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Scary Malcolm: Forget the boats, Mr Turnbull, try stopping the lies

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When scare campaigns go wrong...

Malcolm Turnbull's disunited Government is bumbling along in chaos, as the PM himself descends into undignified Abbott-style fear campaigns, writes David Tyler.

A Newspoll result suggests that Super-Mal is tanking. It's panic stations in the LNP camp. Ministers duck for cover. Back-benchers bolt. Like a rat up a drain pipe, our survivalist PM drops policy and shifts his tack to fearmongering.

Gone is the "better economic manager" his treasurer wrecked that role for him by failing to produce any kind of economic plan last week. No new idea after two-and-a-half years makes the innovator claim wear thin, too. Fading badly also is the allure of Mal the closet progressive. What is left? Mal the reactionary who will do and say whatever it takes keep power.

Reactive, embattled, Turnbull returns to the cheap politics of fear and division of the Liberals' 2012 campaign. It fits him as badly as a pair of Tony's cast-off speedos, but it's all he has left.

Turnbull MkII channels his inner junkyard dog, howling down Labor for "smashing" the housing market and spouting a string of fallacious figures in Question Time to support his argument. Peter Dutton follows with a volley of populist xenophobia by defending the illegal, indefinite off-shore imprisonment of men, women and children as the only way to stop evil people smugglers and to prevent drownings. Persecute the victims.

Mal becomes a yapping kelpie cross on the tucker box of the nation's real estate. Labor’s proposed change to negative gearing rules will drive "all house prices down" he barks. It's an alarmingly deficient view of housing. We buy houses for more reasons than to dodge tax, or even make a profit. The message is further muddied – nay, lost in the depths – when his clueless assistant treasurer, Kelly O'Dwyer, perplexingly warns that, under Labor's plans, house prices will go up.

Not content to publicly contradict his leader, Morrison also offers an absurd, analogy comparing housing with car sales. By Tuesday, he’s on to what he'll do on credit card interest rates. On Wednesday, he warns that one third of buyers – that is, every single residential housing market investor – will leave the market, therefore driving house prices down through the floor. A baffling stream of nonsensical scare tactics.

The Government's attack exposes its disunity and poor team work, its shallow economic understanding and opportunism. Its attack so far has merely served to highlight its vulnerabilities.

Even Bill Shorten scores a direct hit when the treasurer talks about tax unicorns on ABC radio, leading to the Opposition Leader saying that the treasurer is lost

"... chasing pixies and unicorns in his top paddock." 

It would be funny if Morrison were not about to plunge us into an austerity budget recession. No-one would buy a used car from this man.

Shorten has another victory yesterday, when right wing zealot Cory Bernardi interrupts his press conference to call him a fraud and a liar, to which Shorten responds:

"At least I'm not a homophobe."

Zinger!

We are back to the same nonsense of the Abbott scare campaigns where Whyalla was going to be wiped off the map and a Sunday roast would cost $100 as a result of a great big new tax on everything. We are returned to our heroic war against the "ruthless, organised, criminals" who inspect every utterance on air or in parliament for a sign of weakness to exploit. Compassion to an infant burns victim is out of the question, Dutton blusters. Out also is PM John Key's kind offer.

Key's "New Zealand solution" of 37 asylum seeker children a year would invite floods of illegals violating our borders via a back door. No chance. Baby Asha must be returned to a camp that medical experts condemn as child abuse; a camp which breaches international law and earns Australia UN censure for human rights abuses. For only this will halt the vile people-smuggling trade.

According to "intelligence", which only a Dutton cannot see is an oxymoron, he warns Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast that there are there are 40,000 asylum seekers queued up waiting in Indonesia.

Fran can't ask him how he knows this or if his intelligence is anything like the intelligence which permitted Man Monis access to the streets of Sydney. It is an "operational matter" or some other type of top secret matter. Dutton is, forever, absolved from all ministerial responsibility and accountability. His job is to present badges to the Border Force militia, his heroic private army.

Dutton responds to a question from Adam Bandt question in Parliament:

"…since Operation Sovereign Borders has been implemented by this government, we have been able to stare down the threat from people smugglers. Not one death at sea has been reported over that period. We have the ability to turn back boats where it is safe to do so, and it is the policy of both government and opposition in this country to continue regional processing, because we know that it works in stopping the boats." 

Outside the Dutton universe of assertion, we know no such thing. UNHCR figures indicate that boats increased in 2014. What changed was the honest reporting of them. Nor are we permitted to know, such is the secrecy of Immigration. 

What we do know is that we are being sold some very old, very bad, lies. We are 49th in the world, not the most generous in the world per capita in taking refugees, Mr Dutton!. Worse follow.

Dutton will not be "blackmailed" by a year-old child, he thunders in parliament Monday. Asylum-seekers would self-harm if that route led to Australia, he tells MPs.

It is despicable dog-whistling, evoking Howard's lie about babies being thrown overboard — a lie that helped him win an election assisted, as he was then, by our nation's newly anointed UN human rights envoy, Philip Ruddock. Not only has the Coalition lost its composure, it seems prepared to jettison all vestige of credibility and respect, as did Kevin Rudd.

Kevin Rudd dusted off Howard’s people-smuggling target. In 2009, he declared that people smugglers were the “absolute scum of the earth”. Tony Abbott saw it as an “evil trade”.

The demonising helps us look the other way; pretend that when they embark on their perilous journey, our refugees’ focus is solely on the logistics of resettlement and not their desperation to leave behind persecution, torture or threat of death. It is a cruel, cynical manipulation of the truth.

Dutton keeps the old lies coming. Those who assist refugees are ruthless organised criminals, he says. Blog writers and others online use Baby Asha to raise their media profiles, he claims.

Fran Kelly asked his response to AMA President Dr Brian Owler's view that returning babies to Nauru was child abuse.

Continuing off shore processing was his answer, dignifying his government's inaction with the officialese jargon word "processing". What he meant was we continue to be cruel to refugees, vulnerable victims of traumatic dispossession and alienation, who have a legal right to seek our help and protection.

We set out to teach them, instead, to expect persecution and neglect at our hands. They can expect mental and physical danger; violence and deprivation. All this and more is necessary to send a message to a non-existent enemy, the demon people smugglers.

We even lie about that, too.

The Nauruan Government does that “process”, Dutton lies. Wrong. Nauru simply rubber-stamps whatever Australia wishes, as our fact-finding senators and others have discovered in their attempts to visit these prisons in search for the truth.

There is a big risk to the Government in its reactive defence. The case of Baby Asha has gained the nation’s attention. She has become a cause in which the Government’s threadbare authority and lack of good faith has been exposed like a raw nerve.

Dutton’s defence, moreover, may have worked in the past. Now, it serves only to illuminate his government’s moral and political bankruptcy. For Malcolm Turnbull, whose reason for being was to represent something better than Abbott and as the embodiment of reason and reform, the case of Baby Asha may conspire with other events to deal him a serious blow.

Asha’s suffering coincides with Scott Morrison’s public failure to present a plan for anyone’s well-being or continued prosperity. It is a massive double deficit for a Liberal leader leading into an election in which he must ask people to trust him and his team. The tactics of fear and division may not work as well this time around.

In the meantime, forget the boats, Mr Turnbull, just stop the lies and the prevarication. If you’re not up to it, there’s always an early election option to retirement.

You can follow David Tyler on Twitter @urbanwronski.

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