7am Podcast

The federal government promised that by the end of March four million Australians would be vaccinated against Covid-19 but as of this week we’ve barely hit a quarter of that target.

Scott Morrison’s vaccine shambles



The federal government promised that by the end of March four million Australians would be vaccinated against Covid-19 but as of this week we’ve barely hit a quarter of that target. Today, Paul Bongiorno on whether Scott Morrison is doing enough to vaccinate the country.

 

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.



Transcript

OSMAN:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Osman Faruqi, this is 7am.

The federal government promised that by the end of March four million Australians would be vaccinated against Covid-19.

But, as of this week, we’ve barely hit a quarter of that target.

Now the Prime Minister is facing growing political pressure over the slow pace of the vaccine rollout.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on how the federal government is handling this phase of the pandemic, and whether Scott Morrison is doing enough to vaccinate the country.

PAUL:

Oh, Ruby, you look very different...oh, I'm having a Red Riding Hood moment. It's you, isn't it Os! Behind that beard…

OSMAN:

(laughs)

PAUL:

What are you doing here?

OSMAN:

I am the big bad wolf today, Paul.

PAUL:

Well, I'm not afraid. Is that a problem?

OSMAN:

Let’s see how we go. Yeah nah I'm looking forward to you and I chatting for the first time.

PAUL:

Well, we've chatted before off-mic, so let's do it on-mic.

OSMAN:

Let's see if I can live up to the wonderful Ruby Jones. Paul, you happy to get into it?

PAUL:

Absolutely.

OSMAN:

Let's start with the vaccine rollout. I mean, it looks like it's going pretty badly, not just in terms of the actual rollout itself, but also in terms of how the government is being perceived. But just how badly is it going and how much of an issue has it become for the coalition government?

PAUL:

Well, Os, I think we all now know that the vaccine programme is grossly behind schedule. Three million short of the target is no near miss. And ham fisted attempts by Scott Morrison's government to variously blame the states or the Europeans only succeeded in, well, spotlighting their own shortcomings. 

In fact, the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic is rapidly becoming a political crisis for the federal government. It's the kind of classic reversal of fortunes you see sometimes in politics. The pandemic, you might remember, was once seen as the circuit breaker that Scott Morrison really needed after the black summer bushfires. But now it's an indictment of the Prime Minister's failure to deliver on his promises.

OSMAN:

So Morrison is supposedly this master of spin and political messaging. Does he have a strategy to change this perception?

PAUL:

Well, I'm pretty sure he hopes he does.
 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison: 

“I think it is a good idea for us to have even more data transparency on these issues, and that’s what I’ll be discussing with the premiers and chief ministers on Friday…”

PAUL:

Morrison saw it was time to, well, staunch the bleeding over the vaccine rollout failures. His starting point, though, was to deny the reality of it.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison: 

“And it is true that as this stage of our rollout, it’s actually better than where Germany was, it’s better than where New Zealand was, it was better than where South Korea was and Japan was…”

PAUL:

Who he thinks he's impressing by claiming Australian exceptionality in the rollout is a mystery. 

Archival Tape -- Bill Bowtell: 

“However you want to spin it, we are not doing very well. Today, this morning, 97% of Australians are not vaccinated.”

PAUL:

According to adjunct professor in health strategy at the University of New South Wales, Bill Bowtell, we ranked 90th in the world somewhere between Bolivia and Albania.

Archival Tape -- Bill Bowtell: 

“We have problems with supply because of the way in which procurement was organised 5 and 6 months ago, and we clearly have problems with distribution…”

PAUL:

Well, Bowtell warned that the virus was mutating faster than we in Australia are vaccinating.
 
For all the fanfare of rollout and various announcements, you'd have to say it was botched. 

Archival Tape -- Reporter: 

“There’s growing anger over Australia’s Covid vaccine rollout with inoculation hubs turning people away even though they’re sitting empty…”

Archival Tape -- Reporter: 

“GPs in Queensland have criticised the state’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout, claiming they’re bearing the brunt of slow supplies…”

PAUL:

Not enough vaccines were available, general practitioners who were to be in the frontline of the rollout were told little or nothing, their clinics were swamped with callers, and the online website was no help at all. 

Archival Tape -- Reporter: 

“Scott Morrison on the offensive over the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Europe”

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison: 

“3.1 Million of the contracted vaccines did not turn up in Australia”

PAUL:

Well, when Morrison and his ministers blamed Europe for failing to supply the contracted 3.1 million vaccines, Brussels contradicted them.

Archival Tape -- Eric Mamer: 

“There was at that point in time only one request which had been refused which was a well known request to Australia but for much much smaller quantities…”

PAUL:

It admitted to withholding 250,000 shots, but denied the three million figure.

Archival Tape -- Eric Mamer: 

“So no we certainly cannot confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports to Australia or any other country for that matter.”

PAUL:

Well, the states were quick to disown responsibility for the shambles with both the Queensland and New South Wales premiers reminding midweek news conferences that they were responsible for 30 percent of the rollout, while the Commonwealth was responsible for the rest.

OSMAN:

And how about you, Paul, have you had your first shot of the vaccine yet? 

PAUL:

Well, it's a very good question. Both myself and my good lady wife are in phase 1B and well, there are some immunity issues, so you'd think we'd be pretty well top of the list. But when we contacted our own clinic, which is quite a big one, they said they weren't one of the ones doing the vaccinations. And when we contacted the nearest one to us, their first question was, are you regular patients? Which was a bit of a worry. But they also said that they didn't know what was going on. They didn't have the vaccines and maybe contact them in a couple of weeks time.

OSMAN:

Yeah, that’s something that quite a few people have been reporting, and as you’ve said we’re under a time pressure here because of how fast the vaccine is mutating so quickly. So has Morrison started to admit that the government has made some mistakes here?

PAUL:

What Morrison rightly says the problem is supply - Australia doesn't have what's needed to meet the promised targets. So three months after vaccination started in other countries and one month into our slow and fraught programme, it's obvious that our government's planning last year was woefully inadequate, and a number of experts are pointing this out. Former head of the federal health department is one of them, Stephen Duckett. He wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that the politicians should invest less in hype and photo opportunities and instead focus on actually managing the rollout. 

OSMAN:

Wow, that's a pretty direct assessment

PAUL:

And, Os, it's very hard to argue with.

OSMAN:

We’ll be right back.

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OSMAN:

Paul, we're talking about the incredibly slow pace of the vaccine rollout here in Australia and the associated political issues that are going with that. You said that opinion is starting to shift against Morrison. Do we have any more evidence of that?

PAUL:

Yes, and it came to a head this week when The Australian published its quarterly consolidated Newspoll results. The headline in the paper screamed Coalition in election peril after hit in resource states. It certainly didn't make happy reading for the Prime Minister.

This Newspoll finding is in the context of the pandemic, which has seen incumbents in Western Australia and Queensland retain power in landslides. In fact, support in WA has significantly moved away from the Coalition federally, according to the Newspoll. But nationally, on a two party preferred basis, the Coalition now lags behind Labour 49-51, whereas the last quarterly analysis had the coalition up 51-49. And we should notice there Osman that basically in both those findings, it's statistically line-ball anyway. 

OSMAN:

Right. But that does seem like it's better news for Labor and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, or is it more complicated than that?

PAUL:

Well, look, the other important measure is ‘preferred Prime Minister’ - Morrison ends the quarter well ahead of Labour's Anthony Albanese in the approval stakes, although he's been steadily losing ground. Now, this echoes Labor's research that finds the prime minister's support is a kilometre wide and a millimetre deep. And it goes a long way to explain why Labor is in the tight election winning position, two-party preferred. Albanese takes great heart from the fact that the party's primary vote is consistently higher than it was at the 2019 line ball election. 

While some of Albanese's naysayers say Labor should be streets ahead, given Morrison's travails, the opposition leader's caucus supporters say this is a blinkered discount of the pandemic factor. Now, none of this is to write off Morrison. Anything unexpected, surprising even can and as we know does happen in politics. 

OSMAN:

And we all know that I love surprises. So what have we got in terms of them this week, Paul? 

PAUL:

Well, a few Os, but none that really helped Morrison. One that came up unexpectedly was Morrison's treatment of Christine Holgate, who he had removed as Australia Post chief executive late last year. This week, Holgate’s submission to a Senate enquiry was made public. In it, she said she never agreed to resign over her gift of Cartier watches to senior executives as a bonus for securing a lucrative contract for the government owned business. She accuses the Liberal government appointed chair, Lucio Di Bartolomeo, of lying to the parliament and unlawfully standing her down at the direction of the prime minister. 

And she says Morrison humiliated her in the parliament, causing her the most harrowing 10 days of her career. 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison: 

“So appalled and shocked was I by that behaviour—any shareholder would in a company raise their outrage if they had seen that conduct by a chief executive, a management or a board; they would insist rightly on the same thing…”

PAUL:

Well, the Prime Minister attempted to brush aside the criticism, saying it was up to the Senate enquiry to sort out the different versions between her and Australia Post. And he noted that Holgate had resigned. It was a pretty interesting tactic, Osman; nothing to see and nothing to do with me. 

But Labor's Michelle Rowland accuses the Prime Minister of double standards when he defended Christian Porter and argued for the sort of due process that was denied to Mrs Holgate. Rowland says there's one rule for Liberal mates and another for everyone else.

And Morrison's problem is TV news bulletins this week reran the vision of him bellowing in Parliament that Holgate should stand aside pending an enquiry or go. 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison: 

“...The chief executive has been instructed to stand aside and, if she doesn't wish to do that, she can go.”

PAUL:

It's hardly a good look in the current heightened sensitivity to the bullying of women, particularly in the workforce and particularly with regards to the treatment of women in politics. 

OSMAN:

So it wasn't a great week for Morrison or the Liberal Party or really, for that matter, anyone in Australia who's waiting to be vaccinated. 

PAUL:

Osman, that's it in a nutshell. I think it's well, you can put it this way, discombobulates the nation. We're all wondering how safe we are, and what the delays mean, and when we’ll all get vaccinated and when can life get somewhat back to normal.

OSMAN:

Paul, thanks so much for letting me fill in for Ruby today...

PAUL:

Thank you. Have a good weekend. 

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OSMAN:

Also in the news today…

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison: 

“Good morning. I'm joined by the Attorney-General and the minister for Industrial Relations. Senator Cash…”

OSMAN:

The federal government has announced its response to the sex discrimination commissioner’s landmark Respect at Work report.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison: 

“Sexual harassment is unacceptable. It's not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, but particularly in the context of the respected work report. It denies Australians, especially women, not just their personal security, but their economic security.”

OSMAN:

The report was released in March last year, but wasn’t formally responded to by the government until yesterday.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison: 

“Now, this is why my former colleague and then minister for Women, Kelly O'Dwyer, established the Respect at Work enquiry and asked the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, to undertake that report. That was back in June of 2018…”

OSMAN:

At a press conference Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said they would be accepting all the report’s 55 recommendations. 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison: 

“All 55 recommendations are either agreed wholly in part or in principle, or noted where they are directed to governments or organisations other than the Australian government.”

OSMAN:

And NSW Police have taken a formal statement from the former boyfriend of the woman who accused federal minister Christian Porter of rape.

However police say the investigation remains closed. Porter denies the allegations.

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Elle Marsh, Atticus Bastow, Michelle Macklem, and Cinnamon Nippard. 

