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12 January 2014

Eleven questions Abbott will never answer, because they'll never be asked

With escalating chaos under the Abbott administration, media scrutiny is needed more than ever, but the unspoken pact between the government and the mainstream media ensures this won't happen, writes Alan Austin.

Tony Abbott gave an extended radio interview this week.

This was a rare opportunity to elicit detailed answers to urgent questions. It was an exceptional chance for scrutiny of policies which seem as inexplicable as they are destructive.

From the outset, the matey chat appeared scripted by the Liberal Party PR unit.

The intro included this:

he [Abbott] inherited a financial mess of the last six years.


The interrogation then began with this:

How frustrating has that process been that the Greens and Labor in the Senate still won't let it [the carbon tax] go?

Alas, not one vital question was asked. It was an armchair ride with plumped cushions, a mango daiquiri and peeled grapes, supplied by a fawning 2GB.

So what are the topics on which Abbott should be quizzed? Here are just eleven.

1. Joe Hockey's early moves as treasurer increased substantially both the debt and the deficit, moves not supported by economists. Do you now admit that your countless claims in opposition about a 'budget emergency', 'spiralling debt' and that 'the cupboard is bare' were false?

2. What have leaders of developing countries said to you about your decision to cut $4.5 billion in development aid? How many have told you that this will cause vulnerable children to die of starvation and preventable diseases? Your reply?

3. Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser sacked minister-elect Glenister Sheil and John Howard disendorsed Pauline Hanson from the Liberal Party's ticket for expressing hateful opinions. What action will you take to distance your party from the offensive views of Senator Cory Bernardi?

4. Why did you appoint Tim Wilson to the Human Rights Commission after he campaigned vigorously for its abolition? Is it your intention to white-ant the commission from within?

5. How have you explained your no-show to the Yolngu in Arnhem Land to whom you promised in August to 'spend my first week as prime minister' should that happen, on your country? When do you intend to repair that broken commitment with a visit?

6. What have Warren Mundine and other Indigenous people told you about your decisions to axe the position of coordinator general for remote indigenous services, to slash Aboriginal legal aid and to give $2.2 million to farmers and miners to fight native title claims? Are these the real reasons you can't face the Yolngu?

7. How many refugee boats have arrived in Australian territory? How many have been turned back? How many lives have been lost at sea?

8. Does revealing the number of arriving refugees compromise Australia's security? Yes or no? If yes, then why did the Coalition in opposition continually publicise the number of arrivals with a huge mobile billboard? Do you now admit that the Coalition gained office by conducting a campaign which undermined Australia's security?

9. What is the difference, in logic and in morality, between people smugglers providing boats for refugees from Sri Lanka or Afghanistan to sail to Australia and the Australian government providing lifeboats for refugees from those countries to sail to Indonesia?

10. We know legitimate asylum seekers are leaving countries including Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan. Does Australia along with the rest of the free world still have an obligation and willingness to assist? What practical initiatives have you taken to assist genuine refugees to find safe passage to Australia and other host countries?

11. Do you accept that all your actions show that you reject both the letter and the spirit of the Refugee Convention of 1951 and the 1967 Protocol, both signed with bipartisan support? Are you planning to join Burma, Libya, Tibet and Turkmenistan by withdrawing Australia's membership of the convention?

The reason Abbott will not answer these questions is because they will never be asked.

The non-aggression treaty with the mainstream media seems secure. The Murdoch-led controllers of the flow of 'news' will not challenge the Coalition in government, just as it refused to scrutinise it in opposition. In return, government media policy will not trouble the interests of the media corporations.

New entries to the cosseted Canberra reporters' club are assiduously prevented. Among the many scandals of the last few years of mainstream media's manipulation of national capital 'news' has been the exclusion of genuine reporters from the press gallery.

Investigative journals have energetically sought access to the club, which increasingly appears to be a sub-branch of the Liberal Party. Despite a compelling case, strong support from media veterans Mungo MacCallum and Margot Kingston, new media wunderkinds such as Victoria Rollison, and the question having been raised in Parliament, the door remains firmly shut and bolted.

The pact, however, is not completely watertight.

Some journalists within the established media empires would indeed like to ask forensic questions. These ornery individuals are, of course, known to Abbott's team and interviews with them are banned.

Gone are routine press conferences of previous administrations open to all with no time limit and no restrictions on subject.

The damage this accord is doing to Australia is immeasurable.

As shown, enormous harm is being done to relations with the region, to Australia's international reputation, to global climate efforts, Australia's economy, the health care system, the environment, care for the elderly and soon, it seems, education.

Without constant intrusive media scrutiny which is also fair and balanced, democracy and good government are doomed.

Welcome to Abbott's Australia.

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