View from The Hill: Christian Porter finds a target, and so does Brittany Higgins


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Christian Porter on Monday gave notice that he’s determined to stage a fightback, however damaged his ministerial career might appear at the moment.

The Attorney-General launched a defamation action against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan over the article that initially reported an allegation of historical rape by a cabinet minister had gone to the police.

Porter on Monday also put a date on his return to work – March 31. That means he doesn’t have to face parliament until the budget session, but indicates he has no intention of quitting the frontbench, which seemed one option for him after this crisis broke.

Porter strongly denies the rape accusation but previously asked, rhetorically: how could he disprove something that didn’t happen? Now he’s turning the line on its head – he’s challenging the ABC to run a defence of truth, proving it did happen.

Whatever the outcome, this is shaping as a case for the history books, with a star cast – the nation’s first law officer, Australia’s public broadcaster, lawyers from the cream of the profession.

The defamation action may ease pressure on Scott Morrison over the calls for an independent inquiry to determine whether Porter is a fit and proper person for his position. The case, under civil law, will be its own sort of inquiry.




Read more:
Why defamation suits in Australia are so ubiquitous — and difficult to defend for media organisations


Porter, a Crown prosecutor in a former life, is making a calculated tactical decision that attack is the best form of defence.

For the ABC, there’ll be wider implications – and more at stake – than just the case itself. The broadcaster is a punching bag for its critics in the Coalition and the right wing commentators, who attack it as politically biased. Milligan was at the centre of reporting allegations against Cardinal George Pell, whose convictions were quashed by the High Court.

The word from Morrison’s office has been he’s wanted Porter to stay, rather than step down to clear away a political problem.

Morrison will hope, with the legal action afoot, the political heat around Porter will cool somewhat.

We’ll soon see whether this is heroically optimistic. But what’s absolutely clear is that the two separate and very different rape allegations dominating federal politics have unleashed a push by women to be heard that had been waiting to erupt.

The March4Justice protests show the organised anger of women is a potent force – what’s yet to be tested is its longer term strength. And Morrison’s reaction indicates he’s ill-equipped to deal with a political challenge that has become a social bushfire.

Monday’s marches were nationwide but in Canberra the day belonged to Brittany Higgins, the young former Liberal staffer whose claim she was raped by a colleague in Linda Reynolds’ ministerial office was a catalyst for forcing action to deal with parliament house’s dark side.

Higgins put Morrison directly in her sights in an emotional but controlled speech, accusing him of playing a double game.

“I watched as the Prime Minister of Australia publicly apologised to me through the media, while privately his team actively discredited and undermined my love ones,” she told the thousands of assembled women.

And she took aim more generally, declaring the women were there because “we fundamentally recognise the system is broken, the glass ceiling is still in place, and there are significant failings in the power structures within our institutions. We are here because it is unfathomable that we are still having to fight this same stale, tired fight.”

To an extraordinary extent, and in a testament to the importance of individuals at particular times, Higgins and Porter’s deceased accuser have become the conduits for women’s grievances – grievances extending far beyond the alleged circumstances of those two women.

Morrison cast his response to March4Justice in what might be characterised as narrowly conventional terms. In a statement to parliament, he spoke about what had been, and was being, done to tackle the scourge of violence against women. He also went to the issues in parliament house.

But he has not shown himself able to relate effectively to the emotional intensity that has gripped many women as they seek to raise their voice. It is, one suspects, beyond his ken.




Read more:
‘What are you afraid of ScoMo?’: Australian women are angry — and the Morrison government needs to listen


Morrison’s refusal to meet the women on their own ground brought to mind John Howard’s unwillingness to join the 2000 march for reconciliation across Sydney Harbour Bridge. He misjudged in not sending his Minister for Women, Marise Payne, to mingle with the marchers.

The PM had offered to see a delegation in his office. But the organisers played the power game, and declined.

Anthony Albanese understood better than Morrison. “We had, today, women gather around Australia with a few very clear and unambiguous messages – hear us roar,” he told parliament.

But earlier the Labor leader struggled when peppered by reporters with questions about a private Facebook group (revealed by Sam Maiden on news.com) where Labor present and former staff have listed allegations of sexual misconduct by male staffers and MPs.

Albanese could only stress the party had a process to deal with complaints, and say women should come forward. It was difficult to look into anonymous suggestions, he said.

It’s easy to say the last few weeks mark some sort of political “moment” – measured perhaps by the Coalition’s knock in Newspoll, which saw Labor move ahead on the two-party vote.

It’s much harder to predict where that “moment” will lead in electoral terms. Right now, Morrison can’t know either. But Monday must have told him the government’s perennial “women problem” has suddenly become broader, deeper and more dangerous.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Labor surges to 52-48% Newspoll lead, as women’s voices set to roar across the country


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 still enjoys strong ratings in separate polls, indicating Labor’s gains may be short-lived


Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s federal Newspoll, conducted March 10-13 from a sample of 1,521 people, gave Labor a 52-48% lead on a two-party preferred basis, a two-point gain for Labor since the previous Newspoll three weeks ago.

Primary votes were 39% Coalition (down three), 39% Labor (up two), 10% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady).

In addition, 62% were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (down two) and 34% were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +28. Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped eight points to +1.

Morrison, meanwhile, led as better PM by 56-30%, well down from his 61-26% lead three weeks ago.

On voting intentions, this is Labor’s best showing in the poll since last February, immediately after the bushfire crisis but before the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Australia. It is Morrison’s narrowest better PM margin since April.

Before COVID, we would have expected the party of a prime minister with a +28 net approval to have a large lead on voting intentions. The relationship between voting intentions and Morrison’s net approval has clearly broken down in the past year since the pandemic began.

The Morrison government’s response to two separate rape allegations against a minister in the cabinet and a staffer in another minister’s office has also likely played a role in Labor’s improvement in the poll.




