Australia has seldom been so ill-served by any government. May this year, 2017, see the Turnbull Government brought to account, writes David Tyler.

"TAKING OUT THE TRASH" is Canberra-speak for burying bad news in a quiet time-slot. Confronted on 10 September by the inconvenient truth that Australia’s carbon emissions are rising, the Federal Government decides to sit on the data until just before Christmas, as it does with its MYEFO, a report so poor it would be taken as a rebuke by any other government.

Delays and evasions are the Turnbull Government’s stock in trade. As 2016 ends, it has little to show for itself, however much the PM may boost his ABCC, a law, Adam Bandt notes, which won’t come in for two years and which, even then, could be disallowed by the Senate. Carbon emissions are less equivocal — an indictment of Coalition climate policy.

The Department of Environment and Energy's National Greenhouse Account report confirms Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 0.8% in the year to June, mainly due to fossil-fuelled electricity generation. Current policy cannot bring us near our 2030 targets — not that the government that scrapped the carbon tax will admit to a rise in emissions, let alone own its responsibility.

In November, Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg stalls four times when David Speers on Sky asks him about the rise.

Then he thinks up a lie; attempts to blame Labor:

“They’ve gone down significantly from where they were then we inherited it from the Labor Party.”

It’s a whopper, but few will challenge him. He’s counting on it.

The Government’s own data shows that, when Labor left office national annual emissions were 523Mt CO2 (year ending December 2013), while the latest annual result from shows they are 529Mt CO2 (year ending December 2015).

A Freedom of Information request is needed before the Australian Conservation Foundation can confirm the delay, a move, it says, which shows the Turnbull Government’s determination to hide its policy failure. Evasion is becoming its trademark. Last year, figures showing a rise in emissions were released on Christmas Eve. Nowhere is the government of secrets and lies better revealed than in its propaganda war on renewable energy; its failure to deal with climate change.

The Coalition’s war on wind and solar is a diversionary tactic. With the help of ABC’s, Chris Uhlmann, the anti-solar power Grattan Institute crusader and a mainstream media eager to protect coal against the consumer, the nation has been repeatedly told that the South Australian blackout, in which a storm blew down 22 transmission towers, was caused by “too much renewable energy in the mix” — a ludicrous assertion contradicted by every industry body in the market.

Expect to hear endless replays in 2017 until it becomes accepted as true. Just as budget repair, another absurdity – as if you could break a budget (and originally a gibe at Gillard) – has now become part of mainstream discourse.

Solar and wind energy are now cheaper than any other mode of power generation, creating a dynamic Chief Scientist Alan Finkel calls

“... an unstoppable energy transition away from centralised polluting fossil fuel plants.” 

Yet, like Donald Trump, a post-truth Coalition gets its propaganda from the coal lobby. Expect to hear it repeat the fossil fuel industry myth that renewables boost prices to the consumer. How they are unreliable. Not suited to the grid. Bad for birds and bats. Or that we must take our time.

Expect to hear more from redneck MPs such as Resources and Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan and other science illiterates who pretend to accept climate change but dispute how much of it is man-made. (Stop wasting our time. Read the research. It’s pretty much all of it, Canavan!)

Expect more fake, fake news fibs. Matt "King Coal" Canavan, a climate change denier who believes the effect of carbon emissions is “overhyped by certain interest groups”, bizarrely attacks the ABC for broadcasting “fake news” when it reveals that the Adani company is the subject of multiple corruption investigations by the Indian Government for trade based money laundering, allegedly siphoning funds offshore and inflating electricity prices. Fake? It’s impeccable.

ABC sources not only include India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the Indian Government itself, they comprise University of Sydney’s Professor David Chaikin, a leading Australian authority on money-laundering. Worrying, as Bernard Keane notes, is Canavan’s ironic reversal of the use of “fake news” to mean news without foundation, false or fictitious, such as the wilful misinformation and lurid fabrications published on social media by Donald Trump’s associates.

Yet it’s not without precedent. Canavan’s tactic echoes Malcolm Turnbull’s recent misappropriation of “post-truth” to dismiss information he doesn’t like. Expect more pernicious nonsense. Trump’s inauguration and the swearing in of his cabinet of climate science denialists will vastly encourage the Coalition’s rabid right wing to pull even tighter on the strings of their puppet Malcolm Turnbull. Yet nothing will help a coal industry past its use by date. Or ease its desperate propaganda.

Jargon helps the coal lobby case. Wind energy, we are told, can’t supply “synchronous energy”, despite a recent assurance by GE, the world’s largest supplier of energy equipment saying:

'The days of relying solely on synchronous generation for everything are over.' 

Nick Miller, senior technical director for GE Energy Consulting, adds that alternatives such as inverter-linked solar can perform many of the same functions, and much more efficiently.

