#Reefgate: Foundation plans to keep “lottery win” fortune

August 11, 2018

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has found itself the subject of unwanted attention as further details of its $443 million funding deal with Malcolm Turnbull come to light. However, as political editor Dr Martin Hirst writes, the GBRF has no intention of returning the money.

First published at Independent Australia

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation are facing mounting pressure to nullify the agreement to hand the Foundation a $443 million lottery win.

However, in a statement to IA on Wednesday afternoon, the GBRF made it clear that it intends to continue with administration of the grant and that it had not had any conversation with the Prime Minister or Environment Minister about returning the money:

‘We are focused on delivering on the grant agreement and protecting and restoring the Reef. That’s our core mission — raising funds and working to deliver the science, the research and the projects that can best help the Reef.’

This week, Labor’s environment spokesperson, Tony Burke, launched an online petition demanding the money be returned to Treasury. The call for a refund of the grant has been backed by the Greens and several environmental groups. Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, said the deal “stinks” in a conversation on ABC radio.

“That money should be returned. There should be an open, transparent tender process and, if we had a national anti-corruption watchdog, this matter would be referred to it because it stinks.”

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So far, Malcolm Turnbull has resisted the growing pressure and continued this week to argue that the grant process was above board and, of course, used an interview on ABC’s 7:30 to claim that it was all Labor’s fault.

ABC 7:30 – MONDAY, 6 AUGUST 2018

LEIGH SALES (HOST): Let’s whip through other things that people will likely talk about when you resume next week. Can you explain why you gave a $500 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation without any tender process, grant application or competition?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, it was a very thorough process, a whole Cabinet process leading up to the budget.

SALES: Before or after you offered the money, did the Cabinet process happen?

TURNBULL: It all went through beforehand. We had a whole ERC process. We concluded we wanted to offer the Great Barrier Reef Foundation…

SALES: How did you settle on them? They said they never asked for money.

TURNBULL: Well, that is right. But they are an outstanding Reef charity. They have had substantial money from the Federal Government before, including from a Federal Labor Government.

SALES: But how do we know that for the use of this money, an enormous investment in the Reef, how do we know that they are the best to spend that $500 million?

TURNBULL: That’s the judgement we took as Government.

SALES: Why wouldn’t you put that to competitive tender?

TURNBULL: Because they were clearly the best team to do it. Can I say to you, Leigh, what the Labor Party are doing now is they are embarrassed they did not put serious funding into the Reef. Under the Labor Party’s watch, the Reef was put on the endangered watch list by UNESCO. Because of our good management, it has come off the endangered list. The management of the Reef is regarded as the best in the world. We put this substantial amount of funding into it. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation attracts substantial funding from the private sector, it has support from the Queensland State Government and this grant, by the way, not only went through a Cabinet process, it actually went, it’s in the budget, it was voted on in Parliament. It’s in an appropriations act.

SALES: In an appropriations act, not as stand-alone legislation.

TURNBULL: It’s been considered and approved by the Parliament.

There’s plenty to unpack here, but first and foremost is Turnbull’s lie about the Reef being on the UNESCO “endangered watch list”. There is no such list, but perhaps there’s a clue to Turnbull’s reasoning behind the $443 million grant that blindsided most observers and other groups with an interest in Reef politics.

According to a briefing report by the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Government was looking for ways to keep a commitment it made to UNESCO in 2016 to commit $716 million to the Reef Action Plan 2050 between 2015 and 2020. This promise was made to keep the Reef environment off the World Heritage “In Danger” list that UNESCO keeps.

Without the extraordinary gift of funds to the GBRF, the Turnbull Government was never going to meet its obligations to UNESCO. In 2015, only $20.7 million was committed to Reef health and, in 2016-17, only $44.7 million.

The ACF briefing paper makes the point that the GBRF will not be able to spend the funds in time – by 2020 – to meet the Government’s promise to UNESCO. In fact, the Government’s and the Foundation’s own statements indicate that the funding will carry through to 2024.

