Monday, June 7, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

‘At war’
The Coalition is fighting the ABC, and maybe also itself

Image of ABC managing director David Anderson appearing before a Senate estimates hearing earlier today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

ABC managing director David Anderson appears before a Senate estimates hearing earlier today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Coalition senators have used a farcical Senate estimates hearing to attack the ABC, quizzing managing director David Anderson about a Four Corners investigation into the PM’s ties to a QAnon leader, Christian Porter’s defamation action, and ABC staff use of social media. Anderson revealed that the ABC will pay $100,000 in mediation costs to Porter’s team, with the legal stoush costing the broadcaster about $780,000 in total. He also said Porter made two offers to settle before the ABC initiated mediation (with the former attorney-general changing his proposed terms after he saw the ABC’s defence), and pushed back against claims the broadcaster had “backed down” or regretted the article, noting the ABC ultimately agreed to settle “to minimise costs”. But senators from the Coalition, which has been railing against the broadcaster for the past week, seemed far more interested in talking about the ABC’s editorial bias and social media usage. Senators noted executive producer Sally Neighbour had liked a tweet mocking Porter made by satirical website The Shovel, along with an oblique tweet from comedian Ben Jenkins, with the latter read out in full (meaning it will now live on in Hansard). Last week, the Opposition used Senate estimates to reveal that the federal aged-care minister didn’t know exactly how many aged-care workers were vaccinated. Today, the government used it to score petty points against the ABC and read tweets about manure. Is it any wonder the government hasn’t found time to successfully roll out the vaccine, let alone a decent public health campaign?

The Australian dedicated an entire live blog to today’s hearing, along with multiple articles attacking the ABC, crowing that morale at Four Corners is at an all-time low, and there’s “friction” within the organisation. The national broadsheet is going as hard after the public broadcaster as the government is, attempting to stoke division over Anderson’s contentious decision to defer Four Corner’s QAnon episode. (In estimates, Anderson denied reports saying the PM’s office had requested the Four Corners program not go to air, saying he personally reviewed the episode and ruled that more work was needed before it was ready to air.) A report from James Madden today declared producer Neighbour and reporter Louise Milligan to be “at war” with the managing director, something Milligan has pushed back against, noting Madden never called her.

Speaking of people definitely not internally at war with each other: the NSW Coalition has eased its demands on its federal counterpart, after yesterday joining Queensland in calling for purpose-built facilities for both states, now that Victoria is getting one. Premier Gladys Berejiklian took what some characterised as a “swipe” at the federal government, telling 2GB’s Ben Fordham that if the Commonwealth wanted to increase quarantine capacity, they would have to “build and operate a facility themselves”, noting that hotels would eventually be needed for tourism again. (Berejiklian, it’s worth remembering, has frequently pushed back against the Labor premiers’ pleas for facilities, sticking to her party’s line. “I don’t think it would work for New South Wales”, she said of regional hubs back in February.) She also appeared disgruntled with the Commonwealth’s decision to provide Victoria with an additional 100,000 Pfizer doses, saying states should receive doses based on their population. “We have a lot on our shoulders as well,” she said. “I think it’s only fair that we get our fair share of the vaccine.”

All appeared to be smoothed over by midday, however, with Berejiklian appearing beside the prime minister to announce joint funding for a $500 million bypass over the Hawkesbury River, which flooded during March’s one-in-100-year rain event. Standing beside the PM, Berejiklian said her earlier point had merely been that New South Wales was at operational capacity, meaning any proposal “down the track” would have to come from somewhere else. Morrison, meanwhile, used the opportunity to praise his gold-standard state for its resistance to lockdowns, pressuring Victoria to lift theirs. “When similar circumstances were faced here, in New South Wales, the restrictions were contained to a very specific part of Sydney,” he said. “I would be urging that we move towards lifting those restrictions as soon as possible.”

