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Like sand through the hourglass, this was another day in our lives. Well, seven. Tony Abbott got zinged, a Trump flunkie got sent to the slammer and a billionaire was murdered by schadenfreude. Standard.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve had a Trump ally receive his just desserts, trouble in the South China Sea, and politics heating up across the country back home.
US President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was sentenced to almost four years’ jail this week having been found guilty last August of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.
In addition to the 47-month prison term, Manafort was also ordered to pay more than US$24 million in restitution. The icing on the cake was a further US$50,000 fine handed down by the Judge. Prosecutors of Manfort’s case indicated that he hid more than $US55 million in overseas bank accounts in the Ukraine in order to avoid paying approximately $US6 million in income taxes to the US Government.
Whilst the sentencing guidelines for this type of case call for up to 24 years in prison, Judge TS Ellis indicated that he believed the guidelines were excessive and would create “an unwarranted disparity” with other cases.
Manafort’s time in front of the court isn’t quite over yet, however, as he prepares to face sentencing next after pleading guilty last September to two conspiracy charges related to illegal lobbying. All of that being said, President Trump has refused to rule out granting Manafort a Presidential pardon, saying back in November, “I wouldn’t take it off the table.”
Helps to have crooked friends in high places I guess.
Also on The Big Smoke
Tensions have continued to rise in the disputed waters in the South China Sea after the Vietnamese government claimed this week that a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in the area.
The Vietnamese National Committee for Incident, Natural Disaster Response and Search and Rescue issued a statement indicating that the boat was around 370 kilometres off Da Nang near Discovery Reef in the Paracel island chain on Wednesday this week when it was rammed by a Chinese vessel. The Vietnamese Government also indicated that the five Vietnamese men on board managed to cling to the sinking ship until they were rescued.
This isn’t the first time the Vietnamese government have accused Chinese vessels of attacking their fishing boats. In April and May of last year, Vietnam alleges that more than ten fishing boats were hit and robbed while fishing in the South China Sea.
It’s reasonable to assume the allegations are true given that China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including waters that are internationally recognised as an exclusive economic zone for Vietnam which affords the Vietnamese sole fishing rights.
In a case of bad timing, the alleged sinking came a day before the sentencing of 15 Vietnamese people for “causing public disorder” during anti-China protests in June 2018. The sentences ranged between 2 and 3.5 years in jail with the Vietnam News Agency reporting, “The jury board concluded that the defendants’ behaviour undermined security, order and social safety…so they need to be seriously punished.”
Things are continuing to heat up from all angles in the countdown to the Federal Election, which is widely tipped to be called for May this year.
It appears that the growing movement against former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has caught the Member for Warringah’s attention as he ramped up local campaigning this week to a level never seen before. Abbott has been spotted meeting commuters at the local bus stop, handing out flyers at Manly Wharf and even standing in the middle of a busy road during peak hour, waving at drivers.
So why the sudden grassroots campaign from the Mad Monk? According to independent challenger Zali Steggall, it’s because he’s worried that he’s at risk of losing his seat for the first time since he took it in 1994. Steggall has told the media that locals have told her they’ve never seen Abbott spend so much time in his own electorate and that it’s “absolutely” a sign that he’s worried.
He may well have cause to be worried. A poll commissioned by GetUp! (who are actively campaigning to see Abbott removed) last month indicated that Abbott was trailing Steggall 54%-46% on a two-party-preferred basis. The same poll saw 60% of the 622 residents surveyed rate Abbott’s performance as a local member as “poor” and 78% of those who had voted for him previously indicate they would vote for someone else.
Steggall and Abbott attended a pre-election debate on Friday that quickly boiled over and showed in no uncertain terms that Steggall has no problem standing up to her opponent. The first blows were traded over the proposed Northern Beaches Tunnel which Abbott has been touting as the main battleground in his local campaign. Stegall came straight out of the blocks, saying that she still had press clippings from 1994 when the tunnel was first promised to voters: “The overwhelming issue for the electorate is to get some action. Action that people can actually truly believe in. And to feel represented, that there is actually a voice in parliament that actually cares about the concerns of the electorate and intends to represent those concerns.”
Abbott quickly interjected, asking, “Are you in favour of the tunnel?”
Steggall replied, “I am in favour of the tunnel Mr Abbott, in fact. Because I know your lying advertising has been misrepresenting my position. I am in fact in favour of the tunnel, but what we do want to hear is a business case, because Infrastructure Australia still lists the project as a 10-15 year long term plan.”
The back and forth progressively became more intense with both Abbott and Stegall interrupting each other but all reports say that Stegall had the upper hand. The topic quickly moved to climate change which saw Abbott spectacularly back down on his previous calls for Australia to back out of the Paris climate agreement, saying “circumstances have changed”. He continued, “Look, I certainly thought a few months ago that the only way to break the emissions obsession was to pull out of Paris. I think the government has lost is emissions obsession, now that Angus Taylor is the energy minister, so I don’t think it is now necessary.”
Steggall took aim at Labor as well, attacking their franking credit policy: “For the last ten years, both Labor and Liberal governments have encouraged the Australian people to not only work hard and pay your taxes, but set yourself up for a self-funded retirement.”
Labor candidate, Dean Harris, attempted to interject and join the Steggall/Abbott dominated conversation but was quickly shut down by Steggall: “Just a minute, I’m finishing, Dean.” She continued, “You are now saying to them, thanks for paying all your taxes for all those years. And now by the way, we are going to absolutely stick you in your retirement so that you are now in a position where you’re not flexible. You’ve made your investment strategy, and you will now lose your income.”
Abbott seized the opportunity, telling the panel that the only way to “stop Labor’s big new taxes” was to vote for the Libs. “Someone like Zali will always do a deal with Labor to let their taxes through,” Abbott said.
