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Crikey Worm

Sep 22, 2017



As the campaign around the government’s marriage survey reaches its crescendo, the “respectful” debate has turned to the large organisations backing a Yes vote. The AFL is holding firm after being criticised for promoting a Yes vote by intellectual heavyweights, including Footy Show host Sam Newman, who described the organisation as “sycophantic political whores”. A “fired up” Eddie McGuire hit back, defending the league.

The AFL’s HQ was yesterday evacuated after a bomb hoax, though it is clear if it was connected to the organisation’s marriage equality stance.

Opponents of marriage equality in the NSW Law Society have also ramped-up their campaign against the organisation’s head Pauline Wright, calling for an extraordinary general meeting after she signed the organisation to a joint statement supporting a Yes vote.

The news came as former prime minister Tony Abbott alleged he was headbutted while leaving the office of Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury. “A fellow sung out at me ‘Hey, Tony’, I turned around, there was a chap wearing a vote ‘Yes’ badge,” he said. “He says ‘I want to shake your hand’. I went over to shake his hand and he headbutted me.”

If confirmed, it wouldn’t have been the only own-goal of the day. Senator Cory Bernardi accidentally assisted a primary school to fundraise over $140,000 after accusing it of promoting “gender morphing”. The annual charity event he was referring to encourages boys to wear a dress to school to raise funds for women’s education groups in Africa. Perhaps Bernardi will also be able to whip up some cash for the young woman known only as Madeline, who was “fired” as a contractor after expressing opposition to marriage equality but will reportedly not be pursuing legal action.

As these theatrics play out, the Family Court is set to determine whether children who desire a gender transition should continue to require court approval or simply a sign off from a doctor. Among those advocating the latter is Attorney-General George Brandis, though the move is being opposed by lawyers representing the NSW Department of Family and Community Services, headed by Michael Coutts-Trotter.


One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts has had his day in court, and what a day it was.

With his eligibility to sit in parliament being tested, Roberts’ ever changing citizenship story took another twist with the senator admitting he had tried to renounce his British citizenship by sending two emails to an outdated contact and a third to an account that did not exist. The senator is also maintaining he always believed he was Australian in spite of attempting to renounce his British citizenship, having once been an Indian citizen, and being contradicted by his own lawyer who noted the court would likely find he “understood at some level he probably was British”.

It was a good day for Fairfax journo Adam Gartrell, who has long held Roberts to account over his rapidly evolving story. Gartrell estimates the senator is now in dire legal trouble and notes the fallout looks terrible for his party.

Hanson told her 200,000 Facebook followers ‘hand on heart’ Roberts was in the clear and it was all just a media witch hunt,” he writes. “She’s either a liar or a fool.” 


The Reserve Bank is unlikely to pump up interest rates just yet, says chief Philip Lowe, but the run is set to come to an end. The RBA is feeling optimistic about Australia’s prospects for economic growth and Lowe pointed to global signs of an accelerating recovery to argue rates are likely to go up in the near future. But for now at least, high levels of household debt mean they will probably stay put.


George Brandis considers new laws cracking down on Chinese spying in Australia

Gas industry protests as Malcolm Turnbull puts his finger on the trigger

Fatal flu warning ‘lost in bureaucratic mix-up’


New Zealand: The final day of campaigning before tomorrow’s national elections. Despite the rise of Labour’s youthful leader Jacinda Ardern, most polls predict a relatively comfortable win for the National Party and Bill English.

New York: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will address the UN General Assembly.

Sydney: Funeral for Lady Mary Fairfax.

Brisbane: The Coalition for Marriage holds a campaign rally at the Brisbane Convention Centre.


The Empirical Strikes Back: Malcolm Roberts‘ difficult day in court — Adam Gartrell (Sydney Morning Herald $): “It was always flimsy and just minutes into Thursday’s court appearance it fell to pieces: the man who claims he knows better than the world’s scientists on climate change had sent his missives to non-existent email addresses. It is now virtually unthinkable the court will allow Senator Roberts to remain Senator Roberts.”

Same-sex marriage: Are they out to confuse us? It’s a Yes for Tony — David Crowe (The Australian $): “The government’s key decision is to allow the bill to be brought to debate and then leave the rest to parliament. The bill will not be government policy. To propose a government bill would be to set up a test of Turnbull’s authority — a staggering miscalculation.”


Inside the terrifying mind of Tony Abbott — Bernard Keane: “Much has always been made of Abbott’s Catholicism, but it’s hard to see religion as playing a particular role in this worldview; Catholicism is no more hierarchical than Anglicanism, for example, or some other Christian sects. But through a prism of hierarchy, it becomes easier to understand why Abbott clings to the heterosexual, coal-fired, monarchical Australia he believes he grew up in, because that delivered him, as he sees it, to the top of the “right order of things” and anything that contradicts it must be fought as a kind of existential threat.”

Why are right-wing snowflakes like Bolt so mad over this sacked kids’ entertainer? — Helen Razer: “The Madeline freelance case may be an unfortunate event, but it sure is a good brainteaser. This fate of this No voter has highlighted a pro-market hypocrisy so stark, it was impossible even for outlets openly committed to ignore No voters, formerly quite fond of deregulation, to ignore.”

Fed Square’s censorship of Adani protesters is bad news for Vic Labor — Guy Rundle: “Labor’s embrace of Adani may or may not hurt them in Queensland, but it’s going to rip the hell out of them in inner Melbourne, first at state, then at federal level.”