Read more:
‘What are you afraid of ScoMo?’: Australian women are angry — and the Morrison government needs to listen


The Poll Bludger reports that Newspoll aggregated its last two polls to determine if the Coalition’s slump was driven mostly by women respondents.

However, this does not appear to be the case. As compared with the Newspoll aggregate data from October to December, the Coalition’s primary vote is down two points among both men and women, while Labor’s primary vote is up three points with men and up two with women.

The Essential poll out today corroborates Newspoll in still giving Morrison strong ratings — his net approval is +33, down only slightly from +37 in February.

While Newspoll had Albanese gaining much ground on the better prime minister question, Essential has Morrison ahead by 52-26% on this measure, down only slightly from 52-24% in February.

Essential gave the federal government a 70% good to 12% poor rating on handling of COVID, up from 62-14% last fortnight. This was behind the state governments’ handling of the pandemic, with the exception of Victoria, which only garnered a 62% good rating.




Read more:
Could the Morrison government’s response to sexual assault claims cost it the next election?


It appears, then, the slow roll-out of Australia’s vaccination program is not yet hurting the government’s approval ratings.

I am sceptical that the rape allegations can be a lasting driver of gains for Labor in the polls. The infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump spoke in vulgar terms about women, emerged about a month before the 2016 US election, yet it didn’t prevent Trump from defeating Hillary Clinton to win the presidency.

Recently, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York state, has been accused of sexual harassment of his female employees. But a New York Siena poll had 50% of respondents saying Cuomo should not resign immediately, while 35% said he should. Women were more favourable to Cuomo than men on this question, too.

WA election late counting

With 63% of enrolled voters counted in Saturday’s Western Australia election, the ABC is now calling 50 Labor seats, two Liberals and four Nationals, with three still in doubt. In the doubtful seats, Labor currently leads in Nedlands and Warren-Blackwood, but trails in Churchlands.

We would normally expect a decline in Labor’s primary vote as postal votes are added, as these tend to be Labor’s worst vote category. But Labor’s statewide primary vote has instead increased to 59.9% from 59.1% on election night.

Labor’s massive primary vote explains why they will win control of the upper house for the first time. Labor’s upper house vote share (60.1%) is currently slightly better than in the lower house.

On the ABC’s upper house calculators, Labor is winning 22 of its 23 seats on raw quotas, without requiring preferences.

Labor could win five of the six seats in the Eastern Metropolitan region on a massive primary vote of 67.4%, or 4.72 quotas. The most ridiculous result is in the Mining and Pastoral region, where the Daylight Saving party is winning a seat off just 0.2% of the vote (0.01 quotas).

This result shows that group voting tickets should be abolished and replaced by the Senate’s voter-directed preference system. With its big majority in both chambers of the state parliament, the re-elected Labor government should pursue both this reform and an end to the heavy rural malapportionment in the upper house.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.

View from The Hill: Labor surges to 52-48% Newspoll lead, as women’s voices set to roar across the country


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Labor has hit the front in Newspoll, with a 52-48% two-party lead, as the separate crises engulfing ministers Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds take a toll of the Morrison government.

As the parliament’s fortnight sitting begins, with a big national women’s protest set for Monday, Newspoll has Labor and the Coalition equal on primary votes – 39% each – for the first time this electoral cycle.

The government fell 3 points on primaries, while Labor rose 2 points.

Labor has surged ahead on the two-party vote from the 50-50 results of the last two polls, in January and February.

Scott Morrison has taken a knock in his personal ratings. He fell 5 points on the “better PM” measure, to 56%; Anthony Albanese improved 4 points to 30%.

Satisfaction with Morrison’s performance was down 2 points to 62%; his dissatisfaction rating was up 2 to 34%, for a net approval of plus 28%.

Satisfaction with Albanese rose 4 points to 42%; dissatisfaction with him was down 4 points to 41%. His net satisfaction rating is plus 1.

Publicity around the slow early start to the vaccine rollout may have also fed into the poll.

Handling the March4Justice is fraught for the government given the strength of feelings around the rape allegations, which have morphed into the wider issue of women’s voices being heard.

The Newspoll reverse puts extra pressure on Morrison as he and “March4Justice” organisers on Sunday night were in a face off.

Morrison on Sunday said he would not go outside Parliament House to meet the protesters, but march organisers were waiting until Monday to confirm whether they’d accept his invitation to meet a delegation in his office.

It’s expected they will do so after making their point. The delegation would likely include Brittany Higgins, whose allegation she was raped by a colleague in the office of then defence industry minister Reynolds sparked the series of events that have culminated in Monday’s march.

The Newspoll comes as the Western Australian Liberals suffered a massive rout in the state election, being reduced to two or possibly three seats in the 59-seat lower house.

The Nationals are expected to get four seats, entitling them to become the official opposition. Liberal leader Zak Kirkup lost his seat.




Read more:
Labor obliterates Liberals in historic WA election; will win control of upper house for first time


On counting to date, the McGowan government polled nearly 60% primary vote, achieving a two-party swing of nearly 14%. The result is the latest, and most dramatic, evidence of voters rewarding leaders for their successful handling of the pandemic.

Morrison – whose government initially supported Clive Palmer’s challenge to the WA hard border but later backed off for political reasons – said Labor’s victory was “a resounding endorsement of Mark McGowan’s leadership, which I didn’t find surprising”.

The PM pointed to the distinction voters make between federal and state elections, citing 2001 when the WA Coalition government received a drubbing but John Howard won federally.

While it’s true voters distinguish, Howard’s victory came after he made significant policy changes and following the Tampa affair and the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Albanese said many people had voted Labor for the first time. “It shows they’re open to voting Labor and I take great encouragement from it.”

Morrison again indicated the election will be next year.

