#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 »


Malcolm Turnbull’s protection racket for incompetent Ministers and MPs

May 4, 2018

There was a time where prime ministers insisted that their cabinet colleagues, junior ministers and backbenchers met certain standards of behaviour but today, the Ministerial Codes of Conduct are not worth the paper they’re printed on. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst explains.

First published on Independent Australia.

Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons.

YOU COULD SAY this is a fable — a tale of two Malcolms.

Malcolm Fraser – the former Liberal Prime Minister who is reviled on the left for his role in former PM Gough Whitlam’s dismissal – was a saint and a man of great virtue compared to his namesake, Malcolm Turnbull.

Malcolm Fraser sacked two cabinet ministers in 1982 for bringing a colour television into Australia, but declaring it was black and white to avoid customs duty, Michael MacKellar was sacked for this relatively minor offence and Customs Minister John Moore was dismissed from his portfolio for his poor handling of the whole issue. A few years earlier, then MP Andrew Peacock offered to resign because his wife appeared in a television commercial for Sheridan Sheets.

As an aside, 20 years ago, even the disgraced war criminal former PM John Howard had the decency to sack two ministers over a travel rort over the paltry sum of $9,000.

In contrast, today Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is running a protection racket, not a government. His ministers break convention and hide their actions from public scrutiny, and sections of the backbench seem completely feral, but Fizza does nothing to rein them in.

Lucky for us, the glitter is washing off and the machinations of the protection racket are being forced to endure the cleansing sunlight of public scrutiny.

 

Let’s take a look at some of the recent outrages, in no particular order.

Michaelia Cash

Minister for Jobs and Innovation Michaelia Cash has been hiding from the media for several months, constantly dodging questions about her portfolio and the circumstances under which her office tipped off journalists about an AFP raid on the offices of the Australian Workers’ Union. Four of Cash’s staff have left her office under an unresolved cloud of suspicion in the wake of the scandal. Her office is also using the excuse of the AFP investigation of the leaks to stall Freedom of Information requests by journalists trying to uncover the truth.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Chinese base in Vanuatu, or another Fairfax beat up?

April 13, 2018

Should Australia be concerned about a rumoured Chinese military expansion in the Pacific? Or is it yet another distraction from the Government’s domestic problems? Political editor Dr Martin Hirst investigates.

First published on Independent Australia Wednesday 11 April

ON MONDAY this week. the Fairfax papers and websites ran an “exclusive” story with the alarming headline ‘China eyes Vanuatu military base in plan with global ramifications‘ — but is the story accurate? The lead par was an insistent and alarming allegation that China was planning a naval base in Vanuatu,

‘… that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep.’

However, in typical fashion – that we’ve come to expect from mainstream journalists covering the “security” round – the next two pars walked back the suggestion and sourced it to “senior security officials” in Canberra. In other words, the reporter, David Wroe, had been given a “drop” a background briefing by an Australian spook, because the Government wanted to float the idea and get a reaction.

‘While no formal proposals have been put to Vanuatu’s government, senior security officials believe Beijing’s plans could culminate in a full military base.’

The tell that this was a planted story is in the lack of detail and the vague sourcing:

‘The prospect of a Chinese military outpost so close to Australia has been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington.’

The Vanuatu Government was quick to issue denials and even labelled the Fairfax reports as “fake news”.

Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said rumours of discussions with China over a military base were false.

We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarisation, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country,” Mr Regenvanu told the ABC.

However, David Wroe’s story still had the effect desired by the Australian “security officials” who briefed him. Within hours, PM Turnbull was able to front the media to express Australia’s concern at the – still unproven – rumours.

We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbours of ours,” Turnbull bloviated.

This is an interesting position and an even more puzzling definition of “foreign”. The United States operates more than 20 military bases across the Pacific – from Hawaii to Japan and many ports in between – so why isn’t this alarming to our Prime Minister?

And this is what is really ironic and cynical about Turnbull’s concern: there is – as yet – no Chinese military base in Vanuatu, yet the United States operates permanent military bases throughout the Pacific, including in Australia, Japan (21 bases), Guam and South Korea. Read the rest of this entry »


Malcolm Turnbull 30 days on #Newspoll death row

April 9, 2018

Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership is safe for now. However, as political editor Dr Martin Hirst reports, he is forever stained by his 30th Newspoll loss in a row.

Published on Independent Australia

MALCOLM TURNBULL increasingly looks like a very worried man.

It’s not surprising really; last weekend he was at an AFL game in Sydney and when his face was projected onto the big screen, the crowd let out a mighty roar.

Well, it was a sustained booing noise really and the Fizza looked very, very uncomfortable.

