The Politics    Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Morrison backs away

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking earlier today. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking earlier today. Image via ABC News

The PM muddies the water on the India travel ban

The Morrison government has today backed further away from its India travel ban penalties amid mounting backlash, while nonetheless leaving them in place. It’s an awkward semi-backflip that leaves the government’s position hard to read. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has insisted that it is “highly unlikely” anyone will be prosecuted under the sanctions, claiming that the Biosecurity Act penalties – which the health minister made a point of flagging in his late-night press release – are nothing new, and that no one has yet been prosecuted under them. Many are reasonably asking: why announce them at all? Even as the government downplays the likelihood of sanctions being imposed, it’s playing up its readiness to fight anyone who challenges them. As Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said in Perth this morning, the government intends to defend its policy in the case of any legal challenges – of which there might be a few. Let’s get this straight: the government will be defending the ban, which it insists it has the power to implement, but it won’t be imposing it, despite deliberately invoking it. That clears that up, then.

The PM went on something of a breakfast TV blitz this morning, stopping by both Seven’s Sunrise and Nine’s Today Show (though he still refused to go on the ABC’s News Breakfast) to announce that the chance of the previously announced sanctions being applied was “extremely remote” and “pretty much zero”. Morrison didn’t get a particularly friendly welcome from Today’s Karl Stefanovic, who ripped into him for the “heartless” ban, and referred to a tweeted accusation from former Test cricketer turned commentator Michael Slater: “PM, good morning to you. Do you have blood on your hands?” Stefanovic attempted to address the government’s backflip, but Morrison refused to acknowledge it. “No, Karl,” the PM insisted. “We haven’t had a shift. How you’re reporting it is a shift.” Apparently, Morrison expects people to believe that the penalties were always intended to be toothless.

Labor leaders have been furiously highlighting the government’s move, suggesting that the backdown is a “chest-beating” exercise gone wrong. Labor’s leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, went on ABC’s RN Breakfast to question why the penalties had been announced at all. “Is the only reason you announced it to get a tough headline that’s now blowing up in your face?” she asked. Labor’s talking points on the issue appeared to be focused on the “not so tough guy” aspect of the penalties, with leader Anthony Albanese calling it a “macho announcement”, and suggesting the government had been too busy making and withdrawing threats to focus on fixing hotel quarantine. Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has been as helpful to his former party as ever, calling for them to own up to their mistake. “This is a bad call by the government, but governments make mistakes all the time,” he said. “Let’s not prolong the mistake.” Alas, that is what the government seems determined to do.

The government’s position on its travel ban may have become terribly convoluted, but the majority of public opinion is not, with increasing pressure for Morrison to dump it. The entire lower house crossbench, along with senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff, has this afternoon co-signed a letter to the PM, calling on him to undo the ban and boost Australia’s quarantine capacity, while human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC and former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane have both come out against the criminalisation, calling for its reversal. Even members of the Coalition have expressed reservations, some going on the record to declare the ban “extreme” and “heavy-handed”, while others complain privately, concerned about what it will mean for perceptions among the Indian-Australian community. Apparently, pinky-promising not to actually use the penalties is not enough for people, no matter how many times Morrison says it. With the government having backed down to the point of declaring the sanctions functionally useless, it can only be hubris that prevents him from fully overturning them. But one should never underestimate the power of Scott Morrison’s pride.

“I faithfully urge you to make a humble and generous immediate announcement as to how Australia will help ensure UN COP26 is the success it must be.”

Bishop Philip Huggins, the president of the National Council of Churches, has written to the PM calling for him to “make vivid” the commitment to net-zero emissions, and asking him to be an “inspirational leader” on climate change.

“Josh, you’re pandering to the unions and [Jennifer] Westacott from the BCA (hard to tell the difference between big business and the unions nowadays) with more handouts.”

Queensland LNP senator Gerard Rennick is among those in the Coalition privately airing their frustration at the government’s $1.7 billion childcare boost,  as others call for “tax justice” for single-income families.

The end of Chinatown?
Australia’s restaurant industry has been devastated by lockdowns and the loss of international tourism. Some of the hardest hit businesses are those in Chinatowns across major cities. Today, Jess Ho on what’s at stake, and how the cities we live in might change forever.

The size of the taxpayer-funded “resettlement allowance” that retiring Coalition MP George Christensen stands to gain if he is disendorsed by the Liberal National Party – something his local branch has requested, at his behest.

“A $371m biosecurity package that puts a ‘protective ring’ around the agricultural sector is to be announced by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, three years after the Coalition’s failed attempt to introduce a biosecurity levy on industry.”

The forthcoming budget will include $59 million for swine flu prevention measures and $67 million for a new response and surveillance program, following calls from the National Farmers’ Federation for $417 million in new spending.

The list

“Every system, in every conceivable way, is being gamed by perpetrators, and very little is done to interrupt this. Almost every time I speak to a victim-survivor, the story of what happened to them in public, especially once the relationship was over, is just as intense – if not worse – than what happened behind closed doors. Domestic abuse is perpetrated in private and in public, enabled and perpetuated by others who wittingly and unwittingly collude with oppressive, violent people. Our problem isn’t just the population of bystanders unwilling to intervene, it’s also the people who are actively taking part in the abuse, and are unwilling to see that they are being used.”

“Have you heard the one about the original creator of the game of chess, this wily mathematician who submits his invention to the ruler of the country? Asked by the delighted queen what he wants by way of reward, the mathematician requests to be paid in gold. He proposes the queen place a single coin on the first square of the chessboard, two on the second square, four on the next, eight on the one after that, doubling the number of coins on each successive square up to the sixty-fourth … Variations on this story are sometimes told in maths classes to give students an idea of how rapidly a system undergoing exponential growth will punch a hole through the ceiling. To understand what it means for us right here and now, imagine the chessboard expanding invisibly to cover our battered old planet, and instead of coins let’s travel back in time a short distance and play the game with metallic ores. Iron ore, bauxite, copper, nickel, every tonne of it.”

“The men came about 4am, between six and eight of them, allegedly armed with guns. It was April 21, and the streets of Port Moresby were quiet. The Papua New Guinean capital has been under new COVID-19 restrictions for four weeks. About 15 asylum seekers housed in three rooms at a hotel (rented by the PNG government under agreement with the Australian government) say they were held at gunpoint by these men – their phones, laptops, clothing, cash and other electronics taken during a terrifying robbery.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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