With the government on the ropes, Anthony Albanese has a fighting chance


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National UniversitySome promising polling for Labor in recent weeks has inevitably raised that perennial question for a party whose national triumphs since Federation 120 years ago have been rare: can it win the next election? And in the manner of modern elections, the question soon becomes a more personal one: can it win under its present leader, Anthony Albanese?

My punditry in such matters is likely to be no better or worse than anyone else’s. Apart from polling, the limitations of which have become all too well known, there’s little for most of us to go on.

One place we might look is the quality of an opposition leader’s performance. They really have two jobs, which is one of the reasons no one much likes being opposition leader.

First, they need to keep government accountable, scrutinising its behaviour using parliament, committees such as Senate Estimates, and the media to draw attention to government failings or worse.

Their other job is to make themselves look like an alternative government. They do so by preparing policies, crafting an attractive image, and attending to problems such as weaknesses in the party organisation.

Taking these two roles into account, how well has Labor been doing this under Albanese?




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In the aftermath of the 2019 election, as is usually the case after an election defeat, it’s hard for an opposition to get a hearing. The government will usually have an agenda that it pursues aggressively in the flush of an election victory. Few wish to listen to the leader of a party only recently repudiated at the polls.

The months that followed the 2019 election had some of these features. The government pursued massive tax cuts, which Labor supported. But given Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s lack of an agenda – his policy at the 2019 election was to win the 2019 election – there was little for Albanese and Labor to get their teeth into.

That soon changed. Summer is usually a quiet time for both government and opposition. It was on this basis, that Morrison, “Jen and the girls” headed for Hawaii. But the Black Summer bushfires provided Albanese and the Labor opposition with their first chance to lay a glove on Morrison.

While Morrison’s performance was so poor that Albanese needed to do little to look good by comparison, the crisis did damage the government sufficiently to raise Labor’s hopes that the shine gained from “Morrison’s miracle” was wearing off.

Morrison’s absence for a Hawaiian holiday during the Black Summer of 2019-20 provoked community outrage, and an opportunity for Albanese.
AAP/Instagram/Scott Marsh

Then came sports rorts. This scandal provided Labor with opportunities to build an argument that this was a mean and tricky government that put winning elections ahead of integrity or fairness. It claimed a ministerial scalp.

Sports rorts was soon overwhelmed by the pandemic. This was very bad news for Labor. Parliamentary sittings were reduced. Worried citizens attended to their private affairs. National cabinet provided a sense of Labor state governments being drawn into the tent with Morrison, while the federal Labor opposition was rendered irrelevant. Morrison even courted the unions with some success.

Governments almost invariably benefit from major crises because they are seen as doers. There are strong pressures to place an increasing range of issues “beyond politics”, a boon for those intent on looting the treasury and bad for public accountability.

The government’s massive spending stimulus made Labor seem particularly irrelevant. There can be no doubt that if a Labor government had tried anything similar, it would have been subjected to the mother of all campaigns by right-wing media.

So, if Albanese and much of his front bench seemed invisible during this period, this is not a matter for which they can be much criticised. And to be fair, several Labor shadow ministers used this period productively to explore what a post-pandemic order might look like.

We complain about our politicians spending too little time reading and thinking. We should notice when they do. This was Labor performing the second of those functions of opposition: crafting an alternative government.

With the pandemic largely under control, Albanese has a better chance to present himself as an alternative prime minister.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

The gods have been kinder to Labor during 2021. The government has been mired in crisis, scandal and sleaze. Labor, meanwhile, has benefited from its slow and steady achievement of greater gender equity during decades in which the Coalition’s performance in this area has deteriorated.




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Labor has admittedly had to do little to keep the government accountable in these matters – Morrison’s ineptness and an enterprising group of mainly female journalists have done its job for it – but the party has benefited enormously from having capable women in leadership positions. Albanese has been able to avoid looking like another well-meaning mansplainer when the issues of sexual assault and harassment are in the spotlight.

The blatant failures of the vaccination program have provided new opportunities for the Labor Party to criticise a government that likes to present itself as the saviour of the Australian people in its hour of need – as Psalm 46 would have it, “a very present help in trouble”.

Electors seem less certain. They have returned two state Labor governments in Queensland and Western Australia widely perceived to have kept their populations safe. Other state governments remain popular, even that of Daniel Andrews, despite Victoria’s ordeal of a second wave of infections.

It is not clear how much credit the Morrison government will be able to claim. Dealing competently with the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-9 appeared to win the Rudd government limited credit among voters in the medium term. It was persecuted for a few failures instead.

Albanese’s place in these considerations remains an ambiguous one. Tanya Plibersek seems to have emerged as the most likely alternative and, if Albanese were to falter at the next election, his successor.

