The Politics    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The blindingly obvious

By Nick Feik

Sometimes you don’t need a Senate inquiry to work out what’s going on

A Senate inquiry into abuse at the Nauru detention centre began today. Submissions have already revealed disturbing accounts of sexual assault and squalid living conditions. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention; however, senior managers of the centre displayed a remarkable lack of knowledge about much of what had been happening on their watch. When asked about the number of incidents of self-harm that happened under Transfield, for example, or about timelines for specific incidents, how often the power failed, or the gender balance of its own staff, company spokespeople responded by taking the questions on notice. Apparently the company, on a $1.2 billion tender to run the facility, hadn’t had time to prepare for the questions. The inquiry was announced in March.

There have also been calls for a government inquiry of very different kind – into the iron ore market. Senator Nick Xenophon, supported by miner Andrew Forrest (of Fortescue Metals), last week urged the government to investigate whether giants BHP and Rio Tinto were taking advantage of their market position to hurt smaller players (like Fortescue). 

“I think it is important to get to the facts,” responded PM Abbott (yesterday), “and an inquiry may well be a very good way of doing that”.

Environment minister Greg Hunt reiterated the message: “Clearly the prime minister has indicated a desire to head down that path, so you would presume that’s precisely where we are heading.”

You would presume that, but the path we’re heading become somewhat obscured today in the wake of lobbying against the inquiry by Rio Tinto and BHP.

“The last thing this government would ever want to do,” said Abbott today, “is interfere in a free market like the iron ore market.” He praised Rio, BHP and Fortescue as “terrific Australian businesses”.

Indeed, it seems like an absurd thing for a Liberal government (particularly one that prides itself on its commitment to deregulation and free trade) to support. “We haven’t made any final decision,” added Joe Hockey.

We can save them the money and effort. Here’s what’s happened in the world of iron ore: years of bumper prices – due to high demand for iron ore – encouraged new players into the mining market, most notably from China, as well as increased production by existing miners; then prices plummeted and all companies – including Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue ­– now face greater competitive pressures than they did before. Markets rise, and they fall. It’s called capitalism. 


Joe Hockey let it be known today that the contentious Paid Parental Leave cuts were Scott Morrison’s idea, not his.

Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3 trillion a year, equivalent to $10 million a minute, according to the IMF.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews would like to talk to the prime minister about co-funding Victorian infrastructure projects, but accuses Abbott of avoiding him. The prime minister may be too busy for Andrews, but he has had time in the past week to meet with Victoria’s Opposition leader, Matthew Guy, to discuss infrastructure projects.

Emma Alberici has responded appropriately to Malcolm Turnbull’s journalistic advice.

And, in relation to the budget: Mike Sketetee sees “fairness” as a relative concept  and Ian Verrender wonders whether we deserve a AAA credit rating.

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.

@nickfeik

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