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It was a rather transient week, with ScoMo moving to Kirribilli and Donald Trump’s lawyer moving to jail.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve had more trouble for Trump, mother nature hitting Hawaii with everything its got and a look at possibly the most interesting and infuriating week in Australian political history.
Two of US President Donald Trump’s closest former associates have been convicted of crimes this week, opening up potential further action against the President himself and strengthening the ongoing push for impeachment.
Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to eight charges this week including five counts of tax fraud, one count of making false statements to a financial institution, one count of willfully causing an unlawful corporate campaign contribution and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution. Cohen struck a plea agreement over the charges which includes an agreement not to challenge any sentence delivered between 46 and 63 months which means that he will likely spend four to five years in prison.
Whilst Cohen didn’t specifically name Trump in relation to some of the charges, he did provide details that point to no-one else. In his plea, Cohen indicated that he worked with an “unnamed candidate”. He confirmed that he made two payments to two women in “coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” and the second payment was also made “under direction from the same candidate”. He then indicated that the payments were arranged “for (the) principal purpose of influencing (the) election”. The amounts and the dates for the payments to which Cohen has admitted line up perfectly with payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, who have both made allegations against President Trump.
The highest profile member of Trump’s legal team, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, immediately took to the media saying “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr Cohen”. No, he’s just pleaded guilty to paying off two people at the behest of someone running for federal office for the principal purpose of influencing an election, and the amounts and dates of the payments line up perfectly with two women that Trump is known to have paid off. Definitely no allegations of wrongdoing by Trump in those charges…
Also on The Big Smoke
- While you were asleep: Trump’s lawyer guilty, Trudeau faces furore/racism, Dolly enters the meme game
This week also saw former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort found guilty of eight financial crime charges. Trump again indicated that Manafort’s charges did not involve him, saying “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort/ It has nothing to do with me… Nothing to do with Russian collusion.”
As the fallout continued for the Trump camp later in the week, Trump was interviewed on Fox & Friends and issued a warning that impeaching him would result in the crash of the American economy. Trump said, “If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be poor.” Disturbingly, the comments further affirm that Trump has a very naive and basic understanding of economic principles and market forces. He went on to say, “I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job.”
I don’t know what’s scarier, the possibility that Trump doesn’t actually understand the definition of impeachment, or the explicit suggestion that good performance automatically provides immunity for criminal acts. Actually, I do – it’s definitely the latter.
Also on The Big Smoke
The US island state of Hawaii is on high alert this week with Hurricane Lane hitting the popular tourist destination. Lane peaked as a Category 5 storm late in the week as it moved closer to the Hawaiian region. As it weakened slightly to a Category 4, US astronaut Richard Arnold who is currently aboard the International Space Station, tweeted two images of Hurricane Lane on Thursday which showed just how large and terrifying the weather system looked from 402 kilometres above the earth.
At its peak, Lane became the first Category 5 hurricane in the Pacific since Patricia in 2015. Whilst it had weakened to Category 1 by the weekend, it had already created chaos and officials warned that it would still produce dangerous rainfall totals across Hawaii, particularly as the eye of the storm is expected to pass dangerously close to Oahu and Maui over the next few days.
The Big Island, which is at the eastern end of the chain, has been hit by the brunt of the storm so far with more than 90cm of rainfall occurring in one spot over the past few days. The heavy rainfall has caused serious flooding, landslides as well as road closures.
Hawaiian Governor David Ige has warned residents to be prepared as the dangerous weather may continue for some time due to the slow-moving speed of the hurricane. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said, “Lane, while it has been downgraded, is wide and very moist. And it’s going to hang around for a while as it moves because it is moving slowly. And that is why we are taking so much precaution here.”
More than 1,000 people have already been forced into emergency shelters on the Big Island with the number expected to rise. Tourists have also been warned to leave Waikiki Beach ahead of expected dangerous conditions along the southern shore of Oahu. The beach itself has also been closed, with police telling surfers and swimmers to get out of the water until they advise it’s safe to return. US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in Hawaii earlier in the week which triggered the release of disaster funds.
Back home, there was really only one news story on everyone’s lips this week.
In last week’s Current Affairs Wrap, we covered rumours surrounding a push from the right wing of the Liberal Party for Peter Dutton to challenge the PM and take the leadership.
The rumours, as it turned out, were completely true. The PM and his closest advisors decided not to wait for the impending challenge and called a spill during the regular Tuesday party-room meeting. Peter Dutton, as expected, raised his hand and challenged the PM for the leadership. The votes were cast and Turnbull prevailed with a 48 to 35 vote. Whilst this may seem like a decisive victory, it unfortunately illustrated that there were a significant number of people in the party room that wanted Turnbull gone which only served to fuel further speculation.
Following the meeting, Dutton immediately resigned from the PM’s cabinet and his Home Affairs Ministry to allow him to continue to campaign from the backbench without the burden of having to do an actual job. Turnbull reportedly offered Dutton the opportunity to stay in his position and in cabinet but he refused.
The writing was on the wall. Dutton and his supporters had been caught unaware by the early spill but it was very clear to everyone that they would be rallying support and having another crack. Liberal MP Warren Entsch reportedly publicly criticised Tony Abbott in the meeting for breaking his promise of “no wrecking, no sniping” and Nationals MP Damian Drum was also reported to have called those leaking and undermining the leadership “a fucking disgrace”.
