Morrison-leader of the lost

The Morrison Government continues to display such levels of dysfunction as to be almost comical. That would be true if it was not so tragic for Australia. Let us count some of the ways this Government is bungling its way forward, during a global pandemic.

It has announced, through the stand-in Minister for Immigration, that it intends to redesign the test for Australian citizenship. From November 15, there will be new test questions on “Australian values”. This may be just another announcement of an intention, but it obviously exercised the mind of the responsible person.

Alan Tudge is the stand-in Minister, because the actual Minister, David Coleman, has been on personal leave since December 13, 2019. That is over nine months now, which is a long time to stand aside, without being replaced. It is said that he still represents the people of Banks. So he has been given leave of absence for a part of his job, but not all of it. This is a novel idea, which the Canberra Press Gallery has not seen fit to question.

Anyway, in the absence of the Minister, and considering the gravity of the situation, they brought in the guy on the bench. He has a somewhat sketchy record in management, but you go with what you have, when you’re short of staff.

What will the Australian Values be?

Tudge says this test will require potential citizens to understand Australian values like freedom of speech, mutual respect, equality of opportunity, the importance of democracy and the rule of law. They must answer these questions correctly, so clearly values are very important.

Please remember that the person applying the test for Australian values, is the very same individual responsible for the Robodebt fiasco, the introduction of the cashless welfare card, the perilous folly of criticising the Victorian Appeals Court, and last but not least, he has recently been accused of ‘criminal conduct’, in which he kept a detainee locked up, in defiance of a judicial order to release him.

So that would appear to be a clear-cut case of a misuse of power. He kept a detainee in detention, illegally, for five days. He apparently did not agree with the ruling by the court. The next part is priceless, however.

The senior Law Officer in the Parliament, Attorney General Christian Porter, when asked whether Mr Tudge should resign, defended his actions thus: “it’s not the first time that in the robust environment of the law surrounding visa approvals, that there’s been strong words said about what is in effect government undertaking its duties through the minister”.

So if we unpack that, it is a commonplace for the Government to break the law, as the act of depriving the man of his liberty unlawfully, was merely “government undertaking its duties through the minister”.

To continue the theme of ‘old Hallelujah Morrison’ and his enthusiastic band of libertarians, Mr Porter has presided over an era where secret trials are conducted, with no public oversight, of not only a whistle-blower who told the truth, but his lawyer, for defending him. Has Mr Porter been following the career of William Barr, Attorney-General of choice for Donald Trump?

To return to the matter of the Centrelink scandals, Mr Tudge has been accused of knowing that Robodebt was unlawful as far back as 2017, and yet he persisted in its use, and the harm it caused. This tale is almost biblical in its outcome. They ruined people’s lives, to recoup a piddling sum of cash, which they will have to repay in full, and then pay much more, in damages. Maximum harm to so-called clients, at a huge cost. That is what happens when you are consumed by hubris.

Alan Tudge is also the Minister who introduced the cashless welfare card. The cashless welfare card is one which places 80% of a person’s income into a card, which prohibits the purchase of alcohol, gambling, and the withdrawal of cash. It is an affront to any adult, and the Government continues to show its contempt for the unemployed. I blame that attitude on the ‘prosperity gospel’, which is a self-serving belief system for the deluded, who confuse luck and ruthless ambition with God’s rewards.

Minister Tudge designed the card alongside Andrew Forrest, a well known billionaire, ‘familiar’ with being dehumanised because of poverty. Mr Forrest wanted it made mandatory for unemployed people, carers, people with disabilities and single parents. That would be the hugely experienced social worker Andrew Forrest? Not even Tudge thought that would fly.

Fun fact: Mr Forrest has been accused of avoiding paying company tax, having revealed in 2011 that Fortescue had never paid company tax. He was also unelected, and yet he was on the panel to advise the Federal Government on welfare matters. One can only hope he was not paid for his time.

Anyway, back to the citizenship test. We can only hope that the people marking the papers do not take too hard a line. We need an injection of brains in this great country of ours, because it is clear that those who have risen to the top are not up to it. And isn’t it good that in the midst of a global pandemic, the Government and its fearless leader are onto the important issues.

Morrison, China and Aged Care

It has always been difficult to read Scott Morrison’s motives. Many attribute his hard line policies and actions, and his intolerance of dissent, or criticism, to his religion, but that seems too simplistic.