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is me, Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. 

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Follow us in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out.

I’m Osman Faruqi, see ya next week.

7am Podcast

The National Disability Insurance Scheme was established to provide people living with a disability high quality and tailored support, but leaked documents have revealed the federal government is proposing radical reforms to the scheme.

The new ’God power’ that will upend the NDIS



The National Disability Insurance Scheme was established to provide people living with a disability high quality and tailored support, but leaked documents have revealed the federal government is proposing radical reforms to the scheme. Today, Rick Morton on the battle for the future of the NDIS.

Guest: Senior reporter for The Saturday Paper Rick Morton.



Transcript

OSMAN:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Osman Faruqi, this is 7am.

 

The 14 billion dollar National Disability Insurance Scheme was established to provide people living with a disability high quality and tailored support. But leaked documents have revealed the federal government is proposing radical reforms to the scheme. The reforms will fundamentally change the scheme’s purpose and how it works, consolidating more power into the hands of a single politician.

 

Today, senior reporter for The Saturday Paper, Rick Morton, on the battle for the future of the NDIS.

 

OSMAN:
Rick, you were recently leaked some messages from a WhatsApp group chat. Can you tell me about the group and what you found out? 

 

RICK:
So this group is all the state and territory disability ministers in Australia and the federal minister, which at the time was Stuart Robert. And they kind of convene on WhatsApp, this social messaging service, to chat about the day to day business of things that they need to decide as a group. But, you know, they've been consumed recently with discussions about what's happening to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. And the Saturday before last, just after lunchtime, it all exploded. So the group had been seething with anger for a while, but it really blew up after leaked changes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme were reported in Nine newspapers. And Emma Davidson, who's the minister for Disability, was the first to tee off, and she did it in a really big way. She wrote in the group, I may actually self combust with incendiary rage before this thing is over. And she took herself off the chat and said, I better do something more productive with my weekend than keep hammering this point. And I was speaking to other ministers in the chat and they were, across party lines, they were furious. And one of them was saying that, you know, Robert is basically happy to have state ministers begging to see a copy of the draft legislation. And according to Stuart Robert, although we can't verify this because nothing's been released, according to him, there's been 80 drafts of this legislation and no one outside the federal government has seen it. And as this one minister put it to me, not state ministers, certainly not people with disability. Nobody has been involved in this except the federal government. 

 

OSMAN:
And what about you, Rick? You've been reporting on this area for a long, long time and have a lot of contacts in this space. Have you seen the draft legislation? Do you know what it says? 

 

RICK:
Yes, I got a leaked version myself on the Friday afternoon after it appeared in Nine newspapers. And it is, god, it's bizarre reading because it is a full force kind of attempt to reshape the entire purpose of the NDIS. You know, it's alarming in terms of what it means for the future of the NDIS. And the document I've got actually has these tracked changes all the way through the existing NDIS act. So you can see what the government is cutting out, where they are trying to fillet the original intentions of the scheme and you know, you can see whole clauses that have been removed and entirely new ones that have been added in. And the thing that stood out to me immediately was something that I previously reported was likely to happen in December last year. Was that Stuart Robert, who now has moved out of the portfolio, but he was given the one thing he wanted, which was a God power to the federal minister, which allows him or her to reshape the NDIS as they see fit. 

 

OSMAN:
Right, can you tell me more about this “God power”? How does it work?
 

RICK:
So the document I have is dated December 2020, and it does reveal this seismic shift in the way the NDIS is conceived. And central to this is a new ability of the Commonwealth minister to make so-called rules at any time, which the chief executive of the National Disability Insurance Agency must follow when interpreting the legislation. Now, this is huge because previously most of these rules had to be decided by unanimous agreement with the states and territories, which meant that any one jurisdiction could veto a rule. Most of these powers of veto for the states and territories were abolished in this draft legislation. 

 

On top of that, the draft legislation includes an expanded debt recovery power. This is huge. This expanded debt recovery power would allow the National Disability Insurance Agency to claw back money from participants who breach these so-called new rules and which is extremely worryingly similar to robo-debt. In effect, the agency could raise a debt on an individual person if they spent NDIS funding on, quote unquote, ordinary living expenses or on a service the Commonwealth minister decides should have been funded by a state or territory government.

 

OSMAN:
Right. So these reforms remove quite a bit of power from state and territory governments. They only hear about this when it's leaked and then they start to fire up in this group chat. So what happened when that happened - when they started messaging Stuart Robert in the WhatsApp group? 

 

RICK:
Well, I mean, everything and nothing. So, you know, Stuart Robert is in this chat when they blow up, you know, it's where they talk and attend to matters of logistics and semi-serious things about disability policy. But after Emma Davidson's post, a couple of the others, you know, kind of message asking Robert for the legislation and he never replied. And then he left the whole thing on read for the weekend. And it was only after Scott Morrison's Monday cabinet reshuffle. So this is three days later, Morrison upends the entire cabinet. He takes Stuart Robert from the NDIS portfolio and puts him in as minister of Employment, Workforce Skills, Small and family business. And Robert popped back into this WhatsApp group chap and he tells the other ministers he's removing himself from the group and he's adding in the new minister for the NDIS, Linda Reynolds.

 

Now, Reynolds, you’ll remember, was on paid medical leave following revelations about her handling of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins's rape allegation. And she politely said hello to the ministers with whom she would soon be working. And they, of course, sensed an opportunity to ask again for the draft legislation that fundamentally changes the way states and territories interact with the NDIS. And Reynolds did not reply.

 

OSMAN:
We'll be right back

 

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OSMAN:
Rick, what's the impetus for these changes? Why is the government so keen to amend this particular part of the NDIS framework? 

 

RICK:
Well, a lot of this comes down to a single case in which the National Disability Insurance Agency was forced by the Federal Court of Australia to pay funding for a sex worker for a woman with multiple complex disabilities and health conditions. And Stuart Robert, who's an evangelical Christian, was furious about that decision. 

 

Archival Tape -- Stuart Robert:
“The federal court has now ruled that the provision of sexual services, prostitutes, if you like, would not be precluded from that, a case was brought forward to it. Now, we don't believe that that's in the spirit of what the Australian people are funding the NDIS through their taxes.” 

 

RICK:
And it kind of allowed him, gave him a Trojan horse, to remake the National Disability Insurance Scheme in his image. 

 

Archival Tape -- Stuart Robert:
“The Commonwealth has never paid for prostitutes, it's never used taxpayers money, and nor have the states and territories.” 

 

RICK:
And you'll note the way that Stuart Robert used the word prostitutes multiple times in his radio interview trying to sell this change because that was a tabloid easy sell for him the way he saw it. 

 

Archival Tape -- Stuart Robert:
“Because we don't believe that taxpayers funds should be used for prostitution services. And by the way, an estimate I have on the cost if this goes forward starts at half a billion per annum.” 

 

RICK:
It was very political in his use because, you know, he was essentially saying taxpayers are going to fund sex workers for everyone in the NDIS. Which was an argument that the agency essentially made in its submissions to the federal court and they were laughed out. 

 

OSMAN:
So basically you’re saying that because Stuart Robert didn’t agree with this one particular case, the federal government has now rewritten all of the NDIS legislation to give the federal minister more discretion?

 

RICK:
Precisely. And more importantly, sex work is not mentioned anywhere in this redrafted legislation. They've moved the power for the rule, which means he can make a rule for anything and any future minister can make any rule for any part of the NDIS they decide shouldn't be funded. And the only thing they need to do is get it through the parliament and the states and territories will have no veto. So this goes far beyond sex work. Legal experts call these Henry the Eighth powers. I spoke to one who said that you cannot get a more pure power grab. This is God power. In law, Henry the Eighth clauses are often subordinate pieces of primary legislation. So in this case, you've got the minister making NDIS rules that are secondary to the NDIS Act. But these rules subvert or amend the legislation itself, typically through executive power. So this consolidation of power continues throughout the document.

 

OSMAN:
Mm.

 

RICK:
Then there is the controversial addition of the Independent Assessments. You know, government contractors who will examine disabled people to determine their functional needs. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter: 

“Dr George Taleporos is the acting chair of the Victorian Disability advisory council, he participated in the pilot process for the new independent panel assessments and he said it was a very confronting experience.” 

 

Archival Tape -- Dr George Taleporos:
“So it goes for about three hours and the questions are very repetitive, they are very personal, one example is I’ve just met this person and they ask me about whether I need support to have sex.”  

 

RICK:
The reason the agency wants to bring these in is because they don't trust the reports and evidence being given to them by treating health professionals that have seen people with disabilities for years and with whom they have a professional health-based relationship.

 

Archival Tape -- Dr George Taleporos:
“The problem we have is that the decision about this was made with very little consultation, and that's a problem. and I want to work with the government to get to a point where we have a process that is fair and effective.” 

 

RICK:
The agency wants someone else to do these assessments so that they can essentially gerrymander the results and to have something far more clinical and in their view, objective, although the jury's out on whether that would actually be the case. So that's an important element in what comes next in what people, particularly advocates and Labour opposition spokesman Bill Shorten, are calling robo-planning. 

 

So when these assessments are done, a number or a score will be given to their functional need. There'll be a computer algorithm that combines that with the person's age and some kind of very basic environmental circumstances and social factors. And that computer algorithm, that software will spit out what they call a draft plan budget. Now, that takes away the individual nature of what has been happening in the NDIS since its inception. 

 

OSMAN:
RIght, so we have these new independent assessments as well as a raft of other significant changes to the NDIS, including the proposed new God powers. This all sounds like a pretty big overhaul of how the scheme works. You’ve said that one of the motivations here is about centralising power but the Coalition government has previously expressed concern about the costs of the scheme, so how much of this is also about cutting costs?

 

RICK:
Well, I mean, there's a lot that factors into it, and I've been writing about this since 2013 and all along, particularly in the Coalition, there has been what I would describe as anxiety at what they perceive to be an open ended, uncapped insurance scheme, and they were, you know, the way they view it, they were done over on the initial deals that were struck by the Gillard and Rudd government with the states. And so under the NDIS, 100 percent of any cost overrun in the planned budget is born by the Commonwealth. So this is a massive grab bag of power, of the ability to change the rules in the news and the ability to constrain funding. And that is what it's all about. I mean, I'm not just saying that that's what people in the agency have told me. 

 

They can't have, in their own view, you know, support packages growing on average 10 to 15 percent every year, which is what has been happening so far. So this is all about cost control. So, they have been telling mistruths all the way along about what the intended effect of these changes are. And now we have the evidence of what they're trying to do. It it would in my view, it would cease to be the National Disability Insurance Scheme if they were passed

 

In essence, what we have now is the total ability of the minister on his own to rewrite the legislation in perpetuity through the use of rules that have more force. Courts hate these, by the way, they do exist elsewhere in government. But the changes to this legislation, if they get past the parliament, cement these rulemaking god powers with the commonwealth in perpetuity. 

 

OSMAN:
Rick, thanks so much for talking to me today. 

 

RICK:
Thanks. I really appreciate it. 

 

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OSMAN:
Also in the news today…

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hit out at the European Union after more than 3 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine due in Australia remained stuck in the EU. European officials said they had only blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but Morrison said the EU had failed to grant an export license to the remaining 3.1 million doses.

Meanwhile, the NSW government is establishing a mass vaccination hub in Sydney to speed up the state’s rollout. The new immunisation centre will be capable of administering 30,000 doses of the vaccine a week.