Also on The Big Smoke
By the afternoon, Dutton was facing the media with a focus on showing the country the “real” Peter Dutton, ignoring the fact that we already know exactly who the real Peter Dutton is. He told the media that his plan now was to support the government from the backbench and focus on making sure that the Liberal Party is re-elected at the next election. When asked if he would challenge again, he said “It is not my job, but having lost the ballot today, my job is to respect the view of the party room, which I do.” After being pressed continuously by the media who weren’t happy with his lack of a definitive answer, he said “I believed I was the best person to lead the Liberal party to success at the next election. I respect the view of the party room and accept that outcome.” Before too long it was confirmed that everything he said was a bold-faced lie.
By the evening, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, had resigned from Turnbull’s cabinet, making sure to publicly release her resignation letter within which she accused Turnbull of ignoring the Libs’ conservative base. A number of other frontbenchers also offered their resignations including Michael Sukkar, James McGrath, Angus Taylor and Zed Seselja, however Turnbull did not accept their offers.
All eyes turned to Senate leader Mathias Cormann. Cormann was a crucial link between Turnbull and the conservatives and was also a close friend of challenger Dutton. Cormann told parliament that Turnbull still had his support, “I disagree with my good friend Peter Dutton. I support Prime Minister Turnbull. I’ve supported him loyally since he was elected leader in September 2015 and I will support him loyally as his representative in this chamber until the next election and – subject to the will of the Australian people – hopefully beyond.” As it turned out, another bold-faced lie. An even worse one, really, given what followed directly controvened the will of the Australian people in every way possible.
By Thursday morning, Cormann along with Senator Mitch Fifield and Senator Michaelia Cash, fronted the media and advised that they had just resigned from the Turnbull Cabinet as Turnbull “no longer enjoyed the support of the majority of members in the Liberal Party party room.” Turnbull and those still loyal to him knew that it was well and truly over. It would be impossible for Turnbull to hold his position now and a change was inevitable. A shift in strategy, however, turned out to be a stroke of genius.
The alleged architect of the shift was reportedly Turnbull loyalist, Christopher Pyne. The self-appointed “fixer” of the Government focussed on two things – keeping Turnbull calm and focussed, and acting as a go between with treasurer Scott Morrison. If Turnbull was going to be ousted, they weren’t going to let the leadership be seized by those that started the mutiny.
Also on The Big Smoke
Turnbull held a press conference, advising that should Dutton gather the 43 signatures required for a party room meeting to be forced, then he would hold a meeting at noon on Friday to decide the leadership. He also advised that should a spill motion carry, he wouldn’t stand in the race and he would also quit parliament. He also advised that he had referred Dutton to the Solicitor General to advise as to whether Dutton was even eligible to sit in parliament at all due to business interests he had that may cause him to be found ineligible. The result of that referral was irrelevant, it was just enough to put a little more doubt over Dutton as the leadership choice.
The plan was for the numbers that Turnbull garnered to try and defeat the spill would then pledge their loyalty to Morrison should the spill carry. Everyone that didn’t want to see Dutton take the job would back Morrison, regardless of whether they supported Turnbull or not.
Turnbull pulled every trick out possible. Once Dutton had amassed the required signatures, Turnbull insisted on each signature being personally verified by the whip. Not because there was any suggestion that they weren’t legitimate, but because it was a reminder to every single person on that ballot that their name would be publicly attached to it; and it gave the PM a little more time to garner last-minute support for his plan.
As we now know, Pyne’s plan worked perfectly. The spill motion passed 45 votes to 40 and an initial elimination vote between Dutton, Morrison and Julie Bishop was held which resulted in Bishop being knocked out of the challenge. The second vote between Morrison and Dutton saw Morrison ironically win with the exact inverse of the numbers that passed the spill – 45 to 40. Morrison was to be PM, and Dutton was left holding his dick in his hand. Josh Frydenberg was then elected as Deputy. Pyne, Turnbull and Co had saved the party (and the country) from being seized by the extreme right of the party, and publicly embarrassed those that mounted the coup.
The best, however, was yet to come. Turnbull faced the media and spoke at length about his achievements as PM. Then he eloquently, professionally and surgically launched on those that had ended his tenure. He said that Australians would be “dumbstruck” and “appalled” by what they had just witnessed. He spoke of how climate change was an effectively unsolvable issue within the party due to the beliefs of some being purely ideological and not based on science or fact. But subtle jabs at Abbott and co weren’t enough – he was going to call them out, saying:
“We must never allow the politics of race or division, or of setting Australians against each other, to become part of our political culture. We have so much going for us in this country. Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott and others, who chose to deliberately attack the government from within, did so because they wanted to bring the government down. There was a determined insurgency from a number of people both in the party room and backed by voices, powerful voices, in the media… In so far as there has been chaos this week, it has been created by the wreckers. The insurgents and their deliberate destructive action has not been rewarded by electing former home affairs minister Mr Dutton.”
Turnbull also refused to answer questions from anyone in the media that he didn’t specifically select. Those that had contributed to his downfall wouldn’t be given a voice today.
At the end of the day, the primary losers from this debacle are us. Those that we’ve elected, and paid, to run our country continue to do anything but. But at least we were given a real look behind the curtain this week. This type of infighting and destructive behaviour within our political system has plagued us for almost a decade now; and whilst we may have suspected about how the various plots and strategies unfolded, this time around Turnbull and co made sure that those responsible were thrust into the public light. Ironically, and in my humble opinion at least, Turnbull’s most impressive achievement as PM came in his last 24 hours. The only way we can prevent this from happening again is to stop voting in sociopathic representatives whose ambitions for power and title are prioritised well before the will or needs of the Australian public are considered. We know who they are right now, so it’s on us to do something about it and try and start to close this despicable chapter in our political history.
Wacky and wonderful
I think it’s fair to say that this has been covered in detail above. I need to go and lie down.
That’s it from me, TBSers, have a cracking week!