Thursday, March 18, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Stick to the plan?
The Morrison government’s plans are falling apart

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg arriving for a press conference at Parliament House today. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg arrive for a press conference at Parliament House today. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

“Our plan is working, treasurer!” the prime minister said, nodding theatrically, as he handed over to Josh Frydenberg at this afternoon’s press conference. “We need to stick to the plan,” he added for emphasis. Which plan was he referring to? Was it his plan to have 4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered by the end of March? Surely not, with only 226,000 given so far – 2.2 million below where we ought to be in order to hit that target on time – along with new reports that the government rushed the launch of the flailing vaccine booking system. Could it have been the plan to push ahead with the government’s omnibus industrial relations bill, even with Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter on mental health leave? Unlikely, with the government today forced to ditch four out of five sections of it to avoid Senate defeat, turning it into a uni-bus reform. Or could it have been Morrison’s plan to distract from all that and more, with the announcement of new unemployment figures – the subject of the press conference at which he made the proclamation? No, it couldn’t be that; that plan definitely isn’t working, with the presser followed by questions on the vaccine rollout, the IR reforms and the sacking of Liberal staffer Andrew Hudgson.

Today was the last joint sitting day of parliament until May 11, when the budget is due to be handed down, and the government was understandably keen to pass its controversial industrial relations reform bill. But following almost 10 months of negotiations with unions, business and the senators, it was forced to abandon the majority of the bill, leaving only the adjustments to casual workers (clarifying which workers were “casuals” and allowing them to convert to permanent jobs more easily) after failing to secure Centre Alliance’s votes. The government chose, however, to ditch the section on wage theft – the one provision supported by all members of the crossbench – in a temper tantrum described by ACTU secretary Sally McManus as a “shameful and vindictive reaction”. Acting Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash said the slimmed-down bill would be a “significant win for casual workers”, but it was no doubt a defeat for the government.

Health Minister Greg Hunt, meanwhile, spent the day defending the rushed rollout of the national vaccine booking website, which crashed yesterday, but not before wreaking havoc on the phone lines at GP offices and forcing doctors to refuse appointments to eligible Australians (doctors are calling for calm, asking people to wait a few weeks due to the rush). Hunt has insisted that the rollout is on track, and that yesterday was always meant to be the website launch day. But Guardian Australia reports that the industry was told it wasn’t going to launch until next week, with yesterday’s announcement taking clinics by surprise. “We were shocked to see it had gone up because we had been told to prepare for it going live on Monday,” a source said, suggesting the government must have felt pressured to launch the site early due to negative media coverage of the rollout. What negative coverage would that be? Perhaps the fact that Australia is farcically behind on its targets, and desperately behind the rest of the world, leaving us vulnerable to outbreaks. Talk about “sticking to the plan”.

Many of the government’s plans lie in disarray, but there still doesn’t appear to be one for dealing with the snowballing outrage of women across the country – other than announcing inquiries and leaning on the words of retiring Liberal MP Nicolle Flint to insist that this is an issue for Labor, too. Almost every question posed by Labor in Question Time today was focused on the issue, from whether the PM had bothered to check with his staff over allegations that he backgrounded against Brittany Higgins, to why he would not even bother to check, to whether his staff members have been interviewed yet by Phil Gaetjens over their knowledge of her alleged assault yet, to why the report into what his staff knew and when is taking so long, to whether the report will be released when it is received. The next few focused on Porter, from why Morrison sought the solicitor-general’s advice about the attorney-general’s portfolio responsibilities but not an investigation, to whether he intends to allow the attorney-general to retain responsibility for defamation law reform.

The only plan appears to be to stonewall until the issue goes away. But with the government slipping in the polls, how long will it be before the government admits it’s time for a new plan?

“It’s vital … that individuals have the confidence to participate knowing that they will be supported and that their privacy will be protected.”

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham says submissions to the Jenkins sexual harassment inquiry are likely to be exempt from FOI and archive requirements, following a letter signed by Brittany Higgins, Lucy Turnbull and Thérèse Rein, among others.

“Do we protect people dating by having a positive affirmation … in an app?”

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has been widely mocked after floating the idea of using an app to record sexual consent.

The new law that could censor the internet
The Online Safety Bill is being framed by the government as a way to modernise how Australia regulates the internet. But concerns have been raised about what the consequences could be for freedom of expression. Lizzie O’Shea on the new laws that could change how every Australian uses the internet.

The February national unemployment rate, down from 6.3 per cent in January, with the underemployment rate rising from 8.1 to 8.5 per cent. Over 1 million people are still believed to be on JobKeeper, which ends in 10 days.

“Prime Minister Scott Morrison has put a new domestic violence policy under review after a backlash against the idea of asking women to dip into their retirement savings when seeking emergency support.”

The government says it will review its proposed policy allowing domestic violence victims to withdraw $10,000 from their superannuation funds, just days after it was announced.

The list

Infractions, then, is about different modes of perception: drone shots that parallel the aerial surveys of mining companies, or the parcelled maps of mining licences that do not correspond to – are not commensurate with – a knowledge of country held and lived by Indigenous Australians … But Infractions is also about ways of listening and not listening. As in Cope’s work, the argument advanced by O’Reilly’s film is that these practices are not – or are not only – metaphors. Listening to country involves knowledge of country and, in turn, creates knowledge. A refusal on the part of non-Indigenous people, including lawmakers, to listen to this knowledge has material effects.”

“[French Exit] crackles with the possibility that anything could – and does – happen: a séance for a cat, the discovery of a frozen dildo, the ability to leave your bike around Paris unlocked and not have it immediately stolen. Like a Wes Anderson universe, or even an Oscar Wilde one, this is a film that translates the grotesque into the merely quirky, turning the camera back onto the spectacle of wealth to reveal rich-people problems for what they truly are: trite.”

“Everywhere they go, these convoys stop passers-by in their tracks. The cars, vans and utes – each plastered with Mandarin and English language banners warning against the ‘Demon CCP’ and decorated with Australian flags – appear to be doing laps of the city, trying to spread an anti-CCP message. But who is driving them? What point are they trying to make, and to whom?”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Nuclear fallout

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).

The standard you walk past

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

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing the new AUKUS partnership alongside UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden (not pictured). Image via ABC News

Whatever it takes

Scott Morrison says we will spend whatever we have to on defence. Why doesn’t the same apply to climate change?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former finance minister Mathias Cormann, who is now secretary-general of the OECD. Image via Facebook

The world is watching

The OECD recommends that Australia take action on climate change. Is our government listening?

From the front page

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

Image of Colson Whitehead's ‘Harlem Shuffle’

‘Harlem Shuffle’ by Colson Whitehead

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).

The standard you walk past

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

Image of Paul Kelly

Unfinished business

Every Paul Kelly song so far, from worst to best