Though the direct federal implications are limited Saturday’s result leaves the WA Liberals with reduced on-the-ground resources and funding for the federal election, in a state which has been important in holding up the Morrison government’s majority. The Liberals currently have 11 of the 16 federal seats.




Read more:
Labor’s thumping win in Western Australia carries risks for both sides


The federal Liberals in WA are presently mired in problems, with the uncertain futures of Porter and Reynolds who are both from that state.

The Liberals might also lose a seat in the WA redistribution, which threatens Porter’s electorate of Pearce.

The crisis over Porter is worsening for Morrison, who has ruled out an independent inquiry to determine whether he is a fit and proper person to be attorney-general after a deceased woman’s allegation he raped her in 1988, which he strongly denies.

Agitation for an inquiry continues to mount. On Friday a former boyfriend of the woman, business executive James Hooke, said he had had discussions with both the woman and Porter that were relevant. He supported an inquiry and said he was willing to testify if one was set up.

Morrison will face questions this week about Porter, who is on mental health leave. The PM will also have to release the results of an inquiry into who knew what when in his office about Higgins’ allegation.

The March4Justice protest is expected to number more than 100,000 nationally. The organisers anticipate more than 5,000 in Canberra. March4Justice was established “to protest the Australian Parliament’s ongoing abuse and discrimination of women in Australia”, but now has a broad agenda of demands.

Ministers generally are refusing to go outside the building to meet the women. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told the ABC he would be too busy.

The demonstrators will hand over a petition to Labor’s Tanya Plibersek and the Greens’ Larissa Waters at the protest, which starts at noon.

They invited Marise Payne, who is Minister for Women. Payne’s office on Friday said the women should email the petition. By Sunday she was offering a meeting before the march, but the organisers refused.

A spokesperson said on Sunday night Morrison’s offer of a meeting was being considered.

“Given that so many have come to the steps of Parliament to make their voices heard, the question is, why can’t the Prime Minister take the last few steps through the front door and hear them directly?”

Morrison said, “I haven’t had a habit of going out to do any marches when they’ve come to Canberra, because as Prime Minister, when you’re in Canberra, it’s a very busy day.

“But I’m very happy to receive a delegation and I’ll respectfully receive that, as I’m sure they will respectfully engage with me.”

UPDATE – Monday Morning

Organisers of March4Justice have declined to meet the Prime Minister.

Janine Hendry tweeted early Monday:

At the weekend, Scott Morrison had invited the protesters to send a small delegation to meet him after the demonstrations. He refused to go outside parliament house to see them in person, as they requested.

Some Liberal women parliamentarians are set to be present, but the Minister for Women, Marise Payne, has refused.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.

There’s a bill before the Senate that would make it easier for banks to lend irresponsibly


Neale Cousland/Shutterstock

Andrew Schmulow, University of Wollongong; Elise Bant, University of Western Australia; Nicola Howell, Queensland University of Technology, and Therese Wilson, Griffith University

The Hayne royal commission into misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry found Australia’s responsible lending requirements were correctly calibrated.

They are set out in the National Consumer Credit Protection Act, which requires lenders to offer credit that is “not unsuitable” for the borrower.

Hayne’s first recommendation (Recommendation 1.1) was that the National Consumer Credit Protection Act “not be amended to alter the obligation to assess unsuitability”.

He saw “no reason to alter” the relevant provision of the banking code.

On releasing the royal commissioner’s report in 2019 Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he was “taking action on all 76 recommendations” and “going further”.

Until COVID.

COVID the pretext for weakening rules

In September, in the midst of the COVID recession, Frydenberg said he was “reducing the cost and time it takes consumers and businesses to access credit”.

Credit was “the lifeblood of the Australian economy”.

He put forward a plan to remove responsible lending obligations from the Act, with the exception of small amount credit contracts and consumer leases where he would impose heightened obligations.

Allowing lenders to rely on the information provided by borrowers would replace the current practice of “lender beware” with “borrower responsibility”.

‘Borrower responsibility’

Frydenberg introduced the legislation in December. On Friday a Senate committee recommended approving it, finding the current consumer protection framework “potentially overly prescriptive”.

Labor and Greens Senators dissented. The bill faces a Senate vote this week.




Read more:
None of the justifications for weakening bank lending standards quite makes sense


We are members of a consortium of 12 academics who conducted an in-depth analysis of the proposed changes and found they should be rejected. This is why.

Even after Hayne, banks are continuing to fight their obligations and have yet to show they have changed their ways.

The drop in lending since COVID was not caused by overly strict lending laws. Indeed, after a win by Westpac in a court case brought by the Securities and Investments Commission the banks said the laws were set appropriately.

Lending standards protect against crises

Consumer protection in the field of finance is important — it contributes to strengthening financial stability.

Not everyone knows what they are signing.
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

The abusive, predatory and irresponsible lending practices that led to the US subprime mortgage crisis make this clear.

The government’s suggestion that it is fair for borrowers to take responsibility for their own circumstances doesn’t hold water.

No matter how diligent their inquiries, consumers frequently lack the expertise to understand their circumstances and what financial products will be best for them.

For many, almost all of the expertise lies with the banks.

Since COVID, their need for this expertise has become greater, not less.

The government says mortgage brokers will fill this gap under a change proposed by Hayne that will require brokers to act in the “best interests” of their clients.




Read more:
Vital signs. It’s one thing to back down on Hayne’s recommendation about mortgage brokers, it’s another to offer nothing in its place


But Hayne’s recommendations were based on the responsible lending requirements being in place.

And Hayne wanted mortgage brokers banned from taking conflicted remuneration, under which they get paid by the banks they steer customers to, a recommendation Frydenberg at first accepted, then backed away from.

Brokers continue to be paid by the banks whose products they recommend.

APRA has no history of consumer protection

Hayne also recommended (Recommendation 6.1) that Australia’s “twin peaks” system of regulation continue.

