GRACE UNDER FIRE
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s wife Jenny says she was “disappointed” by advocate for survivors of sexual assault Grace Tame’s refusal to smile for the cameras at The Lodge on Australia Day, continuing that she believes in “manners and respect”, news.com.au reports. That’s despite Tame both shaking Morrison’s hand and saying g’day, the NZ Herald adds. Amid the smilegate furore, Tame tweeted that she did not believe in being civil for civility’s sake — and several pundits pointed out the numerous examples of men not smiling for photographs that did not stir up the same storm.
Jenny’s comments were one of several eyebrow-raising moments on 60 Minutes‘ “Meet the Morrisons” feature last night. Incredibly, the PM thought it was a good opportunity to show off his ukulele skills. Social media lit up considering the instrument is usually associated with Hawaii — where Morrison holidayed while Australia burned. Jenny also told Karl Stefanovic that the PM comes across as “serious, uncaring or lacking empathy” but is actually a problem-solver, as The New Daily adds.
Parliament resumes today for the second-to-last sitting week before the expected election in May and it promises to be a wild week. The Australian’s ($) Newspoll shows Labor’s lead over the Coalition remains strong in the minds of voters — the largest margin between the parties since Morrison became PM — but The Greens saw its sharpest decline in nearly a decade. Why? The Oz says it could be because minor parties are on the uptick, like Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, marking a possible shift in libertarian protest votes. Another survey from ANU found only a third of Australians have confidence in the Morrison government, Guardian Australia reports, the lowest its been since the bushfires.
For the first time ever, the seat of Bega has been won by Labor. The seat — which was vacated by MP Andrew Constance — saw more than a 13% swing at the weekend in Michael Holland’s favour, as ABC reports. It plunges the NSW Coalition further into a minority government — NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said it was a “tough day” and “disappointing”. Not that Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs was going quietly — she refused to concede last night, saying there were more votes to count (the postal votes and pre-polls). So what does ABC’s political oracle Antony Green think? He says Labor has won, unless a heck of a lot of people voted differently than other years.
Labor also took Strathfield in what was a big weekend of byelections in NSW, while the Nationals won Monaro (former deputy premier John Barilaro’s seat) and the Liberals won Willoughby — despite an 18 point swing in the north shore seat, the AFR reports. One source told the paper that an independent campaign would’ve rolled the Libs — the AFR says Super Saturday’s results show the growing threat from independent candidates in blue-ribbon seats.
Also at the weekend, Perrottet visited Cobargo in Bega’s electorate — you might remember it was flattened in Black Summer’s bushfires — and vowed to do more to help residents still crying out for support years later, as the SMH reports. Speaking of bushfires, at least three homes were destroyed at the weekend following a lightning belt striking Western Australia’s Great Southern, WA Today reports. Authorities were battling 68 fire incidents that cropped up over just two hours on Friday, the fire and emergency services commissioner says. The winds were so strong that roofs were torn off homes near the foreground.
WATCHING THE WATCHDOG
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk did not want her watchdog boss removed from office but “had to act” over a 2019 allegation regarding a corporate credit card, the ABC reports. The premier reportedly referred Queensland’s former Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov to the Economics and Governance Committee — but it came after Stepanov flagged possible interference from the regulatory body Public Service Commission (PSC), as The Courier-Mail ($) reports. Palaszczuk says she didn’t know about Stepanov’s interference allegations before the referral — which is reportedly linked to a separate issue of Stepanov allegedly getting a staffer to impersonate her in relation to a research project about the country’s integrity system, as The Brisbane Times explains.
So what’s the interference Stepanov alleged? It’s all over this laptop that was supposedly seized by the Crime and Corruption Commission two years ago (they say it wasn’t). The integrity commission falls under the purview of the PSC, and Stepanov thinks the two should be separated for the sake of independence. The CCC actually agrees with her, and it was also recommended by a review from former bureaucrat Kevin Yearbury. Yesterday Queensland Opposition Leader David Crisafulli accused the premier of “a deliberate hit job to take out an independent officer asking probing questions about Labor lobbyists”, as 7News reports.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
How does one move unruly protesters on, Trevor Mallard wondered? At first, Mallard — who is New Zealand’s speaker of the house — put the sprinklers on outside Parliament. No dice. Then rain and wind hit Wellington from Cyclone Dovi, and Mallard was like, no problem, they’ll go. They stayed. So Mallard has been playing terrible songs through the speakers — at full volume.
