Thursday, March 11, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Flight risk
The government’s new airfare subsidy may be yet another ticket to scandal

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

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference this morning. Image via ABC News

The Morrison government has a well-established knack for weathering scandals, using a particularly well-worn strategy: putting its head down and waiting for the media caravan to move on. Scott Morrison clearly hopes this will be the case with the rape allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter, with the prime minister praying he can outlast calls for an independent inquiry by incessantly repeating the phrase “rule of law” – and perhaps adding the distraction of a cheap flight or two. It remains to be seen whether Morrison is right, but he may soon have extra scandals on his hands, in the form of questions about the destinations of half-price flights the government is offering and a second look into acting leader of the house Peter Dutton’s grant allocations. Fortunately for the PM, he’s well-practised at juggling them by now.

Independent senator Rex Patrick certainly doesn’t think Morrison’s tried-and-true formula will work on the Porter allegations, warning this morning on the ABC that the saga will become an “albatross around his government’s neck” unless action is taken. Patrick seemed unconvinced by the prime minister’s “rule of law” claims, noting that this was not about a criminal offence but about ensuring Porter is fit to hold high office, and suggested calling in former public servant Dr Vivienne Thom, who investigated the conduct of former High Court judge Dyson Heydon. (The key crossbencher added that it would be “impossible” to make progress on IR reforms until Porter returns from leave.)

7.30, meanwhile, reports that there is growing “disquiet” in the legal community over the PM’s stance on Porter, with concerns over the damage being done to the role of attorney-general and broader legal institutions if the allegation is left unresolved. Prominent lawyers are calling for Porter to be subjected to the same codes of conduct as others in the profession, while two academics are in the process of lodging a complaint against Porter to the WA legal practice board.

Morrison may have been hoping that this morning’s announcement of half-price flights to 13 tourism-dependent regions – complete with novelty “Sydney to Australia” plane ticket – would cause a distraction, and sure enough the subsidy dominated headlines. The $1.2 billion plan – intended to offset the impending end to JobKeeper – will cover half of nearly 800,000 airfares to the Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays region, the Sunshine Coast, Lasseter region (including Uluru), Alice Springs, Launceston, Devonport, Burnie, Broome, Avalon, Merimbula and Kangaroo Island, encouraging Australians to travel again (and encouraging premiers to keep their borders open). 

But as the ABC was quick to note last night, “many of the initial destinations included in the program are in marginal or winnable electorates for the government” (eight are in marginal seats, while four are in safe Coalition electorates). The government insists the program is targeted at those locations that are most dependent on JobKeeper and aviation, but many in the sector say the scheme targets areas that are already expecting a healthy upcoming tourist season, while others miss out. Western Australia’s Tourism Council chief executive Evan Hall has slammed the list, saying it targets marginal seats and leaves Western Australia in the cold. “They have treated the economic impact on the tourism industry as a political problem,” he told the ABC. Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick says it’s “bizarre” that the initiative doesn’t discount flights for people travelling within their own state, while Victoria is also unhappy, with just one destination on the list – the only one located in a safe Labor seat.

Pork-barrelled or not, tourism groups and unions say the half-price airfares simply won’t be enough to save the hundreds of thousands of jobs that remain in peril. Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond told Nine that the package was “a good start, but it will not be enough”, and called for assistance for accommodation providers, tourism operators and cultural organisations, with many businesses “at the wall”. Graham Turner, managing director of Flight Centre (which saw stocks soar 10 per cent in the wake of the announcement), says it will help a few communities but won’t do much to prevent widespread job loss at the conclusion of JobKeeper. (Deputy Prime minister Michael McCormack had earlier told ABC News Breakfast that the Federation of Travel Agents was “delighted with this package”.) Regional Express airline, meanwhile, has branded the support a “Qantas bailout”, one that will mainly advantage the country’s biggest airlines.

