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News media ignores Abbott’s moral failure

By Barry Tucker

The News media should be all over Tony Abbott’s latest expenses rort. The implications of this moral failure are more serious than sending warplanes to Iraq.

The affair was mentioned in newspapers, on TV and radio (I can confirm hearing it on the ABC RN Breakfast show). However, it was merely mentioned and then dropped as an issue.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull told ABC’s RN he could not recall Abbott telling his party room colleagues that he staged a visit to the Peter MacCallum cancer clinic in order to claim expenses for attending a fund raiser in Melbourne the previous day. Mr Turnbull told RN: “He did not say that to the party room.”

However, long-time Canberra political journalist Michelle Grattan, in an article in TheConversation today, has confirmed that Abbott had told his party room meeting about the rort. Grattan has a reputation for careful fact checking.

Grattan wrote: “… Abbott said he’d had a Monday night fund raiser in Melbourne that was followed next morning by a visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to bring the trip within official entitlements”.

So, the news media mentioned the incident and has now moved on. I think this shows poor news judgment. When you consider the past fuss over MPs rorting their travel entitlements, the treatment handed out to former LNP MP Peter Slipper for accepting roles of Deputy Speaker and Speaker (he was shopped to the Federal Police for a $900 infringement, which normally would be handled quietly under the Minchin Protocol) and the widespread criticism of the government’s harsh 2014 budget, this open admission by Abbott becomes a serious news story.

The situation shows that the rorting continues and the news media is not prepared to hold the rorters to account.

It could be argued that Abbott simply continued his long-standing practice of arranging trips that have a multiple purpose in order to justify claiming an MP’s travel entitlements. In this case it is quite clear that Abbott arranged the visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Clinic in order to claim expenses for his visit to Melbourne for the previous day’s Liberal party fund raiser. The visit to the Peter Mac served no other practical purpose. He made an announcement about a $64 million package to enhance security against terrorism on Australian soil and had a Q&A with journalists. The announcement could have been done by press release or by his deputy or another minister.

Abbott’s salary of more than $500,000 a year (plus benefits) is the highest in the western world (former Labor PMs Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd mark II received the same amount). The fact that he constantly tells lies, misleads the public and cheats to defraud the taxpayer tells us all we need to know about his moral values. It needs to be remembered that, as government leader, Abbott has the power to unilaterally commit Australian troops to war.

The incident raised the usual storm on social media. Here is one Tweeter’s reaction:

Abbott the Rorter

Abbott’s exploitation of his parliamentary expense account since his days as Opposition Leader from 1 December, 2009 have been a rich field for Twitter meme creators:

Abbots sports rorts

Abbott 4mill expenses

The total figure in the above meme is $4,264,065.

The federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey, provides a similar example of rorting. The cigar smoking millionaire has brought down an extremely harsh budget, one that takes from the unemployed, the ill, the disabled, the homeless, the elderly, parents and students while giving to wealthy individuals and industries. He says his budget is fair. Those who are hard up he calls “leaners”. Those who are well off he calls “lifters”.

Joe Hockey claims an MP’s accommodation expenses of $270 a night for sleeping in a $1.5 million Canberra home owned by family members. That’s $1,350 for five nights in what is virtually his own place. The taxpayer’s are buying this joint for the Hockey family.

Again, Hockey is merely taking advantage of the MPs entitlements as laid down in the rule book. While slamming those less well off as being “leaners”.

There is clearly something wrong here. That is why the news media is wrong to let go of this issue and of these two examples.

Abbott’s admission to the party room (stated in response to criticism for being one hour late for the party room meeting) is a clear statement of deliberate and premeditated fraud. Both Abbott and Hockey should be removed from office as quickly as possible in the best interest of the Parliament and the people.

This article was originally posted in TruthInNewsMedia, under the same title. The memes above did not appear in the original story.

Update, 5 September, 2014

MPs’ expense claims were in the news late last year. They involved Abbott, his Treasurer, Hockey, and Agriculture Minister and deputy National party leader Barnaby Joyce and Labor MP Mark Dreyfus. Those cases mainly involved MPs claiming expenses for attending the weddings of friends and colleagues.

