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.




Read more:
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.




Read more:
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.

National cabinet to meet twice weekly in Morrison’s effort to get vaccination rollout ‘back on track’


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraScott Morrison will hold twice-weekly meetings of the national cabinet for the “foreseeable future”, as the government battles to get its slow and problem-laden vaccine rollout back on course.

The Prime Minister says he has asked national cabinet and health ministers to “move back to an operational footing” to tackle the program’s challenges.

This comes as the rollout is being recalibrated following the medical advice restricting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 50. Morrison has refused to set a target date for having all those eligible and willing vaccinated with at least one shot, after abandoning the government’s previous October target.

Morison’s action on the national cabinet and his comments are his bluntest admission so far of the program’s difficulties, which started from its beginning and have multiplied ever since.

“There are serious challenges we need to overcome caused by patchy international vaccine supplies, changing medical advice and a global environment of need caused by millions of COVID-19 cases and deaths,” he said in a statement.

“This is a complex task and there are problems with the programme that we need to solve to ensure more Australians can be vaccinated safely and more quickly.”

He said the federal government was trying to deal with its issues “and I have been upfront about those”.

But states and territories were also tackling their own issues, he said.

“Working together we are all going to be in a better position to find the best solutions.”

The federal government has taken the main responsibility for the rollout, but it does not have the states’ experience at service delivery and this has added to the problems.

The new regime for national cabinet meetings will start on Monday and continue “until we solve the problems and get the programme back on track”. It has been recently meeting only about monthly.

Meanwhile, a second person has suffered a blood clot after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A woman in her 40s is recovering in the Darwin Hospital after being transferred from a regional hospital in northern Western Australia.
The Western Australian Health Minister, Roger Cook, said the woman was in a stable condition in ICU.

Earlier a man in his 40s in Melbourne developed a clot after receiving the vaccine.

Last week Morrison announced the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation had advised against giving AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged under 50.

On Monday more than 56,000 doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were administered.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: 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.

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.




Read more:
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.




Read more:
Blood clot risks: comparing the AstraZeneca vaccine and the contraceptive pill


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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full proposed Morrison ministry can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile the allegations keep coming.

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

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

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

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Michelle Arrow, Professor of History, Macquarie University

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This exchange followed.

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

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

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

This outburst was a bad misjudgment.

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


News Corp Australasia

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

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

UPDATE

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

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

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

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Andrew Laming: why empathy training is unlikely to work


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The problem with empathy training

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

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

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

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




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

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

What does work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

The bigger change we need

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

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

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

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

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

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


AAP/James Gourley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draft federal redistributions for Victoria and WA

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

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

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

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

Early Tasmanian election announced for May 1

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

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

WA election final lower house results

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

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

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

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

Israeli, UK local, German and Dutch elections

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

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

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

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