LIGHT ON DETAILS
Note: This story discusses sexual assault.
Former finance minister Mathias Cormann has told 7.30 that, as Senate leader in October 2020, he was briefed by Senate President Scott Ryan of a “incident” captured by CCTV footage taken on the night Brittany Higgins was allegedly raped in March 2019, but says he only knew it involved a security breach, not an alleged crime.
As news.com.au recounts, CCTV tracked Higgins’ and her alleged assailant’s movements on the night in question, and was the subject of negotiations between the AFP and parliamentary officers, who did not want it released without agreement.
7.30’s Leigh Sales noted that Ryan asked the inspector general of intelligence and security to examine the CCTV footage in June 2020; as Crikey explained in our list of unanswered questions over the government’s response, the senate president says he was told of “an incident” the week after it allegedly happened, then full details on Friday, February 12, ahead of news.com.au’s report the following Monday.
In related news, Guardian Australia reports that Scott Morrison yesterday clarified that Christian Porter will delegate functions relating to the federal court and the ABC when he returns to work as attorney-general, while speakers at the March4Justice protests, Dr Kate Ahmad and Dr Anita Hutchison, have launched the Enough Is Enough campaign to “bombard” MPs with emails crafted on whether or not they support an independent inquiry into the rape allegations denied by Porter.
The ABC also reports that outgoing-Liberal MP Nicole Flint has broken into tears while describing harassment and stalking endured during politics, and accused Labor of creating an environment “in which hate could flourish” in the 2019 election campaign against her.
PS: In separate Cormann news, the Herald Sun ($) reports that the Morrison government has refused to disclose how much taxpayer funding was spent through DFAT on helping the former finance minister — and now private citizen — chosen as the OECD’s next secretary-general, although the figure likely runs into the hundreds of thousands and possibly millions.
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AUSTRALIA TO STEP UP PNG SUPPORT
Following requests from Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk amid a spike of COVID-19 cases in Papua New Guinea, Scott Morrison will today announce a new relief package that includes enough vaccines for the country’s health workforce, and logistical support for remote communities.
Australia had previously dedicated $500 million for the Indo-Pacific’s rollout, $144 million of which was assigned to PNG. However, The Australian ($) reports that today’s unpriced package will include vaccines from Australia’s domestically-produced AstraZeneca supply — to rollout from Melbourne’s CSL plant next week — as well as an accelerated distribution for neighbours such as the Solomon Islands over the next few months, amid fears PNG’s cases will spread.
The news comes after chief medical officer Paul Kelly announced there is no reason to pause the AstraZeneca rollout, with the ABC reporting that more European countries have paused their rollouts despite the European Medicines Agency noting that the “rate of clots in vaccinated people was not higher than that seen in the general population”. The EU is also in the midst of a “third wave”.
Earlier yesterday, Palaszczuk also announced there was no sign of community transmission linked to an infected Brisbane doctor, with more than half of the doctor’s close contacts testing negative, while lockdowns have been extended to the region’s hospitals, prisons, aged care, and disability centres.
PS: In other state news, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Berejiklian government has spent about $10 million of $220 million in rental relief promised almost a year ago, with Labor and tenants advocates pushing for unused funds to help renters and landlords as JobKeeper and the increased JobSeeker payment winds up this month.
PUSH FOR ACTION ON DEATHS IN CUSTODY
Finally, The New Daily reports that Labor senator and former royal commissioner Pat Dodson has called on Peter Dutton to convene a meeting of state and territory police ministers to immediately act on Indigenous deaths in custody, following news of three deaths in the past week. Dodson has, separately, slammed the Morrison government for voting down Labor’s push to set up an inquiry into truth-telling and treaty-making.
The push comes as the Morrison government faces backlash for accelerating visa cancellations for anyone sentenced to 12 months or more of prison and, specifically, deporting a 15-year-old boy to New Zealand, although Guardian Australia reports that Dutton yesterday declared he was “proud of this government for the way in which we have kicked these people out of our country”.
PS: In news that could only exacerbate Indigenous incarceration, the ABC reports that NT Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro is set to propose mandatory presumption against bail when parliament resumes next week.
