The fast disappearing Prime Minister

Roll up, roll up and see the world’s fastest disappearing Prime Minister

In Washington DC at the end of October, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told journalists: “I have never had more fun in my life.”

Turnbull’s extraordinary remark bewildered his supporters as well as his opponents. I wonder whether he was still “having fun” this week when he saw the latest Newspoll. The “horror poll” showed Turnbull’s lead as preferred prime minister has been slashed from 41 to 36 points and Labor has opened an election-creaming margin of 55 to 45.

If repeated in an election, Turnbull’s Coalition would suffer a massive defeat with many Cabinet ministers joining the ranks of the unemployed – where they belong.

Never had more fun – PM Turnbull

Under Turnbull’s leadership, the Coalition has now lost 23 consecutive Newspolls. Their unrelenting consistency is having a salutary impact on Liberal and National MPs. When they become sufficiently alarmed and start to see that their luxurious Canberra careers may be coming to an end, they will knife Turnbull in the front and back and replace him. However, the current alternatives – Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop – are so unpopular or so incompetent (or both) that a coup is not in sight.

Alan Ramsey. Photo: Salty Dingo

Turnbull is a multi-millionaire show pony who is consumed by vanity. He lives in a bubble of conceit and privilege; no wonder he can’t relate to voters or understand their day-to-day problems.

When Alan Ramsey, the legendary Canberra political correspondent, was asked whether he still regarded Liberal Billy McMcMahon as Australia’s worst-ever prime minister, he said he would have to amend his views and give the booby prize to Turnbull.

Even McMahon, or “Tiberius with a telephone” as Gough Whitlam called him, never sank to an unpopularity low of 36% nor took the Coalition down to 45 points.

Go Kristina!

Kristina Keneally is the ideal candidate to deal a fatal blow to the hopelessly divided, reactionary and big-business-driven Turnbull government.

If she wins the Bennelong by-election on December 16 the Coalition will lose its majority in Federal Parliament. Without a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives, a new federal election becomes a formality with Labor poised to win a sweeping victory.

Labor candidate for Bennelong Kristina Keneally

Those with little knowledge of realpolitik or tactical alliances will argue that Mrs Keneally is a pawn of the now jailed Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald and Joe Tripodi. Carl Scully, the former Transport Minister, has stated that it is “inconceivable” that Keneally rose to the premiership “without that pivotally important support” of Obeid, Tripodi and McDonald. (Setting the Record Straight by Carl Scully)

This is the predictable line now being pursued by Turnbull and his henchmen to support of John Alexander, the blandest politician in parliament and formerly the blandest tennis player on centre court.

No one with any sort of political memory will forget or forgive Keneally’s odious manoeuvres with Sussex Street and the factional warlords when she was scrambling to become the State’s first female premier to win an election in her own right.

But next month’s federal by-election is completely different from the NSW state election in 2011 which Premier Keneally lost in spectacular fashion in a bonfire of scandal, corruption and cronyism.

Everyone who is serious about seeing the back end of Turnbull, Morrison, Dutton, Ms Bishop, Michaelia Cash, Abbott, Abetz, Kevin Andrews and all the refugee-hating homophobes and xenophobes will join a United Front to kick them out of office.

Overnight Bennelong has become a symbolic battlefield. The labour and trade union movement will take a stand and so will progressive-minded people from the middle class and the professions. The driving purpose is to inflict maximum electoral damage on Turnbull and, if successful, pave the way for a new federal election.

PS: By the way, if the Liberals keep throwing dirt when will someone ask why Turnbull has never offered a portfolio to Alexander? If he is such a political genius, he appears to have been treated rather badly by his party. Or is there another reason? Only asking …

Journalists v Hacks

There is a yawning chasm in British, European and American society and it is true in Australia as well. Media headlines in London, Barcelona, Ankara, Beirut, Riyadh, Qatar, Myanmar, Bangkok, Manila, Johannesburg, Harare, Washington and Canberra have a very similar ring: they all refer to the outbreak of a “constitutional crisis”.

Behind the headlines, everyone knows that the trouble isn’t about constitutions but about politics and economics. Society’s raging divisions are between haves and have-nots; the very rich and the very poor; insiders and outsiders; conservative regimes and Bolshie constituents living in slums, poverty and unemployment.

