History medium and ancient. “When Labor turns banker, don’t taxpayers always have to pick up the tab?” is the current line that Malcolm Turnbull thinks will help revive his electoral fortunes. He used it several times yesterday as he tried to justify the Opposition’s decision to vote against the Australian Business Investment Partnership Bill of 2009 in the Senate.

The Liberals and Nationals really think there are votes to be gained from preventing the Government setting up a joint venture with the private banks to provide finance to property developers if and when current loans provided by foreign banks are not renewed.

“I ask the Prime Minister,” Mr Turnbull said in question time, “to detail to the House the Labor Party’s record in commercial property lending and advise honourable members how many thousands of jobs and billions of taxpayers’ dollars were lost through the Labor government run state banks in Victoria and South Australia.”

Outside of Parliament House — in the real world of voters — I doubt there would be many people at all who had any idea what he was talking about. The Prime Minister might just as well have replied that Australians fondly remembered the great success the Labor Government of 1911 had with the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank. Certainly the idea that once again there should be a Government owned bank to ensure competition with the current oligopolists would have plenty of support among voters.

Differences of opinions about what is news. The main ABC television news last night gave extensive coverage to a stepping up by Labor of its attack on Malcolm Turnbull over one aspect of his past dealings as a merchant banker. This morning the newspapers largely ignored the story. Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister… Burke was the Minister chosen to lead the attack because the Dorothy Dix question was framed around the desirability of sustainable forest practices. Could the Minister provide, Mr Burke was asked, examples of dangerous and reckless logging practices?

He most certainly could and proceeded to do so in considerable detail:

I am reminded of the example of Axiom Forest Resources, a company that engaged in logging in the Solomon Islands in the 1990s, at the same time that the Leader of the Opposition was both its chairman and a shareholder. I read with interest an article earlier this year in the Sunday Telegraph . The title of the article is: “Malcolm Turnbull linked to mass logging operation in Solomon Islands”. It went on to report about the island of Vangunu, home to just over 2,000 people in the Solomons. The Leader of the Opposition’s company certainly left its mark on the island; it was never the same. A report provided by AusAID said:

… more like a clear-felling operation and bearing little relation to an attempt at even retaining a token sample of future commercial crop on the site.


The degree of canopy removal and soil disturbance was the most extensive seen by the authors in any logging operation in tropical rainforest in any country … The impact from the destruction of the resource was such that, instead of it being done in a sustainable way, the resource was essentially shot to pieces and that then had an ongoing impact on the soil. When rain went through, the water would take in the order of 24 hours to a week to clear and, in the rainy season, the plumes became a semi-permanent feature.

It was also revealed in March 2007 that the chairman of that company bought in at 200,000 grand and sold out one year later for $25 million. That is not a bad story for the Leader of the Opposition but a pretty shocking story for the residents of that island in the Solomon Islands. In a 1997 report into logging practices in the Solomon Islands, it was also revealed that complex corporate arrangements where consistently entered into to avoid tax. This is something that would be known fairly well by someone who has been willing to be an opportunist in this way — an opportunist who was also willing, as the minister for the environment, to describe rainforests as ‘the lungs of the world’ some years after he had decided to be part of an operation that was clear-felling the lungs of the world.

Quite clearly the Government has decided that the Turnbull years as a merchant banker will provide fertile ground to be tilled between now and the next election. When the questioning turns to the failed insurance company HIH the newspapers are unlikely to be so interested in the mid-winter press gallery ball that they leave the coverage to the ABC alone.

Getting to know you. The Australian Democrats now have “up to 200 friends” on Facebook I am informed in the party’s most recent email newsletter. Make of that what you will but at least they cannot be accused or branch stacking.

Playing games on internet news sites. Forget the news. Just click on to the Sydney Daily Telegraph site to play the games.

Ah well, I suppose it’s not much difference to those old fashioned crosswords that probably account for a major proportion of the sales of the printed version.