Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

DID SCOTTY KNOW?

Note: this story discusses sexual assault.

According to news.com.auScott Morrison’s claim that no one in his office knew about Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape has been undermined by newly-released text messages revealing one of his staffers was “mortified” by the story and pledged to bring the allegations to the prime minister’s chief of staff.

The April 3, 2019 text came 11 days after the alleged incident and, reportedly, were due to a friend’s connection with the Prime Minister’s Office after Higgins confided she had received “jack-shit” support from the Liberal party.

The news comes after The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Defence Minister Linda Reynolds delivered an apology to Parliament alleging she did not pass on details of the allegations to Morrison out of concern for Higgins’ welfare and privacy.

Today, Guardian Australia also reports the security incident report from the Department of Parliamentary Services was initially withheld from the Australian Federal Police, despite multiple requests and only ultimately handed over after inquiries were escalated.

Separately, journalist Peter van Onselen yesterday alleged that Morrison’s office was backgrounding reporters in an effort to smear Higgins’ partner as holding a grudge against the government, with Finance Minister Simon Birmingham later claiming the prime minster would have “no tolerance” for the behaviour.

PS: In state fallout, The Age reports that the Victorian Parliament will adopt new punishments for politicians found guilty of unacceptable behaviour, and one proposal could see MPs fined or sacked for serious cases of bullying or harassment.

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732.

UPLIFTING NEWS

The global pandemic has potentially forced the Australian government to lift the welfare payment rate for the first time in 26 years, with The Australian ($) reporting that cabinet’s expenditure review committee is expected to meet this afternoon to finalise a package that would permanently lift JobSeeker after the diluted coronavirus supplement ends entirely on March 31.

A “favoured” option would be to combine all existing income support, supplementary and subsidy programs into one payment, while The Age reported earlier this week the government was also kicking around a modified proposal by the Blueprint Institute to create a two-tiered “unemployment insurance” scheme that could offer newly-unemployed people five times as much as the long-term unemployed.

While it is unclear what the final rate might be, there’s not quite as much political pressure to lift it above poverty lines as there could be — currently JobSeeker sits at $565 a fortnight; poverty is defined as $1100 per the Henderson rate or $816 by ANU — with Labor supporting a lift but refusing to name a figure out of an apparent fear of putting a target on its back AKA being an opposition party.

NET LOSS

Finally, Facebook has begun restoring some health and safety Australian pages, such as the Bureau of Meteorology, accidentally included in yesterday’s purge of Australian media — which, good; there are flood warnings in north Queensland, and it’s fire season on this particular continent — however the ABC reports the company’s head of policy in the Asia-Pacific, Simon Milner, has blamed the wording of the Morrison government’s proposed law, not a failure of their algorithm, for the pre-legislative action.

Rightly or wrongly, Milner is correct that the legislation captures sources other than media outlets or journalists; as Crikey’s Bernard Keane explains, the bargaining code defines news as “issues or events that are relevant in engaging Australians in public debate and in informing democratic decision-making; or current issues or events of public significance for Australians at a local, regional or national level”.

Today, and perhaps unsurprisingly given the new laws were designed to benefit them, both News Corp ($) and Nine mastheads have published damning editorials of Facebook, while the latter notes Scott Morrison has brought the issue to the attention of Indian counterpart Narendra Modi — who is busy crushing a farmers’ revolution and arresting 20-something-activists — in a bid to shore up global support.

Still, as authors of Digital News Report: Australia 2020 explained at The Conversation yesterday, the actual victims of the purge are likely to be regional, elderly news consumers.

THEY REALLY SAID THAT?

The media bargaining code is working. Deals are being done. Payment for public interest journalism is coming. Just three weeks ago, these laws were going to “break the internet”.

Andrew Bragg

The Liberal senator put out this supremely confident tweet on Wednesday February 17, before presumably going about his day, grabbing some sleep, taking a nice, long sip of water, and turning to his Facebook account.

