THE LAST GASP: Playing for cotton stations

The Coalition fights over a Cubbie, Grocon and the CFMEU lock each other out and Labor proves its backflipping prowess.

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week’s biggest stories, every week. This week, the Coalition isn’t so close when it comes to Cubbie Station, the CFMEU and Grocon shut each other out, and Labor throws its hands in the dirty air over coal-fired power.

Little house, big deal

A swathe of rural identities condemned a decision by Treasurer Wayne Swan this week to approve the sale of massive Queensland cotton-producing property Cubbie Station to Chinese interests, in a move that has raised more questions about Australia’s attitude to foreign investment out of the Asian powerhouse. The decision caused an almighty stink within the Coalition, driving a stake between the National and Liberal parties and threatening to derail Tony Abbott’s upcoming grand final party that the poor little tacker has been excited about for months. Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce was one of the more outspoken on the deal, before somebody explained to him that his greatest fears were unfounded, and the Chinese would in fact not be coming to play with him in his backyard treehouse.

Once it’s gone

Opposition finance spokesman Joe Hockey said the Coalition categorically supported the deal, and went as far as labelling fellow Coalition MPs who spoke out against it as ‘freelancers’, much to the chagrin of some in the former Country Party. National detractors said the argument was a water issue, with Cubbie home to Australia's largest water licence. The stance somehow even found support from the Coalition's polar political opposites, the Australian Greens, in a move that had some peering over their shoulder for the four horsemen. Nationals Senator John Williams questioned Hockey's decision, and said people were fuming over the ‘willy nilly’ selling off of valuable farmland. Hockey allegedly denied the claims, insisting the decision to support the sale was both cold and calculated.

Then fix it, dear Henry

Still on foreign investment, former treasury secretary Ken Henry swung his fists around wildly this week in anger at widespread attitudes on the issue. He said the public discourse surrounding the practice was ‘populist’ and ‘frequently misinformed,’ as opposed to all those intelligent issues that hold strong in the face of public outcry. You know, all of... them. Henry said Australia had strong polices in place to oversee foreign investment, but said it was vital that those who could do so made an effort to explain the systems properly. Government sources from both sides reportedly said they had no time to explain such things as they were too busy being popular, and couldn’t understand it even if they tried.

To spite your face

The Construction, Mining, Forestry and Energy Union continued its massive protests in Melbourne this week against construction group Grocon, which, for the most part, went about as successfully as last week’s did. Grocon chief executive Daniel Grollo clearly decided to fight fire with fire as the ordeal went on, or in this case, jerks with jerkiness. Grollo rejected a revised union offer that would stop industrial action midweek, which led to a particularly classy turn of events which saw police escort non-union workers through makeshift barricades into the site one morning as a crowd of protestors chanted charming slogans like ’die, scab, die’. Separately, the CMFEU has launched a radio campaign amid fears for the future of 1,000 timber industry jobs in South Australia, claiming high log prices are threatening the viability of local timber operations. The ads make no mention of crippling strikes threatening the viability of other industries.

FMGL

Fortescue Metals Group announced major changes to its operations this week, delaying projects and cutting jobs in a desperate effort to save $300 million immediately. The very next day, the miner sold one of its key power assets for, coincidently, exactly $300 million. Satisfied with the result, Fortescue reportedly announced plans to keep all of the laid-off staff. Lol, just kidding. They're all still fired.

Dirty money

Labor took flack from all sides this week after announcing it would not go ahead with the purchase and closure of some of Australia’s ‘dirtiest’ power generators, mainly located in Victoria's Latrobe region. Prime Minister Julia Gillard justified the decision by claiming the companies involved had not made worthwhile offers. Plus, she said, it would save Labor a heap of cash they could use to prop up the budget. Greens leader Christine Milne slammed the move, claiming neither the government nor the generators had made genuine attempts to do a deal. A representative for the generators allegedly said they did not regret playing hardball, as given their track record, they had expected the ALP to roll over eventually.

It’s the mascot vote again

Liberal frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull has hit out at the the quality of federal parliament's question time, continuing a growing theme of introspection among politicians in place of actually doing their jobs. Turnbull suggested the deterioration of the practice was a key factor in the loss of trust between politicians and the Australian people. Labor seized on the comments, saying that opposition questions have focused entirely on people smuggling and the carbon tax for years, while half of the ALP’s front bench have not received a question from their shadow minsters this year. Party reps however denied suggestions that the problems with most of its policies speak for themselves. Liberal senator Mathias Cormann said Gillard was to blame for the ‘crisis of trust’ because of her broken carbon tax promise. Both parties seemed to agree that blaming each other was way easier than attempting to repair that trust.

Quick misses

– John Bjelke-Petersen, the son of the late Queensland premier Joh, is considering running for a seat in the state's parliament, clearly in a bid to maintain his father’s great reputation.

– To ease concerns about printing money, the ECB has invented an overly complex bond buying plan poorly designed to hide the fact it is effectively printing money.

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