To abandon vaccination targets is to abandon the mantle of leadership


Peter Gahan, The University of Melbourne and Jesse E. Olsen, The University of MelbourneThe Australian government has abandoned its ambitious targets to have the adult population vaccinated by the end of October. It has, in fact, abandoned having any target.

We all sometimes find ourselves in tough positions and just want to call it a day. But this decision is not what we should expect from the nation’s leaders when so much is at stake. It also goes against decades of research and evidence on the importance of goal-setting.

In January Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the plan was to have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March, and the entire adult population by the end of October. At the start of April, however, the actual number was less than 842,000. (As of April 15 the number was just over 1.4 million doses.)

Then, on April 11, in a video posted to his Facebook page at 11:35pm, Morrison announced there would be no more targets. “We are just getting on with it,” he said.

But without any target, what is the “it” we should be “getting on with”?


Australia's vaccination score card as of April 4 2021.
Australia’s vaccination score card as of April 4 2021. Don’t expect to see any more of these.
Australian Government/Department of Health, CC BY-SA

Imagine if at your next work meeting the boss echoed the prime minister’s words that “one of the things about COVID is it writes its own rules” and said something like:

This quarter, rather than set targets that can get knocked about by every to and fro, we are just getting on with it.

Will these words inspire your team to succeed?

According to leadership research, good management necessarily entails influencing others to achieve goals or objectives. This is a point made even in introductory undergraduate management textbooks.

To abandon goals or targets is, by definition, to abandon the mantle of leadership.




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As Australia’s vaccination bungle becomes clear, Morrison’s political pain is only just beginning


When goals work

Study after study has demonstrated why setting ambitious targets is important for virtually any activity — from turning a couch potato into a marathon runner, to putting an astronaut on the Moon, to building a driverless car.

Of course, just setting an ambitious goal is not enough. Done poorly, they can be discouraging and undermine performance, and even lead people to behave unethically. To work, people and organisations need to have the capabilities and resources to address unexpected twists and turns, as well as strategy to manage risks and overcome any barriers that crop up.

But so long as goals are set with these things in mind, they help achieve results, driving creativity, innovation and performance.

We already see evidence of this in COVID vaccinations overseas.

The US government’s Operation Warp Speed, the private-public partnership to develop and distribute multiple vaccines in record time, started with this goal:

to deliver tens of millions of doses of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine — with demonstrated safety and efficacy, and approved or authorised by the US Food and Drug administration for use in the US population by the end of 2020, and to have as many as 300 million doses deployed by mid-2021.

The goal was both ambitious and specific, defining the “it” that everyone should “get on with”. It formed the basis for planning that has started paying dividends after a year of death and economic destruction.

Goal setting and effective leadership

The federal government’s decision to abandon goals goes against research the Commonwealth itself commissioned just a few years ago.

In 2015, the federal Department of Employment and Workplace Relations funded the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Workplace Leadership to survey more than 3,500 Australian workplaces about how the quality of management and leadership affects productivity and innovation.

The Study of Australian Leadership, which surveyed both private and public sector organisations, found very basic management practices to be among the most important drivers of organisational performance and innovation. These basic practices include setting clear and ambitious targets, communicating them, and regularly monitoring progress.

Scott Morrison communicates via a Facebook video on April 11 that the Australian government has abandoned vaccination uptake targets.
Scott Morrison communicates via a Facebook video on April 11 that the Australian government has abandoned vaccination uptake targets.
Facebook

Leading rapid implementation

Given the evidence, any government with claims to having competent leadership should be setting and communicating a clear and ambitious goal for its vaccination roll-out.

Successful roll-outs in other countries show this should be done in consultation with local and regional governments, health professionals and key players in the public and private sectors (who must also be involved in the design and implementation of strategies and processes).

Given the federal government’s own limited capacities at the local level (public hospitals, for example, are run by the state and territory governments), its engagement with other stakeholders must be meaningful — not just lip service. It must also resist the urge to control everything.

Let there be goals

When faced with complex problems, getting agreement on ambitious goals can be extremely powerful. Nor does it need to take forever, as is often claimed. Australia’s response to the pandemic in 2020 largely shows this.

