelly’s trifecta of power-crisis, the demise of the car industry and rising regional unemployment, all of which are Labor’s fault, Thursday, on RN Breakfast.

Labor is howled down for its “ideologically driven” embrace of “aggressive” targets for wind and solar energy; an “experiment” in a clean and sustainable source of electricity which can can never be as affordable or reliable as good old coal. Or coal industry Liberal Party donations. Or a Liberal plug from the IPA with its secret list of big mining, big Rupert donors.

Labor’s SA was a plucky little state, of 1.2 million, scapegoat in a cynical attack on behalf of big coal and gas. It stood up to Canberra’s bullying over the federal government’s National Energy Guarantee, (NEG), a thought-bubble masquerading as an energy policy. 

What energy policy? Jay Weatherill was never afraid to let everyone know the emperor wears no clothes. Renew Economy’s Giles Parkinson reports growing ranks of critics who argue that the NEG is all negative. It will do nothing to address Turnbull’s “energy trilemma” of emissions, prices, and reliability. In fact, it is more likely to make each of them worse.

It has the capacity to kill investment in storage and to leave businesses with stranded assets.

Utilities, analysts, and activists have already criticised the NEG for doing little on emissions, putting an effective freeze on renewable investment, and creating a scheme of such complexity it would likely push up prices and reinforce the power of incumbent utilities.

... a Liberal Party whose inscrutable win was founded upon an extensive redrawing of electoral boundaries ...

Jay Weatherill quickly resigns as SA Labor leader, Sunday, soon after he concedes victory to Steven Marshall, leader of a Liberal Party whose inscrutable win was founded upon an extensive redrawing of electoral boundaries which psephologist, William Bowe and other experts predicted would help its chances in four seats.

Context matters. As do key actors. The SA Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission was chaired by Supreme Court Judge Ann Vanstone, sister-in-law of former federal Liberal minister Amanda Vanstone, appointed in October 2015 under state laws requiring the chair to be the court’s most senior judge. Labor appealed against the redistribution and lost.

A unique, “electoral fairness”, clause in SA’s constitution requires the commission to attempt to set new boundaries so that a group of candidates which receives more than 50 per cent of the popular vote “will be elected in sufficient numbers to enable a government to be formed”.

On ABC Insiders, Sunday, a guest recalls an ABC 2016 report that The Liberal Party’s chances of winning the 2018 South Australian election were greatly improved by a boundary redistribution which “notionally handed the party up to four additional seats”.

398,000 voters were affected by the changes and our ABC predicted Labor would need to secure a 3.2 % swing to stay in Government at the 2018 election.

Was it time for a change? Our ABC repeats a slogan which evokes Whitlamesque reform to misreport the state’s reversion to rule by the coal and gas barons; the oligarchy of corporate captains of industry and finance which commands the ear of our federal government.

Can the barons trash our national conversation? Is our democracy in peril?  Certainly SA’s Liberals ride a wave of industry-sponsored nostalgia for the good old days of paternalistic government delivering mythic certainty for investors with lashings of energy security, all guaranteed free of sovereign risk, as SA 2.0 hops aboard the Coalition’s flight from reason.

“econobabble bullshit”

Business and mining interests are, nevertheless delighted to see little SA come to its senses; elect a government keen to take it back into the 1950s. A roar of approbation follows from the right, boosted by what Richard Denniss warns is “econobabble bullshit”.

Not so noisy, now, however, are those at Aunty such as Leah MacLennan who, but six weeks ago predicted a premiership for Nick Xenophon and a majority for his SA Best, a party which fails to win a single seat. Was it a bold call? Or relaying a shrewd Liberal spin unit scare-tactic to panic voters into sticking with the devil they fondly imagine they know? 

Yet MacLennan is not the only pundit undone. Many a News Corp scribe confidently forecast a swing to “the minor parties” or on ABC’s The Drum beat up a bold showing for the tirelessly self-promoting, reactionary, throwback, Cory Bernardi and his atavistic Conservatives.

One social good is achieved. Hardening into orthodoxy is speculation that disaffection with the major parties’ snake oil salesmen causes voters to flock to more overt shonks; even wackier, crackpot candidates. SA’s result offers no evidence to help such theorising.