The rules adopted by the Labor Party during the second Rudd prime ministership in 2013 make it difficult to remove a leader between elections unless he or she agrees to go. In any case, and leaving aside the party’s split under Billy Hughes in 1916 and the interim leadership of Frank Forde in 1945, Labor has still only once removed a leader without giving him the opportunity to fight an election: Simon Crean in 2003.

Tanya Plibersek is the most logical alternative Labor leader.
AAP/Dean Lewins

As the son of a single mother raised in public housing, Albanese has a backstory that might be attractive to may voters, if they only knew it. He is a consummate political professional in an age of political professionals, admired for his management of parliamentary business during the challenging minority government of Julia Gillard.

Albanese would not have been among the front rank of ministers in the best Labor governments of the modern era — those of Bob Hawke in the 1980s. But that probably isn’t a large mark against him. After all, the general quality of our political leaders has deteriorated since then, too.

At the very least, the turn of the political dial seems to give Labor, and Albanese, a fighting chance.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Morrison sets up his own women’s network but will it produce the policy goods?


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraScott Morrison has brought two “lenses” to his ministerial reshuffle.

The first is the one that drove the shakeup initially: dealing with the problems presented by Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds.

The second, the “lens” on which Morrison is now primarily focused, is all about trying to manage the deep problem he and his government are facing with women’s anger and issues.

Minister for Women Marise Payne called it a “gender equality lens”.

Morrison wants to make his “women’s problems” – to the extent they can be addressed at a policy level – a whole-of-government challenge.

The situations of Porter and Reynolds have been resolved more or less as expected. Porter goes from the nation’s first law officer to minister for industry, science and technology. Reynolds has lost defence to Peter Dutton and moved to government services and the NDIS.

It’s an inevitable comedown for both, softened by remaining in cabinet. Reynolds, struggling in defence even before the Brittany Higgins maelstrom broke, should be relieved at the move, although service delivery is exacting. Porter’s current preoccupation is with clearing his name, the main objective of his defamation action against the ABC.

Morrison likes creating structures. Remember his decision to set up the national cabinet, and then make it permanent. In his reshuffle, he’s used a combination of promotions and new machinery to send his message about the importance he now places on women’s issues, and to boost the government’s policy clout in relation to them.

When it comes to promotions and extra responsibilities, it’s a case of almost every woman (leaving aside Reynolds) getting a prize, with some being significant winners.

Michaelia Cash becomes Australia’s second female attorney-general (after Labor’s Nicola Roxon). She also assumes the other part of Porter’s old empire – industrial relations.

Karen Andrews, who’s been outspoken during the government’s present crisis, moves to the key national security area of home affairs.

Melissa Price stays in defence industry but returns to cabinet, taking the number of women there back to seven.

Anne Ruston is elevated into the leadership group, and has minister for women’s safety (which she already deals with) added to the title of her families and social services portfolio.

The full proposed Morrison ministry can be found here.

Further down the totem pole, Jane Hume and Amanda Stoker have additional, women-related, responsibilities buttoned onto existing jobs. Hume takes on women’s economic security, while Stoker becomes assistant minister for women, and assistant minister for industrial relations.

In his structural change, Morrison has erected an edifice that simultaneously boosts and dilutes the role of Payne, who has been widely criticises for under-performing in recent weeks.

He and Payne will co-chair a new “cabinet taskforce” that will include all the women in the ministry.

It is to “to drive my government’s agenda and response to these key issues involving women’s equality, women’s safety, women’s economic security, women’s health and well-being”.

Also on this group will be Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham.

Payne would be “effectively amongst her female colleagues, the ‘prime Minister for Women’, holding the prime, ministerial responsibilities in this area as the Minister for Women,” Morrison enthused, a description even he quickly thought he should amend to “the primary Minister for Women […] just to ensure that no one gets too carried away with puns”.

“It is her job to bring together this great talent and experience across not just the female members of my cabinet team and the outer ministry and executive, but to draw also in the important contributions, especially in areas such as health and services and aged care and other key important roles that go so much to women’s well-being in this country,” Morrison said.

The taskforce will both work up ideas and apply the “equality lens” to other policies coming up through government.

Whether this super-coordinating role will end up augmenting the power of Payne as minister for women, or watering it down, will only become clear over time.

What’s clear now is that the government needs louder, more active female ministerial voices speaking out on issues and promoting the government’s case.

While there was a good argument for moving Payne from the women’s portfolio, including her heavy load as foreign minister, Morrison chose to leave her there.

This is typical Morrison – not wanting to give ground to critics, and also staying loyal.

But surely he has told her she will have to step out more in the media – unless all the other women are supposed to fill the gap she’s left in the public discourse. By giving women’s issues formal stakes in so many portfolios, Morrison has also provided these ministers with licences to speak.

The real test of the effectiveness of this reshuffle on the women’s front will be policy outcomes – immediately, in next month’s budget, and then post budget and in the policies the government takes to the election.