I’m Osman Faruqi, this is 7am. See ya tomorrow.

7am Podcast

In 2015 the Northern Territory government announced a Royal Commission into Youth Detention, but six years on almost every single young person in prison in the NT is Indigenous.

The plan to lock up more Indigenous children



In 2015 the Northern Territory government announced a Royal Commission into Youth Detention, but six years on almost every single young person in prison in the NT is Indigenous. Now, the NT government has announced new laws that could see even more young Indigenous people locked up. Today, Sophie Trevitt, on why the Northern Territory is undoing the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

Guest: Lawyer and executive officer of Change the Record, Sophie Trevitt.



Transcript

OSMAN:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Osman Faruqi, this is 7am.

 

In 2015, the Northern Territory government announced a Royal Commission into Youth Detention, to try and address what many described as a broken system. But six years on, Indigenous people still make up 84 percent of the prisoner population in the NT. And on most days, every single young person in detention in the territory is Indigenous. Now, the Northern Territory government has announced new criminal justice reforms that could see even more young Indigenous people being locked up.

Today, lawyer and executive officer of Change the Record, Sophie Trevitt, on why the Northern Territory is undoing the recommendations of the Royal Commission and what the consequences will be.

 

OSMAN:
Sophie, you worked as a lawyer in Alice Springs. Can you tell me about that experience and what you observed during that time?

 

SOPHIE:
So I moved to Alice Springs just about the same time as the royal commission into the protection and detention of young people was called. And my first job in Alice Springs was about pulling together all of the stories and the evidence from young people who'd been held both in the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre and in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre during that time so that we could put that evidence to the royal commission.

 

I mean I think the clearest thing was that the justice system is and was completely broken, to be honest, in the three years that I was working in the Northern Territory, I never saw a non-indigenous child in a youth detention centre. So that's obviously a huge problem to start with. We have this mass incarceration of almost exclusively Aboriginal children, but the way in which these children were treated was, without exception, pretty horrific. So that ranges from the physical abuse of kids, kids being locked in in cells for hours and days on end, not able to to leave their cell, to go to school or to have meals or to see family.  And then, right through to the sort of long-term impacts of that, the lack of any therapeutic support, the lack of any mental health support, these kids would just get released after enduring this trauma in youth detention and be provided with no support on the outside. So, not able to re-engage with school or having troubles at home. And you just saw the cycle repeat again and again and again. 

 

OSMAN:
Mm and you mentioned the royal commission into youth detention. Can you tell me more about the circumstances leading up to it being established? What was the kind of trigger, I guess, for it to start?

 

SOPHIE:
So there was a big national story that was aired on on Four Corners called ‘A National Shame’...

 

Archival Tape -- Four Corners report: 

“Welcome to Four Corners. The image you’ve just seen isn’t from Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib, but Australia in 2015. This is juvenile justice in the Northern Territory.” 

 

SOPHIE:
...which showed the treatment of Aboriginal kids in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. 

 

Archival Tape -- Four Corners report:
“A boy hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone.”

 

SOPHIE:
Particularly it showed Dylan Voller as a young Aboriginal person, being restrained on a chair with a hood over his head. 

 

Archival Tape -- Guards speaking to Dylan Voller.

 

SOPHIE:
There was also airing of footage of Aboriginal kids being tear gassed within a cell and yelling and crying for help. So that was the impetus and then what came out of the royal commission was actually this wasn't an isolated incident. There were you know, there was abuse and that kind of treatment that was going on all the time.

 

OSMAN:
And what did the royal commission recommend in terms of dealing with the issues that it had been presented with? 

 

SOPHIE:
So the royal commission made, you know, over 200 recommendations for a total structural overhaul of the youth justice system. And that goes from the drivers of kids into this system that is harming them, right through to the treatment of these young people when they are behind bars. So they recommended things like raise the age of criminal responsibility, so that you stop sending extremely young children into a system that basically traps them there; increase the ways in which kids can access bail so that they're not being held behind bars while they're waiting to appear before court. 

 

The vast majority of children in the Northern Territory and in fact, around the country, but particularly in the Northern Territory, who are being locked up, haven't even been convicted of a crime. They're just being locked up, waiting to have to have their turn before court to find out whether or not they did commit the offence that they've been charged with. And the royal commission recommended putting more funding and investing more heavily in diversion programmes, community control programmes, working with Aboriginal elders and the whole community to keep kids out of the prison system altogether. 

 

OSMAN:
So how did the NT government respond to those royal commission recommendations? Did it take them on board? 

 

SOPHIE:
So initially it looked as though the Northern Territory government had taken on board the recommendations. 

 

Archival Tape -- Michael Gunner:

“I'm sorry, I think I should begin with saying that again, it's clear that successive Northern Territory governments have failed…”

 

SOPHIE:
They even said that the royal commission paper was the most important document that the government had ever received. 

 

Archival Tape -- Michael Gunner:
“Today, I can say it will continue with us accepting the recommendation that Don Dale should shut. This royal commission very much began there and it needs to end there.”

 

SOPHIE:
So they had put in a bunch of protections in legislation to try to protect children from the use of force within prisons. So they introduced these reforms that said, you know, only in really acute situations can staff members use force against a child, can they restrain a child, can they lock the child in their cell - a whole bunch of reforms of that nature. 

 

Archival Tape -- Michael Gunner:
“The commissioners have given us a three month time frame to produce a work programme. We accept that timeframe.” 

 

SOPHIE:
But then about 18 months after the royal commission recommendations were handed down. We saw the first big backflip and it was in response to a bunch of sort of tabloid media coverage of youth crime in the Northern Territory. The government basically made it worse than the situation was before the royal commission and really expanded the ways in which staff could use force against kids. So there was a period of time, for example, where they brought bouncers from the local pubs into youth detention centres in Alice Springs, and of course, those bouncers then use the new uses of force that you were able to, after this backflip, to basically manhandle children to try to maintain control. So that was the first back-pedalling that we saw. 

 

Then a few weeks ago, A Current Affair released what can only be described as a pretty salacious 15 minute exposé into youth crime in Alice Springs.

 

Archival Tape -- A Current Affair report:
“Locals say crime has always been a problem in Alice Springs. Night after night, a majority of Alice Springs residents lock their doors and stay home, surrendering their streets to a trouble making minority.”

 

SOPHIE:
And in response to that, I can only assume the Northern Territory government came out and introduced a raft of tough-on-crime, punitive law reform measures that would specifically target young people. And the only foreseeable response to that is that the number of young people, and particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people that are being locked up behind bars is going to skyrocket in the territory.

 

OSMAN:
We’ll be right back

 

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OSMAN:
Sophie, can you tell me more about the new laws being proposed in the Territory, what is the government planning to do?

 

Archival Tape -- Michael Gunner:

“Today we’re announcing a new suite of measures that will help make Territorians safer…”

 

SOPHIE:

So they propose to change the bail laws. So to basically make it harder for kids to get bail. 

 

Archival Tape -- Michael Gunner:

“Bail is a privilege, not a right. Territorians are trusting you on bail and you need to do the right thing while you’re on bail.”

 

SOPHIE:
So when a child is charged with an offence, they've expanded the list of crimes that means they go straight to lock up instead of being bailed to family members in the community, for example. So this is before a child has been convicted of any offence at all, to be clear. They also restricted the way in which a court can decide to use diversion for a child. 

 

Archival Tape -- Michael Gunner:

“We’re also giving police extra ability and more circumstances in which they can apply electronic monitoring. They are a couple of the things we are doing in order to make Territorians safer.” 

 

SOPHIE:

And the final big area is this proposal beefs up the powers for police. So in what I think is an unprecedented move nationally, there's a proposal that police will be able to slap on GPS tracking devices on a child before a child has even gone to court. So that's the decision of the police to decide to monitor and surveil the child. Probably one of the most shocking elements of this announcement by the Northern Territory government was just how transparent it was at the same time as announcing this raft of reforms that goes really directly against the royal commission. The Northern Territory government also announced that it would be funnelling five million dollars in expanding youth remand centres. 

 

Archival Tape -- Michael Gunner:

“But the promise I make to you is that we will never stop working on making the Territory safer.”

 

SOPHIE:

And to be clear, what that means is they are openly acknowledging that in direct response to this suite of reforms, we are going to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children put behind bars. ##OSMAN:

Sophie, these proposed laws seem to be the opposite of what the Royal Commission recommended. And, as you say, will likely lead to even more Indigenous children being locked up. So what’s the response to all of this been -- has there been pushback?

 

SOPHIE:
Yeah huge pushback 

 

Archival Tape -- Priscilla Atkins:
“Can you hear me now?” 

 

SOPHIE:
Basically from everybody apart from the Northern Territory government and police. 

 

Archival Tape -- Priscilla Atkins:
“My name's Priscilla Atkins and I'm the co-chair of NATSILS. That's the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service and I have been the CEO of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency for over 14 years.”

 

SOPHIE:
NAAJA, the Aboriginal Legal Service provider, that provides legal services for kids in the central desert and in the Top End have said that the Northern Territory government needs to abandon these reforms and stay the course with the royal commission.

 

Archival Tape -- Priscilla Atkins:
“And then all of a sudden this comes into the media. There wasn't any consultation with the community and it goes totally against the recommendations that the NT government has committed to.” 

 

SOPHIE:
There's a group of Aboriginal grandmothers in the central desert who are strong advocates for their grandkids who have come out and said, you know, we are here and we want to be providing culturally safe alternatives for these kids. 

 

Archival Tape -- Priscilla Atkins:
“And we've got the evidence to show that, you know, if any of our youth that attend the youth justice conferencing, 80 percent of them don't re-offend. 80 percent of our youth that attend youth cultural camps don't re-offend. So we know that these programmes work, but locking them up doesn't work.”

 

SOPHIE:
And Aboriginal controlled health care service providers have come out and said, you know, so many of these young people are experiencing mental health concerns, disabilities. We need to be meeting their needs, not punishing them further. 

 

Archival Tape -- Priscilla Atkins:
“What we want is the government to listen to Aboriginal led solutions, and we want our kids to be healthy and have their culture and have their families being supported and connected to a caring home. This is what we want. I think by locking youth up, they're not going to achieve that.” 

 

SOPHIE:
Literally, everybody has come out and said that these reforms are going to be a disaster and they are going to be a disaster for Aboriginal children. 

 

OSMAN:
Sophie, it feels like like you said, we know what the answers are. You've just outlined a bunch of them. And we've got royal commissions and so many enquiries and experts telling us exactly what we need to do. But, you know, even after it seemed like the NT government was initially stepping towards those reforms, we're now going backwards. Why do you think we keep seeing this pattern play out like this? 

 

SOPHIE:
I think until both sides of politics decide that they are not going to play politics with children's lives, we are going to see this trajectory of making a little bit of progress and then back flipping as soon as there's a bad media story continue. So if we see, for example, like we've seen in the Northern Territory, a CLP opposition that is willing to, you know, throw anything at the government to try to get them to introduce harsher and more punitive youth justice laws. And if you see a government that just doesn't have the mettle to stay the course and to do the right thing, then we are going to see this backflipping just continue. We need governments that have real conviction and that will say we are prepared to stay the course and to introduce these reforms because we know they will work. They just need time. 

 

OSMAN:
Sophie, thank you so much for your time today. 

 

SOPHIE:
No worries, thank you. 

