Slippery Pete: Too Clever By Half, In The End

A SUPPURATING SORE on the integrity of politics in Australia was disinfected today, with the conviction of Coalition traitor and former Speaker Peter Slipper on charges of dishonestly abusing travel entitlements; the development is a welcome one, and it is to be hoped that it now closes the door on the public life of a slippery customer who managed to stay one step ahead of trouble for so long, but ultimately not for long enough.

Just over 18 months ago, I commented on a storyline that has now come full circle: namely, the breaking news that the contemptible Slipper was to be charged with misusing Cabcharge vouchers to cover the cost of touring around various wineries in the Canberra region. Today, those charges were resolved.

The conviction of Slipper on all of them comes after an extraordinary battle on his own part to have the charges abandoned, dismissed, or otherwise thrown out of court, even going so far as to declare himself — in effect — to be a mental case. Whether Slipper actually suffers from mental illness is a moot point insofar as his attempt to use it to escape prosecution merely continues a long history of questionable travel expense claims, and real or not, it should never have been allowed to provide him with an escape hatch.

I am not going to say very much: after all, before Slipper became “yesterday’s man,” we spent more time than he merited discussing his travails and misadventures in this column, and anyone interested in becoming reacquainted with him can do so through the “Peter Slipper” option in the list of tags at the right-hand side of the screen.

There is also a news report on these developments that anyone interested can access here.

There have been funny stories around about Peter Slipper for decades; some true, some not true, but most of which never became public.

Even when Slipper remained in the Coalition tent — with the facade that he was motivated by anything other than his own welfare and self-interest intact — there were many who, with good reason and for a range of reasons, gave him as wide a berth as possible. Following my initial contacts with him 20 years ago, I was one of them.

For at least that long (and in all probability, for longer), Slipper has had an uncanny knack of always being able to stay a step ahead of trouble; whatever was thrown at him — allegations of travel rorts, accusations of sexual misconduct, whatever — he was always able to survive.

$1,000 worth of government-provided Cabcharge vouchers, used on three separate occasions to pay for Slipper and his entourage to go on a virtual pub crawl through the ACT’s wineries, would be a laughably innocuous way for Slippery Pete to have finally brought about his downfall were it not for the fact there was finally evidence with which to convict him over some of his misadventures.

Several attempts to have the charges thrown out of court didn’t cut it; neither did his defence, which boiled down to an assertion that “everyone else repays the money if they’re caught, and so should I.”

The fact is that guidelines that govern the travel entitlements available to MPs are notoriously loose, open to misinterpretation, and easily rorted; it is inevitable that misunderstandings and incorrect claims will occur, and not least when staffers process claims as third parties to an activity they may not have been party to personally.

But “party,” in this case, Slipper did, and Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker found (among other things) that Slipper had knowingly and deliberately used the vouchers in such a way as to conceal the fact he was not on parliamentary business, and had knowingly caused a risk of loss to the Commonwealth.

I’m not going to get into any kind of slanging match over Slipper; I know he has friends and I am told he’s a likeable enough rogue if you get to know him. Fortunately — with my suspicions heightened and my eyebrows raised the day I met him — I never got to know him well enough to formulate my own opinion on it, and never had any desire to do so.

But the Speakership aside — a bauble he was only ever given to shore up the numbers for the Gillard government — Slipper rose to the dizzying heights of a parliamentary secretary, and after a political career that spanned the better part of 30 years, there is little Australia will remember him for other than his innovative approach to claiming entitlements.

In the final analysis, Slipper was adroit at staying one step ahead of trouble for a long, long time. In the end, one step wasn’t enough.

Slipper will be sentenced on 22 September. If we comment on it all, I doubt there will be subsequent cause to mention him again.

 

Bile, Bluster And Bullshit: Bill Shorten Resurfaces

MARGINALISED BY his refusal to accord Tony Abbott credit for anything in the face of a serious international event and shown as the irrelevance he is to domestic politics by Clive Palmer, whose Senate antics riveted attention in a way he can only dream of, Labor “leader” Bill Shorten has resurfaced today. Depressingly, it will surprise few that all he has to add to the political discourse is more of the same: bile, bluster, and unadulterated bullshit.

I was wondering what had happened to Bill Shorten — not that the political landscape, mind you, is in any way diminished by his absence — until I found out this morning that he’d had a week in the United States. It is not so much a pity he didn’t stay there longer as that he has seen fit to return to Australia at all.

It is fair to say that in the farcical international embarrassment Clive Palmer and his acolytes transformed the repeal of the carbon tax into, Shorten and his ALP colleagues were shown up as an irrelevance; with Labor hellbent on leaving the carbon tax in place at any cost despite election commitments to the contrary, Palmer’s preparedness to deal with the Abbott government — even if contrived to cause it as much political torment in the process as possible — neatly highlighted how easily marginalised Labor under Shorten is these days when it is determined to act counter to both the national interest and to the wishes of the public.

And that, unsurprisingly, is practically all of the time.