Has the Rebel Wilson case squeezed gossip mags out of a business model? — Emily Watkins: “Veteran paparazzo Jamie Fawcett thinks the payout could even mean more business for snappers, given that the story that got Woman’s Day into trouble was based on a single, unnamed source.”



Sep 21, 2017


“I probably feel a bit threatened, as so many people do. It’s a fact of life.”

— Tony Abbott, 2010

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is committed to the destruction of the man who replaced him, and is willing to use any issue (and adopt any position, no matter how hypocritical) to do it. But it’s also worth reflecting on his psychology and that of men (they’re mostly men) like him, given they are likely to play a continuing role in parliament until the Liberal and National parties decide to enter the 21st century and start resembling contemporary Australia a little more closely.

The psychological basis for climate change denial has attracted increasing academic study in recent years, as researchers try to work out why one particular demographic — older white males — tends to dominate the ranks of climate denialists (compare, say, vaccination denialism, which has a younger and more female demographic). A 2015 study that has drawn considerable attention identified that “denial is driven partly by dominant personality and low empathy, and partly by motivation to justify and promote existing social and human-nature hierarchies.” That is, climate denialists were partly motivated by concern that climate action would undermine existing hierarchies, which, as white males, they tended to dominate. And because they see the world in terms of hierarchies, the only alternative they can conceive of is a hierarchy in which they are not dominant.

As it turns out, this kind of fear — that one is being threatened with losing one’s dominant status — is applicable across a range of issues. While he later said he chose his words poorly, Abbott saying that he felt “threatened” by homosexuality accurately conveyed a similar sentiment: he sees LGBTI people as threatening — not, of course, to his physical self, but to his social status. He put it even better when he explained his “threatened” comments by saying homosexuality “challenges orthodox notions of the right order of things”, revealing how LGBTI people conflicted with his hierarchical, “right order” view of the world.

This deep-seated, hierarchy-based fear can also be seen in Abbott’s monarchism; he described any push for a republic as “the latest instalment in the green-left’s war on our way of life”. It even explains his bizarre claim, while Prime Minister, that he was a kind of fiscal fire brigade and the mere fact that he was in office was enough to address the fiscal emergency, just like the arrival of the fire brigade at a fire showed that everything was under control. This peculiar image only makes sense if you see the world as a hierarchy in which the restoration of the right people to the top of the hierarchy ensures all is well, no matter what action they might take, or even if they take no action at all.

Much has always been made of Abbott’s Catholicism, but it’s hard to see religion as playing a particular role in this worldview; Catholicism is no more hierarchical than Anglicanism, for example, or some other Christian sects. But through a prism of hierarchy, it becomes easier to understand why Abbott clings to the heterosexual, coal-fired, monarchical Australia he believes he grew up in, because that delivered him, as he sees it, to the top of the “right order of things” and anything that contradicts it must be fought as a kind of existential threat.

This is a key reason why Abbott is so adept at exploiting the politics of fear. All politicians traffic in fear, of course, but Abbott’s time in public life has been defined by it because his unparalleled genius has been to tear down or halt the achievements of others. From the republic to a carbon price and terrorism to, now, coal and marriage equality, Abbott uses fear and the belief that we are under threat to prevent change to the “right order of things”. He’s able to do so because he knows fear so well, because it’s not an artifice for him, but something he feels at the very core of his being. It’s a frightening world for Tony Abbott, and he wants you to be frightened, too.


Sep 20, 2017


For two people who claim to be in touch with “the base”, it’s astounding how out of touch Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin are. In their blind determination to blast Malcolm Turnbull from the prime ministership using whatever issue or policy best does the job, the two have missed the fatal flaw in the latest stanza of their Kill Malcolm campaign, which involves the demonisation of renewable energy.

In an “exclusive” interview last night with one Murdoch media outlet, and comments today in another, Abbott has sought to escalate tensions with Turnbull over renewables by calling for the proposed Clean Energy Target to be dropped. Abbott also reportedly threatened to cross the floor against any government attempt to legislate a CET.

As much as Abbott claims his position is about reliable electricity and the need to establish product differentiation with Labor, his anti-renewables campaign is all too obviously about the Liberal leadership.

Until now, every issue thrown in Turnbull’s way by Abbott and his enablers — in order to bring on a leadership crisis — has been avoided by the embattled Prime Minister. Instead of resisting the demands of Abbott’s far-right supporters, Turnbull has accommodated almost every one of them. He agreed to water down section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (although the Senate blocked the changes), ended funding for Safe Schools, and persisted with a plebiscite on marriage equality.

Turnbull and his Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg also initially appeared to back down under pressure from Abbott’s camp on a clean energy target mooted to replace the renewable energy target in 2020. However the concept is being considered again after it was revived by the chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, in his report to the government on the future security of the national electricity market.

[Wonder why the Coalition dislikes renewables so much?]

If implemented, Finkel’s CET recommendation would fill the policy vacuum created by Abbott when he scrapped the carbon tax and created a lopsided market that only provided policy certainty to renewable energy providers. It’s no coincidence that not one coal-fired power station has been built since then.

Having created the policy settings that brought on the current “energy crisis”, Abbott is now trying to frame the best solution to the problem as yet another test of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership — rather than an indictment of Abbott’s own.

The problem for Abbott and co. is that voters, especially those in some of the Coalition’s most marginal seats, love renewable energy — not necessarily for environmental reasons, but economic ones. And, for this reason, they are likely to have a dim view of Abbott’s anti-renewables stance.