 

OSMAN:

Also in the news today…

 

Australians will soon be able to fly into New Zealand without quarantining under new travel arrangements announced yesterday. The travel bubble arrangement will launch on April 18.

 

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said the trans-Tasman bubble represented a new chapter in the region's Covid recovery.

 

And the Reserve Bank of Australia has kept the official cash rate at 0.1 per cent. It’s the fifth RBA meeting in a row where the rate has either been cut or held at record lows.

 

I’m Osman Faruqi, this is 7am. See ya tomorrow.

 

7am Podcast

As Australia’s former Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel has been on the front line of Australia’s climate wars. This year he was appointed special advisor to the federal government on low emissions technology. Today, Alan Finkel on his plan for our energy future, and whether the Australian government should be moving faster.

Alan Finkel on the electric planet



As Australia’s former Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel has been on the front line of Australia’s climate wars. This year he was appointed special advisor to the federal government on low emissions technology, but some of Australia’s leading climate scientists have expressed concern about Dr Finkel’s plan, questioning whether it’s ambitious enough. Today, Alan Finkel on his plan for our energy future, and whether the Australian government should be moving faster.

Guest: Former Chief Scientist and author of ‘Getting to Zero’, Dr Alan Finkel



Transcript

OSMAN:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Osman Faruqi, this is 7am.

 

For the past five years Dr Alan Finkel has been Australia’s Chief Scientist, which means he’s been on the front line of Australia’s climate wars. This year he was appointed special advisor to the federal government on low emissions technology.

 

In the latest Quarterly Essay, Getting to Zero, Dr Finkel outlines how Australia can harness new technology to rapidly transition to a low-emissions future. But some of Australia’s leading climate scientists have expressed concern about elements of Dr Finkel’s plan, questioning whether it’s ambitious enough.

Today, Alan Finkel on his plan for our energy future, and whether the Australian government should be moving faster.

 

OSMAN:
Alan, in your ideal world, what does Australia's energy sector... what does that energy mix look like, say, by 2050? 

 

ALAN:
In the fundamentals, it's a pretty straightforward answer that I've got for you. And it's electricity. I, for many many years, have been talking about what I call the electric planet. So the logic is: we've got a problem and the problem is greenhouse gas emissions. Three quarters of that problem comes from burning fossil fuels, oil, coal and gas, for our energy needs. We can't switch off our energy needs. It's absolutely fundamental to civilisation. I don't think we can in a substantial fraction diminish it. 

 

So ultimately to replace all the fossil fuels that we use for all the energy activities across our society. We pretty much have to triple the amount of electricity that we currently use and it's all got to be clean electricity. If you think about our starting position globally, there are seven large scale sources of energy. Oil, coal and gas - we just said what we're going to get out of those, in some countries nuclear to make nuclear electricity. In some countries, they will be able to get all the electricity they need from hydroelectricity. 

 

In Australia. That's not a realistic growth opportunity. We haven't built a large-scale hydroelectric dam for 50 years. So, if we get five or six per cent from the renewable hydroelectricity, we're going to get 95 percent or thereabouts from solar and wind. We're just not doing nuclear and there's nothing else. So we're going to be very dependent on two sources of energy, solar and wind, not only for that replacement of our existing electricity supply, but for the tripling that will enable us to remove fossil fuels from all of our economy. 

 

OSMAN:

Mm, the kind of vision you’re outlining Alan, of a future powered predominately by renewable energy, does sound pretty compelling. I’m wondering what you think are the steps we need to take to get there?

 

ALAN:
There are many things that need to be done, but we're not starting off at zero base. Let me just quickly tell you where we're at and then sort of extrapolate into the future. 

 

Despite what some of our listeners might think, Australia is actually doing quite well on this journey. We have some world bragging rights. So, Australia has the highest per capita installed solar capacity and the highest per capita solar generation. It's because of the renewable energy target. It's because of the states and territories investing. It’s because of private industry, for marketing reasons, through shareholder activism, deciding to purchase solar and wind and therefore attract investors to build into that. 

 

We are currently at the point where 28 percent of our electricity last year, for the whole of the year, 28 percent came from renewables, of which the vast majority of solar and wind and a little bit was from hydro. We've got the highest percentage in the world of solar rooftops. So we've started a journey on investing in solar and wind, which is going quite well. It will need a lot more nurturing to get there and it also will need a lot of investment in storage, or something, to what is called ‘firm the supply’ as you know, solar, wind, a variable.

 

OSMAN:
Right, what do you mean by that - “firming the supply”? And what would it actually entail?

 

ALAN:

So it’s not as easy as what people think. A lot of people think, well, I've got a solar panel at home. I've got a battery in the basement. Problem solved. Why can't the government do it? Well, because the electrical system is much bigger and much more complex than your home. And you know what? When things aren't working well in your home, you're still connected to the grid and that's your backstop. 

 

But the grid itself, the solar and wind generators need a backstop. Today, that backstop comes just from the massive quantity of electricity being produced by coal and natural gas in the grid and hydro. But as the coal-fired generators exit and the percentage of solar and wind variable electricity generation increases, it gets more and more difficult to tide over those times. But we have to, we have to backstop them.

 

Batteries are beginning to help and will help more and more. But even though they're undergoing an incredible reduction in price and increase in availability, if we were to go as hard and fast as we would possibly go with solar and wind, batteries wouldn't solve the problem. For the short term, natural gas is the (forgive the pun) natural gas is the natural solution to providing the backstop for solar and wind electricity until we get to some future time where we've got oodles and oodles of batteries to tide us over. 

 

OSMAN:
Natural gas is often presented as a low emissions alternative. It's a fossil fuel, but it's presented as a lower emissions alternative to coal. And it's forming a significant part of the federal government's response both in terms of developing a low emissions pathway, but also the government's response in terms of developing their post pandemic kind of economic infrastructure plan. Just how much better for the environment is natural gas than coal? And is it good enough that it will actually avoid us hitting those runaway climate targets? 

 

ALAN:
Ah, yes, when you generate a unit of electricity into the unit we're talking about in the grid is called a megawatt hour, just a big unit of electricity, natural gas generators on average in the electricity grid are about half the emissions of coal per megawatt hour, even if you include the so-called upstream emissions from the production and pipelining and processing. Because when people say that, oh my gosh, natural gas is much worse than you think because you've left out the upstream emissions. Don't forget, you have to look at that for the coal-fired generators as well. And they also have upstream emissions. So per megawatt hour, natural gas is twice as good or half as bad, whichever way you want to look at it. 

 

So using natural gas for firming solar and wind and thereby enabling you to bring in more solar, more wind more quickly. Is actually a good thing, you know, of course, people worry about the long term. Well, first of all, it's a smallish amount, so I wouldn't worry too much for the long term. But also there are solutions to that. More and more batteries, eventually those natural gas generators won't be called upon. So overall, I'm pretty comfortable that we're not locking in and getting a bad residual problem by using natural gas for firming. And if it helps us to accelerate the introduction of solar and wind, so be it. 

 

OSMAN:
We’ll be back in a moment. 

 

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OSMAN:
Alan, you’re describing a situation where we would continue to use natural gas but to “firm” our reliance on renewable energy. But the current government, as well as the gas industry, are pretty intent on drilling and exporting vast quantities of gas to sell overseas. Would you prefer them to focus more specifically on just supplying gas for the needs you outlined?

 

ALAN:
Look, Osman, it's a very complex - the question sounds simple, but the answers are complex. I don't think there's any evidence. Certainly nothing I've seen and I've looked, that would indicate that if one country say Australia withheld its coal or natural gas exports, that that would make any difference to the total amount of coal, the natural gas burnt in the world. If we export less, Qatar will export more, Russia will export more, Saudi Arabia, just gas, and Saudi Arabia will export more oil and things like that. If we export less coal, other countries will export more. And I'm not going to get into the argument that ours is better than other countries and therefore it's better. I'm just saying that if you're taking a global perspective, I'm not sure that will make a difference. If you're doing it to send a signal, fine. But it's a huge economic cost and one has to look at a signal that doesn't change the global outcome versus the significant domestic economic cost. So it's not a call that I'm going to make.

 

OSMAN:

Right, but what kind of message does that send to the world, that Australia is saying “well we won’t burn gas, but we’ll sell it to you and you can do it”. Isn’t there a moral imperative for us to take a stronger stance on that? 

 

ALAN:
I think that particular message would get lost in the rest of the world. There is a moral imperative for us to participate, not passively but actively in the multilateral fora that are increasingly dominating the opportunities and the discussions.

 

So there's the Biden administration, which has made it very clear that it's going to invest massively in the clean energy transition. But they also are putting pressure on countries around the world. There's the Glasgow COP 26 coming up at the end of the year. And the British are putting a lot of pressure on other countries to increase their ambition. And Australia has to be a member of that. One of the things that I'm doing now is I've been appointed by the government as a special adviser to the Australian government on low emissions technologies. And that's literally to help the government to identify low emissions technology opportunities that we can co-develop with other countries and industry and invest in, in order to speed up their their rate of cost decline

 

OSMAN:
Right, and you mentioned the Biden administration, as well as the UK, who are both putting considerable pressure on other countries to be more ambitious. We’ve already seen Australia criticised on the world stage for our current trajectory. So do you think more needs to be done?

 

ALAN:
More needs to be done and the current government recognises that. So last year, the government put out the first low emissions technology statement and they committed to putting out an updated statement every year. And if you think of the analogy, each of those statements is like a kilometre marker along the highway. So those statements year after year become the low emissions technology investment roadmap. 

 

Now, the first statement last year identified priorities across the economy. So there are five big priorities. One of them is clean hydrogen. So, even though we already have a national hydrogen strategy, we've further embraced that into this. The second is storage, like battery storage for the electricity system. The third one was green metals, specifically zero emission steel and zero emissions aluminium. So the fourth is geo sequestration through carbon capture and storage or carbon capture and storage. And the fifth is biosequestration in particular through soil organic. So things are moving in the right direction. You know, are they moving fast enough? Faster is better. But they are moving.

 

OSMAN:
It does strike me as slightly odd that in that list of five, which includes a few things that, you know, despite people trying for a long time, including in Australia, haven't really demonstrated large scale viability. I'm thinking things like geo sequestration and includes those things, but it doesn't include explicitly renewable energy. 

 

ALAN:
Well, it does. Well, not explicitly. But the only reason for the second one being storage is to bring on more and more renewable energy. So, I don't think that there is logic in the government making a priority on the solar and wind directly, but the one step removed investment in trying to support the reduction in price and ease of deployment of storage to support the solar wind is extremely logical because that is the limiting factor at the moment. 

 

OSMAN:
It sounds like, Alan, that you're sort of outlining a vision, a roadmap, that, you know, the use of technology, the way you're sort of describing it sounds like we might not need to do anything that radical in terms of the way we live, the way that our economy and society works. Things can, you know, be fast forward a few decades down the track and things look pretty similar. We live pretty similar lives. But what's happening in the background, the technology that's operating and powering our phones and our lights, that's where the solution lies. Is that a fair summary? 

 

ALAN:
That is a very fair summary. I don't think that the alternatives to changing our lifestyles, such as global population control or behavioural change so that we all ride bicycles instead of cars are likely. They've been talked about for decades. And yes, of course, there are bike lanes in the city now and things like that. But that doesn't make a substantial difference to the greenhouse gas emissions. So people have indicated that not by the pocketbook, they're not really willing to pay a lot more and they're not really willing to give up their chosen lifestyles. In fact, people expect to see every year or certainly cumulatively over a decade by decade improvements in their cost of living and their lifestyles. And with technology, we can deliver it. 