Today he is looking – and no doubt feeling – a lot more uncomfortable. It’s easy enough to shrug off a few, perhaps light-hearted boos at the footy; it’s a lot harder to ignore your 30th Newspoll loss in a row. Hard indeed, when your initial claim to the prime ministership was that your hapless predecessor had reached that magic number. But that is indeed the precarious position that Malcolm Turnbull finds himself in this week.

This week, Turnbull closed the gap a little on Shorten, but really only within the statistical margin of error. The ALP still holds a four-point lead – 52-48 – over the COALition. The shift in Turnbull’s favour is not enough to overcome the ALP’s substantial two-party preferred lead over the COALition.

He’s safe for now. But, not, perhaps, for much longer. According to reported comments, the main leadership contenders –Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop – have spent the last few days pledging their loyalty.

And we all know what that means … the leadership speculation will continue and so will the internal plotting against Turnbull.

Now, he’s also facing the difficulty of having a formal faction of backbenchers – the so-called Monash Group – who will be meeting regularly to agitate against the Government’s coal and energy policies. It’s not difficult to believe they’ll also be discussing Malcolm’s failures of leadership too.

Je ne regret, rein?

In late 2015 Malcolm Turnbull cited then Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s 30 Newspoll losses in a row as one of the reasons he launched his challenge. Now he is rueing the day. In the lead up to his 24th consecutive loss in the poll numbers, Turnbull was widely quoted as saying he regretted making the 30-loss issue so prominent.

“I do regret having said it,” Turnbull admitted today during a live internet radio interview with News Corp columnist Miranda Devine:

“Only because it allowed people to focus on that, rather than the substantive reasons [for my challenge]. The substantive reasons that I stated were related to economic leadership and governance.”

Instead, Turnbull has claimed that his challenge to Abbott was based on the latter’s poor communication practices and his failing economic policies. That was in December last year. Now he has added to his tally of failures and equalled Abbott’s disastrous record.

Read the rest of this entry »


#Fizza’s winning ways continue into 2018

February 11, 2018

Republished from Independent Australia

FEDERAL PARLIAMENT resumed this week, marking the official start of the political year in Australia. Ah yes, those hardworking MPs and senators. Most of us have been back at work for a month now, but these upstanding public figures need their beauty sleep, or at least to spend more time in bed.

At the end of 2017, Prime Minister Turnbull promised that 2018 would be the “year of rewards” and that all of us would prosper from the trickledown impacts of cutting company taxes.

So far, it’s just been a continuation of the chaos that dogged the Coalition last year — and the year before that and the year before that one too.

The only person who seems to have been rewarded so far in 2018 is George “Bookshelves” Brandis who has been promoted to the plum and coveted role of Australia’s official representative at the Court of St James.

Brandis left the Senate on Wednesday after delivering the traditional valedictory speech afforded to retiring members. But Brandis did not follow the script. He appeared to issue a veiled warning to his Coalition colleagues about the rise of creepy rightwing politics – and creepy rightwingers – in the Liberal Party.

“Increasingly, in recent years, powerful elements of right-wing politics have abandoned both liberalism’s concern for the rights of the individual and conservatism’s respect for institutions, in favour of a belligerent, intolerant populism which shows no respect for either the rights of individual citizens or the traditional institutions which protect them.”

Was this Brandis having a dig at his colleague, Unter Führer Peter Dutton? Many commentators seemed to think so. And perhaps it was more than a coincidence that the valedictory coincided with the parachuting of alleged racist and alleged war criminal, General Jim Molan into the Senate. Molan replaced former Nationals deputy, Fiona Nash who fell foul of section 44 last year.

According to credible research, backed up by his own sanitized memoir, Jim Molan was allegedly responsible for a series of potential war crimes, while serving in Iraq and a high-ranking Coalition general. While this is shocking enough, Molan’s entry to the Senate was marred by another scandal, this one much closer to home.

Molan shared the racist Britain First videos infamously circulated by Donald Trump last year. Of course, this potential disaster was turned into an opportunity by the agile and nimble Prime Minister.

Fizza took the opportunity to defend Molan loudly and in his most patrician shouty voice.

According to Turnbull’s logic, Molan can’t possibly be a racist because he once wore a uniform. In other words, being a soldier means you either a) are not a racist ipso facto; or b) your racism can be excused. Fizza had to ignore a whole lot of history of racism in the Australian Army and by Australian soldiers to come up with that fairy tale.

“The Leader of the Opposition wants to describe [Molan] as a racist. That is deplorable. It is disgusting. Jim Molan is a great Australian soldier. We are lucky to have him in the Senate. He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.”