The reshuffle, however, doesn’t relieve the immediate pressures on Morrison, who will continue to be hammered over condoning disgraced Queensland Liberal Andrew Laming remaining in the parliamentary party while welcoming his intention not to seek preselection again.

With a knife edge majority, Morrison doesn’t want to lose a parliamentary number to the crossbench, so he’ll defend the indefensible. For his part Laming, on health leave and supposed to be concentrating on the counselling he’s undertaking to gain “empathy”, was on radio on Monday defending his actions.

He insisted the photo he’d taken showing a woman’s underwear was
“completely dignified” – a working woman “kneeling in an awkward position, and filling a fridge with an impossible amount of stock, which clearly wasn’t going to fit in the fridge”.

As his fellow Coalition MPs will tell you, Laming’s a very strange cat.

Meanwhile the allegations keep coming.

Victorian Nationals MP Anne Webster has complained about the behaviour of a Coalition colleague towards her in the chamber just last week. The incident wasn’t serious (compared with everything else going on), and the man apologised.

Interviewed on the ABC, Webster said, “When I told my husband, he asked the question, ‘Where has he been? Under a rock?’”

Indeed. Probably with more than a few of his colleagues.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Memo Liberal women: if you really want to confront misogyny in your party, you need to fix the policies


Michelle Arrow, Macquarie UniversityOne group of women was strikingly absent from the March4Justice rallies last week: Coalition MPs. Admittedly, there are not many of them (only 23% of Liberal lower house MPs, and 12% of National lower house MPs, are female), but the refusal of the minister for women to attend the demonstration was a remarkable abrogation of responsibility.

One female Liberal MP, Tasmanian Bridget Archer, attended the demonstration, assuming – wrongly – it would receive bipartisan support. Like many who marched, she was motivated to attend by what she described as “a deep-seated rage”.

Women across Australia have expressed similar feelings: March4Justice events held across the country attested to a resurgent feminist anger. This rage has been sparked by overwhelming evidence of a misogynist culture that ignores and downplays sexual assault and enables perpetrators to escape justice.

Very few of the LNP’s female ministers spoke out against their party’s culture of toxic masculinity in the wake of the news about Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape. Like most players in this awful story, most seemed focused on establishing their lack of knowledge of the incident after it allegedly took place.

How extraordinary, then, were the events of Monday evening. Reports broke that male Liberal staffers had exchanged videos featuring themselves engaging in sex acts in Parliament House. In particular, the revelation that one male staffer had filmed himself masturbating on a female MP’s desk seems to have finally prompted some reticent female MPs to comment. Liberal MP Katie Allen declared on Twitter:

Nationals MP Michelle Landry told reporters she was “absolutely horrified” by the story, but added: “The young fellow concerned was a really good worker and he loved the place. I feel bad for him about this.”

That these reports of lewd behaviour in Parliament House are now drawing the comment of otherwise silent female Liberal and Nationals MPs is telling. If these MPs were serious about confronting a misogynist culture in their party, they would have to deal with the impact of the Coalition’s policies on women.

A Liberal male staffer masturbating on a female MP’s desk is merely a symptom of something very wrong in the party’s attitudes to women, not the sum total of it.

Let’s start with JobSeeker. Women form the majority of 2 million JobSeeker recipients affected by the federal government’s decision to replace the $75-a-week Coronavirus Supplement with a $25-a-week permanent increase in JobSeeker. The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) warned that rolling back the supplement would have a “devastating” impact on women. The government did it anyway.




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The government consistently failed to recognise the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women. During the COVID lockdowns, women lost their jobs at a faster rate than men and were offered fewer supports. They also shouldered far more of the unpaid care work associated with childcare and home schooling.

Yet government ministers failed to consult the Office for Women on the big policy responses to the pandemic, including JobKeeper and JobSeeker. Free childcare was the first policy to be wound back in the pandemic “snapback” last year.

Childcare was the first support to be rolled back during the COVID pandemic.
Dean Lewins/AAP

The mismanagement and neglect in aged care is a feminist issue. Two out of three residents in aged care are women. Almost 90% of the aged care workforce is female.

The recent Royal Commission into Aged Care called for much stricter regulation and improvements to workforce conditions. Yet, given the government has consistently rejected calls for greater regulation of the sector, the future looks bleak for those who live and work in residential aged care.

Women also bore the brunt of the massive fee hikes to university courses that formed the centrepiece of the government’s Job-Ready Graduates Package in 2020. The steepest fee increases (up to 113% in some cases) were for humanities and social sciences courses: in 2018, women comprised two-thirds of enrolments in these subjects.




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On domestic and family violence, the government has reduced supports for survivors, who are overwhelmingly women. The telephone counselling service 1800 RESPECT, previously managed by Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, was outsourced to a private health insurer in 2017. There was a corresponding decline in the quality of service offered to those in need.

The government’s recent merger of the Family and Federal Courts reduces the resources available to women and their children for settling complex family law matters. The government was even considering allowing domestic violence survivors to access their superannuation early – effectively funding their own meagre safety nets – to escape violent relationships, an idea it has since abandoned.