A series of such questionable claims culminated in the case of WA Liberal MP Don Randall, who claimed some $5,000 expenses for a flight to Cairns with his wife. The couple later bought a property in the area. Randall said he had made the trip for a meeting related to party matters.

The affair received a lot of publicity then but the news media went silent on the subject of MPs’ expenses, until Abbott’s recent incredible statement to his party room.

The federal parliamentary library has copied this report, filed by its Electronic Media Monitoring Service. The sequence of events, the outcome, the comments by the Department of Finance and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are remarkable when compared to the treatment that was dished out to former Speaker Peter Slipper.

There are some questions our illustrious MSM will not deal with. Eg: Who shopped Peter Slipper? Why did the AFP not refer the matter back to the Finance dept? Why was the Minchin Protocol not applied to Slipper’s case?

In another case of pollies’ expenses and nasty politics, the Victorian government this week failed to have renegade MP Geoff Shaw expelled.

Premier Denis Napthine tabled the motion to expel former Liberal Shaw because his apology to Parliament about misuse of his parliamentary entitlements lacked sincerity.

The ruckus surrounding Shaw has cost the government a Speaker and disrupted the business of Parliament for months, even leading to its extraordinary suspension for a period.

In the UK, the Conservative former PM Margaret Thatcher (deceased) lit a powder keg when she allowed MPs generous leeway in claiming expenses in lieu of another pay rise (which are always unpopular for MPs). This went unremarked for some time but eventually exploded when the British Press (not as much under the thumb as ours) started to produce stories about the rorting. The leeway extended to outrageous claims for installation of swimming pools and maintenance of MPs’ properties.

UPDATE, June 7, 2017
Here is a long list of aspects of Tony Abbott’s character, compiled by a former SMH journalist who maintains the blog Australians for Honest Politics and tweets under the tag of @Thefinnigans.

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Where are we going?

We know there’s a problem with the quality of Western democracy today. Things are always changing and not necessarily for the better.

Corporations are increasing their influence on political policy making. What could the outcome be if you project this forward? The end of democracy is a real possibility.

What did voting for Tony Abbott get? It did not get what he promised during the 2013 election campaign. Australia got the most cynical and duplicitous federal leader of all time.

We got the implementer of the policies of the corporate-funded Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which I believe is the policy-forming body of the Liberal party.

At the same time we are engaged in a running battle with radical Islam, which began during the 1970s when the West began messing with oil-rich Arab and essentially Islamic countries.

We are also seeing the resurgence of evangelical Christian religions. This is either a counter to the expansion of Islam or it is the natural companion of Conservative politics, allied to the power of property over people.

If radical Islam interfers with corporate interests or ambition (tick that one) there will be hell to pay: full-on “religious” war.

The commercial news media has succumbed to the battle for control of the truth.

If the people cannot find a way to regain control of their democracies (ok, questionable that they ever did), we will be right there, in the middle of George Orwell’s insightful 1984, with no idea of how or when we will ever enjoy freedom again.

Campaign for news media audits

Should the news media be audited for bias? The taxpayer-funded ABC was recently audited by at least two individuals, in separate inquiries, both of which found little cause for concern.

These inquires were ordered following persistent complaints, from the Conservative Right wing of political opinion, about bias. These complaints were part of the long-running campaign of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to have the ABC broken up and sold to private enterprise. Rather than putting forward a thoroughly researched economic case for selling the ABC, News Corp relied upon a biased and dishonest campaign. The company did not argue for more control of bias by politically oriented radio shock jocks or commercial TV programs.

This attitude and behaviour of News Corp is itself a case for audits of the bias in political news and commentary in newspapers. In a democracy like ours, the public should expect that it is being honestly and accurately informed, without bias. If the ABC can be audited for bias, then why not audit newspapers and commercially owned radio and TV? To audit one and not the others is bias itself.

The ABC audits received a broad coverage before and after the events. You will find the results reported in mUmBRELLA, Crikey.com, on ABC websites, the NoFibs.com website and elsewhere.

