Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

A heated environment
Canberra remains stuck in a debate that the rest of the world has moved on from

Image of Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack in Question Time. Image via ABC News

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack in Question Time. Image via ABC News

It’s been a divisive and disappointing day for the environment, with attacks flying in every direction after the Coalition made several moves to bolster the fossil-fuel industry. After seeing off last-ditch efforts by Labor and the Greens to stop the Australian Renewable Energy Agency being opened up to carbon capture and “clean” hydrogen, the government announced $600,000 will go to Rio Tinto – with its 2020 net profit of $9.8 billion – to conduct a $1.2 million study investigating the use of hydrogen in the aluminium refining process. Government ministers have also used public speeches to attack their ideological enemies: Environment Minister Sussan Ley used a National Press Club address to criticise Labor’s rejection of proposed laws streamlining “green tape” (also rejected by the Greens and independent senator Rex Patrick), while Resources Minister Keith Pitt addressed a petroleum industry conference, railing against “green activists” for trying to “cripple” fossil-fuel companies. Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack used Question Time to take some swipes at PETA and people who live in cities, suggesting mice from the ongoing plague should be “rehomed into their inner-city apartments so they can nibble away at their food … and scratch their children at night.” In a post–Question Time debate, shadow minister for climate change Chris Bowen held up a solar panel, echoing Morrison’s infamous coal rant, and accused “those opposite” of having an “ideological, pathological fear” of renewables. Today’s dispiriting news comes as both voters and trading partners make clear they would like to see the nation commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and a major study finds that global warming may have already passed an irreversible tipping point.

Things remained heated between the Coalition and the Greens throughout the day, with the minor party furious that the government has moved forward with plans for new gas developments in the Beetaloo Basin (with the support of Labor, which faced its own internal divisions over the move). Nationals leader and Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack took to Sky News to accuse the Greens of wanting to “destroy the social fabric of society” (this was before he attacked city folk in Question Time), to which Greens leader Adam Bandt tweeted: “If by ‘social fabric’ he means giving billionaires handouts while people are homeless & funding fossil fuels while our planet burns, then TEAR. IT. UP.”

Speaking of billionaire handouts, the Greens almost caused an upset in the House of Representatives this afternoon, with a motion to have profitable companies that pocketed JobKeeper pay it back, which tied with the support of Labor and the entire crossbench (Speaker Tony Smith used his casting vote to support the status quo, as required). Next up: a motion for an inquiry into Christian Porter’s fitness to be a minister, with Greens Senator Larissa Waters holding a press conference to announce the bill alongside Jo Dyer, a friend of the late woman who accused Porter. 

No moderate Liberals broke ranks with the Coalition on JobKeeper, and it’s unlikely they will on the Porter inquiry, but there have been a few rare sightings of those so-called mods in the past 24 hours. While most have quietened down on the Biloela family, content with yesterday’s decision to move them into community detention, Liberal MP and paediatrician Katie Allen this morning went on ABC Radio to call for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to use his discretionary powers to allow the family to remain in Australia. Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg, meanwhile, hit out at last night’s failed One Nation Senate motion condemning the use of medical treatment for transgender children, which 21 of his Coalition colleagues (including two ministers) supported in a conscience vote. “These motions are rubbish,” Bragg said. “They are damaging and hurtful to people.” An internal stoush is brewing in the South Australian state branch, with the moderates having expelled hundreds of Pentecostal Christians from the party, with Finance Minister Simon Birmingham (a moderate) claiming some planned to campaign against the party’s endorsed candidates. A handful of Liberal MPs are now speaking out about the housing affordability crisis, with Bennelong MP John Alexander saying some of his own government’s policies are feeding into the dysfunctional property market.