Of course, the ALP is not immune from making policies that harm women. On the day Julia Gillard delivered her famous misogyny speech in parliament in 2012, the Labor government also legislated to move thousands of women from a parenting payment to the lower Newstart payment.

But the far wider breadth and depth of successive LNP governments’ attacks on women through policy are, frankly, breathtaking.

Feminism, LNP-style: Julie Bishop’s red shoes.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

LNP women’s attitude to feminism might be best summed up by Julie Bishop’s sparkly red shoes. She wore them on the day she resigned as foreign minister, her leadership aspirations defeated by men in her own party, whom she only now identifies as the “big swinging dicks”. The shoes today sit on display in Old Parliament House.

Bishop’s brand of glamorous, individualistic one-woman celebration took her all the way to cabinet. Until, that is, it couldn’t take her any further. A “feminism” premised on a single white woman’s empowerment, rather than a movement that works to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all women, is not up to the demands of the present moment.

All the quotas in the world won’t change the culture of the government if none of the women who are elected are prepared to stand up for women’s rights.


Correction: this article originally said “only 23% of the government’s MPs are female”. It has been changed to “only 23% of Liberal lower house MPs, and 12% of National lower house MPs, are female”.The Conversation

Michelle Arrow, Professor of History, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Scott Morrison opens door to Liberal quotas, but don’t hold your breath


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraOne potentially solid proposal came out of Scott Morrison’s extraordinary news conference, held on Tuesday morning against the backdrop of the fresh revelations about appalling behaviour in Parliament House.

Morrison said he was open to a conversation about having Liberal Party parliamentary quotas for women, and had been “for some time”, as his colleagues knew.

“I have had some frustrations about trying to get women preselected and running for the Liberal Party to come into this place,” he said.

“I have had those frustrations for many years going back to the times when I was a state director where I actively sought to recruit female candidates, whether it was for state or federal parliament.”

At present women form just over a quarter of the federal parliamentary Liberal Party (including both houses); in Labor, they are a little under half of caucus.

If Morrison is serious about quotas, he should immediately take action to have the Liberal Party, and its state divisions, advance the proposal.

It will also be up to women in the party who support quotas to seize the moment, while the PM is desperately searching for initiatives.

But even if this important debate takes off, it won’t be an easy one within the party, which has stood firmly against quotas, vociferously rejecting Labor’s embrace of them.

One well-placed source says there’s a growing minority in the party for quotas but there would still be a larger proportion against, including opposition from some of the female MPs.

Quotas also go against the democratisation push in the party. And they would take a long time to make a substantial difference to the ratio of men and women.

Tuesday’s news conference put on display the different faces of Morrison.

In part, his performance was a mea culpa and explanation for what critics attacked as his mishandling of the debate over the past weeks, notably when he recounted his wife’s advice, and he contrasted Australia’s peaceful women’s protest with the shooting of demonstrators in Myanmar.

In part and more broadly, he was trying to relate to women, to say he had heard their messages, understood their pain.

“I acknowledge that many have not liked or appreciated some of my own personal responses to this over the course of the last month, and I accept that,” he said.

“People mightn’t like the fact that I discuss these [traumatic events] with my family. They are the closest people in my world to me. That is how I deal with things, I always have.

“No offence was intended by me saying that I discuss these issues with my wife. […] that is in no way an indication that these events had not already dramatically affected me.

“Equally, I accept that many were unhappy with the language that I used on the day of the protests. No offence was intended by that either. I could have chosen different words.”

He acknowledged “many Australians, especially women, believe that I have not heard them” and said “that greatly distresses me.”

He had “been doing a lot of listening over this past month”, which was “not for the first time”. He listed what he’d heard, ranging from women clutching their keys as weapons as they walked, to being talked over in boardrooms, staff rooms and even cabinets. There was much else that was “not OK”.

Morrison was at times highly emotional – as he was also in the joint parties meeting, where the official briefing noted he’d found it difficult to get out his first words in an address canvassing the recent times.

But amid his strong pitch at projecting empathy during his news conference, suddenly attack-dog Morrison broke the leash.

Sky News’ Andrew Clennell had asked, “if you’re the boss at a business and there had been an alleged rape on your watch and this incident we heard about last night on your watch, your job would probably be in a bit of jeopardy, wouldn’t it? Doesn’t it look like you have lost control of your ministerial staff?”

Instead of batting the question away – a tactic he’s adroit at – Morrison let fly.

This exchange followed.

PM: I will let you editorialise as you like, Andrew, but if anyone in this room wants to offer up the standards in their own workplaces by comparison I would invite you to do so.

Clennell: Well, they’re better than these I would suggest, Prime Minister.

PM: Let me take you up on that, let me take you up on that. Right now, you would be aware that in your own organisation that there is a person who has had a complaint made against them for harassment of a woman in a women’s toilet and that matter is being pursued by your own HR department.

