The Federal Government's continual failure to efficiently serve the public is a reminder of feudal civilisations past, writes Peter Henning.
ALMOST SIMULTANEOUSLY, the devastating Australian bushfires and the multi-million dollar sports grants scandal have starkly revealed the reality of the separation of the Federal political system from the public interest and the national interest, where representative government and responsible governance no longer exist.
It’s been some time in the making, but Australia now has a Federal Government which regards honesty, openness and transparency as abnormal, nonsensical and imbecilic deficiencies. To be honest and straightforward are serious errors of judgement to be regarded with ridicule and scorn within its ranks.
Within this convoluted, warped and thoroughly untrustworthy political environment, where obfuscation, deceit, evasion and secrecy represent the highest peak of political professionalism and provide the essential foundations in decision-making, it is not surprising that Morrison from Marketing has been chosen from among the Coalition heap of self-serving careerists as the best equipped to construct a mirage of care, empathy and interest in Australia’s future, under empty and laughable slogans like “keeping Australians safe”.
Morrison seems to have learned through a long career devoted to reducing every issue to a slogan to be sold, that appearance is substance and vice versa — that ephemera is an entirely appropriate euphemism for policy and that the one question an advisor needs to answer, whether they be an “empathy trainer” or a “reviewer” of an unwelcome independent report, is “how can you make this work for my personal political advantage?”
In the case of Bridget McKenzie, it was ultimately very transparent in an ironically malignant way, because the “review” served the triple-whammy purposes of attacking the credibility of the Auditor-General, ensuring that McKenzie was the scapegoat and that Morrison would preserve the “appearance” of an emperor with no stain on whatever rhetorical clothing he was wearing at the time. What Morrison had to say met the exalted standard of excellence on all levels of obfuscation, deceit, evasion and secrecy in the interests of self.
But that is not really the point, is it? The point is that McKenzie is just the tip of the iceberg and to believe the sports grants rort is an isolated example of the misuse of taxpayers’ funds is to be thoroughly duped.
In this time of national emergency and this time of widespread misuse of public funds, Australian voters – misled by the mainstream media which still insists Morrison can be a leader – continue to be fooled by a man whose rise to power was based entirely on marketing himself as a hydra-headed master of multiple wardrobes to match the hour, the place and the time.
From fawning over Turnbull’s vanity just days before he took his job, to cosying up to Trump in almost all his mad policy directions, to being a willing and supine puppet to powerful domestic and multinational corporations, to disregarding the worst bushfires in the record books and the destruction of Australia’s inland river systems, Morrison sees everything through the eyes of a manipulator. As Don Watson has written, Morrison’s ‘professional existence has never been to find meaning or confront it, but to invent it’.
However, in times of real crisis, when cracks appear in the façade and charade of carefully constructed appearances which resist efforts to be painted over, the only way to go is to become more extreme. Build more and bigger stone statues like Easter Islanders, because salvaging reputation through replication of past mistakes is more important than saving a society or a nation.
Morrison, wearing his denialism of anthropogenic climate change against all scientific evidence, tells us on the one hand that he believes in miracles, meaning divine intervention on his behalf and on the other that “climate action now” is about “adaptation” and “resilience” and that “adaptation is how we prepare for the climate risk we cannot reduce”.
Thus, Australia is now in an unprecedented political situation where the elected Federal Government has decided that maintaining the corporate wealth and power of one industry by whatever means possible – including sabotaging international agreements – takes precedence over the welfare and preservation of all forms of life in the nation and anywhere else for that matter.
There’s a certain medieval feudal logic to the unfortunate cataclysmic direction Australia is going, similar to the logic of 18th and 19th-century European political elites who held fast to the status quo of peasant serfdom, for fear that any reform would result in their loss of wealth and power. The results are plain to see, in the rampant totalitarianism of one kind or another which has plagued those societies generation after generation and continues to do so.
As always, the truth about any government’s concern for the commonwealth apropos its concern for itself and narrow sectional interests is hard to hide, no matter how much effort is made to do so. For example, at the height of the bushfire crisis, HMAS Toowoomba left Perth for the Strait of Hormuz in the wake of Trump’s assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, while back home Morrison provided meagre and tardy naval resources for the evacuation of people at places like Mallacoota.
In fact, the bushfires have revealed that Australia’s whole defence and foreign policy agenda bears little relationship to “keeping Australians safe”. Australian military forces, increasingly resourced and trained to be part of American forces in whatever theatre of war the United States wants them – especially since the Howard years – are not particularly suited to an “Australia First” role in a national emergency of any type, whether it be large-scale bushfires or a regional military threat, ironical as that might seem.
The next two generations of Australians have to pay $225 billion for just 12 long-range submarines, the first of which won’t be in service until the 2030s, if then. Not to mention a lazy $12 billion for F-35 fighters, which American assessments indicate will be obsolete by 2030 and unable to penetrate enemy defence barriers and yet Australia took delivery of its first F-35s after this assessment was made.
Where does this all sit within the frame of “adaptation”? Spending $180 million on reopening Christmas Island and then spending $30 million to employ 90 people to guard two children and their parents, making sure they all sleep in the same bed together every night, makes an interesting comparison with promised grants of up to $50,000 and low-interest loans of up to $500,000 for businesses destroyed or severely impacted in bushfire devastated regions of Australia.
The massive Home Affairs Department, with a remit for “emergency management”, was entirely absent during the bushfire crisis and yet between 2016 and 2020, $9 billion of taxpayers’ money was spent on indefinite mandatory detention of men, women and children identified as refugees. Has a quarter or even a third of that amount been allocated as the Federal response package to the bushfire crisis?
Meanwhile, in the Coalition party room, even as nations around the world are committed to getting rid of the internal combustion engine – including Boris Johnson’s Britain – the commitment to coal has been reaffirmed. Like all regimes which place their own personal interests above all else, it is always the country, the nation, the majority of the people, the land, the water systems, the very air itself which are all weakened, polluted and made ill, often irretrievably.
Welcome to Australia’s own version of a new Easter Island story.
Peter Henning is a Tasmanian historian and author.
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