Former teacher, single mother and business manager Margaret Sinclair has produced a petition calling on the federal Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to institute audits of bias in political news reporting in commercial newspapers, radio and TV.

Attempts to reform newspaper reporting, in particular, are generally unsuccessful because the newspaper proprietors, editors and journalists fight so hard against it — scaring governments into backing down. We saw an excellent example of this in Australia early last year. The ball was fumbled by a boofheaded Communications Minister who tossed the Bills on the table with a “take it or leave it” attitude.

In that case the newspapers howled “Freedom of the Press” and one group, News Corp, characterised the minister as a dictator. The minister wanted to appoint an overseer to ensure the newspapers adhered to regulations they had already agree to. No major matter, but the papers really beat that up that aspect.

What they (News Corp in particular) were really objecting to was one of the five Bills that provided for the appointment of a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA). This person would rule on the wisdom or otherwise of further consolidation and mergers of news media interests. It has since been revealed that the ultra Right-wing Conservative government elected in September last year is likely to loosen media ownership rules. It is thought this is designed to allow Rupert Murdoch in particular to prop up his loss-making Australian newspaper interests with new cross-media ownership (radio and TV).

Murdoch’s political activity in Australia is far from transparent. His newspapers are far more obviously biased than they accuse the ABC of being. Their opinion that the ABC is biased against the Right is not honestly held — it is part of a campaign that has the support of the Liberal party’s policy formation unit, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

The situation makes Margaret Sinclair’s petition a long-overdue and worthwhile endeavour.

You will find much more on the campaign against the ABC and biased reporting in the news media in general on my other website: Truth in News Media.

Follow me, @btckr, on Twitter, if you want to.

Understanding Liberal ideology

I thought it might be useful to explain what is happening in Australian politics.

First up, these “Liberals” are not the Liberals you once knew. They are US Republican-style Tea Party fruitcakes. They get a kick out of punishing people. Bible bashers, but people who use religion as a tool to keep the uneducated, the unaware in line.

Australia’s principle source of export income is in mining: iron ore, bauxite (for aluminium), coal, gas (offshore and from “fracking”) and uranium yellow cake. These industries are polluting at source (mining) and during manufacture: steel products, aluminium, electricity and nuclear power plants (mainly via cooling ponds).

A severe environment and pollution control program would impact on these industries at every level. It seems highly likely that they are contributing to global warming via carbon pollution. The Republicans in the USA and the Liberals and their National allies in Australia are pro industry, commerce, business and do not like the idea of restrictions or additional costs or penalties being imposed on those industries. Therefore, they believe, Global Warming, Climate Change or any kind of pollution is nonsense — not to mention the dreadful impact on profits of having to clean up their mess.

So Abbott fought Labor and the Greens, with the help of Rupert Murdoch — who is a US citizen and a Republican and therefore doesn’t like anything that impacts upon profit.

Once Abbott & Co Pity Ltd gained office they set about pulling apart everything the defeated Labor government had done in regard to making carbon polluters pay, monitoring climate change and researching and encouraging alternate, renewable (non-polluting) energies. There may be an enormous price to pay for this reckless vandalism — time will tell.

Abbott knows that “gold plating” of the electricity delivery system (the poles and wires) is a major cause of electricity price rises. Abbott knows that the decision of east coast States to export gas has forced domestic suppliers to charge higher world parity prices. Abbott knows that crazy deals between State governments and the energy regulator richly reward electricity supply companies for “gold plating”, or over-development of the supply system. This is all about profits for Big Business, of course. But Abbott doesn’t want to talk about that. He prefers to talk about “this toxic carbon tax”.

The carbon price (it’s not a tax, it’s a price on carbon, the first stage of a carbon emissions trading scheme) that Australian industry has become accustomed to paying (they pass on the cost to consumers, who are compensated — some actually make money out of it) actually puts Australian industry ahead of other countries that haven’t priced carbon but one day will have to. Abbott doesn’t want to talk about that either.