Yes, lucky indeed. Molan will no doubt bolster the ranks of the nasty faction around Dutton, Tony Abbott and their troglodyte henchmen (and women, but mostly men). Molan is a good fit with Dutton and co. As a leading exponent of “Sovereign Borders” he has experience in not being a racist, but…

In his own mind and words, Jim Molan is a champion of multiculturalism — a set of skills he learned well in the battlefields of Iraq where he led an equal opportunity policy of slaughtering men, women and children, regardless of race or religion. Too bad most of them were unarmed civilians and probably Muslims.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, 8 February 2018:

Asked if he apologised for his actions, Senator Molan said: “No I don’t. No, because I didn’t know it was an appalling organisation a year ago. 

“Anyone who thinks I am anti-Islamic or racist, as the allegations were made yesterday in The Sydney Morning Herald, is stark-raving mad. I have worked effectively cross culturally for years,” the former military major general said, referring to his role on missions in Muslim nations such as Iraq.

Senator Molan also denied he had shared articles about banning Muslim migration to Australia. However, his Facebook page still shows he shared two news articles about the issue in September 2016.

Jungle Jim is just another example of Australia’s seemingly willing and blind slide into open Trumpism in our politics. Malcolm Turnbull is also willing to let this happen on his watch.

We also learned this week that the Turnbull Government has learned nothing from Australia’s disastrous military adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan on behalf of our American cousins. It’s a pity General Molan can’t share some of his no doubt deep expertise on the issue.

The Jobs and Growth government – which is presiding over one of the worst declines in real wages in a generation – has decided to propel Australia into the already crowded global weapons industry.

Yep, manufacturing armaments – you know, ordnance that kills people – is to be the new highway to economic nirvana and a bright new future for Australian industry. It’s a joke, but the punchline is you get blown to bits.

Yep, Malcolm is winning and winning this week. However, perhaps his greatest victory – the sweetest victor of all – was his sterling and spirited defence of embattled Deputy PM Barnaby #BeetRooter Joyce.

The week began well for Bananaby, the Daily Telegraph splashed his happy baby news on the front page. Oh how delierously delighted the nation was at that point. A true champion of family values had finally been blessed with a family.

Oh what? Really? He already had a family and the babymama was a former staff member, and she was married and….

Well, that quickly turned into a shit sandwich for everyone concerned.

And, of course, it is under these arduous and adverse conditions that Malcolm truly knows how to win. He gallantly dived in and took a great big bite of the sandwich, declaring through gritted teeth, and with an unpleasant look on his face, that Barnaby would make a good father and at least he hadn’t left his babymama to bring up the love child on her own.

He added that he really didn’t want to talk about it:

I’m very conscious of the distress this causes to others, in particular Natalie Joyce and her and Barnaby’s daughters, so he it is a private matter, a tough matter, and I don’t have any more to say about it. 

Lucy and I are very conscious of the hurt occasioned to Natalie and their daughters in and particular. So that’s why I don’t want to add to the discussion about it.

And, no wonder Fizza didn’t really want to talk about the BeetRooter’s baby. It seems that – despite self-serving media bleating about no real public interest in the matter – there may be more to come about the Deputy PM’s trysting with a former staff member.

A lot of people have been asking why the Daily Telegraph would publish this story now. And it’s a good question. I think I have at least part of the answer.

As regular readers of Independent Australia would know, the rumours about Bananaby’s extramarital nookie have been around for a while. We covered the story back in November last year, but back then the mainstream ignored it.

The real target of the NewsCorpse machete attack on Joyce was not the Deputy PM. He and his family are just collateral damage.

The real target is Turnbull himself.

Now it has been revealed that Turnbull’s office – and therefore the PM himself – helped move Mr Joyce’s girlfriend into a well-paying job in Matt Canavan’s office, he is firmly in the firing line.

Both Joyce and Turnbull will be under increasing pressure to either come clean about this – which could lead to one or both of them resigning – or they will have to double down and keep trying to put out a raging dumpster fire with methylated spirits.

I don’t put it past either of them to make a last-ditch effort to cling on to their jobs. After all, we now know for sure that it cost Fizza $1.75 million to buy his bed in the Lodge and the BeetRooter has paid the ultimate prize for his position — he’s earned the probably permanent hatred of a woman scorned, times by five.

My gut feeling is that NewsCorpse support for Peter Dutton is behind the stories coming out now. Somebody is certainly drip feeding the Daily Telegraph with juicy updates on the affair, the money trail and the inside goss on who knew what and when. Dutton is certainly the front-running challenger to replace Turnbull and the Libspill rumours just won’t go away.

We know from the Joyce story that if the rumours are swirling then there’s something lurking just below the surface.