The ACF argues that, on the evidence, it looks like the handout to the GBRF was an attempt to make it appear that the bulk of the $716 million promised to UNESCO was being honoured.

The ACF briefing concludes that the 2020 commitment is now at risk.

‘The Government has outsourced most of its investment commitment to Reef 2050 Plan actions to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. In doing so, it has laden a single not-for-profit organisation with significant organisational scale, expertise and program delivery challenges. In doing so, the Federal Government has put at risk its 2020 investment commitment made to the World Heritage Committee.’

According to ACF Reef campaigner Matt Rose, Malcolm Turnbull also wanted a big political announcement that might help him in campaigning for another term.

Rose also told IA that by announcing the whole amount in the 2018 budget process it locked in the grant so that it could not be clawed back in future forward estimates. As Rose put it to IA, there are a lot of people in the COALition who would like to scuttle the deal.

The ACF is also sceptical that the GBRF can manage the obvious conflicts of interest that arise because many of its board members have strong links to the fossil fuel industry.

Meanwhile, another environmental group has set a cat among the pigeons, with a claim that the grant to the GBRF may breach the Government’s own funding guidelines. I came to a similar conclusion in my Sunday piece for IA, but the Environmental Justice Australia group has taken this a step further.

In its submission to the Senate Committee on Environment and Communication inquiry into the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program, the EJA suggested that the $443 million cannot be considered a grant, but should be treated as a procurement.

Here are the relevant paragraphs from the EJA argument:

The Government has now been forced to respond to this suggestion and the Department of Finance told the ABC that the document quoted by the EJA should be read in conjunction with other documents. However, this may just be another attempt at deflection.

Whatever the outcome of the next few days, there will be more pressure on the Government and the GBRF when the Senate committee examining the grant and the fallout meets again next week.

Unlike last time, it is expected that board members from the Foundation will front to answer questions.

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Turnbull hits a reef: Gift to GBRF may sink him

August 11, 2018

This week, we learned that $443 million of taxpayer funds were gifted to a charitable foundation heavily supported by the fossil fuel industry without proper due diligence. As political editor Dr Martin Hirst writes, it might not save the Great Barrier Reef, but it might just sink Malcolm (Captain Bligh) Turnbull.

First published at Independent Australia as Malcolm Bligh hits a reef

MALCOLM TURNBULL has been MIA for most of the past week, but he emerged on Friday to defend his “captain’s call” decision to grant a business lobby group over $440 million in funds without, it seems, any due diligence at all.

The Prime Minister claims the funding process was above board and transparent, but this has not satisfied anyone outside of the Liberal Party.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie told IA that the whole deal is “at best, a collapse in proper process” and has “a dodgy stench about it”.

The May Budget revealed the grant, $443 million plus change, to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, which until it was thrust into the media spotlight with this huge cash injection, had flown under the radar for most people.

To say that it took established environmental groups and most of us by surprise is an understatement. According to Andrew Wilkie, the GBRF is “an obscure organisation” that was gifted nearly half a billion dollars (more when the interest it will earn the Foundation is calculated) “without any tender process.”

It seems that even the GBRF’s own executive was a little taken aback by the Government’s generosity.

The Foundation’s chief executive, Anna Marsden, expressed her surprise and told a Fairfax journalist that it felt like winning the Lotto:

“We didn’t have much time before the announcement to be prepared for it. It’s like we’ve just won lotto — we’re getting calls from a lot of friends.”

Well, yes, except the Great Barrier Reef Foundation didn’t actually buy a ticket in that particular lottery. It turns out, we learned this past week, that the Foundation had not even asked for the money — it was handed over on a whim by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The details are well established now.

In early April, there was a private meeting in Sydney between Turnbull, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg and the chair of the GBRF. The Foundation did not ask for the money and did not have the capacity to manage such a large injection of funds.

