THE LAST GASP: Saw it coming

Wayne Swan finally admits the surplus is sunk, Tony Abbott should read more and Mal Brough finds the spotlight.

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week’s biggest stories, every week. This week, Wayne Swan drops an unexpected budget bombshell, Tony Abbott should have read between the lines (and around them, too), and some unwanted attention comes to Mal Brough country.

Shocking

In utterly flabbergasting news, Treasurer Wayne Swan admitted this week that it was now very unlikely the federal government would deliver on its long-standing promise of a budget surplus in 2013/14. And with that announcement, a raging torrent of 'I told you sos' enveloped the nation, stopping only so Joe Hockey could pinch himself every now and then just to make sure it was all actually happening. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the government. No, wait. It’s easy not to feel sorry for the government. In an era of non-core promises, when politicians are reluctant to commit to anything, the ALP backed its horse to the hilt, despite most competent veterinarians, regular trackgoers and even random passersby realising a long time ago that it was probably time to ship ol' Nelly off to the glue factory. Now it’s the government that is in the sticky situation, and it’s entirely one of their own making. But it’s not like the news is as surprising as some are making out. As recently as earlier this week, it became apparent just how economically bereft of ideas the ALP become when it called on ordinary Australians to submit their priorities for the budget. Swan invited individuals, families, businesses and community groups to think of something, lamenting that he’d now used up all of the fiscal policy ideas that come up on the first page of Google. Contributors were asked to file all suggestions in a folder labeled ‘Money ideas, by Wayne’.

Read it or weep

Tony Abbott is kind of a big deal. The opposition leader came out swinging this week in defence of under fire colleague Mal Brough, amid criticism over the former MPs candidacy in the upcoming federal election for former Speaker Peter Slipper’s seat of Fisher. Brough was implicated in the recently thrown-out sexual harassment court case against Slipper, leading some to call for to him to abandon his plans to re-enter parliament. However, Abbott has expressed full support for Brough, despite admitting to not even reading the findings of the week-old judgment. According to the opposition leader, he’s been off in England doing ‘very important things’ and simply did not have time to find out what the claims are all about. One imagines they were particularly important things indeed, such as planning his fresh New-Year attack on the prime minister, or searching for the safest place to hide behind Julie Bishop.

Digging up the mine

The gaffe echoed claims made by Abbott earlier this year, when he blamed BHP Billiton’s decision to abandon its Olympic Dam project on the carbon and mining taxes, while admitting he had not even read the company’s statement on the issue. Which explained that the decision had nothing to do with either the carbon or mining taxes. Experts have suggested Abbott should be cut some slack on the whole Slipper issue. It’s not as if the saga was a big deal anyway, right? It’s not like it was a huge story that dominated politics and media for months, or something that Abbott based his entire job on for several weeks, or was one of the catalysts for the abrupt replacement of all traditional political concepts for a Benny Hill-style race around Canberra for the next thing to sling mud at someone for. It was a complete non-event.

Where there’s smoke, there’s Mal Brough

Abbott has expressed confidence that Brough, an ex-Howard government minister, had acted appropriately ‘at all times’ throughout the Slipper affair. The support from his potential future leader and former cabinet colleague came at a good time for Brough, given the at times damming 76-page judgment from the Slipper case. Federal Court judge Steven Rares found Slipper's accuser James Ashby acted in league with fellow staffer Karen Doane and Brough to forward the interests of the one-time employment minister and the Queensland coalition. Despite the claims, experts have suggested that Abbott has nothing to worry about by backing Brough. Allegedly dodgy activity in a party these days is not such a big deal – such claims have been dogging New South Wales Labor for years and it’s as healthy as it has ever been.

The weekly Clive

In a move that is most definitely not a joke, even though it really sounds like one, mining billionaire Clive Palmer has somehow convinced the World Leadership Alliance (whoever they are) to name him joint secretary general of the organisation. The magnate said he was surprised and honoured to be named in the role. Though not as surprised as everyone else. Palmer said the newly formed body, which includes over 90 former heads of state, would draw on its collective leadership experience to support current leaders who are facing challenges of democratic development. Which is all well and good, except that Palmer has never, ever been democratically elected to lead anything remotely important. In fact, he was unceremoniously kicked out of the main democratic group he has associated himself his entire life less than a month ago. Because he called them Nazis.

Quick misses

South Australia took a big step toward the future this week, announcing that every ambulance in the state would soon have access to high-speed, mobile communications technology. The government expects these new ‘mobile phones’ to revolutionise communication in the colony.

Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg has donated over 28 million Facebook shares to charity, which is a cheap thing to do when shares are worth as much as Facebook’s.

– The US subsidiaries of French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi have been fined $US109 million to settle claims they paid kickbacks to doctors to buy and prescribe one of its drugs. This went mostly unreported worldwide. It’s said that it has got to a point where drug companies doing horrible things isn’t even really news anymore.

– And finally, a classic: A poor single mother was out shopping for a Christmas present for her son, and broke down when, at the checkout, realised she could not afford the one thing he wanted. In the store for his own shopping, and noticing the woman’s plight, the local Member of Parliament walked over and bought the present for her. In the morning, the child woke up and ran down to the Christmas tree, screaming in delight and shouting to his mother that Santa had been there overnight. The mother, deciding to be honest, told her son that it was actually a kind, generous politician that was behind the gift. The child looked at her and said: "Don't be silly, Mum. There’s no such thing as kind and generous politicians".

Merry Christmas everyone.

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