At last a speech about social morality

While Morrison tries to have two bob each way on vaccine mandates, Jaqui Labmie calls out the anti-vaxxers. Australians should not be denied the choice of safe workplaces, shops, restaurants and places of entertainment – safe from those who have no concept of the social contracts and conventions of living in a civilized society.

How representative are our parliaments?

Look at a photograph of state or federal members of parliament from, say, 1951, and compare it with a photograph taken in 2021. There will be a few more women in the latter photograph, particularly in Labor ranks, but faces revealing any ancestry other than European will be few.

Writing in Per CapitaIt’s not tokenism. Diverse political parties make better decisions – Osmond Chiu reveals how political party structures and conventions result in parliamentary representation that is much less ethnically diverse than the country as a whole, and the same goes for the ranks of political staffers. He draws attention to deliberate practices to overcome such biases in New Zealand and the UK. This is not a “left-right” issue: in some countries conservative parties have done better at ethnic diversity than social-democrat parties.

Are voters seeing through Morrison?

Two articles in The Conversation suggest that Morrison’s appeal to the public is waning. One article is about his loose relationship with the truth, while the other is about his increasingly unconvincing and transparently insecure public presentation in recent times.

Denis Muller of Melbourne University’s Centre for Advancing Journalism asks Is Morrison gaining a reputation for untrustworthiness? The answer could have serious implications for the election. Macron and Turnbull have explicitly accused Morrison of lying, and Muller refers to many situations where Morrison has not told the truth but these have not attracted the accusation” liar!”. He also notes that the image of Morrison as someone who has a difficult relationship with the truth is starting to stick.

So far few people have explicitly called Morrison a “liar”. Perhaps through clever language – “sophistry” to give the practice its recognized name – Morrison does not lie in a sense of strict logic. Sophistry is the salesman’s and the politician’s most used means of communication. But drawing on the opinion of ethicist Sissela Bok, Muller suggests that if a statement is made with an intention to deceive then it is a lie.

Chris Wallace of the University of Canberra writes that Morrison is losing his folksy and blokey political appeal: On politics as performance, Morrison’s advantage is ebbing – and that could make a difference at the next election. While Morrison has turned to a hectoring style Albanese has been improving his presentation.

Labor: no longer a big target but is it a really a small target?

On last week’s Saturday Extra Geraldine Doogue interviewed former Trade Minister Craig Emerson and journalist Sean Kelly on Labor’s strategies for the coming election. They comment on Labor’s mistakes in the 2019 election: they didn’t change strategies when Morrison took over from Turnbull and they underestimated Morrison’s capacity for duplicity, misrepresentation and deceit.

They identify Morrison’s outstanding intellectual flexibility: what he says today need bear no relationship with what he said three years ago or three days ago. He never criticised electric vehicle technology; he never said electric cars would “end the weekend”; he never said electric vehicle charging stations were too expensive and impractical; he never said “It’s not going to tow your boat. It’s not going to get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family.”

In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four Big Brother had teams of public servants like Winston Smith rewriting history; Morrison hopes that the media, even if it does not stoop to re-writing history, can “move on” and forget history.

Emerson and Kelly dispute the commonly-held idea that Labor, having gone into the 2019 election with a comprehensive policy agenda, will present a vanishingly small target this time. It’s a false dichotomy: a party can still present attractive policies without scaring the horses and without giving scoundrels like Morrison a chance to misrepresent them.

Wearing down whistleblowers

In 2016 Philip Moss conducted a review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act, the legislation protecting whistleblowers in the public sector. His review recommended a number of reforms but in spite of promises to improve the law, there has been no progress.

In spite of Moss’s findings and recommendations, and in spite of their promise that the law will be reformed, the Morrison Government and its Coalition predecessors have been zealous in prosecuting whistleblowers, explains Kieran Pender of the Human Rights Centre on Late Night Live: Whistleblowers must wait until after election for reform.

