PaTH to nowhere: Lies, the Rule of Law and Turnbull's big business socialism

By | | comments |

The inept, dishonest and unethical continue to prosper at the expense of the decent under this mendacious Government, all supported by its press gallery cheer squad, writes legal expert Ingrid Matthews.

AS SOMEONE who wrote about whether Tony Abbott should demonstrate that he is not a British citizen (here), I could spend today writing about s44(i) of the Australian Constitution. It was a simple question. Did the former Prime Minister comply with our founding legal instrument?

Or I could note the weird time machine effect of the press gallery wide boys, who mercilessly mocked anyone who raised this question. The minute Abbott tweeted a renunciation screen shot, the in-crowd acted like he had tabled an original document in the Parliament. They then morphed into constitutional law experts when anyone but Abbott potentially fell foul of the section (because their mum is Italian or Malcolm Roberts is a jerk or something).

I am no great fan of racist legal instruments enabled by Acts of the British Imperial Parliament. But I do not think Abbott’s flippancy towards these profoundest of privileges – Australian citizenship, the Prime Ministership – is funny. I think it behoves politicians and their gallery buddies to take the Constitution seriously. Without the Constitution, every statute passed and every dollar we pay politicians while doing so, is illegitimate. In return for these generous powers and pay and pensions, we get contempt.

Like Abbott tweeting his denouncement notice, which is dated January 2015, in July 2017. It says he renounced on 12 October 1993, before entering parliament on 26 March 1994, which would be consistent with his terra nullius thinking. Abbott applied for Australian citizenship to qualify as a colonial for a Rhodes scholarship. To a certain type of Brit, this country exists for their pleasure and enrichment.

Or like Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce saying he has never been to England. What level of routine dishonesty must one reach to misspeak on whether you have visited England?

Or the Prime Minister mobilising constitutional double dissolution provisions to pass a harmful bill nobody had ever heard of before.

Some might think you either respect Rule of Law and its source – here, the Constitution – or not. But as 1975 taught us, there are no limits to how conservatives will use the Constitution as their political plaything. The hallmark of the current government is the double dishonesty of its phony conservative conviction.

For example, Turnbull stubbornly adheres to the non-compulsory non-binding marriage equality plebiscite policy, while still saying he supports "gay marriage". Or remember the "free speech" amendment tabled in the Senate — when the Government has the numbers in the House? That achieved exactly nothing, except fanning the flames of racism. There was no poll bounce, for which the charade was designed.

Even what is not said reeks of hypocrisy.

Turnbull called out Greens Senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters for s44 "sloppiness", but had no comment on his own minister for mining, Matt Canavan. He calls press conferences on terrorism arrests, but says nothing when a suspect is released without charge. We heard the Prime Ministerial thoughts on a white woman shot dead by police in Minneapolis; yet when the white man who hunted down and killed black child Elijah Doughty was acquitted of manslaughter, Turnbull was silent.

Appallingly, but not surprisingly, the killer was not even charged with murder. Anyone expressing shock or disbelief at the low-level charge and lenient sentence is not paying attention. The anguish and fury of a grieving First Nations community is eloquently expressed by Indigenous affairs editor Natalie Cromb here.

And as someone who teaches hundreds of future lawyers every year, I would probably normally write about Elijah and the failures of our criminal law system.

But I can not.

One of my sons is the same age as Elijah would be, had Elijah been allowed to live. It was enough to have to remind my son, again, to stay out of trouble. He does, but the price is high. He lost his first job for "not showing initiative", because he waited for instructions. Anyone raising a Indigenous boy in this country knows that this is not a lack of creativity or ability, but respect — and survival.

That job was in a pub bistro, where his 18-year-old sister still works while studying for her HSC. So it is from this perspective that I watch news of the childishly named ‘Prepare-Trial-Hire’ (PaTH) program this week.

The $750 million PaTH was announced in the first Morrison budget. There was no detail on the legality of paying below award wages without work cover.

Employment Minister Cash helpfully clarified:

“There are laws whether your party is in government or whether this party is in government in relation to health and safety. Whatever it is, whether it's state laws or not, those laws are what Commonwealth and states and employers have to abide by.”

The Employment Department website says 7,539 ‘wage subsidy agreements’ have been signed. And why not? Business gets an upfront payment of $1,000 per person and up to $10,000 if the young person ‘secures employment’. The site claims 40 per cent (of 500) have jobs after 12 weeks. Out of 7,539 agreements – many would be for more than one "placement" – that is 200 people.

This week the Australian Hotels Association announced it will offer 10,000 placements, which represents a straight-up $10 million donation from the public to publicans. If AHA members displace young workers on award wages (averaging $18-20 an hour), we further donate $140,000 to $160,000 for each hour worked by those 10,000 people. If all are then employed, we potentially donate another $100 million to the hotels industry.

This is on top of a $65 billion company tax cut.

More PaTH problems, like a distinct lack of oversight, are covered by Noeley Neate here. I just want to make two general points about how policies like this conclusively demonstrate the ruthlessness of the neoliberal project.

First, insecure employment arrangements, evidenced by the rise of causalisation and the gig economy, just got worse. Low-paid workers are even less secure when they can be replaced by subsidised workers from the unemployment line. This will drive down wages and conditions, making it harder for decent employers to compete. Like all socio-economic phenomena under neoliberal regimes, the inept, dishonest and unethical will prosper at the expense of decent employers, the unemployed and falling real wages for PAYE earners.

This is the exact opposite of meritocracy — the biggest lie of liberalism. The next biggest – from a very crowded field – is the unmitigated nonsense that conservatives babble about "small government".

There is nothing "small government" about cashless welfare, where the Government literally decides what welfare recipients can put in their shopping trolley. Compulsory drug testing is not small government, either. It is invasive and punitive. Data retention and mandatory de-encryption, data-matching of census and tax and welfare details, all these represent huge government reach into our lives.

Indefinite detention is the ultimate act of big government: we lock people up, without charge, potentially forever.

It is certainly not small government to transfer hundreds of millions of public revenue dollars to private sector businesses via unpaid labour. So much for ‘liberal values’, for individual rights and freedoms, for autonomy and free will. And all this we get from politicians who parrot small government, epitomising the double dishonesty of phony conservative conviction.

Ingrid Matthews is a sessional academic who teaches law and human rights. You can follow Ingrid on Twitter at @iMusing or her blog oecomuse

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

Monthly Donation


Single Donation


Be sociable. Subscribe to IA.

Recent articles by Ingrid Matthews
Morrison's Israel embassy 'issue'

Ingrid Matthews analyses PM Scott Morrison's spectacularly ill-conceived plan to ...  
Politics 2017 finale: The bin fire edition

An RC instigated by a Labor PM, John in Bennelong and strategic MYEFO leaks: Ingrid ...  
Putting 'Modern' Malcolm and 'Humble' Barnaby to bed

Ingrid Matthews discusses the hollow triumphalism of recent speeches from Malcolm ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support Fearless Journalism

If you got something from this article, please consider making a one-off donation to support fearless journalism.

Single Donation


Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate