Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Empty words
From a government that cares about nothing except optics

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via ABC News

Scott Morrison has heeded the calls, and the polls, demanding he step up and take a stab at some leadership rhetoric – though just how much of that rhetoric has been focus-grouped and opinion-tested remains questionable. Appearing this afternoon to address both the situation in Afghanistan and here at home, the prime minister tried speaking directly to the devastated veteran community, whose repeated calls for the evacuation of our Afghan allies were ignored, until it was too late. “I know the overriding concern of the veterans I have spoken to has been for us to protect those who worked alongside us in Afghanistan,” he said. The PM talked up how many people the government had helped, rather than the hundreds it had left to their fates – many of whom have just been locked out of the airport amid reports the Taliban have already begun hunting them down. Morrison insisted he would continue to do everything he could to help our Afghan allies, before acknowledging the obvious: it is now almost impossible for Australia to rescue everyone that it should. (He wished things could be “different”, as if there was nothing he could have done.) Morrison then abruptly turned his attention towards the vaccination rollout, trumpeting another “record day”, and the “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of doses” administered in the time he’d been speaking. “That’s what you are achieving right now, Australia,” he added proudly. Those words left a particularly foul taste in the mouth amid reports that the federal government had raided the COVAX stockpile, which was set up to help poorer nations receive equitable access to vaccines, with Australia receiving double what the entire continent of Africa received under COVAX in June. Under a government that thinks of nothing but its own electoral prospects, what Australia is achieving right now amounts to short-changing developing nations on vaccines, and needlessly leaving those who helped us in Afghanistan to die.

Morrison was today eager to express his respect and gratitude to those who had served Australia in Afghanistan, never mind that he’s also the prime minister who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into a royal commission into veteran suicides. But his efforts to praise veterans’ sacrifices (and his allegation, in a tone of moral outrage, that any mention of the Brereton inquiry on this day was a “slur”) only drew attention to his own characteristic self-centredness. As Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced the bare minimum response of a moratorium on sending Afghan nationals in Australia back to Afghanistan for now (a far cry, many noted, from how Bob Hawke reacted to Tiananmen Square), Morrison was asked whether Australia would commit to taking in more refugees from Afghanistan, as other nations have pledged to do. He refused to comment, noting that he was focused on the operation to get people out of Kabul. He offered no real explanation for why it had taken his government until now to undertake such an operation, despite insistent calls from veterans and former Liberal prime ministers, while repeatedly telling journalists they were almost out of time to ask questions. The implicit answer would seem to be, as with everything Morrison does, that he saw nothing in it for him until public pressure grew too high in the face of devastating images from Kabul. His lament that he wished things could have been different was the most shameful line of them all, an insult to the veterans he was pretending to honour.

Morrison may have been hoping that his more positive tidings, surrounding the vaccine rollout, would help his struggling standing. But for those still stewing on Nine’s exclusive about Australia’s raiding of the COVAX Pfizer stockpile, his talk of the “light at the end of the tunnel” and the “quiet achievers” of the rollout, which yesterday saw 25 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated, felt equally as shameful as the words that came before. As Anthony Galloway reported today, Australia – which, despite its recent struggles, is not one of the needier nations in the world – joined the UK, Canada and New Zealand in dipping into the scheme by paying top dollar for the doses, much to the annoyance of Pfizer, which had wanted those doses to go to poorer nations. The news has been met with disgust in many corners, with the Morrison government having deprived needier nations of vaccines to save face, after arrogantly failing to order enough doses when it could have. The same government that keeps redirecting doses from a mysterious “national stockpile” to where they are most needed in the country apparently doesn’t care about where they are most needed in the world.

It comes as no surprise that the leaders who failed to do everything they could to help the Afghans who risked their lives to assist us are the same ones siphoning vaccines away from those who need them most. “God help them,” said the man who led the Australian Defence Force when it entered Afghanistan, referring to the people we left behind. This government might say that God helps those who help themselves.

“Australia’s current goal … and the absence of a national zero-emissions target, is out of step with its states, its trading partners, and other comparable nations.”

Former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon calls for the Australian government to commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and at least halve its emissions this decade.

“Once we get to 6 million jabs, we’ll be able to consider opportunities for what we might be able to do in September and October that we can’t currently do. I want to make that very clear.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian continues to send mixed messages about future easing of restrictions in her state, after conceding that NSW needs to get cases numbers back to 30 or 40 per day for real freedoms to kick in, even if the state is 70 per cent vaccinated.

NSW abandons COVID-zero
Unlike the rest of the country, NSW appears to be abandoning its intention of eliminating the virus and reaching zero cases of community transmission. Today, Mike Seccombe on the NSW strategy to deal with the virus and what it might mean for the rest of the nation.


Public approval for the federal government’s handling of the pandemic, down from 56 per cent in February, according to a new poll by JWS Research.


“Afghan nationals whose Australian visas expire will not be sent back to Afghanistan ‘while the security situation remains dire’ under a moratorium announced by the federal government.”

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has announced a moratorium on removals of Afghan nationals back to Afghanistan, but the government is not expected to grant permanent visas or citizenship to those on temporary visas.

The list

“Like rolled beads of mercury
silver bubbles fly up silently
in the mineral water by my father’s bed.

A bag of Hartmann’s solution
hangs in the air like a sling
of trapped rain.”

“In the course of my research, I conducted interviews with dozens of alleged victims of abuse and relatives of those killed by Australian forces in Uruzgan between 2007 and 2013, all of whom registered or re-registered their cases with the AIHRC after the release of the Brereton Report in November. Some of the incidents documented involve behaviour that, if proven, would constitute war crimes, while others describe incidents that, without knowledge of the perpetrators’ intent and despite resulting in the deaths of civilians, could plausibly be characterised as mistakes.”

“During my time working on the Sixth Assessment Report, it dawned on me that this IPCC assessment is the scientific community’s last chance to really make a difference. If our latest report and the intensifying evidence now all around us doesn’t persuade this generation of political leaders that we must stabilise Earth’s climate immediately, nothing ever will. Let’s hope the governments of the world are finally ready to listen.” 

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)

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Fear and showboating

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

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The little guys

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

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A tale of two commissions

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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

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A bloody shame: Paid period leave should be law

Australia’s workplace laws must better accommodate the reproductive body

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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