It’s not clear whether the Coalition is in agreement in the southern state, either. A group of Victorian Liberals, led by shadow treasurer Louise Staley, have issued a wild (and widely mocked) press release demanding answers over Premier Daniel Andrews’ leave and injuries, including what time and where the “incident” occurred, who called the ambulance, and whether the police were called, buying into some disturbing conspiracy theories floating around online. In a press conference minutes earlier, Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said questions about Andrews’ leave should wait for “another day”. It comes after O’Brien last week shut down one of his backbenchers for suggesting that any federal funds that are directed to help Victoria should be deducted from the state’s GST allocation, telling reporters “there’s a reason why that MP is not on the front bench”. Staley is, however. It seems the federal Coalition isn’t the only wing of the party with worrying links to conspiracy theories.

“These people need to get out now. The Australian government needs to step up.”

Major Stuart McCarthy (retired), who served in Afghanistan, adds his voice to calls for the federal government to do the “right thing” and evacuate Afghan staff who have supported Australian diplomats and soldiers in Afghanistan.

“Today I got the Pfizer vaccine in the event I need to travel to Tokyo for the Olympics.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has (finally) received her first COVID-19 vaccine dose, claiming it was for travel purposes and not because it’s something we all should do to protect against COVID-19.

The Australian spy novelist charged with espionage in China
Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been detained by the Chinese government since 2019. He’s been charged with espionage offences and could face the death penalty. Today, Linda Jaivin on the case of Yang Hengjun and what his treatment says about the Chinese government’s approach to human rights.

The damages awarded to an asylum seeker, after the Federal Court found the Commonwealth has unlawfully detained the applicant since 2019.

“The national workers union and employers’ group have urged independent senator Stirling Griff to vote against the government’s superannuation reform bill, saying it ‘retains serious flaws’ and should be scrapped.”

Senator Stirling Griff is being urged to block the “Your super, your future” bill, which had to be amended to pass the House of Representatives on Thursday, amid opposition from Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce and former Liberal MP Craig Kelly.

The list

“Human embryos cloned from skin cells, mouse fetuses grown in incubators, human-monkey embryos… It’s not a line-up from the latest Netflix sci-fi series. This was the stuff of news headlines in March and April … At a time when it appears ethical lines in the sand are being erased, there’s a call to erase one more: the four-decade-long restraint that forbids researchers from growing human embryos in the lab for more than 14 days.”

“One MP told me the party room had recently become a football change room, full of nicknames: ‘Lammo’, ‘Stevie’, ‘Stuey’. That reminded me of two other, separate comments. The first was from Morrison, who, in his own telling, recently said to the coach of the Cronulla Sharks, ‘Mate, I think I’ll take you down to Canberra and let you give the boys a bit of a rev-up …’ The other was from someone in the NGO sector, who described to me their impression that Morrison lacked a sense of the seriousness of his actions, the feeling they got that ‘behind the scenes it’s all a game – we’re all just in a game’.”

“Health Minister Greg Hunt was backed into a corner. It was the end of April, months after the aged-care vaccination program had lurched into disaster, and the Coalition’s point man on the rollout was being pressed by aged-care sector officials about the failure to vaccinate nursing home staff. He told them the government would ‘continue’ to inoculate these staff in their workplaces. This surprised many at the meeting.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

Supply and demands

State leaders feel the strain over the federal government’s latest vaccine mishap

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

Another ‘challenge’

The government insists the latest vaccine setback isn’t a big deal

Image of Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack in Question Time. Image via ABC News

A heated environment

Canberra remains stuck in a debate that the rest of the world has moved on from

Image of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. Image via ABC News

Holding patterns

The Coalition hopes its cruel halfway measure will be enough to make us forget about the Biloela family

From the front page

Image of Health Minister Greg Hunt. Image via ABC News

Supply and demands

State leaders feel the strain over the federal government’s latest vaccine mishap

Alien renaissance

A revived interest in alien visitation only underscores how little we know about the universe

Cartoon image of man with head in the clouds

The return of the lucky country

The pandemic has exposed the truth of Donald Horne’s phrase, and the morbid state of our national leadership

Image from ‘My Name Is Gulpilil’

Like no actor ever: ‘My Name Is Gulpilil’

Molly Reynolds’s beautiful documentary is a fitting tribute to David Gulpilil, at the end of his singular life