There will be challenges with meeting targets. Vaccine supplies are limited. There will be hiccups. But abandoning any sense of ambition is not the answer.

Because COVID “writes its own rules”, as Morrison has rightly pointed out, the federal government should pursue multiple alternative paths to achieving its goals. In other words, it should not put all it eggs in one basket, as it did with its plan to rely on local GPs to deliver vaccines, rather than use “vaccination hubs” as other nations have done.




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Australian vaccine rollout needs all hands on deck after the latest AstraZeneca news, mass vaccination hubs included


Abandoning vaccination targets now undermines all that has been sacrificed to be in the relatively good position the nation is now in. The economic and social costs, as well as the potential further loss of life, will mount unless the Morrison government reconsiders its misguided decision.

It must put aside concerns about the political fallout of missing targets. We cannot “get on with it” without leadership that defines the “it” to be gotten on with.The Conversation

Peter Gahan, Professor of Management, Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of Melbourne and Jesse E. Olsen, Senior Lecturer, Dept of Management & Marketing, Faculty of Business & Economics, The University of Melbourne

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

View from The Hill: Christine Holgate presents a compelling story of Morrison’s bullying


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraA wronged woman with a razor-sharp mind and meticulous records is a dangerous creature.

Especially when delivering a counter punch to a prime minister who’d denounced her in the bully pulpit of parliament when he was ill-informed, angry and driven by short-term politics rather than balanced judgement.

Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate, appearing before a Senate inquiry on Tuesday, inflicted a serious blow on Scott Morrison and left Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo badly wounded.

She followed this with a Tuesday night interview on the ABC’s 7.30 in which she gave Morrison another blast, describing his attack on her as an “utter disgrace” and “one of the worst acts of bullying” she’d ever seen. She urged him to call her and apologise.

Holgate’s evidence, and that of Di Bartolomeo who followed her, revealed a chain of events in which she was not accorded any reasonable degree of fairness.

What happened after Holgate’s October 22 revelation (responding to a Labor question) at a Senate estimates hearing that four Post employees received Cartier watches as rewards for a big deal was a combination of over-reaction and weakness.

Morrison that afternoon raged in question time that Holgate had been instructed to stand aside, saying if she didn’t wish to, “she can go”.

Before and after his rant, two men – Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and Di Bartolomeo – lacked the spine to stand up for her or, indeed, to follow a formal process.

Holgate told the Senate inquiry she had lost her job “because I was humiliated by our prime minister for committing no offence and then bullied by my own chairman”, who “unlawfully stood me down at the public direction of the prime minister. This made my leadership at Australia Post untenable and seriously threatened my health.” She said she became suicidal.

She was in a land of political and media hell not unfamiliar to some politicians but foreign to most business leaders.

The senators’ forensic examination of her downfall is coinciding with debates about both workplace behaviour and sexism, and Holgate (who dressed in a suffragette-white jacket) is putting her experiences in those contexts.

“I do not want what happened to me to happen to any individual ever again in any workplace,” she said.

Asked by Labor’s Kim Carr to what extent her treatment was a question of gender and to what extent one of politics, she said:

Senator, it’s a very hard question for me to answer […] but I think it would be fair to say I’ve never seen a media article comment about a male politician’s watch [there was much interest in the extremely expensive watch she wore at Senate estimates], and yet I was depicted as a prostitute for making those comments, humiliated.

I have never seen any male public servant depicted in that way. So do I believe it’s partially a gender issue? You’re absolutely right I do.

But do I believe the real problem here is bullying and harassment and abuse of power? You’re absolutely right I do.

That abuse of power started in the early afternoon of October 22, after the watches revelation and before Morrison’s outburst in question time.

Fletcher spoke twice to Di Bartolomeo. Fletcher told him there would be a review and “he wanted us to look at standing Christine down”.

Di Bartolomeo, by his own account, initially questioned whether standing her aside was necessary, but Fletcher insisted.

“I queried whether that was what he really wanted. He said, ‘Look, I am going to come back to you,’” which he did in the second call.

Holgate resisted standing aside, wanting instead to go on leave briefly. Di Bartolomeo took the matter to a hastily convened late afternoon meeting of the Australia Post Board. The board said she should stand aside, and made threatening noises about the consequences if she did not do so.

