Wren's week: Reith, Frydenberg and progressive Liberals

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Order of Australia recipient Peter Reith (Screenshot via YouTube)

This week, John Wren asks why Peter Reith deserves an A.M., looks at inept treasurers and the money being spent on campaigns.

Wren’s Week


THE WEEK STARTED with near-universal condemnation of the decision to give former Howard Minister Peter Reith an Order of Australia (A.M.) on Australia Day. Many wondered what he had done to deserve this honour, his award reeked of Liberal Party cronyism.

Reith’s three main achievements do not warrant recognition in this way. For those of us old enough to remember, he was the principal protagonist in the Children Overboard affair, a made-up story (a lie) used to justify the horrendous treatment of asylum seekers (“boat people” as they were then known). The event was the beginning of Australia’s progressively harsh treatment of refugees. He went on to try to rewrite the history of the event as his participation was so shameful. For this alone, he should be condemned, yet he was also the principal architect of the 1998 waterfront lockouts he orchestrated with Patrick Stevedores. The aim of this was to break the union. He even groomed a scab workforce in the Middle East. The dispute eventually ended with the Union, the MUA, winning most of their demands. And finally, he was caught out with a taxpayer-funded $50,000 phone card scam that also implicated his son. No one can remember Reith for anything positive. As one wit commented when asked why Reith was honoured this way: “Rolf Harris was unavailable”.

Barnaby Joyce put his head up above the parapet and stated that there were no rules in politics and that he would basically say and do whatever he could get away with. This pretty much sums up Barnaby’s moral standing in both his personal and political lives. He is a man utterly without honour or shame. Why the people of New England continue to elect him as their representative reflects incredibly poorly on them. They deserve what they get. Unfortunately, the rest of us don’t. Australia is watching New England. Hopefully, they’ve learned the lesson and will purge him at the Federal Election.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been very active on social media. He has made many statements, mostly attacks on Labor and its financial policies. Most are complete fantasies, misrepresentations or outright lies. Labor’s Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, has taken great pleasure in dismantling almost every stupidism Frydenberg has published. Watching the interchange is hilarious. Frydenberg is clearly way out of his depth and Bowen is toying with him the way a cat plays with a half-dead mouse. Since 2013, Australia has had people with the title Treasurer – Hockey, Morrison and now Frydenberg – but none have actually been a “Treasurer”, despite the title. All have proven to be economically illiterate, driven by ideology rather than actual proven economic theory. It will come as a relief to the financial sector and Australia in general when Bowen takes the Treasury helm. He is an actual economist and will be ably supported by Leigh, Chalmers and others — all of whom are incredibly well qualified for their jobs.

But why all the activity from Frydenberg? Rumour has it he has his eye on the top job. Astute watchers of Canberra will have noticed that, of late, he has not been present at any pressers or been seen with Morrison publicly. It was noted that that the new Liberal Party 20-page “economic plan” released this week did not have a single reference to Treasurer Frydenberg in it. Astonishing stuff. Clearly, Morrison is freezing Frydenberg out; starving him of PR to defend his shaky grip on the PMship. Dysfunctional to the max.

Channel 9 revealed that the Government has so far spent $200m of taxpayers’ funds on what amounts to election advertising very poorly-disguised as “Government PR”. Anyone who has seen or heard the ads will know them for what they are. It is well known that the Liberal Party is short of cash (they dumped their biggest single donor, Turnbull). The use of taxpayers’ funds to promote themselves this way is grossly immoral and as Barnaby Joyce said above, if they can get away with it, why not? Recall the uproar that the Victorian Liberals raised when it was found out that a number of Labor staffers had been paid by the Government, not the party during the 2014 election, the so-called Red Shirts Affair. The Libs referred it to the Victorian Police and kept raising it during their ill-fated 2018 State Election. The amount in question was a few hundred thousand dollars and when the Labor Government became aware of the issue, they paid the money straight back. What the Federal Liberal Government is doing is essentially the same thing.

While schools go without money, healthcare is starved, and mental health and domestic violence programs are having their funds cut, the Liberal Party is using our money to promote themselves. It’s $200m so far but will be much more before the election is formally called. Unlike the Labor Party, they will be in no position to repay the sums involved. That’s taxpayers’ funds effectively stolen by the Liberal Party. Utterly disgraceful and voters know it. They will punish the Liberals at the ballot box.

It’s interesting that it was Channel 9 who called this out. Perhaps they found out they were getting less of the advertising revenue than their competitors. This flow of advertising revenue is one of the ways the Government influences coverage of its activities. There is an implied threat that negative coverage could mean an end to the huge flows of advertising revenue. It is exactly why we need the ABC.

And finally, we have had three high-profile “progressive Liberal” independent candidates put their hands up to challenge sitting Liberal MPs — Zali Steggall to challenge Tony Abbott in Warringah, Oliver Yates to challenge Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong and Julia Banks to challenge Greg Hunt in Flinders. All three have similar characteristics, similar strategies (with focuses on action on climate change), and similar PR and presentation. Their campaigns seem well-funded. It’s almost as though there is a wealthy, disaffected, moderate Liberal backing them with money, PR and other resources. There will be more of these announcements in the next month in other conservative Liberal-held seats — watch closely. There is a pattern and they will make a significant impact on the seats they contest.

Break out the popcorn. This election is going to be a doozy!

You can follow John Wren on Twitter @JohnWren1950.  

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