Abbott wants to talk about a “Budget Emergency!” Abbott wants to talk about “Labor’s debt and deficit disaster”. Both of these so-called crises are a figment of Abbott & Co Pity Ltd’s campaign of lies and distortion. People who know more about Australia’s economic situation than either Tony Two Face the IPA Hit Man or Joe Eleventynomics Hockeysticks say Australia’s debt is not a problem. Australia is not a company, it’s not a business. These Tea Party “economists” are merely book-keepers, or amateur accountants — there’s your problem.

So a “Budget Emergency” and “Labor’s debt and deficit disaster” is a manufactured nonsense to justify a savage Budget that hammers the elderly, the infirm, the sick, the poor, the handicapped, the unemployed, veteran’s kids, single mums, students from struggling families — anyone who’s pretty much down, can’t fight back or has hopes of climbing out of the hole and becoming one of the aspirational ones.

Abbott is one of those creatures who believes a certain class of people (his “aspirationals”) are entitled to everything they can get their hands on while others are not. Others must work until they are 70, then retire on their meagre superannuation funds or what’s left of them after the money-loving smarties of the Abbott clan (fund managers and financial advisers) have stolen their share. And just for good measure, Abbott is slugging the super of low income learners. It’s contrary and contradictory because it cuts across other measures and urgings and beliefs but, hey — there’s a reason why they call him The Mad Monk.

The “Liberals” and others, to be fair, believe in “small government”. Apart from the obvious question of “Why?”, there’s the question of how small is small? Those struggling people in the list above are paid out of Treasury. Public Service employees are also paid out of Treasury. So, the more government stuff you can get rid of, the smaller you can make the government and the smaller the amount of money those long suffering rich bastards have to hand over to the Treasury. That’s what that is all about. Oh, and fewer — preferably none — nosy government departments sticking their business into your business.

This means all those PS people have to find a job somewhere else. Abbott has a plan for that. It looks like this: “We have a plan to create a million jobs.” What is that plan? It’s this: “We have a plan to create a million jobs.” Phew, thank god for that.

Abbott believes rich people should not have to pay taxes, beyond maybe just a little bit. After all, they employ people on court ordered basic cost of living type wages. Those people pay taxes (it’s taken before they can get their grubby little hands on it) and that’s how it should be. Wage rises trigger price rises and no one’s better off, except for those who can drag a buck or two out of the increased $ value of the turnover.

Wage earners pay taxes again whenever they spend some of their money that has already been taxed. Except on many food items. But don’t worry (or do), Abbott’s got a plan to force the States to ask for a higher GST and to slap it on food items as well.

There’s a solution to this harsh and unfair nonsense, but it’s one Abbott & Co Pity Ltd is unlikely to take. That is to slug tax dodging businesses, fabulously wealthy overseas-based corporations and his wealthy mates with a higher rate of tax. He has hit the highest salary earners with a little tax — to make his ridiculously unfair Budget “fair” — but it’s a temporary measure, unlike his Draconian bashing of the less well off which (if the measures get past the Senate) will last until Labor or some coalition of minor parties and Independents can kick his ugly arse over the horizon.

I can’t wait for that one.

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You may have heard the term “corporate governance” — the insideous, encroachment of big corporations’ influence on political policies and their outcomes by lobbying, financing and influencing politicians.

This movement is big and influential in the United States and the same thing is happening in Australia. The web site truthout has published a detailed article on the key players in the US.

For more on the exportation of some of their ideas to Australia, via the IPA, see: Who’s really running Australia?, especially the links in the update to the story.

Greedy government jumps the gun

The NSW LNP government is slugging some housing tenants with a sudden rent increase.

A new policy will soak up 100 percent of the Centrelink rent subsidy provided to certain pension recipients.

The entire subsidy will now go straight from Centrelink to Housing NSW’s coffers, effectively a direct payment from the federal Treasury to Housing NSW.

The policy change was announced in the letter below, sent to one subsidy recipient, apparently without any public announcement in the news media, with little explanation or justification and with no apparent concern for the welfare of Housing residents.

