2020 Honours List a sick joke


There are some moments in a country’s history when the bullshit becomes too much to bear. This year’s Queen’s Birthday (2020) Honours List is one such moment, where the entire apparatus of Government, with its ‘jobs for the boys’, non-stop rorts, lies and evasions, its insider jokes and its lack of shame tips us over the edge.

The worst of it is that it devalues the award for those who really do “go above and beyond”. The most numerous recipients are volunteers, but their awards are ranked below those usually awarded to politicians and other party hacks. These people were actually paid to go to work. So, they get an award for doing their jobs.

Many of them then went on to lucrative careers elsewhere, usually set up by the Government they were a part of. Oh, and they never resign from Parliament until after their pensions are assured. Many of them also have skeletons in their closets, but that did not deter the Awards Council this year.

Who awards the awards?

The rot starts at the top. The person in charge of the Awards Council is Shane Stone, who was once the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. That is the most exalted position he ever attained, and his path to that position was colourful, as was his removal from office.

Mr Stone constantly clashed with Indigenous Territorians, challenging land claims in a bitter decade-long dispute that culminated in Mr Stone famously calling Yolngu leader and Australian of the Year Galarrwuy Yunupingu “just another whinging, whining, carping black”. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-02/stone-and-giles-cut-from-the-same-cloth-nt-politics-reflection/7805802 . In response he was called a “redneck”. That term is difficult to fault.

Shane Stone is also a QC. That is because he appointed himself one, when he was the Attorney General of the Northern Territory. His record in court was less than stellar up to that time, http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/AltLawJl/2001/44.html but there is nothing better than a self-recommendation. Ask Angus Taylor. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-48119878

More recently, just before the 2019 election, Shane Stone was appointed to a position as the chief of a flood recovery body in Queensland. His full title: – Coordinator-General the Hon Shane L Stone AC QC . The position attracts a payment package similar to that paid to the Prime Minister. There was speculation that it formed part of the Morrison Government’s fire-sale of positions prior to the election. It looks like it was at the least fortuitous. It seems to be a lot of money. Labor suggested that it was another needless layer of bureaucracy, better handled at a state level. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/apr/18/former-liberal-president-shane-stone-to-be-paid-500000-as-flood-recovery-boss

Another, ex-officio member of the Awards Council is one Mathias Cormann. He is perhaps best remembered for ringing the CEO of a large travel company (Helloworld) to book international flights he was never billed for. That was within weeks of two Helloworld subsidiaries being awarded contracts to provide airline and hotel bookings for the Australian government worth about $1 billion in bookings over three years.

Mr Cormann is the Finance Minister, but he is very slack when it comes to paying personal bills, it seems. He paid for the holiday, after he was alerted by Fairfax Media. Considering how well he did in ringing the CEO to make his own booking, perhaps he could do it for the rest of the Government. And Mr Burnes, award around his neck, might even forget to bill the Government?

Who got the big awards?

Consider some of the names on the list: Tony Abbott, Mike Baird, Denis Napthine and former federal Liberal ministers Philip Ruddock and Bronwyn Bishop. The list also includes former Nationals senator Ron Boswell and one-time Liberal Party honorary treasurer Andrew Burnes, the chief executive of Helloworld Travel. (He is not so good at billing people.) All Coalition members, so they probably send each other Christmas cards. Or they could meet at church. Put it this way – they wouldn’t meet at a gay bar.

There is one Labor Party apparatchik, Graham Richardson. Including him in the list of recipients is almost awarding him ‘honorary Liberal’ status. He is certainly a man with a colourful past, and many colourful friends. Some of them have been sent to jail, and there is surprise and wonder, in some circles, that he didn’t join them.

Why are the awards losing credibility?

Where to start with these awards? Abbott, for services to democracy, in destroying Turnbull’s leadership; for services to Parliament, for debasing it; for services to the indigenous community, for cutting indigenous funding to the bone; for being an embarrassment to the country for a quarter of a century, for eating an onion like an apple, for supporting George Pell? For opposing same-sex marriage? For wearing speedos! For ruining Australia’s response to climate change, and for sabotaging the renewable energy industry. For his misogyny? Remember Julia Gillard, and Gillian Triggs, and how atrociously he treated them, and their roles.