These voters reside in the 1.7 million households with rooftop solar. To them, renewable energy means economic freedom — from the electricity bills that break the budget, and from the energy companies who gouge their customers. When Tony Abbott rails against renewables for causing blackouts or high power bills, these voters compare their reality with his rhetoric. And they know he’s talking through his hat.

This of course has political implications. Of the 20 Australian postcode areas with the highest number of rooftop solar installations (from 5900 rooftop solar units per postcode to almost 12,000), 13 are in Queensland. The postcodes cover two Coalition marginal seats and another 4-5 seats that would be at risk to One Nation.

Other data has shown that around 40% of rooftop solar installations occurred in rural and regional Australia, and that low-income households including older Australians feature heavily as adopters of the technology.

This explains the high number of Coalition voters that support renewables in the opinion polls. According to an Essential Poll in June, 57% of Coalition voters preferred more investment in renewables to meet Australia’s future energy needs compared with 26% who preferred more coal-fired electricity.

Another poll by the same organisation found in February that 58% of Coalition voters thought renewables were the solution to our energy needs, while 20% saw them as a threat to future energy supply. That’s an improvement on the same question four months earlier, when 52% of Coalition supporters saw renewables as a solution and 25% as a threat.

[Renewables slaughter pensioners in their beds, sell kids into slavery and worse!]

Even more interestingly, according to Essential, a majority of Coalition voters also support Labor’s 50% renewable target, with 48% approving in October last year, and 55% in February this year.

This would suggest that on the issue of renewables, Abbott and Credlin’s political antennae have yet again failed them. Even if Abbott argued that renewables are OK as long as the “subsidies” are scrapped, this would go down like a lead balloon with the 1.7 million households currently benefiting from small-scale certificates under the RET.

If Tony “Let’s Give the Prince a Knighthood” Abbott and Peta “Needs More Flags” Credlin really were in touch with the Liberal base, they’d know that renewable energy is a strength for Turnbull (and the Coalition) instead of a weakness.

This probably explains why Essential has also found the proportion of Coalition voters who want Abbott to resign from parliament has grown from 18% in August last year, to 31% in April this year and then 35% this July.



Sep 11, 2017


The recent Bureau of Statistics construction data was disastrous enough on its own. It showed building and construction investment has now declined for three financial years in a row. For the first time ever. 

When we match construction work done with fatalities in the sector, the hypocrisy and dereliction of duty of the Turnbull government reach new levels.

For the first six months of this year, construction deaths soared to 19. Equivalent to 38 in a calendar year, that is one of the worst outcomes on record. It is vastly worse when we look at the dramatic drop in actual construction output.

We know already that the rate at which construction workers were killed increased alarmingly straight after Tony Abbott became prime minister. We can now see the rate is accelerating under Malcolm Turnbull.

The disastrous data

For the first six months of this year, construction activity increased very marginally relative to the same period last year, though it remained well below the level for the first six months of all previous years since 2010.

The spike in fatalities, however, is vastly greater than can be explained by the puny 2.2% increment in activity.

The 19 fatalities to June 30 represent more than 44 deaths per 100,000 chain volume units of construction. That is up from 35.8 for all of 2016, 31.3 for 2015, 25.5 for 2014 and getting close to doubling the 24.7 average for Labor’s last three years.

In February, Crikey revealed the data from 2011 to 2016. With updates to some of those numbers from the ABS, this is the full picture to June 30 this year:


Engineering construction activity, seasonally adjusted, is found in ABS file 8755.0, Table 01 in column P. The chain volume estimates have eliminated the effects of price so reflect only volumes. Work Safe construction fatalities are located here and here.

Federal responsibility

There is no doubt the Coalition accepts that construction is a commonwealth area for claiming credit — and, hence, also copping the blame. Many times before the 2013 election, Tony Abbott promised: “There will be modern infrastructure under the next Coalition government. We want to see cranes over our cities. We want to see the bulldozers at work improving our roads.”

And again: “My friends, I hope that in a few years’ time people can say of Tony Abbott, he was an infrastructure prime minister.”  

The Coalition has also proclaimed that the federal government is culpable for any failure in duty of care in construction. In 2009 and 2010, MPs in the then-opposition, now the Turnbull government, made enormous political capital out of the tragic deaths of four young insulation workers. Tony Abbott blamed Kevin Rudd and his environment minister Peter Garrett personally for those fatalities. In February 2010, Abbott insisted that if Garrett had been a New South Wales company director, “he would be charged with industrial manslaughter”.

How has this come about?

While spruiking their ambitions to expand the construction sector, Coalition MPs explained how this would be achieved: by relaxing regulations that made life tough for construction bosses.

Tony Abbott specifically said: “Excessive regulation creates greater costs than benefits and discourages investment and the willingness to have a go.”

And: “They (Labor) want to put on new regulations and build new bureaucracies, we want to take the regulations off.”

Malcolm Turnbull has repeated and reinforced this mantra: “Deregulation, enabling businesses and individuals to pursue their own dreams, their own freedom, is the way to deliver the prosperity upon which all depends.”

It seems these have been taken as signals by construction corporations that it’s OK to relax their vigilance with regard to onerous regulations.

If this sounds harsh, what other explanation is there?

The cost in lives to June this year was 19. It is already up further to 20, with four months to go. There is no campaign from Canberra to address this accelerating tragedy. Nor, with most of Australia’s craven mass media steadfastly refusing to report these realities, is there any sign the Turnbull government is even aware it is unfolding.


Sep 7, 2017


 Gosh it’ll be nice when we move on to the phase of Australian history in which not every single new development is a product of something gestated in Tony Abbott’s burning ego.

