THE LAST GASP: This is why we play these games

Julie Bishop blames the Olympics, the Canberra musical rolls on and Tony Abbott lacks in the correctness department.

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week’s biggest stories, every week. This week, Julia Bishop embraces the Olympic spirit, Swan tortures more people with ancient musical references and Tony Abbot is politically incorrect in his bid to curb political correctness.

That’s the spirit

Julie Bishop justified a softening poll performance for the coalition this week by suggesting voters had been distracted from the government’s continued struggling by the Olympic Games. The member for Curtin said the public were currently focused on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Australia’s athletes in London, but within a week or so they should all be back into the soul-crushing sport of politics, where hopes, dreams and aspirations go to die. From one sickening aspiration to another, Tony Abbott continued his quest to become prime minister this week by claiming the ALP’s slightly improved public support would not change the way he does his job. The opposition leader said his role will remain the same no matter what the result of popular polls. Which makes a lot of sense, given the biggest advertisement for the opposition right now appears to be the government.

War of words

Not content with offending just the Chinese in recent weeks, Abbott has moved quickly on to slighting people from the Middle East, accusing the federal government of waging a 'jihad' against its detractors. He slammed the government for mocking mining magnates, who lampooned the mining tax and its plans to silence its critics in the media. Abbott also called for the removal of laws regarding racial vilification, which he claimed were a bid by Labor to set up a ‘political correctness enforcement agency’ to regulate the media. The opposition leader is said to have pledged that should he ever become PM, there’ll be very little political correctness in Canberra at all.

Well that went well

In a somewhat misguided attempt at putting an end to the debate surrounding political interference in Chinese investment, FIRB chairman Brian Wilson lit the fire again by suggesting the argument should not be driven by a political agenda. Wilson said that Australian businesses, regardless of ownership, should be run on an entirely commercial basis and not as an extension of the government policy. Which makes a lot of sense, given any company following the government’s fiscal policy would be quickly broke. ANZ chief Mike Smith also weighed in, calling on MPs to set politics aside and do a better job of explaining the role foreign investment plays in the economy. Apparently, both sides of politics agreed, before realising that neither of them had the slightest clue about such a complex issue and quickly returned to bickering about boat people.

The midst of change

Senior Treasury official Jim Murphy went into bat for the embattled Australian banking sector this week, defending the level of competition that exists between the big lenders and dismissing claims of gouging in the industry. Murphy said the sector was currently going through a transition period in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, and claimed that bank profits were no greater than those of other companies. Right. The statement comes only months after a report showing the local big four were the most profitable in the developed world, and in the same week where the common theme that ran through half a dozen earnings reports was loss. Cochlear, Transubran Computershare, Stockland and even Rio Tinto posted falls in their net profits this week. More evidence of the financial industry’s loose grip on reality came when Commonwealth Bank said that its acquisition of Bankwest in 2008 saved the Australian economy. No really, that’s what it said. Because when a ravenous China came a’knockin they were looking for car loans, not iron ore.

An invite he couldn’t refuse

Yep. More classic Clive. Palmer's Queensland nickel refinery left its suppliers aghast this week when it ‘invited’ them to reduce their prices by 15 per cent to help offset the impact of declining nickel prices. Given the importance of the refinery in the region, it seemingly boils down to giving suppliers the choice of accepting its generous offer for their products or jamming it. Not a particularly wide range. In Palmer’s defence, the billionaire has begun showing fiscal restraint himself as a sign of solidarity. Except for, you know. Attempting to rebuild the Titanic.

Chump change

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy slammed what the government called ‘inaccurate’ reports of cost blowouts on the national broadband network this week when he released the new corporate plan for the project. When he eventually got around to announcing the number, after about 45 painful minutes of introductory speech, it was revealed the network is only going to cost $1.4 billion more than originally thought to build. Along with a $3.2 billion jump in operating costs and a $600 million decline in expected revenue. But hey, what’s a rough few billion among friends?

We’ve heard this one before

It seems it wasn’t made quite clear enough just how lame the constant musical references emanating from Canberra were last week and how much of a genuine threat they pose to the national psyche. Treasurer Wayne Swan again dug into his dirty bag of notes by claiming he had discovered a new anthem for the negatively-minded opposition leader: The Beatles’ classic Hey Jude, and it’s memorable ‘nah nah nah’ refrain. Experts have encouraged the government to consider a ban on all singing and musical references by sitting members, and went so far as to suggest the bell that rings to summon MPs to the chamber should be the only note heard within a kilometre of parliament house.

Quick misses

– Qantas Airways chief Alan Joyce says the national carrier is taking its time to form an alliance with a major overseas airline, mostly because all those contacted are ‘taking their time’ to return Qantas’ calls.

– Unions have threatened war against Asciano over the port operator’s plans to automate its docks, replacing a large portion of its workforce in the process. Asciano says it is not interested in a war, but if it had to, would simply design robots to fight on its behalf.

– Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce is preparing for a run at the party's leadership by seeking preselection for the House of Representatives. According to reports, most of the preparation centres on practising not acting like Barnaby Joyce.

– And finally, in a move that has warmed right-wing hearts everywhere, the Community and Public Sector Union has called for Centrelink to immediately hire 600 permanent full-time staff for its call centres. Because nothing makes conservatives more happy then the government caving to unions so that people can more easily get the dole.

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