Monday, June 17, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Dutton concedes nothing
The home affairs minister will not be held to account

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s arrogance was on full display on the ABC’s Insiders yesterday. On his best behaviour, Dutton nonetheless refused to be held to account over the apparent politicisation of the federal police, further national security overreach, the cost of reopening Christmas Island, the fate of hundreds of people indefinitely detained on Manus Island and Nauru, or the renewal of the controversial Paladin security contract. On each point, Dutton gave determined non-answers. The minister seems to think that so long as he can mention paedophiles, terrorists or people-smugglers – or attack the Labor Party – he can justify anything. But Dutton’s contempt for public accountability confirms that he is the last person who should ever have been entrusted with the home affairs ministry or legislative powers that are turning Australia into a police state.

Asked why the AFP would not investigate a leak of classified security advice on the medivac laws to The Australian, Dutton said: “These matters have been around since there was sparring between journalists and members of parliament and I think that’s just the reality of it.” Asked whether it was appropriate for the Australian Signals Directorate to be given powers to operate domestically, Dutton referred to the live-streaming of child sexual abuse and said: “I think there needs to be a sensible discussion about whether or not we’ve got the ability to deal with threats that we face.” Was it worth spending almost $200 million to accommodate no people on Christmas Island? “Well I mean there [was] $16 billion spent on Labor’s failed border protection policies.” Was he happy with the Paladin contract being rolled over? “I don’t want any money spent up there. I don’t want any people there.”

Labor’s shadow minister for home affairs, Kristina Keneally, slammed the Insiders interview: “In 10 short minutes, Peter Dutton shrugged off concerns about a seriously damaging leak of ASIO information, refused to rule out an expanded role for the Australian Signals Directorate to work in the domestic sphere, lied about how the medivac legislation operates and misrepresented Labor’s position. And quite significantly, let the cat out of the bag when it came to the Paladin contract.”

The government and Opposition are shadow-boxing over the medivac laws: the minister claimed yesterday that the ALP was “open to suggestions about how that bill could be repealed or at the very least wound back”; in response, Keneally said that if the government wanted to improve the legislation, they must explain why. Overnight, however, the language appeared to toughen on both sides, with Labor reiterating support for the laws, and Dutton describing [$] the legislation as a “dangerous piece of law [that] can’t be improved. It must be repealed.”

In further fallout today, the Papua New Guinea immigration minister indicated that the controversial $420 million Paladin security contract at Manus would be cancelled by his government by the end of the month. Others expressed alarm [$] at Dutton’s persistence with the proposal that the ASD be empowered to spy on Australians – which was the subject of last year’s leak to News Corp’s Annika Smethurst, and triggered the AFP raid on her home. The Greens’ justice spokesperson, Nick McKim, described the proposal as “a dangerous and unjustified attack on fundamental rights. For the Liberals to try to push this through just days after raids on journalists shows how little they respect basic rights and freedom of the press … No further powers should be granted to security agencies without a thorough review of existing laws, and until our rights are properly enshrined and protected in a Charter of Rights.”

All of this suggests it may be unrealistic to hope for a rush of goodwill towards journalists from the Morrison government, or that it will suddenly roll over and protect press freedom. The widespread outrage at the AFP’s raids on Smethurst and the ABC certainly appears to have passed by the home affairs minister, who is still heading in the other direction. Buoyed by the federal election result, Dutton is not interested in softening his position on national security at all.

“In regard to stage three, we know it will increase inequality and most of it will go to men. But I also think that it’s unwise given the fragile state of the Australian and global economy. This is really a case of the treasurer’s ego writing cheques that the economy can’t cash.”

Labor’s Andrew Leigh makes the case against stage three of the Morrison government’s tax cut plans, which would put everyone earning from $40,000 to $200,000 on the same 30 per cent tax rate from 2024.

“What I said was no more money to the ALP. We are freezing everything. Not one more cent. The $12 million the ACTU spent, they might as well have gone down the racetrack and gone to the Crown casino and got a better return. It’s pretty bad.”

John Setka, Victorian secretary of the CFMEU, tells The New Daily he believes that a recent threat he made to withdraw funding from the ALP is the real reason Labor is trying to expel him from both the party and the union.

The amount, according to ABC News estimates, earmarked to be spent by the federal government’s Climate Solutions Fund on 22 contracts that were revoked, for 13.5 million tonnes of emissions reductions that will not occur.

“Overall, the demand driven system succeeded in increasing the number of students and made progress in improving equity of access. However, many are entering university ill prepared and struggling academically.”

The Productivity Commission hands down a “mixed” report card on the demand-driven university system, in place from 2010–17.

The list

“When Scott Morrison praises aspiration, he means personal gain, the accumulation of assets – what was once called avarice and greed. When Hawke and Kelty used the term they meant rising above ourselves, setting worthwhile aims for the nation, even the world, listening to our better angels. Hawke successfully opposed apartheid in South Africa and mining in Antarctica; Morrison is struggling to deliver tax cuts to his wealthy constituents.”

“With Labor and the Greens only willing to countenance tax cuts for low-income earners and currently disinclined to support the government’s tax package as a whole – and with the government refusing to split the bill – the required senate support lies with Jacqui Lambie and either Centre Alliance or One Nation.”

“When former Reserve Bank economist and Adani consultant Jerome Fahrer was pressed on the question of jobs, he admitted the figure of 10,000 was ‘extreme and unrealistic’. Instead, Fahrer argued that, at the peak of construction, the project would employ approximately 2400 people, but because many of these jobs would come at the expense of those elsewhere, the number of jobs actually created would be considerably lower. Instead, Fahrer said that over the life of the project an average of 1464 full-time equivalent direct and indirect jobs would be created.”

A shooting in Darwin
The mass shooting in Darwin was the worst in Australia since Port Arthur, but it received little attention. What happens to the people left behind?

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


The Monthly Today

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing a cabinet reshuffle today.

Shuffling the deckchairs

In time for summer, Morrison announces his new cabinet

Image of Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass.

The coronavirus hangover

Better economic forecasts still leave a fraught recovery

Image of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during Question Time last week.

Bad investments

What will it take for the Coalition to give up its fossil-fuel addiction?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking in Tasmania today.

Perfect storm brewing

Australia’s export industries are being smashed, and not just by China

From the front page

Image showing installation view of Refik Anadol’s Quantum memories, 2020

NGV Triennial 2020

With a mix of eye-catching works, the second NGV Triennial blends the avant-garde with the populist

Bangarra’s Spirit. Photo © Lisa Tomasetti

Healing story

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s ‘Spirit’ pays tribute to collaborators

Image of ‘Jack’

‘Jack’ by Marilynne Robinson

History and suffering matter in the latest instalment of the American author’s Gilead novels

Image from ‘The Dry’

‘The Dry’ directed by Robert Connolly

Eric Bana stars as a troubled investigator dragged back to his home town in a sombre Australian thriller