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?

 

 

Ill Portents: LNP Thumped In Stafford By-Election

THE BY-ELECTION in the Brisbane electorate of Stafford has seen a huge rebuff for Campbell Newman’s LNP state government; with a swing of almost 20%, Labor won on primary votes, more than reversing the swing in 2012. The ALP will celebrate the result and the conservatives will endeavour to explain it away, but the unthinkable — the return of Labor to office after a single term, and after a near-wipeout — must surely now be contemplated.

Unlike the by-election in Stafford today, the LNP had an excuse some months ago when confronted by another in Redcliffe: a disgraced MP who jumped before the Parliament pushed him, who in his brief term had by all accounts been a poor local member, and who faced serious questions of financial misappropriation to boot.

Added to growing fears about a looming federal budget, the cacophony of typical Labor politicking and the standard mid-term protest factor, the LNP was always going to lose in Redcliffe.

But in Stafford today, it has lost the kind of mid-tier, middle suburban Brisbane electorate that simply must be retained at any state election if the LNP is to prevail, and in that respect there is no definitive “factor” for the LNP to blame this time around.

Vacated by first-term MP Dr Chris Davis over a disagreement about contractor arrangements for GPs in state hospitals, Stafford had been won from Labor by the LNP with a 7.1% margin, after preferences; this in itself had represented a swing to the LNP of some 14.5% in the wipeout Labor suffered in 2012. Today’s result more than reverses that outcome, with replacement LNP candidate Bob Andersen sustaining a swing against him that, depending on further counting, looks like settling somewhere in the order of 18% to 20%.

With a state election now due in just eight months, Campbell Newman’s government ought to be entering a phase in which it support is consolidated and marshalled in readiness for its initial re-election bid. Instead, one must begin to wonder whether the LNP experiment is destined to come to an involuntary end whenever the looming election is held.

It goes without saying that having scored two extra seats in less than six months — both in swings approaching 20% at by-elections — Labor will proclaim to be invigorated and “ready to govern.” That might be a little strongly put, but with a slew of ex-ministers set to re-enter Parliament at the coming election, one thing it won’t be is devoid of the experience with which to do so if the numbers were to fall its way.

I seriously think the LNP’s welcome might be just about worn out in Queensland, and I have intermittently thought so — and said so in this column — since an embarrassingly short time after it was first elected.

Were this to be the eventual outcome, it would short-change Queensland; Newman’s government has, after all, been mostly competent, and has gone some way toward starting to repair the mess it inherited from Labor.

But as much as it can blame others, it must also blame itself, and in this sense I have to wonder what the merged LNP has achieved that made the abrogation of the Liberal and National parties so compelling. After all, three election starts for one win and two losses would hardly represent proof of the merits of such an undertaking, but I digress.

It is no secret that Newman’s government has not been popular, and there are a raft of reasons and potential justifications for this; Newman himself likes to characterise soft polling as the collateral damage of making “tough decisions” and, to some extent, he is of course right.

But the LNP has been faced with the same noisily and flagrantly dishonest Labor opposition that has been rolled out everywhere else the ALP has lost government in the past few years, and I have to say — bluntly — that it is a lot easier to make shit stick to something than it is to explain and sell the merits of a complex policy case. Labor excels at the former enterprise, and readers know I have my doubts about the ability of my own party to undertake the latter. This result would seem to offer further vindication of that assessment.

It has faced opposition on its other flank, with Clive Palmer determined to tear down the Premier he believes he installed in office, and to destroy the bastard lovechild the amalgamation of the Queensland Liberal and National Parties — which Palmer largely bankrolled — created.

It has kicked more than its fair share of own goals; the fight about the employment terms of doctors, which Davis ostensibly quit Parliament over, is but one example. There are plenty of others.

And as unpopular as Newman might be today — again, largely as a result of a highly personal Labor campaign unprecedented in its vitriol and its savagery — the LNP is going to have to formulate some kind of position on the leadership of the party in the event Newman loses his seat at the election, and to stick to it.

Based on these numbers (especially remembering Ashgrove is a mere throw of the stone from Stafford) it is almost inconceivable to expect Newman can or indeed will retain Ashgrove when the state election rolls around. The LNP is either going to have to move him to a safer electorate (a proposition on which I have four words to say: Bruce Flegg, get out) or anoint a successor so Queenslanders will know who they may ultimately elect.