 

So, I could summarise your question and my answer by saying that my expectation is that we can have our cake and eat it too. 

 

OSMAN:
Alan, thank you so much for talking to me today. 

 

ALAN:

Pleasure. 

 

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OSMAN:
Also in the news today…

 

Victorian Premier Daniel Andews says he’s recovering steadily from a serious back injury, and is now walking for about 18 minutes a day. Andrews suffered broken ribs and a fractured vertebra in his spine after slipping last month. He narrowly avoided permanent spinal damage and has taken six weeks off work.

 

And Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted in Northern NSW from tonight, after the state recorded no community transmission for another day. Restrictions were applied to the Byron, Ballina, Lismore and Tweed shires after a local man tested positive for Covid-19, but from midnight the region will be brought back in line with the rest of the state.

I’m Osman Faruqi, this is 7am. See ya tomorrow.

7am Podcast

After suffering through record-breaking bushfires, a pandemic, and floods, big parts of Australia now have a new problem: a plague of mice.

The story behind Australia’s mouse plague



After suffering through record-breaking bushfires, a pandemic, and floods, big parts of Australia now have a new problem: a plague of mice. Farming communities have been overwhelmed by one of the worst mouse infestations in recent history, threatening crops and livelihoods. Today, the CSIRO’s Steve Henry on the origins of the mouse plague, the impact it’s having, and when it might finally end.

Guest: CSIRO researcher Steve Henry.



Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

From Schwartz Media, I’m Osman Faruqi. This is 7am.

 

After suffering through record-breaking bushfires, a pandemic, and floods, big parts of Australia now have a new problem: a plague of mice.

 

Farming communities across New South Wales and Queensland have been overwhelmed by one of the worst mouse infestations in recent history, threatening crops and livelihoods. 

 

Today, the CSIRO’s Steve Henry on the origins of the mouse plague, the impact it’s having, and when it might finally end.

 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

OSMAN: 

G’day, Steve, you there? 

 

STEVE:

Yeah, g’day Os, how are you going?

 

OSMAN: 

Good, good, how are you doing? 

 

STEVE:

Yeah, yeah, flat out, but good. 

 

OSMAN: 

You're currently travelling at the moment. 

 

STEVE:

Yeah, we're in Canamboole so I've just done talk two of seven over there this week. 

 

OSMAN: 

And what are you talking about, you talking about mice?

 

STEVE:

Basically about mice and protecting the sowing of the winter crop. 

 

OSMAN: 

Have you seen many mice on your trip so far? 

 

STEVE:

A few - so we were just driving back from where we had dinner last night back to the motel. There was - on a road down the outskirts of the town - we saw about 20 or 30 mice running across that road. So it means that there are still quite a few here, though they've certainly quietened down a bit after the rain, but there's still lots around. 

 

OSMAN: 

So Steve, to understand what we’re seeing right now…what do you think we need to know about mice?

 

STEVE:

So, wherever there are humans in the world, there are mice; and there are even mice in Antarctica as well. So they are really well adapted species to living in a wide range of habitats.

 

And the reason they're able to do that is because they're basically breeding machines. They start breeding when they're six weeks old, and they can have a litter of 6 to 10 pups every 19 to 21 days. But the kicker in all of that is that there's no break between production of pups. So as soon as they give birth to one litter, they can fall pregnant with the next litter, so there's no break in the production of offspring. 

 

So mice are present all the time, even in really bad seasons. But they're there in really low numbers, essentially almost indetectable, or undetectable. And then when conditions become favourable, all of these small little populations that are there hanging on, start breeding. Then those populations get bigger and bigger and bigger, and then they all join up. And we get to the situation that we've been in over the last, probably 6 to 8 months now; so we started to get reports of higher than normal numbers of mice last September. 

 

But what happens as we get these really favourable conditions, we get a really high level of survival of the juveniles. And when that happens, you get a lot of animals going on to breed. And because conditions have been really favourable for growing crops, we've got lots of food in the system, lots of shelter, good moisture through the summertime; and so they started breeding early in the spring, and then they've just continued to breed through the spring into the summer, and now they're continuing to breed through the autumn. 

 

OSMAN: 

Steve, in these really infested communities that are overflowing with mice, just how many mice are we talking about? What is it like in those communities right now? 

 

STEVE:

So I guess in those scenarios that we're seeing on social media with vast numbers of mice all scurrying across the floor of sheds and banging into each other, there are literally millions of mice in these areas. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #1:

“Check this out, welcome to Australia, home of the great mouse plague.”

 

STEVE:

And in some of the footage on social media, we're seeing mice flooding out of a grain storage area. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #1:

“Look at that, look at all of that…”

 

STEVE:

And they'd actually almost made a little funnel that the mice were all running down and flooding like a stream of water into a 44 gallon drum.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #2:

“Ohhh damn!”

 

STEVE:

Literally thousands of mice per hectare. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #3:

“No! Oh my god.”

 

STEVE:

I know people that live in the big cities are horrified if they've got one or two mice in their houses. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #4:

“Out of room 15 and 14 - the girls chased out of 97 mice out of two rooms.”

 

STEVE:

We're getting examples and anecdotes from people that live in rural communities of them taking, you know, 40, 50, 60 mice out of their houses from traps every night. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #4:

“The wife’s been bitten, I’m pretty sure the eldest daughter’s been bitten by them.”

 

STEVE:

The situation is getting so dire in some locations, the local councils are having to find special places to get rid of the bodies of mice because they're starting to make the garbage bins stink. 

 

So it's pretty nasty stuff. 

 

OSMAN: 

What you're describing, Steve, sounds kind of like a scene from a horror movie. It sounds so graphic and terrifying. 

 

STEVE:

Yeah. And again, while people in the country are used to these kinds of things, it is really quite wearing. It's this constant presence of mice that actually starts to have quite a psychological impact on the way people go about their daily lives. 

 

And one of the things that I found in the 10 or so years that I've been working on mice is that when I talk to people, no one forgets living through a mouse plague. 

 

OSMAN: 

We’ll be back in a moment.

 

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OSMAN: 

So, Steve, we've got this huge escalation in mouse numbers. We've got them, you know, eating their way through grain stores in farms, and overflowing from farms into towns. What kind of impact is that mouse infestation, plague outbreak actually having on those communities? 

 

STEVE:

So there's the economic cost of losing crops and losing hay sheds and damage to grain storages. 

 

And so the reason for the talks that I've been giving over the last couple of days and for the rest of the week is around giving farmers some advice about different ways that they might be able to be prepared, to minimise the impact that mice have. 

 

One of the things that they are really focused on is: how can we be prepared to deal with mice when we sow the winter crop? And the winter crop gets sown then in April and May.  

 

But the other really unquantified impact of mice is the social impact. People living in these rural communities become almost psychologically impacted by having to deal with mice all the time. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #1: 

“We went from no mice, to seeing a couple of mice in our garage at night, turned the light on, to seeing 50 to 100 running around in the space of probably four days. It went from nothing to ballistic.”

 

STEVE:

Every day when you get up, there are signs of mice that have been in the kitchen while you've been sleeping. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #1: 

My pantry is like a ‘no go zone’.  They get into the lounge room, they get in every cupboard. I've got a dead one now in my car so that when you turn the air conditioning on all you smell is dead mouse, which is really pleasant to drive anywhere.”

 

STEVE:

You go to your linen press to get fresh linen out of the cupboard and you can't use it because it's all been soiled by mice. You go to your pantry to get your breakfast and you can see where the mice have been trying to get into the plastic containers that you've put all your food in, because if you don't put it in plastic containers, the mice eat it all.

 

Basically, every time you turn around, there's a mouse. They’ve been running across your bed in the night. There's all of these sorts of things that actually start to wear you out. And then if you're putting bait around your house to control the mice, then they go under the house and die and the smell of the dead mice starts to filter up into the house. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #1: 

“We are seriously over it now, the place stinks!”

 

OSMAN: 

And last week, Steve, you know, enormous parts of the state of New South Wales, including some of the same areas that were impacted by the mouse plague were experiencing heavy rain and floods. Did that have any kind of impact on the mouse situation? 

 

STEVE:

Yeah, well, that was one of the reasons why I was enthusiastic to get up here into the heart of the country where the mice have been so bad. Because I wanted to see if, as we had heard, that a rainfall event would have a significant impact on the mice. Now, after talking to farmers at a couple of presentations, we think that it certainly slowed the mice down a little bit; and because burrows and so forth have been flooded by this rainfall event, that means that any of the young, highly dependent animals that were in the burrows will have been drowned by the rain. 

 

But the adults have been able to escape this rainfall event and get away from the worst of the water. And they are still out and about, causing the damage that they were beforehand. So certainly from the farmers and people from the rural communities are saying we're seeing less mice, but there are still plenty around. 

 

OSMAN: 

Wow. So if, you know, once in a generation floods can’t end the mouse infestation, how does it come to an end, Steve? 

 

STEVE:

So what typically happens at the end of a mouse outbreak is that the mouse numbers crash away very dramatically. 

 

And this is a bit where the horror story continues because what happens at the end of an outbreak is because the mice are there in such high numbers, they are interacting with each other all the time. They're starting to run out of food and that's sort of making them stressed. And so they become more susceptible to disease because of that high level of interaction and that level of stress. 

 

And because they're running out of food, they start turning on each other and eating the sick and weak ones, and they start eating the babies of other mice. And that basically stops the rate of increase, disease moving through the population, and that makes the population crash away very dramatically. 

 

And typically, farmers tell us that basically the mice almost disappear overnight or over the course of a week or so. They go from really, really high numbers to really low numbers. And in 2017 when there were really high numbers in the southern cropping zone, I was getting phone calls from farmers saying, ‘well, wait a minute, where have all my mice gone?’ 

 

They just disappeared that rapidly. 

 

So we're hoping that we're not too far away from that scenario in northern New South Wales at the moment. But it's almost impossible to predict because there are so many variables that lead to that happening.

 

It's a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon. And so being able to predict mouse outbreaks, provide farmers with some warning about what might be coming, and then provide them with some strategies that might enable them to be quite strategic about the way they control mice, might all lead to reducing impact they have through time because they're a problem that's just not going away.

 

OSMAN: 

Steve, thank you so much for your time today.

STEVE:

It's been an absolute pleasure.

OSMAN: 

It's been a bit horrifying for me, actually. 

 

STEVE:

I'm pretty sure you'll sleep. It'll be okay. 

 

OSMAN: 

Steve Henry is a researcher at the CSIRO. He first spoke to The Saturday Paper about the mouse plague - and you can read that piece at ‘thesaturdaypaper.com.au’.

 

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[Theme Music Starts]

 

OSMAN: 

Also in the news today…

 

New South Wales’ Health Minister, Brad Hazzard has accused the federal government of undermining the state's vaccine rollout. Hazzard said he was ‘extremely angry’ at suggestions made by the federal government that New South Wales had been slow in distributing the vaccine.

 

He also said he had raised the issue directly with federal health minister Greg Hunt.

 

And fresh COVID-19 restrictions have been announced on the New South Wales north coast following a case of community transmission in Byron Bay.

 

People are being advised not to travel outside the four shires of Byron, Ballina, Tweed and Lismore, and those planning to travel there for the long weekend should reconsider their plans.