THEY REALLY SAID THAT?
Kate Thwaites: The power, the anger, the feeling that people’s voices are not being heard; that’s what the prime minister is not acknowledging, and I entirely–
Ben Small: The same prime minister that opened his door and invited…
Kate Thwaites: Are you going to talk over me on this? Are you really going to talk over me on this issue?
Ben Small: …The same prime minister that invited those representatives into his office. The highest office…
Kate Thwaites: Ben, we’re talking about respect for women in this workplace, are you going to talk over me?
Ben Small: …The highest office in the land…
Kate Thwaites: I’ll let you keep going then.
Ben Small: …I think we can have a respectful conversation.
Kate Thwaites and Ben Small
Speaking on ABC News, the female Labor MP and male Liberal senator engage in a very respectful, irony-free discussion of parliament’s gender issues.
“Put yourself within the sights of the Murdoch perpetual war machine and prepare to be shot at.
“Fortunately its aim is not very good.
“My turn came yesterday in the form of a classic hit job by the loyal soldier Chris Mitchell in The Australian titled ‘Reporters should give thought to how they are used by activist lawyers’.
“I’m an activist lawyer, whatever that means.”
“‘This is a vibrant liberal democracy. 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 bar is so very low.
“It’s not the first time Morrison has urged us to accept low standards in lieu of actually addressing issues. Over the past few years ‘be thankful’ and ‘be grateful’ have been trotted out on a number of occasions.”
“When Porter’s team filed its claim in the Federal Court yesterday, it was following a recent trend among high-profile defamation cases designed, in part, to negate the prospect of a jury trial. It’s a trend Porter slammed as ‘forum-shopping’ which needed to be stopped.
“That hypocrisy shouldn’t surprise: Porter’s lawyers have run this to ensure every possible strategic advantage.
“The ABC took great pains not to mention Porter in its article on February 26, but that may not matter. His lawyers have pieced together website traffic, Twitter posts, Milligan’s last Four Corners episode, and interventions from Malcolm Turnbull to show Porter was identifiable.”
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Christian Porter’s defamation case is no sure-fire way to find the truth — Michael Bachelard (The Age): “But the fact is that Australia’s defamation law is a very poor way to establish the truth. This is a law, both in its arcane conception and in its application by judges, that strongly favours rich plaintiffs and deters honest reporting of current events. It puts damaged reputations well above the public’s right to know. To be clear: I am not attempting in this article to assess the truth or falsity of the allegations published by the ABC, but to argue that a defamation case is not a suitable vehicle to make that assessment.”
Morrison still enjoys strong ratings in separate polls, indicating Labor’s gains may be short-lived — Adrian Beaumont (The Conversation): “I am sceptical that the rape allegations can be a lasting driver of gains for Labor in the polls. The infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump spoke in vulgar terms about women, emerged about a month before the 2016 US election, yet it didn’t prevent Trump from defeating Hillary Clinton to win the presidency.”
Celebrating warrior women — Tony Birch (IndigenousX): “Warrior Woman Lane is located in Carlton. It was named to commemorate the life of Lisa Bellear, a Minjungbul, Goempil, Noonuccal and South Sea Islander, writer, poet and activist. Throughout her life, before she passed in 2006, Lisa’s prodigious output as a creator and intellectual was equally matched by her advocacy on the behalf of others. She was a published poet, photographer, journalist and academic. She was also a media producer, a city councillor and a key member of several advisory committees, including the Victorian Stolen Generations Taskforce.”
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE
WHAT’S ON TODAY
Crikey Talks event “The Dirty Country: Corruption in Australia” will feature reporter Amber Schultz, political editor Bernard Keane, economist Professor Richard Holden from the UNSW Business School, and Executive Director for the Centre for Public Integrity Han Aulby. The event will be open to all subscribers and held online tonight from 6pm AEDT.
Australian Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley will present “What next for science and research in Australia?” at the National Press Club.
Official historian for the Australian Council of Trade Unions Liam Byrne will present “Becoming John Curtin and James Scullin: their early political careers” for the Parliamentary Library Lecture series.