However, that seems a distant dream for now. The latest parliamentary week kicked off with a classic Abbott hijacking: there he was outside Parliament House, brandishing the documents that nobody had asked for proving he isn’t a Pom, and demanding that Bill Shorten “put up or shut up” in turn. Which made as much sense as everything else he says, since Shorten wasn’t actually saying anything.

Still, point made, and what could Malcolm Turnbull do but get up in the House and say the same thing in bigger and less interesting words? Yeah, he shouted unconvincingly, what does Bill Shorten have to hide?  

The gotcha moment that followed with all the dramatic suspense of a MasterChef episode involved Shorten saying something along the lines of “Oh, for fuck’s sake” and producing the documents that prove what he’s been saying all along: he’s not a foreign citizen. An uninterested nation vaguely registered the proof of Shorten’s innocence, of a charge for which there had never been any evidence, and got back to ‘gramming their lunch choices to each other.

As I usually ask in my fourth paragraph, so what? The media was generally approving in tone of Shorten’s decision to own up to his non-guilt, but focused mostly on how the government had managed to pull off yet another tactical defeat in its war against itself. Nobody seemed terribly concerned that the onus of proof had just been successfully, and perhaps irreversibly, reversed.

Shorten did actually warn us about this, but it was on Q&A so only the cultural Marxists who watch the ABC knew about it. Pressed repeatedly by Tony Jones to produce the evidence that he had renounced his British citizenship, Shorten pointed out that that was bloody stupid. Remember what happened when Obama finally gave in and produced his Hawaiian birth certificate? The birthers said it was a fake. And then he became president.

[How Dutton is slowly undermining the rule of law in Australia]

The immediate context of this new syndrome of guilt until proven innocent is the dreaded section 44 of the constitution, the bete noire of Parliament House. It might be causing devastation, but at the end of the day it’s just another law. Like all laws, it is not a bright line; there is no objective truth as to who falls fair or foul of its imprecise words.

The media treats section 44 like some sword of justice. The parliamentary parlour game de jour is to guess who else might be an illegal on its terms; is Senator Whatserface a secret Ecuadorian by descent? Are all the parliamentary semi-Jews caught by Israel’s right of return? Each inquisition commences with an idle Wikipedia-researched what-if. The target is then chased down, cornered and hounded for proof that the theoretically possible is definitively untrue. And then the media decides, by Twitter majority, whether or not said MP is clear or will remain under a cloud.

[Two weeks is a long time in politics: the ever-changing citizenship status of Malcolm Roberts]

It’s stupid — and it’s deadly. The drafters of the constitution took the question of eligibility so seriously that they gave exclusively to the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, the power to determine who is and who isn’t. Section 44 is poorly drafted, but even if it had no ambiguity there would still be no certainty about who it catches and who it does not. That’s the way law works, it’s why we have courts.

Because law is a set of guide posts in a sea of uncertainty, and nothing more, we are supposed to understand that ambiguity is a necessary aspect of society. If we start treating every suggestion of non-lawfulness as being worthy of acceptance until proved wrong, then the whole thing simply doesn’t work. The denial, of our right to be presumed innocent until some cogent basis for suggesting otherwise is produced, leads us in a straight line to the anti-truth presidency that presently endangers the world. It’s not where we should want to go. The fact that Tony Abbott is keen on it should be warning enough.

Shorten was right before he was wrong. He should have told Abbott and Turnbull to get stuffed, to put up or shut up themselves. I sincerely hope that this particular form of antisocial lunacy doesn’t catch on, or we’re utterly screwed.


Sep 6, 2017


When Labor backbencher Rob Mitchell swanned up to Parliament House on August 17 with a tinfoil hat and the theme from The Twilight Zone queued up on his phone, the Crikey office thought it would probably be the most striking attire-related stunt we would see that particular day. Within a few hours, however, a pale, immaculately manicured hand emerged from a shimmering black burqa in the Senate, and Mitchell had to settle for third place behind One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson and daylight in second. Hanson’s stunt achieved its desired effect, with the Nationals now wanting to “ban the burqa” and tedious hours devoted to the (non)issue on TV and radio.

In among the tangle of the many, many questions asked in the aftermath of Hanson’s stunt was: was she allowed to do that? Should Senate President Stephen Parry have ruled her out of order? As with many rules in politics, the answer appears to be: it depends.


As we mentioned at the time of Mitchell’s stunt, the sixth edition of the House of Representative Practice tells us that acceptable standards of dress in the chamber are ultimately up to the discretion of the speaker. In 1983, speaker Harry Jenkins Sr. (part of the only father/son team to both occupy the speaker’s chair) said his rule in the application of this discretion was “neatness, cleanliness and decency”. There is some leeway here — for example, in 1959 it was ruled by Sir John McLeay members could not remove their jacket in the chamber, but in the heady, anything-goes late 1990s, speaker Neil Andrew ruled it it would be acceptable for members to remove jackets if the air-conditioning failed.

In 2005, this statement was endorsed by speaker David Hawker, who nevertheless argued it was not “in keeping with the dignity of the House for Members to arrive in casual or sports wear” — dignity expert Tony Abbott however got away with arriving for a division in the chamber in his gym gear the day after the Mid-winter Ball. Clothes with printed slogans are not generally acceptable in the chamber, and in the Senate, Ian Macdonald was ruled “disorderly” for wearing a high vis “Australians for Coal” shirt back in 2014. However, it is acceptable for members to wear a tailored safari suit without a tie — a loophole frequently enjoyed by noted enthusiast Philip Ruddock. Members are permitted to wear hats in the chamber but not while entering or leaving or while speaking, although hat aficionados Pat Dodson and Bob Katter do without their trademark headgear.