Yet, in a nation where mainstream media is hostile to wind and solar, Australians are lied to and manipulated into accepting the worst possible choices for their future and the future of the planet. Almost as deplorable is the extent to which Turnbull, a former advocate and the putative leader of his party, has capitulated and embraced Abbott’s denialism. In the meantime, Abbott has stepped up his sniping at Turnbull, while Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews and other clapped out party hacks barrack for Abbott to be given a place in Cabinet, doubtless hoping for a rise in their own fortunes.

Abbott gal pal Catherine McGregor makes the laughable suggestion that cabinet discipline would keep Tony focused. It never has before. A certainty is that Turnbull can expect more sniping in 2017. Above all, it’s a beaut diversion from the colossal ineptitude, the vacuity of his own leadership and his government’s plummeting popularity in the opinion polls. Everybody knows Abbott doesn’t have the numbers to challenge, but it’s fun watching him heckle from the peanut gallery; extracting every ounce of revenge by cutting his PM and his pretensions down to size. On with the show!

You can’t tell the silver budgie from the budgie smuggler when it comes to policy — apart from the onion breath. Turnbull’s New Year's message and terror alert is straight out of the Abbott playbook. Yet not all of us can give him our attention. Many decent Australians are distracted by menacing debt collection text messages; pay up or go to prison, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Ho, Ho, Ho: Centrelink, Santa Clawback department. PS add our 10% “recovery fee”.

Recipients have 21 days to comply, calculated from when they were sent the original letter or electronic message. Many do not receive the first notice. Letters are sent to invalid addresses. Some electronic messages are simply not received.

“We’ll find you, we’ll track you down and you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison,” said Federal Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge – a model of enlightened humanity – on A Current Affair, Monday 5th December.

Most vulnerable, according to current Legal Aid statistics, will be those with disabilities or in financial hardship. There is no evidence, moreover, that threats of prison will significantly change behaviour. Or reduce any kind of crime rate. Nor with a 20% increase in our imprisonment rate over the last ten years, are our prisons likely to have room for more pensioners and poor. Yet the threat does sit well with the Government’s get tough on dole bludger narrative.

Not that people matter. Bludger-buster Tudge is chuffed — productivity is up. Centrelink used to send 20,000 queries a year. Now it’s 20,000 a week. A gung-ho Tudge boasts the system will send over 1.7 million compliance notices by 2020. At the current rate, however, it would send 3.12 million notices over the same period, but this assumes accurate data in the first place. It also flies in the face of other evidence, which suggests that the $2 billion the government believes it is chasing or the $4 billion nudge upward from Tudge is a delusion — one of Morrison’s unicorns.

Referral of fraud cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions fell by 80% since Centrelink introduced an early contact system between 2009-13. The recent rapid upsurge is due to automation and a huge number of incorrect letters of demand being generated by erroneous calculations or deductions made by the new software system. The software searches back six years, while welfare recipients entitled to claim a benefit in arrears may go back only one year.

Data-matching is the government’s latest buzz-word in its “welfare crackdown”. However, the process is only as good as the data it matches; the algorithms used. Horrific injustices reported include a young single mother being hit with a bill for $24,215 days before Christmas. A minor error in her reporting an employer’s name in two separate documents led the computer to deduce she had two employers. Errors are common when the ATO’s recording of a company’s business name differs from the name the employee knows it by. The computer treats the discrepancy as an extra job.

An automated debt recovery system is the grand title given this crude database matching with agencies such as the ATO. Thousands of complaints that low-income earners have been wrongly served with repayment demands for thousands have led to calls from ACOSS and some Labor MPs for its abandonment. Calls for the abolition of the new compliance system are unlikely to be heeded. The Government is on to a winning formula. The burden of proof is on the accused. If you can’t find your receipts, which you have no ATO legal requirement to keep, or your employer has gone out of business, you have to pay anyway.

Searching back six years is guaranteed to increase the probability that clients won’t be able to find receipts. These will have to pay up regardless. It’s enough to put you off the political circus entirely, if you stop to think about it.

Not that we do over think our politics. We love to hate our political clowns and villains; see ourselves as spectators rather than participants. And each other as us rather than them. Those on welfare, moreover, are daily demeaned in our media; trashed in The Herald-Sun, The Daily Telegraph and in The Australian as worthless, undeserving, bludgers.

The Daily Telegraph alone has published fifteen dole bludger bashing articles in 2016 alone. Three quarters of these, Owen Bennett points out in New Matilda, rely on government information; statistics and interviews with ministers. Only Government-supplied data or opinion is used to support its argument for example that a quarter of dole recipients are refusing to turn up to work in 'Dole Shirkers Shun Work' on 7 April, which cites 276,000 payment suspensions job agencies imposed on unemployed workers between 1 July and 30 September 2015 as evidence.