Bronwyn Bishop, for being hounded out of Parliament for fudging her entitlements? She went on to become a political commentator for Fox News. One can only hope she is better at that job than she was as Speaker of the House. She was certainly no Joan Child! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Child

Philip Ruddock, for sustained acts of homophobia over a very long career? Or was it for his peerless report into religious freedoms in Australia? Arguably the most meaningless review in Parliamentary history. Or the fact that his own daughter shunned him for his abominable treatment of refugees? Was he Peter Dutton’s role model for a heartless xenophobe, before it was fashionable?

It is too tedious to recount the names and misdeeds of any more of the politician recipients, but suffice to say that the Australian public noticed. We all applaud the volunteers who really keep this country going as well as it does. So there is no excuse for the Awards Council to turn a blind eye, and a tin ear, to the degradation of the awards. What were they thinking?

Barnaby Will Never Be Prime Minister


Barnaby has already attained high office

Many outstanding politicians are remembered for doing something special for their country, or perhaps for a lifetime of sustained effort for the country’s benefit. Barnaby Joyce was named “Australia’s best retail politician” by another politician – one Tony Abbott. Now that endorsement does muddy the waters somewhat, but a reference is a reference.

He has also ‘served’ as Deputy Prime Minister of the country, which in itself is an achievement. It also illustrates the point that our system elevates the leaders of political parties to positions that are sometimes way beyond their capabilities. Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce are two such examples, and it also points to the problem of having a junior coalition partner. The leader of the National Party automatically becomes Deputy PM if the coalition is in power. That is preposterous, but true.

Dodging a bullet

In February 2018 Malcolm Turnbull was scheduled to go to the U.S. and he flagged that Mr Joyce would be acting Prime Minister in his absence. Obviously that was an unacceptable choice, and Barnaby was sent on a week’s leave instead. He was undergoing much inner turmoil at the time, so it was probably for the best. We dodged a bullet there.

Look at the big picture

If we take a long hard look at Barnaby’s career one struggles to find the signature ‘big’ achievement. He does have a singular talent for making outlandish statements, which immediately gathers media attention, and he has made something of a reputation for speaking the ‘unvarnished truth’. This has been gradually whittled away, mainly due to his own efforts, where onlookers or listeners are often left questioning whether he is affected by drink, or perhaps having a psychotic break of sorts.

The radio interview with Patricia Karvelas springs to mind, listen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbDRbwdr1V0. You could also see his his Facebook post late last year, where he told us “I just don’t want the government any more in my life, I am sick of the government being in my life.” He also told us “There’s a higher authority that’s beyond our comprehension – right up there in the sky. And unless we understand that that’s got to be respected, then we’re just fools. We’re going to get nailed.” So he has retained his Christian faith, if not his credibility.

Looking back on his career is interesting. As most of us acknowledge, that one, big moment where he achieved something cannot be found. He has a ‘blooper reel’ of legendary proportions, however. It could be argued that he has been forever oafish, but not particularly harmful. Jenna Price, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, thinks otherwise https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/barnaby-joyces-other-betrayal-20180209-h0vurf.html And if we look back, why are we paying him? What was his electorate thinking? Even excluding his shambolic private life, his contrary position on almost every aspect of Australian life, his appalling waste of public money, his relentless search for relevance, his stalking of his leader, his pronouncements, his seeming lack of accountability. He holds a parliamentary record, of sorts: Crossing the floor, or deserting his party.

Weighing it all up

He has been called the world’s worst ever Agricultural Minister. He has overseen the Watergate purchase, of illusory floodwaters, for close to double the asking price. He did say that his department made the decisions; he was absent, or distracted? He has been pilloried for moving the pesticides regulator from Canberra to his own electorate, at huge expense and no upside. He has apparently saved Australia from an environmental hazard, by threatening to euthanase Johnny Depp’s small dogs. He completed his term as Special Drought Envoy, where he managed to spend $675,000 and ‘produced’ a report, sent by text messages, which the Prime Minister was too busy to read.

These are just some examples of how genuinely useless he has been, over a number of years. Think of an issue, and he will have taken the renegade position, and as likely as not, later he usually reverses his stance. It is plain that he sees himself as a born leader, and his recent tilt at the leadership of the National Party proves that he is completely lacking in self-awareness. He has recently launched a podcast, called Weatherboard and Iron, with Matt Canavan. Perhaps he sees a career in the media for himself.

On reflection one achievement does stand out. It has received bi-partisan support, it led to an improvement in parliamentary standards, and it has made us all sleep soundly at night. That would be the ‘bonking ban’. I will always thank Barnaby for being the catalyst for that change in our national landscape.