Indeed, the Foundation had six staff on its books and, in 2017, a turnover of just $8 million. This hardly put it in the position to become the lead organisation charged with coordinating efforts to save the Barrier Reef, from coral bleaching, eroding water quality and the effects of climate change.

That’s okay, then, because it has now emerged that climate change is not even mentioned in the publicly available documentation outlining the terms and conditions of this extraordinary gift.

And there’s no mention at all of the damage being caused to the Reef by fossil fuel consumption, or anything at all about proposals for more coal-laden bulk carriers to traverse fragile areas of the reef transporting brown coal to China and Japan.

This is surprising because scientists and environmental groups have identified the shipment of coal through the Reef as perhaps the most important threat to its ecosystem.

Another little snippet that adds further intrigue to this already curious tale is that the organisation that made the May 2016 claim that transporting coal is detrimental to reef health was the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

This might leave you wondering why the Centre was not the recipient of the $443 million handout; or why other groups were overlooked.

Well, if there had been a competitive tendering process – the usual way such grant funds are distributed – maybe other groups with a good track record of work on reef recovery might have been given a share of the funds?

But, as we now know, there was no tendering process. The whole deal was concocted, cooked up, conceived and consummated with unseemly haste and in secret, away from public scrutiny.

Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg tried to clean up the spillage late in the week in a series of media appearances and, finally, Turnbull himself fronted the media and gave a grim press conference that repeated the assertion the deal was above the waterline, but he gave no relevant details.

Instead, what we got was the release of a boilerplate Grant Agreement that looks like someone’s unfinished homework. I’m going out on a limb here, but it looks to me like somebody in Turnbull’s office or the Department of Environment and Energy, did a quick “find and replace” editing job to put this together.

The released version is unsigned and sections of it are not completed, it is a standard template that someone forgot to clean up before putting it on the DEE website.

It is an extraordinary document and, given we know the GBRF did not apply for the funding, it is very light on details.

Applying for grants – particularly government funded grants – is a time-consuming, arduous and mentally-challenging task. Normally, all the details – such as a business plan, how you intend to spend the money, checks and balances, partners and governance arrangements – are worked out and presented in the application document.

Then, applications are assessed on merit and weighted according to how well the project is thought through and how robust the business case is in relation to partners, governance and so on.

However, none of this work has yet been done. The project agreement basically pays the Foundation to do all of this preparatory work with the grant money.

Not only that, but the initial funding, which runs for six years – the intended life of the project – has been handed out in one lump sum and it’s now sitting in Foundation bank accounts earning a tidy sum in interest. It has been calculated at around $40,000 per day.

Read the rest of this entry »


#TrumpDerangementSyndrome : Do you have it?

July 28, 2018

Political editor, Dr Martin Hirst, confesses to a slight obsession with “The Donald”, but, he argues, it is not what you think.

I AM MILDLY OBSESSED with following the news of President Donald Trump. There’s part of my brain that still has trouble processing the fact that this low-rent reality TV “star” actually won the 2016 U.S. election. I really don’t think he could have done it without Russian help.

My fascination with Trump is borne out of my long and deep interest in politics and world affairs. It is impossible for me – a child of the Cold War – to ignore the historic role of the U.S. President as so-called “leader of the free world”. I know that this is an ideological trope that hides a century of imperialist aggression and mass slaughter (by the “fine people” on all sides), but it holds a certain truth because it is a boast backed up by the world’s largest arsenal of nuclear (and conventional) weapons of mass destruction.

Trump’s instability and his fat, little fingers hovering over the launch button should be grabbing the attention of most half-woke people. We are literally one Twitter meltdown away from Armageddon. However, I do not believe my dedication of serious thinking time to the Tangerine Fascist in the White House is a case of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (TDS).
What is TDS?

In mid-July the pro-Trump Fox News personality (I use that term loosely) “Judge” Jeanine Pirro was on Whoopi Goldberg’s TV chat show (Why, Whoopi, why?) and they got into a slanging match. In a widely-reported exchange, Pirro accused Goldberg of having “Trump Derangement Syndrome”.

