*Pic: Donkey Hotey, Flickr
“Our efforts to deal with climate change have been betrayed by a lack of leadership, a political cowardice, the like of which I have never seen” — Malcolm Turnbull 2010
Country folk up and down our fly-blown land give thanks this week for a federal government whose devotion to the plight of stock on drought-stricken New South Wales and Queensland to Tasmania is everywhere on display. Or not as in the case of rural spots still with poor TV or NBN coverage.
Since Will Hodgman upped the supply of pump action shotties and automatic rifles so vital to a good day’s work in the Tassie paddock, an election-eve promise, Apple Isle farmers are doing so well they can now truck feed to Tamworth, where the PM comforts cockies battling a baffling absence of rain.
Clearly, in times of continuous national crisis, everyone has to get behind their national or their state government and to that end, Tassie’s Hodgman government has a plan to deal with workers who want to vent online about their stupid boss, low pay or government job. It’s just not on.
Hodgman and his crew hand-craft a beaut “new social media policy” to keep its servants civil. Government employees will be forbidden to whinge or carp online. Ideally there should be no criticism of politicians over the internet at all, just an applause button or an emoji for job well done!
As rigorous as it is vigilant, the Tasmanian government also plans to ban staffers associating online with “groups or individuals”. No likes or shares. To like or share a post is the same as creating it.
By Wednesday, Will walks it back. “The draft social media policy has a number of unintended consequences that are clearly out of step with community expectations,” he says. Tasmanians are overjoyed to hear the policy is to be reviewed to “ensure a common-sense approach prevails”.
Common-sense flies out the window ...
Further north, commonsense flies out the window as Malcolm Turnbull pulls on his RM Williams. Faced with crisis and catastrophe over energy and a Great Barrier Reef debacle, the PM hits the road on a mission to win hearts and minds in places where he’s not going to be asked about coral reefs.
“Stay strong. We’ve got your back,” our PM consoles teary central NSW farmers, in his role as tribal leader, as he selflessly helps media and agricultural lobby groups establish the dominant narrative that our farmers are merely hapless victims of the worst drought in history.
Not a word is spoken of climate change. And the farmers? They must get as much government support as possible in learning to rely not on welfare but on charity. Take it from the PM.
Moleskin Mal knows all about farming and hardship. He hunkers down. Scoops up a bit of dry, sandy topsoil, lets it trickle through his fingers, in his role as Agronomist-in-chief. Squints into the distance.
“Luce and I are in the sheep and cattle business in the Upper Hunter,” he declares. The Pitt Street farmer instantly wins over local cockies who are “doing it tough” with his self-reliance, his hard graft with fencing and fly-strike; fire, flood and drought. And his reckless generosity.
Taxpayers’ are still agog at Mal’s gift of their money to his pals at the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, (GBRF). The Foundation didn’t even have to ask. Malco always has his mates’ backs; anticipates their every need. It’s a matter of principle, whatever his principles may be at the time.
He gives to all sorts of worthy causes; looks after the top end of town …
No government handouts for him - just tireless, selfless, self-help, trusts and tax breaks. He gives to all sorts of worthy causes; looks after the top end of town; The Sydney Biennale, The Australian Chamber Orchestra, Rhodes Scholarships and The Scots College. Above all, he looks after the odd needy family – especially his own.
Mal donates all of his $587,852 parliamentary salary to his own charity The Turnbull Foundation, or so he says. Like his pal, Donald Trump, he’s never made his tax returns public. Unlike his giving. “I’ve always been a philanthropic person. We’ve always been very generous.”
The Turnbull Foundation, appears in the Australian Business Register as a “private ancillary fund”, (PAF) a scam invented by the Howard government, in 2001, with all the tax perks of a charity. Only 5% of the value of such funds need be donated annually to other non-profit organisations, who, themselves, hold deductible gift recipient (DGR) and tax concession charity (TCC) status.
What happens to the rest of the money? Historically, such funds average 8% in donations to such non-profit outfits, a trend which would leave Turnbull a handy 92% tax-free nest-egg. But there’s more. As directors, he and Luce are also entitled to draw tax-free directors’ fees.
Along with modelling altruism and advocating charity over government handout, Turnbull’s out to hose down alarmist speculation that climate change has something to do with droughts and that governments have something to do with climate change. Or that the Coalition has no climate policy.
Mal tweaks this part of the official Big Dry story. He channels Abbott’s tin-foil hatter Maurice Newman as he continues to court the Liberal Party dries who don’t get climate change.