 

From tomorrow on 7am we’ll be re-releasing our three part series ‘Climate Change Will Kill You’, with journalist Paddy Manning. The series investigates the deadly impact of climate change, right here in Australia.

 

We’ll be back with new episodes from next Tuesday.

 

I’m Osman Faruqi. This is 7am. See you then.

 

[Theme Music Ends] 

 

7am Podcast

For many Australians the pandemic has led to some kind of economic hardship, but while workers have suffered some of Australia’s billionaires doubled their wealth during one of the worst global recessions on record.

How these billionaires doubled their wealth during a pandemic



For many Australians the pandemic has led to some kind of economic hardship, but while workers have suffered some of Australia’s billionaires doubled their wealth during one of the worst global recessions on record. Today, Mike Seccombe on how badly implemented government policy combined with pure luck to make the country’s richest even richer.

Guest: National correspondent for The Saturday Paper Mike Seccombe.



Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am

For many Australians the pandemic has led to some kind of economic hardship, either through reduced income, fewer shifts, or losing work entirely.

But while workers have suffered, Australia’s billionaires have done extraordinarily well - some doubling their wealth during one of the worst global recessions on record.

Today, national correspondent for The Saturday Paper Mike Seccombe, on how badly implemented government policy combined with pure luck to make the country’s richest even richer.

[Theme Music Ends]

RUBY:

Mike, this story is about how the rich have become richer, so let's start by talking about one of Australia's most well known billionaires, Gina Rinehart. How did she get to where she is? 

MIKE:

Well, the long picture is that it really comes down essentially, I’d say, to luck.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Interviewer #1: 

“On a purely emotional basis how does it feel to look at all that iron ore lying in the ground that, one day, is going to be yours?”

Archival Tape -- Gina Rinehart:

“Bloody good.”

MIKE:

She had the good luck to be born 67 years ago to a man, Lang Hancock, her father... 

Archival Tape -- Lang Hancock:

“The actual value of that iron, if it could sell at all, is worth more than the Saudi oil. Now that is sitting up there and nobody, and I repeat nobody, really realizes the value and what it is to Australia.”

MIKE:

Who in turn had the luck to hold a pastoral lease that proved that vast quantities of iron ore underneath it.

Archival Tape -- Gina Reinhart:

“I remember dad wasn’t well so I had to do an iron ore conference. I did all the work for the presentation and I remember dad seeing it later and he was shocked I could make the presentation.”

MIKE:

And, you know, then there's been a bit more luck for Australia's iron ore miners over recent years in that the second biggest mining exporter in the world, Brazil, had a couple of very bad disasters at its iron ore mines, and so its production fell. And of course, more recently, it's had an absolutely wretched COVID pandemic. And so, you know, our competitors have been a bit nobbled. 

All that basically added up to the fact that last year Rinehart's company posted an enormous profit, $4 billion, 50% bigger than it was the year before. One of the biggest ever for a privately owned company in Australia. And Gina herself, of course, did very nicely as well. 

Archival Tape -- Gina Rinehart:

“Our company is now the leading private mining company in Australia. The most successful in Australia’s history.”

RUBY:

So where does that put Gina Rinehart in terms of her personal wealth? 

MIKE:

Well, a couple of weeks ago, the Australian newspaper came out with a list of the 250 richest people in the country. Gina Rinehart was number one, as she's been for a while now. 

And I've got to say, the most impressive numbers on the list belong to mining tycoons. So Gina was number one, Andrew Forrest from Fortescue Metals, came in second. Clive Palmer, whose company Mineralogy is also big in iron ore. It also made the top ten, I think it came in at number eight. So, you know, these people are all super rich already. They're all billionaires. 

But the interesting thing here is that is that, you know, in the middle of a recession caused by a pandemic, they actually became phenomenally richer. 

RUBY:

Just how much phenomenally richer did they become, Mike?

MIKE:

Well, when it comes to these mining magnates that I've just mentioned, the three of them, their fortunes more than doubled. So in the year to February this year, Rinehart went from 16 billion to 36 billion. Forrest went from 13 billion to 30. Clive Palmer, who started at a lower base, his wealth increased in a similar proportionate, went up from around four and a half to nearly 10. So they did exceedingly well. 

RUBY:

And how is this possible? How did they manage to massively increase their wealth in the middle of a global economic crisis? 

MIKE:

Well, bear in mind, we're talking particularly about iron ore miners here, not other kinds of miners. And if you look at the iron ore price over the past year, its rise almost exactly matches their increase in wealth. So it's gone up more than double as well. 

China and Japan, and particularly China, came out of the pandemic pretty quickly. And in response to recessions, governments typically pump big money into infrastructure, and infrastructure needs steel. So that explains why iron ore prices went up. 

But of course, it wasn't just miners who benefited from this crisis. You know, the third and fourth spots on the list were the co-founders of the software company Atlassian. So unlike the miners, these guys are innovators. But their company also benefited from the pandemic to a significant extent, you know, because lockdowns forced the world into remote interactions, which was a boon to tech companies everywhere. 

So Mike Cannon-Brookes from Atlassian, his wealth grew from 12 to 22 billion. And his co-chief executive and co-founder, Scott Farquhar, also went from 12 to 22 billion. So their fortunes nearly doubled. 

In total there were 150 very wealthy people on the list, almost all of them billionaires, and they increased their wealth around 25% in aggregate, over the pandemic year to $470 billion, which is an extraordinary amount. And of course, while the richest got fabulously richer during the pandemic, it was a very tough year for most of the rest of us. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, people suffered a lot. 

RUBY:

So, Mike, what happened to those people in Australia who have the least economic security and the least wealth during this pandemic? 

MIKE:

Well, typically, recessions hit low income workers the hardest. They're the first to lose their jobs and employment grows. Those who still have jobs can't afford to campaign for a pay rise. So that was the case, that low income people lost their jobs very quickly. 

On top of that, when the pandemic hit, lockdowns and social distancing and all of that meant that people didn't go out to gyms, concerts, theatres, restaurants, the local coffee shop. They didn't spend as much on services in general. And the providers of those services tend to be smaller businesses. 

So basically, it was the precariously employed workers and small businesses particularly, that provided services rather than goods that were damaged. 

The government did intervene to buffer some of those businesses and workers with its stimulus packages. JobSeeker doubled the unemployment benefit for a while. JobKeeper paid employers to keep workers in their jobs and keep paying them, even if they didn't have much to do. 

But those policies left out a lot of the most vulnerable people. 

And actually, in the case of JobKeeper, in particular, we saw it used to the benefit of businesses and individuals who are already extremely wealthy and were already doing okay during the pandemic recession. 

RUBY:

We'll be back after this. 

[Advertisement]

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter #1: 

“Well, there are fresh concerns this morning. One fifth of JobKeeper payments made to major listed companies in the second quarter of 2020 went to firms who grew their profits during the pandemic.” 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter #2:

“And places like your larger firms that boast of their profits, and they're still getting JobKeeper or previously received it should not?

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #1:

You’re not referring to Harvey Norman?” 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter #2:

“Absolutely I am...”

RUBY:

Mike, we know that the pandemic made the rich richer, but what role did government policy play in all of this?

MIKE:

Well, JobKeeper, as I mentioned, the wage subsidy programme, the idea was to support wages, but it wound up going to businesses who didn't always need it. Many of those businesses that were eligible for the scheme were actually doing quite well. 

Their revenue didn't suffer and now that we're coming out of recession, some companies have actually done the ethical thing, and they've returned the JobKeeper money that they didn't need. But many others have refused and have instead used that JobKeeper money to inflate their profits, to inflate the dividends paid to shareholders, and the pay packets of executives; all done at taxpayers expense. 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #2:

“So I’ve been in retail for 60 years, and I’ll tell you that I’ve never seen anything that even resembles this.”

MIKE:

To take one example from the billionaires list, Gerry Harvey, who owns Harvey Norman, his company got 22 million, one economist told me, from JobKeeper. And then it posted a net profit of $462 million for the last six months of 2020, which was more than double of the same period the previous year. 

Archival Tape -- Gerry Harvey: 

“I’ve never been in a period where sales in this category that we’re talking about have gone this high, off the map.”

MIKE:

Meanwhile, Harvey himself - who came in 28th place on the list - his personal fortune went up to 2.9 billion, which was an increase of almost 600 million in the year. But Harvey Norman is not going to give its JobKeeper money back, which is pretty outrageous when you think about it. 

RUBY:

Mike, do we know how much government money was spent in this way, and ended up in the pockets of people like Gerry Harvey? 

MIKE:

Well, no, not with any precision. The government won't say. Labor has been at it, particularly Andrew Leigh. He's the shadow assistant treasurer. 

Archival Tape -- Andrew Leigh: 

“I think of firms like Harvey Norman or Premier Investments, big retailers who saw their best ever sales in 2020.” 

MIKE:

He's been at them for a long time to provide the parliament with a list of the companies whose profits increased and that got JobKeeper, and how much. And they won't do it. 

Archival Tape -- Andrew Leigh:

“That means more than $10 billion is wasted. And that's money that could extend JobKeeper for another six months right now.”

MIKE:

On the basis of the information that he's been able to glean, with the help of people who've had a look at the reporting of listed companies, he estimates it could be somewhere between 10 and 20 billion dollars given to firms whose profits were going up. 

RUBY:

Mm, so no small amount.

MIKE:

Definitely no small amount. And that's only one factor that impacts on this growing inequality. The other thing that's happening, of course, is that to try and get the economy moving again and to create jobs and to get some inflation back into the system, central banks around the world, including in Australia, have been pumping money into the economy. And as one economist put it to me, when you stick a lot of money into the economy, assets are going to go up in value, a lot. 

And of course, the people who tend to own those assets are people who are already wealthy. So, you know, if you're reliant on a pay packet, you're not doing very well. If you've got shares, if you've got property interests, those things go up sharply in value and you do relatively better. 

So, you know, the rationale behind this, of course, is that abundant, cheap money will encourage productive investment, which will create jobs and which will eventually bring wage rises, which might make things fairer and reduce inequality. The problem is that that isn't what's happening. It's just making the rich richer while wages for the rest of us continue to stagnate. 

RUBY:

Hmm. OK, so, Mike, when the pandemic hit for a lot of Australians, especially those who have less wealth, it was a really difficult time. There were some government interventions to try and counter that. But while helping some people, they did actually end up also helping billionaires who perhaps didn't need that help. Because it seems like a lot of them were doing pretty well out of the pandemic anyway, doubling their personal wealth in some cases. 

So how much of this rising inequality do you think is just the result of poorly designed policies like JobKeeper, and how much of it is just a reflection of the way our system of capitalism works, where individual wealth is prioritised over something like combating inequality? 

MIKE:

Well, it's a combination, I think, of those things. It's hard to disentangle what's bad policy, and what's bad policy but it's by design, or what’s misguided policy. Because, you know, when it comes down to it, the people implementing the policies have a particular view of economics, and of capitalism. Their idea is that if you give enough money to corporations and the wealthy - and if the government busts the unions and simply gets out of the way of business - they will be inspired to invest in productive ways, and the benefits will ultimately flow down through all levels of society. And this belief has been central to economic ideology, particularly conservative economic ideology for, I don't know the past, 40 or 50 years. Ever since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and the first experiments with trickle down economics. Sadly, there is no evidence that it has worked anywhere in the world. 