What Pirro meant by this is that Goldberg’s criticism of Trump – which verges on visceral hatred like it does for many of us – is unwarranted and that inability to cope with the Trump presidency is a sign of mental illness.

This is the definition that you get from a quick check of the Urban Dictionary:

Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) is a mental condition in which a person has been driven effectively insane due to their dislike of Donald Trump, to the point at which they will abandon all logic and reason.

Symptoms for this condition can be very diverse, ranging from hysterical outbursts to a complete mental break. TDS can also often result in the sufferer exhibiting violent, homicidal, or even genocidal desires.

Sufferers have also been known to wish direct self-harm on themselves (such as increased taxes, a desire for an economic recession and even nuclear war), provided that an action might in some way hurt Donald Trump.

That the entry was written by a Trump fan, most likely dressed head-to-toe in MAGA merch (which is mostly made in China and Bangladesh, BTW), is not surprising — the term did start with the pro-Trump lobby back before the election.

USA! USA! *Made in China (Image via Wikipedia)

A New York-based real estate attorney named Stephen Meister is credited with coining “Trump Derangement Syndrome” in a Washington Examiner op-ed on 1 October 2015.

The column, simply headlined Trump Derangement Syndrome begins:

Bitter hatred is a dangerous emotion: It destroys one’s objectivity and judgment. When journalists become true haters, the results can be cringe-worthy. Presently, there seems to be a hate-induced epidemic sweeping the nation’s journalists — call it “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Infected pundits have been spewing idiotic, unsupported and intemperate opinions, even vulgar outbursts, about Donald Trump. Ironically, this is only helping The Donald.

You get the point. Meister is sympathetic to “The Donald” and, who knows, maybe they’ve done business or hung out.

Oh, what’s this?

As you know, I like to be thorough, so I checked out Mr Meister.

Here’s a sample of his earlier work for the Washington Examiner:

As an attorney who’s worked for Trump (I have not represented him for the past year and a half) — and many years ago, against him — his success on the campaign trail comes as no surprise: Trump’s a man of exceptional tenacity and guts, insightful intuitions, clear purposes, an intelligence that’s expressed forcefully and directly, always without regard to political correctness and a world class negotiator. Trump intuitively understands what troubles Americans and boldly states their concerns; I guarantee he’ll never be an appeaser of foreign governments; there’ll be no Neville Chamberlains or hapless apprentices for domestic or foreign policy, in his administration — if you’re not doing your job, you’ll be fired.

This piece, from a week before the TDS article, is headlined A personal assessment of Donald Trump, and this how it ends:

‘In a match up against Sanders, Clinton or Biden, the GOP is better off with Trump, whose business experience, successes and star power can overpower an ageing socialist, a corrupt dynastic politician, or the vice president of the most pathetic administration in modern history.’

As you might have guessed, the Washington Examiner is a very conservative and pro-Trump publication.

So, TDS has become a signal catch-cry for the Trumpsters and it allows them to vent and troll those of us who don’t swallow the party line parroted by Trump supporters.

It has also made its way to Australia thanks to the imitative behaviour of certain Newscorpse agitprop recyclers who ran out of original insults several election-cycles ago.

Luckily our good friend @thekennydevine was on hand to document it for those of us who are blocked by the best and brightest of the Murdoch hacks.

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TDS has become a meme-worthy go-to deflection tactic for Trump supporters who hate the fact that some of us are willing to call out the President’s erratic behaviour. Behaviour that I have previously argued verges on potential mental illness or brain injury. It’s fair to say I believe that the Donald himself is possibly suffering from undiagnosed Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Reclaiming TDS for the sensible side of this debate

You know it’s time to address an issue when Trump tweets about it.

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This tweet kick-started a wave of explainers in the news media that attempted to define and contextualise Trump’s tweet. The Daily Dot piece sets out the history of the “syndrome” in a calm fashion and points out that it has become weaponised by both Trump supporters and critics.