“The reality we face is rainfall has always been variable in Australia. It appears to be getting more variable, certainly in this part of the world and back where Lucy and I are in the Hunter,” he says modelling precisely the lack of leadership and political gutlessness he deplored eight years ago.
The coal-lobby sponsored, climate change denying, Coalition lacks the will to do anything but ignore expert consensus ...
Worse, he and his government are adding to the problem. The coal-lobby sponsored, climate change denying, Coalition lacks the will to do anything but ignore expert consensus, be it in the parched paddocks of central NSW and QLD or on the Great Barrier Reef where governments have allowed record levels of bush-clearing for farming to create run-off which is helping to kill the reef.
Enter stage right The Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) whose foundation chairman’s panel comprises big polluters; CEOs of BHP, Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte Australia, Lendlease and Deutsche Bank as well as representatives from Rio Tinto, Shell, AGL and Peabody Energy.
Australian Conservation Foundation’s Matt Rose nails it. “The links to companies such as Peabody Energy, which has funded climate denial groups in the past, doesn’t sit comfortably with us.”
The GBRF is a captain’s call by a PM desperate to greenwash a problem he knows he can’t fix.
Will greenwashing help? Despite Josh Frydenberg’s unbelievable performance on ABC Insiders Sunday, where he claims “extensive due diligence” (like extra virgin snake oil?) led, incredibly, to the selection of a group which just happens to represent the nation’s major polluters, few are bluffed.
Even Barrie Cassidy asks why the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (that word again) got the gig.
“Maximum leverage,” Frydenberg blusters. Whatever it means, he hopes to silence the howls of outrage which erupt across the nation. Jargon’s good that way. And he could use a few levers.
Frydenberg … is totally unable to explain to Barrie Cassidy why $444 million was given in a lump sum …
Frydenberg, whose lack of accomplishment has not yet impeded his career, is totally unable to explain to Barrie Cassidy why $444 million was given in a lump sum to be used over six years to an obscure group of six mining and finance industry CEOs whose backgrounds create a palpable conflict of interest, without any tender, invitation, application or any other form of due process.
It doesn’t matter how much Frydenberg may claim that the foundation has delivered excellent results, its aims speak for themselves. There is nothing in the Foundation’s brief which mentions climate change. Immediate aims are to enhance water quality, cull outbreaks of invasive crown of thorns starfish and boost scientific research funds that might aid the reef’s “resilience”.
The reef is dying. It’s lost half its coral in the last two years. Global warming and the strongest El Nino effect ever recorded in 2016 caused the water temperature to rise, killing one third of the coral in a nine-month span between summer and autumn 2016. It would take decades for the coral to regenerate even if rising sea temperatures were brought under control.
A desperate government is wedged between the need to appease its coal-huggers who expect Adani to open and for Abbott Point to expand and an electorate which will not respond well to further bad news about the reef’s decline. It has gone for a spin solution, out of sheer political expediency.
Did Adani collude with Queensland’s state government to break the law? The Guardian reports that as Cyclone Debbie approached, 27 March, Adani leapt into damage control - by changing the rules - obtaining a temporary licence to pollute wetlands near Abbott Point. It’s a worrying sign. Doubtless there’ll be a move to recruit Adani to the GBRF in the light of its environmental concern.
“Shocking and almost mind-blowing,” Michael Myer, a former founder of The Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) terms the growing scandal surrounding Mal’s gift of $444 million to a group which is clearly still stunned at the PM’s unexpected, unbidden largesse; reefer madness.
“It was like winning lotto,” says MD Anna Marsden. Truly. When you didn’t buy a ticket?
He quit in part over concerns about its “corporate” direction and the growing involvement of figures from the fossil fuels industry
Myer, a member of the Myer family dynasty, was a financial supporter and board member of the GBRF for two years until 2002. He says he quit in part over concerns about its “corporate” direction and the growing involvement of figures from the fossil fuels industry. Now they run the outfit.
He tells the ABC Thursday that it is “unthinkable” for the Government to award the largest ever non-profit grant to an organisation with six staff members “without due diligence, without a proper tender process, without a request”. The GBRF albatross will rot around the Coalition’s neck.
Luckily, in the week’s good news, conflicted Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg fails to bully the states into accepting the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), Friday, thus avoiding locking in Tony Abbott’s inadequate emissions reduction target of 26% of 2005 levels by 2030.
Frydenberg will now have to battle Abbott’s faction to get Liberal Party Room agreement next Tuesday. Not that you would know from his spin. “We had the victory. The national energy guarantee goes through the gate to the next stage,” he lies.