During the week, one of this column’s favourites, Daily Telegraph writer Piers Akerman, published an article that drew attention to the fact “the sisterhood” had failed to deign to make any acknowledgement whatsoever of the stirling job Foreign minister Julie Bishop has done in the aftermath of the MH17 disaster; Piers’ article made its point eloquently as it always does, and I’d make the observation that based on her performance to date as minister Bishop would have to be the clear standout candidate to replace Prime Minister Tony Abbott if he were to fall under the proverbial bus tomorrow.

Such an observation may seem off-subject; in fact, it merely underlines the point even further.

What Piers also pointed out, in criticising deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek (who has obviously decided to be too churlish and juvenile to give credit where due to another woman if that “other woman” has anything to do with the Liberal Party), was that aside from empty expressions of condolence for the families of the victims of the disaster, Shorten is guilty of the same slight.

Platitudes about “offering full support to the government” — five minutes before running away for a week, lest he be called on to show something resembling spine, or substance, or (God forbid!) leadership — is a poor and spiteful performance from a man who pretends to carry a claim to the Prime Ministership.

In other words, Shorten — and Plibersek, and Labor generally — may well have declined in the interests of expediency to play tacky, trashy politics over the Malaysia Airlines disaster, preferring to sulk and sullenly skulk on the sidelines for the contemptible reason that Abbott and Bishop — elected to govern, and proving far more adept at it than the ALP narrative would ever concede — were winning international acclaim for the real world leadership and skill they have shown.

Like four-year-old brats, hard-wired on red cordial and forced to watch in impotent fury as the kid they hate most gets his hands on the final lollipop at a party, the backdrop of international atrocity (and the attendant risk of global war that accompanied it) must have really ruined the past week for the ALP.

It isn’t hard to understand why I can’t see why Shorten being away for a while would detract from the polity of this country one jot.

But now he is back — badder and madder than ever, it seems — and filled with the usual Shorten bile and bluster, the Labor “leader” seems determined to pick right back up where he left off.

Shorten’s first order of business in officially resuming his duties as “leader” was a speech to the NSW ALP Conference in Sydney; the Fairfax press described the speech as “fiery,” whilst the Murdoch crowd called it “strongly worded.”

I think it more accurate to describe it as yet more of the sanctimonious bullshit for which Shorten is becoming renowned, and in that sense — and weighed against Shorten Labor’s “case” against the Abbott government — there’s nothing new here.

Calling Treasurer Joe Hockey “an arrogant cigar chomper” might play well to the stupid and the brainwashed, but even as a political barb it achieves nothing: and in any case, there are plenty of ordinary folk around who enjoy a cigar — your columnist being one of them — who are hardly going to feel some sense of fraternity with Shorten because of a cheap stunt aimed at making a point.

There is also the small matter of playing the man rather than the ball, although Labor — not least under Shorten, and especially notwithstanding the ongoing endeavour to personally crucify Tony Abbott — long ago proved incapable of keeping to the argument whenever attacking opponents personally was an active option.

He perpetuated the myth of ALP “reform” to put the party more strongly under the control of its members — blathering about rebuilding Labor as “a party of members, not of factions” — at the same conference unions used their controlling stake in the party to squash the latest attempt to do so.

Yet it was Shorten’s flagrant dishonesty about government policy that has motivated me to tear into him (again) over a Labor storyline that might end in a return to the government benches, but which, in greater likelihood, will not.

Anyone listening to Shorten and the wider Labor diatribe generally needs to remember that a) the ALP was not defeated at last year’s election, which is why b) the reality of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister (that hated, despicable, woman-hating, evil gnome!) is the outrage it is, which in turn c) justifies saying and/or doing literally anything to overturn the discomfort of present political realities as quickly as possible, and if this means d) totally disregarding fact and honesty (as opposed to merely paying lipservice to them), then the ends justify the means.

If that’s just too sarcastic and caustic, then so be it. There isn’t any substance in Shorten’s utterances to work with.

Anyone who can be bothered sitting through it can watch the Shorten speech here.

There was acclaim for trade unions, for whom there seems little public affection or loyalty left in the wider Australian community; there was a glowing acknowledgement for NSW Labor leader John Robertson, whose own admission of failing to report being offered a $3 million bribe to Police should have been enough to terminate his political career the moment it was uttered. And that was just the beginning of it.

Shorten sought to resume the Labor campaign against the federal budget, which presumably justified in his own mind at least the undignified personal attacks on Hockey, who he characterised as “devoid of charity” on account of his “personal comfort in life.” It was maliciously resentful class warfare gobbledygook of the worst and most inflammatory kind, and hardly becoming of a man purporting to suitability to serve as Prime Minister.

His latest attempt to justify Labor’s cavalier lies over the budget rested, in his speech, on the assertion that those recommendations by the Abbott government’s Commission of Budget Audit that were rejected are actually the next wave of “cruel cuts” the government will make.

The $7 Medicare co-payment thus became “a $15 GP tax.”

There would be “a hospital tax.”

There would be “a lower, state-based minimum wage.”