This outburst was a bad misjudgment.

It wrongly implied the matter involved Sky News – Morrison had got his facts wrong about its nature. News Corp later put out a statement saying it was an exchange “about a workplace-related issue, it was not of a sexual nature, it did not take place in a toilet and neither person made a complaint”. The matter had now been resolved.


News Corp Australasia

Morrison had distracted from, and undermined, the whole message he was trying to get through – that he understands and is focused on the problems women endure and on finding solutions.

One notable characteristic of Morrison is how his mood can turn on a dime. That reinforces the unsettling feeling one has of never being sure whether, on any particular day, we’re seeing the real deal, or the practised political actor.

UPDATE

Late Tuesday night Morrison issued a statement of apology via Facebook.

His statement said in part: “In the course of today’s media conference when responding to further questions I deeply regret my insensitive response to a question from a News Ltd journalist by making an anonymous reference to an incident at News Ltd that has been rejected by the company. I accept their account. I was wrong to raise it, the emotion of the moment is no excuse.

“I especially wish to apologise to the individual at the centre of the incident and others directly impacted. I had no right to raise this issue and especially without their permission.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Andrew Laming: why empathy training is unlikely to work


Andrew Laming (second from right) with colleagues in the Coalition party room.
Andrew Taylor/AAP

Sue Williamson, UNSWAs federal parliament continues to erupt with allegations of harassment and abuse, one of the responses from our most senior leaders has been empathy training.

These are programs that help people to see the world from other people’s perspectives.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison ordered disgraced Coalition MP Andrew Laming to do a private course on empathy. As Morrison told reporters

I would hope […] that would see a very significant change in his behaviour.

This follows Laming’s apology for harassing two women online and then confessing he didn’t know what the apology was for. Soon after Morrison’s announcement, Nationals leader Michael McCormack said he would get his party to do empathy training as well.

If we can […] actually learn a few tips on how to not only be better ourselves, but how to call out others for it, then I think that’s a good thing.

Many people — including opposition MPs, women’s advocates and psychologists — were immediately and instinctively sceptical. After all, if someone needs to take a course on how to be empathetic, surely something fundamental is missing, which no amount of training can fix?

The problem with empathy training

People are right to be dubious about empathy training — it has all the hallmarks of a human resources fad.

A parallel can be drawn with the introduction of unconscious bias training a few years ago. Neither are likely to be a silver bullet — or even a significant help — when it comes to discrimination and harassment.

Researchers have found requiring employees to undertake mandatory training, such as diversity training or sexual harassment training, can backfire. When people are “force fed”, they rebel and pre-existing beliefs are reinforced.

On top of this, training programs aimed to increase awareness about gender equality and discrimination are often seen by employers as remedial at best. At worst, they are punishment, which can also lead to a backlash from participants. The empathy training being given to Laming firmly sits in this camp — he has been found to have harassed women, so now he must be punished by attending a course.




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Similarly, one-off sexual harassment training has been found to be not only ineffective, but can make matters worse. American researchers found men forced to undertake sexual harassment training become defensive, and resistant to learning. But worse than this, male resistance can result in men blaming the victim, and thinking women are making false claims of sexual harassment.

So, the research findings are clear. One-off, mandatory diversity training and sexual harassment training do not work. While there is little data so far on the success of empathy programs, previous research gives no indication they would work either.

What does work?

It is not all bad news for empathy course conveners, however. Voluntary training is more successful, as volunteers are already primed for learning and concerned about gender equality and eliminating sexual harassment. Research also shows empathy can be taught, but the subject has to be willing to change.

But if mandatory training has limited effectiveness, what will work to eliminate sexual harassment? We certainly don’t need any more indications our federal parliament and our broader society needs to change.

Protesters at the recent March 4 Justice in Melbourne.
Earlier this month, tens of thousands of Australians took to the streets, calling for change at parliament house and beyond.
James Ross/AAP

As Dr Meraiah Foley and I have previously argued, for training to be effective, it needs to do several things.

Firstly, it needs to be complemented by affirmative action measures, such as setting targets to increase the numbers of women in leadership. This is why the renewed debate about quotas in the Liberal Party is so important.

Secondly, the training needs to lead to new structures and new accountability for behaviour. This can be achieved by course participants identifying desirable behaviours that can progress equality at work. For example, small actions such as ensuring women participate equally in meetings sends a signal their opinions are valued.

Participants then log when they enacted those behaviours, and discuss progress with trained facilitators. Participants continue to reflect, and act, and later, share experiences and identify successful strategies.




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Thirdly, for workplace gender equality to progress, the ongoing process of behaviour change needs to be complemented with systemic organisational change. As I have written elsewhere, researchers recommend organisations adopt short and long-term agendas, to achieve small, immediate wins, while deeper transformations occur.