Expect Josh to talk long; keep questions short - especially from “The Monash Group”, a mutant Monkey Pod, a cabal of anti-Turnbull plotters comprising Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews, Craig Kelly and the resourceful George Christensen whom Matt Canavan sent to Tokyo to badger baffled Japanese bankers with his pitch to put their money in the rebels’ plan to build hugely expensive, new, loss-making, toxic coal-fired power plants.
The COAG rout is touted as a win in principle, a spin repeated by a fawning mainstream media who keep us distracted meanwhile with shocking images of parched paddocks and starving stock. It’s the Lynton Crosby distraction strategy of throwing a dead cat (or dying sheep or cow) on the table.
It’s an artful dodge. A conga-line of cameramen whose shadows appear clearly in-shot; a post-modern chiaroscuro, create a Brechtian alienation effect as Super Mal blitzes our screens last Sunday night, live from Trangie, a quiet, rural service town on the Mitchell Highway between Narromine and Nyngan, 493 km NW of NSW capital, Sydney.
Super Mal is paying a flying visit to Trangie whose name is an indigenous word meaning “quick”.
Sadly, Trangie relies on the Murray Darling Basin for water …
But not so fast, Super Mal. Sadly, Trangie relies on the Murray Darling Basin for water and as Karen Middleton notes in The Saturday Paper, its suffering in Australia’s last severe drought in the early 2000s, a “devastating dry spell, the worst on record, prompted calls for a management plan of the basin and the water it holds”. The basin’s mismanagement cannot be so easily shrugged off.
Given the Coalition government’s record of Murray Darling mismanagement under former Minister for Water and irrigators’ pal, Barnaby Joyce, Turnbull quickly finds himself not waving but drowning. Naturally it doesn’t stop him talking up the ways his government is listening.
Flash Mal’s all care and no responsibility. Keen to escape the GBRF stench, his whirlwind “listening tour” of drought-stricken NSW and QLD allows him to plug an insultingly inadequate “drought relief package” of $12,000 and an easing of Centrelink rules so farmers qualify for a paltry $16,000 PA.
Some locals find his visit offensive. They’re fit to kill over the PM’s do-nothing, self-promoting political photo-opportunity tour, yet there’s more to his caring than exploitation.
Riding shotgun with his PM, Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, surely a world’s best case of nominative determinism is jeered on Q&A Monday when he says that it’s “a big call” to own responsibility for climate change and that he doesn’t “give a rats if it’s man-made or not”.
Littleproud then quickly ducks for cover: “There’s no silver bullet to this apart from rain. We can’t make it rain,” he says opting for the bleeding obvious in a dismissive non-sequitur.
No-one expects any mea culpa; acknowledgement that the Coalition’s lack of any real energy policy is boosting global warming nor that anthropogenic climate change is helping to cause the drought. 2017 was NSW’s hottest year ever. Autumn 2017 in southern Australia was the driest for 116 years.
The PM is not about to blind the locals with climate science …
This is all the more remarkable given there was no El Nino effect in 2017. Yet the PM is not about to blind the locals with climate science, as he would have eight years ago. Now he’s warm and fuzzy.
“We’re here with love and practical help …” Practical help? Or another vacuous platitude? The Coalition has spent years evading any form of practicality when it comes to energy or climate. And meanwhile, its social welfare practices have morphed into an automated Robo-call extortion racket.
Thank heaven for the photo-opportunities. Super Mal is all heart and hat as he clutches One Bucket’s Edwina Robertson in a stiff embrace, a medium close-up shot. The Toowoomba wedding photographer, turned drought awareness campaigner, tears up as she confronts the PM.
Ms Robertson, who is on week five of her own drought awareness campaign tour, tells the PM the federal government’s last Sunday morning assistance announcement is “underwhelming.”
Worse. She tells reporters, his package is “short-sighted”. “He needs to acknowledge the long term effects of this.” PM and campaigner concur it’s a big bastard; the biggest drought in history.
Yet she’s on song with the Coalition’s creed of small government and in tune with Turnbull’s own crusade for private philanthropy. Robertson calls on people to donate to charities around Australia.
“We all need to be consistent in our message of how bad the drought is,” she said.
“Our money is going to come from charitable help, we need Aussies to get together. [It] is not going to come from the government.”
Mal bravely takes aim at the rabid black dog of despair down on the drought-stricken farm ...
A modern Atticus Finch, Mal bravely takes aim at the rabid black dog of despair down on the drought-stricken farm as he reveals his African gang-busting, welfare-cheat-exposing, Emma Husar slut-shaming, Murray Darling Basin Authority bullying, COAG coercing, anti-immigrant racist dog-whistling, Bill-killing, witch-hunting government’s tender, nurturing side.