To continue the theme — and to continue to fan the flames of frightening hell out of the vulnerable with reprehensible dishonesty — Labor’s shadow Health spokesperson, Catherine King, claimed on Sky News that not only did the Abbott government seek to “unpick Medicare,” but that if this fictitious goal were ever realised, low-income earners would be “bumped out of (healthcare) appointments.”

Shorten, in his conference speech, belted the tired old can of “US two-tiered health care” that nobody seriously thinks anyone wants to see introduced in Australia, but never mind that.

It’s all rubbish. And it ignores a few basic points. Chiefly, that unless the rampant and profligate recurrent spending the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government set in train is halted, then this country is 10 or 15 years (at the most) away from being as much a basket case as half of Europe is now.

But none of this bothers Shorten, who claimed the government was “unravelling from the centre and rotting from the top.” He couldn’t even get the metaphor of a fish rotting from the head right.

Is anyone impressed?

It goes without saying, of course, that Shorten announced no Labor policies; gave no details of how he would undo the “cruel cuts” he uses as a handy soundbite, or how they could be reversed without consigning the budget to a decade of structural deficit and high — and growing — national debt; and made no attempt to either acknowledge the faults of the last Labor government, nor to defend its record of strategic pork barrelling and legislating the budget traps it set for the current government to try to fix.

Shorten is a brilliant whinger; I’ll concede that; he probably has skills in cultivating disaffection where none exists and whipping the disgruntled into orgies of self-righteous and indignant fury. After all, he was a trade union organiser for years. He was probably very good at that too.

But as a candidate for the Prime Ministership or as the “leader” of a prospective government, he has nothing to offer.

Nothing except a few stirring speeches tailored to play well to the gullible and the brainwashed, but nothing for the people who really matter — the majority in the middle of Australian society.

All Shorten has is bile, bluster and bullshit. And as of today, he’s back on the job.

Be afraid.

 

 

Perspectives On MH17, And On Handling Russia

IN THE AFTERMATH of an atrocity that saw 298 people needlessly slaughtered when their aeroplane was shot down in Ukrainian airspace, Russia has been the target of surprisingly unified international outrage; yet even now, there are reports of obfuscation and interference in enabling investigations of the disaster and the repatriation of the deceased to progress. Today, we look at a no-nonsense, commonsense approach to Putin’s Russia.

This is one of those posts in which I’m really only sharing something I have read; today it’s a piece from David Davis (the veteran Conservative Party MP and minister under John Major, not his namesake in the Victorian Parliament) which readers can peruse here.

Davis’ thesis — that it is time to end the appeasement of Russian President Vladimir Putin — is bang on the mark.

This time last week, we considered questions about Russia broadly and its behaviour under Putin specifically in some detail; those who missed the article at the time can access it (and a couple of other bits and bobs I linked it to) here, and as I said at the time it seems that any reluctance to condemn Russia for its culpability in the episode was misplaced.

Even now, though — amid the outrage the shootdown of flight MH17 has provoked — Russia is being given every opportunity to “prove” its bona fides as a “responsible” global citizen.

Yes, there are sanctions being applied to Russia by the US and the West. But whilst these will cause some inconvenience to Putin’s regime, they won’t hit Russia where it really hurts: by cutting it out of global financial circles altogether, and by preventing it from making a fortune selling energy to Europe — and holding it, quite literally, to ransom as it does.

Davis’ assessment is brutal in its candour, blunt in its resolve, yet nonetheless still proposes that Putin’s Russia be offered a carrot for its co-operation — with the real stick of isolating Russia altogether not just to be threatened for non-compliance, but actually implemented. I strongly urge readers to take the time to read the article I have shared.

There are three points I make.

One, that Davis is right: US President Barack Obama has handled Putin with kid gloves, which in turn has emboldened Russia to modernise and rearm both itself and its acolytes regionally — and this includes the so-called “separatists” in Ukraine who were the apparent culprits in shooting MH17 out of the sky. (I am not going to use the sanitised semantics preferred by Russia that present the plane as  “downed” over Ukraine: it was shot down, pure and simple).

The Obama presidency has, predictably, been an abject waste of time where international relations are concerned. Under the auspices of its purported “trust” in “partners” and its pursuit of “peace,” the US has perpetrated a ridiculous act of self-disarmament that (unsurprisingly) has not been met in kind by Russia; it has, in seeking to eschew conflict, allowed the outrages of militant Islamic violence in the Middle East to cost thousands of lives; and despite its rhetoric, it has allowed potential flashpoints involving Russia and China (at the top of a long list) to develop into problems that could trigger dangerous military conflagrations, where more a hawkish posture might have kept these things at bay.

Two, the carrot-and-stick approach Davis advocates is the only correct tack to take; it must be made clear that if Russia refuses to co-operate (as opposed to saying one thing and doing something else) then the funds it derives from trade with the West — and on which it relies to prevent economic collapse — will be summarily stopped. Davis is right that this would involve some real cost in the short term to the EU and countries like Britain as alternative sources of reliable energy are brought online, and quickly. But the failure to walk such a path would amount to no more than a continuation of the very appeasement he rightly rails against. The EU and Britain prospered without Russia for decades. There is no reason to believe they could not do so again.