The rules of the Senate state “there are no formal dress rules in the standing orders and the matter of dress is left to the judgment of senators, subject to any ruling by the President”  — so if we take Hanson’s burqa as a simple dress choice, it was up to Parry to decide whether it was in order or not.


But of course, Hanson was not donning a burqa as a sartorial choice; her motivation was to make a political point. Regardless of anything else, the burqa was a prop. As we pointed out at the time, regarding Mitchell, props are tolerated but not encouraged. Writing on the subject in Crikey, Rob Chalmers said “props are not allowed in the Senate and the President always rules them out of order”, so under that reading, Hanson shouldn’t have gotten away with her stunt. 

There’s more leeway in the House of Representatives  — the Standing Committee on Procedure’s 2009 report on the display of articles tells us: “When considering articles displayed by Members in the Chamber and Main Committee, a distinction can be made between the use of legitimate visual aids, which are intended to enhance understanding, and ‘stunts’ staged for dramatic effect or to make a political point.” 

No prizes for guessing which category deputy speaker Anna Burke ascribed to the opposition bringing a cardboard cutout of then-prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, when Rudd was absent from Parliament.

In 1980, the chair ruled that the display of a handwritten sign containing an “unparliamentary word” (apparently by Labor member for Robertson Barry Cohen) was out of order — sadly, Hansard does not record what that language was. Since then, the chair has ruled many times that the displaying of signs was not permitted. Back when Macdonald caused a stir with his sartorial choices, Greens senator Scott Ludlam was also knocked with a “disorderly” ruling  for holding up a piece of paper with “SRSLY” written on it. It is not in order to display a weapon — but Liberal senator Bill Heffernan got away with brandishing a fake pipe bomb in Senate estimates to protest recent changes to security.


Unparliamentary language doesn’t just have to include naughty swears — calling an MP a “liar” is considered unparliamentary, but then so is calling a senator “Dumbo”, which was ordered withdrawn in 1997, despite senator Bob Collins’ fairly adorable defence: “Dumbo is a lovable creature with big ears — Dumbo the flying elephant”.

But don’t think that this requires members to be exceedingly genteel. In 1942, Labor backbencher Sydney Max Falstein called Robert Menzies a “boneless wonder”, and got away with it. In 2014, Christopher Pyne only appeared to call Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke a “cunt” (earning a gentle rebuke from speaker Bronwyn Bishop that “the minister will refer to people by their correct titles”), though a detailed analysis of the spectrogram of the sound in Crikey proved the offending word to be, in fact, “grub”. 

Famously, in 1965, external affairs minister Paul Hasluck called then-deputy opposition leader Gough Whitlam “one of the filthiest objects ever to come into this chamber”, and got a glass of water emptied into his face for his trouble. Whitlam’s response was recorded as calling Hasluck a “truculent runt”, but Whitlam himself conceded that might have been a transcription error.

Tips and rumours

Sep 1, 2017


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

If you see something, say something. Continuing claims of possible war crimes by Australian Defence Force personnel have prompted the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force to today issue a highly unusual public request for “anyone with information concerning rumours of possible breaches of the Laws of Armed Conflict by members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016” to come forward, as part of its investigation into suspected breaches of the laws.

The inquiry has been underway since May 2016, but in July the ABC published documents detailing serious and comprehensive claims of possible war crimes in Afghanistan. One alleged incident involved then-SAS captain, now-federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, who learnt of the practice of cutting the hands off dead Taliban forces, banned his men from doing it and reported it up the chain of command. Other reported incidents involved the killing of civilians and subsequent cover-ups.

The inquiry is being headed by New South Wales Supreme Court Judge and Army Reserve Major General Paul Brereton. “Whether you saw something yourself, or heard others talking about it, we would like you to contact us,” Brereton said this morning.

Who dares wins? Former PM Tony Abbott will be the star speaker at a climate sceptic think tank event in the UK next month, speaking on the topic “Daring to Doubt”. The Global Warming Policy Foundation holds an annual lecture in London, with attendance by invitation only. 

The foundation was created in 2009 in the lead-up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit, by British Lord Lawson and Dr Benny Peiser. The group says it has no official position on climate change but does believe ” this issue is not yet settled”.

“Above all we seek to inform the media, politicians and the public, in a newsworthy way, on the subject in general and on the misinformation to which they are all too frequently being subjected at the present time.”

We’re sure this speech will have a very helpful effect as the government attempts to come to a position around a Clean Energy Target.

Bankers will be bankers. We know bankers are less than happy with all the kicking the government has been giving them lately (the “South Australia needs jobs, not a banking tax” ads playing endlessly on Sky News ensure we never forget), but are the titans of industry planning to fight back? A Crikey spy tells us this intriguing anecdote:

“As heard in a very exclusive gentlemen’s club among the upper echelons of Sydney’s finance fraternity: a couple of banks are very seriously considering a legal challenge to certain ministerial decisions of the Turnbull government. Among the much slurred banter and anti-regulator bashing, loose tongues let it slip that even certain specific laws specifically targeting their bottom lines and risk profiles could be challenged depending on a much anticipated High Court decision. Silly drunk and high private school boys, will always be boys …”

Speaking of bankers and climate change. The embattled Commonwealth Bank has a new fight on its hands at its AGM, to be held in Sydney on November 16. It will of course be facing shareholder criticism on a number of fronts led by the extraordinary money laundering claims from AUSTRAC, and the investigation of the bank’s culture and handling of a host of issues by the key bank regulator, APRA. The CBA will be paying for that inquiry.