This is too important to sweep under the carpet on the basis of it posing “a hypothetical;” Labor will raise merry hell over this issue right up until polling day, and if the LNP wins — but is forced to appoint a new leader after the election — then three years’ abuse over an “unelected tsar” or similar will be the starting point of its next term in power.

There really isn’t too much more to say.

Some will mutter that Newman should quit now; I’m not prepared to say any such thing. But I will say that if Newman intends to make a defiant stand in Ashgrove and without any form of contingency in place for when he loses his seat, it might be better if he were to do so, and to do so sooner rather than later.

Yes, it’s a by-election we’re talking about, and a lot of funny things happen at by-elections.

There is however nothing amusing about today’s result, which can hardly be dismissed as a piddling protest in view of the wider circumstances.

 

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: A Spark To A Powderkeg

THE CRASH OF A MALAYSIA AIRLINES Boeing 777 over Ukraine — with all 295 passengers and crew killed — could very well be the spark that ignites the smouldering powderkeg in the uneasy confrontation between Russia and Ukraine; already, accusations and counter-accusations are flying, with both sides denying involvement. Depending on who shot the plane down, and whence the missile was launched, World War 3 may have started this morning.

For now, what we know has transpired overnight (Melbourne time) is that a Boeing 777, owned by Malaysia Airlines and operating flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, has crashed in Ukraine airspace, 56km east of Donetsk and 40km from the Ukraine-Russian border.

All 280 passengers and 15 crew aboard the 777 — their identities and nationalities presently unknown — are believed to have been killed. It goes without saying that I minute my deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of those who have perished. The crash of a commercial aircraft is an horrific event and can entail a terrible loss of life, and this event, clearly, is very much that.

But it seems clear these people have been murdered; at the time of writing (just after 3am in Melbourne, about an hour after the crash) the consensus of analysts and commentators is that the aircraft was shot down, most likely with a surface-to-air missile, and the ominously chilly situation between Ukraine and Russia lies at the heart of the disaster.

It is too early to draw any conclusions as to who may have been responsible, or even the type of weaponry used, although this incident follows the shooting down of a Ukrainian cargo plane some days ago — allegedly by pro-Russian separatists operating on Ukrainian soil — and the shooting down of a Ukrainian fighter plane the day before, allegedly by a missile fired from the Russian side of the Ukraine-Russia border.

The Boeing 777 was being tracked by air traffic control radar and was flying at 33,000 feet before the incident; the consensus among government and military analysts being featured in the overnight news feeds is that any missile capable of shooting down an aircraft at that altitude would need to be “a very sophisticated system;” The Telegraph in the UK is reporting the missile was a Soviet-era BUK surface-to-air missile, and if this is confirmed it raises questions as to who supplied it, where it was fired from, and by whom.

A shoulder-launched missile has been ruled out: such a weapon would have neither the range nor the accuracy to hit a target at such a high altitude.

Already, the Russians are blaming the Ukraine government in Kiev for the string of aviation incidents; the Ukraine government is blaming Moscow; and the role of the pro-Russian separatists remains unclear, although I have just seen US Senator John McCain on CNN pointing out that the head of the “separatists” in Ukraine is, in fact, a prominent Russian figure with links to the FSB.

The accusations and counter-accusations, finger-pointing, and apportioning of blame and denial that will now ensue is a fraught stage of what is a deadly escalation of an already dangerous situation — and a period in which any miscalculation or inflammatory gesture could provoke even more lethal consequences.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke earlier in the day in relation to the first two planes shot down; at the time of writing it is not known what the two Presidents discussed. It is, however, widely speculated that Obama chided Putin over the vast quantity of Russian-made armaments that continue to flow across the border into Ukraine, and into the hands of the pro-Russian insurgents.

It was also made public at the weekend that some kind of terrorist attack in the region was being anticipated “imminently.”

But it is known that the West has been close to announcing a far tighter sanctions regime against Moscow in retaliation for its support for the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine, and it had been widely speculated that even before this latest incident with the Malaysia Airlines plane, the situation between Ukraine and Russia has degenerated in recent weeks to now border on all-out war between the two countries.