And three, some will say that isolating Russia won’t work; that shutting it off from the free world will simply provoke it. The devastating response to such piffle is that embracing Russia hasn’t worked either; and unprovoked as it may or may not be now, it has certainly been working itself into a position of globally apocalyptic offensive capability largely on the back of what used to be called “petrodollars.” The fear of angering Russia has encouraged it to strengthen its hand. Putin has already demonstrated a willingness to flex the muscles of Russian military might and hold its fist aloft, as have some of his cronies. If “working with” Russia hasn’t worked, then cutting it off can only yield results that, at the very least, are no worse.

And lest there still remain those who think taking a stronger line against Russia is a madness confined to the lunar outskirts of reality, another excellent article I have seen this morning — this time from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — more or less echoes the same sentiments expressed in this column, as well as those enunciated by David Davis and a growing number of prominent leaders and public figures across the free world.

Now that some time has passed since this shocking disaster occurred — and as voices such as these grow stronger, and louder, and face less resistance in mainstream discourse than they might have a fortnight ago — I am interested in what readers of this column might make of them: both in terms of the arguments raised in the articles I have featured, or in the brief comment I have made on the points raised in the Davis essay.

 

It Leaked Stolen Baillieu Tape: Labor Unfit To Govern Victoria

APPARENT REVELATIONS in the Fairfax and Murdoch press today confirm what most observers and pundits had already guessed: that despite its denials, the Labor Party was responsible for the theft and distribution of the dictaphone of a journalist from The Age, and damaging material featuring former Premier Ted Baillieu stored on it. Others are yet to be called to answer, but the development proves the ALP is unfit for government in Victoria.

In framing my remarks this morning on a tasteless, reprehensible and grubby little stunt that provided ample fuel for the animosity many voters feel toward politics and politicians, I direct readers firstly to my article of 28 June, in which I made my only comment on this episode to date; and secondly to the reports carried by The Age and the Herald Sun this morning, which collectively amount to an admirable effort of investigative journalism that ought to see Victorian Labor dangling and twisting in the wind.

(An excellent analysis piece was also published by The Age this morning, and that can be accessed here).

It is the Fairfax report I am going to rely on today; partly because the stolen dictaphone at the root of this scandal belonged to its journalist, Farrah Tomazin; partly because it provides the most detail; and partly because this welcome (if self-interested) burst of impartiality from The Age dishes up hard questions the Labor Party has not only refused to answer, but has seemingly continued to deny responsibility over for the actions that make them necessary to contemplate in the first place.

I would like to begin by pointing out that none of these articles offer any answers as to a) how and by whom sensitive internal Liberal Party distribution lists were accessed, and b) who it was that used those lists to send hundreds of Liberal Party members (including me) and state MPs an audio link to the potentially damaging material contained on the tape from the stolen dictaphone under the name of non-existent party member Elizabeth McRobert.

My belief remains that this could only have been done by a person or people with access to Liberal Party headquarters and its databases, although investigations into their identity (or identities) continue. I have already communicated my view that these people should be rounded up, humiliated publicly, expelled from the Liberal Party and prosecuted to the Party’s State Director. I stand by that sentiment.

But for an illicit distribution to occur, there must first be suitably explosive material to distribute; and were it not for the theft of Ms Tomazin’s dictaphone and the consequent access to the politically sensitive recording on it, no such material would be available for such an enterprise to be undertaken.

In other words, the finger points at the ALP: the perpetrator/s of the original theft are, at its genesis, responsible for this whole scandal. The investigative report in The Age lays the blame squarely at Labor’s feet.

Today’s revelations prove the Labor Party is unfit to govern Victoria.

At various times since the private conversation between Tomazin and former Premier Ted Baillieu was first made public on 24 June, senior Labor figures — including its leader, Daniel Andrews, his deputy, James Merlino, and the ALP’s state secretary, Noah Carroll — have all stated, on the record, that the ALP rejected any suggestion of its involvement in either the theft of Tomazin’s recorder or the subsequent dissemination of the material on it.

Yet just as the finger points to Labor for “acquiring” the dictaphone from a lost property bin at its state conference, no amount of blame shifting or butt-covering can absolve the ALP from answering for the actions of whomever in its ranks took it, or from taking responsibility for the repercussions; the buck has to stop somewhere, and — as the public face of Labor in Victoria — that “somewhere” is its leader, Daniel Andrews.

The Age‘s report that “senior staff from…Daniel Andrews’ office and Labor Party chiefs” — whom it has declined, for now, to name —  strongly suggests that despite their denials, Andrews and his colleagues are uniquely placed to know exactly who the culprits are.

It is clear, given the detailed analysis undertaken by The Age, that great consideration of the tape was given by Victorian Labor at an organisational level; it can hardly be said that collectively, they did not understand the import of the material they had procured nor the potential for such explosive material to seriously damage the government of Premier Denis Napthine if handled adroitly, and without any traces of their involvement that could cause the issue to rebound on the ALP in the runup to the state election on 29 November.