In fact, there's lots of evidence that economies performed better, you know, back in the 1950s and 60s when taxes were overall a lot higher. And there's also a lot of evidence that countries that have higher rates of taxation now, you know, particularly the Scandinavian countries, Germany, places like that, where they involve, you know, workers in the management of companies and where there's a good social safety net; they tend to be A: happier, B: more equal, and C: do every bit as well as others and in many cases, better. 

So, you know, a lot of it comes down to economic ideology. And sadly, there doesn't seem to be a lot of example that our current government in this country, you know, once the inevitable Keynesian spending of the immediate recession is over, have any intention of, you know, for example, whacking a tax on billionaires to claw back some of the money that they're clawing out of the rest of us. 

I don't know if that helps, but that's that's the best I can tell you. It's not just capitalism. It's capitalism times political ideology. 

RUBY:

Mike, thanks so much for your time today. 

MIKE:

Thanks, Ruby.

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[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:

Also in the news today… 

Queensland’s COVID-19 outbreak has grown, with eight new locally acquired cases identified yesterday.

Six of those are close contacts of existing confirmed cases, while two others are still under investigation.

Health authorities are treating the outbreak as two distinct clusters.

And it’s been revealed NSW Nationals MP Michael Johnsen asked a sex worker to attend parliament for sex.

Johnsen has denied allegations he sexually assaulted the woman in September last year, but NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro has called on him to resign.

And a quick note from me - I’ll be taking a break from hosting 7am for the next couple of weeks to work on a special project. Osman Faruqi, the show’s editor, will be filling in. Be nice to him.

See ya in a bit!

 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

7am Podcast

Over the past month there have been four Indigenous deaths in custody across Australia. Now, a new organisation has been created to help their families fight for justice. Today, Madeline Hayman-Reber on the grassroots group supporting families whose loved ones have died in police custody.

One month, four more Aboriginal deaths in custody



Over the past month there have been four Indigenous deaths in custody across Australia. Now, a new organisation has been created to help their families fight for justice. Today, Madeline Hayman-Reber on the grassroots group supporting families whose loved ones have died in police custody.

Guest:  Journalist and Gomeroi woman Madeline Hayman-Reber.



Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

Over the past month there have been four Indigenous deaths in custody across Australia.

 

More than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since a Royal Commission examined the issue 30 years ago.

 

Now, a new organisation has been created to help their families fight for justice. 

 

Today, journalist and Gomeroi woman Madeline Hayman-Reber on the grassroots organisation supporting families whose loved ones have died - and continue to die - in police custody.

 

A warning on today’s episode, it contains the names of Aboriginal people who are deceased and descriptions of their death.

 

***

RUBY:
Madeline, you attended the inquest into Tanya Day’s death, held after she died in police custody in 2017. Can you tell me about what happened to her?

MADELINE:
Yeah Tanya Day was a 55 year old Yorta Yorta woman. She had been travelling on a V Line train for Machuca to Melbourne to visit her youngest daughter, Kimberly, who was then heavily pregnant with her first child. And so on Aunty Tanya was on the train for some reason. She had been drinking that day and fell asleep. And when that when the train conductor came along to check her ticket, she couldn't produce one. And she was a little bit confused and disorientated. Instead of calling an ambulance for Aunty Tanya. He decided to call the police instead. 

 

When the train pulled up at Castlemaine Station, the police came on and checked her and got her off the train onto a bench and they could tell that she was drunk. They actually saw some alcohol in her bag. Instead of calling an ambulance for her they also made the decision to take her into custody for public drunkenness. 

 

Archival tape -- News Reporter 1:
This is the moment a tiny Tanya Day is bundled into holding cell one. 

 

MADELINE:
They have an unofficial rule of four. You stay in custody for four hours to sober up. 

 

Archival tape -- News Reporter:
The mother of five appears calm, shedding tears as she’s processed, stripped of her pink top and shoes for her own protection. 

 

MADELINE:
So she was in custody and there weren't sufficient checks done on aunty Tanya.

 

Archival tape -- News Reporter:
Then the door shuts and Tanya is alone for four hours. 

 

MADELINE:
So she hit her head five times while she was in that cell. And one fatal blow ended up causing Hemy paresis or bleeding in her brain. 

 

Archival tape -- News Reporter 2:
Well harrowing and heartbreaking are just some of the words used to describe the footage we’re about to show you of Tanya Day in a police cell in Castlemaine in 2017. 

 

MADELINE:
That CCTV footage was shown in court as well, and it was quite horrendous to watch.

 

Archival tape -- News Reporter 2:
Tanya Day’s children have been pushing for the release of this footage which has been played here at the coroner’s court at the inquest into their mother’s death. They say they want everyone to know how she was treated saying they believe police failed in their duty of care.  

 

MADELINE:
She was in hospital for a few days before she sadly passed away. And what's really tragic about this as well is that Auntie Tanya was a really staunch advocate for deaths in custody and for the families of people who are victims of deaths in custody. So for her to be taken from her own family in the same way is just pretty horrific. 

 

Archival tape -- April Day
We know that our mum would’ve been treated and still be alive today if she was a non-Indigenous woman.

 

Today the coroner, in the inquest into our mum’s death referred two police officers for criminal investigation. This isn’t the end of the road but is just the beginning for justice for our mum. 

 

RUBY:
So that was a few years ago now… there was a lot of media attention about it at the time. What has happened since -- have we seen any changes when it comes to Aboriginal deaths in custody? 

 

MADELINE:
So next month, it will be 30 years since the royal commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody with more than four hundred and sixty deaths. Three have happened in the in the first week of March. A woman in her 50s at Silverwater Prison, a man in his 30s at Long Bay in New South Wales, and another man at Ravenhall in Victoria that was all within, you know, seven days of each other. 

 

And just last week, there was a third man who passed away in custody.

 

Archival tape -- Lidia Thorpe
To wake up this morning and hear another death in custody is another stab in the heart.

 

MADELEINE:
He was a barking young man who died during a police pursuit in Broken Hill. 

 

Archival tape -- Lidia Thorpe
My people are sick of losing people. You know they tried to wipe us out two hundreds years ago - they failed. And we are still trying to survive in this country and they are killing us in the prison system. 

 

MADELINE:
So those deaths are absolutely, obviously devastating, not just for the family, but for the community. Every single time one of our community members dies in custody. Families of these victims, you know, experience excruciating pain. And despite that trauma, they have to go through all of these steps that no other family would really ever have to experience or deal with, like coronial inquests, dealing with the media, financial stress, having random people, you know, approaching them, wanting to do rallies. 

 

And the other aspect of having someone die in custody. You know, you have to really you have to break cultural protocol to be able to get any kind of justice in terms of, you know, saying their name and having their father out in the public when we shouldn't be doing that. So it's it's really difficult. 

 

RUBY:
Mm and you’ve been speaking to April Day - Tanya’s daughter about this. What has she been telling you? 

MADELINE:
So I spoke to April 

 

Archival tape -- April Day
You go through so much while going through the coronial inquest... 

 

MADELINE:
and she said that, you know, after experiencing everything with Mum going through the coronial inquest and realising how difficult the process is in terms of grieving, healing, advocating and the procedural stuff behind it, it just really highlighted the flaws in the system and how families can fall in between the cracks.

 

Archival tape -- April Day
And it’s the whole lead up to it, and just trying to navigate through that in terms of how you run a successful campaign while also making sure the person that you lost and that died in custody isn’t lost in the process as well… 

 

MADELINE:
She said that seeing how the community rallied behind us and how lucky she was and how she had really great media attention and then watching other families struggle really, really bothered her. 

 

Archival tape -- April Day
A lot of other families don’t get that at all. They don’t even get people supporting them enough to show up to the inquest to have an interview there or put out a written article. And that’s a horrible thing for that family because their family and their loved one deserve justice as well as recognition. 

 

MADELINE:
If they're not getting the media attention and not getting the public's attention about their loved one dying in custody, then there's less likelihood that they're actually going to get justice in any kind of way. 

 

Archival tape -- April Day
The news should be reporting on this as breaking news. Because it is. Because we have growing numbers of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people dying in custody and they’re just not acknowledging it. 

 

And I just thought I don’t want another family to have to go through what we’ve gone through. Or go through what we’ve gone through with less support than what we had. 

 

MADELINE:
So after going through that for years and years, April has decided, you know, to start effecting change herself. 

 

RUBY:
We’ll be back in a moment. 

[Advertisement]

RUBY:
Madeleine, can you tell me more about what exactly it is that April day is embarking on in the kind of change that she is hoping to make? 

 

MADELINE:
So one of the things that April's doing is actually setting up this foundation, the Dadua Foundation. 

 

Archival tape -- April Day
It sort of blows my mind that we’ve had a RC into Aboriginal deaths in custody, we’re nearly 30 years on from there, and there hasn’t been something established that’s just for families. 

 

MADELINE:
So the Dadua Foundation, its grassroots, and it's got absolutely no government influence. And grassroots care is sort of in terms of, you know, like doing all of that work that families find really, you know, hard to deal with when they're going through something like this, like organising rallies and supporting like with emotional support and, you know, just giving them a call or something like that, organising legal support and doing all of that work that seems like, you know, very overwhelming when something like this happens to you. 

 

Archival tape -- April Day
When something like this has happened and they can just get directed as the best thing to do at that time. And that doesn’t necessarily mean just because their loved one had passed away that week that they need to be in the media, no they need to take their time. But having somewhere that they can have a yarn through that is really important...

 

MADELINE:
So since then, she's carefully selected a board to be made up of four other families with lived experience of having a loved one die in custody. So some of those board members include Samarrah Fernandez Brown, the cousin of 19 year old Kumanjayi Walker who was shot in Yuendumu in the Northern Territory by police in his home. Michela Reynold's, she is the sister of Nathan Reynolds, who was just 36 years old when he died having an asthma attack while in custody. Aunty Carol Ann Lewis, who has sadly had many of her family members die at the hands of the system, and Troy Brady, who's the nephew of Aunty Sherry Tilbury, who died last year in Brisbane, watch house. 

 

RUBY:
Mm and so the way the foundation is being set up, it's really prioritising people who have lived experience. Right. Can you tell me how important that is? Because we know that often organisations in this space, they can be formed in this sort of top down way. And this seems to be a completely different approach. 

 

MADELINE:
Yeah, I think, you know, there's a lot of other organisations which can be either partially government funded or something like that. And they have people who work for the organisations who do have lived experience. But unfortunately, they kind of, you know, constrained in terms of what level of support they can give families. 

 

So something like this has been really needed, especially having those families who all have lived experience. They're all able to relate to the people, you know, that they're helping, which is super important. And as April said to me the other day, she doesn't even have to. They don't the families don't even have to say anything to her when she sees them because she already knows how they feel and what they need. 

 

Archival tape -- April Day
Because we’re able to connect on that level because of what's happened - and then we’ve grown - friendships have just grown because we’re there to support one another. 

 

MADELINE:
So I think having, you know, the board and able herself, all having lived experience, that's super important because until it happens to you just really have no idea how it feels. 

 

RUBY:
And when you reflect on the foundation and its necessary role, it is impossible not to think that the reality that the foundation is needed at all is an indictment of the reality of the situation in Australia. As you mentioned before, there have been four deaths in custody in the past month and to change that, systemic change is needed. Can you tell me where you think we are at as a country on that? 

 

MADELINE:
So I've been thinking about what Greens Senator Lydia Thorpe was saying at the front of parliament the other day. 

