Monday, February 15, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Pause, unpause
Bipartisanship has well and truly come to an end

Image of Labor MP Linda Burney referencing the Bringing Them Home report during a speech marking the 13th anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s national apology to the Stolen Generations.

Labor MP Linda Burney references the “Bringing Them Home” report during a speech marking the 13th anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s national apology to the Stolen Generations. Image via Twitter

Party politics were put on hold as both houses of parliament paused to mark the 13th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations – but only briefly, and only partially.

The Senate was suspended at midday to allow senators to attend the lower house’s acknowledgment of the anniversary, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Labor MP Linda Burney – the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the House of Reps – delivering remarks. Wyatt, the son of a Stolen Generations survivor, said that his mother would have been proud, while Burney also told a personal story, referencing the day that the “Bringing Them Home” report was launched, saying that the long-awaited apology had “allowed this country to breathe again”. But politics crept back in within seconds of the speeches’ conclusion, and there was politics to be found within them, even if all were united in acknowledging the significance of the day. 

For the first time in 13 years, there was no Closing the Gap report accompanying the apology anniversary – something Morrison acknowledged in his speech, saying it was part of a new approach for midyear reports. Burney said she supported the approach, but called for some bipartisanship in return, asking to work with the government on a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament – called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart and supported by Labor. “We extend our hand,” she said. “I don’t care who gets the credit, I just want to see it done.” Albanese, meanwhile, made sure to note who had made the apology itself. While the apology had “taken on a sense of inevitability” in retrospect, he said, in reality it had been anything but, reminding the chamber that some Coalition MPs had left the floor rather than be part of it. 

Only one of the MPs who refused to support the apology remains in parliament, and it was for him that politics quickly returned to the floor today. Mere seconds after the conclusion of Burney’s remarks, debate turned to Peter Dutton, with Labor moving to acknowledge the home affairs minister’s alleged misuse of grant allocations, along with the government’s general tendency to “rort”. It follows further revelations that Dutton spent $36,000 in taxpayer money on chartered flights in order to make grant announcements during the 2018 Braddon byelection – months before applications even opened. The government was quick to shut down debate on the topic, with the man himself among those entering the chamber to gag it. Try as the government might to ignore this one, it’s not going away anytime soon, with Labor finding plenty of time to hammer the government on it through Question Time. 

The Dutton revelations had competition, however, with the Coalition continuing to battle controversies on multiple fronts. A shocking new one was added to the mix this morning, with a former Liberal staffer revealing to that she was allegedly raped by a colleague at Parliament House, in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’s office. The Morrison government’s handling of the incident was a focus in both houses today, with Albanese opening QT with a question directly to the PM, demanding to know how his government had responded when it was reported to it at the time. Up in the Senate, Don Farrell’s 2019 bill to lower the donation disclosure threshold from $13,800 to $1000 has inched closer to being debated – more than a year since its second reading. It’s no doubt got something to do with new analysis from Guardian Australia and the Centre for Public Integrity, revealing that almost 40 per cent of Coalition funds in the past 20 years came from unknown donors.

Of course, there’s no way politics could ever truly be put aside in Canberra, especially when there are industrial relations changes to be debated. The Opposition somehow found some spare minutes in Question Time to quiz the government on its proposed omnibus reforms, after last night launching a threatening, pun-laden national advertising campaign. The latest ad uses images of chefs and knives, accusing the prime minister of “slashing” wages and conditions and “slicing” penalty rates. It follows January’s controversial union-led ad, in which a fake Scott Morrison drove a bus towards a line of workers. It seems Labor and the unions are going to run this one a lot like they ran WorkChoices, which saw a number of highly effective and unforgettable anti-government ads. The chef in this latest ad was sharpening his knives, but the subtext was clear: Labor is sharpening theirs.

“Why aren’t we being vaccinated yet? Is the federal government mobilising a national vaccination effort? Or leaving it to the states again? Why isn’t quarantine a national matter? Why isn’t quarantine at least being properly coordinated, so each state does exactly the same? What’s the plan for the next pandemic?”

Financial journalist Alan Kohler has some good questions.

“JobKeeper has to come to an end as our economy strengthens, and businesses and their staff adjust to the new economic environment.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insists that the JobKeeper wage subsidy must end, arguing the economy is doing really well – never mind the more than one million Australians who are believed to still be receiving it.

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The reported annual value of a “long-term partnership” struck between Google and Seven West Media – the first major Australian media company to sign up to Google’s news product.

“If the Morrison govt’s second, more drastic option passes, a whole new employment category will be created for all workers. This new category would take needed overtime wages away from part-time workers across the country.”

Analysis by independent think tank Per Capita into specific provisions of the government’s omnibus industrial relations bill reveal the extent to which it will chip away at workers’ rights.

The list

“Namatjira has only been exhibiting regularly since 2012, but even before images of his winning portrait began to circulate around the country, his charmingly loose figurative paintings – messily executed in a style one might associate with the late enfant terrible (and fellow Archibald winner) Adam Cullen, but which finds precedent anywhere from Sidney Nolan to the American Henry Taylor – had already begun to lodge in the Australian consciousness. A typical early work, Painting of James Cook, 2015, depicts the titular captain as a grizzled old-timer, walking stick in hand; another, The Fight Between Indulkana Tigers and Pukatja Magpies, 2015, documents an on-ground stoush between two local football teams.”

“The International Film Festival Rotterdam has for some time championed a certain kind of movie: airless, frequently inert, capital-A art films in which, as a critic once famously complained of Waiting for Godot, nothing happens, twice. I attended Rotterdam for years, in a variety of capacities, and then stopped, preferring to spend the time at home in Berlin. But the arrival this year of a new artistic director – Vanja Kaludjercic, formerly director of acquisitions for the online streaming platform MUBI – and the opportunity to access the program online led me to reconsider, and I’m glad I did, since my viewing yielded four superb films, three of them by female directors.”

“After almost eight years in power, the Coalition has taken Australia from being a world leader to a laggard when it comes to climate policy. In the background though, smart people are moving ahead anyway, despite the government – not only because it is the right thing to do by the climate, but also because there is money to be made. In some cases, huge amounts of money.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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