Indeed, The Age reports that one of them went so far as to seek legal opinion on the tape. To the credit of whoever it was, he argued against its circulation. But — in the kind of filthy political storyline so common of Labor across the country these days — the offending material was nonetheless passed on. To someone, somewhere. Australia has witnessed the fracas that erupted as a result.

The list of questions published in The Age this morning — which it asked of several senior ALP figures, but most notably of Mr Andrews — is entirely in the public interest.

Yet Andrews has not proven unable to answer them; he has simply refused to do so, and this fits a disturbing pattern of behaviour that most thinking Victorians should consider before casting their votes in November.

Piecemeal as it may be so far, evidence is beginning to emerge at the Heydon Royal Commission of an unhealthy relationship between Mr Andrews and the militant, anti-democratic CFMEU: a relationship Andrews also seeks to deflect by refusing to comment on the apparently less savoury alleged aspects of it.

As Health minister in the Brumby government, he sought to defend waiting lists in state-operated hospitals that were doctored prior to publication to show the former ALP regime in a more positive light than was the case.

As opposition leader, he refused to condemn the “ring in” of union officials to pose as sick patients lying on hospital trolleys in those same hospitals, in a despicable piece of political propaganda aimed at aiding unions in their pay dispute with the (then Baillieu) government.

His party has sought to use rogue MP Geoff Shaw to create maximum havoc for Napthine, lambasting the Premier for the simple crime that the government is hostage to tight numbers in Parliament and has depended on Shaw to govern. Yet this moralising outrage is tempered by the fact his party has proven more than willing to collude with Shaw or to harness his antics to its own advantage at almost every available opportunity.

And that brings us — quite neatly — full circle, and back to the tape from the stolen dictaphone, which Andrews seeks to defend Labor from by again deflecting pertinent questions about its involvement.

At some point, the ALP has to be held to account; it is not good enough for Labor to simply operate as a law unto itself, and to expect what it believes to be a gullible electorate to accept its pronouncements at face value.

There is ample evidence that across Australia, the Labor Party continues to grow increasingly cavalier with the truth: it cares little if the utterances of its representatives are grounded in fact.

And its refusal to take any responsibility whatsoever for its own shortcomings in government are, in this case, a mere precursor to its refusal to now offer an explanation for the Tomazin dictaphone theft that is acceptable or plausible in any way, shape, or form.

In fact, Labor offers no explanation at all.

It is quite possible that criminal charges and prosecutions will flow from these events; indeed, The Age reports that the unauthorised distribution of material such as the private conversation contained on that tape carries a two-year maximum penalty under applicable state government law. Yet that doesn’t seem to faze Labor — or Andrews — in the slightest.

Matters of probity and accountability sit at the forefront of any government’s responsibility to the people it is elected to serve, and as a party that aspires to reclaim government at the imminent state election, that responsibility equally applies to the Victorian ALP.

For this reason — and in view of its clear attempts to sweep these matters under the carpet — Labor has proven itself unfit to serve as a government in our great state of Victoria.

It becomes incumbent on electors to register their disgust at what can only be interpreted as a conspiracy to rig an election, and to vote accordingly.

 

 

Class Act: Politics And Dating With Jacqui Lambie

STUNTS AND BUFFOONERY are one thing, but the performance of Palmer Senator Jacqui Lambie on Hobart breakfast radio today shows how unsuited she is to anything requiring discretion, decency, or any pretence to good taste. Lambie’s declaration — that she is a gold digger seeking men with huge penises — suggests she is better suited to the pub circuit, not the Senate. Men are entitled to be disgusted. The “sisterhood” should be horrified.

It was cringeworthy, tacky, and tasteless in the extreme, but never mind that.

Rookie Palmer Senator Jacqui Lambie has shown — again — why those who have always pilloried her as a lightweight and a joke are correct in their assessments of her, and why others (like this column) who were initially prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt were mistaken. Certainly, aside from the value of her vote in the Senate, it is increasingly clear there is nothing whatsoever to recommend Lambie as a suitable person to sit in an Australian House of Parliament.

Lambie’s appearance on Hobart breakfast radio this morning was less about building her profile and “connecting” with an audience than it was about demonstrating what happens when unthinking voters lodge protest votes to avoid the fine for failing to vote at all. Those who missed it can access an audio link to the segment through this story, carried in the Fairfax press.

There is a time and a place for everything, and — to be fair — this extends to talking dirty, outlining “theories” of (in this case) men, or articulating a wish list in terms of what one might seek in a life partner if single and looking.

But those are conversations to be had behind closed doors and privately, or perhaps in light of what Lambie has had to say today, in the cold light of a grimy pub in some God-forsaken shithole at 3am when the music stops and the supply of booze has been cut off.

With no sense of either occasion or position — to say nothing of ordinary, old-fashioned good taste — Lambie seems oblivious to the fact she no longer resides in a barracks, but sits in the Senate; and that irrespective of whatever predilections or peccadilloes she may pursue privately, she is now a parliamentarian and a community leader. She needs to start behaving like one.