Structural change starts with an examination of human resource processes and policies to uncover gender bias and discrimination. No doubt Kate Jenkins will be undertaking such a task in her review of workplace culture at parliament house.

The bigger change we need

Examining process and policies, however, is not enough. Changing the language, and other symbolic expressions in organisations are also an important part of culture change to embed gender equality. For example, making sure meeting rooms are named after women and portraits of women — as well as men — adorn the walls sends a subtle yet powerful message the space also belongs to women.

Changing the ways of working, the rituals and artefacts of parliament house will help to change the culture.

Structural and systemic change to achieve gender equality is slow. While sending recalcitrant politicians to training courses may seem like an unavoidable first step, it is not where we need to focus attention.The Conversation

Sue Williamson, Senior Lecturer, Human Resource Management, UNSW Canberra, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison’s ratings take a hit in Newspoll as Coalition notionally loses a seat in redistribution


AAP/James Gourley

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s Newspoll, conducted March 24-27 from a sample of 1,517, gave Labor a 52-48 two party lead, unchanged from last fortnight’s Newspoll. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (up one), 38% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 2% One Nation (down one).

While voting intentions moved slightly towards the Coalition, Scott Morrison’s ratings fell to their lowest point since the COVID crisis began. 55% were satisfied with his performance (down seven) and 40% were dissatisfied (up six), for a net approval of +15, down 13 points.

Anthony Albanese’s net approval was up one point to +2, and Morrison led as better PM by 52-32 (56-30 last fortnight). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.

The last Newspoll was taken during the final few days of the WA election campaign. It’s plausible, given Morrison’s ratings slump without any impact on voting intentions, that Labor’s federal WA vote in the last Newspoll was inflated by the state election.

While Morrison’s ratings are his worst since the pandemic began, they are still strong by historical standards. So far, Morrison has only lost people who were likely to switch to disapproving at the first major scandal. Voting intentions imply that many who approved of Morrison were not voting Coalition anyway.

This poll would not have reflected the latest scandals about LNP Bowman MP Andrew Laming, who was revealed on Saturday night to have taken an upskirting picture in 2019. But are sexual misbehaviour scandals getting as much voter opprobrium as they used to?

In last fortnight’s article I cited two recent US examples of alleged sexual misconduct. Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016 despite the release of the Access Hollywood tape a month earlier. And New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, is still in office despite multiple sexual harassment allegations against his female employees.

According to Morning Consult polling of New York state, Cuomo’s ratings have stabilised recently after a large drop, and he still has a +10 net approval. That’s because he has a 75% approval rating from Democratic voters.

In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of 2016 US national polls, Hillary Clinton gained only about a point in the week after the October 7 Access Hollywood tape was released, to have a six-point lead, up from five. Trump won that election in the Electoral College despite losing the national popular vote by 2.1%.

Draft federal redistributions for Victoria and WA

As a result of population growth trends, Victoria will gain an additional House of Representatives seat before the next election, while WA loses one. On March 19, the Electoral Commission published draft boundaries for both states.

In WA, the Liberal seat of Stirling was axed, while in Victoria the seat of Hawke was created in Melbourne’s northwestern growth area. The Poll Bludger estimated Hawke will have a Labor margin of 9.8%.

There are no major knock-on effects that would shift any other seat into another party’s column based on 2019 election results. So the impact is Labor gaining a Victorian seat as the Coalition loses a WA seat. Christian Porter’s margin in Pearce has been reduced slightly from 6.7% to 5.5%.

Ignoring the defection of Craig Kelly from the Liberals, the Coalition will start the next federal election with a notional 76 of the 151 seats, down one from the 2019 results. Labor will notionally have 69 seats, up one.

Early Tasmanian election announced for May 1

On March 26, Tasmanian Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein announced the Tasmanian election would be held on May 1, about ten months before the four-year anniversary of the March 2018 election.

The Liberals expect to capitalise on a COVID boost that could fade if the election were held as expected in early 2022. The last Tasmanian poll, conducted by EMRS in February, gave the Liberals 52%, Labor 27% and the Greens 14%. Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark method of proportional representation with five electorates that each return five members.

WA election final lower house results

At the March 13 Western Australian election, Labor won 53 of the 59 lower house seats, gaining 12 seats from what was already a thumping victory in 2017. The Liberals won just two seats (down 11) and the Nationals four (down one). Labor will have almost 90% of lower house seats.

Primary votes were 59.9% Labor (up 17.7% since 2017), 21.3% Liberals (down 9.9%), 4.0% Nationals (down 1.4%), 6.9% Greens (down 2.0%) and just 1.3% One Nation (down 3.7%).

Labor’s primary vote was higher than the 59.0% the combined Nationals and Liberals won at the 1974 Queensland election. The 1941 Tasmanian election, when Labor won 62.6%, is likely the only prior occasion in Australia of a single party winning a higher vote share than WA Labor.