Under twin peaks, the Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) regulates in order to ensure financial system stability, and the Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) regulates to protect consumers.

While in his final report Hayne found that ASIC’s appetite for law enforcement had been limited, he found APRA’s had been non-existent.

The upshot is that, not only are the responsible lending requirements to be relaxed, but what’s left of them is to be handed to an agency (APRA) with no track record in the field, at the expense of ASIC.

Until now, APRA hasn’t done consumer regulation.
APRA

The government has argued that the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) will step up to protect consumers.

But AFCA has to be guided by the law. Without responsible lending laws and regulations, it is unclear what laws AFCA could apply. Thus far, APRA’s standards have been aimed at protecting financial stability rather than consumers.

The Financial Complaints Authority would rely on APRA for guidance.
Tashatuvango/Shutterstock

In our assessment the proposed changes fail in every respect.

They ignore the key lesson of the global financial crisis: that it was caused by reckless and predatory lending.




Read more:
It’s about to become easier to lend irresponsibly, to help the recovery


They ignore the findings of the Hayne Commission and other inquiries dating back at least a decade.

They will neither properly protect consumers nor create the confidence in the financial industry the post-COVID recovery will need.

The government has named its legislation the National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment (Supporting Economic Recovery) Bill.

A more apt title might have been the “Reducing Consumer Protection Bill”.The Conversation

Andrew Schmulow, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Wollongong; Elise Bant, Professor of Law, University of Western Australia; Nicola Howell, Senior lecturer, Queensland University of Technology, and Therese Wilson, Senior Lecturer, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

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

‘What are you afraid of ScoMo?’: Australian women are angry — and the Morrison government needs to listen


Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

Thousands of women are gathering in cities across the country, angry about the allegations of rape, sexual abuse and harassment emerging from our parliaments and schools. They’re also furious with a prime minister who’s said he’s too busy to attend a rally in person to hear these concerns and would prefer a private meeting.

In Sydney, thousands of women gathered in crowds outside the town hall, spilling into the surrounding streets. They were dressed in black, waving placards: “What are you afraid of ScoMo?”, one read. “You will be held accountable,” said another. Another: “We shouldn’t need to do this.”

Lawyers were also conspicuous, some bearing the logos of prominent Sydney firms. “Lawyers for equality” their slogans read, and “We fight fair”.

Men of all ages were also there, together with First Nations sisters and members of non-binary, trans and queer communities.

Mounted police were making their presence felt at the edge of the crowd.

The mood was defiant, with the slow burning anger of women who were determined to fight for the long term. “We will not be silenced,” investigative journalist Jess Hill told the crowd. “The time for silence is over.”

“We’re marching for justice,” said another speaker. “We won’t stop marching until we have justice.”

A moment to listen

It shouldn’t be that hard for a prime minister to realise this is a moment to listen.

The powerful words of Grace Tame, Australian of the Year and a child abuse survivor, have been a catalyst for longstanding rage. The rape allegations made by Brittany Higgins demand attention and action. The online petition launched by former Sydney schoolgirl Chanel Contos, which triggered a string of sexual assault allegations against students from elite boys’ schools, underscores the depth of the problem.

NSW police are also investigating allegations women as young as 16 were harassed in MP Craig Kelly’s electorate office by an employee (who denies the allegations and remains in his role at Kelly’s office). Allegations of sexual harassment have also been tabled in the South Australian parliament.

The nation’s first law officer, Attorney-General Christian Porter, faces an allegation he raped a 16-year-old girl more than 30 years ago. He has strongly denied the allegation, but many have continued to call for an open inquiry into the claim.

By refusing to step outside the parliament to answer women’s justified concerns, the prime minister has demonstrated callous indifference. It looks like he is prioritising media management — the risk someone will snap an unflattering photograph as he embarks on his next campaign — above humanity.

Minister for Women Marise Payne drew further attention to the government’s contempt by similarly signalling her intention to remain absent today.

This disregard builds on the prime minister’s already very public refusal to read the words of the woman at the centre of the Christian Porter case. Morrison said he discussed the claims with the accused, “who absolutely rejects these allegations”, and spoke to the Australian Federal Police commissioner and various senior public servants. Having done all that, he told reporters, “there are no matters that require attention”.

In responding this way, the prime minister has generated more of the anger he hoped would disappear.

Last week at his media conference, the attorney-general asked the media to imagine “just for a second” that the allegations are not true. The women gathered at the March 4 Justice are answering that we also have a moral obligation to imagine “just for a second” that they are. What then?

A systemic culture of sexism

In Australia, up to one in five girls will be sexually asaulted. Of women over 15, one in two report being sexually harassed. The aged care royal commission heard there are 50 sexual assaults a week in the aged care system.

I am no longer surprised to hear disclosures of sexual assault and domestic violence from my students or other women. I am only surprised when a woman claims she hasn’t been.

Workplace sexual harassment particularly affects women in their early 20s when they are too young to have gained access to inner circles occupied by slightly older women – the places where discrete warnings against certain male colleagues are issued, but only whispered for fear of defamation suits.

The wrongness of sexual abuse has only recently – and unevenly – been recognised. But there is a terrifying contradiction between the wrongness of rape and sexual assault and harassment, the sheer prevalence with which it occurs, and the inability for women to obtain redress from the courts via the so-called “rule of law” repeatedly invoked by the prime minister.

This moment is a reckoning well beyond the Christian Porter or Brittany Higgins allegations, or the findings made against former High Court Justice Dyson Heydon by a High Court inquiry.

Ending Canberra’s toxic culture is the rallying point, but women are also taking to the streets because these failures are intrinsically connected to a systemic culture of sexism in law, politics and policy-making.

