CLAIM TO DEFAME
Christian Porter will delegate parts of his portfolio when he returns from leave on March 31, with The Age reporting another minister will oversee the courts as the attorney-general wages a defamation battle against the ABC.
Porter, whose lawyers challenged the ABC to “argue the truth” of historical rape allegations which first aired without naming the attorney-general, already has a statement of claim up at the Federal Court’s listing of Porter v ABC.
The Morrison government yesterday gagged debate on a Labor motion calling for an inquiry into the allegations against Porter, as well as an explanation of the government’s handling of Brittany Higgins’ allegations and action on the Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report, which the government is slowly implementing a year after it was handed down.
As The New Daily reports, Higgins yesterday accused the Morrison government of “side-stepping accountability” on sexual assault at Parliament House’s March4Justice event.
Elsewhere, Anthony Albanese separately sought to distinguish “anonymous suggestions” aired in a Facebook group for Labor staffers from the storm surrounding the government, arguing, as Guardian Australia explains, that the party needs specific allegations in order to investigate.
PS: Today, Liberal MP Bridget Archer will meet with the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union on the Morrison government’s plans to keep JobSeeker well below poverty rates, after she called for increased funding for a Launceston-based sexual assault support service.
KENNETT BE TRUE?
Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett is weighing up a push to run as party president of the state Liberal Party, with The Australian ($) reporting that backers believe he will run on a “reform ticket” as the party faces a parliamentary coup.
The news comes ahead of a spill motion against Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien this morning from shadow minister Brad Battin. The Herald Sun ($) notes the challenge is unlikely to succeed, but, if it passes, O’Brien is expected not to contest and Battin would face off against Louise Staley and/or former leader Matthew Guy.
In other state news, the ABC reports that WA Housing and Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley is set to be dumped from the McGowan government’s cabinet following Labor’s landslide on the weekend, with a caucus meeting set for tomorrow and Perth MP John Carey likely to secure a spot in the new cabinet.
PS: The push to install Kennett during a leadership crisis centred on the party’s response to COVID-19 is notable in that it follows criticism of his government during the state’s second wave, specifically its devolution of the state’s health care system and installing a culture of outsourcing from 1992–1999.
A NORMAL OCCASION
In the almost daily announcement leak, both The Australian ($) and The Age report that Josh Frydenberg will today signal a return to “fiscal discipline” and normal economy measures at a Business Council of Australia forum, with the Oz also touting the impacts of $12 billion in accelerated personal income tax cuts as JobKeeper and the increased JobSeeker payments end.
Frydenberg will also argue that continuing JobKeeper would be counterproductive and that its end will make states “think twice” about closing their borders following outbreaks.
PS: For some global context, CNN reports that Italy is back in lockdown as Europe faces a “third wave” due to the UK variant, while nations pause the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout despite assurance by the company that a review of the 17 million people inoculated across the EU and UK shows “no evidence” of a link with blood clots.
A BETTER DIRECTION
Finally, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao and Promising Young Woman’s Emerald Fennell have together made history by being nominated in the best director category in the same year; before now, only five women had been nominated across the award’s 93 years history.
THEY REALLY SAID THAT?
This is a vibrant liberal democracy, Mr Speaker; not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country. This is a triumph of democracy when we see these things take place.
The prime minister refused to attend yesterday’s March4Justice — and subsequently had a requested behind-closed-door meeting rejected — but fair is fair, he did decline to actively murder the marchers.
“If successful, Porter and the government would no doubt see this as a sign that the attorney-general has been vindicated. He’s assembled a star-studded legal team to fight the claim. It includes Bret Walker SC, arguably Australia’s top barrister who successfully argued for Cardinal George Pell’s acquittal in the High Court last year.
“Joining Walker is top Sydney defamation silk Sue Chrysanthou SC, who represented actor Geoffrey Rush in his $2.9 million defamation win against The Daily Telegraph. They’re being assisted by reputational risk expert Rebekah Giles, who worked for former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins over a now-settled defamation complaint against Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.”
“The Morrison government has turned its back on women, men and even their own voters by refusing to front the thousands of women and allies marching today demanding change to Canberra’s culture of sexual harassment and violence.
“The excuses for not meeting organisers at the march are absurd. It wouldn’t take very long to stroll down the steps at Parliament, wave at the crowds and wander back in. I should know: I did the walk this morning.”
Even Morrison’s idiot-proof stunts are now falling apart (with a little help from Michael McCormack)
“Normally Scott Morrison’s announcements are idiot-proof: the media is carefully managed, journalists fall into line, and the evening news bulletins provide the right images. It’s only months later that people start to realise the announcement was literally all there was. The arts funding never gets provided. Bushfire funding never makes it to people in burnt-out homes. Boldly asserted vaccine priority turns out to mean nothing.
“But last week’s Qantas and Virgin handout, masquerading as a tourism package to offset the dumping of JobKeeper, fell apart almost in real time. And it turns out that no matter how idiot-proof you make something, it won’t be enough for an idiot like Michael McCormack.”
READ ALL ABOUT IT
My hope for the March4Justice and beyond is that we consider the plight of Black women in Australia — Latoya Aroha Rule (Guardian Australia): “It’s easy to see the impetus for Black women and Black people more generally to be on the frontline, calling for justice. Many of us have devoted our lives to our families’ justice campaigns. But can we continue to name it ‘the frontline’ if officers are standing on it too? And, simultaneously, standing on us? Am I really expected to join arms alongside a woman who in a few weeks could be in a uniform, and asked to provide evidence in my sibling’s coronial inquest?”
Risky legal bid was Christian Porter’s only option ($) — Sharri Markson (The Australian): “It was the only path Christian Porter could take for any chance of political salvation after being crucified by the ABC over an unsigned, unsworn historic rape allegation that his accuser had withdrawn from police before taking her own life. The issue was then pursued with vigour by Porter’s political enemies and the woman’s so-called friends. Figures from her debating days, whom she had not seen in three decades until shortly before she died, thrust her allegations into the public domain without her permission.”
The strategy behind Christian Porter’s defamation gamble — Michaela Whitbourn (The Sydney Morning Herald): “The sticking point for the ABC is that it must engage with and defend the meanings pleaded by Porter’s lawyers, not what they believe the article said and intended to say. It is common for judges to leave their decision about whether the defamatory meanings alleged by a plaintiff are in fact conveyed until the end of the trial, although some meanings may be struck out earlier.”
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE
WHAT’S ON TODAY
Health policy consultant Bill Bowtell will discuss his recent essay Unmasked: The Politics of Pandemics in an online Readings event with microbiologist Brendan Crabb and former New Zealand prime minister and current leader of the investigation into WHO’s COVID-19 response, Helen Clark.