Common Sense Dies Here #33

Welcome to Common Sense Dies Here #33, an ideological dream world.

Despite Justin Gleeson’s resignation, George Brandis’ attempt to silence politically inconvenient legal advice continued to backfire. The direction preventing the SG from providing guidance without George’s permission is likely to be overturned in the Senate. And Labor and the Greens’ calls for his resignation were backed by the Australian Lawyers Alliance. ALA national president, Tony Kenyon, said “It is of deep concern to the profession that some attorney generals appear to have no regard for important and fundamental safeguards on executive power, such as an independent solicitor general” . Former public service departmental head, Paul Barratt, expressed similar concerns. He said the government’s continued pattern of attacking dissenting public servants risks creating a climate in which “department heads tend to tell the minister what the minister wants to hear, rather than what they need to hear”. I’m pretty sure that’s the aim.

Mal Turnbull rejected these concerns, saying “We value immensely the very frank advice we get from the Australian public service”. But that sentiment was weakened soon after by one of his MPs, Andrew Laming. “The regulation to throw out, that the two senators are going to do, I support that. You no longer need this regulation because Mr Gleeson is gone” he said. This contradicted George’s claims that the contentious direction was “administrative housekeeping”. So, it’s another possible example of him misleading parliament.

But anyway, not satisfied with contradicting Mal and George, Andy went on to contradict himself. Labor’s Terri Butler sought to clarify he was “saying that regulation was needed because of the person who was occupying the office”. “No, you just flipped that, you flipped it 100 per cent. I said it’s no longer needed now because he’s gone, and if it gets thrown out it doesn’t matter — Justin Gleeson’s gone” he replied. Right, so she flipped that by saying what you admitted you were saying? Andy repeated this puzzling assertion a few more times, then moved on to “I didn’t say that, but you can infer that”. When Terri pointed out that it’s “the inference that anyone would draw”, he replied again with the thing he said others were unfairly claiming he had said: “He’s gone, you don’t need the regulation now”. Now, I’m not saying that Andrew Laming is a nonsensical fuckwit. But it’s pretty easy to infer it, isn’t it?

Barnaby Joyce also faced accusations of unfairly attacking public servants after the release of a letter from former agriculture department head, Paul Grimes. The letter, from March 2015, outlines his concerns about Barn’s integrity. The reason he provided for these concerns was the dishonest editing of some of Barn’s parliamentary statements in the Hansard. Grimesy was fired 10 days after the letter was sent. In response to its release, Barn denied that he personally sacked Grimesy, and continued to attribute the dodgy edits to a misguided staffer. Firstly, he might not have terminated Grimesy himself, but it’s hard to believe it didn’t occur on his request. Secondly, he tried to delete the letter from government records, and spent more than a year, and a large amount of public money, trying to keep its contents secret. With this in mind, it’s also hard to believe he didn’t have a hand in attempting to hide his mistakes in the Hansard.

Perhaps attempting to conceal those mistakes some more with outrageous remarks, Barn labelled Labor’s proposed land clearing restrictions “communism”. “This essentially took away ownership from private individuals and gave it to the community. The dispossession of the individual for the community benefit, without the community paying for it” he said. Right, so the fair thing to do is let farmers personally profit from land clearing while leaving the community to shoulder the environmental costs? Also, while I have far less problem with being labelled a commie than most, I’m not sure some restrictions on the use of privately owned land really count as seizing and collectivising the means of production.

Either way, Barn is perfectly happy to restrict the rights of property owners when it comes to foreign ownership of farmland. “It’s the whole essence of patriotism. The love of one’s country is best delivered when you own that country” he explained. The problem is, of course, farmers only own some of the country. But continued increases in land clearing will accelerate climate change, and therefore affect everyone else. Surely the main concern about foreign owners is the possibility they’ll behave in an uncaring way that negatively effects society. Which is exactly what Barn seems to be proposing Australian farmers should be allowed to do. I guess self defeating hubris, and the idea that shameless self interest is somehow better when delivered with a familiar accent, are the essence of patriotism though. So no arguments there.