Questions are being asked about why civilian airlines were continuing to operate passenger flights through a region so clearly at risk of posing dangers to the integrity of their aircraft; in the post-Soviet era many airlines have operated through Ukrainian airspace to cut some time off the journey to Europe and the UK, and one can only presume a misplaced sense of the risk factors involved is the explanation. Since the demise of MH17 Lufthansa has announced it will no longer fly through Ukrainian airspace and is set to be followed by similar announcements from a slew of other Western airlines, but I would make the observation that the horse has very clearly bolted on this issue.

The fact foreign civilians have now been murdered adds a new dimension to the Ukraine-Russia standoff, and adds a more ominous and sinister consideration to any military repercussions that might follow.

As I have noted, the nationalities of those on board MH17 is presently unknown; if there were Americans or Britons aboard the development would further strain already fraught relations between Russia and the West, and add to calls for the US and its allies to intervene despite Ukraine not being a member of the NATO bloc.

And whilst I am being deliberately circumspect as to who might have been responsible for this latest atrocity, or who I might believe to be so — it is too soon to make such pronouncements — if the investigations that have already started tie the Russian government to either the commission of the act of shooting down MH17 or supplying the weaponry and/or support to insurgents to enable them to do so, those fraught relations between the West and Russia will potentially escalate to boiling point.

Certainly, current reports are that the US military is already looking at the evidence available in relation to the shooting down of the Boeing 777 to ascertain whether responsibility for the act can be sheeted home to Russia in any way.

I will watch this over the next couple of days, and post again if and when I think it appropriate; I suggest readers keep an eye on my favourite mainline UK news sites here and here, both of which are providing a number of rolling, updating feeds on the plane crash and the political situation in Eastern Europe more broadly. There are, of course, plenty of other available resources, and I’m flipping between CNN and Sky UK on Foxtel as I write this as well.

It is to be hoped that whatever the washout from this disaster, that cool heads prevail; readers should make no mistake that the Ukraine/Russia flashpoint is one of the most dangerous military standoffs in the world today, and how this plays out very much has the potential to spiral out of control and into something very, very nasty indeed.

Simply stated, World War 3 might have started this morning; and whilst we are fervent in our hope that things never progress to something like that, it does now seem inevitable that at the very minimum, the situation between Ukraine and Russia is set to escalate into conflict. Any involvement of the USA in such a conflict just became a hell of a lot more probable.

 

 

Budget Emergency: Now, Even The ABC Is Reporting It

PERHAPS FEARFUL of a Liberal government no longer prepared to brook its left wing bias — or perhaps awake to the fact it can no longer deny the ALP created a problem – even the ABC is now being candid about Australia’s dire financial straits. Voters reacting to the budget have an excuse; they listened to irresponsible politicians of the Left to hear what they wanted to hear. Labor, the Greens have no excuse for trashing the country, or for lying about it.

The savage, vicious and personal slugfest our polity has turned into in the past few years is an unedifying spectacle at times, and is hardly conducive to constructive or meaningful outcomes of governance; such a torrid political climate is always sure to leave in its wake a trail of casualties, and too often, the first one is the truth.

I’m not going to bog down in some rant over who promised what at elections, who reneged on what, and who’s a disreputable bastard for pissing on someone else (who, incidentally, is also most probably a disreputable bastard). There is enough of that going on everywhere you look. God knows, we have done it here from time to time too.

I’m not even going to indulge readers with a trip down memory lane to re-examine how much red ink Labor left on the books when the Keating government was booted out of office. Suffice to say, there were gallons of the stuff.

But one of the issues that has been central to Australian politics for some years now — and which, frankly, demands to be taken far more seriously than all political parties are taking it — is the issue of the so-called “budget emergency,” and why failing to tackle it (or even trying to deny that it exists) can only set this country up for hard times and falling living standards unless something changes quickly.

I am heartened (and very surprised) to note a web report last night from ABC News, reporting extensively on the hole the Senate is busily kicking in the nation’s finances; its source is Chris Richardson from Access Economics — an entity traditionally ridiculed by the Left as a mere propaganda arm of the conservative parties — and it makes no attempt to disguise or ameliorate the figure of $300bn Richardson nominates as the cost over the next ten years emanating from what Labor, the Communist Party Greens, Palmer United Party and other Senate minnows are doing in their cynical quest for popularity and votes.