While Morrison told parliament Holgate had been “instructed” to stand aside, Di Bartolomeo said he had not taken Fletcher’s words as a “direction”.

Why would that be? Because if Fletcher, as one of the two shareholder ministers in Australia Post, had issued a “direction”, he would have had to go through a set process.

Fletcher, in his two pre-question time conversations with Di Bartolomeo, apparently didn’t mention whatever Morrison had said to him. We can presume the PM already had steam coming out of his ears.

A tough minister would have said to his PM, “Let’s say we will have the watches affair looked into and leave it at that for the moment.”

A Post chairman with gumption would have pushed back hard on the standing aside issue, either warning it would invite trouble or, if necessary, saying he wanted the minister to issue a formal direction.

Di Bartolomeo on Tuesday praised Holgate’s record as CEO and said she was “treated abysmally”, although he insisted “the board and management did the right thing by her”.

Yet, he handled the situation poorly on the first day, and no better in later days. His behaviour may not have been as black as Holgate paints it, but at every point he took the line of least resistance to government pressure.

A board that had backbone would have said, “Let’s all sleep on it, and assess the ‘stand aside’ demand when we’ve got the facts in perspective”.

None of them – minister, chairman, board – did these things.

The part played by one board member, however, did show concern for Holgate.

As she drove back to Sydney, increasingly upset and agitated, she had conversations with Tony Nutt, who advised her on her handling of the situation and on a potential statement.

Speaking about what happened to her, Holgate said in her evidence that Nutt, a former adviser to John Howard and a former Liberal party director, told her, “Christine, you need to understand it was the prime minister”.

While the full context of the reference is not entirely clear, Nutt had summed it up in one line.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: Voters could wreak vengeance if Scott Morrison can’t get rollout back on track


Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraLast week, people were falling over themselves to get vaccination appointments and had to be told, by their doctors and their government, to be patient.

Patience is still needed — indeed, more than ever — but now there’s rising vaccination hesitation and the message from the government is people should remain eager for the jab.

Conservative advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), recommending against the AstraZeneca vaccine for the under 50s (because of the very small danger of blood clots), has alarmed many people.

The danger is the advice has a knock-on effect, spooking people to whom it doesn’t apply.

Apart from younger frontline workers in health and aged care, those with underlying health conditions, and certain others, under 50s are not presently being vaccinated.

But with changing messages, some of the over 70s — the cohort now at the head of the vaccination queue — might start to have second thoughts, despite being told they shouldn’t.

They may or may not be reassured by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday declaring his mother is lining up for her AstraZeneca shot soon. Or Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly sharing the fact he’s urging his 86-year-old father to do so.

Thursday’s unwelcome medical advice was just the latest setback to the rollout and the Morrison government.

There have been the blocks and delays imposed on supplies from Europe and CSL production (of AstraZeneca) has been slower than anticipated.

The logistics haven’t all gone smoothly. Despite protestations to the contrary, the Commonwealth’s distribution has been sub-optimal.

Some doctors have complained of getting inadequate supplies; the arrangements for nursing homes have had glitches.

The whole program is running massively behind the original schedule. The government on Friday was celebrating passing one million doses administered, when we should have been well past four million.

We’re marching at a much slower pace than the United States or the United Kingdom. In the UK, incidentally, the authorities are being less conservative about AstraZeneca — it’s the under 30s who are being offered an alternative.

One can only imagine Morrison’s reaction when he was delivered the ATAGI advice, which of course he had to follow (even though some experts disagree with it). As he said, “You don’t get to choose the medical advice that’s provided by the medical experts”.

One guide to the prime ministerial mood is the fact he stresses it’s only advice to avoid AstraZeneca if you are under 50. The decision is up to you, and your doctor (though you will be signing a rigorous consent form if you ignore it).

But that line just contributes to the muddled messaging many people will feel they’re receiving.

With an already disorderly program thrown into further disarray by the medical advice, the government on Thursday night and Friday went into overdrive.