CNN got in on the act and re-upped an interesting piece from 2016 by Trump booster Justin Raimondo, which is still relevant, but not for the reasons Raimondo espoused two years ago.

In the first stage of the disease, victims lose all sense of proportion. The president-elect’s every tweet provokes a firestorm, as if 140 characters were all it took to change the world.

The mid-level stages of TDS have a profound effect on the victim’s vocabulary: Sufferers speak a distinctive language consisting solely of hyperbole.

As TDS progresses, the afflicted lose the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

FYI, Justin Raimondo runs a website called AntiWar.com, but it is a gaslighting operation that simply regurgitates pro-Trump and pro-Russia nonsense, such as this recent piece which attempts to equate Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager, Carter Page, with Julian Assange and to argue that they are ‘martyrs to the cause’. The “cause” is taking the plunge into the rabbit hole of “deep state” conspiracy theories.

Just take a second to reflect on Raimondo’s definition of TDS symptoms.

If you look at these three “symptoms” with a cool head, you can’t help but reach the (quite valid) conclusion that they more accurately describe Trump supporters who cling to the President like demented barnacles.

In other words, it is TDS that makes hardcore Trump supporters what they are.

Trump’s “deplorables” are willing to believe Trump’s obvious lies and to be willingly gaslighted and led by the nose and Trump himself is pouring fuel on this already raging dumpster fire.

Just this week, Trump’s ongoing campaign to confuse and corral his base moved to a new level. The President of the United States told his supporters not to believe anything they see or what they read in the news.

In other words, Trump told his supporters that they should only believe him and what he says. That he alone is capable of defining truth. This is a descent into Orwellian doublethink and echoes down through history as the favoured tactic of dictators who want to goad the faithful into mass hysteria and unquestioning loyalty to “the leader”.

This is also the point of Trump’s incessant tweeting about “witch hunts” and conspiracies to undermine his legitimacy.

It is unlikely that Trump himself believes that there is a conspiracy and he almost certainly knows (because he’s implicated) that the Mueller probe is a real threat to his continued occupancy of the White House. However, by casting doubt on the legitimacy of the investigation and constantly muddying the waters with chump bait, Trump hopes to deflect attention away from his own crimes and to mobilise the deplorables to defend him.

Beyond that, the desired effect is to make it so difficult for interested observers to get to the truth that they give up and stop looking. If the allegations of collusion and Russian interference can be reduced to a “he said, she said” back and forth, the truth and import gets lost and people switch off.

The other form of TDS is the one on display at Justin Raimondo’s AntiWar.com website. It is a delusion shared and fostered by some on the “libertarian”, “progressive” side that somehow, Hillary Clinton would have been (and still is) somehow worse than Trump.

I find this form of TDS intriguing because it is combined with a form of politics (Libertarianism) that objectively helps Trump, while subjectively claiming to be independent and challenging the left-right dichotomy.

The founders of Antiwar.com were active in the Libertarian Party during the 1970s; in 1983, we founded the Libertarian Republican Organizing Committee to work as a libertarian caucus within the GOP. Today, we are seeking to challenge the traditional politics of “Left” and “Right”.

The totalitarian liberals and social democrats of the West have unilaterally and arrogantly abolished national sovereignty and openly seek to overthrow all who would oppose their bid for global hegemony. They have made enemies of the patriots of all countries and it is time for those enemies to unite — or perish alone.

These two statements, in consecutive paragraphs on the AntiWar.com ‘About us’ page, are totally incompatible and simply highlight that conservative (anti-Left) nature of the site’s intent.

The ideology behind this politics – and made explicit at AntiWar.com – is disorienting to newcomers and ultimately politically sterile as a form of intervention.

In the end, it is just another form of Trump Derangement Syndrome and, like the hardcore of deplorables, those most infected are in denial about their condition. Perhaps TDS is related to Dunning-Kruger Effect too; certainly, it is one psychological diagnosis of Trump that appears to have some credibility.

