At his Mar-a-Lago resort just before Christmas, in celebration of his large-scale tax cuts for the wealthy, Trump told his very rich friends: ‘You all just got a lot richer’. This has further encouraged the Turnbull government to talk up their own plans to cut company taxes – at least for those who still pay taxes – but without being as blunt as Trump in its main purpose of increasing the wealth of the rich.
Turnbull still spins the well-worn fallacy that cutting taxes for the big end of town will create more jobs. Anybody who still believes the propaganda of ‘trickle-down economics’ probably still believes that full-time jobs in Australia haven’t been in decline for years, that wages and conditions for workers haven’t stagnated, that casualization of labour hasn’t trapped increasing numbers of young people and that a high percentage of Australians will never be able to buy their own homes.
It’s unfinished business for the Turnbull-Morrison team to cut company taxes – which will be the main agenda item of 2018 – and which will require further strategies to ‘end the age of entitlement’ of the unemployed, the poor, the sick, kids in underfunded public schools, tertiary students who don’t come from well-heeled backgrounds, and of course, workers in every sector of the Australian economy..
Turnbull has been buoyed by Trump’s ‘initiatives’ to ignore climate change, to tear up environmental regulations, to cut back humanitarian aid programs, to foster sectarianism, racism and sexism within his own society, to withdraw support from UN programs which worked in support of international conventions in relation to human rights, to create tensions internationally with China, the EU in general and Germany in particular, with Mexico, Pakistan and elsewhere, and to threaten nuclear war with North Korea.
The only Trump initiative which has disappointed Turnbull has been the withdrawal of the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, negotiated secretly for some years, and containing provisions which protect powerful international corporations from being accountable under national standards of labour health and safety laws and environmental regulations.
For Turnbull, who described himself as a Trump-alike pragmatist as soon as Trump was elected – in his first attempt to ingratiate himself with the new US president – Trump’s rejection of the TPP was humiliating. Turnbull didn’t see it coming, even though Trump had flagged it very loudly during his presidential campaign.
This should have sent a signal to the mainstream media commentariat about Turnbull’s political aims. In general, the media has concluded that Turnbull has no strong principles or beliefs beyond power entirely for its own sake, or that he has been hamstrung on all his principles in every policy area by the hard-right, led by Abbott-Abetz-Christensen et al.
Little attention has been given to the fact that Turnbull’s policy agenda, when stripped back to its essentials, is no different to Abbott’s, but more cleverly nuanced and more profoundly designed to strengthen corporate power within the nation – to corporatize the state more thoroughly.
Turnbull’s unrelenting support for free-trade agreements, as distinct from fair-trade agreements, is one commitment which borders on the obsessive, akin to his determination to treat refugees as criminals and deprive them of fundamental human rights.
Perhaps Turnbull’s determination throughout 2017 to be seen as Trump’s closest ally, sharing selfies in Hamburg, rides in the Trump-mobile, and emulating John Howard’s deputy sheriff to George Bush on Trump’s foreign policy tweets, reflects his wish for Trump to relieve him of the onerous responsibility of treating people inhumanely, denying them due process under international law – and perhaps, most of all, denying them the opportunity to seek justice by holding him and his government accountable, under Australian law, for false imprisonment and other crimes.
Turnbull’s dilemma is that he wants to be able to say – as American Nobel laureate novelist and human rights activist Toni Morrison said racists in the US liked to say: ‘I am not a beast! I’m not a beast! I torture the helpless to prove I am not weak’.
So is there any clear difference between Trump and Turnbull in their political agenda?
Turnbull doesn’t tweet. He builds fences between himself and the policies of inequity, inequality and undermining of democratic rights which he endorses and delegates to his senior colleagues, especially Dutton, Morrison, Cormann and Bishop. He attempts to create a political persona of liberalism, of egalitarianism, of progressive and innovative policy direction, while supervising and overseeing the exact opposite in every area of domestic, industrial, trade and foreign policy.
Perhaps the most outstanding example of Turnbull’s hypocrisy is his support for the Adani coal project in Queensland, a project rejected by all Australian banks and by prospective international joint-venture partners as a sad attempt to reboot the past, to ignore the realities of climate change and of rapidly increasing changes in the wider world to clean energy options.
In fact, Turnbull has backed the past or the status quo without exception, while trying to camouflage it. The publicly funded ‘emissions reduction fund’, run out of the PM’s office, has gifted millions of dollars to a whole host of applicants, without any sense of cohesive or consistent policy direction, while the government has been promoting continuation of coal-fired electricity at home and abroad, and demonising alternative clean energy developments.
Turnbull’s dead hand on Australia’s future, by entrenching inequality in all areas of federal socio-economic policy within the nation, and encouraging a status quo inertia in research, investment and development, is exactly the opposite to the rhetoric he used to replace Abbott.
It invites pure cynicism to witness the disparity between Turnbull’s rhetoric and practice when he speaks earnestly of ‘Australian values’, ‘a fair go’, the ‘success of multiculturalism’ and ‘democracy’ at the heart of Australian society.
The most brazen representation of this lie is Turnbull’s imitation of Trump’s ‘homeland security’ infrastructure, creating a hugely expensive and unnecessary paramilitary bureaucracy integrating secret ‘sovereign borders’ maritime military operations with ramped-up internal surveillance of Australian citizens.
This is not about the old ‘reds under the beds’ myth, or chasing down 20 year-old opponents of conscription, and not even about stifling discussion of views which don’t align with those of senator Joe McCarthy in the US 70 years ago, but of Turnbull pretending to support egalitarianism – including taking credit for the same sex marriage vote while sitting on the fence during the whole issue – while clamping down hard on people like Gillian Triggs who expose the Turnbull government’s fear and loathing of human rights, and therefore of fundamental democratic principles.
It defies belief that the media has not called out Turnbull for his endorsement of policies encouraging inequality, division and conflict within Australian society, support for Trump in whatever he does, the erosion of democratic rights at home and overseas, and his abject failure to address national issues of the highest importance – water, food, climate, energy, education, health, industry, you name it.
Moreover, how is it that when Turnbull’s choice for boss of his Orwellian watchtower, Peter Dutton, chillingly labels people as ‘Armani refugees’ – a clear dog whistle to opponents of multiculturalism everywhere – Turnbull’s silence rings loud and clear? Turnbull’s silence is more than collusion, it is affirmation that Dutton speaks for the prime minister.
There is no congruence between what Turnbull says and what he does. Has there ever been? When he was minister of the environment in Howard’s government he told Peter Cundall he regarded the location of Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley as abhorrent, but then ensured that federal conditions for its approval were the most lenient applicable under federal law.
In February Turnbull will be in the US, talking with Trump, the man who has just described himself as ‘stable’ and a ‘genius’. Will they share notes at Mar-a-Lago about hubristic pragmatism?