Last week, a Grattan Institute report revealed women took the brunt of job losses generated by the pandemic. It also confirmed that women experienced a disproportionate share of the burden of unpaid work during lockdown, particularly the burden of home schooling. Female casual workers were also disproportionately excluded from government benefits such as JobSeeker. Meanwhile, plans for family law reform due to be tabled this week are likely to have dramatic impacts for survivors of domestic violence and their children.

The government’s apparent inability to adequately listen or respond to the serious concerns of women suggests a deep, underlying cultural reason for its policy failures.

The gains that older women, and women of my own generation thought we had won, seem to be evaporating. Or perhaps the real problem is that at a cultural level, they were never really won at all. And so the fight begins again.


If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, please call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame Australia

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

Could the Morrison government’s response to sexual assault claims cost it the next election?



Jeremy Piper/AAP

Sarah Cameron, University of Sydney

Today, thousands of Australians are expected to march around the country, angry and fed up at the treatment of women. In Canberra they will form a ring of protest around Parliament House.

This comes after Melbourne academic and entrepreneur Janine Hendry wondered how many “extremely disgruntled” women it would take to link arms around parliament to tell the government “we’ve had enough” (the answer is about 4,000).

It follows Brittany Higgins’ allegation of rape in a minister’s office in 2019 and an allegation Attorney-General Christian Porter raped a 16-year-old in 1988 (which he denies). It also comes amid multiple claims of a toxic work culture at Parliament House.

While Higgins’ case has sparked numerous inquiries, she claims she was not supported in the aftermath of her alleged assault. Regarding Porter, the government is resisting calls for an independent inquiry, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison declaring him an “innocent man under our law”.

As Australia heads into another pre-election season, questions have been raised about the potential impact of recent events.

Women are obviously a significant demographic, and data shows they are already drifting away from the Liberal Party.

So, what’s at stake when it comes to women voters and the Liberals at the next election?

Gender and voting behaviour

The Australian Election Study is a nationally representative survey of voter behaviour that has run after all federal elections since 1987.

In 2019, it showed that although the Liberal-National Coalition won the federal election, the Liberal Party attracted the lowest proportion of women’s votes since 1987.



While 45% of men gave their first preference to the Liberal Party, just 35% of women did so. Parties on the political left also had an advantage among women, with 6% more women than men voting for the Greens, and a smaller margin of 3% more women voting for Labor.

Looking at the gender gap over time, we see it has actually reversed over the past 30 years. Back in the 1990s, women were slightly more likely to vote for the Liberal party, and men were more likely to vote Labor.

This has gradually switched, so men now prefer the Liberal Party and women prefer Labor. The gender gap in voting Liberal is now at its greatest point on record.



This reversal of the gender gap in voting behaviour isn’t unique to Australia, it has also been observed in other democracies including in Europe and North America.

Why are we seeing a gender gap?

There are a number of factors underpinning this transformation of gender and voting in Australia.

This includes tremendous social change, such as women’s increased participation in higher education. Higher education is associated with political ideology that is further to the left.

Women’s increased participation in the labour force is also a factor. The election study shows in 1990, 41% of union members were women, by 2019, that figure had increased to 55%.




Read more:
Labor’s election loss was not a surprise if you take historical trends into account


But womens’ voting behaviour can also be attributed to major changes in Australia’s major political parties. Back in the early 1990s, women were similarly underrepresented in both the major parties — just 13% of parliamentarians in 1990 were women.

Since then, Labor has dramatically increased its proportion of women in parliament, reaching 47% through party quotas as of the last election. The Liberal Party on the other hand, has made slower progress, reaching just 23% at the most recent election.

New research published in the journal Electoral Studies shows left-leaning women are more likely to support female candidates.

The Liberal Party’s ‘women problem’

So, even before the current crisis, the Liberal party was losing the electoral support of women.

The Liberal Party’s “women problem” has become a common criticism, not just by political opponents but also prominent Liberal Party figures including former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.



The current crisis has the potential to exacerbate the gender gap in voting behaviour.

That said, election results are often influenced by the most important issues at the time of the election. The salience of different issues — shaped to a large degree by media coverage — can change considerably over time.

Approval ratings of Morrison from the Essential Poll show he lost a lot of support during the bushfires in late 2019 and early 2020, which he was perceived as handling poorly.

Since then, Morrison has benefited from Australia’s relative success in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of a phenomenon known as “rallying ‘round the flag,” voters have supported him and the government during this time of crisis.



The next election

The election can be held anytime from August this year, although political observers currently expect it to be next year.

The electoral impact of current events will depend not only on the government’s response to the sexual assault allegations (and voter satisfaction with those responses), but also which issues are salient at election time. A historical sexual assault allegation against former Labor leader Bill Shorten was not a major factor in the lead up to the last election (he denies the claims and in 2014, police said they would not proceed with charges).




Read more:
Polls say Labor and Coalition in a 50-50 tie, Trump set to be acquitted by US Senate


Interestingly, the Australian Election Study shows trust in government reached its lowest point on record in 2019 with just one in four voters believing that people in government could be trusted. In contrast, three quarters thought those in government were more interested in looking after themselves.

On the issue of sexual assault, recent polling data also suggests the government is similarly perceived as putting itself first. Of those polled, 65% agreed “the government has been more interested in protecting itself than the interests of those who have been assaulted”. This includes half of Coalition voters, and a similar proportion of men and women.

Woman marching for women's safety in 2019.
Polls suggest voters don’t like they way the government has handled the Porter and Higgins cases.
Jeremy Piper/AAP

Elections are decided on many issues and factors, including what is making headlines closer to election day, and the performance of leaders and parties.

But the growing gender gap in voting will be on the radar of both major parties. The Liberal Party ignores it at its peril.The Conversation

Sarah Cameron, Lecturer in Politics, University of Sydney

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

Meet Mark McGowan: the WA leader with a staggering 88% personal approval rating



Richard Wainwright/ AAP

John Phillimore, Curtin University

Last March, Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan donned an AC/DC t-shirt to pay tribute to Bon Scott, the late lead singer of the legendary band.