The division finds sharp expression in all kinds of professions, among architects, artists, writers, lawyers, doctors and actors but I want to explore the deep division among media people.

Malindi Sayle receives the Hall of Fame induction on behalf of her late father, Murray Sayle. Photo: Salty Dingo

In Sydney last Friday night, 10 November 2017, the Melbourne Press Club held the inaugural dinner for the Australian Media Hall of Fame. It coincided with the induction of about 50 “Legends of NSW Journalism”, adding to the list of Legends announced at various Melbourne dinners between 2012 and 2014.

As the author of short biographies of NSW Legends, Murray Sayle, Tom Fitzgerald, Rupert “Rags” Henderson and Evan Whitton, I attended the dinner all togged up in a dinner jacket and black bow tie.

I was an early enthusiast for the club’s project because it brought recognition to colleagues for whom I had the greatest respect: Chris Masters, Vic Carroll, John Pilger, Mike Willesee, Max Suich, Kerry O’Brien, Bob Hughes, Adrian Deamer, Alan Ramsey, Patrick Cook, Gerald Stone, Ian Carroll, Kate McClymont, Ita Buttrose, Elizabeth Riddell, Lorrie Graham, Kate Webb, Caroline Jones, Anne Summers and Margaret Jones.

Legendary cartoonist Bruce Petty with Judith White and me. Photo by Salty Dingo

However, on the night, you can imagine my horror as other names were read out – names that had never been mentioned to me: reactionary commercial radio hams Alan Jones and Johns Laws, Rupert Murdoch loyal lieutenants Col Allan, Bill Leak and Steve Dunleavy and Sir Frank Packer’s batman, the late David NcNicoll. I guess the Melbourne Press Club wanted to bring together the outer reaches of journalism in a moment of Kum Bah Yah. I’m sorry but it didn’t work for me.

When former Daily Telegraph editor Col Allan accepted his award he delivered a tip to budding journos: “Stay off the piss and keep your hands to yourself.” I felt that it was advice he should be delivering to his former colleagues at Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd and Fox News in New York. While it was too late for Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, there are many others still in the upper echelons of Murdoch’s very hands-on media and film empire.

Later, when I reflected on the event, I came to the conclusion that the 21st century media is divided into two camps:

  • Those who are prepared to abandon every ethical standard to lie, fabricate, propagandise and peddle fake news – “I’ve got to pay the mortgage, mate” and;
  • Those who have the courage to stand up for what they believe in – “I’ve got a mortgage to pay too, but I’m not willing to sell my soul to the devil.”

My anxiety appears to be shared by my own union, the Media Alliance. When it belatedly (and gingerly) reported last Friday’s event it merely listed Caroline Jones, Mark Colvin, Kate McClymont, Richie Benaud and Chris Masters “among many others” as the newly inducted “legends”. But there was no mention whatsoever of Alan Jones, John Laws, Col Allan and the other deplorable nominees.

Canberra asylum update

Fraser Anning, who received 19 votes in the 2016 Federal Election, has become the newest member of the Senate on $200,000 a year.

Anning, a Queensland publican, was a member of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation when he was chosen to replace the demented climate denier Malcolm Roberts. Roberts was forced out of the Senate when the High Court ruled that he held dual British citizenship.

On Tuesday, one hour after he was sworn in by the Governor-General, General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Anning switched from One Nation to become an “independent”. He was ushered into the Senate by far-right Senators, Cory Bernardi of the Australian Conservatives and David Leyonhjelm from the pro-guns lobby. Pauline Hanson and her crew were nowhere to be seen.

Senator Anning, aka “Mr 19 votes”, later claimed he had been ambushed by Hanson and “expelled by press release”.

I concocted an imaginary headline to capture these unspeakable events: “UNREPRESENTIVE SWILL RUN AMOK IN ASYLUM – Voters demand abolition of Senate.”

Social media alarm

When the London magazine The Economist, founded in 1843, changes its collective editorial mind on a major issue, that’s news. And the influential weekly has just ceased being a ferocious vocal champion of social media.

