The first ‘scalp’
How is it that only one MP has fallen?
Disgraced NSW Nationals MP Michael Johnsen has resigned, marking the first time any politician has stepped down during the entire sorry saga that has engulfed Australian politics over the past seven weeks. His resignation – over allegations he sexually assaulted a sex worker in the Blue Mountains (allegations he denies) and lewd texts he sent her, some during Question Time, including one offering her $1000 for sex in Parliament House – came after his party leader, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, called for his resignation, thereby setting an example for the federal government on what to do when an MP you rely on for numbers has behaved unconscionably. “We were elected to lead and to uphold a standard,” Barilaro told Sky News, after host Laura Jayes drew a comparison with the situation concerning disgraced federal MP Andrew Laming, who has not been asked to resign by the federal government. “I’d rather stand here doing the right thing than worrying about a majority in government,” said Barilaro, noting the NSW government was no different to the federal government in having a slim majority. (The Coalition won 48 out of 93 seats at the last state election; the Nationals hold Johnsen’s seat of Upper Hunter by a much smaller margin than the Liberals hold Bowman.) This neat sequence of events – Barilaro calling for the resignation of one of his (former) MPs, and that resignation being offered up the following day – puts to rest claims from federal Coalition figures that there is nothing Morrison can do about Laming, because he was elected by the people of Bowman. Barilaro’s intervention worked. The federal government could act; it is choosing not to.
Johnsen’s resignation is a welcome move, but it’s simply astounding that this is the first time a politician has been forced to relinquish their position throughout this crisis – and that Laming still hasn’t. While two federal Liberal staffers have lost their jobs in the past few weeks (one resigned for calling Tasmanian Greens Leader Cassy O’Connor a “meth-head cunt”, another was fired for filming himself masturbating on the desk of a female MP), none of the elected officials so far accused of misconduct, rape or revolting comments have faced any kind of consequences. (Lest someone suggest Christian Porter’s removal from the attorney-general portfolio constitutes consequences, Morrison insists this was only done to resolve a conflict of interest.) The bar for what kind of behaviour politicians can engage in (or allegedly engage in) without having to step down (or even be asked to step down) has now been set, and it is depressingly low: allegedly raping a sex worker, plus sexting from within the chamber.
As the ABC’s Laura Tingle noted early in this calamity, politicians used to resign over scandals all the time. “But prime ministers have become increasingly reluctant to deliver what is known in politics as a ‘scalp’ to the Opposition, even in much more serious cases,” she said. Since that March 2 bulletin, things have only gotten worse.
Just some of the things politicians have been accused of in the past few weeks, without facing consequences, include: violently raping a woman who later went on to kill herself; victim-blaming and slut-shaming an alleged rape victim; misleading parliament; weaponising an anonymous (and false) allegation to deflect blame and settle a score; harassing a woman to the brink of suicide; hiding in the bushes to take photos of a woman; taking a photo of a woman while she is bent over at work. None of these allegations cut it, apparently – even the last three, which have all been alleged against the same man. Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull today joined calls for Morrison to kick Laming out of the party, but the Liberal leadership, including Minister for Women Marise Payne, has continued to dig in, resisting pressure to do so. If he does ultimately resign in disgrace, it won’t be because of them. It’s no wonder only 22 per cent of Australians believe politicians act in the public interest, according to the annual Next25 Navigator Public Interest Index, published this morning.
A single politician finally faced some accountability over the treatment of women today, but still not one is willing to take any for the botched vaccine rollout, which is almost comically behind schedule. Queensland and New South Wales, both now facing COVID-19 outbreaks, hit back at the federal government today, after Agriculture Minister David Littleproud went on morning television to attack states’ rollouts, and news.com.au published an article about Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly telling states to stop hoarding doses. The former “gold standard” NSW Coalition government appeared visibly furious with its federal counterpart today, with Health Minister Brad Hazzard saying claims “emanating from the federal government” were misleading and offensive. “I’m extremely angry, and I know there are other health ministers in the country who share similar views, state and territory health ministers,” he said, adding that the state had received 45,000 doses in the latest shipment, despite being told it would receive 13,700 (Queensland too has blasted the “irregular supply” of vaccines).
It shouldn’t be surprising that the only piece of accountability we’ve seen on the sexism crisis so far has come from a state government. We never see any from the federal government these days, and it’s clear that’s not about to change.
“Angry coverage that often strayed into unapologetic activism came forth from a new, female media leadership: Laura Tingle and Louise Milligan on the ABC, Katharine Murphy and Amy Remeikis at The Guardian, Lisa Wilkinson on Channel Ten, Karen Middleton in The Saturday Paper and a cameo by Jessica Irvine on the Nine Network.”
Senior correspondent Aaron Patrick has been widely pilloried for a hit piece on Samantha Maiden, in which she and other award-winning journalists are portrayed as activists on a “crusade”.
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“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. It is likely that regular Australian soldiers (not SOTG) were responsible for the death of a civilian in one incident. In total, I documented 10 cases previously unreported in the media.”
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Disgraced NSW Nationals MP Michael Johnsen has resigned, marking the first time any politician has stepped down during the entire sorry saga that has engulfed Australian politics over the past seven weeks. His resignation – over allegations he sexually assaulted a sex worker in the Blue Mountains (allegations he denies) and lewd texts he sent her, some during Question Time, including one offering her $1000 for sex in Parliament House – came after his party leader, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, called for his resignation, thereby setting an example for the federal government on what to do when an MP you rely on for numbers has behaved unconscionably. “We...
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