But let’s not get too warm and fuzzy about South Australia’s former government. Wind and solar aside. Labor has less of a lead on Liberals in nature conservation.  The Liberals’ ten-year moratorium on unconventional gas extraction, includes fracking, in the rich farmland of the state’s south-east while Labor supports an expanded gas industry there.

And when it comes to letting multinational corporations drill for oil in the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight, the two parties are neck and neck in their rush to wreck the precious ecosystems of a unique environment. Liberals are gung-ho,while Labor merely insists that companies “follow regulations”, an approach which does nothing to avert an oil spill accident.

Oil spilled, experts caution, could wash up on the shores of NSW. BP and Chevron may have shelved their plans but international oil giants Statoil and Murphy, still hold exploration titles. Expect a lot of propaganda about jobs but don’t expect either to pay company tax.

... ten Southeast Asian supremos in search of a soul ...

South Australia’s election result is the week in politics’ riddle wrapped inside a mystery inside an enigma; rivalling the inky, darkness at the heart of ASEAN, ten Southeast Asian supremos in search of a soul attending Turnbull’s monster mash in Sydney this weekend.

The result is also a black hole which sucks energy out of ALP candidate, former ACTU President, Ged Kearney’s winning 54.2% of the primary vote and a 3.2% swing to Labor in Batman, Victoria, a by-election, Labor was widely tipped to lose to The Greens’ Alex Bhathal, who receives 45.3% - with 80% of the vote counted, late Sunday afternoon.

Sabotage, fumes browned off Greens’ leader, Richard di Natale. He blames “internal sabotage”, presumably referring to the leaking of bullying complaints against Bhathal.

Less paranoid, party strategists attribute the Greens’ loss to their candidate’s focus on national issues such as the proposed Adani coal mine project and refugee policy while conceding that they were up against Ged Kearney’s popularity. Nor were they helped, they mutter, by Labor’s Faustian preference deal with Conservative candidate, Kevin Bailey.

But look over there. Shifty Bill Shorten is picking pensioners’ pockets. Rolling old grannies for their savings. Howl down, the scoundrel. Howl him down. Labor’s aim to reform dividend imputation becomes the mother of all scare campaigns.

Raving Scott Morrison is a froth of confected outrage. As always, parliament’s worst ham actor, he lampoons his own case, forfeits any credibility by over-egging his hyperbole.

“It is unfair to steal someone’s tax refund, I wouldn’t do it on your tax refund as a normal income taxpayer and I’m not going to do it for pensioners and retirees who are simply making smart decisions in an environment like this where they can get a better return on buying shares,” Morrison rants, conveniently overlooking these investors don’t pay tax.

Only Morrison can turn a cash handout rort costing taxpayers $6bn into a tax return.

... it is intent on stealing pensioners’ nest eggs

Not only is Labor out to sabotage SA’s power grid, then, it is intent on stealing pensioners’ nest eggs.  Reform dividend imputation? Labor is mad, bad and dangerous to know.

In fact, Labor proposes a change which the Parliamentary Budget office calculates “will have a minor impact” on 10% of our 2.5 million age pensioners who receive a part pension and only 1% of those receiving a full pension. But facts don’t matter to Morrison. Labor’s reform, something which the Liberals themselves considered in 2015 is demonised in mainstream media (MSM) as “Shorten’s cash grab”.

The servants have been nicking the silverware again; you just can’t trust Labor, is the major MSM theme. Yet Treasury estimates the average cash refund for age pensioners holding shares to be $900 a year per person. Any cash grab came in 2015 when The Greens sided with the Coalition to deprive all pensioners of up to $12,000 PA by changing the assets test.

In Tasmania, however, the prospect of a Greens alliance with Labor is held to deter swing voters from voting Labor, explains The Guardian’s Ben Raue, arguing that Labor is destined to struggle to win elections until this dilemma is resolved. Yet for your average mug punter, in all other respects, Tassie, aka Woolworth’s Island Inc., is thriving. 

The post-Vandemonian pandemonium over Big Gambling’s buying of last week’s Tasmania’s election is quickly drowned out as souped-up chainsaws rev up to tear into Tarkine timber whilst the staccato rattle of automated fire destroys the natural tranquility as cockies, graziers and sporting shooters get bigger, quicker guns in their war on nature. 

