Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Did Scotty know?
What did the prime minister know and when did he know it?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking during Question Time at Parliament House today. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking during Question Time at Parliament House today. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Questions are continuing to swirl around the timeline of the Parliament House rape allegations, with many people asking exactly how much the prime minister knew of the incident and when he knew it. Many are doubting that Scott Morrison has only just heard of these allegations, given that a number of government figures (some even on Morrison’s own staff) have been aware of them since 2019 – prompting fury over how slowly he has reacted, if so. The woman behind the allegations, former adviser Brittany Higgins, has just released a statement, saying she has only now been made aware of key elements of her own assault, while accusing Morrison of “victim-blaming rhetoric”. “The government has questions to answer for their own conduct,” she writes.

Labor, the Greens and independents hounded Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds over the issue in both the House of Reps and the Senate today, barely leaving time to ask about other matters. Morrison had already thrown Reynolds under the bus yesterday, publicly rebuking her for not reporting the allegation to him. But surely someone else did. As Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek noted in Question Time, Reynolds’s chief of staff at the time of the incident was directly involved in managing the alleged rape, and worked in the PM’s office before and after the incident (including right now). Morrison stood by his claims, saying, “it is not common practice” for staff to disclose matters of other offices when moving teams. Morrison has also disputed a claim from Higgins that his principal private secretary, Yaron Finkelstein, called her to “check in” on her around the time of a Four Corners report into the treatment of women inside parliament, saying that searches of phone records had found no trace of the call. 

Senator Michaelia Cash – Higgins’s boss from June 2019 until recently – has told the Senate she only found out about the allegations on February 5, when Higgins was preparing to resign. But has released audio of a voicemail left by Cash for Higgins in October 2019, around the time a media inquiry was made into the incident, telling her to “sleep tight”, and reassuring her that she was with her “every step of the way”. The Australian, meanwhile, reports that a parliamentary inquiry has been looking into rape allegations after security guards raised concerns about how the matter was handled, with several Coalition and Labor senators having known about the allegations for months.

Speaking of timing, Australia’s long-awaited, much-debated coronavirus vaccine rollout is finally set to begin on Monday, February 22, but depending on where you live (or which media outlet you follow), the process will be fast or slow. The largest share of the first 142,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will go to “gold standard” New South Wales, which has the largest number of quarantine workers – and is said to be getting things under way quickly. All NSW quarantine and essential border workers will be vaccinated within two to three weeks, with the state reported to be receiving more than 14,000 doses per week – more than double the initial 6000 weekly doses that state government sources expected. Victoria, which will end its “circuit breaker” lockdown tonight, will initially receive 11,000 weekly doses, with official confirmation of that number leaving healthcare workers fearing that they might have to wait months to be vaccinated, while Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has warned the rollout in Queensland will “start off very slowly”, with just 100 shots to be given on the Gold Coast on Monday, followed by location-specific vaccinations on Wednesday and Friday. The vaccine will come fast if you’re the prime minister, however, with Scott Morrison to receive the Pfizer vaccine soon in a bid to boost public confidence. The latest government research shows that less than two thirds of Australians say they will “definitely” get a COVID-19 vaccine, with more than a quarter unsure.

Slow and steady won’t necessarily win the race when it comes to vaccine rollout, and it won’t be enough for our transition away from coal either, according to experts. And yet the Morrison government has decided to delay the launch of a $1 billion fund for new energy projects, to be administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, after former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce launched a surprise bid to use it to back a new coal-fired power station. Joyce tabled a formal amendment to his own government’s bill on Tuesday, demanding the fund be allowed to invest in fossil-fuel projects too – a move that furious Liberal MPs said was the “the end of the line” on the dispute with Nationals. He’s got one Liberal in his corner, however: controversial backbencher Craig Kelly, whom the Nationals are reportedly keen to adopt, told Guardian Australia he was “absolutely interested” in Joyce’s amendment. Ticking time bombs, the both of them.

“I find it inconceivable that that wasn’t well known to at least key members of the prime minister’s staff. And if it wasn’t, there was clearly an absolutely baffling breakdown in communications.”

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says it is “very, very hard to believe” that Scott Morrison’s team was not aware of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’s rape allegation before Monday.

“The only thing more concerning than the reign of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is the possibility that many Victorians no longer recognise what is within the normal range of leadership.”

Opinion columnist Janet Albrechtsen claims that Premier Daniel Andrews has “conditioned” Victorians to be afraid of COVID-19 using a “politics of fear”. Her masthead knows a thing or two about the politics of fear.

James and the giant breach
A damning report has found Crown Resorts unfit to hold a casino licence in New South Wales. But what does that mean for James Packer’s operations in other states?

The total dividends paid to billionaire Solomon Lew last year, with his retail chains receiving around $70 million in wage subsidies. Lew is one of at least 11 billionaires who received dividends collectively worth tens of millions of dollars from companies that received JobKeeper.

“Stock market disclosure laws will be permanently relaxed for listed companies and their directors, as the federal government extends its push to make it harder for disgruntled shareholders and class action lawyers to sue businesses.”


Disclosure laws are to be eased for good, with corporations and their officers only liable in civil penalty cases where they have acted with “knowledge, recklessness or negligence”.

The list

“The patients can now control a cursor with a combination of their eyes and mind. The cursor is controlled by minute movements of their eye muscles, while the brain–computer interface gives them the ability to click and zoom using electrical signals generated by their thoughts. These tasks sound simple, but they represent a major step towards restoring communication, thus providing a bridge to loved ones and the world at large.”

“Australia’s mainstream culture, of which the AFL is a substantial part, is undergoing a reckoning. McGuire and Buckley and Newman were raised in a culture whose outlook was hegemonically Anglo-Celtic. Assimilation into that culture may have made way for official policies of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘self-determination’ half a century ago, but for a long time they meant merely that ‘minority’ cultures were recognised by the dominant culture to the extent it was comfortable with them. But hegemonic whiteness doesn’t allow full participation by ‘minorities’, a state of affairs inconsistent with Australian society’s stated commitment to equality. This was obvious to Winmar, Goodes and Lumumba, as soon as they stopped trying to conform.”

“Standing between shops that had closed their doors ahead of the protest, the pair spoke of 150 or so businesses they’d been tracking in the Adelaide metropolitan area that paid their workers less than $15 an hour. ‘In Africa, there are blood diamonds,’ Kapsis said. ‘Here, in SA, we want no more blood bubble tea.’ The reference was to the event that had galvanised the protest – an alleged assault that took place at FunTea, a nearby bubble tea shop, in late January, which was caught on video and spread quickly through the Chinese social media app WeChat. The footage has since become a flashpoint in South Australia’s Chinese community over the issue of workers’ rights.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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

Composite image of Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie (via ABC News) and News Corp presenter Andrew Bolt (via Sky News)

The little guys

A vocal minority that has for so long controlled the climate debate is now painting itself as marginalised

Image of federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne, July 30, 2019. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

A tale of two commissions

Support for anti-corruption initiatives shouldn’t rest on which side of politics is under investigation

From the front page

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 a tampon and a sanitary pad viewed from above

A bloody shame: Paid period leave should be law

Australia’s workplace laws must better accommodate the reproductive body

Image of Gladys Berejiklian appearing before an ICAC hearing in October 2020. Image via ABC News

The cult of Gladys Berejiklian

What explains the hero-worship of the former NSW premier?

Cover image of ‘Bodies of Light’

‘Bodies of Light’ by Jennifer Down

The Australian author’s latest novel, dissecting trauma, fails to realise its epic ambitions