Thursday, February 21, 2019

Government subsidising Saudi arms sales

The federal government has provided tens of millions of dollars to a local weapons manufacturer selling arms to Saudi Arabia while failing to ensure weapons exports are not used in the Yemeni civil war. The ABC reported on Wednesday that defence minister Christopher Pyne provided $36 million in government assistance to Electro Optics Systems, a weapons systems manufacturer that has signed a contract to deliver 500 mobile weapons mounting platforms to the Saudi ministry of the interior. The US House of Representatives voted last week to end American military assistance to Saudi Arabia, based on documented human rights abuses by Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces. Australian defence department official Tom Hamilton told Senate estimates on Wednesday that “our assessment process is followed for each and every permit and that includes an assessment of the overriding risk that they’ll be used in human rights abuses”. Greens leader Richard Di Natale replied: “Doesn’t help the four-year-old kid who had their leg blown off.”

Former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane will use a major speech today to accuse the federal government of “seeking to incite hysteria about asylum seekers and border security”. Delivering the John Curtin lecture at Curtin University in Perth later today, Soutphommasane will warn that “we must prepare ourselves for a potential race election”, involving “more naked and blatant appeals to racism and division”. Soutphommasane will hit out at media outlets “seeking to monetise hatred … feeding off the resentments of those in the majority who feel they are losing their position of power and privilege”. Soutphommasane clashed with the government during his tenure as race discrimination commissioner over failed attempts to abolish section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Outgoing industrial relations minister Kelly O’Dwyer has warned of the polarising effects of social media and “tribal echo chambers” on public debate. In her valedictory speech to parliament on Wednesday, O’Dwyer said she had noticed “a failure to listen to alternative ideas and a decline in genuine policy debate and civil discourse” during her time in office. In his valedictory speech on Tuesday, former treasurer Wayne Swan hit out at the “American race-based dog whistle politics” that has permeated Australian public life, pointing to the 2001 Tampa crisis as the moment when “the politics of fear drowned out domestic political issues”.

And British conspiracy theorist David Icke has been banned from entering the country, torpedoing a planned national speaking tour in March. A Holocaust denier and September 11 “truther”, Icke has gathered a following for his pronouncements that the world is controlled by a secretive organisation of alien, shape-shifting lizards, many of whom are apparently Jewish. The government has cancelled the visas of several high-profile figures in recent years, including three US speakers, the whistleblower Chelsea Manning, racist agitator Gavin McInnes and rape apologist Julien Blanc.


“On February 5 it was announced that Huang Xiangmo, former chairman of the property and investment company Yuhu Group, had failed the ‘character test’ of section 501 of the Migration Act. At Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton’s discretion, Huang’s application for Australian citizenship had been rejected and his permanent residency revoked. He now finds himself stranded in China, unable to reunite with his family in Australia.”


“The variation in style, purpose, history and media across the works is also immense: ethnological, political, aesthetic, abstract, figurative, painting, video, installation, and techniques for which a name has yet to be coined. Some are awe inspiring; some draw the viewer closer to examine detail. Some, inevitably, are immediately forgettable. A quiet sense of purpose and scholarship pervades the whole, rather than celebrity razzamatazz.”


“Morrison is pinning his hopes on turning his defeat on sick refugees into a rerun of John Howard’s 2001 border security election. Along the way, he will attempt to massage an April budget surplus, and more tax cuts and pork barrelling, into a win. The wisdom is that Labor is always on the back foot when the issues of border security and ‘boat people’ are raised. But the government will be hard-pressed to elevate these to the dominant concerns they were in 2001.”


“Welfare suspensions have increased 40 per cent under the government’s new compliance regime, as new data reveals participants on Australia’s flagship jobs program had their payments temporarily cut off more than 1 million times in six months ... On average, people waited 4.1 business days until their payment was restored, but the suspensions lasted two weeks on 250,000 occasions, while 17,000 suspensions were not resolved for four weeks.”


“National Australia Bank said its outgoing chief Andrew Thorburn will receive an exit payment of more than $1 million plus leave entitlements ... Following the shock resignations of Thorburn and Dr Ken Henry earlier this month, NAB on Wednesday said Thorburn would receive a payment of $1,041,449 in lieu of 26 weeks notice, in accordance with his contractual arrangements. He will also be eligible for any leave owing.”


Office Space became its era’s definitive workplace comedy, making a specific, once overlooked class of white-collar workers feel like their lives were worthy of the silver screen, giving voice and shape to nuisances that they had once felt alone in noticing.”

Alex McKinnon
is Schwartz Media's morning editor.