It’s true that the ABC report isn’t a feature, and it doesn’t build on Richardson’s case that the $300bn hit the Senate is inflicting on the budget is an emergency situation (although there was a report on 7.30 last night apparently that I missed, and so — for now — I will let that sit until I can catch it on review).

But we’re talking about the ABC; for years now, this is a “news” outlet that sanitises issues it deems to be politically inconvenient, fails to report on others altogether when they might cause embarrassment to the Left, and at times amounts to little more than a partisan cheer squad for Labor and the Greens. You only have to watch QandA every week to know that if you aren’t possessed of a bleeding heart social conscience that governs your every syllable and action, the ABC has nothing for you.

In that sense, it is noteworthy the ABC is reporting on this at all; a small point perhaps, but the ALP legacy of a comprehensively pillaged and trashed federal budget is very much the kind of thing the ABC isn’t usually interested in oxygenating.

It might be concerned at the funding cuts rumoured to be headed its way; after all, there is no justification for taxpayers bankrolling a left wing propaganda machine that purports to be impartial. Or it might be that — finally — the ABC has realised that it can’t sweep the misdeeds of its political wing under the carpet any longer, and that even if it isn’t prepared to ram the message home, it can at least acknowledge the existence of the problem.

Labor, on the other hand, is simply playing its usual dishonest game of semantics to hoodwink what it believes — and has always believed — are stupid voters.

It isn’t good enough to talk about “cruel cuts” and run silly, sloganeering lines such as “you don’t heal the sick by taxing them” when Labor’s own recent record in office boasts the most abysmal act of economic vandalism Australia has ever witnessed.

Denying the problem is one thing but deliberately refusing to allow any attempt to be made to fix it is quite another, and whilst we have discussed these things many times now, we continue to do so because the story from Labor never changes.

The Greens are just as culpable; for the entirety of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, they supplied the Senate votes to legislate Labor’s incompetence in exchange for getting some of their own rancid socialist medicine down the throats of an Australian public that mostly never voted for them.

And Clive Palmer’s party, with its erratic, populist contortions to deify Palmer to the exclusion of anything government is actually there for, is beneath contempt in my view. I know the hardheads in my party don’t want to attack Palmer, but I’m going to call it for what it is. And Palmer is no better than Labor or the Greens: by his (and his Senators’) actions, he is literally making the problem worse.

That problem has been cogently, eloquently and forcefully articulated today by Business Council of Australia head Jennifer Westacott, who writes in Melbourne’s Herald Sun that “this (the Senate’s machinations over the budget) is not a game” and that Australia’s future — not least, the security of the high living standards we presently enjoy — is at stake.

And she’s right.

Australia is now looking down the barrel of government debt blowing out to $700 billion by 2023-24, courtesy of the silly and deadly games being played in the Senate having wiped out the entire sum of projected budget savings, and then some. It is as crazy as it is perverse, but a rapidly deteriorating budget situation will now actually worsen despite the “horror” budget in May. In practice, it isn’t a “horror” at all; in round terms, it’s now nothing. The Senate has seen to that.

But at $700bn in debt, the annual interest bill to service it alone will stand at about $30bn in today’s money: an obscene prospect, which beggars belief it should even be in consideration.

At $700bn in debt, Australia’s debt to GDP ratio will be above 50% and rocketing into Eurotrash territory.

And at $700bn in debt, the handouts and “entitlements” and all the other “free” goodies merrily being put on Bankcard by Labor spending legislation will be totally unaffordable, and when it’s entire benefit programs of pensions and unemployment benefits and sickness benefits in the gun for abolition rather than debating about how far the welfare disease can be spread through the community or whether it can be trimmed a bit, it is certain that as night follows day, Labor will be nowhere in sight when voters are looking for someone to blame.

I have been broadly supportive of the government’s budget in this column; I’ve kicked hell out of some of its constituent parts and lavished praise on others, and it is true that I haven’t been circumspect about the political costs to the Coalition that could flow from some of the measures in the budget if they ever get legislated. Yet right now, almost none of them seem likely to be.

And I make the additional point that the budget might be seen as something of a hotchpotch; there are dozens of initiatives in it that collectively aim to deliver the savings required to repair the bottom line and put the nation’s finances back onto a sustainable footing.

In trying to “spread the pain” and ensure “everyone pitches in,” the antics of the Senate have shown that Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Treasurer have simply handed dozens of customised targets to their opponents to lie about and frighten the living daylights out of people. And they are paying the price in opinion polling, despite the fact most of those scary grenades are never going to be permitted to explode.

