A woman is led away by police during a London vigil for murder victim Sarah Everard (Image: EPA/Joshua Bratt)

Mathias Cormann, Mark McGowan, Andrew Cuomo, women’s protests from London to Perth: there was plenty of news over the weekend which could be seen to challenge the conventional wisdom.

As thousands of women around Australia march today to show politicians they want justice, we are being told that this is a turning point. But we’ve had plenty of these before, from the Anita Hill hearings in the ’90s to the Me Too movement in 2017.

The tone deafness of the government on this issue is now showing up in Newspoll, which is more likely to be a turning point — to deflect attention to the May budget perhaps.

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With no ministers brave enough to front today’s march in Canberra we are promised there will be some government members sent into the fray. But I wouldn’t commend their bravery given their appalling cowardice, as shown in WhatsApp leaks revealed by Peter Hartcher over the weekend.

The disturbing scenes in the UK over the weekend are also worth noting. A young woman, Sarah Everard, was snatched off the street and murdered. A serving police officer has been charged with the crime.

In a visceral reaction akin to the one we witnessed in Melbourne in 2012 after Jill Meagher was murdered while walking home, women gathered to hold a vigil in South Clapham to “reclaim these streets”.

With London still in lockdown, the gathering was deemed “unlawful” and the heavy-handed police presence and confronting images of women being forcibly arrested led some to point out the obvious irony. Here was a quiet protest against women being dragged off the streets… where the police were dragging women off the streets.

The city’s top cop is rightfully under attack for the debacle. Dame Cressida Dick is the first woman to be commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. And just to add to the incongruousness of the situation, one of the women who turned up to show support was none other than Kate Middleton.

Even without a mask on, it was a strong message in a week that saw her and the rest of the royal family criticised for their lack of empathy.

On the other side of the Atlantic, New York’s three-term Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is fighting for his political life amid growing sexual harassment allegations.

It was only in 2019 that Cuomo was hailed by women’s groups for his progressive views on sexual harassment. He signed into law one the toughest pieces of legislation in the country. And the fact that less than a year ago Cuomo had huge popularity for his impressive briefings during the COVID crisis has shown just how quickly even a left-wing pandemic hero can fall.

Which brings us to Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, whose own deft handling of the pandemic helped him to a landslide state election victory over the weekend, virtually wiping the Liberal Party off the electoral map.

Some of the commentary sounding the death knell of the Liberals should be put in the context of the 2013 Queensland election, where Labor was reduced to a mere seven seats but three years later roared back to win government.

And so to Mathias Cormann. Many pundits claimed he had little chance of snaring the director generalship of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) because of his political history in Australian governments fighting against climate change (which is now a key part of the international group’s agenda).

Let’s face it, most people hardly knew the OECD before this and would barely have heard of the incumbent Angel Gurria from Mexico, who has been in the job for a mere 15 years.

For those of us who have covered it for decades, it is worth remembering that the E in the organisation has always stood for “economic” and the C does not stand for “climate”. The latter might rightly be its new priority, but so too is negotiating a global accord on taxing multinational tech giants — an area in which Australia has led the world.

Cormann’s appointment, like so much in the past few days, is a reminder that the current conventional wisdom often turns out to be not so conventional after all.

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Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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