 Rod's letter2
The son of the woman to whom the above letter is addressed is a Twitter follower and friend, Rodney Geddes. He has given me permission to reproduce the letter and his reaction to it. Rod’s letter mentions the other expenses he and his mother will face as the result of the federal government’s 2014 Budget.
===========
“Hi Barry. Take what part you think you can use in The Sniper.
“My names is Rodney Geddes and I am a full-time student and carer of my very sick mum Sue Geddes. I have worked most of my life from the age of 15 until 42. My longest and second last job was for Westfarmers at Blackwood, where I worked for 15 years.

“After my mum had a very bad car accident, which is responsible for 95% of the things she now suffers from, I left my last job after working there for 18 months. I have paid my taxes and after dad died I again went back to work and paid taxes (so did my dad all his life, as a truck driver). I have two brothers who work in the mining industry and a sister who works in Darwin, looking after people who find it hard to live: low income, disabled, Aborigines and so on. So mum will get hit hard on that front alone.

“Mum and me get about $17,000 each a year to live on (I get a bit more). I have worked out that if the pension goes to the CPI at the average wage of $58,000, at 40% mum and I will lose about $4,000 and the government says it is a pay rise. I say bullshit, it is a very big cut. They want us to live on about $13,000.

“Not only that, the cuts are affecting me right now as you will see from the State government cutting my rent subsidy of about $55 a fortnight. The next to go from the State government is my electricity subsidy of about $200 a year. All this from a Liberal State government, which says it’s because of the cuts from the federal government [Budget], that has not even been passed yet, but that does not stop them from taking advantage of it.

“Abbott has lied about so many different things that I can’t list them all. I did not vote for him because I believed everything the ALP said he would do and they were right. But I never thought he would go so far in the seven months he was been in the job. I will also be affected by the uni stuff and the deregulation of it [fees and loans interest indexation].

“I am also a diabetic and go to the doctor’s at least once a month for a check-up and scripts.

“So I ask you, people, how am I going to afford to get my education when I have to spend $1,000 a year on my books and more for printing my lecture notes?

“This government has shown me and you how heartless they are and only care about big business, mining companies and the super rich, none of which share the so-called pain, from a government that has spent $68 billion in just seven months during a so-called Budget emergency they concocted themselves.

“They are treating the public like we are all fools and are all very stupid and can’t think for ourselves. They think they can get away with it because he [Abbott] is backed by the Murdoch Press.

“We the people as a whole, the middle class, low income workers, the poor, the sick, pensioners and students must stand together and fight this neo-Liberal government and make sure it and the new State Liberal governments are one term governments.

“Thank you all for taking the time to read this. This is a fight we must win.”

Rodney Geddes

Soldiers in the street

Soliders marching in the street
are not soldiers marching to war.
Smart uniforms, shiny boots,
bayonets flashing, sharp and sinister;
they’re not soldiers marching to war.

Soldiers lying in crumpled heaps,
bodies broken beyond repair,
photos treasured, tears and grief;
worrying worrying, beyond despair
for the soldiers who marched to war.

Smashed streets where no one walks,
bloodied uniforms galore;
bayonets buried in their guts;
dreams buried beneath the gore.
These were soldiers who marched to war.

Soldiers marching in the street,
soldiers returning from the war.
Bodies broken, faces grim;
nightmares haunting them.
Soldiers marching from the war.

– Barry Tucker, 2014

An appeal to young Aussies

The Sniper*

Australia is in trouble. Young Australians will have to save it, if you decide it needs saving.

Australia was a democracy. It has slowly become a Corporatocracy: government by Big Business. You will have to change that, if you think it is a bad thing. I will not tell you what to think.

You could argue that Australia is still a democracy. Australians vote in free and fair elections to decide who will run things until the next election.

You could argue that Australia believes in the principle of a free Press (or news media generally). The British parliament, the model for ours, recognised the Press as the Fourth Estate, granting it the right to sit in the parliament and report on the affairs of government.

You could argue that nothing has changed and all is sweet in the land of Oz. You could look more closely, dig deeper, and decide whether or not this is true. I will not tell you what to think. I will only ask you to look more closely, dig deep and decide for yourself.

