The Politics    Wednesday, March 17, 2021

‘Above politics’

By Rachel Withers

Image of Liberal MP Nicolle Flint addressing the House of Representatives. Image via ABC News

Liberal MP Nicolle Flint addresses the House of Representatives. Image via ABC News

Getting your glass house in order

The Morrison government has furthered its efforts to turn this moment of feminist outcry back on the Opposition, insisting that the issue is not about politics while attempting to make it as much about Labor as possible. After days of allusions to “the member for Maribyrnong” and suggestions about people in glass houses throwing stones, the government has found its symbol: retiring Boothby MP Nicolle Flint, who last night attacked Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and senior Labor women for speaking out against rape and sexual harassment but not speaking out against her harassment at the 2019 election. “I say to the leader of the Opposition,” she said in a tearful adjournment speech, echoing Julia Gillard’s famous misogyny speech, “I will not be lectured by you. I will not be lectured by your side of politics about the treatment of women in this place.” Flint said that Albanese had “crawled down into the gutter” to make this issue about politics, before going on to say that Labor was responsible for “the environment in which hate could flourish” around her, singling out fellow South Australian Penny Wong, in particular, for not standing up for her. 

Flint’s speech – which did not go Gillard-level viral, despite the best efforts of a number of conservatives on Twitter – was amplified by the prime minister in a press conference this morning, following what Guardian Australia’s Paul Karp noted seemed like a planned question from Nine’s Chris Uhlmann (a PMO staff member indicated to call on him). “I think she’s incredibly brave,” Morrison said, reluctantly turning his attention away from the crisis in Papua New Guinea. “I just am amazed at the Labor Party and the unions and GetUp! just standing by to let that happen.” Morrison had foreshadowed the speech and strategy in Question Time yesterday, using a question from Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek as to why he hadn’t read the letter detailing allegations against Christian Porter to ask why she in return hadn’t called out Flint’s treatment, suggesting Flint “feared for her own safety from the members of the Labor Party”.

Flint’s words have now received plenty of attention across the media, with stories across the mainstream press quoting her calls for Labor to get its own house in order, while Wong and Albanese are walking a fine line, criticising the treatment but knowing they cannot criticise Flint too harshly, despite the fact that Labor was not responsible for the abuse and threats she received. (There are also questions around how involved GetUp! was, with Flint’s harasser “linked” to the activist group only by Facebook likes.) Wong pushed back against suggestions that Labor was responsible for the behaviour of individuals, while being careful to acknowledge that what happened was “utterly unacceptable”, calling it out as asked. “It is also unfair of her to seek to tie me and Tanya Plibersek to it,” she added, asking reporters, “do you honestly believe that I would be part of a campaign of that kind of harassment and targeting of a woman?” Albanese was quick to condemn the treatment Flint had been subjected to, noting that some of the same groups had also targeted Labor MPs and gently suggesting her comments were political, before condemning her treatment again. (Plibersek wasn’t able to respond until the end of Question Time yesterday, saying she was unaware of GetUp’s harassment until recently, and had contacted Flint to wish her the best upon hearing of her retirement.) Labor finds itself in a bind, unable to criticise the tearful woman but also unable to defend itself.

What happened to Flint was appalling, and she is correct in saying that women’s safety ought to be “above politics”. But her speech, with its echoes of Gillard’s, has very quickly become about just that, and it’s galling to watch someone cry politicisation while engaged in blatant politicisation themselves. (One could say that if the member for Boothby wants to know what partisanship looks like, she doesn’t need a motion, she needs a mirror.) In professing to care about harassment, Flint is attacking the leader who acknowledges the problem within his own party and actually went to Monday’s March 4 Justice, while praising the guy who didn’t. Flint appears to be furious at Labor for condemning the very serious allegations against the Coalition, simply because they didn’t speak up about what happened to her – treatment that may have had less to do with her being a woman and more to do with her hardline conservatism. (It’s important to mention here that the graffitiing of her office was gendered in nature.) As Samantha Maiden noted today, Flint’s original account of what she faced in 2019 didn’t mention the ALP at all. So why now? 