His religion, for example, did not seem to hobble him when he imposed his will on asylum seekers, and their children. It has never softened his stance on any social issue. In his own words, “the Bible is not a policy handbook, and I get very worried when people try to treat it like one.” The mistake observers make is to expect Christian values to colour his political ambitions.

In fact, in November 2014, the Australian Human Rights Commission delivered a report to the (Abbott) Government, which found that Morrison failed in his responsibility to act in the best interests of children in detention during his time as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

This was also the era of his nonsensical, and contemptuous, insistence that he would not “comment on operational matters” when asked about boat turn-backs. They were “on-water matters”, which is in itself preposterous, as he was actually sending armed patrol vessels out to duel with overloaded, leaky fishing boats. He used many Australian flags as a backdrop, but was that merely marketing, or was he using nationalistic fervour to legitimise his callous disregard for vulnerable human beings?

Morrison was responsible for Aged Care in 2015

In December 2014 he became Minister for Social Services. At the same time Aged Care was transferred into that portfolio.

The Shadow Minister, Jenny Macklin, indicated that “Scott Morrison was appointed to clean up Kevin Andrew’s (the previous Minister’s) mess, but left behind more chaos, confusion and cuts“.

It was during this period that the free market Aged Care Roadmap was introduced, and regulations were drastically cut under the guise of reducing red tape. Needless to say, during Morrison’s time in the role, there was rapid deterioration in an already flawed aged care system.

Morrison is an avowed neoliberal, and the signposts are there for us all to see. Free market, roadmap, cut regulations, reduce funding, user pays, the market will right any wrong, less state involvement. As his rise continued, there was no impediment. He was to be the Treasurer the following year, so the decisions were his to make. He was not a victim of a cost-cutting Leader; he was the cost-cutter. Was this another episode of callous disregard for vulnerable human beings?

Morrison on the international stage

Scott Morrison has never been an expert in foreign affairs. His first foray into the area was in October 2017. That was when he blundered into supporting Donald Trump, by controversially recognising West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with the intention of eventually moving Australia’s embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem.

Again, his motive is difficult to read. Was he merely slavishly follow his mentor, Donald Trump, who had flagged his intention to move the U.S. Embassy; or was his announcement made to sway voters in the upcoming Wentworth by-election? The Liberals lost.

Morrison was forced to back-track, but not before he had upset Palestine, Indonesia, most of the Muslim world, and most of South East Asia. But he had pleased Trump.

Morrison and China

By April 14, 2020 Donald Trump was in the midst of a war of words with China. He was claiming it had released the virus from a laboratory, and that it had been hiding facts about its origin, and any(?) treatments. He had accused it of either duping the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) or of working hand in glove with them. This was at odds with his earlier praise for their efforts to defeat the virus. He announced that he would withdraw funding from the W.H.O.

Morrison then weighed in on Trump’s side. His Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, presumably at Morrison’s behest, demanded an “independent, global investigation” of the virus and its origins, on April 19. Morrison and Trump spoke by phone on April 22, and Morrison then went global with the demand. The problem was that Australia went it alone, with no supporters.

Not surprisingly, China responded badly. It saw Australia as supporting Trump blindly. At a time when China had suffered over 3000 deaths from the virus, as opposed to our less than 100, it was an insensitive and stupid move. In one fell swoop, we had made the choice between the U.S. and China. This was the choice we had always refused to participate in. For good reason.

To make matters worse, Morrison and several of his Ministers have dug the hole deeper for us. Rattling the saber, exploiting Australians’ larrikin nationalism, he even signalled a change in our defence orientation, from insular defence to long range offensive capabilities. Against China?

One of the Coalition Government’s perceived strengths has been on security matters. It is playing to that advantage when it exploits community fears about the rise of China, and China as a threat. It also takes the public’s mind off the pandemic.

Morrison has blown national consensus away

Morrison and his Cabinet have gradually, but inexorably, withdrawn their support from Daniel Andrews. and Victoria. National consensus has been thrown overboard, in the interest of deflecting attention away from Morrison’s ultimate responsibility for Aged Care. And that is not a recent responsibility. It stretches back, to 2015, and even further, to 1997, when the sector was essentially sold off, by John Howard. Aged Care is a millstone around the Coalition’s neck, and most of us have someone who is affected.

Background Paper 8 – A History of Aged Care Reviews, prepared by The Office of the Royal Commission into Aged Care, 28 October 2019 posed this:

The overarching question that arises is why, after all these reviews, the aged care system still fails to support an appropriate quality life for the most frail and vulnerable members of our community.

