Although Australia’s economy in 2018 is cruising forward with rising prosperity and declining unemployment, the Turnbull Government cannot take a trick.
Even Malcolm Turnbull’s success in persuading U.S. President Donald Trump to exempt Australia from his steel and aluminium tariffs has been portrayed as leaving Australia exposed to Chinese dumping. Trade Minister Steve Ciobo’s suggestion that Australia might support action by the European Union (EU) to overturn the tariffs in the World Trade Organisation has also rebounded on the Government.
Earlier this year, the Canberra media had been full of salacious details of the affair which led to the resignation of Barnaby Joyce. Then, after Michaelia Cash cast aspersions on Bill Shorten’s private conduct, the Prime Minister at first defended her but then was forced to apologise “unreservedly”.
The contrast between the media treatment of the Federal Coalition and that given to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and the Greens is startling.
Mr Shorten has adopted a “small target” strategy: say nothing that will cost votes, but launch repeated attacks on the Coalition Government over almost every initiative it takes.
Mr Shorten has attacked the Turnbull Government’s policy to cut business tax rates to 25 per cent. He has attacked the Coalition’s electricity and gas policy while failing to point out that the ALP’s policy would push prices even higher. And he has warned against Australia becoming directly involved in the conflict with China in the South China Sea.
At the same time, Mr Shorten has been buying off key constituencies, including the unions, the Catholic education system, and the environmentalists.
It has been disclosed that Mr Shorten – who has a large parliamentary travel allowance – was bankrolled by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), a vehement opponent of the Adani coalmine in central Queensland, to visit North Queensland last January to be briefed on the adverse impact of the mine.
The cost to ACF of his trip was $17,000.
Mr Shorten had previously supported the development of the Galilee Basin’s vast coal deposits as Australia’s next large export project.
The Adani mine has passed all the environmental conditions set by both the Queensland and federal governments, and has export approval.
However, its future is uncertain because there is no agreement with the Queensland or Federal Government on funding for the lengthy rail line required to carry coal from the mine to the coast.
Following his visit to North Queensland, Mr Shorten said he “had doubts” about the Adani mine.
Then, after Labor MP for Batman David Feeney was forced to resign over his dual citizenship, forcing a by-election in the seat where Labor is being challenged by the Greens, Mr Shorten’s doubts turned into opposition to the project on environmental and financial grounds.
Conveniently, Mr Shorten has received legal advice from an environmental group, the Environmental Defenders Office, enclosing advice from a Queensland barrister setting out the grounds under which a Labor government could legally withdraw the previously granted approval for the mine to proceed.
Labor’s candidate in Batman, Ged Kearney – interestingly, a former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which should be supporting the project as a means of lifting employment in the region – campaigned strongly against the Adani mine.
Asked on March 2 what she tells voters when asked about the Adani project, she told the ABC morning program RN Breakfast: “I tell them first of all that I certainly don’t think that Adani should go ahead, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it will go ahead.”
She added that Labor would “pull levers that will certainly hinder the project going ahead, and that is starving it of money”.
A former president of the ACF, Geoff Cousins, revealed on national television that Mr Shorten had told him privately that a Labor government would withdraw export approval for the project.
The Guardian’s Catherine Murphy revealed that Mr Cousins had accompanied Mr Shorten on his January visit to North Queensland.
According to Murphy: “Shorten gave him clear and repeated signals that Labor intended to harden its opposition to the controversial Adani coalmine, including promising to revoke the licence for the project if the ALP won the next federal election.” (February 27, 2018)
The media almost completely ignored these revelations, and Mr Shorten’s rating as preferred prime minister rose, as polls showed Labor surging further ahead of the Coalition.
The media generally has buried other similar deals made by the Labor leader.
Last month, The Australian disclosed that Mr Shorten had attended a strike meeting at the Oaky Creek coalmine in central Queensland last October, at which he had promised to rewrite the country’s industrial laws.
Shorten had earlier promised to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a body established following years of abuse of union power by the militant CFMEU.
The media have given Mr Shorten a gold-plated first-class ticket to the Lodge.
Peter Westmore is publisher of News Weekly.