In the past week, the mainstream media has made the reasonable link between Trump’s gaslighting operation and George Orwell’s 1984 in which the propaganda of Big Brother could be adjusted to ensure that the Inner Party was always in control of the narrative.

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Ensuring that his supporters – the real victims of Trump Derangement Syndrome – keep drinking the Kool-aid is a key strategic aim of the pro-Trump media and his top officials.

Everything else – inconvenient facts, actual truth, or contradictory narratives – is just shovelled into the memory hole to be burnt and erased from history.

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On Disruption: An insider’s view of the collapse of journalism

July 19, 2018

Can journalism and the news industry survive the perfect storm of digital disruption? Dr Martin Hirst reviews Katharine Murphy’s essay On Disruption.

Katharine Murphy’s brief essay On Disruption lays out for the reader a useful insider’s view of how the news industry and journalism are struggling to cope with the changes wrought by digital technologies and collapsing business models.

If you have any interest in understanding how the news establishment sees itself, and its prospects for surviving the crisis of profitability and trust, it is worth reading this pamphlet.

At only 120 pages, it would be unfair to expect Katharine Murphy to provide fully-articulated solutions to the almost panic-inducing problems confronting the mainstream media. Having said that, On Disruption is an insight into how establishment journalists see themselves, their mission and the state of their industry.

The key theme that Murphy explores is that the internet and social media instituted a period of disruption that has unsettled the news media and left it in a state of uncertainty that persists today.

This is true enough, but my criticism stems from the technological determinism that frames her view:

‘… the boss has decreed this is the future, not because he or she necessarily wants it to be, but because it is the future, and we are powerless to argue with it.’

This is a classic trope of technological determinism: the belief that technological change is the root cause of everything. In this case, it is the pessimistic, and ultimately passive, view that the future is somehow pre-ordained by the technology and that we are “powerless” to shape the future for ourselves.

Inevitably, Murphy argues, journalists must adapt to the new ways, rather than challenge them. The second telling point about the quote I’ve used here is the reference to “the boss”. This metaphorical figure is present in a long anecdotal metaphor that Murphy uses to explain how disruption has affected the news industry.

The analogy involves substituting the car industry for journalism. In the analogy, the reader is asked to imagine themselves as a worker in a car factory that is confronting technological change. Okay, it’s only a metaphor, so perhaps not be taken literally, but it is a key section of the first half of Murphy’s argument, so it is worth deconstructing.

Murphy begins by suggesting that the car analogy is ‘possibly psychic penance on my part’ for her previous work on ‘structural adjustment’, which emphasised ‘disruption as an economic homily’ while ignoring ‘the human dimension of the story’. As Murphy acknowledges, when there is personal interest involved, the human dimension suddenly becomes very real.

The take-away from this is that the structural adjustment process now being applied to journalism is a necessary corrective brought about by digital disruption. Read the rest of this entry »


​Canberra Press Gallery black bans Nauru forum coverage (except for News Corp)

July 18, 2018

The Canberra Press Gallery has announced its members will boycott the Pacific Islands Forum in solidarity with banned ABC journalists. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst says this is an historic decision by the Gallery.

The Republic of Nauru — pretty much all of it (Image by Tatters via Flickr)

THE CANBERRA PRESS GALLERY has announced its members will boycott the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in September in an act of solidarity with ABC journalists refused a visa by the Nauruan Government.

I’m very pleased about this. You could say it’s something for Gallery members to be proud of, but my only fear is that news organisations will find a work-around to make sure some reporters can break the black ban.

It’s not a surprise that the pro-Nauru, pro-gulag Newscorp papers have announced they will be sending a team.

In a strong statement, Press Gallery President, <a

The Nauru Government’s decision to block an ABC journalist from joining a media pool to cover the Pacific Islands’ Forum has been widely condemned by media rights organisations and by the journalists’ union, the MEAA. But it seems that, for some, it is difficult to condemn something that they secretly condone and would love to do themselves. It seems that, for some political leaders, free speech is great — but not for the ABC and not in Nauru Yes, I’m talking about the Prime Minister. All that Malcolm Turnbull could muster is that the decision is “regrettable”, but that it “must be respected”. In other words, I love freedom of the press, but not for the ABC and not in relation to Nauru.