But let’s be fair. Lethal, rapid-fire assault rifles are vital if farmers are to have a sporting chance against the lethal, feral fauna threatening their livelihood, or, if they just lust, lawfully, to enjoy the thrill of the kill, like any other normal, red-blooded, responsible sporting shooter who never had a rifle stolen. Or had to lend or even sell one or two to a mate.

Tassie’s battle with the bush and the irksome dictates of democracy are upstaged by Home Affairs Supremo, Scipio Africanus Dutton, who tears himself away from sacking former Queensland Drug Squad colleague, Roman Quaedvlieg, six months’ too late.

Turnbull’s open season on bosses who bonk

Roman, it seems, has been sold down the (Murray Darling) River, lock, stock and barrel, in Turnbull’s open season on bosses who bonk. He’s dismissed over allegations he got his girlfriend a job at Sydney airport. If only he’d been more discreet; asked Matt Canavan or Damian Drum.  It is all part of an adult soap opera entitled Barnaby’s Choice.

Unlike Sophie’s Choice (1982) which stars Meryl Streep, Barnaby’s Choice involves impaling yourself on the horns of a dilemma by pretending your paramour is not your partner even if you do promote her to a series of well-paid posts in your government, said to involve teaching staff about email even though she, herself doesn’t merit an email account.

In another shotgun marriage, Peter Dutton springs a firearms advisory council proposal, a move to allow our burgeoning gun lobby to bypass tedious democratic process and buy itself “a seat at the table” of government. All’s fair in love and war. What could possibly go wrong?

A proposal to allow white South African farmers, a persecuted minority, special Visas to enter Australia? Our Home Affairs supremo jumps the shark, given the dispossession of white farmers is part of a proposed amendment, as barrister Greg Barns explains in Crikey.

Worse Dutton makes a case for preferential treatment in a statement which has clear, racist overtones. Not only does he claim the farmers share our values, he tells 2GB listeners.

“We want people who want to come here, abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard, not lead a life on welfare. And I think these people deserve special attention and we’re certainly applying that special attention now.”

Dutton’s misunderstood that the brutal dispossession is, in reality, a recent move by the South African Parliament to recommend an amendment to that nation’s constitution to allow for expropriation of agricultural land without compensation.

... a law which is a long way from being enacted

Yet, as Barns points out, had Dutton bothered with any research, the resolution provides ways around the proposed change in a law which is a long way from being enacted.

Farmers and big agribusiness stakeholders can cut a deal with the Ramaphosa administration. Dutton’s act of clemency is in effect a calculated dog-whistle to right wing racists at home. It is the Home Affairs Minister’s White Australia Policy 2.0.

Late Sunday, Julie Bishop disputes Dutton’s claim that the white farmers merit special treatment and their alleged persecution. She pretends that the Home Affairs Minister was referring to Humanitarian Visas which she says anyone can apply for at any time.

Above the chatter of the automatically weaponised, dog-whistling ruling classes, all eyes turn to Sydney by the weekend. The city of bread and circus, is abuzz with fuzz this weekend as it plays host to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, (ASEAN), another fabulous gabfest about business opportunities just waiting on our doorstep and how more state power and secrecy will keep us all safe from ISIS in a “Special ASEAN-Australia summit”, a diversionary circus called by a Coalition which, so far, can’t win a trick.

Shunting aside a hapless ABC News 24 presenter, Friday afternoon, Turnbull mugs on camera with old pal, Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong in an impromptu infomercial where our PM prompts his guest to mouth incoherent platitudes about the great regional leadership Australia is showing already. It’s an inspired vignette of The ASEAN Way.

A big-noting, do-nothing club, ASEAN is an outfit where nine out of ten members are tyrants whose mutual contempt for human rights is protected by a mind your own business pact.

ASEAN’s strong men are harsh but fair

Like the fabulous Kray brothers who once terrorised London, ASEAN’s strong men are harsh but fair. Cambodian PM Hung Sen obligingly warns any would-be protesters that, “If they burn my effigy ... I will pursue them to their houses and beat them up”.

The ASEAN Way means members vow not to meddle in any other member’s internal affairs. These include Myanmar’s genocide, or the 12,000 plus, Human Rights Watch calculates to be the current tally of victims of Duterte’s “war on drugs”, in reality, a war on the poor.

