Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

A swing and a miss
Scott Morrison’s marketing instincts are failing him

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking in Question Time today.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking in Question Time today. Image via ABC News

It is a strange day indeed when an Australian newspaper columnist appears to be hitting the same talking points as the Labor Party. Labor’s message this morning was all about what Scott Morrison had missed yesterday: leader Anthony Albanese said the PM “completely missed the moment” by refusing to attend the March 4 Justice rally outside Parliament House, while frontbencher Tanya Plibersek told the ABC Morrison continued to “profoundly miss the point” with his comments about protesters not being met with bullets. Australian columnist Janet Albrechtsen echoed their criticisms in her list of ways to “fix the work culture in Canberra” for the national broadsheet today. Morrison, she wrote, “misses the point every time about what is required of him”, comparing his decision to ask wife Jen about rape allegations to his claims he doesn’t hold a hose and isn’t the police commissioner. While The Australian – and Albrechtsen herself – continues to act as the defence (and the attack) for Attorney-General Christian Porter, even the Murdoch media had to admit that Morrison is stumbling over this one politically.

Morrison and his team spent much of today’s media appearances and Question Time struggling to re-frame yesterday’s tone-deaf comment about protest marches and bullets (“not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets – but not here in this country,” he said, words that Albanese said conveyed “not so much a tin ear as a wall of concrete”). Albanese took the lead in QT, hammering Morrison over the comments and their timing – attacks Morrison tried to deflect back at Labor, accusing the Opposition of “unworthy slurs”, “egregious misrepresentation” and partisanship, “[which] I have become very used to, as the Opposition Leader does on such sensitive issues.”  

Whatever Morrison might try to accuse Labor of (and accuse he shall), the fact of the matter is that the outrage over his recent comments goes far beyond the Opposition benches. Why did he make them? Why couldn’t he have simply walked outside to meet protesters yesterday? Why was his office reportedly backgrounding against Brittany Higgins, as Labor’s Catherine King asked in Question Time? Why did he not seek the solicitor-general’s advice before declaring there would be no inquiry into Porter, as Plibersek asked? And why can’t he grasp the profound level of rage women are feeling? 

The dossier detailing allegations against Porter is not the only thing Morrison hasn’t read here, with the prime minister either unwilling or unable to read the room. He might want to consider some market research on this one, and fortunately for him Guardian Australia has just completed some, with the latest Essential poll revealing that a majority of Australians think the attorney-general should face an independent inquiry into whether he is a fit and proper person to remain in the job. In his analysis, Essential Media director Peter Lewis has raised the spectre of the Female Liberal Voter Who Might Change Her Vote, noting that even Coalition-voting women think that the Canberra allegations are part of something bigger, splitting with their male counterparts. Morrison’s greatest strength (marketing) fails when it has to be used in conjunction with his greatness weakness (empathy), just as we saw during the 2019–20 bushfires – the last time the Coalition fell behind on Newspoll’s two-party preferred vote, as it did again on Sunday. 

Morrison knows he walks a treacherous path here, reportedly using his address to the joint partyroom meeting today to compare where the government is at now to the Kokoda Trail (perhaps not unlike the treacherous path women have been walking everywhere they go since time immemorial). According to Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell, Morrison told the group that “we are on a narrow path, we have to look after each other and focus on what matters”. 

It’s not the first time he’s used the analogy, Guardian Australia notes, having made it in February to describe the vaccine rollout. That is certainly a path that grows more treacherous by the day, with medical groups criticising the government over delays and uncertainty, saying eligible recipients are currently being turned away due to the lack of an online booking system, days out from the launch of the next phase. Vocal Coalition senator Matt Canavan and former Coalition MP Craig Kelly have now both jumped on the fact that European countries are halting the use of AstraZeneca – which makes up the majority of Australia’s vaccine supply – calling for Australia to suspend it too, in opposition to the government’s stated position (the World Health Organization is appealing to countries not to suspend it, while our own Therapeutic Goods Administration has released a statement addressing the concerns, reiterating that “there is no indication of an increased rate of blood clots”). Morrison may not be held accountable for Kelly anymore, but Labor certainly took up Canavan’s comments, with health spokesperson Mark Butler saying the government needed to speak out against them, and using his media address to note that the rollout itself is “fast becoming a complete mess”. Not unlike the government’s response to the transformative moment sweeping the nation.

“You get torn apart over this stuff, I continue to. There is no path of least resistance. There are decisions to be made that will affect thousands upon thousands of people and cause harms. You were just trying to find the least worst pathway possible.”

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton reveals the psychological toll 2020 took on him, as he speaks alongside his Queensland counterpart, Jeannette Young, on an episode of the podcast “Taking Care”.

“I know people have taken pot shots at him, but the reality is he is providing the leadership that we need.”

Perhaps not the best choice of words from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, as he attempts to defend the prime minister’s “met with bullets” comment.

As Australians march for justice, Christian Porter sues
Thousands of Australians marched in cities and towns across the country yesterday. The protests were sparked by allegations of sexual harassment and assault in federal parliament. Today, Karen Middleton on the march for justice, and whether the government is taking notice.


The amount of money political parties will receive from Crown Resorts, following the casino giant’s announcement that it will end all political donations, effective immediately.

“Domestic violence victims fleeing their abusers will soon be able to get $10,000 from their superannuation accounts as the federal government begins rolling out initiatives to help women ahead of the federal budget.”

Measures first unveiled more than two years ago by then women’s minister Kelly O’Dwyer will now be put into practice.

The list

“You hear Robert’s group before you see them: the cacophony of barking rings out through Sydney’s Centennial Park. If you follow the sound, past the willow fronds on the lake, up the sandy dunes towards the pine grove, you find his swarm of canines chasing one another with primeval zeal. And amid the apparent pandemonium stands Robert Zarauz, serene, like the dog philosopher-king that he is. Robert has a waitlist of clients for dog walking and training, but also provides casual on-the-spot guidance. ‘If I see people who need help with their dogs, I’m happy to offer advice,’ he says. ‘But most people think they know better.’”

“The financial cost of bringing a sexual harassment matter is an enormous deterrent. Even if a complainant succeeds, the legal fees of protracted litigation may equal or surpass compensation received. Harassment law does not offer costs protections to complainants, meaning they risk having to pay the other party’s legal fees. One interviewee noted: ‘A $10,000 settlement in week one or week two is probably $9000 in the pocket of the person. A $10,000 settlement at the end of six months means a person is in deficit by 40 or 50 thousand.’ This risk ensures that the majority of sexual harassment matters settle, long before they reach the public scrutiny of the courts. This, plus the prevalence of non-disclosure agreements … obscure the true extent of sexual harassment in Australia.”

“The public entrance of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery is through a rear courtyard. This walled corner was where British invaders pitched their tents in 1804 and to this day, TMAG’s site overlooking Hobart’s Constitution Dock is a centre of settlement. The museum’s courtyard was a fitting location for the chair of TMAG to deliver an apology to the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Acknowledging ‘previous museum practices that have caused profound suffering for Aboriginal people’, Brett Torossi’s speech was one of the more expansive institutional apologies yet made in Australia. Given the central role the British invasion of lutruwita (Tasmania) played in the conquest of the Australian continent, this truth-telling was of national importance.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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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).

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From the front page

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The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

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The author of ‘The Underground Railroad’ offers a disappointingly straightforward neo-noir caper set in the early ’60s

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

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

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Unfinished business

Every Paul Kelly song so far, from worst to best