The Poll Bludger estimates the two party vote as 69.2-30.8 to Labor, a 13.7% swing since 2017. The upper house has yet to be finalised, but Labor will win at least 22 of the 36 seats.

Israeli, UK local, German and Dutch elections

I wrote for The Poll Bludger on March 21 about the March 23 Israeli election and the May 6 UK local elections that also include Scottish and Welsh parliamentary elections. Israel’s right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu failed to win a majority for a right coalition, with that coalition winning 59 of the 120 Knesset seats. UK Labour is struggling in the polls.

I wrote for my personal website on March 19 about two German state elections that the combined left parties nearly won outright. The German federal election is expected on September 26, and the incumbent conservative CDU has slumped from its COVID heights, so the combined left could win the next German election. However, the left performed dismally at the March 17 Dutch election.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison takes big personal hit in Newspoll after missteps on women’s issue


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraScott Morrison’s approval has taken a sizeable hit in a Newspoll showing Labor maintaining its 52-48% two-party lead.

As Morrison prepares to unveil his cabinet reshuffle the poll, published in Monday’s Australian, found his satisfaction rating fell from 62% to 55% in two weeks.

The fortnight was dominated by shocking revelations of lewd behaviour among staffers on the Coalition side, a botched attempted “reset” on gender issues when Morrison lashed out at a news conference, and a scandal around a Liberal backbencher.

In the poll, taken March 24-27, Morrison’s dissatisfaction rating jumped from 34% to 40%.

The “better PM” gap also narrowed – Morrison now leads Anthony Albanese 52% (down 4 points) to 32% (up 2 points). This the narrowest margin since March last year. In February Morrison had a 35-point margin.

The Coalition’s primary vote rose a point to 40% while Labor’s fell a point to 38%.

The Australian reports that it is the first time in more than a year that Morrison’s approval ratings haven’t been in the 60s. His net satisfaction is plus 15.

Albanese’s satisfaction increased one point. He has a net satisfaction of plus 2.

The reshuffle is set to move Christian Porter out of the attorney-general’s portfolio and Linda Reynolds out of defence, but keep both in cabinet.

The government is now confronting a major row over Queensland Liberal MP Andrew Laming who trolled two local women on Facebook and took an inappropriate photo of another woman.

Laming announced at the weekend he would not seek to run at the next election but he remains in the Liberal National Party. He is now on leave but has indicated he aims to be back for the budget session, after he has had counselling on “empathy and appropriate communications”.

Albanese said Laming was not a fit and proper person to be in parliament and should go. He said there were various measures available to the Labor Party to take against him when parliament resumed.

Morrison will be anxious to see a woman preselected for Laming’s seat of Bowman.

As the government’s crisis continues Liberal women are increasingly speaking out, with Victorian federal backbenchers Sarah Henderson and Katie Allen suggesting on the ABC’s Insiders that parliamentarians should be subject to drug and alcohol testing.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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Morrison says Coalition staffer sacked after ‘disgusting’ allegation


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe government has immediately sacked a staffer after Network Ten reported on Monday that a Coalition whistleblower had provided photographs and videos recorded inside Parliament House “of men engaged in blatant sex acts”.

The Coalition staffers filmed themselves and shared the videos, the report said.

Ten aired (distorted) images. It said one showed a man pointing to the desk of a female Liberal MP and then performing a “solo sex act on it”.

“One of the government staffers featured in the videos we have seen says publicly that he works closely with the prime minister’s office and the leader of the house’s office,” the report said. The leader of the house is Christian Porter.

The whistleblower, “Tom,” (not his real name) claimed staffers had procured “rent boys” to come to Parliament House for Coalition MPs.

He also said “a lot” of sex occurred in Parliament House’s meditation room.

Morrison said in a statement on Monday night the reports aired by Ten “are disgusting and sickening”.

“It’s not good enough, and is totally unacceptable,” he said.

“The actions of these individuals show a staggering disrespect for the people who work in parliament, and for the ideals the parliament is supposed to represent.

“My government has identified the staff member at the centre of these allegations and has terminated his employment immediately.” This is the man who committed the sex act on the MP’s desk.

Morrison said: “I urge anybody with further information to come forward”.

He said he’d have “more to say on this and the cultural issues we confront as a parliament in coming days”.

This is the second federal government staffer in under a week who has been sacked for gross sexist behaviour. Last week Andrew Hudgson, media adviser to the Assistant Treasurer, Michael Sukkar, was dismissed immediately after Tasmanian Greens leader Cassy O’Connor told the state parliament he had called her a “meth-head c***” in 2019 when he worked for the then Tasmanian premier Will Hodgman.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, is currently conducting an inquiry into the Parliament House workplace.

Meanwhile a parliamentary security guard on Monday night challenged Morrison’s claim a security breach was committed when Brittany Higgins and the colleague she alleged raped her entered minister Linda Reynolds office in the early hours in March 2019.