There is no need, for example, for a Senator to use a media platform (which any idiot would know would circulate nationally) to lament the unkempt state of her pubic mane.

But it is in the list of attributes the unsurprisingly single Lambie outlines as “ideal” in a man that she really oversteps the mark; stating that any prospective suitor must have “heaps of cash” and “a package between their legs” (also known, colloquially, as being hung like a horse) is not the kind of thing a responsible holder of office should be sharing with a public audience.

“They don’t even need to speak,” Lambie told her disbelieving radio hosts.

And faced with the prospect of being “a cougar,” as those hosts tried to line her up for a date with a man younger than her son, the fact that the fellow in question stated a) that he had inherited “a small fortune,” b) that he didn’t “have any diseases,” in response to an explicit question from Lambie to this effect, and c) that he was “hung like a donkey” all apparently conspired to make him suitable to Lambie to continue to discuss the prospect of a date is as illustrative of how far out of her depth she is in the Senate as it is of just how dysfunctional her sense of appropriate standards of conduct are.

If it were a male parliamentarian discussing the desired size of a woman’s breasts on radio, for example, or talking about the size of his own…er, endowment…he would be roundly castigated and rightly so.

And whilst some of the so-called “handbag hit squad” might deem such observations to be “sexist” or “misogynistic,” Lambie has shown herself if nothing else to be rough, coarse, and not much of a catch for any genuinely well-intentioned male.

It says much that this is the kind of thing some people in Australia find an appropriate level at which to pitch their contributions to the national polity; God forbid anyone should want to talk about standards and values of decency.

But men — decent men — are entitled to be disgusted. And Julia Gillard’s “handbag hit squad” — who, thus far, have remained silent — ought to forego their expedient cloaks of hypocritical expediency, and slap Lambie down on behalf of the sisterhood they purport to defend.

Is it any wonder non-compulsory voting is so attractive to so many reasonable people…

 

MH17 Disaster: Putin’s Statement And A UN Resolution

FACED WITH IMMUTABLE international outrage over the wanton murder of 298 civilians in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Russian President Vladimir Putin has conceded ground, and seemingly backed down; noises emanating from Moscow are one thing, as appealing and mollifying as they seem. Action, however, is another. Putin has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership. The West may not provide another.

 

UPDATED: At 5.21am Melbourne time — just 20 minutes after posting this article — news has come through that the United Nations has voted in favour of the Australian resolution before it, as discussed below.

 

It’s a relatively short post from me this morning, and one as much as to share some resources as to provide analysis and comment; working through the night as I have been of late I had expected we might have news of the outcome of the draft resolution being debated at the United Nations in the small hours, Melbourne time, that is being driven and sponsored by Prime Minister Tony Abbott; at time of publication, we don’t, although in one sense, it doesn’t make any difference to the points I make on the subject here.

If the Australian resolution at the UN is passed, then Putin has to back some fine-sounding rhetoric over the past 24 hours with some action.

If it isn’t passed — because Russia vetoes it, or on the (remote) chance its Chinese cohorts take it upon themselves to do so by proxy — then the situation between Russia and the West is going to chill to Antarctic levels, and become extremely dangerous indeed.

Some hours ago, Putin — through the English language portal of his official Kremlin website — released a statement, declaring that “military operations” in disputed areas of Ukraine should cease immediately, and that “peaceful and diplomatic means alone” should be used to move the conflict in Ukraine “from the military phase…to the negotiating phase.”

I think people are entitled to feel ever so slightly cynical about this statement; with typical arrogance Putin uses it to position himself — and Russia — beyond reproach, using language reminiscent of John Howard’s refrain that the things that unite us are far stronger than those that divide us.

He pledges, calmly, to behave responsibly and to do everything in his power to ensure international experts are finally allowed to commence a full investigation of the area in which the remnants of MH17 are now scattered (degraded as it is by looters and militia, who have effectively had several days’ head start on any official attempt to rein them in). He urges restraint.

It all sounds quite encouraging, as does the fact that Putin has also indicated Russia is prepared to vote for Abbott’s resolution — which basically calls for untrammelled international access to the crash site, and assistance from Moscow and regional authorities — at the UN Security Council. There have been squabbles over semantics, and a suggestion at one point that Russia was in effect prepared to vote for a resolution provided it didn’t apportion blame to Russia in any way, but it’s the outcome of the vote and Russia’s subsequent conduct that matter.

I did say I would keep it brief, and for now, I will. We can always talk about this again later in the day or tomorrow if circumstances warrant it.

But another day marked by anger, grief, and frustration in so many parts of the world has continued to galvanise and harden opinion against Russia; it is clear that any attempt to squib whatever commitments that country now makes will be regarded very dimly, and the real tensions between Russia and the West may be stayed for now, but they have by no means dissipated.

Notwithstanding Putin’s posturing to evade blame being sheeted home to his country, the USA has ramped up its rhetoric against Russia, piling on pressure over what it presents as the “overwhelming evidence of Russian complicity” in the destruction of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 and the 298 souls who were consequently slaughtered.

