Thursday, July 20, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly

Turnbull, Abbott, rinse, repeat
The former PM was back to his usual tricks today


It’s become tedious even to observe that it’s tedious to see Tony Abbott sticking his head up again. That’s how tediously predictable the whole thing is.

But to get to the fact of it: yesterday, Abbott popped up on 2GB to complain about Malcolm Turnbull’s creation of a super department to handle national security. “The advice,” he said of his time as PM, “was that we didn’t need the kind of massive bureaucratic change which it seems the prime minister has in mind.”

Not quite content with sticking to bare facts himself, he laid down a test for Turnbull: “I can only assume the advice has changed since then – no doubt the prime minister will give us more information in due course about the official advice that he’s had on this.”

Abbott may well have a point. As recently as March this year, it was reported by Samantha Maiden that both Duncan Lewis, head of ASIO, and Andrew Colvin, head of the Australian Federal Police, had advised against the creation of a homeland security–style department.

On the other hand, presumably Turnbull was telling the truth when he said that he had “not received objections from our agencies”.

Now, it could be the case that there is some fine line between “objections” and “advice”, or “reservations”. It could be the case that the official advice has changed, and there is also the possibility that we are talking about different proposals. Earlier this week, Turnbull was clear in saying that the new department was “not a United States–style Department of Homeland Security”, but rather “similar to the United Kingdom’s Home Office arrangement – a federation, if you will, of border and security agencies”.

It would certainly be interesting to know which of these scenarios, if any, is correct.

Whatever the case, we have here the usual pattern: Turnbull makes an announcement and Abbott finds a reason to criticise it.

This week’s intervention seems in particular bad faith. For two years, conservatives have been demanding that Turnbull talk more about national security. He spends the whole week talking about just that, and still they find something to pick at.

I couldn’t help laughing in sympathy at Turnbull’s answer to radio host Neil Mitchell on catching up with Abbott: “I was going to say I’ve known him for a million years – it may feel like a million years – it’s about 40 years.”

It feels that way to us, too, PM.

But the better Freudian slip came on Wednesday, when Turnbull said he had not managed to catch up with Abbott since he had returned from overseas.

“I catch up with him irregularly and look forward to doing so in the future.”

As irregularly as possible, I’d imagine.

In other news


A near-impossible sell

Sprout farmer Bruce Adams has created one of Australia’s more unlikely oversized highway attractions

Patrick Witton

“Although brussels sprouts’ stocks have been constantly bankable, Bruce always felt that his crop could trend further. He had watched as more and more weekend traffic sped past his farm: city escapees heading east in search of Yarra Valley wine, cheese, gin and other comestibles. How could he tap into such a market when his product was on so many people’s hate list?”  READ ON


ASIO surveillance in ‘Persons of Interest’

Documentary series charts the history of Australia’s intelligence-gathering operations

Mark McKenna

“Compared to the capacity and scale of Australia’s modern intelligence network, which includes the recently established Australian Cyber Security Centre, ASIO’s activities at the height of the Cold War might today appear relatively innocuous. Yet the stark fact is that ASIO has acted at the behest of conservative governments for 42 of its 63 years.”   READ ON

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for Fairfax and a former adviser to Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.



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