Mal pats her back in a touching, fatherly, gesture just perfect for TV replay. Nothing too patronising.
For Fiona Simson National Farmers’ Federation head, the show is no substitute for policy.
“We are certainly concerned that as a Commonwealth we don’t have a Federal drought policy in place. The Intergovernmental Agreement on Drought expired in July,” Simson snipes.
Perhaps the former, former Minister for Agriculture, (Malcolm Turnbull held the fort for 57 days) Barnaby Joyce was pre-occupied. Weatherboard and Iron, Joyce’s book launch comes with lurid details of his dissolute behaviour, inspired perhaps, distantly, by the confessions of St Augustine.
When it’s not over-sharing his own battle with booze, suicidal depression and philandering, Weatherboard and iron perpetuates the myth that Joyce and the Nationals somehow represent the interest of the rural worker, or the poor rather than the mining lobby or Big Agriculture. Nothing in Joyce’s voting record suggests he’s interested in preserving penalty rates or increasing Newstart.
Proposals which might benefit the poor he’s voted against. These include increasing housing affordability, the age pension, trade union powers in the workplace, funding for university education, public transport.
He’s opposed the right to protest and the use of natural resource wealth for the benefit of all.
Joyce was happily spruiking on the radio for Santos to develop its coal seam gas project at Narrabri ...
Last September, Joyce was happily spruiking on the radio for Santos to develop its coal seam gas project at Narrabri, maybe thirty - maybe fifty kilometres from his own land holdings, he says although he says he won’t make any financial windfall.
Nor will Weatherboard and Iron. Australian readers are not so easily duped. Joyce’s exploiting the rural poor for his own political advancement just as Turnbull is exploiting the drought crisis for photo opportunities and as a distraction to his reef, energy and Royal Commission disasters.
Joyce flogs his book on every channel. He tells Charlie Pickering he needs the money. Charlie is too polite to demur. Barnaby has a wealthy family; whose main property is Rutherglen, in Woolbrook, which sprawls across more than 1780ha north of Tamworth. True, there are other siblings, but The Joyce Family trust fund administered by his parents Beryl and James, has Barnaby as a beneficiary.
Monday, it rains. Trangie receives five millimetres according to the new, sleek, efficiency dividend beneficiaries, The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), currently on the fifth year of a wage-freeze.
Turnbull’s team compassion is all over the airwaves, Monday, with its tough love. “Not everyone is going to survive,” federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud tells ABC’s RN, Monday morning. “You can’t enjoy the fruits of the market economy without fear of failure.” Toughen up buttercup.
Meanwhile, full of fear of failure, Josh Frydenberg must do without the support of the states - now he’s going into the party room Tuesday with no “leverage”; even less hope of forging consensus.
The Turnbull government spins another failure as a success - with a switch into vaudeville as Frydenberg “singles out hydrogen as a point of discussion” - about as practical as Greg Hunt’s Direct Action and just as outrageously expensive.
Federal and Victorian state government are spending $500 million to build a pilot ...
Yet our federal and Victorian state government are spending $500 million to build a pilot plant that will operate for only one year and produce “up to” three tonnes of hydrogen over the whole year.
We are beyond “Carbon lock-in” – the self-perpetuating inertia created by large fossil fuel-based energy systems that inhibits public and private efforts to introduce alternative energy technologies.
What we’ve seen instead this week is a PM prepared to seek any distraction from his GBRF scandal and his party divided on the fundamentals of an energy policy which would meet our Paris commitments.
Instead his Energy Minister is peddling a NEG which is so complex and so rushed that no-one fully understands it but one thing is clear, it will lock in Abbott’s inadequate targets for ten years; a NEG which is worse than no NEG at all which is being presented as our only way to move forward and a framework which can be modified into something workable later.
It is neither of these but a shameful attempt to forge Coalition consensus and coerce the states.
Turnbull’s need to seek distraction and his natural evasiveness has led him on a lightning tour of drought-afflicted country towns where the focus is emotive with countless images of suffering animals and distressed farmers but which obscures the link between the big dry and climate change.
It will not be long before his GBRF scandal catches up with him and party disunity erupts over emission targets, and the NEG, like his tour of compassion is exposed as a transparent sham.
*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.
• Guardian: Great Barrier Reef Foundation not aware of ‘due diligence’ for $444m grant Foundation’s managing director appears to contradict Frydenberg’s assurance that ‘extensive due diligence’ took place …