Thursday, April 8, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Trust fall
Supply issues aren’t the only thing hampering the vaccine rollout

Image of Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

What do the government’s twin crises of the vaccine rollout and sexual misconduct have in common? Both, it’s clear, are damaging the government electorally (at least according to the polls). But what’s more, both could lead to lower vaccination rates, with new ANU research finding that the government’s handling of sexual harassment is damaging trust, and could affect the community’s willingness to get vaccinated. That’s just one good reason for the Morrison government to be seen to be addressing the harassment issues that have enveloped it over the past two months, and today the prime minister took another step towards doing so, responding – at last – to the “Respect @ Work” report from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, which has been sitting with the attorney-general’s office since January 2020. It wasn’t great news on the “vaccine confidence” front, however, with concerning reports about blood clots from our predominant vaccine, and even more scepticism over our lack of supply – this time, from the prime minister himself.

In a morning press conference, Scott Morrison and the new attorney-general, Michaelia Cash, announced that the government had accepted – “wholly, in part, or in principle” – all of the report’s 55 recommendations, with plans to introduce legislation this year, ideally by the end of June. Among the most significant changes will be an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act to include MPs, judges and public servants, who have previously been exempt from both liability and protection – an amendment for which independent MP Zali Steggall has already introduced a private member’s bill (“Great,” Steggall tweeted. “No more delays”). Sexual harassment will also be included as grounds for dismissal, with the Fair Work Act to be amended to include sexual harassment under “serious misconduct”, while other changes will be made to give people two years (instead of just six months) to make a sex discrimination complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. “There are consequences for this action in the workplace,” said Cash, though the pair admitted it’s still unclear what those consequences will be for people in their workplace, given elected MPs are unable to be sacked.

In announcing the belated response to the report, Morrison said many of the right words about harassment but, as usual, he didn’t quite stick the landing. The prime minister said everyone had a “responsibility” to change the culture, but not “in a way that sets Australians against each other” – echoing his recent comments about this not being about men versus women, and seemingly still failing to grasp that ending sexual harassment might involve Australians setting themselves against harassers. Or perhaps against the men in his party who engage in chauvinistic “boys’ club” behaviour, with a leaked report doing the rounds showing the Liberal Party was made aware of concerns back in 2015. Many have also been outraged by last night’s announcement of a national survey on violence against women, considering a range of such surveys and reports already exist, with frontline domestic violence workers calling instead for immediate action.

Over on the vaccine front, things have gone from bad to worse for the government, with the UK’s decision to recommend against the use of AstraZeneca (which makes up the bulk of our supply) for those under 30 prompting an “immediate” Australian review. In this morning’s presser, Morrison continued to insist that Australia’s rollout would continue as planned, saying he would not pre-empt the results of the review. The PM also questioned the NSW government’s plan for mass vaccination sites, doubting whether current supply could sustain them, and reminding us all of his own government’s spectacular failure to supply enough doses.

Fortunately for the government, it has plenty of time to work on restoring confidence, and to clear up those pesky questions around blood clots: it will be a long while before most of us see a COVID-19 vaccine anyway.

“I think it’s personally very outrageous to say you can come home if you can get on a plane, but there aren’t many flights, and you have to go into quarantine, and you have to pay for that. So you can come home if you have $10,000, but a lot of people don’t have $10,000.”

Former Liberal foreign minister Alexander Downer says it’s a “bloody outrage” that Australian citizens have to pay so much to return home, and calls for quarantine costs to be scrapped.

“If the Australian Greens were serious about women’s safety, they would support the Online Safety Bill.”

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher accuses the Greens of putting political point-scoring above women’s safety, simply because they won’t support his bill.

The new ‘God power’ that will upend the NDIS
The National Disability Insurance Scheme was established to provide people living with a disability high-quality and tailored support, but leaked documents have revealed the federal government is proposing radical reforms to the scheme. Today, Rick Morton on the battle for the future of the NDIS.

The size of just one of the grants awarded by disgraced LNP MP Andrew Laming to a local rugby club with close links to one of his staff members – links that were undisclosed at the time.

“Couples who split caring responsibilities could be paid a bonus under a plan to boost gender balance in Australia’s paid parental leave scheme. Consulting firm KPMG has proposed adding gender equality principles to the taxpayer-funded scheme to help address the entrenched imbalance between men and women and boost female economic participation.”

KPMG is proposing an amendment to paid parental leave, replacing the “primary carer/secondary carer” model with a system that allows (and rewards) a more equal division of leave.

The list

“McKenna’s is not a conventional history of how Uluru shifted from the margins to the centre of national consciousness. Rather, his focus is on one story from the mid 1930s, which works in this beautifully crafted book as a vivid microhistory. In telling the story of the killing of Anangu man Yokununna near Uluru in 1934, McKenna is able to explore the much larger history of the violence, dispossession and deception in the settler occupation of Australia.”

“The racism Saunders encountered in the industry was sometimes overt, sometimes institutional. Often it was both. In the 1980s, Saunders – alongside Indigenous agitators, writers and performers such as Bob Maza and Justine Saunders – was part of a screen advisory panel at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Part of the job involved collating archival Indigenous footage at the ABC. Saunders was astounded at notations ABC staff had made in the archival documentation, some of which casually referred to Indigenous Australians as ‘Abos’.”

“After years of hard work, Aunty Donna have carved out a sizeable niche of their own. They have more than 400,000 followers on their YouTube channel. Fans regularly create art inspired by their work. All three of them have featured in tattoos. And late last year, they released a six-episode television series on Netflix, Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun, which, when we last met, was on the cusp of being released.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate speaking before a Senate inquiry today. Image via ABC News

Holgate strikes back

Scott Morrison humiliated the wrong woman

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference on April 9. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

The cost of delay

Delays, as we have sadly learnt, can mean the difference between life and death

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via ABC News

Vaccine rollout a (p)fizzer

The government came with good news, but the rollout remains a shambles

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via ABC News

He said, EU said

Strap in for a game of semantics with Scott Morrison

From the front page

The lightness of unbearable being: ‘Double Blind’

Edward St Aubyn tackles familiar themes – desire, drug use, psychoanalysis – via a fresh suite of characters

Image of former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate speaking before a Senate inquiry today. Image via ABC News

Holgate strikes back

Scott Morrison humiliated the wrong woman

Up the river

Hope is running dry in the Murray–Darling Basin

Green house effect

Joost Bakker’s vision for sustainable housing is taking root