CRIKEY RECAP

Australia gets Zucked, leaving news outlets scrambling

“Well shit, turns out they weren’t bluffing. This morning, Australians woke up to a newsfeed without news. Facebook has made good on its threats to block all news content in Australia overnight, hours after the government’s proposed media bargaining code, which forces tech companies to pay outlets, passed the lower house.

“It’s been a chaotic morning in the media world. Editors and news directors have been locked in frantic morning meetings. Soothing statements quickly pumped out. Facebook’s ban has been both blunt and arbitrary, dragging pages nobody would consider news into its fight with the Australian government.”


In both the ADF and in her office Linda Reynolds fails to address abuse allegations

Note: this story discusses sexual assault.

“Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has addressed the Australian Defence Force’s pervasive culture of abuse and sexual violence the same way she addressed an allegation of rape in her office: with inaction.

“When former staffer Brittany Higgins was found half-dressed and unconscious on a couch in Reynold’s office she was treated like a nuisance for the alleged abuse she suffered. Her complaint went largely unaddressed, the office was steam cleaned and Higgins was made to feel her job was on the line.”


A shock jock departs, a tower falls and a state freezes as America falters bit by bit

“There’s something piquant in there being so much news, or pseudo-news, on a day that Facebook officially banned us from sharing it.

“Others will weigh in on that, and parliament workplace culture, and the not-unrelated burying of the Family Court in a sleazy deal, but my eye was caught by stuff from the US: the big Texas freeze out, the death of political shock-jock Rush Limbaugh and the demolition of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Australians fear climate change more than catching COVID, survey shows

Canadian researchers urge delay for second dose of Pfizer vaccine

‘It has to stop’: former High Court judge calls out sexual harassment

Hong Kong residents seeking help to stay in Australia over fears of persecution under new national security law

Jennifer Brady surprised to reach Australian Open final after going through hard coronavirus quarantine

Metro Trains fails to deliver on promise after scoring $6.3b contract

Big business receives a net-zero emissions rocket from Angus Taylor ($)

Labor’s Jodie McKay rejects NSW leadership speculation after writing letter for paedophile

As Texas freezes, photos ‘show Ted Cruz flying to Mexico resort’

Bolivia returns IMF loan after Central Bank says it violated sovereignty and increased debt

As the WHO investigated coronavirus origins in China, Beijing pushed a conspiracy about the US

THE COMMENTARIAT

As a former Facebook chief, here’s my verdict: It’s a shameless demonstration of corporate mightStephen Scheeler (The Sydney Morning Herald): “Lying at the heart of Facebook’s abrupt ban on all Australian news is a global strategic gamble that will have a huge bearing not just on Mark Zuckerberg’s behemoth, but on the dynamic between Big Tech and democracy. As a former chief executive of Facebook in Australia and New Zealand, I suspect its bet is this: that by taking an aggressive hard line with a middle power, such as Australia, a tough message will be sent to the rest of the world to back off on regulation.”

What is news, and who decides?Esther Anatolitis (Meanjin): “We’ve learned years ago how Facebook manipulated their algorithms to exploit certain feelings without our consent. We’ve seen the refusal to ban dangerous disinformation, and even the active auto-generation of such content, that demonstrably leads to public health disaster or violence. Horrifically, we’ve even seen murder live streamed because of Facebook’s lack of internal controls. So what should community organisations do? What are the options, when your organisation has become so accustomed to Facebook’s many free functions?”

Scott Morrison dealt poorly with a young woman’s shocking storyMichelle Grattan (The Conversation):Scott Morrison has been wounded by the public revelation this week of an alleged rape in Parliament House. But the fear must be that along the way Brittany Higgins, the young woman whose story shocked the country, has become a victim twice over — not just of the incident itself but also of the fallout these past days. Politicians praise her courage in coming forward, but some use her trauma in their own cause.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

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Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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