So the question is whether Morrison is destroying our relationship with China, our largest trading partner, as a means to flatter and mollify Trump, or is it just another cynical deflection, so that he can duck accountability?

Either way, he is sabotaging our response to the pandemic, sabotaging our economic recovery, and risking us being drawn into a hot war. Because as the U.S. election draws nearer, nothing would suit Trump more than a ‘little war’ with China. And as we all know, if America goes to war, so do we.

Abbott – a man for all tastes

Back in September 2020, Tony Abbott was back in the news. This time he was in the U.K., where the Brits were about to make a monumental mistake. They wanted to appoint him as a ‘trade envoy’. This deal has now been done.

He will be advising them on matters of trade. This is something of a risk, as Mr Abbott is known for many things, but commercial deal making is not one of them. He is renowned as more of a head kicker, really.

It has been said that Boris Johnson just wants him ‘on board’, because he is a strong supporter of a ‘no-deal Brexit’. He is a supporter now, but as is often the case with Mr Abbott, he was a ‘remainer’ before he was a ‘leaver’.

The British are keen to get any sort of trade deal they can, as they are about to crash out of the EU, without a deal. In attempting to secure a trade deal for the British, Mr Abbott will be competing against us, (Australia) for the same types of deal. So is he loyal? And to whom? He was born in the U.K. but he gets his pension from us. Decisions, decisions.

One must question whether Australia should permit such behaviour, in a citizen, as it appears that he has been privy to uniquely privileged information. He would be in a position to use that information against Australia’s national interests. That does not sound in any way morally sustainable, let alone from a national security perspective. Should Mr Dutton be ‘on the job’ protecting us from potentially conflicted ex-Prime Ministers?

How did Abbott get to the U.K.?

He got a special exemption. Although many families have been unable to obtain an exemption to leave the country, mainly for compassionate or family reasons, Abbott was able to obtain one. Mr Abbott said his exemption from the ban on Australians travelling was obtained “in the normal way”.

He wanted to go for a job interview, it seems, and also to attend a golf tournament. He was also travelling on a diplomatic passport, which ex Prime Ministers can obtain, it seems. He also knew the Minister, which appears to be as unfair as it sounds.

And if you thought having him out of Australia at all was a bit of a win for us, think again. He is coming back. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, because so many Australians are stranded overseas, unable to return. But Tony can come back whenever he wants to. We do not know whether he is flying on Australia’s tab, but if he can get something for free, he will.

Is he travelling by a commercial flight, or will we send a VIP jet? The ramifications and costs of this jaunt are endless. Not to mention the trashing of Australia’s reputation. He is seen as a distinguished representative of our country, at the same time that the British opposition has called him out as, amongst other things: offensive, aggressive, leering, gaffe-prone, homophobic, misogynistic, climate denying and divisive.

Did Abbott need the work?

This was also at a time when hundreds of thousands of Australians were being laid off, or having their hours cut. Abbott receives around $300,000 per year already. It is the parliamentary pension he supposedly earned, while wrecking everything he touched, during twenty five years of public life. It seems that there are two sets of rules. Quelle surprise, as they say in the EU.

Any other developments?

Well, he did use the opportunity of a platform, at a right wing think tank, to sabotage both Britain’s future trade prospects, and Australia’s fight to contain the coronavirus. The Policy Exchange, where he made the speech, lapped it up, although even they were surprised by some of what Mr Abbott said.

He described himself as a man who got things done, and that he would essentially ignore any environmental and labour concerns when negotiating any trade deals. This of course contradicted Mr Johnson’s stated position on the environment and also labour relations. There seems to be very little upside to Britain’s plans to use Mr Abbott as a representative.

On the Australian side of the ledger, he attacked the Victorian Premier, describing the lock-down there as a health dictatorship at its worst. He went on to extol the virtues of letting your loved ones die. Their lives do actually have a monetary value, it seems, and sometimes the cure is more costly than the disease. He stated that, “some elderly Covid patients could be left to die naturally.”

That is the exact opposite of the argument Abbott used in 2009, when he actually spoke out against euthanasia. He even warned us about greedy and impatient relatives pulling the plug, in order to get the inheritance.

The Morrison Government said that his views are his own, ducking and weaving around the suggestion that they were enabling Abbott, or endorsing his views. This is awkward, because of their constant harping about throwing open our states’ borders. Many in the community consider such language as doublespeak for “put the economy first.”

“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest is a quote attributed to Henry II of England preceding the death of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. I think I know how the King felt.