Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Disgrace of the day
The PM fumbled his first chance to show he is now listening to women

Image of Liberal senator Eric Abetz during Senate estimates today. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Liberal senator Eric Abetz during Senate estimates today. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Image 

Today’s government sexism scandal was brought to you by Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who has been accused of “slut-shaming” former staffer Brittany Higgins and suggesting there was no need to worry about allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter because his accuser was dead. Or, should I say, it was brought to you by Sue Hickey, the Tasmanian Liberal MP who was elected speaker in 2018 with Labor and the Greens support, and who was disendorsed by her party on Sunday. Hickey used parliamentary privilege to reveal details of a conversation she had with the right-wing senator on March 1, in which he allegedly said, “As for that Higgins girl, anybody so disgustingly drunk who would sleep with anybody could have slept with one of our spies and put the security of the nation at risk.” Hickey says she questioned why security would not have intervened if she was that drunk, to which Abetz allegedly said – “abruptly” – that any security member who “dared to question the validity of access to the Parliament to anyone who held a security pass” should be sacked – this backs up sentiments from security guard Nikola Anderson regarding what was expected. Abetz, who was chairing Defence estimates at the time, paused the hearing to categorically deny the “mischievous assertions”, pointing to his record with women’s shelters, and, in a statement, accused Hickey – who plans to run as an independent at the next election – of “trying to destroy the party” on her way out the door. Hickey has stood by her statement in the Tasmanian parliament.

Senator Penny Wong’s questioning of Abetz and Minister for Women Marise Payne in estimates is worth watching, as was most of that particular hearing. Payne – standing in as acting defence minister for the last government senator publicly accused of maligning Higgins – was questioned at length about the actions of Linda Reynolds, from whether she had played any role in the decision to have her office cleaned shortly after the alleged rape (Payne said she was not aware of such a thing, “to the extent of my own knowledge”) to what on earth was going on with her twice-extended medical leave (Payne said the government “has been guided by her doctors’ assessments and medical advice on each occasion”). Wong zeroed in on the “misconduct” that supposedly triggered the alleged rapist’s dismissal, asking what it was, to which Payne said she couldn’t comment, as “there may be an association with the events that are the subject of a police investigation”. “The problem with that answer,” said Wong, “is the government asserts there is no connection,” poking extra holes in the government’s already hole-filled story. (Labor plans to push for Reynolds to appear herself at a spillover hearing when she returns, so that she can finally face scrutiny over the government’s submarine deal.)

The newly listening-to-women prime minister – fresh off a nauseating appearance on Ray Hadley’s 2GB show (credit to Guardian Australia for somehow transcribing it) – was also forced to respond to the Abetz allegations in Question Time, and (surprise, surprise) he accepted the “absolute denial” of the senator, quoting both his statement and his “outspokenness” on domestic violence, to shouts of outrage from the Opposition. (He also declined yet another opportunity from Australia’s most persistent MP, Labor’s Catherine King, to show he had listened and looked into Higgins’s claims that his staff backgrounded against her loved ones, with the PM providing another non-answer.)

Scott Morrison tried to reset the narrative yesterday, acknowledging that women were too often not listened to and promising to “hear them”. Today, he was offered the perfect chance to show that he meant it, by listening to a woman who claimed that a member of his government – one who might be about to lose his spot on the Senate ticket anyway – had said some truly shocking things (not altogether unbelievably) about women. Morrison was given a convenient opportunity to demonstrate his new approach, tearfully announced just 24 hours prior, of taking women seriously, by taking Hickey (or Higgins) at her word. Presented with such a simple task, what did he do? He backed the man (not that this is a “men versus women” thing, of course). Hey, as he told Ray Hadley this morning, “blokes don’t get it right all the time”. Perhaps it’s time we gave up on this prime minister ever getting it right.

“Businesses that grew their profits while accepting JobKeeper have done nothing wrong. But there is a moral case for profitable businesses paying back the support they ended up not needing.”


Australia’s most business-focused publication uses its editorial to call on businesses to pay back JobKeeper “to Team Australia”.

“I don’t know who the perpetrator was of that event that happened two years ago, before I was here. But I know who the perpetrator was of that event, that was walked out the door, and he is someone that I have had interactions with, [and] I thought we had a respectful relationship.”

Liberal MP Katie Allen explains why she was more outraged about a Liberal staffer masturbating over an MP’s desk than about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins: because she knew the perpetrator personally.

First came the fires, then the floods
Nearly 20,000 people have been evacuated as Australia’s east coast suffers from the worst floods in more than half a century. NSW’s mid-north coast, one of the worst hit regions, was also devastated by the Black Summer bushfires.


The number of car park projects completed via the government’s $500 million, 47-project, probably-pork-barrelled 2019 Commuter Car Park Fund – both joint financial efforts with the Victorian state government.

“The federal government’s $4 billion JobMaker program could be scaled back in the May budget given the rapid speed of the labour market recovery.”


Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has suggested to a Senate hearing that the under-utilised JobMaker program might be scaled back or not needed at all.

The list

“Correction:  In yesterday’s paper in Chris Searle’s Jazz albums column, we incorrectly referred to Don Rendell as a ‘terrorist’ when it clearly should have been a ‘tenorist’. We apologise for any offence.”

“The real thread that binds Dillon’s book of sentences is not a set of constraints, but something more essayistic in spirit: the wish to honour the mystery of these fragments that have had an enduring pull on him. The origins of his sentences are diverse: they come from novels and poems through to a sermon by John Donne, Shakespeare’s longest and most famous play, a short radio report by Samuel Beckett on the bombing of Saint-Lô, an art review by Frank O’Hara and a photo caption written for Vogue by Joan Didion … Without exception, Dillon’s chosen sentences are the conscious product of writers.”

“I’m not disciplined like some men boast about. They’ll go, ‘I start at 6am and work ’til blah blah, and I’ll have a little bite to eat, blah blah’ or whatever. I just think, oh, fucking hell, and I just lie and say, ‘Oh, me too!’ I sometimes write one line and go out into the garden for five hours to reward myself.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate speaking before a Senate inquiry today. Image via ABC News

Holgate strikes back

Scott Morrison humiliated the wrong woman

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference on April 9. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

The cost of delay

Delays, as we have sadly learnt, can mean the difference between life and death

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

Vaccine rollout a (p)fizzer

The government came with good news, but the rollout remains a shambles

Image of Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Trust fall

Supply issues aren’t the only thing hampering the vaccine rollout

From the front page

Image of former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate speaking before a Senate inquiry today. Image via ABC News

Holgate strikes back

Scott Morrison humiliated the wrong woman

Up the river

Hope is running dry in the Murray–Darling Basin

Green house effect

Joost Bakker’s vision for sustainable housing is taking root


Give us not serenity but a sense of urgency in the face of catastrophic climate change