So far, he’s played several songs from Barry Manilow, the “Macarena” by Los Del Rio, “My Heart Will Go On” (but played on the recorder), “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen, and (and this will see a collective shiver around the country from parents) many, many spins of Baby Shark. Musician James Blunt even weighed in in an apparent reference to his cringe-hit “You’re Beautiful”, tweeting “Give me a shout if this doesn’t work @NZPolice”. Mallard was like, oh, perfect, and added the song to his rotation. Mallard is also playing pro-vaccination messages between songs, and asking social media for their suggestions. Someone suggested Trololo, a really catchy tune from Soviet and Russian baritone singer Eduard Khil. It’ll be stuck in their heads for weeks.
Wishing you a musical day ahead folks, and sending you love this Valentine’s Day.
I felt very much like the woman before Solomon.
Morrison told the congregation at St Maroun’s Maronite Church in Adelaide that he was disappointed by the failure of his religious discrimination bill. He referenced a Bible story where two mothers went before Solomon, each claiming a baby as theirs. Solomon proposed cutting the baby in half, and — as the story goes — one woman revealed herself to be the true mother by saying the other could keep it.
“Michael McCormack has spent a decade apologising for a vile editorial he wrote when he was a newspaper man in 1993 … headlined ‘Sordid homosexuality — it’s becoming more entrenched’ … He has apologised several times since …
“Before he was an economist who pretends to be coal miner, Matt Canavan was a uni student who pretended to understand what Marxism is. According to a profile in The Australian Financial Review he was a self-proclaimed communist and Marxist at university.”
“Peter Dutton went as far as to imply China was backing Albanese. In doing that, Dutton was demonstrating exactly the kind of prime minister he’d be — uncompromising and aggressive, ready to take the fight to Labor.
“Dutton isn’t the safe choice to replace Morrison. That would be Frydenberg, that assiduous self-promoter and media worker. Frydenberg would be the ‘save the furniture’ leadership candidate, designed to ensure an election loss was kept to manageable margins and be competitive in 2025.”
“One day, when the book is written on the corruption of Australian politics, there will need to be a section devoted to the four months which preceded the May 2019 election.
“It was during this period that, among other things, the Morrison government gave $4.6 million in grants to the Pentecostal-linked Esther Foundation, with funds drawn, magically, from grants schemes run by the government … It is only now that serious allegations are emerging relating to how young women were treated inside the Esther facility”
READ ALL ABOUT IT
We cannot escape fallout from a Russian attack on Ukraine: Dutton (The Australian) ($)
Armed men kidnap five UN staff in southern Yemen (Al Jazeera)
Inside McConnell’s campaign to take back the Senate and thwart Trump (The New York Times)
Saudi Arabia transfers Aramco shares worth $80b to wealth fund (The Wall Street Journal) ($)
Don’t believe the denials, Labor would govern with Greens — Josh Frydenberg (The Australian) ($): “The next election will see a clear choice between a Liberal-National Coalition and a Labor-Greens coalition. Albanese may call such a prospect ‘complete nonsense’, but past practice and present policies are a better guide. Last time Albanese was in government he joined with Labor in a coalition with the Greens …
“No wonder, then, Adam Bandt has already started calling his own ministers ‘shadow ministers’ and discounted Albanese’s denials of working in partnership with the Greens as ‘things politicians say in an election campaign’. Bandt knows all too well Albanese’s protests are not worth the paper they are written on. It’s time the Australian people knew the truth: if ever Labor were again in government it would be the Greens who were really in power.”
Playing to Coalition’s strengths is the narrow path to victory — Alexander Downer (The AFR): “If opinion polling is to be our guide, the outcome of the next federal election, likely to take place in May, is a foregone conclusion. The Labor Party has a substantial lead and Scott Morrison and his team have been swamped by internal squabbling and leaking over the last couple of weeks.
“I’ve had experience of both government and opposition but many current Coalition MPs have not endured the drudgery of opposition. It is a sad and sorry place to be. You are without power and have very little influence, particularly for the first two years after an election loss. Instead of the fascination of policymaking, opposition frontbenchers are reduced to finding quiet days to put out a press releases attacking the government of the day. As for opposition backbenchers, there is no less relevant position for a parliamentarian.”
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE
WHAT’S ON TODAY
Former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull will be panellists in an online event exploring whether Australia’s media has weakened democracy, hosted by former ABC journalist Kerry O’Brien.
Eora Nation Country (also known as Sydney)
The NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages will host 30 micro-weddings at the Sydney Opera House, in the Yallamundi Rooms, to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Ngunnawal Country (also known as Canberra)
Author Stephen Robinson will explore the logic and myths of Colonel John Boyd who was credited with America’s victory in the 1991 Gulf War. You can catch this one online too.