Harris finally got a word in, meekly replying, “Doesn’t sound like she’ll do a deal with us on this, Tony.”
There’s a new Sheriff in Warringah, and I for one can’t wait to watch how this develops.
Also on The Big Smoke
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- #BalanceforBetter: International Women’s Day and the major health myths many Australian women still believe
While we’re on the topic of ex-PMs, Abbott’s former knife-fight partner, Malcolm Turnbull, gave an interview with Andrew Neil on the BBC’s Politics Live in London this week and it quickly caused waves.
Turnbull indicated that “internal politics of the Liberal Party” was the reason behind his ousting.
“As I said at the time, it was essentially a form of madness that occurred, whipped up internally and also amplified by voices in the media. Basically, you could argue that their concern was not that I’d lose the election, but rather that I’d win it.”
Neil immediately challenged Big Mal, pointing to the loss of 40 consecutive polls as the far more likely reason behind his ousting, which Turnbull quickly dismissed, saying,
“At the time of the coup in August, we were at level-pegging in the public polls with the opposition, and we were four points ahead on the polling in marginal seats, so the government was absolutely in a competitive, winnable position.”
He pointed to now-PM Scott Morrison’s worsening position as further evidence of his claims, saying, “Normally when you replace a leader, you replace the unpopular person whose fate is sealed with somebody who is much more popular and gives you a chance at winning. That was not what happened.”
That’s pretty hard to argue with.
Whilst the Liberal party remained tight-lipped in the face of Turnbull’s controversial statements, other high profile personalities jumped on it. 2GB host Alan Jones slammed Turnbull, saying, “I think this man needs medication. This is delusion with a capital D.”
Fellow member of the anti-Turnbull club, Ray Hadley, followed suit, saying, “I first heard this at 3.30 this morning. I thought I was in a dream, a bad dream, really a nightmare. He’s cuckoo. He’s delusional.”
From the slightly more credible camp, former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett took aim at Turnbull on Seven’s Sunrise, saying, “With Malcolm it has always been about Malcolm. He would have to be a candidate for the most selfish, self-centred human being in Christendom. It’s all about him. He’s just amazing. He never stops. I mean, how ridiculous. How absolutely self-centred is this individual?”
It should be noted that Kennett made no effort to debunk the actual claims that Turnbull made, but rather focussed on the damage Turnbull is likely doing to the Libs’ chances at the next election, which is telling in itself.
From the least credible camp, newly minted One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham said that Turnbull’s claims were “as weird as you will ever see” in politics. At times like this I wish there was an idiom stronger than “the pot calling the kettle black”.
It’s not exactly a stretch to believe that the hard right of the Liberal party would rather damage their polling chances than see Turnbull succeed. It’s actually harder not to believe it.
Others threw support behind Turnbull’s claims, with popular Labor MP Anthony Albanese telling Sky News, “I think Malcolm Turnbull’s right.” He continued, “It was madness for him to be replaced with a fourth-choice leader in Scott Morrison, who only got elected Prime Minister because people disliked either Malcolm Turnbull or Peter Dutton more. Since then, Scott Morrison hasn’t been able to explain why he’s the PM, rather than Malcolm Turnbull who was elected by the Australian people. And when you look at the facts, the Coalition was on 49% for a couple of polls in a row, they had been increasing their primary and their two-party preferred vote, and Malcolm Turnbull had won 58 Newspolls in a row as preferred PM.”
Can someone tell me why Albo isn’t the leader of the Labor party? Surely that would solve everything.
ABC commentator Barrie Cassidy also chimed in, indicating that Turnbull’s opinion was “not totally illogical.” He continued, “I think what he was driving at is there are those on the right who didn’t want to see a progressive Liberal succeed, because if a progressive Liberal succeeded, then that would end their agenda. You know, around energy policy, climate change and the rest of it.”
Again, pretty hard to argue with. It’s not exactly a stretch to believe that the hard right of the Liberal party would rather damage their polling chances than see Turnbull succeed. It’s actually harder not to believe it.
The proof will be in the pudding when we go to the polls. Unless Scott Morrison miraculously cures cancer off his own back, it’s hard to see any eventuality other than evisceration for the Libs at the polls now. But I’m sure there will still be those who find a way to blame Turnbull for it.
Wacky and wonderful
They say that money can’t buy happiness. In fairness, the words are usually muttered by those that don’t have a lot of either, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It can, however, buy you a lot of cool shit that the rest of us couldn’t hope to afford.
Take the recent story of Ehud Arye Laniado, a Belgian-Israeli dual national billionaire who made his fortune as a diamond trader.
Laniado had more money than most of us could ever dream of. According to friends, however, he suffered from a “Napoleon” complex due to his less than overwhelming stature. This insecurity about his height left Laniado “always focused on his appearance and how others perceived him”. Partying in expensive penthouses with models and celebrities wasn’t enough to make up for his perception of vertical inferiority; one old friend told the media that the only thing that briefly allowed him to forget about his height was when he asked his accountant to read out his bank statement–something he allegedly did multiple times a day.
Money couldn’t buy him height, but it could buy him something else…ahem…length.
Laniado attended a very expensive plastic surgeon in Paris this week to have penis enlargement surgery which unfortunately didn’t go to plan. He suffered a fatal heart attack after having a substance injected into his manhood and was unable to be saved.
A tragic outcome unfortunately and our thoughts go out to his family and friends.
But it’s important to laugh in the face of tragedy, sometimes quite inappropriately. So with that in mind, I leave you with this clip from Austin Powers: Goldmember:
That’s it from me, TBSers. Have a cracking week!