Today’s Question Time was largely uneventful. It began with a lovely question from Tony Abbott that never seemed to end, and which delightfully cited Kevin Markle, the PHD student whom yesterday was just some shonky, undergraduate kid. Not today. After telling The Australian that the data cited yesterday by Swan and Gillard was not to be included in the final paper, he was suddenly a wunder-economist.
I have to say Rudd’s response was pretty weak – especially as he failed to point out the irony of the Libs now citing a source whom yesterday they rubbished. He dealt with it effectively, but it really deserved more fire and brimstone.
The Liberal's questions were, as usual, based on what was in The Australian this morning, and they were ok when they focussed on the American academic paper. Such a pity they rubbished the authors yesterday though. But inexplicably after looking like being able to make Rudd look foolish on the issue, Joe Hockey in the third question suddenly cited a Treasury paper that it had also previously been trying to discredit. Hockey asked that since the Treasury papers showed the Electricity, Gas and Water industry payed even less tax than the mining industry, when would the government start raising the tax on that industry?
It was the type of question which Dennis Shanahan would call logical and cutting, and everyone else would suggest was the winner of the “Dumbest Question asked in Question Time” Award. It allowed Rudd to let loose and talk as long as he liked about the benefits of tax reform yada yada.
Next up Hockey referred to a Citigroup paper which incidentally was written prior to the release of the Henry Tax Review that said:
Overall Australian royalties/taxes are already some of the highest in the world and further increases could curtail investment in and the competitiveness of our resource sector.
The problem is, as Bernard Keane wrote yesterday in Crikey, since the release of the Henry Tax Review, a Citigroup analyst had said:
"that BHP, RIO and OZL may have been sold off too hard given the likely limited RSPT impact, we reiterate our BUYS on these stocks".
Rudd unfortunately did not mention this – he instead cited a different study which found contrary conclusions to the Citigroup study. His response was ok, but seriously, someone has got to get in to him and get him on the attack. Rudd did get somewhat animated at various times today, but the Libs’ arguments could be much better destroyed than they are being. Ignoring one study and instead talking about your own isn’t good enough – especially when there is enough ammunition around to attack such studies as the Citigroup one. Oh PJK, where have you gone? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…
The theme of the day of the Libs was to ask all their questions to Rudd, which is ok, but they’re never going to trouble him, and they even worked him into some form. The Liberals were trying to use Wayne Swan’s words from yesterday against him. Yesterday he had said:
Perhaps the most pervasive myth is that every return over six per cent will pay resource super profits tax. I regret to say this is a calculated and deliberate misrepresentation. If you hear a mining executive saying it, they are either lying to you or they are ignorant—either way it should be of concern to their shareholders.
In the Libs’ version this was now translated to Swan saying that anyone critical of the RSPT was either lying or ignorant – which if you read the quote he obviously was not saying. But nonetheless a number of questions involved the Libs citing a critic of the RSPT and asking Rudd whether he thought they were lying or ignorant. It was all pretty stupid, but it reached great heights of idiocy when Sussan Ley cited “respected” economics reporter Terry McCrann. Now McCrann is almost without doubt the biggest critic of the Government outside of those who write for The Australian. Rudd dealt with it smartly saying: “Terry McCrann is critical of the Government? Well hold the phone!” It was such a laughable question, that the Government even allowed Ley to table the article – a sure sign they think the point being made is ludicrously dumb.
Of the Dorothy Dixers the most fun was Craig Emerson who referred to his mate the Member for Dickson, Peter Dutton, as Pig-iron Pete the Share Trader – in reference to the nickname given to Bob Menzies by the ALP for attacking waterside workers who refused to load pig iron being sold to Japan just prior to WWII.
I think “Pig-iron Pete” might stick.
But the very best answer in today’s Question Time was by Stephen Smith, who updated the house on the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat in response to Mossad having forged Australian passports in its operation to assassinate a Hamas leader. Julie Bishop, the shadow Foreign Affairs Minster was given the standard security briefing on the matter, but unlike most intelligent and reasonable shadow Foreign Ministers she didn’t keep quiet on the issue. No she decided to politicise it, telling Sky News that:
"In the absence of proof, it would be appropriate to reprimand, appropriate to chastise the Israeli government. There is a widely held view, there is an assumption that the Israeli government was involved, but there is no actual proof."
Now Smith could not refute the accusation because he can’t show the “proof” as it is top secret. Bishop instead of keeping her mouth shut, as would anyone with any sense of discretion, just went on and on:
"The Government is facing an election. The Government is also seeking to pursue a seat on the Security Council. The Government is keen to curry favour within the Arab community"
Unbelievable. To side with a foreign country when your own citizens rights have been trampled is an amazing thing to do for any MP – let alone the Shadow Foreign Minister. Smith rightly gave her both barrels. But he should have held off, because after Question Time, in an interview with Tim Lester she went further and said that Australian intelligence agencies faked passports as well!
Here’s the transcript of one of the most extraordinary interviews any Shadow Foreign Minister has ever given:
TIM LESTER: Julie Bishop, why on earth is it wrong for a country to expel a diplomat when that country has stolen identities to engage in murder?
JULIE BISHOP: Tim, there is no actual proof that the Israeli Government forged these Australian passports. And there is no connection yet between forge passports and the assassination of the Hamas leader. In fact the Dubai police investigation is ongoing.