Another 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine — now the one for the under 50s — were instantly procured (this is on top of the 20 million already purchased). This is good news, if you are patient. They are not due to land until the last quarter of the year.

Health Minister Greg Hunt says Pfizer doses scheduled to arrive in coming days will ramp up, but details are sketchy.

The government is anxious to say the immediate stage of the vaccination schedule should not be much delayed.

The elderly who are being vaccinated now are good to get AstraZeneca.

As for the health and aged care workers? Determinedly looking on the bright side, Morrison noted many are over 50. Pfizer vaccines will have to be arranged for the younger ones, however, which could involve some scrambling.

But the rollout generally has to be recalibrated and delays are expected to hit in coming months when the program gets to the younger section of the general population.

For these people, vaccination is not as critical in health terms as it is for those older. But for the economy, vaccinating them as soon as can be done is vital.

At one level, Australia is being protected by our previous (and continued) success on the health front, which has left us with little or no community transmission. The rollout problems would be a disaster if we had COVID raging.

But we are riding on our luck. There are no guarantees against serious outbreaks.

Even without those, the longer the rollout drags on, the more we have the disruption of small lockdowns, and the slower the re-opening of Australia’s international border, with all the consequences that brings.

Morrison, who recently talked so confidently about everyone who was eligible and willing receiving one vaccine shot by October, now won’t commit to any date.

It would be a nightmare for him if the rollout wasn’t finished by year’s end, and the international border remained substantially shut.

He’d be only months from an election campaign, and Australians would probably be suffering a bad dose of cabin fever.

Politically, state and territory leaders have reaped rewards in elections from being seen to handle COVID well. A few months ago the pundits predicted Morrison would do the same.

But if they come to believe he has comprehensively mishandled the vaccine rollout, the voters could wreak vengeance.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.

Here’s why the Coalition favours optional preferential voting: it would devastate Labor


Benjamin Reilly, University of Western AustraliaCould a change be afoot in the way Australians vote in federal elections?

The Coalition government may be eyeing a shift to optional preferential voting — as used in New South Wales — which allows voters to simply vote “1” or allocate only a partial list of preferences on their ballot, instead of a full ordering of preferences for every candidate.

The proposal was included in a series of potentially revolutionary changes to our electoral system that were quietly released by a parliamentary committee in December, when few people were paying attention.

The joint standing committee on electoral matters claimed a shift to optional preferential voting would help address rising rates of “informal voting” in NSW caused by the differences between the state and federal systems. The reason: a valid vote at the state level with less than a full list of preferences would be invalid if repeated at a federal election.

What the committee did not say is that based on current voting patterns, a shift to optional preferencing could also cement the Coalition in government.

As a follow-up to a newly published study, we have modelled how recent federal elections would have changed if an optional preferential system had been used. We found the results would have been devastating for Labor.




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Labor supported by Greens preferences

The reason the Coalition would benefit from an optional preferential voting system is simple.

In recent decades, Labor’s primary vote has slumped in federal elections, but full preferential voting has kept its two-party preferred vote high.

This is because Labor benefits from consistent preference flows from parties to the left, in particular the Greens. Approximately 80% of Greens preferences at federal elections go to the ALP at present.

A significant proportion of this preference flow is the result of Greens voters being forced to choose between Labor and the Coalition at some point – even in their final preference markings on the ballot – so their votes are valid.

Labor and the Greens oppose changing the current voting system, but the proposal from the joint standing committee reportedly has support from some Senate cross-benchers.




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With One Nation on the march, a change to compulsory voting might backfire on Labor


How Labor would have fared under optional preferences

Data collected by the ABC’s election analyst, Antony Green, at the 2015 NSW election shows the rate of Greens preferences transferring to Labor declines precipitously from 82.7% under full preferential voting to just 37.4% under optional preferential voting.

In our study, we extrapolated how past election outcomes would have been affected if this was repeated nationally. We were conscious of the challenges that come with generalising in this way, and comparing one state’s data to the country as a whole.

We found that in most seats, switching to optional preferential voting would have partisan effects that are sharply skewed to the right.

This is best illustrated by looking at the seats Labor has won in recent elections by overtaking the Coalition after trailing on first preferences. These would be the seats most affected by a shift from full to optional preferential voting.