He joined some 150,000 fans who gathered along Perth’s Canning Highway to hear bands covering “Highway to Hell” and other AC/DC classics.

In the 12 months since, the world has certainly been to hell and back. Politically, however, for McGowan the year may feel more like a stairway to heaven. With the state election due on March 13, polls suggest he will win easily, and even increase Labor’s already record majority. His personal approval rating sits at a staggering 88%.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


But polling is one thing, celebrity status is another. And McGowan’s popularity is bordering on rock star status in some quarters.

In recent weeks, a voter has willingly tattooed a likeness of McGowan’s face on their body, a local comedian has written a song of devotion to him, a wedding party hauled him on stage to speak to 300 cheering guests, and a video of the Premier’s dance moves at the Perth Fringe has gone viral on TikTok.

Who is McGowan, and why is the 53-year-old enjoying such a huge poll lead? And what lies in store on the other side of the election?

From the navy to state politics

Originally from regional New South Wales, McGowan joined the navy as a lawyer. In 1991 he was posted to HMAS Stirling near Rockingham, 50 kilometres south of Perth. In 1995, he won a bravery commendation for rescuing a man from a burning car.

WA Premier Mark McGowan and his wife Sarah casting their votes at a pre-polling booth.
WA Premier Mark McGowan and his wife Sarah cast their votes last week at a pre-polling booth.
Richard Wainwright/ AAP

He has been Rockingham’s local MP since 1996 — the second longest-serving MP in state parliament. He entered Geoff Gallop’s cabinet in 2005 and is seen to have chalked up solid achievements in environment, education and perhaps most notably in loosening regulations to encourage small bars.

With Labor in opposition, he took over as leader in 2012, only to see his party go backwards at the 2013 election. He then resisted a far-fetched leadership challenge from former federal minister Stephen Smith before finally winning a record victory in 2017 against Colin Barnett and the Liberal Party.

The WA factor

Most Australian political leaders saw their popularity grow during COVID-19, with trust in governments rising as Australia performed well, minimising health and economic impacts.

But WA provides particularly fertile ground for a leader. The state has always had a strongly independent streak, distant from “the eastern states”. It also firmly believes its mining and gas resources are the basis for Australia’s economic prosperity and that the proceeds have not — until a recent GST deal — flowed back to the state.

McGowan played this situation adroitly, declaring in early April 2020 that WA would become an “island within an island” by closing its borders. He took a firm line on international cruise ships. His public image was ubiquitous with daily media briefings, and softened by his spontaneous response to a media query about buying a kebab, of all things, which also went viral.

He successfully fended off a High Court challenge to WA’s hard border from businessman Clive Palmer as well as the mining magnate’s claim the state owes him A$30 billion.




Read more:
Clive Palmer just lost his WA border challenge — but the legality of state closures is still uncertain


Meanwhile, McGowan worked with the mining industry to keep production going by transferring interstate fly-in fly-out workers to WA. He was rewarded as iron ore prices skyrocketed and the state’s finances grew. Regional tourism has revived and the state’s economy recovered more quickly than interstate counterparts.

Since mid-2020 daily life in WA has been largely normal again, despite a blip in January when a short lockdown was imposed, due to a hotel quarantine breach.

Of course, it’s not all bouquets. The Western Australian Council of Social Service has called on the McGowan government to do more to address child poverty, improve housing affordability and reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in out-of-home care and juvenile justice. Critics have described his government’s efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its greenhouse gas emissions as “limp”. Plenty outside the state have condemned some of the WA government’s snap decisions on COVID border closures.

Despite all that, McGowan’s government remains enormously popular where it counts: among WA voters.

What’s next?

Assuming he wins — and wins big — on 13 March, what are the challenges and opportunities facing McGowan and his government?

Economically, WA appears in a strong position, and Labor’s election campaign has focused on more job creation. But the state is always subject to international commodity cycles, while tensions in Australia’s relationship with China — the main customer of WA iron ore — add a new element of risk.

Portraits of Zak Kirkup and Mark McGowan.
Liberal leader Zak Kirkup has already conceded he cannot win the election.
Richard Wainwright/ AAP

Socially, dealing with homelessness and rising house prices and rents will be on the agenda, after several years of relative stagnation in the property market.

Politically, despite Liberal warnings of Labor gaining “total control” of parliament, it is highly unlikely McGowan can secure an outright majority in the upper house, given the high levels of rural malapportionment. But there is a chance that Labor and the Greens combined could win an upper house majority for the first time.

This could put pressure around issues such as carbon emission reductions, where WA Labor has generally been happy to let Canberra take the lead. More prosaically, the prospect of a big win means McGowan will have to find ways of managing a large backbench that will inevitably include restive MPs with thwarted cabinet ambitions.




Read more:
The Liberals face electoral wipeout in WA, but have 3 good reasons to keep campaigning


However, the prime concern will be to avoid complacency and overreach, especially if the opposition is weak. WA governments tend to win two terms. A big win for McGowan may make a third term seem inevitable, but upsets like the Liberal National Party’s 2015 loss in Queensland show elections can’t be taken for granted.

But for now, the WA Liberals, under leader Zak Kirkup, appear to be on a road to nowhere. For Mark McGowan, it’s been a long way to the top. He is in no hurry to come down.The Conversation

John Phillimore, Executive Director, John Curtin Institute of Public Policy, Curtin University

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

Morrison takes the shot to promote vaccine confidence, as government and opposition stay tied in Newspoll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia’s COVID vaccination program has begun with Scott Morrison joining a small group of recipients in a carefully orchestrated event, aimed at boosting confidence as the general rollout begins on Monday.

The first recipient was aged care resident Jane Malysiak, 84, from Marayong New South Wales, who was born in Poland and came to Australia soon after the second world war.

