18C BRAWL OR COMPROMISE?

Depending on which paper you read today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces a “showdown” within his own party or he’s “struck a compromise” on changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. Another report shows it could be irrelevant either way, with changes set to be blocked by the Senate crossbench.

So let’s break it down.

The Australian reports the words “insult” and “offend” will be removed from Section 18C of the act, to be replaced with “harass”. “Humiliate” will not be removed because it will be politically difficult to do so. The Daily Telegraph says the Human Rights Commission faces overhaul, with the complaints process to be changed.

So is everyone in the government happy?

Of course not, with the Australian Financial Review writing that both moderate MPs and those worried about losing their seats are only on board with changes to the HRC, while conservatives want changes to the wording of the law. One MP against the changes told Phillip Coorey: “It’s all very well for those with safe seats and the IPA [Institute of Public Affairs] view of life who wouldn’t even know where Fairfield was”.

But is all this internal warring even worth it?

The Fairfax papers report Senator Nick Xenophon, who controls three Senate votes, isn’t convinced on the changes. Without support from Labor or the Greens, it makes it difficult for the changes will pass.

TODAY IN TRUMP

FBI Director James Comey has confirmed the agency is investigating links between US President Donald Trump‘s campaign and the Russian government. Comey declined to provide details, stating that the investigation was ongoing and thus classified. He also refuted Trump’s claims that he was wiretapped by former president Barack Obama during the campaign. “With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets,” Comey told the House Intelligence Committee.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

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Handscomb and Marsh guide Australia to draw and keep India series alive

Private mobile phone numbers of nearly every federal MP accidentally published online

A TALE OF TWO MEETINGS

“We never discussed human rights. They are so courteous.” — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, on his meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

“I conveyed Australian and international concerns with respect to extra-judicial killings and spoke of the importance we attach to human rights and the rule-of-law.” — that’s Bishop on the same meeting, contradicting Duterte in the Fairfax papers today. 

THE HONOURABLE MEMBER

“It was a long time ago, but I ­recall having to submit a self-portrait. I’m not much of an artist — and, yes, there was a lot of wishful thinking in that picture.” That’s Social Services Minister Christian Porter explaining a self-portrait, published in Cleo magazine in 1999 and featuring a conspicuously placed “censored” bar to the Daily Telegraph.

 

WHAT’S ON TODAY

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Canberra: A joint party meeting will discuss the government’s plans to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Canberra: The Senate Inquiry into the Bell Group saga is due to table its report today.

Perth: The Western Australian Liberals will vote for their new leader following the election loss to Labor. Former treasurer Mike Nahan is expected to be named, with Liza Harvey as his deputy.

Darwin: The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children continues hearings. Yesterday the commission heard from a Don Dale officer who said he filmed himself asking inmates for oral sex as “a joke”.

Melbourne: The CFMEU will lead a protest against the closure of the Heyfield mill outside Victorian Parliament House. The owners of the mine, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, will meet with the Tasmanian government about the possibility of moving some operations over Bass Strait.

 

THE COMMENTARIAT

West Australian election result holds some promise for Malcolm Turnbull — Catherine McGregor (The Daily Telegraph $) “Over recent weeks his position inside his own party has strengthened somewhat. I have been surprised at some of the conservative MPs who have told me that they consider him the best option to lead the government into the next election. And his move to take ownership of the politics of reliable power supply was shrewd. It plays to his strength as an incumbent by demonstrating that he is responsive to the electorate on a bread-and-butter issue, while offering some nation-building vision.”

Where did all the rationalists go? — Richard Denniss (Australian Financial Review $): “Finally, and most bizarrely, at a time when world demand for coal is flat and the price of renewable energy and batteries is collapsing, some coal supporters say public subsidies are justified because, wait for it, the renewable energy industry gets subsidies. It is a strange form of economic rationalism or fiscal conservatism that argues that if you can’t remove the subsidies from one product you should invent a new subsidy for its competitor.”

A failure of political will — Nicholas Stuart (The Sydney Morning Herald): “It’s little wonder Australia has now surpassed the Italian record for government instability, a catalogue that will become worse when Malcolm Turnbull himself moves out of The Lodge. No one sensible on the government benches regards him as anything more than a temporary placeholder.”

Malcolm Turnbull v Sally McManus — Jenna Price (The Sydney Morning Herald): “The operations of unions are at least in public sight and, for this, we have a parade of Liberal governments to thank. Through their efforts with various union royal commissions, we see much smoke and a handful of spot fires. But the machinations of companies are not nearly so available to the ordinary Australian. Where is the corporate equivalent of the Australian Building and Construction Commission? Where is the federal ICAC?”

THE WORLD

The US, Britain and Romania will deploy 1100 soldiers in Poland from April, to “deter aggression in the Baltics”. Russia has accused NATO of attempting to destabilise Eastern Europe, and plans to step up training exercises and war games on its western borders later this year. — Reuters

British Prime Minister Theresa May will send a letter to the European Union next week, triggering Article 50 and paving the way for Brexit negotiations to begin. The other 27 countries in the EU will then be called to an extraordinary summit before negotiations start in May. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron remains critical of the “extreme and divisive” Brexit. — BBC

The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been re-opened on the order of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The goodwill gesture was taken on humanitarian grounds, according to a statement from Sharif’s office, and will allow passage through the economically important Torkham and Chaman crossings. — Al Jazeera

WHAT WE’RE READING

The Great Barrier Reef is dying (Washington Post) “An ecological catastrophe is unfolding off Australia’s coast: Humans are killing the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, and there’s nothing Australians on their own can do about it. We are all responsible.”

Outsmarted: On the liberal cult of the cognitive elite (The Baffler): “Who gets to be called “smart” and who gets called “dumb” is not precisely arbitrary. It is, however, frequently ideological, mediated by institutions (like Yale, or Virginia’s State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded) shot through with ideology. Even on the grounds of science, what counts as “intelligence” is more difficult to pull out of the complexities of social experience than we usually think. The most convincing debunking of the science behind The Bell Curve, for example, dismantled the very notion that there is such a thing as “general intelligence,” renderable via the single variable g—the same variable that returned in that 2012 paper purporting to prove that conservatives were inherently stupid.”

Australians spend more on gambling than people anywhere else (The Economist): “State and territorial governments are responsible for regulating most forms of gambling. They rake in A$5.7bn a year in taxes from the industry—income that has been especially welcome as royalties from mining have fallen. The federal government could, in theory, intervene. But the gambling lobby derailed the most recent such attempt, in 2012, when it caricatured a proposal to oblige gamblers to set limits on their losses as requiring Australians to obtain a “licence to punt”.”

Welcome to the anti-racism movement – here’s what you’ve missed (The Establishment): “Racial privilege is like a gun that will auto-focus on POC until you learn to aim it. When utilized properly, it can do real damage to the White Supremacist system — and it’s a weapon that POC do not have. You have access to people and places we don’t. Your actions against racism carry less risk.”

The reclusive hedge-fund tycoon behind the Trump presidency (The New Yorker): “Private money has long played a big role in American elections. When there were limits on how much a single donor could give, however, it was much harder for an individual to have a decisive impact. Now, Potter said, “a single billionaire can write an eight-figure check and put not just their thumb but their whole hand on the scale—and we often have no idea who they are.” He continued, “Suddenly, a random billionaire can change politics and public policy—to sweep everything else off the table—even if they don’t speak publicly, and even if there’s almost no public awareness of his or her views.””

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

 

Peter Fray

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