These “come-from-behind” victories would become much rarer under optional preferential voting. By our calculations, Labor would have won somewhere between five and eight fewer seats at each recent federal election, as the graph below shows.



Author provided

This means Labor would have lost the 2010 election outright and suffered heavier defeats in the 2013, 2016 and 2019 elections if optional preferences had been in use. Labor would also have lost the byelections in 2018 and 2020.

In 2010, the fragile Labor minority government would have likely won independent Andrew Wilkie’s and The Greens’ Adam Bandt’s seats under optional preferential voting, but would have lost four others to the Liberals, including Treasurer Wayne Swan’s seat of Lilley. Labor would not have had enough seats to form government.

Labor won a total of 36 come-from-behind seats in the 2013, 2016 and 2019 elections. Our analysis suggests Labor would have won less than half (17) of these seats under optional preferencing.

Minor parties and independents would also be shut out

Our model also suggests minor parties and independents would struggle to win under optional preferential voting.

As mentioned before, Labor would have won the seats of Melbourne and Dension from Bandt and Wilkie in 2010.

And the Liberals would have triumphed over Cathy McGowan (independent), Clive Palmer (Palmer United Party) and Bob Katter (Katter’s Australian Party) in 2013; Rebekha Sharkie (Nick Xenophon Team/Centre Alliance) in 2016 and 2019; Kerryn Phelps (independent) in 2018 and Helen Haines (independent) in 2019.

Our modelling suggests Independent MP Cathy McGowan would have lost the 2019 election for the seat of Indi under optional preferential voting.
Lukas Coch/AAP

With fewer independents and minor parties, the House of Representatives would be a less diverse and colourful place, and the crossbench less politically influential.

Given this, it is striking that both Centre Alliance and One Nation will reportedly back the government in the Senate if it decides to push for a change to optional preferential voting.




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Explainer: how does preferential voting work in the House of Representatives?


Whether the government pursues reform before the next election probably comes down to the Senate numbers, given Labor and the Greens will bitterly oppose any change.

It will also depend on internal Coalition management considerations, with the National Party traditionally opposed to optional preferences, and the government’s more precarious numbers in the House since Craig Kelly’s move to the crossbench.

The government response to the joint standing committee’s report is currently being prepared by the assistant minister for electoral matters, Ben Morton, a former party secretary.

While tightly guarded, we can say with confidence that the reason advanced by the committee for the change – that it will reduce informal voting – is unlikely to feature highly in his calculations. Instead, raw political calculations must make this a highly tempting reform for the government.


Jack Stewart, a Bachelor of Philosophy (Hons) student at the University of Western Australia, compiled the data for this study.The Conversation

Benjamin Reilly, Professor, University of Western Australia

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

As Australia’s vaccination bungle becomes clear, Morrison’s political pain is only just beginning


Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mark Kenny, Australian National UniversityAmong many surprising things about 2020 was how a novel coronavirus drove an equally novel upending of Australia’s political orthodoxy.

The hackneyed election straightener, “it’s the economy, stupid”, got shoved aside for a refreshing new imperative, “it’s the community, stupid”. Australians unhesitatingly turned to government, embraced expertise, and willingly abided by society-wide deprivations in the interests of the whole.




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Australian vaccine rollout needs all hands on deck after the latest AstraZeneca news, mass vaccination hubs included


Reluctantly at first, centre-right politicians fell into line. Those who had built their careers on the virtues of small-government and gruff fiscal discipline, flipped to become big spending hyper-Keynesians.

Necessarily, political combat took a back seat to problem-solving. In an atmosphere of policy-not-politics, voters backed incumbent governments, marking them favourably for doing their jobs. Every election since the crisis began has returned the incumbents: in the Northern Territory, ACT, Queensland, and Western Australia. In the latter case, Labor’s Mark McGowan — arguably the country’s most aggressively parochial premier — was endorsed so strongly in March that the Liberal opposition officially ceased to exist.

Federally, Prime Minister Scott Morrison reaped the dividends of Australia’s tandem run of good management and good luck. While our closest allies, the United States and United Kingdom, descended into death and division, Australia closed its international borders early. It then compartmentalised further with the states episodically insulating their own populations and their own hospital systems.