But this week, the bank issued a short statement revealing that a small group of shareholders have asked for a resolution to be put to the November meeting that will, if passed, extend the directors’ duties into a challenging new area of responsibility. It reads:

“That, at the end of clause 12 ‘Powers and Duties of Directors’ the following new subclause 12.4 is inserted: ‘In the exercise of their powers and duties pursuant to clause 12.1 (a) the Directors shall ensure the business of the company is managed in a manner consistent with the objective of holding global warming to below two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.’” 

The bank said the shareholders making the requisition represent “approximately 0.0077% of Commonwealth Bank’s shares on issue”. 

Claws out after ‘lobster with a mobster’. We’ve previously reported that former Kevin Andrews staffer Nick Demiris was being considered to replace Simon Frost as campaign director of the Victorian Liberals after Frost joined the federal branch of the party. We’ve got word that the job is locked in, which means there is no end in sight to factional battles inside the Liberals, which is probably a distraction from trying to win government from Labor’s Dan Andrews. In comings and goings in the party, Barrie McMillan, the party official who was recorded organising donations from alleged mafia figure Tony Madafferi (of “lobster with a ‘mobster'” fame) to party leader Matthew Guy, has been told to resign from the party completely, after a vote by his local electorate council.

A Christmas present for Dutton. Australian artist Ben Quilty is working on a book with Syrian refugee children, using their artwork. Quilty, an Archibald prize winner and official war artist, last year traveled with author Richard Flanagan to Europe and the Middle East to document the plight of Syrian refugees for a book published last year. Speaking at the Storyology conference in Sydney yesterday (in a session with his cousin, war photographer and Walkley-winner Andrew Quilty), Quilty said: “There’s a universal truth in children’s paintings.” He’s hoping to have the book ready for the seventh anniversary of the Syrian war, early next year, and he’ll be sending a copy to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

Big yellow taxi. Not quite a taxi, but the big yellow oBikes littered around Sydney and Melbourne are taking to the great blue with reports that four of the two-wheelers have been recovered from the Spirit of Tasmania. Who could begrudge them? Maybe they just wanted a nip of that famous Tasmanian whisky. Either way, Ms Tips is sure sure this isn’t is the last time the oBikes will be found outside their usual habitat.

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Aug 31, 2017


There is a complaint, made periodically by more thoughtful pundits, that we, if we are honest, cannot easily dismiss. That is: politics is now reported and thereby greatly understood as something not very different from the world of entertainment — as something rather a lot like sport. To be considered a “wonk”, one need not — preferably does not — attempt to make sense of the social outcomes of policy, but only of the politicians who make it.

Despite the now well-known failures of both commentators and pollsters to predict big switches in Western mass political consciousness — Clinton would win easily, Brexit was a niche choice, Macron would long continue to heroically reunite the French people — many in media cling to a purported psephology that now amounts to little more than divination. Commentators of all hues say that “facts” are always facts, never “alternative” ones, and that if we all just agreed to what this chart or that graph said, we would see the truth of the game.

The most extreme and famous illustration of this divine faith in “fact” was brought to us by the ridiculous Michele Bachmann in the US on the evening of November 8: this chart proves the power of prayer. But it’s not just inanely conservative Republicans whose public appearances show us nothing more than advances in cosmetic dentistry that talk about politics as Australian breakfast TV hosts might talk about tips for the Melbourne Cup. Even serious commentators now pick a horse and allow themselves to remain oblivious to both the result and the broad social consequences of the race. We read political analysis as we might read the sporting pages, because the people producing it really don’t give us any other choice.

Recently, I had dinner with a betting man keen to share his views on political reporting. His contention was that punters and sports fans had never really taken football or racing columnists seriously and were always aware of a particular analyst’s personal bias. “You know that this person is a rusted-on Collingwood fan; that this broadcaster will never say a positive thing about a Gai Waterhouse-trained horse.” In short, he says, people aren’t that stupid, they can recognise vested interests, even if the reporter who has them genuinely believes themselves to be objective. Punters have long read the sporting pages largely for the thrill of disagreement, and to laugh at the selected odds and statistics which are so clearly offered less as “facts” but faith. He concluded — and by this point, I was finding a counter-argument difficult to produce — that the closer political reporting came to resemble sport, the more the usefulness of it receded.

His comparison has challenged me every day now for two weeks. The techniques of sport reporting and analysis are — gambling industry notwithstanding — appropriate to their object. So long as no one loses more than their shirt, it’s a laugh and a way to pass one’s leisure. Consumers and commentators have an implicit pact that disagreement, however furious, is all part of the fun.

Political commentators can make no such pact with the rest of us. They behave like sports reporters nonetheless. It’s so often a case of barracking influentially for one’s own team or horse, so rarely a case of considering the match outcome.

We have seen this sporting spirit emerge very clearly in Australia in leadership challenges. “Wonks” and their fans get a sniff of spill and suggest for days on both social and traditional media forms that “It’s on!”, until such time as it is, actually, on.

Abbott v Turnbull has played out in media as a match for so long, an actually meaningful thing — the “soul” of the Liberal Party — becomes only as meaningful as who wins the flag or the race. And now we see evidence of an emerging fight between Shorten and Albanese, the latter combatant, it seems, certainly doing his best to find media barrackers. Currently, this stoush, which resumed last May when Albanese publicly criticised a pretty awful ad in which his leader had appeared, is a pale shadow of the Malcolm and Tony cage-fight. But as of yesterday, it’s hotting up, this time, over the issue of statues.