Sunday’s line up for the Pfizer shots included, apart from aged care and disability residents, workers in these sectors, and quarantine and border workers. These are the priority recipients for the first round of vaccination.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan also got their shots, with McMillan assuring “it really doesn’t hurt at all”.

Morrison, decked out in an Australian flag mask, sat beside Malysiak, and encouraged her to follow his “V for Vaccine” sign – this went slightly awry when Malysiak’s fingers inadvertently turned in an “up yours” direction.

Morrison averted his eyes from the needle as he received his shot.

The Prime Minister called on the community to follow his and the other recipients’ example to “join us on this Australian path that sees us come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He said he wanted Sunday’s pre-rollout vaccinations to give confidence. “Tens of thousands of people will be coming in tomorrow and I wanted them to know as they went to bed tonight that we have been able to demonstrate our confidence in the health and safety of this vaccination,” he said.

“Today is the beginning of a big game changer.”

Sunday’s figures recorded no community transmission anywhere in the country.

As the rollout starts, Newspoll showed government and opposition remained deadlocked on 50-50 on the two-party vote, but Scott Morrison extended his lead over Anthony Albanese as “better prime minister” to 61-26% (previously 57-29%). The poll is published in Monday’s Australian, and was taken Wednesday to Saturday.

Labor’s primary vote rose one point to 37% since the previous poll three weeks ago; the Coalition was steady on 42%.

Albanese’s net approval is minus 7, following a 3 point fall in his satisfaction level to 38% and a 2 point rise in dissatisfaction to 45%.

Morrison’s net satisfaction is plus 32 – his satisfaction rating increased a point to 64% and his dissatisfaction rating fell a point to 32%.

Although it has not hit his Newspoll numbers, Morrison will continue under pressure in parliament this week over who knew what in his office about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins.

The Weekend Australian reported a second former Liberal staffer who alleges she was raped last year by the man named by Higgins.

Higgins has alleged she was raped in 2019 by a colleague in the Parliament House office of the then defence industry minister. Linda Reynolds, for whom both she and the man then worked.

Asked about the second allegation, Morrison said at the weekend:“I’m very upset about those circumstances”. He said he did not know who the woman was.

Late Sunday night, The Australian reported a third woman – a Coalition volunteer during the 2016 election campaign – has alleged she was sexually assaulted by the same Liberal staffer days before the election.

Higgins will lay a formal complaint to the police on Wednesday, which will start an investigation.

The Prime Minister said the inquiry by his departmental secretary Phil Gaetjens into who in the Prime Minister’s office knew about the Higgins rape allegation was to be finished “as soon as possible”.

Morrison has said he first knew of this allegation on Monday of last week, when the story was published, and his staff only knew the Friday before that, which was when journalist Samantha Maiden asked his office questions.

He made it clear he was angry he wasn’t alerted to Maiden’s inquiries. “I’ve expressed my view to my staff about that very candidly on Monday.”

The Special Minister of State, Simon Birmingham, indicated at the weekend that Higgins would be able to contribute to the terms of reference for the independent inquiry Morrison has announced into the workplaces of parliamentarians and their staff.

Higgins said in her Friday statement she had “advised the Prime Minister’s Office that I expect a voice in framing the scope and terms of reference for a new and significant review into the conditions for all ministerial and parliamentary staff”.

Birmingham said: “All past and present staff, including Brittany Higgins, will be able to participate in the review.

“I also welcome the input of past and present staff on the terms of the independent review and will be engaging accordingly.”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: Craig Kelly’s defection leaves government with razor-thin majority


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Craig Kelly’s jump to the crossbench leaves Scott Morrison’s government looking like the man who suddenly finds his jacket feels a little thin in the wind.

It still has a majority, but not a comfortable one.

The Coalition’s block of 76 in a House of Representatives of 151 members means it does not possess a working majority on the floor. A vote would be tied if Labor and all crossbenchers opposed it.

Its majority of one includes the Speaker, Tony Smith. He has a casting vote in the event of a tie – one that he would exercise in a procedurally conservative manner, to preserve the status quo.

The Coalition’s position is not like that of late 2018, when it fell into minority government as things unravelled after the overthrow of Malcolm Turnbull.

But losing a number makes descent into minority more of a possibility – if some unforeseen event took out another government MP. That would put it at greater risk of losing votes.

Kelly has said that, beyond supporting the government on confidence and supply, he will back it on the program it took to the election.

This gives him room to play up on a few measures, if he feels inclined, for example on any legislation relating to climate.

On the other hand, he would be unlikely to find parliamentary bedfellows on his pet issues.

Given the makeup of the crossbench, the government can be confident of its numbers, even if they’ve become a little more precarious.

Rebel Nationals would love to recruit Kelly to their party, to get an extra vote in the cause of removing Michael McCormack from the leadership. But Kelly sees himself as an “independent Liberal”; anyway, he’d have nothing to gain by joining the Nationals (which of course would restore the Coalition numbers).

The government is determined to portray Kelly’s departure in the most positive light it can find. “Good riddance”, is the official informal line.

With his passion for spruiking ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, unproven treatments for COVID, Kelly has been deeply irritating for Morrison. The Prime Minister recently called him into his office for a dressing down, after Kelly’s spectacular corridor clash with Tanya Plibersek.

He wanted Kelly to shut up. Instead Kelly, the zealot with the contrarian cause, is now more than ever on a mission to promote those controversial drugs.

This is the second defector to catch Morrison on the hop.

In 2018 word came of Julia Banks’ desertion when she was on her feet in the House of Representatives. Morrison was giving a news conference at the time.

Kelly on Tuesday only showed his hand in the party room. He said he wanted to tell his colleagues first. But perhaps there was a touch of tit for tat after that bawling out.