It’s not exactly a stretch to think that the meagre package is pork-barrelled, nor that the government would expect to get away with it, considering its knack for it. Government rorting has become so commonplace that recent coverage of alleged misappropriated grants by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton barely lasted a day, although that may be about to change: 7.30 reports that the Australian National Audit Office is considering an audit of the Safer Communities Fund, after shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally wrote to the auditor-general requesting one. (The ANAO previously determined that the Community Sport Infrastructure Program favoured “targeted” seats, another scandal the government attempted to weather, before then-sports minister Bridget McKenzie was eventually forced to resign.) The government certainly has a few things to distract from the Porter albatross today, though probably not the things it would have chosen.

“At this point you have to say the system is deeply racist. We have the solutions in the royal commission’s recommendations – but there’s no political will to do anything with them. We have a prime minister that is still refusing to meet with the grieving families to explain how this is even possible – that’s how little this government cares about anyone except themselves.”

Victorian Greens senator Lidia Thorpe says the system is broken, after revelations of a third Indigenous death in custody in a week.

“There would hardly be a society anywhere in the world less racist than contemporary Britain … Show me a notably less racist society.”

Foreign editor Greg Sheridan is adamant that the United Kingdom is not racist, labelling the Harry and Meghan interview an assault on the West.

What police are getting wrong about the far-right
Growing concern about far-right extremists in Australia has led to the creation of a new federal inquiry, but the inquiry has revealed that one police force is out of step with our national security agencies.

The amount being spent by the government on upcoming air force centenary events, including an invitation-only dinner for 900 guests.

“Australian manufacturers are set to receive a new boost to their efforts to commercialise world-beating ideas, with the Morrison government announcing a new $30 million support fund.”


Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews has announced a fund to connect businesses and researchers, saying it will help create local manufacturing jobs.

The list

“The first 75 minutes of this is easily the strongest filmmaking of Zhao’s career to date … there’s an easy assurance to her shot-making here, and a steady, cumulative power to the cutting. (She’s her own editor.) Though born in Beijing and educated in London, she has an uncommon affinity for the landscapes of the American West. Wordless sequences of McDormand walking down deserted main streets at night, or bathing naked in a cold stream, convey both the harsh grandeur of her surroundings and the unbridgeable solitude of the life she’s chosen. At these moments, Nomadland feels less like a movie and more like a poem, an unflinching study of something elemental and perhaps unknowable. A portrait of a reflexive outsider.”

“Being nimble and unpredictable is important to Owusu, who has expressed a desire to avoid the clichés of funk, retro lounge or Afrofuturism that can be ascribed to black artists. His voice is changeable, sometimes slipping into the grand, lordly tone of Sly Stone or George Clinton; at other times he is disarmingly colloquial. Owusu has created his own mythology – of gold teeth, black dogs and ghostly horror – and grafted it on to a wildly divergent series of tracks … Fangs, mouths, bones and dogs abound despite the diversity of sounds – is there no genre that can’t be moulded to Owusu’s fascinations?”

“Three publications, ostensibly from across the political spectrum, ran pieces questioning the woman’s mental health and her recollections. They zeroed in on her mention of a book – The Body Keeps the Score, by American psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk – and claimed it was some sort of fringe psychology manual for recovered memory therapy. In truth, the book is a scientific account of the neuroscience that underpins trauma … But reading these commentators’ theories also felt particularly personal. Although I did not know the woman whose allegation had upturned Australian politics, I do know trauma intimately.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Police watch protesters at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, Wednesday, September 22, 2021


Melbourne’s earthquake presages faultlines in the Coalition over ongoing lockdown protests

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

From the front page

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Cover detail of Andrew O'Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’

There is a light

Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’ and what might endure from our irresponsible but spirited youth

Scott Morrison in the sheds after the NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys in Sydney, July 25, 2019

Birth of a larrikin

The disguised rise of Scott Morrison

Black Summer at Currowan

Lessons from Australia’s worst bushfires