In a front-page headline, the magazine has proclaimed: “Social media’s threat to democracy”. On its editorial page, the editors are less belligerent, merely asking: “Do social media threaten democracy?” That is followed by the sub-heading: “Facebook, Google and Twitter were supposed to improve politics. Something has gone very wrong.” (4 November 2017)

From advocating the “freedom” and “universal democracy” of social media, the magazine now warns: “The use of social media does not cause division so much as amplify it. The financial crisis of 2007-08 stoked popular anger at a wealthy elite that had left everyone else behind. The culture wars have split voters by identity rather than class.”

The conclusion to be drawn from the magazine’s alarmist editorial is that social media was all well and good until it started expressing views contrary to the ruling worship of immense wealth and greed. And similarly it was OK when social media activists were sharing selfies and mindless cat pictures but not OK when they began naming and shaming sex predators from Hollywood, Westminster and the media.

Yasser Arafat’s canny prediction

My mind is unclear on the precise date but my recollection of the conversation is sharp. I attended an impromptu post-midnight press conference given by PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in West Beirut in 1979 along with some other Western journalists from the UK, US and Europe.

After a few questions, the evening turned into a rambling exchange of views about Palestine, Israel and the neighbouring Arab states, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

PLO leader Yasser Arafat

We fell silent a number of times when Arafat answered one of the many telephones on his desk and began to speak in Arabic, Hebrew, Russian or French. A couple of times he walked out of the room carrying a huge military-style mobile phone to talk in private.

At one stage I suggested that the Palestinians had taken on unbeatable opponents: endless numbers of Jews were arriving from Eastern Europe and the United States, and money was pouring into Israel’s coffers from wealthy Jews in California, New York, Florida, Canada, South Africa and Australia.

Arafat was unfazed: “My friend, they can have all the money in the world and have all the arms that money can buy, but they can’t build a democratic nation. They are building a ghetto.

“I tell my Jewish friends: ‘Why do you travel from your ghettos in Europe and America to build another ghetto on my land, Palestine?’ That is what they are doing – they’re building a ghetto. Eventually, they will build a wall around their ghetto and turn their Israel into a prison camp for Jews.”

During Zionist celebrations in 1998 marking the 50th anniversary of Israel’s existence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (in office 1996-99 and 2009 to the present) boldly claimed: “And we’ll be celebrating Israel’s centenary in 2048.”

Watching the speech on television in New York, Dr Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, reportedly growled: “I doubt it; Israel won’t last another 50 years.”

At the time, I was reminded forcefully of Yasser Arafat’s fateful prediction made many decades earlier in once beautiful Beirut.

Once again, The Mad Monk

My obsessive interest in Tony Abbott went into over-drive during the postal ballot on same sex marriage when “The Mad Monk” took centre stage to argue the “No” case.

Tony Abbott, ‘No’ campaigner

His followers were a sight to be seen. Retired bishops and army officers, superannuated company directors, dentists’ wives, English migrants from Essex and the Home Counties, defrocked vicars of pensionable age and questionable background, accountants and tax advisers who had lost their marbles but not their offshore tax shelters, and out-of-work bores who once held an unspecified job in the City.

Since 1994 Abbott has infected the Northern Beaches seat of Warringah with his special brand of right-wing conservatism. The good news is that the voters now appear to be fed up to the back teeth with him.

When the postal survey results were released this week Warringah had polled the fourth highest “Yes” vote in NSW.

Warringah’s 75% in support of same sex marriage was more than 10 points higher than the national 61.6% vote. What a colossal repudiation of Abbott’s [George Pell] position! Anyone with the slightest sense of honour would resign after such a stunning rejection. But not Abbott. He has decided to stay and do God’s work by spreading more malevolence and division.

YES – we won!

One Nation Quotes of the Week

“We are having little kids in Grade Four at school, young girls being taught by teachers how to masturbate, how to strap on dildos, how to do this sort of stuff – that is the real problem in this country.”

  • Steve Dickson, One Nation’s Queensland leader on the campaign trail for the November 25 State Election

“One Nation is campaigning on a combination of power prices, the cost of living and jobs. [Pauline] Hanson says, ‘The biggest issue is people want honesty and trust from their politicians’.”

  • Stephanie Peatling, Fairfax Media political correspondent (Canberra Times, “One Nation poised to be ‘kingmaker’”, November 12)

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