For Kelly’s part, he had the choice of an attention-grabbing exit from the Liberal party, or being dispatched from his seat by the preselectors, who would have ensured he’d not be the Liberal candidate at the election.

What harm can Kelly do the government do now?

He can cast an anti government vote now and then.

He can shout his views on COVID treatments and climate change. But he’s done that often enough. Arguably, at least in the mainstream outlets, when he is not talking as a rebel Liberal, what he says on COVID will get less attention. He’ll just be one crossbench voice.

He is signalling he is likely to run as an independent at the election. If he does, he wouldn’t poll well and it’s doubtful his presence would do much harm to the Liberals in his Sydney seat of Hughes.

In what’s a painful fortnight for the government, an element of the Kelly story fed into its problems with handling allegations of rape and sexual misconduct.

A staffer in Kelly’s office, Frank Zumbo, is being investigated over claims of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace (which he denies).

When this matter was raised with Morrison’s office last year by a local reporter via email, it did not answer her.

Morrison on Tuesday said he had spoken to Kelly about both this matter and the staffer’s performance. But Kelly has kept the man on.

The government had a significant win on Tuesday when Facebook agreed, in a deal involving the Coalition making some changes to its legislation, to lift its ban on republishing news on its Australian site.

Any other time, that would have made it a very good day.

WEDNESDAY UPDATE

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who has been under sustained pressure over her 2019 handling of the Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation, entered hospital in Canberra on Wednesday morning.

A statement from her office said she “will take a period of medical leave.

“This follows advice from her cardiologist relating to a pre-existing medical condition.” The statement said the hospitalisation was “a precautionary measure”.

Reynolds had been due to address the National Press Club on Wednesday, the same day Higgins is due to lodge her formal complaint with police against the alleged perpetrator of the assault against her, which she says took place in Reynolds’ office in March 2019.

Higgins tweeted her best wishes to Reynolds.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.

Polls say Labor and Coalition in a 50-50 tie, Trump set to be acquitted by US Senate


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The first Newspoll of 2021 has the major parties tied at 50-50 on two-party preferred, a one-point gain for Labor since the final 2020 Newspoll in late November. The poll was conducted January 27-30 from a sample of 1,512 people.

Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one point), 36% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (up one).

63% were satisfied with PM Scott Morrison’s performance (down three) and 33% were dissatisfied (up three), for a net approval of +30 points. While this is still very high, analyst Kevin Bonham says it is Morrison’s lowest net approval since April.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese had a net approval of -2, down five points. Morrison led Albanese by 57-29 as better prime minister (60-28 in November).

While much commentary has written off Labor for the next election, a source of hope for the opposition is that while the Coalition has usually been ahead since the COVID crisis began, the two-party-preferred margin has been close.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Coal push from Nationals is a challenge for Scott Morrison


Morrison’s great approval ratings have not translated into big leads for the Coalition. It is plausible that by the middle of this year COVID will not be a major threat owing to a global vaccination program.

A return to a focus on normal issues could assist Labor in undermining Morrison’s ratings and the Coalition’s slender lead on voting intentions.

Albanese has come under attack from the left owing to Thursday’s reshuffle in which Chris Bowen took the climate change portfolio from Mark Butler.

But the Greens lost a point in Newspoll rather than gaining. With the focus on COVID, climate change appears to have lost salience.

On Australia Day and climate change

In an Ipsos poll for Nine newspapers, taken before January 25 from a sample of 1,220 people, 48% disagreed with changing Australia Day from January 26, while 28% agreed.

But by 49-41 voters thought it likely Australia Day would be changed within the next ten years.

In a Morgan SMS poll, conducted January 25 from a sample of 1,236 people, 59% thought January 26 should be known as Australia Day, while 41% thought it should be known as Invasion Day.

In an Essential poll conducted in mid-January, 42% (down 20 since January 2020) thought Australia was not doing enough to address climate change, 35% (up 16) thought we were doing enough and 10% (up two) thought we were doing too much.




Read more:
Toxicity swirls around January 26, but we can change the nation with a Voice to parliament


But there was a slight increase in those thinking climate change was caused by human activity (58%, up two since January 2020), while 32% (steady) thought we are just witnessing a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate.

Trump set to be acquitted in impeachment trial

I related on January 20 that Donald Trump was impeached by the US House of Representatives over his role in inciting the January 6 riots with his baseless claims of election fraud.

Donald Trump boarding a helicopter as he leaves the White House.
Donald Trump departs the White House.
Alex Brandon/AP/AAP

The Senate is tied at 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving Democrats the majority with her casting vote. But it requires a two-thirds majority to convict a president, so 17 Republicans would need to join the Democrats for conviction.

On January 26, a vote was called on whether it was constitutional to try a former president. The Senate ruled it constitutional by 55-45, but just five Republicans joined all Democrats.

That is far short of the 17 required to convict, so Trump is set to be acquitted at the Senate trial that begins February 8.

Only ten of over 200 House Republicans supported impeachment. It is clear the vast majority of Congressional Republicans consider it more important to keep the Trump supporters happy than to hold Trump accountable for the rioters that attacked Congress.

In a late January Monmouth University poll, 56% approved of the House impeaching Trump while 42% disapproved. When asked whether the Senate should convict, support dropped to 52-44.




Read more:
Biden faces the world: 5 foreign policy experts explain US priorities – and problems – after Trump


FiveThirtyEight has started an aggregate of polls to track new President Joe Biden’s ratings. His current ratings are 54.3% approve and 34.6% disapprove for a net approval of +19.7 points.

While Biden’s ratings are better than Trump’s at any stage of his presidency, they are worse on net approval than all presidents prior to Trump this early in their terms.

Prior to Trump, presidents were given a honeymoon even by opposition party supporters, but it is unlikely the 30% or so who believe Biden’s win illegitimate will ever approve of him.The Conversation

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

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