Morrison has said the man, who was dismissed within days, had been sacked “because of a security breach. That was the reason for it. As I understand it, it related to the entry into those premises.”

But Nikola Anderson, the security guard who opened the door of the office for the pair, said on the ABC’s 4 Corners, “What was the security breach? Because the night that we were on shift, there was no security breach. Because these two people worked for minister Reynolds, they were allowed access in there, which is why we granted it.”

She was at the security check-in point where they entered the building, before she took them to Reynolds office. Both had active passes although they were not carrying them, so they were given temporary ones (the normal practice in Parliament House when a passholder does not have their pass with them).

Asked why Morrison would have said this was a security breach and that was why the man was sacked, Anderson said, “Because he’s been given false information”. She said she was one of the only people who knew what happened and nobody had asked her anything.

Anderson said after the man left the building hastily by himself she went to check on the woman’s welfare.

She opened the door to the minister’s personal office to find Higgins lying on her back on the couch, completely naked. Higgins had opened her eyes, then rolled over onto her side.

“So therefore my take on it was, she’s conscious, she’s breathing, she doesn’t look like she’s in distress.”

Higgins has said she was drunk and fell asleep on the couch, to awake “mid-rape.”

Anderson said she told her team leader what she had found and asked him whether she should wake Higgins “because it’s a no-no to sleep in parliament house”.

“But given the nature of the situation and the fact that she was completely naked, I think his call on it was just let her sleep it off, leave her there.”

Anderson said she was told to be discreet about the incident. “We were told to keep it under wraps and not to make it common knowledge.”

There is now a police investigation into Higgins’ allegation she was raped, after she recently laid a complaint.

Anderson was contacted by ACT police a week ago.

Asked why she was speaking out publicly, Anderson said it was because “I’m fearful for my job, and I don’t want to be used as DPS’s [Department of Parliamentary Services] scapegoat. And the truth does have to come out. I mean, I’m sick of seeing all of these news reports with inaccurate information because it is wrong.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Scott Morrison becomes tangled in his own spider web


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraOn any commonsense interpretation of language, Scott Morrison’s comments in parliament last Thursday deliberately concealed the full truth.

The harsher view is they were downright misleading.

Moreover, the prime minister then resorted to a tactical ploy that flies in the face of any claim the government is dealing with the Brittany Higgins matter with respect.

The cynicism displayed is appalling. Surely when the political workshopping was going on in the Prime Minister’s Office – assuming it happened – someone asked, “Is this a good idea”?

Or have they all lost any compass for what is appropriate parliamentary behaviour? Or any notion the public deserve some frankness?

Consider the sequence of words and actions concerning the inquiry into who knew what when in the Morrison office about the allegation by Higgins she was raped by a colleague in a ministerial office in 2019.

This inquiry was being undertaken by the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s department, Phil Gaetjens.

Asked last Thursday why the report was taking so long, Morrison told the House: “this work is being done by the secretary of my department. It’s being done at arm’s length from me. […]

“He has not provided me with a further update about when I might expect that report, but I have no doubt the opposition will be able to ask questions of him in Senate estimates next week.”

Fast forward to Monday’s Senate estimates.

Gaetjens revealed the work is no longer “being undertaken”. He had in fact “paused” his inquiry nearly a fortnight ago, and had immediately told the Prime Minister.

Gaetjens said that on March 9 the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Reece Kershaw, had told him “it would be strongly advisable to hold off finalising the records of interviews with staff until the AFP could clarify whether the criminal investigation into Ms Higgins’ sexual assault allegations may traverse any issues covered by the administrative process I was undertaking”.

That same day Gaetjens emailed the Prime Minister’s Office staff “to tell them that I would be not completing the documentation.”

“At that same time, I also told the Prime Minister of that, just in case his staff asked him any questions as to what was going on.”

This was all very cosy.

Morrison did not have the same regard for parliament as Gaetjens had for the PM’s staff. He did not tell the House or the public “what was going on”.

Indeed, he had Gaetjens appear before Senate estimates – which is highly unusual for a secretary of the prime minister’s department – to deliver, in effect, an “up yours” to the senators.

Gaetjens stonewalled about the inquiry – for which there is now no end date – although he did say he had not interviewed Higgins. His explanation – he was respecting her request for privacy – doesn’t wash.

We don’t know how far Gaetjens got with his investigation before he paused it. We do know he had quite a while prior to March 9 to make progress, because the inquiry was announced mid-February.

On any reasonable work speed, it should have been done and dusted by March 9. Why was it taking so long?

Of course Morrison, under fire at question time, denied being misleading.

He then challenged Anthony Albanese to use “other forms of the House” – in other words, try to move a motion.

Albanese did, twice, and was immediately gagged by the government – twice.

By the end of it all, Morrison had trashed his own credibility and left Gaetjens, who is repeatedly depicted by the opposition as being used as Morrison’s political tool – hung out to dry.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.