The discussion focuses on the case of Witness K and former ACT Attorney-General Bernard Collaery relating to disclosure of Australia’s spying on the Timor government in 2004. Collaery’s trial is being held in secret. Pender explains that in order for the government to prosecute Collaery, it must establish that he was handling material that showed the Australian government was spying. That means the prosecution’s case rests on the government having to admit that it was indeed spying. But so strong is the Morrison Government’s concern to preserve its reputation for truth and integrity in international relations, it cannot admit this openly, even though the fact that Australia was spying on Timor has been common knowledge for a long time. (11 minutes)


Indignity and outrage are properly directed at Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko and his circle of thugs for inflicting suffering and death on desperate refugees and asylum-seekers, but there are others taking political advantage of the situation.

Writing in The AtlanticA dictator is exploiting these human beings – Anne Applebaum describes the background to the situation on the Poland-Belarus border. In good journalistic style she describes individuals’ journeys and their sufferings, countering the rarefied political perspective, a perspective that sees only “’waves’ of people, ‘hordes’ of people, anonymous migrants who have allowed themselves to become bullets in a hybrid war”.

But besides these anecdotes she does cover the political perspective – not only in relation to Lukashenko but also in relation to Jarosław Kaczyński, chair of the Polish ruling Law and Justice Party, who effectively yields authority over the Polish president and prime minister. Having let Covid-19 rip through the Polish population, and holding a slim parliamentary majority, the Law and Justice Party welcomes any distraction from their own incompetence. The Belarus situation provides an ideal situation for Kaczyński to exploit racist and xenophobic sentiment, and to bolster Poland’s stand against the rest of the EU. Applebaum points out that the EU has offered Poland assistance to deal with the crisis but it has been refused.

She also stresses that while Kaczyński is dictating a hard line, the Polish people in the border zone have been showing compassion to any refugees they come across.

You can also hear Applebaum on last week’s Saturday Extra: Anne Applebaum on the Belarus-Poland border crisis. Some refugees have made it to Germany, and the Polish government has reluctantly accepted EU assistance, but it still wants to maintain the impression that the EU is a hostile force interfering in Polish affairs.

Applebaum is author of Twilight of democracy: the seductive rise of authoritarianism.

Before we get too indignant about Lukashenko and Kaczyński we should remember that Belarus and Poland aren’t the only countries inflicting misery on refugees and asylum-seekers for political ends. One minor consolation is that Nauru is not quite as cold as Belarus.

Belarus, Russia, other kleptocrats and their respectable enablers

Who is the wealthiest person on the planet? Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bernard Arbault?

None of the above: these are simply the people whose financial wealth is at least sufficiently transparent for it to be listed on the Investopedia website.

According to former senior World Bank official Frank Vogl the top spot is almost certainly occupied by Vladimir Putin. He cautiously estimates Putin’s wealth at $1.5 trillion, although others have made significantly higher estimates. Whatever the true figure it beats alsorans such as Bezos and Musk, who are yet to reach the $0.2 trillion level. There would also be many African candidates for medal positions if data could be brought together.

Vogl revealed these figures on Late Night Live. His focus was not so much on the kleptocrats themselves as the people in perfectly respectable positions in London, New York and even Sydney, who, for a hefty fee, help the kleptocrats shift their ill-gotten wealth out of the country: Cleaning dirty money – how the west enables the kleptocrats. Naturally bankers feature prominently, but so too do real estate agents, art dealers, diamond traders and gold dealers, who tend to be under lighter obligations to perform due-diligence screening than financial institutions are.

Vogl believes that the amount of money involved is so large that it represents a threat to global financial stability. For example, it has probably contributed to unrealistically high prices for equities and real-estate. In many African countries kleptocracy is responsible for blocking economic development and is keeping people in dire poverty. To squash kleptocracy governments need to go after the enablers in their own countries – the upmarket versions of the spivs who used to hang around the docks fencing stolen booze and TVs. (17 minutes)

Vogl is author of The Enablers: How the west supports kleptocrats and corruption, endangering our democracy.