If you watch the clip you can see that Turnbull is very uncomfortable with the words coming out of his mouth. His vocal cues show that he is insincere and suggest that he’s really delighted with the actions of the Nauru Government.

Clearly, you know, we…

We regret…

It’ll be regrettable if the ABC is not there. We’d love to have you there with us…

But we have to remember and respect Nauru’s sovereignty.

It is up to Nauru who cones into their country just as it is up to our Government – my Government – as to who comes into Australia.

And that’s the nub of it really. Turnbull is powerless to say or do anything against Nauru because his Government is totally dependent on the Pacific island nation as an offshore gulag in which to imprison women, children, and men who are refugees and who – according to international law and human rights convention – should be allowed to enter Australia.

Of course, we all know that Australia’s inhumane and potentially illegal incarceration of legitimate asylum-seekers is at the heart of the Nauru Government’s visceral hatred of the ABC.

Unlike the compliant Murdoch hacks who’ve been given access to Australia’s prison camps on Nauru, the ABC has covered the refugee issue and other human rights abuses by the Nauru Government accurately.

Which, of course, leads to the Nauruan accusations of “fake news” against the ABC.
Free press, but not you, or you, or you Read the rest of this entry »


Class war? Yes please!

July 18, 2018

According to senior Press Gallery journalists, Bill Shorten is guilty of class war for exposing Malcolm Turnbull’s unearned wealth. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst disagrees and argues public figures are legitimate targets when they duck for cover.

First published on Independent Australia.

HOW SEPARATE are the public and private actions of politicians and their high-profile staffers? Is it “class war” when the Left exposes the hypocrisy of the conservatives, but not when the Right wants to attack workers and welfare recipients?

We have cause to consider these questions this week, because several examples are presented to us from the White House and from our own domestic politics.

Let’s take the American cases first. They involve high profile staff in the Trump White House — staff who are controversial and who were in the spotlight this week for having aspects of their private lives exposed.

First, consider Stephen Miller, a speech writer and confidant of the President, who was profiled recently in The Atlantic as “Trump’s Right-Hand Troll”. The kindest thing one might say about Miller is that he’s a very well-dressed White Nationalist. He’s widely known as the architect of Trump’s infamous “Muslim ban” and the policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Miller was apparently trying to keep a low profile this week, but to no avail. First he was heckled in a Washington DC restaurant – a Mexican restaurant, would you believe – and then protestors started texting him after his mobile phone number was published on news website Splinter.

Following the publication of Miller’s phone number in a number of places a reporter for The Nation, David Klion posted it to Twitter. Twitter’s response was to suspend the journalist for a violation of the rule prohibiting the posting of private information.

Klion defended his actions in an interview with The Wrap; it’s worth considering his justification.

“This is war,” said Klion. “I think that what is happening right now at the border is child abuse. It is systematic child abuse. It is racist child abuse. It is being carried out for cynical political purposes.”

Klion also said that Miller’s status as a high public official made him fair game in a way which was different from the many right-wing doxxing campaigns against journalists.“Power differentials matter here and Stephen Miller is one of the most powerful people in the country. He is the architect of these inhumane policies. There is a power imbalance,” said Klion. “Anything that allows us to speak directly to the most powerful people behind this is something I would support. Doxxing a random person or a journalist is not something I would support.”

I must admit I have some sympathy for this position. Miller’s role in the White House must mean that his actions should be open to public scrutiny, but they are too often shrouded in secrecy. Pulling back that veil is sometimes necessary in order to make a point.

Read the rest of this entry »


The democracy deficit: It’s an economic problem too

June 29, 2018

WE LIVE IN a democracy, right?