Sadly, psychopath, Duterte is unable to be with us this weekend because he’s busy pulling The Philippines out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by withdrawing from The Rome Statute, the treaty which established the ICC. He’s furious with ICC criticism of his ways.

It’s inspiring leadership. Our own tin-pot government, a front for big mining, banking and other multinational business interests is already well along The ASEAN Way as Julie Bishop and her funky DFAT backing group refuse to condemn Myanmar’s genocide of Rohingya or utter a peep at China’s Xi becoming President for life.

Still it’s hard to claim the high moral ground. We have glaring human rights violations of our own, in our offshore detention regime and in our treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples while our Coalition government increases state surveillance and secrecy.

The ASEAN club fondly imagines itself to be the hub of Asia Pacific regionalism which could put a spoke in China’s wheel, in an airy grand design that provide a beaut opportunity for our government’s foreign policy wonks to compose carefully worded statements pious intent that lack all specificity; an archly non-committal commitment, the epitome of postmodern politics.

“Australia places high priority on our bilateral relationships in Southeast Asia and on our support for ASEAN. The Government is enhancing engagement with the region to support an increasingly prosperous, outwardly-focused, stable and resilient Southeast Asia.” 

Just think of APEC without the silly shirts

The statement, like ASEAN itself defies parsing. Just think of APEC without the silly shirts. But it’s a ripper of an opportunity for “Little” Malcolm Turnbull to pose as a regional statesman amongst a bunch of crony capitalists, nepotists, despots and thugs - (strong men is the favoured euphemism) - who preside over governments that deny basic liberties and fundamental freedoms to their citizens. Especially in Myanmar.

Human Rights Watch reports,

“Since late August 2017, more than 688,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma’s Rakhine State to escape the military’s large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing. The atrocities committed by Burmese security forces, including mass killings, sexual violence, and widespread arson, amount to crimes against humanity.”

Those who expect to hear a statement from the Australian government censuring Myanmar for its policy of genocide towards The Rohingya come away from the weekend sadly disappointed.

It is left to a group of local lawyers to file a private case against Aung San Suu Kyi, state counsellor and de facto leader of the Myanmar government. 

Ron Merkel QC, a Melbourne barrister and former federal court judge, international lawyers Marion Isobel and Raelene Sharp, and Sydney human rights lawyers Alison Battisson and Daniel Taylor file the private prosecution application in the Melbourne magistrates court late on Friday, reports The Guardian’s Ben Doherty

The lawyers’ application, which faces many barriers, including the approval of the attorney general, Christian Porter, accuses Aung San Suu Kyi of crimes against humanity for the deportation or forcible transfer of a population in relation to widespread and ongoing human rights abuses inside Myanmar.

May the applicants be blessed with miraculous success. Their action is inspiring as much as it shows up the Turnbull government’s reluctance to assert any real leadership at all.

The last word for the week could be a motto for the ASEAN Way and our own ruling elite’s self-interested, cynical - often amoral but high-handed behaviour comes from Trump’s new economic adviser Larry Kudlow who takes the spirit of neoliberalism to a whole new level:

The wealthy, he claims, “have no need to steal or engage in corruption” because “they know how to achieve goals and convince skeptics that good deals can be made to the benefit of both sides.”

Our nation abounds this week, with examples of how deals can be good because the wealthy are by definition virtuous.

*David Tyler (AKA Urban Wronski) was born in England, raised in New Zealand and an Australian resident since 1979. Urban Wronski grew up conflicted about his own national identity and continues to be deeply mistrustful of all nationalism, chauvinism, flags, politicians and everything else which divides and obscures our common humanity. He has always been enchanted by nature and by the extraordinary brilliance of ordinary men and women and the genius, the power and the poetry that is their vernacular. Wronski is now a fulltime freelance writer who lives with his partner and editor Shay and their chooks, near the Grampians in rural Victoria and he counts himself the luckiest man alive. A former teacher of all ages and stages, from Tertiary to Primary, for nearly forty years, he enjoyed contesting the corporatisation of schooling to follow his own natural instinct for undifferentiated affection, approval and compassion for the young.

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