Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Meeting expectations
Brittany Higgins reminds the PM that we’re all still waiting

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

The vaccine rollout derailment that has dominated headlines since Australia missed its end-of-March deadline may have been a somewhat welcome distraction from the government’s problems throughout February and March, but former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins has reminded the prime minister she’s still here – and still waiting for that promised meeting. In a letter sent to Scott Morrison’s chief of staff last night, Higgins – who hasn’t been able to lock in a face-to-face meeting despite weeks of trying – followed up on arrangements, requesting that they meet in Canberra next week. She has a list of reforms she wants to bring to the table. “While it’s disappointing that I haven’t heard from the prime minister’s office since they initially made contact on the 6th of April,” she tweeted this afternoon, “I’m hopeful the meeting will proceed.” Higgins has offered a polite but firm reminder that this issue has not been resolved, and it will not be going away – and nor should the allegations against Andrew Laming, Christian Porter, and men in the Coalition (and Canberra) more broadly.

In her letter, since acquired by multiple media outlets, Higgins lays out a list of major safety reforms she wants to discuss with the PM, including establishing an independent complaints body or internal ombudsman for ministerial staff, reforming laws that allow MPs to terminate staff without reason, and improving security protocols at Parliament House, including giving security guards agency to refuse after-hours access to a clearly inebriated person (a fairly obvious reform for the government to make, one would think, after Four Corners revealed that Higgins was so intoxicated when brought into the building by her alleged rapist that she was unable to put her shoes back on). Morrison publicly promised to meet with the former staffer in his March 25 interview with Tracy Grimshaw (though not without some classic Morrison weaselling on who needed to contact who), but he has clearly not prioritised a meeting. Higgins is fed up. “After two months, a national protest and countless other horrifying stories,” she tweeted, “the time for action is now.”

The prime minister has admittedly had a few things on his plate, from ongoing revelations of just how poorly Australia’s vaccine rollout is going to Thursday’s upcoming Earth Day summit, where he is expected to be put to shame by his international counterparts over Australia’s lagging climate efforts. Even his local counterparts are getting in on the shame game: former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull have penned a joint op-ed for Guardian Australia, arguing Australia “continues to bury its head in the sand” on climate. “Morrison’s refusal to adopt both a firm timeline to reach net-zero emissions and to increase its own interim 2030 target leaves us effectively isolated in the western world,” they write. “It also goes against what we signed up to through the Paris agreement – which both our governments worked so hard to secure.” (Rudd and Turnbull, quite the political odd couple, have also been backed in their joint calls for a Murdoch media inquiry by former US director of national intelligence James Clapper, who believes Australia needs to take preventative steps to avoid a slide into “truth decay”.) Morrison’s announcement of an extra $539.2 million in new “clean” energy funding, including hydrogen and carbon capture – described by The Australian as an attempt to “stare down domestic and international pressure” on targets – seems unlikely to silence the calls.

Reports, meanwhile, that a Queensland man has now developed blood clots after receiving the Pfizer vaccine may make Thursday’s national cabinet meeting – intended to “reset” the rollout – even more complicated, with doctors already reporting that patients are declining AstraZeneca over fears regarding clots. The Opposition wants more transparency coming out of cabinet, with shadow health minister Mark Butler calling for the release of department modelling that has reportedly been prepared for new timelines, while Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid says the reset needs to have clear targets (health officials yesterday claimed there is basically no way of putting a timetable on the rollout’s completion). 

None of this excuses the fact that Morrison still hasn’t found time to meet with Higgins, after assuring the public that he would. Perhaps he thought, as he did at the beginning of the crisis, that the whole thing would eventually blow over, without him ever having to properly address it (and throughout April it looked as though he might have been right). Morrison hasn’t been great at meeting targets or expectations lately, but Brittany Higgins will be holding him to this one.

“Cost to the taxpayer alone would be a good reason for new Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews to exercise ministerial discretion and allow the Biloela family to stay in Australia.”

Shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally describes her visit to the Biloela Tamil family detained on Christmas Island, calling once again for the government to show some compassion.

“I can’t believe we’ve got these left-wing teachers out there acting racist themselves by saying white lives don’t matter. Well, they do. Everybody matters.”

NSW Police Minister David Elliott has called for a Sydney teacher to be sacked over Black Lives Matter posters made by students in Years 5 and 6 – just hours after a US jury found ex-policemen Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd.

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The percentage of aged-care workers who remain unvaccinated, despite being part of the highest priority stage in the vaccine rollout. It follows reports showing less than 7 per cent of disability care residents have so far received a dose.

“Twelve months ago would have been the best time to have done this, but the next best time is right now … We have seen the challenges of global supply, we know the benefits of onshore manufacturing, and we know the benefits of this technology.”

Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino says the state will commit $50 million to establish domestic mRNA manufacturing capability, paving the way for vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna to be produced in Australia.

The list

“You don’t have to be a federal MP to master the non-answer.”

“It’s very interesting that when George Floyd was killed there was a huge mobilisation … this kind of mobilisation that manifests in the streets does not occur around the murders of black transgender people. It responds to the murders of black cisgender men, and I wish that were different. In this way, the black community begins to think of itself as a community, as opposed to a slave plantation, and a community needs to protect the family, the patriarch, that kind of thing. However, I am fascinated and interested and hopeful about the way in which the spontaneous combustion of black rage in the streets has popped off. I haven’t witnessed that for a long time – since the ’60s and ’70s.”

“In 1999, Hussain ended up falling victim to the AFL bug when a friend took her to see the Western Bulldogs play the Melbourne Demons at the MCG. ‘I fell in love with the atmosphere, with the game,’ she says, before laughing and admitting it had something to do with a crush on Melbourne Football Club great Russell Robertson. As a young Muslim fan, however, Hussain soon realised the AFL wasn’t the most accessible sport for marginalised communities. Based on that understanding, she now wants to help others to feel like they can join the footy culture without having to change who they are.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of Lieutenant General John Frewen. Image via ABC News Breakfast

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Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Question Time today. Image via ABC News

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Composite image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young. Images via ABC News / YouTube

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