It just seems like common sense, something so secure and simple it’s hardly worth thinking about, right?

But what if I told you that what we have is not a democracy?

Would you be outraged? Would you think I’m some sort of unhinged leftie? Or would you be prepared to at least consider my arguments?

I’ll assume the latter, because you’re still reading. Aren’t you?

My argument, in a nutshell, is that despite the formal features of our political system matching most aspects of the dictionary definition, any sense of real democratic practice is an illusion. This is because our apparently democratic institutions are functionally designed to give power to money, not people.

Let’s start with an example from last week.

We will, or we will not, sell the ABC

I don’t know about you, but I was not at all surprised when the Liberal Party’s Federal Council voted overwhelmingly to sell-off the embattled national broadcaster at its annual conference on the weekend of 16-17 June.

The Liberal Party apparatus has been captured by conservative forces inspired by the Institute of Public Affairs and loyal to factions led by Tony Abbott in NSW, Peter Dutton in Queensland and Eric Abetz in Tasmania.

We can only expect this rightward drift to continue into the future, too. Moderates were roundly defeated in votes for the incoming executive and the Young Liberals grouping engineered the vote. The overlap between wealthy student apparatchiks and the besuited, bespectacled cadre of the IPA is very evident in the ranks of the Young Libs.

No delegates spoke against the sell motion, not even the several ministers who were present.

So, we can assume from this that the Liberal Party rank-and-file are committed to privatising the ABC and probably SBS as well.

Okay, we might disagree with this policy position (here at IA we certainly do), but in a democracy, the people have spoken.

In this case, the people are members of the Liberal Party — they elect a leadership, set policy and pre-select party candidates to stand in elections.

Yep, all totally democratic — except for the fact that the parliamentary grouping of the Liberals have said they will ignore the party’s rank-and-file.

The parliamentary wing of the Liberal Party has apparently been wedged by the conservative wing of the party. In the days after the Federal Council, senior Liberal ministers, from the PM down, were publicly vocal in claiming the Government has no plans to privatise the ABC.

What?

That’s right, the Liberal Party representatives in Parliament – those whose positions on the comfy leather benches depends on the party rank-and-file – have no intention of carrying out party policy as set by the Liberals’ highest decision-making body.

Well, that’s one interpretation if the loud protestations of “never, never” from Turnbull cabinet are to be believed.

But are they to be believed?

I think we have earned the right to be cynical and wary when it comes to the COALition and honouring commitments.

It’s no secret that this Government hates the ABC and would love to see it sold off. The Minister for Communication, Senator Fifield, has demonstrated his loathing of the national broadcaster in a series of vexatious, but nevertheless damaging, complaints. The Government stripped out over $100 million in funding to the ABC in the 2018 Budget, forcing cuts in news and other divisions. The appointment of former Murdoch executive Michelle Guthrie as managing director is also widely seen as a Trojan horse for dismantling the ABC.

None of us should be surprised if the Dutton/Turnbull Government moves to chop up the ABC if it wins the next Federal election.

The take out from this is that either way, democratic processes – both inside and outside of party structures – are a sham, a veil of decency to give a shred of respect to an otherwise broken, decrepit and corrupt system.

And, just so you don’t think I’m being one-eyed about this, the ALP deserves some criticism in this area, too.

In May this year, the so-called “left” unions (a block of bureaucrats and careerists) procedurally shut down the Victorian conference of the ALP so that a motion on ending offshore detention of refugees could not be debated. But it’s actually worse than that: motions on several key issues were blocked by the suspension of business.

On Sunday the industrial left teamed up with the Labor right to close the Victorian state conference, shutting down urgency motions on live exports, gender inequality in superannuation, closure of offshore detention centres, the right to strike, the rate of Newstart and recognition of Palestine.

The same grouping also combined to vote against senators being preselected by an equal vote of rank-and-file members and affiliated union delegates to state conference.

How is this different in principle to the Liberal leadership ignoring the wishes of the rank-and-file over privatising the ABC?

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