[yep, I guess the proof the UK Government cited wasn’t real either…]
TIM LESTER: Just assume for a moment that Australia did have proof, that was absolutely dotted… “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed, what would you then have to say about expelling a diplomat under those circumstances?
JULIE BISHOP: I would call the Israeli Government in and present them with the proof, and then ask for their response. But the Australian Government has still not..
[Get that rest of the world? Do bad, and Julie will call you in, show you the proof (even though this may have been obtained through secret means) and ask for you to explain yourselves.]
TIM LESTER: You still would not expel the diplomat?
JULIE BISHOP: I would ask for their response.
TIM LESTER: That’s not expelling a diplomat though is it?
JULIE BISHOP: I may well depending on what their response is. Australia has expelled diplomats in the past…
TIM LESTER: What if they said “sorry, we know… yeah you got us there” What would you do?
JULIE BISHOP: Well Tim, look at the consequences of expelling a diplomat. What’s happening. It hasn't’ even rated a mention in the Israeli press – maybe one line – and Minister Smith has admitted that it’s now going to be business as usual between Australia and Israel.
[Now correct me if I’m wrong, but her big point is that Smith has over-reacted, but here she suggests that it is actually no big thing. So which is it? It can’t be an over-reaction and a trivial reaction.]
TIM LESTER: But aren't there consequences at not doing anything, and isn’t that the problem – if we don’t do anything aren't we effectively putting our imprimatur on the theft of Australian identity?
JULIE BISHOP: Not at all. You would reprimand, you would chastise, you would ask them not to do it again….
[Oooh reprimand!! Chastise!!! Geez, I hope she wouldn’t tease them, or maybe use sarcasm at their expense! “Ask them not to do it again!?” Would she say pretty please?
But Julie has opened the door to a little secret she knows (and you can tell by the look on her face at the 1:42 mark that she is just busting to tell it]
TIM LESTER: What we do?
JULIE BISHOP. Yes.
[Have a look at the tape. Her response is very, very deliberate, and she then has a little smile after saying it – a sort of a self-satisfied, “aren’t I special because I know such things smile”. It is an astonishing thing to admit. And Lester is straight on to it…]
TIM LESTER: We use our intelligence agencies use forged passports for use in foreign operations?
JULIE BISHOP: Our, Australian passports have been used, I said Australian passports, have been used by other countries. Has Australia forged passports before? You’ll have to ask the Foreign Minister.
[Well no Julie you didn’t just say “used by other countries” Lester specifically asked about us, and you deliberately and specifically answered him.]
TIM LESTER: We'll what do you think. You’ve been in government before, you;d have a fair clue of these things
JULIE BISHOP: I believe it has occurred but I wasn’t the Foreign Minister at the time.
[Oh geez, you believe it??? Bloody hell. If you don’t know, you shut the hell up. If you do know, you shut the hell up!!!!]
TIM LESTER: Would you sanction… would you suggest that Australian intelligence should be able to forge foreign passports for use in their overseas intelligence work?
JULIE BISHOP: Tim, I think we’re being very naive if we think that other countries do not use forged passports for their operations overseas. I think we’re being very naive if that’s the case.
TIM LESTER: OK , let’s not be naive…
JULIE BISHOP: Right.
TIM LESTER: Let’s be up front and honest. Should Australian intelligence agencies be able to forge foreign passports to do their work?
JULIE BISHOP: There are many bilateral agreements between countries in relation to intelligence and security matters and I’m not going to breach any confidences, I’m not going to breach any confidences of briefings I’ve had, but let me get back to the circumstances of the issue…
[Oh that’s good to know, sure as hell wouldn’t want you to break any confidences, Julie.]
TIM LESTER: Answer the question broadly though – should we be able to do it? Is it something Australian intelligence agencies should be able to engage in?
JULIE BISHOP: There are many matters that Australia intelligence agencies do in concert with other governments.
TIM LESTER: And you would sanction them forging passports for use in their overseas operations?
JULIE BISHOP: There are many things that governments do – including the Australian Government – in concert in operations with other countries that would include the use of passports. But what I’m saying…
TIM LESTER: And you would sanction that?
JULIE BISHOP: All governments have. All governments have.
[So do you think “all governments” includes Australia?]
It was an amazing interview – her responses are borderline stupid, irresponsible and dangerous – take your pick.
Obviously she had to quickly retract her comments:
"I did not state that Australian intelligence agencies have forged the passports of other nations, during my interview with Fairfax online this afternoon," she said in a statement. My responses were referring to the fact that forged Australian passports have been used previously, as noted by the foreign minister today. I have no knowledge of any Australian authority forging any passports of any nation."
No of course not, you just answered “yes” when asked if Australian agencies did, and then later said you “believed they did”.
Will Bishop survive this? Probably – the Libs can’t afford to lose her this close to an election – especially as she is from West Australia. But there is no way such a fool could be given a security Ministry in any Government, in fact I struggle to think of a Ministry should could safely be let loose in. You couldn’t even give her Minster for Sport, because she’d probably tell the media that it’s naive to think most Australian Olympians aren’t on steroids.
Back when she lost the Shadow Treasury I lamented that the gift that keeps on giving was lost to the Government. It just came back.