The simpler approach might have been better: abandon the National Disability Insurance Scheme, abandon the co-called Gonski reforms, and lift the GST to 15% whilst providing some targeted relief to pensioners and low-income earners.

Anecdotally, there is some Senate support for scrapping the Gonski funding, which is not tied to any deliverables in terms of educational outcomes; anecdotally, there is some Senate support for scrapping the NDIS, which Labor’s own figures cost at $22bn per annum once fully operational to benefit just 130,000 people at an average cost of $170,000 per annum, per head. This is not value for money, it is not affordable, and it is not justifiable in the context of a federal budget falling apart at the seams.

And there is, anecdotally, some Senate support for raising the GST, which would have the critical effect of solidifying government revenues as receipts from income tax goes into decline, whilst spending on goods and services will continue to increase in real terms well into the future.

Whether that Senate support for any or all of the three changes is adequate to get them legislated remains an unknown. But even one or two of them would go a long way toward achieving what the Coalition’s budget won’t achieve because it will, mostly, never become law.

People have a right to be angry if they choose; after all, half the politicians in Canberra are saying what anyone who dislikes the idea of reduced government spending wants to hear when it equates to less (taxpayer-funded) money in their pockets.

The problem is that those who perpetuate such messages are committing a fundamental breach of faith with the very people they claim to be defenders of; unless something drastic is done, and quickly, there won’t be any money to shovel out. When that point comes, the options to fix the mess will be positively draconian compared to what the government has tried to do now.

In ten years’ time — if the worst projections of the state of the budget become reality — the option of kicking the problem down the road for someone else to deal with, as Labor, the Greens and the Palmer crowd seek to do now for their own purposes, simply won’t exist.

Australia might not be in dire straits today but the fact is that unless the undeniable structural flaws in the budget are fixed now, desperate times loom only just beyond the horizon.

This is why I am prepared to give the ABC some credit for finally reporting on the scope of the problem where it had previously sought to suggest none existed. It is to be hoped that others, to date blinkered by their advocacy of the Left, now follow suit.

In the final analysis, the national interest is far more important than that of any political party. There are too many spheres of influence in this country who should start to behave accordingly.

 

 

UK Reshuffle: When A Conservative PM Promotes Women

A MINISTERIAL RESHUFFLE in the British government has seen the promotion of capable, relatively young and politically upcoming female Tory MPs to Cabinet, and whilst the personnel changes are admirable, the reaction in some surprising quarters has been ridiculous. British Labour, like the Australian Left, has lampooned the Tories as unrepresentative. I shudder to think of the reaction to Tony Abbott undertaking a similar reshuffle here.

I think most readers know that their Anglophile columnist is more or less obsessed with British politics, although I restrain myself from posting on it too often; I’m painfully aware that the vast majority of my readers aren’t junkies for UK politics like I am, and that flogging this particular hobby horse too frequently isn’t going to offer material that is of interest to most.

Even so, a major development overnight (Melbourne time) has been undertaken in Britain’s coalition government, which is led by the Conservative Party, and I’m horrified by the reaction an obviously astute exercise in party and personnel management has already elicited in quarters that usually would — and should — be staunchly supportive.

And I hate to say it, those on the Left will be cock-a-hoop.

I’ll keep as much of the detail out of the article as I can today; as I’ve already alluded, I don’t expect the names and issues involved to be as familiar to most readers as they are to me (but for those who share the interest in British politics — here, here, here, here and here are a few articles and comment pieces on the changes that have occurred on a tumultuous day in Westminster).

In any case, a picture tells a thousand words, so let’s get right to the point.

Embedded image permalink

Under Britain’s electoral system, general elections for the House of Commons must be held “at least every five years;” nine months out from the next of these falling due, Prime Minister David Cameron has undertaken a major reshuffle: some ministers, such as Foreign secretary William Hague and veteran Tory MP Ken Clarke are retiring; some ministers have been sacked; and some fresh blood — including several well-regarded female Conservative MPs — have either been appointed for the first time, or elevated through Cameron’s ministry.

The Conservative Party, much like the Liberal Party, has in recent years begun to attract talented women in greater numbers to its ranks; now, in the runup to next year’s poll, Cameron has promoted several of them as he strengthens his ministry, tries to smoothen out the inevitable few rough spots for his government, and replaces those who will not form part of his government beyond the election.