Unfortunately, despite a handful of purported climate sympathisers within the Coalition, none has been brave enough to speak out against the government’s recent moves to prop up fossil fuels, even as the world moves further and further ahead on this. Standing beside Prime Minister Scott Morrison to announce a UK–Australia trade deal overnight, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would keep asking Australia to lift its ambitions, noting that “Scott” has declared his ambitions for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 (“preferably”, interjected a journalist, not Morrison, as last night’s transcript originally indicated). Nine’s latest Resolve Political Monitor, meanwhile, has found that a majority of Australians – including a majority of Coalition voters – want the federal government to cut emissions to net zero by 2050, but do not want a carbon price as part of that. They might end up with one, whether they – or the Coalition – like it or not. Commentators in both the Nine papers and Guardian Australia have noted that Australia is again staring down a carbon tax – one it’s going to be paying to other nations’ governments, through tariffs, if it doesn’t start doing something about reducing emissions soon.

“They are presumed innocent; it doesn’t mean they are innocent.”

High-profile barrister Bret Walker SC, who represented both George Pell and Christian Porter, calls for the presumption of innocence to be “banished from discourse concerning people who are the objects of criminal process”.

“A lot of the reporting about the illness the child is suffering from is inaccurate.”

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews wants to “correct the record” on just how sick the youngest daughter of the Biloela family really is. Four-year-old Tharnicaa remains in hospital.

The Americanisation of Australia’s health system
Australia’s public health systems are under unprecedented pressure due to decades of cuts. Today, Rick Morton on why some health experts are worried that Australia’s healthcare system is becoming more and more like the expensive, privatised model in the US.

The number of deals under scrutiny between Australian universities and foreign powers. Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne is considering whether to veto any that the government deems contrary to the national interest.

“A new visa scheme enabling agricultural workers to be recruited from 10 South-East Asian nations is expected to be unveiled on Wednesday in response to a growing shortage of farm workers which will be further exacerbated by a free trade deal with the United Kingdom.”


The ASEAN visa scheme was demanded by the National Party in return for its support for the UK trade deal. The Australian Workers’ Union has come out against the scheme, with national secretary Daniel Walton noting the implication that “it’s wrong for Brits to be exposed to exploitation and abuse on Australian farms, but apparently it’s okay for South-East Asians”.

The list

“Stamp as you walk on the sand.
It is hot, but not too hot, when hot
is the only alternative.

Stand at the water’s edge. A wave tackles
your knees, and you lean against it.”

“When I ask Alex [Hawke] about his own political heroes, he replies: ‘I’m not going to say Che Guevara or anything!’ His vision for Australia, influenced by his admiration for Reagan, Thatcher and Howard, involves lowering taxes and winding back the welfare state. But, as he acknowledges, the battle over economic rationalism has been all but won; his right-wing moral agenda is the harder sell. Alex has championed raising the age of consent, which he considers a child protection issue to stop gay men preying on the young. He also warns me that ‘abortion is not going to be off the agenda’, then adds, with a smile: ‘It’s going to be back, probably bigger and better.’”

“Prisoners in Victoria have only begun to receive COVID-19 vaccinations this week, more than two months after they first became eligible, as advocates warn there remains a serious risk the virus could ‘run wild’ in prisons without widespread immunisation.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Images via ABC News

Morrison’s mandate

Barnaby Joyce acknowledges that a net-zero target is cabinet’s call. But what exactly is their mandate?

Image of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce in Question Time today. Image via ABC News

Rush hour

The Nationals have had far more than four hours to figure out their position on net zero

Composite image of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (images via ABC News)

Border farce

So much for the national plan

Image of Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud, leader Barnaby Joyce and leader in the Senate Bridget McKenzie, June 21, 2021. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Fear and showboating

The Nationals are worried about a net-zero backlash of their own making

From the front page

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Images via ABC News

Morrison’s mandate

Barnaby Joyce acknowledges that a net-zero target is cabinet’s call. But what exactly is their mandate?

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‘Scary Monsters’ by Michelle de Kretser

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Ties that bind: ‘Succession’ season three

Jeremy Strong’s performance in the HBO drama’s third season is masterful

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A bloody shame: Paid period leave should be law

Australia’s workplace laws must better accommodate the reproductive body