Of course, there were mistakes. But the aggregate impact of these measures, high public trust, and the deliberately consensual mechanism of Morrison’s national cabinet has served the country well.

2021 brings new pressures

But 2021 has been a whole new ball game, and one for which a prime minister not accustomed to pressure, has proved far less equipped.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and health authorities at a Canberra press conference.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt have found themselves in crisis-management mode over the vaccine rollout.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The vaccine rollout — which remember, started stubbornly late — is in disarray. A promised four million inoculations by the end of March and completion by the end of October proved wildly unrealistic.

As of Sunday, the government says it hopes all Australians could receive at least one dose of vaccine by the end of the year. But as Morrison posted on Facebook, the government has no plans for any new targets because

it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved.

Through the second half of last year, as it became clear there would be effective vaccines, Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt, and health authorities assured worried Australians the government was up to the global competition. And that Canberra was being sufficiently front-footed about procuring vaccines.

As Morrison boasted in a press statement on August 19,

Australians will be among the first in the world to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, if it proves successful, through an agreement between the Australian Government and UK-based drug company AstraZeneca.

In November, he also said,

Our strategy puts Australia at the head of the queue.

This was always unconvincing. That claimed “agreement” turned out to have been an over-egged letter of intent. Even ordinary observers could see demand from wealthy countries would be strong, and binding contracts would need to be signed quickly if Australia was to secure early adequate supplies.

It is now clear Australia’s risk-averse pandemic management — much of which was driven by premiers — has been followed by an insufficiently risk-aware vaccine contingency, controlled by the Commonwealth. And so we see another bizarre inversion: Australia being trounced by Britain and America, countries that had persistently botched their infection response.

Post-Trump America is now vaccinating three million people a day, and has gone above four million at least once. Covid-ravaged Britain is also roaring ahead. More than half of adults have had their first jab.

Textbook vaccination program?

What is not clear is why Morrison et al insisted the absence of urgency was an advantage because — combined with our judicious “portfolio” approach to multiple acquisitions — our health authorities could plan and execute a textbook public vaccination program.

Trouble is, the states have complained about a lack of genuine cooperation in the rollout, critical supply problems have been obscured, and the much vaunted broad “portfolio” approach has had its narrowness exposed.




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Clearly, the slow and steady approach failed to build in redundancy for the wholly imaginable interruptions to supply from international competition and technical limitations in production and transporting. Then there is straight-out vaccine nationalism, as has been the cause of a blocked shipment from Italy.

Australia’s approach rather relied initially on two locally producible vaccines primarily with Pfizer (and later Novavax) as a back-up — the University of Queensland one which fell over in December, and AstraZeneca which is now “not preferred” for under 50s. While the AstraZeneca clotting risk is hardly a public health disaster — it has been compared to that of long-haul flights — it is certainly a disaster for an already fractious vaccine confidence.

Morrison now faces multiple, serious threats

Coupled with a poorly managed political crisis over the treatment of women, Morrison’s 2021 has been tin-eared. A sharp decline of public trust in government, in expertise, and in institutional competence looms as a clear and present danger for Morrison’s popularity.

Brittany Higgins walks through the crowd at the women's march in Canberra.
The prime minister has taken a hit to his approval ratings over his recent handling of gender issues.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Business-as-usual politics is already making a comeback with Labor’s Mark Butler toughening up of criticism of the rollout and calling for more transparency and a greater sense of urgency. Labor has little choice. Voters themselves see other countries are surging ahead while Australia inches along, tempting the fate of another outbreak, and delaying the economic recovery dependent on vaccination.

And that’s the next inversion we’re likely to see. Business and Coalition hardliners were outspoken last year against state border closures, lockdowns, and other restrictions, on economic grounds.

Expect to hear those voices too in coming weeks as the penny drops about a whole extra year lost to the pandemic.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

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

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?




Read more:
From ‘snapback’ to ‘comeback’: policy gridlock as Morrison government puts slogans over substance


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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Grattan on Friday: The worst is not over in the crisis tearing at Scott Morrison’s government


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.

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

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

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.