Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers


The rule of survival
The PM continues to insist upon the “rule of law”

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has yet again dismissed calls for an independent inquiry into rape allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter, insisting he is “standing firm” on the “rule of law”, as former prime ministers (and political odd couple) Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull joined Labor, the Greens, the crossbench, legal experts and friends of the accuser in calling for one. Four Corners last night revealed that the accuser told a counsellor eight years ago of the alleged rape by “Christian” (putting to an end dubious arguments over “recovered memories”), documenting how her life tragically unravelled following the alleged incident. Meanwhile 7.30 featured three young women who have come forward with allegations of inappropriate behaviour by now-independent MP Craig Kelly’s aide Frank Zumbo, describing an office of teenage girls preyed upon by their boss.

At a Sydney press conference this morning, Morrison revealed that he was unsure when the attorney-general would return from leave, and yet again turned to the “rule of law”, saying he wouldn’t entertain “extrajudicial processes”. He insisted – as he has since before NSW Police declared it could not investigate – that the police and courts were the only agencies authorised to deal with such claims. “There are not two rules,” he said, repeatedly. “There are not two laws in this country. There are not two processes. There is one. And we’re all subject to it. The attorney-general has certainly been subject to that.” (The attorney-general has not, in fact, been subject to a police investigation because the accuser is deceased.) “I’m not going to indulge in other extrajudicial processes that suggest that one Australian is subject to a different legal process to any other Australian,” Morrison went on. “If we do that, we are eroding the very principles of the rule of law.”

Morrison yet again refused to be drawn on whether he believed Porter, saying carefully: “I believe in his presumption of innocence. And why wouldn’t anyone on the basis of the proper process which has been followed?” Why indeed.

Upholding the “rule of law” has become the government’s main line of defence on the Porter allegations, but as many have pointed out, inquiries like the one being called for happen in workplace settings all the time without contravening the “rule of law”. The attorney-general himself suggested that his resignation might represent the end of the rule of law in Australia, but could it be that not investigating these allegations is the true attack on those ideals? As legal experts Fleur Johns and Martin Krygier write for The Monthly, this “three-word conversation stopper” is a phrase often used to mean what the user wants it to mean, but it’s true ideal is that power cannot be exercised arbitrarily. “What would be arbitrary would be for a person invested with great power over others, by virtue of the office that they hold, to be able to pick and choose among these investigatory processes, and insulate themselves from some, solely on the basis of the vehemence of their denial,” they write. Shielding the AG from questioning, they argue, is an arbitrary exercise of power on the part of the federal government – “exactly the kind of arbitrary exercise of power that the rule of law seeks to counter”.

Morrison is apparently hoping that parroting the phrase “rule of law” will put a stop to the conversation and the entire issue, but it’s certainly not going anywhere anytime soon. Former PM Kevin Rudd today threw his weight behind an independent judicial inquiry – “short in duration, quite focused in its terms for reference” – telling the National Press Club it was the “appropriate course of action under these circumstances”. His sometimes brain-twin Malcolm Turnbull also told ABC News Breakfast that he would have thought an independent inquiry would be in Porter’s best interest in resolving the matter. “If I was in Porter’s position,” said the man who once disciplined Porter over his behaviour towards women, “I would have defended [myself] and then said, ‘I’m open to an inquiry’.” Former foreign minister Julie Bishop last night backed calls for a “logical” inquest into the woman’s death, expressing surprise that neither Morrison or Porter had read the letter containing details of the allegation.

Whether or not there is an inquiry, and whether or not Christian Porter ever returns to his position, the larger outcry will not be going away. Something appears to have shifted, but Australia’s “daggy dad” still fails to grasp just how angry women are – even as they plan to march on the parliament when it returns next Monday. As the ABC’s Laura Tingle notes, the way Parliament House is designed means that demonstrations can be “studiously ignored by politicians who can remain splendidly oblivious to protests outside”. But Morrison will ignore this one at his peril.


“Morrison is debasing the high office of prime minister in the name of media management.”

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd uses his address to the National Press Club to attack everything from Scott Morrison to men to the Murdoch media monopoly.

“As far as I’m aware – I didn’t see the interview – but I understand she’s referring to issues about a decade ago.”

Scott Morrison implies the group of male MPs known as “the big swinging dicks”, which tried to block Julie Bishop’s career ambitions, is an issue of the past.

Fixing a broken system
Last week, the most significant report to examine aged care in Australia was released. The Saturday Paper’s senior reporter Rick Morton has been covering every step of the journey to get here. Today, he tells us why this could be the moment we change a broken system.

The national average Australian audience who tuned into Network Ten’s broadcast of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex – double the number who watched Four Corners’ “Bursting the Canberra Bubble” special.

“Employers will be given at least $1.2 billion to hire 70,000 apprentices in the next year in an uncapped job-creation plan the Morrison government hopes will avoid a youth unemployment crisis from the coronavirus pandemic.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a 12-month extension of the first-year-apprentice wage subsidy, while the treasurer is expected to announce targeted support for the tourism, travel and aviation sectors, as the end of JobKeeper looms.

The list
 

“If HIV/AIDS was unmentionable in Queer as Folk – partially so it could vend its glossy vision of a new urban gay modernity and sex positivity in the wake of almost two decades of public AIDS scandal – It’s a Sin turns back to grapple directly with the plague years that Davies himself lived through as a young gay man. Opening in 1981, when a now-famous New York Times article reported on a ‘Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals’, the series chronicles 10 turbulent years in the lives of a tight-knit friendship circle who leave home and forge a household together in a London flat that they name ‘the Pink Palace’.”

“What would be arbitrary would be for a person invested with great power over others, by virtue of the office that they hold, to be able to pick and choose among these investigatory processes, and insulate themselves from some, solely on the basis of the vehemence of their denial. To shield the attorney-general from questioning concerning an alleged abuse of power of the most serious kind on his part, merely because one avenue (the criminal justice system) is practically inoperative for tragic reasons beyond anyone’s control: that would constitute an arbitrary exercise of power on the part of the federal government – exactly the kind of arbitrary exercise of power that the rule of law ideal seeks to counter.”

“Certainly there are major teething problems to be addressed. Barely half of Hunt’s predicted 60,000 jabs in the first week were actually delivered. And what of the prime minister’s confident assertion that the vaccination rollout would be complete by October? ‘That’s very, very, very ambitious, given we’ve only been able to achieve 30,000 last week,’ says Professor Marylouise McLaws, an epidemiologist with the University of NSW and adviser to the World Health Organization on infection control for COVID-19.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.

@rachelrwithers

 

The Monthly Today

Strange bedfellows

The battlelines are blurring as Melbourne’s lockdown protests heat up

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison (image via Facebook) and Industry Minister Christian Porter (image via Sky News).

The standard you walk past

Ministerial standards breach or no, there is something deeply wrong with the government’s principles

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing the new AUKUS partnership alongside UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden (not pictured). Image via ABC News

Whatever it takes

Scott Morrison says we will spend whatever we have to on defence. Why doesn’t the same apply to climate change?


From the front page

Strange bedfellows

The battlelines are blurring as Melbourne’s lockdown protests heat up

Black Summer at Currowan

A community’s experience of Australia’s worst bushfires

Image of Charif Majdalani’s ‘Beirut 2020’

‘Beirut 2020’ by Charif Majdalani

The Lebanese writer’s elegiac journal captures the city’s devastating port explosion

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building