Mal Turnbull expressed his own desire to ease restrictions on environmental destruction. He announced his intention to push for previously proposed limits on the ability of environmental groups to legally challenge the development of mines and such. He criticised what he considers “very systematic, very well-funded campaigns against major projects”. If the policy is successful, only those that can prove they’re “directly affected” by the project in question will be able to lodge challenges. What exactly does “directly affected” mean? Everyone will be directly affected by climate change, even if they live nowhere near the site of a proposed mine. Why does it matter anyway? Surely a breach of environmental law is one regardless of whether the person pointing it out is “directly affected”. It should be left to judges to decide what is and isn’t a reasonable challenge. And there’s a reason for “very systematic, very well-funded campaigns against major projects”: those projects are run by very systematic, very well-funded corporations. Mal and mates want to limit the size of challenges so those corporations can easily crush them with their superior resources. It’s another example of the government trying to stifle dissent.

In his ongoing quest to stifle the truth, Pete Dutton lauded the creation of the Australian Border Force podcast. It is described as “a series bringing you the latest news and information from the operational arm of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection”. Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? Pete claimed it’s needed to get “facts out there because sometimes, particularly through some of the left-wing media outlets, Border Force gets a pretty rough time”. Finally some of the balance we’ve all been crying out for. I look forward to the episode which reveals Pete to be a deeply principled, compassionate intellectual. The way objective reality depicts him as shameless, mendacious grey goon is really unfair.

I’m sure the gooncast will also soon be celebrating the proposal to institute a lifetime ban on irregular migrants who arrive by boat entering Australia. It’ll be backdated to 19 July 2013 so that it applies to all the people already in offshore detention. Pete provided a couple different reasons for the ban. “There is intelligence that I’ve seen about people wanting to travel to Manus lsland to marry some of the people from the regional processing centre, to try and create a process where they might come here on a spouse visa” he claimed. I’m sure that intelligence came from the same reliable source that made up the allegations about Save the Children employees coaching self harm. And isn’t there already processes in place to weed out sham marriages for visas?

He then said “What we don’t want is if somebody is to go to a third country that they apply for a tourist visa or some other way to circumvent what the government’s policy is by coming back to Australia from that third country”. Might actually want to find a suitable third country first, mate. But anyway, if refugees are resettled in a safe third country, why does it matter if they come here as tourists, on business, or to visit family? I know Pete and co are desperate to avoid granting people the chance to seek asylum. But if they’re in a safe place, they have no grounds to claim asylum. So basically this is just an attempt to further punish desperate people that have already been tortured for exercising their legal right.

Though Pete and Mal claim the move will meet international obligations, that’s another lie. Article 31 of the United Nations’ 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees says “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened”. So, current policy already violates that, and this proposed one will be another breach. Labor MPs lined up to strongly criticise the idea, and Short William joined in. He called it “ridiculous”, but refused to rule out his support. And with Pete, Mal, and co pressing the usual buttons about Labor being weak on border protection, it won’t surprise me if they do end up backing it. Sometimes I wonder if, instead of exercise, Bill actually lost all that weight for the last election by throwing away the few remaining scruples he had in an attempt to appeal to the “sensible middle”. Then I think about some of the revelations from his union past, and remember he probably never had any scruples.

On to attempts to punish another set of vulnerable people now. Human services minister, Alan Tudge, criticised “miserably low” welfare requirements, and signalled the government’s intention to introduce far tougher ones. Again, he’s conveniently overlooking the fact there is more unemployed people than available jobs. But apparently his approach will show people “yes, you are capable of doing this and yes, you can do it!”. Right, so it’s gonna teach them how to conjure a previously imaginary job into existence? I’ve watched a lot of films, but I’m yet to see a training sequence in which the protagonist harnesses their mystical powers by awkwardly waiting around in depressing offices that smell like disinfectant and bodily fluids. Or by undertaking an ever increasing set of box ticking exercises that seem as though they were specifically designed to break people’s spirit. A hypothesis that the meagre success rate of Work for the Dole seems to confirm.

But who needs facts right? Definitely not Christian Porter. He claimed that a single parent of 4 on welfare can earn more than someone in the same situation who works full time. The one on welfare can receive up to $52,523 a year, while he suggested the one working full time on the median income would only earn $49,831 after tax. He neglected to mention the $30, 916 the working parent would receive in family tax benefits, bringing their income to $80,747. Even if he did have his facts right, $49,831 is below the poverty line for a single parent of 4, and $52,523 is close to it. So frankly, I don’t think placing both families below the poverty line would be an acceptable solution. But, despite their claims of being the pragmatic ones, I suppose that’s the ideological dream world Christian and his mates occupy. One in which creating more poverty is the cure for poverty, more inequality is the solution to the inequality, and everyone gets what they deserve. I’m sure it’s lovely for those who can afford to forget about 30 grand. But for those with far less luck, it’s often a nightmare.