Malcolm knows renting. “I know what it’s like to live in rented flats”, Malcolm Turnbull told the nation last night and many true words are spoken by politicians. Consider this AAP report from The Age website on February 25, 2007:

Australia’s richest politician, Malcolm Turnbull, has defended using his taxpayer funded travel allowance to pay $175 a night rent for staying in his wife’s Canberra townhouse.

The Minister for the Environment said he, like every other politician in Canberra, was entitled to an allowance for every night spent in Canberra and what he did was completely within the rules.

He said Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd and Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett were also very wealthy men who received the same entitlements.

“Where I stay, whether I stay in expensive accommodation or cheap accommodation, in my own apartment or an apartment belonging to my wife, a hotel or a serviced flat, is immaterial,” he told ABC television.

“You get the same amount and where you stay is of no concern to the government. That’s the way the system works.”

Newspaper reports today said Mr Turnbull was worth at least $125 million, but paid the allowance to stay in his wife’s Canberra townhouse and also claimed another $10 a night when his wife stayed with him.

It said he paid on average $10,000 a year to his wife.

Mr Turnbull said this was all a Sunday tabloid newspaper beat-up.

His understanding was that there was a small incremental payment when a spouse stayed over.

“This applies to everybody. You could ask if the same rules apply to Kevin Rudd or Peter Garrett or me,” he said.

“Every MP in Canberra gets the same amount. That means you don’t get into arguments whether people stay in accommodation that is too expensive or not expensive enough or what.”

No-one had every questioned this before, he said.

“If you want to have a means test, then perhaps Mr Rudd is a very wealthy man, Mr Garrett is a wealthy man, perhaps they will volunteer not to claim a travel allowance.

“The fact is that it applies to every MP and Senator and I am in full compliance with the rules as I am sure they are.”

Nationalisation makes a comeback. What goes around comes around and this morning the strange news of those opponents of evil socialism, the Republican Party of the United States of America, advocating a little bit of nationalisation. Well, more than a little bit really; $US85 billion to be precise to bail out the insurance company AIG after the administration of Republican President George W. Bush decided it would be “catastrophic” to let it fail. Federal officials had tried, reports that great mouthpiece of free enterprise the Wall Street Journal, to get the private sector to pony up funds during a three-day meeting in New York over the weekend:

“But those efforts failed and with no private sector support forthcoming, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Bank of New York President Timothy Geithner and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson concluded that federal assistance would be necessary to avert an AIG bankruptcy, which they feared would have disastrous repercussions throughout the financial markets.”

That other great voice of capitalism, the Financial Times of London, at least found room in its story, as details of this latest deal seeped out, to register a little Republican Party embarrassment. “I hope they don’t go down the road of a bailout, because where do you stop?”, the paper quoted Richard Shelby, top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, telling Bloomberg Television. Where do you stop indeed. The US Government has now become a major financier of the American financial system. In March, the Federal Reserve helped JPMorgan Chase buy Bear Stearns by providing a $29bn credit line and earlier this month, the Treasury seized control of troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

At least with the assistance package for AIG there is an attempt to ensure that existing shareholders do not profit from the rescue. Under the plan the US Government would receive equity warrants giving it a 79.9% stake in AIG. In return, the insurer would receive a bridge loan of $85bn to keep it afloat until it could dispose of billions of dollars in assets.

The Fed staff should wear one. Now that they are paying for it, perhaps the staff of the US Federal Reserve should start wearing this as part of their office uniform:

American taxpayers are bound to be impressed that their hard earned is going towards the sponsorship of the mighty Manchester United FC.

Talking off the cuff always dangerous. Not taking time to prepare for a public appearance is always dangerous for a politician and Malcolm Turnbull had little time to think about what he would say at his first appearance as Liberal Party Leader. Perhaps he had the right idea in trying to present himself as the poor boy who made good but to be convincing you have got to get the words right and he failed to do so. To be convincing this story needs more than a couple of throw away lines at a press conference or during a television interview. It is the stuff of the lengthy article in The Woman’s Weekly.

Queensland Labor Minister has a strange view. If the Queensland Police and Sports Minister Judy Spence had contented herself yesterday with simply reminding people that a presumption of innocence applied even to footballers confronted with allegations of rape then she should not be subject to criticism. But in making a comment about a case involving three members of Saturday’s Broncos semi final side, Ms Spence went further and in so doing has disclosed a strange view of what is proper behaviour by young men out having a drink on a Saturday night. The three players involved have strongly denied the allegations of rape and told their club that the s-xual encounter with a woman in the male toilet of a Brisbane night spot was entirely consensual. This prompted the following remarks by Ms Spence:

“The police have got a lot of work to do before they conclude their investigation. I was talking to the acting commissioner [Kathy Rynders] this morning, and she is telling me it is likely that it will take another couple of weeks before they conclude their investigation. Until that happens I am not going to be pre-judging the actions of these players. I would encourage people not to pre-judge these players or the events surrounding this incident on the weekend, come along to the Broncos match this weekend.”

Well if I was a sponsor of the Brisbane Broncos I would certainly be leaving the allegations of rape to be sorted out by the police and the courts but I would be making a judgment about whether I wanted to be associated with a team that appears quite happy to have men playing for it who think that a gang bang in the men’s loo is okay behaviour. And if I was Queensland Premier Anna Bligh I would be suggesting to Ms Spence that she would be wise to put a distance between her and the Broncos as well.

Peter Fray

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