It is true that Australians are free to vote in elections for people to represent them at local council, State and federal government levels. Who are these people? If they are locals you may know them personally, or you may have heard about them. You might have read about them in an online “newspaper” article, a blog, a Facebook comment or a tweet. You depend on the people who write these articles and messages to tell you the truth. Can you rely on them?

If you do not know who these potential MPs are, or who they really represent, should you be voting for them? Running an election campaign is an expensive business, if you really go for it. Where does the money for the advertising, posters, banners, balloons, travelling to attend meetings, hiring halls and so on come from? What do the people, companies or organisations providing election fund donations expect in return?

While we have the right to vote, we do not have the right to choose the Prime Minister; that is done by the caucus of the governing MPs. We do not have the right to choose the Governor-General; that is the privilege of the Prime Minister. Is that democratic?

We have no say in the fact that the monarch of the United Kingdom is also the monarch of the British Empire and therefore the monarch of Australia. Does that seem right to you? Is it appropriate considering that Britain threw Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) troops into a disastrous invasion of Turkey in World War I and then used them as cannon fodder in Europe? Britain abandoned Australian troops in Singapore in WW II and turned its back on Australia as a trading partner when it joined the European Economic Community in 1973. I won’t tell you what to think, but I will ask you to think about these things when you are asked to decide if Australia should become a Republic.

I know most young people do not read newspapers. Do you think newspapers should be obliged to do their best to tell the truth? Would that be a respectful way for the Fourth Estate to honour the privilege that was granted to it by the British parliament in 1771?

When considering Freedom of the Press, please consider this: the bulk of your information about the world of business and politics comes from the journalists who report on these things initially. It may then get copied or interpreted before being passed on via your favourite internet sites. That’s how most of us get our information. Hopefully, in a healthy democracy, the information is accurate, honestly presented, without bias or spin. Some people, including journalists and professors of journalism studies, say impartiality (or a complete lack of bias) is impossible because personal interests and beliefs will always interfere with a journalist’s judgment.

If you cannot rely on a journalist’s reporting of events, who can you rely on? You could rely on another expert, or maybe a football hero, a movie queen or a musician giving their interpretation of events. Some of them are good at it. You might rely on your own interpretation, in which case you will have to know more than all the other experts put together. Is that possible, realistic or even practical? I will not tell you what to think, but I will ask you to think about what Freedom of the Press really means, or should mean.

Newspapers publish opinion polls. Some of the newspaper companies own some of these opinion polls. The people who give their opinions get their facts from the newspapers. The newspapers then publish the results of the opinion polls. Do you think there might be a problem here? Does this situation make it even more important that our newspapers report fairly and honestly in the first place?

Recall that I wrote Australia has become a Corporatocracy. Big multinational corporations are now deciding what Australia’s policies should be, what your rights should be, what your future should be. The big political parties that say they represent you actually represent these corporations. Is that fair and right? What can you do about it? What will this mean for you and your family in future years?

Australia has experienced boom times, usually when it has exported its produce to the world. These booms were based on wheat, wool, beef, gold, coal, iron ore, bauxite (the raw material for aluminium), uranium yellow cake and to a lesser degree timber, fruit and vegetables and fish or other marine produce, including whale oil. Do you see the picture? Natural products (all subject to damage due to environmental pollution and/or climate change) and raw materials, all of which (with the possible exception of timber) will one day run out.

Mainly because of its high wage structure (which leads to high prices for everything), Australia finds it hard to profit from manufacturing things that can be produced more cheaply elsewhere. This is why we are losing our car manufacturing industry. The multinational corporations want to run Australia because they want to profit from the raw materials and natural resources while they last. In some cases, they want to import their own workers on 457 visas. This affects your future and the future of your family and friends.

I will not tell you what to think. But, as you can see, there is a lot for you to think about.

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This article was first submitted to The Hoopla, whose editor deemed it not suitable for publication.

*The Sniper is Barry Tucker, a retired journalist. He operates the Truth in News Media Resource Centre and can be found on twitter, as Sir Loinsteak (@btckr).