Something unacceptable happened to Flint at the 2019 election (I’m beginning to sound like Albanese here myself), but that was not Labor’s fault, and smearing Penny Wong won’t make the allegations against Christian Porter disappear. Crying politicisation won’t change the fact that the allegations currently on the table are all on the right side of politics. For now.

Nicolle Flint did make some very important comments in her speech (even if she did contradict many of them) about not politicising this issue, and the importance of condemning harassment and abuse – even, or especially, when it comes from within one’s own ranks. Labor has spent the past few days promising that it will take any fresh allegations that might arise seriously: Albanese and Plibersek are urging women inside the party to come forward, following reports of anonymous allegations of harassment and abuse in a private Facebook group, while the manager of Opposition business, Tony Burke, says any male Labor MP accused should stand aside while an investigation is carried out. But we are yet to see what will happen if the current Labor leadership is faced with a named allegation within its ranks.

Flint is right. This issue ought to be above politics. Perhaps Flint and Morrison could show us what that looks like.

“The consequent changes to mutual obligation are, in my view, very unhelpful. There is an opportunity to ensure that we look at how mutual obligation can be a more useful tool for those seeking work, rather than the increasingly meaningless burden it puts on both the potential employer and the potential employee.”

Liberal MP Bridget Archer has criticised the Coalition’s push to increase mutual obligation requirements, under which JobSeeker recipients must apply for 20 jobs a month.

“We should’ve bombed the women’s march.”

Private school boys have been reported over misogynistic comments made on a bus after Monday’s March 4 Justice. Violence against protesters, who would suggest such a thing?

The billionaire who went bust, and the town on the brink
For years the rise of Lex Greensill, a farmer’s son turned billionaire investor, seemed unstoppable. But now things are falling apart, and the economic carnage threatens the livelihood of an entire town. Today, Rick Morton on the business deal that could cost 7000 jobs in Australia.

The amount the federal government paid over what was advised by an independent valuer, in an $80 million water buyback from a company linked to Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

“The nation’s big business lobby group is asking the government to extend paid parental leave and provide more generous childcare subsidies, commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and spearhead a national deregulation agenda in a bid to boost the economic recovery.”

The Business Council of Australia’s pre-budget submission calls for a swathe of policy changes to improve the financial future of the nation.

The list

“In the centre of Courtroom 1, a yellow stringybark table holds a possum-skin cloak and a coolamon packed with gum leaves in preparation for a Marram-Ngala Ganbu hearing. On Tuesdays, when these cases are usually heard, the shield-shaped table is ringed by family members, advocates, lawyers, Koori staff and the magistrate. Before hearings start, Marie Sehgal, a Yorta Yorta woman and the court’s Koori family support officer, will usually lead those in attendance around the room, showing the court’s artworks to the brooding teenagers or parents clasping unsettled babies, and explaining their stories and the symbolism. These include the totems of out-of-home-care youths, a stolen child finding her mob, and an Aboriginal flag composed entirely of shirt buttons.”

“The victims’ rights movement has long urged police and courts to believe victims who say they’ve been sexually assaulted, instead of subjecting them to persistent scepticism that retraumatises them. #IBelieveKate is a trending Twitter hashtag, and believing Kate is clearly what Milligan has been doing. From this perspective, defamation law is yet another shield for powerful men. But Porter’s defamation claim also prompts a different question, one which flows from the law’s intent to protect reputations from being damaged by untruthful or unproveable allegations. Does believing Kate mean that her allegations – which now can’t be proven one way or the other – had to be published?”

“Who would’ve thought the inbred descendants of the most powerful colonial empire in history – who’ve not been seen standing next to anyone who isn’t white since the last time Prince Philip warned British students in China about becoming ‘slitty eyed’ if they stayed too long – could be racist? And moreover that this royal racism would be aided and abetted by a media that doesn’t wear Klan hoodies only because it’s hard to copyedit through those little eyeholes.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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