If you missed the dispute, here’s a replay: Shorten had stated that the Hyde Park statue of Captain Cook, now hotly discussed in the wake of a mild Stan Grant commentary, might be improved with an additional plaque. Albanese, claiming on Adelaide radio that he was not fully aware of these comments, said that statues should not matter as much as the issues they represent — a cultural position slightly at odds with his criticism in May of the importance of another artefact, being Shorten’s ad.

Of course, we cannot ignore potential leadership challenges if we have genuine interest in politics. But the way politicians and media collude to provide us with a sporting blow-by-blow diminishes politics — actually achieving what Albanese has warned against, despite his possible complicity in the act. Politicians themselves become moving statues who matter much more that the issues they represent.

It’s quite possible, of course, that Albanese would make a better opposition leader. He may be prepared to go further than Shorten in the crucial matter of finance sector regulation. He may even be good to his newer word — oddly, very well received in Murdoch press — that radical and true reform to policies that have long disadvantaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is urgently needed — however much I personally doubt it. Maybe Albanese has been born-again. Maybe he has had his Come to Jeremy moment and seeks fundamental changes to the way we structure our economy — although, again, this is hard for me to buy after his months of support for the micro-solution of micro-brewed beer.  

The point is, however, we cannot know if he is genuine. For as long as our local media prefers to recount the thrills of a spill and match injuries to investigating policy outcomes for us — people not considered as players in the game, but mere onlookers — we’ll never know. All we’ll see are club colours.

Tips and rumours

Aug 30, 2017


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Mum’s the word. The first TV ad from the Australian Christian Lobby prosecuting the No case in the marriage equality survey came out last night, and it was … mostly about Safe Schools?

Misdirection aside, we’ve had a quick look into some of the “concerned mums” fronting the ad. The first is a familiar face to Victorians. Cella White made a video after she dramatically removed her son from Frankston High last year because a teacher allegedly told him he could wear a dress to school next year if he wanted. News then emerged this mum was backed by Lyle Shelton’s Australian Christian Lobby. White is back in the new ad with the same story.

The last mum in the ACL ad is Heidi McIvor, who has quite the resume. Heidi is a former staffer for Family First senator Steve Fielding, and previously worked for two Liberal politicians and a National. But sure, an average mother. If her LinkedIn profile is anything to go by, McIvor worked for Stephen “creationism” Fielding for three years, and describes him as “one of the most influential politicians in the Australian Parliament”. A gentle reminder here that Stephen Fielding compared same-sex marriage to incest in 2007. 

“A bloke cannot marry his brother; it is not right. A woman cannot marry their sister; it is not right. A bloke cannot marry a bloke because it is not right, and a female cannot marry a female because it is not right. I don’t support this.”

Ivor also appears to be long time pro-life, anti-feminist activist who is Facebook friends with ACL chief Lyle Shelton himself. But again, a regular Aussie mum with no agenda.

Ms Tips welcomes any information on P.Li, the second mum in the ACL video. And you can stay anonymous.

Infrastructure chief hitting the road. Canberra eyebrows were raised on the weekend when Infrastructure secretary Mike Mrdak was reported to have delivered the bureaucratic equivalent of both barrels to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Prime Minister’s Office. Mrdak’s candour was of the kind usually employed by outgoing Secretaries who no longer have to worry about what governments think of them — and it seems that’s exactly the case with Mrdak. Mrdak was reappointed — with lavish praise — for three years by Tony Abbott in June 2014. But in late June, the Infrastructure Department tells us, Malcolm Turnbull only reappointed Mrdak for six months, with his contract expiring on December 31. Mrdak is one of Canberra’s most respected public servants, has led Infrastructure since 2009 and has worked directly for and with Transport ministers dating back to Laurie Brereton, as well having a stint in Prime Minister and Cabinet.

In a public service not notably overburdened with leadership talent and increasingly seen as incompetent, you’d have to wonder why any government didn’t fall over itself to retain Mrdak’s services. One important example — when the ANAO reviewed the Abbott government’s dreadful handling of funding for the East-West Link in Melbourne, the auditors unusually praised Infrastructure for its efforts to advise the government against advancing payments to the Victorian government, making it clear responsibility for the debacle belonged to Abbott, not the public servants. Perhaps the idea that governments should handle billions of dollars in infrastructure investment with care and due diligence isn’t popular in our new era of agility and innovation.

Cun’t touch this. A man found guilty of offensive behaviour for apparently calling a former prime minister a “cun’t” has been saved — at least in part — by an apostrophe. Danny Lim was found guilty by a magistrate for wearing a sign on a busy Sydney street that included a reference to then-PM Tony Abbott, saying “Tony you can’t” and “Tricky lying Tony you can’t”, with the ‘A’ in “can’t” inverted so it looked like a “u”. In a District Court appeal, Judge Andrew Scotting said that he couldn’t be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the “reasonable person” would read the sign as a reference to “cunt”, in part because of the apostrophe.

“There was nothing that could have been considered to be offensive by the appellant wearing a sandwich board containing a political comment, in the absence of the impugned word, for example if the appellant had used the word ‘can’t’ instead.”

Scotting also said “cunt” was less offensive in Australia than in other English-speaking countries:

“The prevalence of the impugned word in Australian language is evidence that it is considered less offensive in Australia than other English speaking countries, such as the United States. However, that also appears to be changing as is evidenced from the increase in American entertainment content featuring the impugned word.”