Barnaby goes off, again

February 24: In response to several days of media silence about Barnaby Joyce, he decided that enough was enough. The Australian people were being denied the spectacle of Barnaby going off, so Barnaby did what he does best, he ‘went off’. Watch it here https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=196289058127609

In further developments the people of Tamworth have been asked to recall him, as he is now seen as a danger to himself, and to the Coalition at large.

The Australian Labor Party are holding a prayer breakfast on Thursday morning, to thank God for Barnaby. No-one has ever made Joel Fitzgibbon look so good before.

Tony Abbott Will Never Be Prime Minister (Again)


One of my daughters, a wise young head, when describing certain individuals of less than stellar intelligence, uses the phrase “he (or she) will never be Prime Minister”. It is a curiously descriptive phrase, because it says everything about limits, of intelligence, of ambition, of drive, of the ability to think conceptually, to radiate warmth, to believe in service to our community …

Of course it relies on an old fashioned sense that, had we personally really tried, perhaps we could have done anything as well; but then reality steps in, and we realise that our time is past. But contained within the idea is an admiration for those who did possess those attributes, those character traits which, for good or evil, elevated them above their peers.

Tony Abbott Got through the Character Check

A closer look at some of those who DID make it to Prime Minister, however, is a cause for concern. Let us consider Tony Abbott as a recent exemplar of people who achieved arguably the highest office in the land, and yet they seem to embody the phrase “he’ll never be Prime Minister”.

Tony Abbott has a ‘highlights package‘ which is truly impressive. Of course we use the phrase ironically, because there is a curious consensus that he, over twenty five years in parliament, really had no highlights, but more a dazzling array of cringe-worthy moments, piled on top of each other. Here are some of his more horrifying efforts, any of which should have torpedoed his career, and yet he defied the gods.

Tony Abbott’s Highlights Package

  • explaining that much of what he said should be disregarded or disbelieved, unless it was carefully prepared and scripted
  • describing Australia prior to European arrival/invasion as “nothing but bush” and following up by describing Aborigines living in remote communities as having made a “lifestyle choice”
  • being voted the world’s worst ever Health Minister (although Peter Dutton has put in a late bid to contest that award)
  • listening to an elderly woman calling in on talk-back radio, who explained that the only job she could obtain, to earn extra cash so as to mitigate cuts to her health care, was working on an adult sex-line. Tony winked at the host, presumably a variant on “ooh-la-la”
  • rejecting a meeting with a dying asbestos victim, who wanted to present a petition asking for subsidies to be paid on medications for their condition, on the grounds that the man was not necessarily “pure of heart”
  • destroying any chance of Australia having an adult conversation about climate change, and sabotaging our response to it, for nearly a decade now, by removing a carbon price, and describing the science as “absolute crap” and exercising his control of the troglodytes in the Liberal Party, years after being removed to the back bench
  • his seemingly inexhaustible number of ways of describing women’s engagement with the world as being tied to domestic chores like ironing, and looking after the household budget, and sometimes having ‘sex appeal’
  • the classic video clip of him being unable to speak, on live television, to justify his “sometimes shit happens” remark, when discussing the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan
  • his re-introduction of knighthoods into Australian life, with the inaugural gong going to Prince Philip of Great Britain
  • his remarkable take on immigration, where he surmised that Jesus would understand that not everyone can find a place in Australia. This was a surprise, as Jesus died almost eighteen hundred years before Australia even existed
  • his openly stated fear of homosexuality, even though his sister is openly gay
  • his insistence on a postal ballot legalising gay marriage, even after he had been deposed from the Prime Ministership, and which cost $122 million
  • University of Sydney psychologists found that the increased exposure to negative messaging during the long and divisive debate on gay marriage caused “psychological distress” for gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

What Will Unfold For Tony Abbott in Retirement?

The most distressing thing about this remarkable list is that it barely scrapes the surface of his hopeless quarter century in public life. But there is another disturbing aspect to this situation. Now that he has been removed from office, I would be willing to bet that some awful sinecure will be found for him, at the public’s expense, so that he can continue to blunder along, and after enough time has elapsed, he will retire with honours and accolades, as an ex-Prime Minister.

But despair not. This is to be an occasional series of ruminations on the performances by Australia’s leaders, and how they appear to be, as a group, uniquely unsuited to leadership. Consider some of the names – John, Kevin, Malcolm, Scott. Wow! But at least we missed a bullet when Peter (Dutton) failed. And to the conspiracy theorists out there who think I left Julia out of that list of no-hopers, I did. At least she actually did her job, which was to LEGISLATE.