Speaking specifically of those newly promoted female MPs, they have “done their time” learning the ropes at Westminster; the advancement each of them has been rewarded with is well-deserved.

Or is it?

Don’t get me wrong, I think (as I always have) that the best candidate for a preselection, a ministry or a leadership role should be appointed; I have observed in the past that politics disproportionately attracts men, and that simply appointing those women who enter the field for the sole reason they are female is tokenistic, tacky, and is an approach that hardly conspires to render quality outcomes of governance.

In this case, I don’t think anyone could seriously suggest that the female MPs whom Cameron has promoted are undeserving; some — like newly-minted Environment secretary Liz Truss — are seriously spoken of in Westminster as potential future party leaders; others (such as a favourite of mine, Essex MP Priti Patel) in many ways represent the modern face of the Tory Party in modern, vibrant Britain.

Yet the picture I have included with this article is from the influential conservative magazine The Spectator, which ordinarily could be expected to be supportive of the changes Cameron has announced; the fact it isn’t (and, indeed, the cover has been rushed out today in advance of next week’s issue) should send a shudder down the spine of anyone who takes women in government seriously, or acknowledges that — just as I could say of men — that the right women have an enormously valuable role to play in the corridors of power.

The Spectator isn’t the only Tory-friendly voice raising its apprehension over the inclusion of more women in Cameron’s government, either.

If this is what the Conservatives’ friends are saying, what need do they have for enemies?

I wanted to post about this, e’er briefly, because the day will surely come when our own Prime Minister reshuffles his ministry, and when he does, talented, newish female Liberal MPs who have accrued some parliamentary experience — such as Kelly O’Dwyer and Sarah Henderson — will be in the mix, along with others (like former WA Treasurer Christian Porter) who warrant ministries on merit but, like the talented backbench women, have had to wait their turn as well.

When that time arrives, what reaction will Abbott elicit for promoting them? Will Labor and the Greens pillory him on the basis the male/female ratio remains skewed toward the men, or will they give the credit that is due for promoting women who deserve to be promoted?

More to the point, will the government’s friends in the media voice their approval, or will they take the path The Spectator has apparently chosen to walk, demeaning some very well-credentialled appointments as “token women?” Will Abbott be accused of “soft misogyny,” as Cameron is? And will those female MPs be given a clear run at their jobs when they are appointed to them, or will they be hassled, harassed and tokenised further?

If there are ten vacancies and the ten best-qualified candidates consist of seven men and three women, for example, then seven men and three women should be appointed. I have no time for quotas or the like, and in matters of governance find the idea that anyone should be invested with responsibility on the basis of gender rather than competence to be repugnant.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard is a classic case in point: it was great to see a woman could be Prime Minister. The problem is that it was her. There are plenty of women already in politics in Australia, on both sides of the divide, with the ability and potential to make admirable Prime Ministers if the opportunity ever presents itself to them. Gillard, to be brutal, was never such a candidate.

But this is the environment we now live in; criticising a female politician attracts a (mostly baseless) charge of misogyny, whilst advancing the career of female MPs through the ranks is dismissed as tokenism, even when the appointments are made on merit as they have been in Cameron’s case.

If vacancies Cameron filled in his reshuffle were allocated to women simply because they were female, I’d be absolutely slamming him right now. The rank stupidity of such a methodology is an insult to any thinking person’s intelligence.

But for Cameron to face the friendly fire he has raises the rather obvious question: is a conservative leader damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t when it comes to promoting women? I thought the revamped lineup Cameron announced was perfectly suited both to the ongoing business of government and to winning next year’s election but some, it seems, simply can’t be pleased.

I suspect Abbott would receive a similar reaction to a similar undertaking in his own ranks.

Perhaps any time a male, conservative leader promotes a woman, this type of thing will be the response. It doesn’t make it right, but the mentality fostered by the likes of Emily’s List and adopted by the ALP around quotas, female-only lists and other, similarly misguided enterprises — and the resentment they foment — plays a big part in causing the problem such cabals (wrongly) claim to redress.

 

(Coincidentally, the number of women promoted in David Cameron’s reshuffle overnight is, in fact, 10: readers can access an excellent piece profiling each of them in brief through this link).