British Prime Minister warned Putin that “the world is watching,” making it clear that whatever it now does in the face of resolute and growing international fury over the atrocity will be viewed as “a defining moment for Russia.”

And our own Prime Minister, Tony Abbott — whose leadership during this distasteful time has been unimpeachable — has echoed my own opinion of Putin’s lofty rhetoric, making it clear that whilst Putin has “said all the right things,” Russia will be judged on its actions rather than its words.

Abbott said that any veto of the Australian-sponsored resolution at the United Nations would be viewed “very, very badly.”

Across the world — and including in the corridors of power in many Western democratic countries — it seems many have either awoken to the real threat to European and world security Putin’s Russia poses, or have dropped the pretence and the facade that it poses nothing of the kind.

Too much has transpired for too long to ignore the fact that Russia has been readying its military and building networks of allies, associates and clandestine agents that directly and indirectly threaten the welfare of those around it, and which pose grave strategic challenges to Russia’s traditional adversaries in Europe and the US.

What it happening in Ukraine is a microcosm of the trouble that could be unleashed if Russia’s antics are escalated rather than curtailed. And as horrific as the MH17 tragedy was and is, it is nothing compared to the destruction and loss of life a broader conflict pitting the West against Russia would inevitably unleash.

I might be wrong, and the imminent vote at the United Nations will clarify that, but my sense is that the West will provide Putin with one opportunity and one only to call off his dogs in Eastern Ukraine, allow an independent international investigation into the MH17 disaster to run its course, and to co-operate fully with those inquiries, including taking whatever remedial action is reasonably demanded against the state-backed rebels who it still seems are the likely culprits of this outrage.

In short, Putin will get his chance to make good on his words. If he reneges, it is doubtful that he will be given another.

 

 

MH17 Disaster: Is Russia “The Monster At The Bottom Of The Abyss?”

THREE DAYS after the criminal atrocity of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the finger of world condemnation is pointed directly at Russia, whose denials of all responsibility over the incident have also attracted the full force of international fury; amid reports of looting and stealing evidence by Russian-backed separatists at the crash site, and with the risk of military confrontation real, is it the case that Russia is the monster at the bottom of the abyss?

I have to admit that when I first posted on this matter on Friday, I took great care not to prejudge Russia in seeking to lash out at a scapegoat; it does seem — based on the millions of words printed and broadcast on the subject since then in the mainstream media, and elsewhere in the commentariat — that I needn’t have bothered to be circumspect.

From the moment news broke that MH17 had been shot down over Ukraine it seemed inconceivable that anyone else could be blamed for what increasingly appears to have been the state-sanctioned butchery of nearly 300 Western civilians, and I’m sorry if readers misinterpreted caution as confusion.

Those who’ve been with me for the long haul know, however, that I have never had any faith in “democratic” Russia, nor in its purported bona fides as a responsible and honourable international citizen. Something like this was always going to happen, unfortunately, and whilst what has transpired is and will be horrific for the families and friends of the deceased to now have to deal with, one has to wonder exactly where this will all lead — and what, at the end of the day, Russia might do next.

I want to start this morning by sharing something with readers; it’s an article by American scholar Jeff Nyquist, whose area of speciality is strategic geopolitics and, specifically, examining modern Russia through the prism of its Soviet past in order to understand, interpret and anticipate how it might behave in the future. Some of what Nyquist writes has a distinctly conspiratorial whiff about it, just to be clear. But the vast bulk of it is right on the money, and it is important to remember that when Nyquist talks of something that is “near” or “close,” or which might happen “tomorrow,” he isn’t necessarily speaking literally.

Back in October 2008, Nyquist posed the question of “the monster at the bottom of the abyss;” remembering the context — the global financial crisis was unfolding, and Russia’s activities in Georgia and South Ossetia had shocked the world — the article is obviously historical in nature viewed in connection to current events. Yet some of the points he makes (and even the issues at play even then) are chillingly salient.

For one thing, the strategic Russian objective of splitting Europe from its march in lockstep with the United States is arguably more advanced today than it was in 2008; for another, Germany is central to the European response to the MH17 tragedy and in this context, the outrage it expresses toward Russia is telling. Further, Nyquist speaks of the Russian tactic of using energy security (or the threat of withholding it from Europe) as a means with which to advance its agenda, and as we all know, Russia has readily done so where its eastern European “partners” — read, reunification targets in Vladimir Putin’s USSR reconstruction project — are concerned.

He does reference “President Medvedev,” the puppet quisling exploited by Putin to circumvent constitutional term limits on the Russian presidency, although no-one should be fooled as to who was really running Russia during the so-called Medvedev years. And perhaps most importantly, Nyquist has (rightly) been a trenchant and resolute critic of the Obama presidency in the USA, calling out its weakness, and ripping into the Obama agenda of American nuclear disarmament at the very time Russia has modernised and upgraded its strategic forces.

(I published an article dealing with that last point — which also touches on the Ukraine issue — in April, that can be accessed here).