The Bernardi party parties on. Who will be the next right-wing minor party to announce it has merged with Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives? A caller to 3AW this morning says another party will announce that it has been subsumed by The Cory Bernardi Experience, but we’re yet to find out which one. As we have already reported, Family First, the Victorian branch of Australian Christians and Rachel Carling-Jenkins, upper house MP for the Democratic Labour Party in Victoria, have also jumped ship. The right-wing vote looked like it could be too fractured to make room for Bernardi, but he has seen that threat through so far.

Screw rural and regional Victoria. The Herald Sun could be taking after stablemate The Daily Telegraph in more ways than one, Crikey hears. Word out of a focus group for the paper in Melbourne is that its tagline could be changing from “We’re for Victoria” to “We’re for Melbourne,” bringing it in line with the Tele‘s “We’re for Sydney” line. The Tele also launched its website redesign today, and we hear the Hun will be the next cab off the rank. 


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Tips and rumours

Aug 25, 2017


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

How not to motivate your staff. The woes at Big W are well known, with parent company Woolworths revealing in this week’s financial results announcement that Big W’s loss before interest and tax was $150.5 million for the year. Ouch. Staff are probably well aware that the bottom line isn’t looking great, but is reminding them of the share price the best motivational tool? A sign spotted in a Big W staff room this week features the message: “Today’s share price $27.02. Tomorrow’s price is up to you!”

Is the company implying that is front-line staff who are at fault for the dire outlook for the department store? It doesn’t look good to us.

Drunk on the job. It’s not unusual to stagger through a day at work feeling a bit under the weather because of a few too many frothies or red wines the night before, but most of us can’t lay claim to passing out drunk at work — and getting away with it. Former prime minister Tony Abbott has admitted to missing five key votes in 2009 after a night on the sauce when he was opposition leader and the Rudd Labor government was passing its GFC fiscal stimulus in an interview with Annabel Crabb for the ABC’s The House.

“I lay down, and the next thing I knew it was morning,” he told Crabb.

Daily Telegraph national political editor Sharri Markson tweeted her story from 2009 this morning, when she wrote “Abbott … fell asleep after a night of drinking witnessed by MPs from both sides of Parliament”. Asked if he was drunk, Abbott said: “That is an impertinent question. I had dinner with the gentlemen you mentioned, there’s no doubt we had a couple of bottles of wine, maybe two. This is an impertinent question. I’m going to politely hang up now.”

She should feel vindicated now — the question wasn’t that impertinent at all.

Wunner wunner. Barnaby Joyce is a frontrunner in the New Zealander of the Year awards, according to a report in the NZ Herald on Friday. Well played, Kiwis. Our deputy PM, who is floundering in a Section 44 mess of his own making, can at least know he is beloved in his own country. A spokesperson for the annual awards told the Herald Joyce’s eligibility for the awards would be assessed after nominations close on September 18. This is turning into a tug-of-war of Russell Crowe proportions.

Wives and roses. While the marriage equality debate rages around us, it would appear the NSW Governor is finding a way to honour the institution of marriage in a vintage manner. A new breed of Grandiflora rose named “The Governor’s Wife” was planted on Thursday to “honour the contribution of NSW Governors’ wives throughout history”. How very royal. The queenly varietal comes courtesy The Rose Society of NSW of which the current governor, His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AS DSC (Ret’d), and his wife are patrons. We are yet to hear if taxpayers footed the bill for this rose. Ms Tips reckons this breed would make a particularly sweet bouquet when a (female) governor finally gets to marry her wife.

Halls of equality. Yesterday Crikey told you about a robocall a tipster had received regarding updating details for the marriage equality postal survey and asked if anyone else had received anything similar. One of our readers was duly good enough to furnish us with a recording of the whole thing.  Turns out it was from Victorian Trades Hall Council. “Nadia” has been calling people and telling them “we need millions of Australian’s to stand up for their families and friends and neighbours” before reminding the recipient of the deadline, and directing them to Australian Electoral Commission website to update their details. It goes on to suggest if the listener is particularly passionate about a voting yes, they can visit the Trades Hall website and contact an organiser for an equality poster.

That the VTHC — which co-ordinates union activities and campaigns in Victoria — is pro-marriage equality will be no shock to anyone who keeps an eye on its social media activities. For example, the header of its Facebook page says “equality is union business” next to a raised fist. The word “business” is underline in rainbow colours, which also for the background of the Trades logo in the profile picture: 


It’s a gas. Last Friday, US oil and gas giant Chevron surprised everyone by ending a challenge to tax assessments by the ATO. The Tax Office had been fighting a High Court appeal from Chevron over a $340 million Federal Court decision against Chevron on its transfer pricing methodology, which threatened to set a precedent for multinationals in Australia to pay more tax. Chevron rolled over early last week. The decision will have the effect of boosting tax revenues to the federal government by around $1 billion a year over the next decade and means Australia will get earlier access to the fruits of the LNG export boom.

And then at the start of this week, the company let it be known that its chairman and CEO, John Watson, will step down by the end of September and be replaced by vice-chairman Mike Wirth. Watson had been in the role for seven years and had driven the two biggest resource projects in Australia, the Gorgon and Wheatstone LNG projects off the Western Australian coast. Gorgon, which started operations last year, cost US$54 billion, about US$17 billion more than its budget when the final investment decision was taken in 2009. Wheatstone, which is now in the final stages of commissioning, will cost about US$34 billion, US$5 billion more than originally planned. Plus that tricky tax business. But we’re sure Watson just wanted to take a Well-Earned Break, as Gerard Henderson would say.

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