Monday, September 6, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Talk is cheap
What exactly did the PM hope to achieve in taking the keynote speech at the National Summit on Women’s Safety?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at the National Summit on Women’s Safety. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at the National Summit on Women’s Safety. Image via ABC News

Scott Morrison – the man who earlier this year told women they were lucky not to be shot at for protesting against violence – has delivered the opening keynote at the National Summit on Women’s Safety, but his attempt at a heartfelt speech has been savaged online, not least by Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame. Having just voted against implementing most of the “Respect @ Work” report’s key recommendations, the PM praised his own government for passing last week’s legislation, and talked up the importance of stopping harassment (which his government refused to legislate a positive duty on employers to prevent). Morrison – who reportedly failed to read the letter containing allegations against his then attorney-general, Christian Porter – today referred to the “hundreds of letters” he had received from Australian women this year, and read some aloud. In his virtual address, Morrison – who in March refused to front-up to March4Justice protesters – said that he could feel the rage and fatigue coming through the letters. He said the correspondence confirmed “the intolerable interactions too many women have with the justice system”. But there was no mention of the fact that his department has again called off the investigation into who in his office knew about Higgins’ rape allegation, nor was there talk of the much-needed inquiry into Porter’s suitability for office. Morrison – after earlier offending some women by saying he was thinking of things “as a father” – decried the fact that “some men think they own women”, stating: “I don’t believe we can talk about women’s safety without talking about men.” In closing, Morrison – whose team seemingly included only one survivor (Tame) in last week’s roundtables, and seemingly failed to invite Higgins to the summit altogether – said that he wanted to hear from women about their perspectives and experiences. On the face of it, the PM said the right words in his speech. But his actions have betrayed him. What was the point of him speaking at all?

The sincerity of the government’s safety summit, announced during the period of damage control following Higgins’ bombshell allegations, has been called into question in recent days, and experts are demanding that the conference do more than pay lip-service to the endemic problem. Advocates are attempting to use the summit to ensure real action is taken and is backed by real funding. Today’s sessions included panels on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s experiences and the importance of economic security in escaping financial abuse, but questions have arisen about some of the other topics, along with some of the panellists, many of whom are far from experts in the field. There are concerns that housing for women fleeing violence was only added as an afterthought (housing advocacy group Everybody’s Home created its own online event on the subject), while others are concerned that welfare and its role in helping victims flee isn’t on the agenda at all. Tame herself has accused the summit of having a “comically narrow remit”, arguing that the summit is an extension of the government’s “pattern of denial, minimisation, ultimately dismissal of women’s issues”. Meanwhile, state ministers for women from across the country have today released a joint statement calling out the federal government for its past failures, with calls for more investment in housing and women’s legal services (ministers from Liberal governments were notably absent). The only two sessions that overlap in the entire two-day program, as Crikey’s Amber Schultz has noted, are one on coercive control/early intervention and one on the “Respect @ Work” report – two critical issues that surely demand their own time slot.

But it is the fact that the opening address was reserved for our tone-deaf prime minister that truly irked advocates today, and it has thrown into question the sincerity of the entire exercise. The government was no doubt trying to once again emphasise the seriousness with which it regards women’s issues by having the prime minister at the top of the bill. Morrison has by now had several opportunities to address the topic, but not one of his attempts at real talk has been backed up by real action, especially on the issues in his own backyard: the allegations of rape and cover-up concerning members of his own party. Scott Morrison loves a good speech, but he’s not fooling anyone. Words are meaningless without action – and they are just as meaningless when you repeatedly take action that falls well short of the mark, whether partially implementing anti-harassment recommendations, launching investigations only to place them on the backburner, or reading some letters from women while refusing to entertain the ones that inconvenience you.

“If the world does not rapidly phase out coal, climate change will wreak havoc right across the Australian economy: from agriculture to tourism, and right across the services sector.”

Selwin Hart, the UN’s special adviser to the secretary-general on climate action, urges Australia to have a “more honest and rational conversation” about abandoning coal, saying it must be phased out by wealthy nations by 2030.

“YouTube’s actions make clear that it is not a neutral platform, but a publisher selectively broadcasting content and censoring certain views, while allowing videos that are patently false, misogynistic and racist to proliferate.”

Appearing before the Senate’s media diversity inquiry, Sky News Australia chief executive Paul Whittaker attacks the platform that temporarily banned his channel over its COVID-19 misinformation, with an apt description of his own outlet.

The charity feeding Sydney during lockdown
Ongoing lockdowns have put many Australians under extreme financial pressure. Without adequate government support, the responsibility is falling on community organisations to help thousands of people receive the basics. Today, Rosanna Barbero on the massive food relief operation in Sydney.


The number of COVID-19 cases expected to be in NSW’s intensive-care units when the state’s outbreak reaches its “peak” in late October, according to newly released modelling from the government. The modelling, however, is based on data from two weeks ago.

“The Greens have vowed to push Labor to adopt a new 40% tax on the ‘super profits’ of big corporations if the forthcoming federal election results in a hung parliament.”

The Greens’ proposed tax would target the profits of mining companies and big corporations, and would potentially appeal to voters dissatisfied with Labor’s recent decision to accept the Coalition’s tax policies.

The list

“Politicians don’t fear criticism, they crave it. Vocal criticism from their enemies is proof that they are delivering for their friends. The condemnation of funding programs such as ‘sports rorts’ and the train-station car parks wasn’t just anticipated: the inevitable criticism was part of the comms strategy. The prime minister, the finance minister and the infrastructure minister all used their subsequent interviews on the ‘scandals’ to talk up their determination to deliver solutions to the problems of everyday Australians. Most people say they are cynical about politics, but in my experience most people aren’t nearly cynical enough.”

“Every hospital has a ‘residents’ room’. A place only the junior doctors can enter, where posture and politeness are discarded, naps are stolen, bosses are demolished, hook-ups are arranged and black humour reigns. It’s like a pub without alcohol. I transitioned from trainee to boss in the same hospital. Overnight, I was barred from the residents’ room and granted entry to the ‘consultants’ room’. I called it the gentlemen’s club. It had chesterfields, old portraits, a cupboard full of (unopened) top-shelf liquor.”

“The rate of COVID-19 hospitalisations in New South Wales is being reported at one-third of the real figure, with the actual numbers being masked by a decision to only report those who end up in medical facilities, and not the thousands receiving care under the state’s ‘hospital in the home’ arrangements. On Tuesday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the ‘most recent figure I have for the rate of hospitalisation was 5.5 per cent in terms of cases converting to hospitalisation’. The real figure, however, is about 15 per cent, according to medical experts and a briefing provided to national cabinet.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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