It might be only the start of politics for 2018, but I’m willing to bet that Turnbull won’t be prime minister at the end of the year.

He won’t be beaten in an election, because the Coalition will want to cling on to the bitter end. Fizza will be replaced — sooner rather than later.

Dutton will become Prime Minister and the “Butcher of Fallujah” will get a cabinet post.

Here’s a bit of advice. If you get into trouble and Malcolm Turnbull offers to come to your defence, best you politely decline. He doesn’t have a good track record.

PS: I haven’t had the space to mention the Banking Royal Commission, which starts next week, but it doesn’t take a stable genius to know that, unless there is some dramatic whistleblowing, it will be a whitewash.

Also, and finally, the Closing the Gap report this week underlines just how good Turnbull is at winning. The gap in health, education, opportunity, wealth, life expectancy and incarceration rates between white Australia and Indigenous Australians is getting bigger. That is a win of Trumpian proportions.

You can follow political editor Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.


Will Turnbull sit in the dark for Earth Hour? I doubt it

March 22, 2017

IT SEEMS LIKE an insignificant, simple thing and detractors say it is nothing more than a tokenistic gesture, but turning off your lights for one hour next Saturday evening, is one small step you can take to show you care about climate change.

Earth Hour started in Sydney in 2007 and now it celebrates its tenth year with events planned in over 170 countries and more than 7,000 cities.

Earth Hour is only one small contribution to saving the planet and it might seem like a “one light-bulb at a time” kind of change, but as with many things, it’s the thought that counts.

All you have to do is switch off your lights for one hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm on Saturday 25th of March.

According to WWF Australia CEO, Dermot O’Gorman, Australians should feel proud of the role they’ve played in starting a decade-long, global conversation about climate change. “It’s a great Australian success story,” he says.

“We have seen a huge number of positive steps towards a brighter future in the decade since Earth Hour started, proof that one person can make a difference.” 

The tenth anniversary of Earth Hour is also a useful time to reflect on how far we’ve come.

In 2006, less than 1,000 homes across Australia were using solar panels. Now the number is over 1.5 million and growing. We have quadrupled our use of wind power over the last decade and renewables continue to chip-away at coal as the energy source for electricity generation.

Now, in the wake of blackouts in South Australia and predictions of more to come across the southeast of the country, the pressure is on to turn back to coal and gas. The energy lobby is relentless in its expensive pursuit of influence in Canberra.

However, coal and gas are not so popular with the general public, hence we’ve seen Malcolm Turnbull reach for a major distraction in the past week — a half-baked plan to increase the capacity of hydro-electric power generation in the Snowy Mountains at a cost upwards of $2 billion dollars.

Bill Shorten hasn’t ruled out supporting the scheme, which is currently under feasibility study, but he described the idea as another of the PM’s “thought bubbles” that has not been properly vetted through the policy process.

Both the Victorian and NSW governments were also blind-sided by Turnbull’s announcement, despite being the major shareholders in the current Snowy Mountains hydro generation project.

And Shorten is right, Fizza needed the Snowy announcement to distract media attention from the “chaotic” national electricity market which is so compromised it might now be cheaper for Australia to export gas to japan and buy it back, than to sell gas directly into the Australian market.

Meanwhile, back to Earth Hour and calls for PM Turnbull to switch the lights off in his harbourside mansion for one hour on Saturday night.

Last year, Turnbull refused requests from Earth Hour organisers to switch off the lights. In 2016, Earth Hour manager Sam Webb called out Turnbull and other leading Aussie politicians for “dragging their feet” on renewables and climate change.

At the time, Ms Webb told news.com.au that there “are some very cynical people in the world” on climate issues.

“There are also those who have very closely held interests that are threatened by the move away from fossil fuels onto clean, renewable energy. Sadly, a small number of powerful people make a lot of money from creating the pollution that is causing global warming and they are doing all they can to keep polluting, with no regard for the devastating impact this is having around the world.”

Sadly, we see it is no different this year.

The Government is prepared to subsidise a giant coalmine in Queensland and Malcolm Turnbull still hasn’t pledged to support Earth Hour in 2017.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is hoping to encourage / embarrass Turnbull into sitting in the dark on Saturday evening by crowd-funding an advertising campaign involving large trucks and billboards with the simple message: ‘Dear Mr Turnbull will you switch off for Earth Hour?’

I’ve put in a media request to the PM’s office seeking an answer to this question, I expect to not get a response. I’ll let you know.

Help Earth Hour crowdfund the billboard for Canberra (Image courtesy WWF/Earth Hour)

If you want to get involved in Earth Hour, there is a website devoted to local events, you can either attend one of these, or launch your own.

First published on Independent Australia