For me, the killer passage in this article lies in the lines that read “Everyone knows that Russia is dangerous. Partnering with Russia is like playing with fire.” And it is there — right there — that I draw the link back from the contemporary events Nyquist discusses in his article to the travesty that took place on Friday morning, Melbourne time. The global community — and the West in particular — has contrived to “partner” with Moscow. Now that push is beginning to come to shove, it seems the West is destined to be burned for its trouble.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has labelled Putin’s dismissal of any responsibility for MH17 being shot down, and for the lives of murdered innocents, as being “deeply, deeply unacceptable;” in return, Putin has delivered Abbott a tongue lashing of his own. His contention that the rocket that downed the Boeing 777 was either supplied by the Ukrainian government directly or stolen from it by pro-Russian separatists defies and beggars belief on many levels, but the bottom line is that Putin will not tolerate criticism from those he deems to rank beneath him, even among his peers.

In the meantime, there is ample evidence that directly or indirectly, the blame for what happened on Friday lies squarely at the feet of Russia and its master.

Global news broadcasters showed footage last weeks of shipments of arms and other materials continuing to be transferred across the Russia-Ukraine border and into the willing hands of Russian-backed insurgents even as Putin himself was giving US President Barack Obama assurances he would do everything to de-escalate the explosively tense situation in Eastern Ukraine.

Ample evidence has been presented in the mainstream media that instruction and training in the use of weapons such as the Soviet-built BUK surface-to-air missile system believed to have been used to bring MH17 down was provided to the insurgents by Russian forces, as have intercepted recordings of telephone conversations between the insurgents gloating about their success in “hitting” a passenger plane. (There are reports of intercepted telephone conversations between insurgents reporting back to Moscow, too, although these remain, at time of writing, unverified).

Since the ill-fated MH17 crashed, it seems insurgent forces have looted the wreckage at will: everything from the aeroplane’s black box flight recorders to debris from the crash, and to the passports and valuables of its passengers — and even, in one report I saw, dead bodies — has been a free for all for these barbarians, and where and/or to whom the materials taken is unknown. Yet Russia, in explicitly backing the insurgent forces and almost overtly partnering in their campaign — going so far as to claim the Russian Army uniforms it supplied them had been stolen — lies at the core of every aspect of the disaster that has cost nearly 300 innocent lives to date.

The eventual cost, of course, is unknown, and not just measured in the lost lives Russia obviously judges to herald no value.

In the spirit of sharing news articles on this issue, here and here are a couple of the better ones doing the rounds this morning.

I said on Friday that there was a possibility that the shooting down of MH17 and the senseless slaughter of civilians posed the prospect that World War 3 might have started; nobody has laughed, and nobody has dismissed the carefully nuanced suggestion out of hand. In fact, here in Australia, both the Fairfax and Murdoch press have also opined, explicitly, in similar terms over the past few days.

What might have been paranoid conspiracy theory a week ago certainly isn’t that now, and whilst the enduring hope that sane and rational heads prevail still carries with it the probability that they will, there is too much “grey” in the Russian response to what it endeavours to dismiss as a black and white portrait fashioned entirely in the brush strokes of others — even when the fingerprints of Russian complicity are all over the painting, and visible to anyone who cares to look at it.

What went on in Georgia and South Ossetia entailed the loss of thousands of lives, as has Russia’s protracted and ill-fated misadventure against insurgents in Chechnya.

But Putin’s objectives in South Ossetia at least were realised, and whilst Georgia might not have been such a success for the Russian leader, a question of strategic priorities would suggest Georgia and South Ossetia were a trial run for the more serious (and potentially more lucrative) undertaking that Russia, by proxy, is now attempting to prosecute in Ukraine.

A key question is what comes after Ukraine. Nobody knows. But it seems decreasingly likely that if Putin gets what he wants in Ukraine — using, it seems, any or all means possible — that the Russian juggernaut would simply stop.

Remember that Russia has variously suggested nuclear responses to any Western attempts to intervene in Libya and Syria; it has been linked to multiple political assassinations over the past decade on British soil; it has provided sanctuary to the seditious US traitor Edward Snowden; it has proven willing to use non-military means to achieve political objectives (like turning off European gas supplies during winter) with the implicit threat of actual force to back them; and in Ukraine at least, it has been seen to arm and abet militia forces bent on realising the objectives of Moscow in defiance — and at the intended cost — of the West.

There is of course a litany of other “incidents” Russia is suspected to have been involved in that have never been proven, including a theory Nyquist has in the past explored that the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001 were — ultimately, and at deliberate arms’ length — the work of the KGB/FSB. But even to look beyond those, that first list — coupled with the fact Moscow under Putin has assembled economic and military co-operation pacts with Brazil, India and (ominously), China, the picture that emerges is an unpleasant one indeed.

If the shooting down of MH17 proves to be the catalyst for events to spiral out of control and to trigger a global conflagration, it’s a fair bet that unlike the first two such wars, Russia will not be fighting on the “Allied” side.

In fact, recent events, considered alongside the recent past, warrant the question Nyquist first asked.

Is Russia the monster at the bottom of the abyss?