Yet these figures refer to a different penalty. The relevant eight week suspension was applied only 1,046 times in the same period. As Bennett notes, The Daily Telegraph got it wrong by 1,102,954. Fake news or news which falsifies key information or wilfully misleads to support the government’s case is increasingly put at the service of the Turnbull regime.

A Current Affair, last year, found an “Aussie Kim Kardashian” rorting her single parent payments, which it doubled to $600 per week, despite supplying no hard evidence as to the woman’s alleged extra income from her home beauty salon business. To delight Peter Dutton, and other Coalition racist dog-whistlers, ACA helpfully led readers to believe that not only was un-Australian Kim in need of some repair work, she was, wait for it, Lebanese.

Said ACA:

“It’s reported she recently returned to her home of Lebanon for cosmetic surgery.”

Hopefully not via Syria.

No-one expects a Turnbull Government to chase the top end of town. Or to give fig about its role in growing social inequality. Australian Taxation Office figures released 17 December show over a third of Australia’s top 1,500 corporations did not pay any tax at all in the 2013-14 financial year. Then there’s deductions and dividend imputation. While companies press for their promised $50 billion’s worth of tax cuts, many already effectively pay around ten per cent tax. The Government misses out on $8.4 billion in revenue per year, estimates United Voice in its 2014 report.

Then there’s $380 billion in tax breaks, capital gains and super concessions for rich retirees over the next two years. It’s the nation’s biggest cost to the economy, but would involve breaking the Coalition’s election commitment to looking after the wealthy. Scott Morrison, moreover, refuses to admit any revenue problem. Pretends it’s a welfare problem. But there’s only so long that he and his government can go on pretending.

In September, one year into office, Turnbull’s government had underwhelmed Jeff Kennett. He couldn’t recall a single achievement.

“Well, by the skin of his teeth, he didn’t lose to Bill Shorten”, sniffed a visibly unexcited Peta Credlin.

“It takes Malcolm Turnbull a year to do nothing," huffs the Herald-Sun, a rag which loves Tony Abbott like catnip.

Nowhere is this more of an indictment of his leadership than in Turnbull’s defection to the side of climate change denial.

Apart from demonising the other and pandering to xenophobia – both unifying pursuits which still play well in the Victorian anti-terror witch-hunt in the lead-up to Christmas – and featuring the war on terror in the PM’s New year message, delay is one of the few tactics still available to a Coalition saddled with a neoliberal ideologue as treasurer, a poseur too dry to even utter the words “stimulus spending” on ABC 7:30.

No good telling Morrison, the Malcolm Roberts of economics, that government debt would zero if we had Howard-era tax rates. Nor any other kind of empirical truth, such as from best performing economy in the world in 2013, in three years we’ve fallen to fifteenth.

"from best performing economy in the world in 2013,

in three years we’ve fallen to fifteenth"

There’s a lot not to like and bad news to bury at the end 2016. Carbon emissions and unemployment are up; tax receipts are down, down, down. Under-employment is steadily rising. Wages are flat-lining. Real wage growth will stay below 1% until 2019-20. Prices remain static. Business investment will fall by 6% next year. Forecasts for jobs and growth are also “revised downward”, in a phrase which lies at the heart of Malcolm, Fizza Turnbull’s brief but endlessly disappointing career as prime minister even in a post-truth era.

A hapless captive who traded his independence for a crack at the top job. Turnbull faces new threats to defect from the likes of Beastie-Boy Cory Bernardi and Gorgeous George Christensen. He should call their bluff. If only he had the guts.

Instead, the year ends with Turnbull burying the trash of his economic and climate policies when he hopes it won’t be noticed, whilst Morrison, an economic mountebank, expects a round of applause because we have not lost our AAA credit rating. Yet.

No-one in government will concede that there its welfare crackdown is flawed in conception and in execution, a cynical attack on a fair and compassionate society, by a government too weak or too beholden to review $50 billion company tax cut; a government which has sponsored a war on the poor and fostered social division through mainstream media.

And no-one in government has the human decency to respond appropriately to the death of 27-year-old Faysal Ishak Ahmed, a Sudanese refugee — yet another in our care on Manus Island whose quest for asylum has cost him his life.

In the end, how the Turnbull Government treats the poor, the suffering and the dispossessed diminishes us all, to say nothing of its cavalier disregard for future generations in its climate policy, its failure to make sound economic plans. Australia has seldom been so ill-served by any government. May this year, 2017, be the time it is brought to account.

You can read more from David Tyler on his blog Urban Wronski Writes, or follow him on Twitter @urbanwronski.

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