Scott Morrison – The government’s credentials for dealing with COVID are turning to dust amid vaccine confusion
Let’s start with the one thing Scott Morrison has definitely gotten right in the past couple of weeks, and then move on from there.
Well, actually he didn’t actually get his facts right. But accidentally, he rather nailed an issue, even if it was a nail hammered through his own boot.
It was his “mea culpa” press conference on March 23, following the revelation of a now notorious masturbatory offence against a piece of Parliament House furniture where, when challenged about his lack of control over government staff, he threatened a journalist from Sky News about people in glass houses not throwing stones.
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, his claim that a person “in your own organisation” was under investigation “by your own HR department” about “harassment of a woman in a women’s toilet” was wrong.
But every political journalist watching what Scott Morrison said that day believed it was utterly clear what he was trying to do, which was make a veiled threat against news.com.au journalist Samantha Maiden, who has led the reporting on the Brittany Higgins case.
In doing so, he conflated “harassment” — on a day of revolting stories about sexual behaviour — with bullying.
He was referring to one of the many stories that floats around politics that becomes more embellished and more colourful with every retelling, in this case a story involving a disagreement between Maiden and another female reporter.
But he got his facts wrong and issued a late night apology via Facebook.
In issuing his threat, though, the Prime Minister did two things. The first was to seem to expose a proclivity for bullying on his part. The second was to be broadly correct about people in glass houses.
The difference between male and female journos
The issues of bullying and sexual harassment are often closely intertwined. And bullying is as much a feature of media newsrooms as it is in any other workplace.
There has been some commentary in the last couple of weeks about “unapologetic activism” from female journalists because they have been pursuing the now numerous shocking stories about misconduct in politics.
Forty years in journalism leaves me with the view that there is at least one major difference between the way male and female journalists do their job, or the environment in which they operate.
This is that male journalists who behave badly — say, by bullying their junior colleagues — more often than not get promoted to solve the problem, while women who might behave that way are left to their own devices.
Some male journalists, in fact, get promoted because they face bullying complaints in one section of a newspaper, only to be moved to a position where they could bully even more of their colleagues.
Bullying complaints are dealt with by management as a problem to be made to go away rather than actually dealt with, leaving career paths, often of women journalists, wrecked, while the bullies are protected and found safe harbours.
[email protected] rejection not a good look
The government’s rejection this week of a key recommendation of the [email protected] report on sexual harassment — which would expressly require employers to eliminate sexual misconduct — was not a good look, particularly from a government reeling from exposes about its own failures to eliminate such behaviour.
But those who have suffered bullying in any workplace, and may have questioned whether the existing legal framework covering that particular sin really protects them, would probably not be very surprised.
The government’s response to the report reeks of attempts to avoid giving the Human Rights Commission any enforcement powers and leaves crucial issues, like giving it broad powers to investigate workplaces rife with harassment, for yet further reviews.
The one policy announced which didn’t come from the [email protected] inquiry concerned the recommendation that judges and MPs should be subject to the Sexual Discrimination Act.
It took some time to get clarification that the act would be tweaked to make clear that politicians and judges aren’t exempt from the act, but that in itself would not create a sackable offence, even though it might open them up to civil proceedings by victims.
And the government was having considerable trouble explaining exactly how it would make that recommendation work.
Once again, unfortunately, the government seemed to be hoisted on its own petard of chasing the political points from an announcement, but an announcement of a policy or decision which had not been well thought through.
We had two more examples of that this week: the Holgate affair, and the escalating debacle of the vaccine rollouts.
Holgate is not going away
The summary dismissal late last year of the chief executive of Australia Post, Christine Holgate, over the awarding of four Cartier watches to executives who had landed a particularly important deal, erupted afresh this week with the release of Holgate’s lengthy submission to a Senate inquiry.
The news cycle followed her claims and the counterclaims of Australia Post’s chairman, Lucio di Bartolomeo. But the politics of this story are really framed by the fact Scott Morrison told Parliament that he had instructed his ministers to ensure that Holgate be stood down.
Her treatment — compared to the Prime Minister’s failure to act against any of the various… er, foibles of his male ministers — has only been made to look worse.
And Holgate will be giving evidence to the Senate on Tuesday, so it is not going away yet.
The fallout from the Holgate story may be much more limited than that of the growing debacle over the vaccine rollout. But it is of a piece with it because they share the emphasis on big announcements but the cack-handed way the issue is actually implemented.
As many have observed, the government had just one service delivery job to do on the medical side of the pandemic: the vaccination program. And by Friday, it was clear that at least two different aspects of the program were in disarray.
The sorry vaccine saga continues
One was the whole approach that had been taken to the question of supply contracts. The second was the shambles of actually distributing the vaccine.
GPs complain that, against advice, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the vaccine rollout for older Australians before the GP network had even been told about it.
Not only did they not have the capacity to prepare, the phone systems of GPs’ practices were quickly swamped by people seeking to get the vaccine — when even practices that were planning to be part of the program didn’t know when, or whether, they would receive supplies.
This is continuing now. And doctors say it has compromised practices’ capacity to manage the other health issues of their patients.
Once again, the whole sorry saga is likely to be under the scrutiny of the Senate, as the chair of the inquiry monitoring the COVID response, Labor’s Katy Gallagher, signalled on Thursday she would be seeking a hearing to investigate the fallout from the new health advice on the Astra-Zeneca vaccine issued at the PM’s late night press conference.
The government’s credentials as competent managers of the pandemic are turning to dust amid the confusion over vaccines, even as the successful rollout of vaccines in the UK has resurrected the fortunes of Boris Johnson.
Never has the need for the public to have confidence in its Prime Minister getting things right been more important. Never has a Prime Minister apparently seemed so determined to undermine that confidence.
Laura Tingle is 7.30’s chief political correspondent.