 

Archival tape -- Lidia Thorpe
This whole system is set up against us, it’s part of the colonial project, right? It was here to get rid of us. 

 

MADELINE:
You know, about the way that the colony was set up was to be like racist to blackfellas for us to be disadvantaged and, you know, put to the back of the line. 

 

Archival tape -- Lidia Thorpe
And every law that they’ve made since it’s been established in 1901 has been been to the detriment of Aboriginal people in this country. The oldest continuing living culture in this country. 

 

MADELINE:
And that's exactly what is still happening because there's been no real review of the police or any real change. 

 

Archival tape -- Lidia Thorpe
So yes there needs to be coordination. There needs to be accountability and those people that are responsible for killing our people need to be held to account. 

 

MADELINE:
There's just no way that you're going to get systemic or systemic racism or blatant racism is really what it is out of any of the police forces in this country until, you know, you abolish them and start again. 

 

Realistically, though, I don't know if, you know, the government would ever agree to abolish the police and restructure it. Obviously, it would cost a lot of money for one and for two. It's they just don't no one sees what the problem is other than kind of Aboriginal people and our fellow advocates. 

 

Personally, I think, you know, at the first level of contact that people have with the justice system, I think the police need to be abolished and restructured and I mean, a lot of people listening might think that abolishing the police is a really radical thing to do, but if people are serious about changing things for Aboriginal people in this country, then radical change is required for those radical type of results. 

 

RUBY:
Madeline, thanks so much for your time today.

 

MADELINE:
Thank you. 

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Also in the news today - 

 

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison
Afternoon, everyone. It is my intention today to advise the governor general of a number of proposed changes to my ministry… 

 

RUBY:
The Prime Minister has been forced to reshuffle his front bench, following weeks of revelations about the treatment of women in federal politics. 

 

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison
I've always wanted to ensure there is a strong voice of women in my government. And there has been. I think what we're announcing today goes further than that

 

RUBY:
Attorney-General Christian Porter and Defence MInister Linda Reynolds have been dumped from their senior ministerial positions, but will remain in cabinet. 

 

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison
He's a very capable minister and I'm sure he'll apply his considerable talents to that portfolio, to the best of his abilities... 

 

RUBY:
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has moved into the defence portfolio, and Michaelia Cash has become the Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister.

 

The Prime Minister also announced a new cabinet taskforce on women’s equality, safety, economic security, health and wellbeing, to be co-chaired by himself and the Minister for Women, Marise Payne. 

 

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison
Minister Payne will effectively become the leader of that group of women. She is effectively amongst her female colleagues, the prime minister for women, holding the prime ministerial responsibilities in this area as the Minister for women. 

 

RUBY:
And Brisbane went into a three day lockdown yesterday afternoon after four more cases of community transmission were detected. 

 

There are now fears Covid-19 may have spread into NSW, after two cases travelled to Byron Bay and visited venues while unknowingly infectious.

 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow. 

 

7am Podcast

The platypus is one of Australia’s most iconic and intriguing animals, but like so much of our natural wildlife it’s under threat.

The plight of the platypus



The platypus is one of Australia’s most iconic and intriguing animals, but like so much of our natural wildlife it’s under threat. Today, James Bradley on what makes the platypus so special and whether we’re at risk of a future without them.

Guest: Writer for The Monthly James Bradley.



Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

##RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am

 

The platypus is one of Australia’s most iconic and intriguing animals. 

 

But like so much of our natural wildlife it’s been under threat, first from our destruction of the environment and now from climate change.

 

Today, writer for The Monthly James Bradley on what makes the platypus so special and whether we’re at risk of a future without them.

 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

##RUBY:

James, could you start by telling me what a platypus is? 

 

##JAMES

A platypus is a monotreme, And they're very strange animals that are very famously They've got that very odd mixture of characteristics. The duck’s bill, the webbed feet, the fur. 

 

##Archival Tape -- David Attenborough 

The females had shelled eggs in their oviduct waiting to be laid. So to that extent, the platypus was like a reptile.

 

##JAMES

Which meant that early, early naturalists didn't actually believe they were real. 

 

##Archival Tape -- David Attenborough

When in 1799 a dried body of a creature arrived from Australia that had the beak of a duck, the fur of a rabbit, and for webbed feet, you can hardly blame a man of science for viewing it with some scepticism. 

 

##JAMES

For a long time there's a kind of debate about whether this was just a fraud.and it was a debate about what kind of animal it was and eventually established that it was a mammal.  

 

##Archival Tape -- David Attenborough

It had been sent from the newly established colony in NSWa nd Dr Shaw of the natural history of the department was understandably cautious,

 

##JAMES

But it kind of goes more than that. They're they've got 10 sex chromosomes instead of two, which is what most mammals have got. 

 

They don't really have the stomach. The gullet connects almost directly to their intestines. They're venomous. Only a very small number of mammals are venomous. 

 

##Archival Tape -- David Attenborough

Its most obvious anomaly, its beak, is not, in fact very birdlike. It's soft and rubbery and covered in tiny sensory paws 

 

##JAMES

And that bill that that funny ducks, bill they’ve got.There's some evidence to suggest that it's actually used as a kind of electro receptor. So when they're down in the water, they move it from side to side. And we've seen film of one underwater or seen one underwater. You'll see the way they move their head from side to side. And that's because the eyes and the ears are closed underwater. So they can't really see or hear, but they think what  they're doing is they're actually detecting minute changes of electricity in the environment, which allows them to sense their prey underwater. 

 

##Archival Tape -- David Attenborough

When you watch a platypus underwater, swimming energetically along the riverbed, waving its beak from side to side, it ought to put you in mind not of a duck grubbing around in the mud of the river bottom, but of a human treasure hunter walking over an archaeological site waving his electronic metal detector. 

 

##JAMES

So they're very, very strange animals. 

 

##RUBY

Hmm. Strange, but also very cute. 

 

##JAMES

They are very cute and they're very I mean, they're very beautiful. There's something wonderful about seeing them because it feels so. Perhaps I'm speaking as a city person, but it seems so unusual and kind of magical to actually see one. 

 

##RUBY

Mmm, it’s a rare thing to see a platypus in the wild, but how rare is it? What do we know about how the platypus population has been affected over the last decade or two by things like pests and drought and pollution? How many platypuses are still around?

 

##JAMES

Look, so the scientists I was talking to for this story, that was one of the things they were trying to w ork out. because we don't have very good data about platypuses, we don't have very good data about where they used to be, how many there used to be, you know, what they're kind of historical range was. 

 

And so one of the things they wanted to do was to work out that you can't you can't tell what's happening to them now unless we have some sense of how they used to be. And I was talking to a scientist called Dr. Tenille Hawk, who's at UNSW. 

 

##Archival Tape -- Dr. Tenille Hawk

I've been researching Platypus for the past five years as part of my PhD and then sort of continuing that work ever since, mainly looking at the impact of dams, historical declines, and then also trying to put together a bit of a national risk assessment for platypus.

 

##JAMES

and she did this absolutely fascinating study. So what she did was she went and did kind of like data journalism.

 

##Archival Tape -- Dr. Tenille Hawk

So we went through a lot of historic newspaper articles and journals to try and, you know, pull out any that mention platypuses or any of that mentioned platypus abundances.

 

##JAMES

They kind of tracked the sightings over time and saw how they changed and how they'd altered over time. They found that they've lost about a quarter of their range since 1990, which is an area of about the size of Victoria. 

 

But what came out of this process that was really fascinating to me was it wasn't just that they'd lost range, they'd lost abundance on a massive scale. 

 

##Archival Tape -- Dr. Tenille Hawk

One in particular was from the Princes Bridge in Melbourne on the Yarra River, which is right in the CBD, and a place I think it was 1908. They captured twenty two platypus there in one day, which just seems crazy now because obviously it's so urbanised and platypus aren't found there anymore.

 

##JAMES

When you talk to Tenille, which she says is what happens is when you start reading these records, you realise that there was so many more platypuses in the past.

 

##Archival Tape -- Dr. Tenille Hawk

So evidence like that was quite alarming given that these days people will see one or two platypus and take that as a unique experience. 

 

##JAMES

So what that suggests is that what we've got with the platypuses is what the Canadian marine scientist Daniel Pauly calls a shifting baseline. So we have a kind of forgetting of the past is kind of shifting our sense of what is normal. 

 

So we've moved from a situation where platypuses were extremely abundant to where they're not particularly abundant. And we've just it happen gradually. So we haven't kind of noticed that attrition over time. 

 

##RUBY:

Mm hmm. And James, what is the biggest threat to the platypus now? 

 

##JAMES

Look, one of the things that came out of the research that the scientists I was talking to were doing is that the problem for the platypus is that there isn't just one threat. 

 

What there are is there's a whole range of threats. You know, there are threats of fire. Of drought, of increased flooding, of disturbance of waterways, you know, all of these things, and it's not that any one of them, it's an increasingly what we're beginning to see is a convergence of these things. 

 

So they start accelerating each other, yet these kind of synergies between threats happening. So it's not just that there's a threat to them is that there's lots and lots of threats and they start intersecting and there's this kind of sense that they're just, you know, like lots of these kind of natural systems, they could probably survive one of these things, but they can't survive all of them at once. 

 

##RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment. 

 

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##RUBY:

James, we’re talking about the dwindling platypus population and the reasons for that. What are scientists looking at as they try and determine what exactly is going on?

 

##JAMES:

So I spoke in the course of doing the research for the article to a fantastic scientist Dr. Gilad Bino. And he has been doing research on platypuses for years. 

 

##Archival Tape -- Dr. Gilad Bino

The first one that I saw, it was a miserable night. It was pouring. We're cooped up in our car waiting to check nets. So we go we have these five minutes that we check every three hours throughout the night. And so that's that's like just gruelling.. And I remember the first one we caught was a female juvenile. So she was absolutely tiny, adorable, so cute. It was amazing.  And you know I haven’t stopped since.

  

##JAMES:

After the huge fires across the summer of 2019, 2020, they wanted to go and look at what effect that it had on platypus populations. 

 

##Archival Tape -- Dr. Gilad Bino

Last year, much of New South Wales was experiencing a severe drought and then the fires hit. And so we wanted to really have a look, a close look at the impacts of that kind of combination.

 

##JAMES:

So they went up to a series of sites in the catchments of the Manning and Hastings River up near Taree,

 

##Archival Tape -- Dr. Gilad Bino out on site

 

##JAMES:

And they chose a series of sites there. And those sites, some of them were sites where the fires had not burned through so unaffected by fire. Some of them were sites that have been kind of indirectly affected by fires. 

 

So although the area itself would not burned, ash and run off from the fires had washed into that section of the river and affected it. And what they found was that the populations seemed to be OK in the areas which had only been indirectly affected, but where they'd been fire, There were very few platypuses. 

 

##Archival Tape -- Dr. Gilad Bino

And what we came across was really obvious where on Dingo Creek that got burnt down were hardly any platypuses. Very, very low numbers, just a handful. 

 

##JAMES:

In the areas where they've been, where they'd been burned and the fires had destroyed all of the vegetation on the along the banks of the rivers, and, you know, that affects the platypuses in various ways that lose their shading. They lose all of the food that drops out of the trees because they get lots of invertebrate larvae that kind of drop out insect larvae that drop out of the trees. 

 

##RUBY:

So James, what is all of this telling us about the future for platypuses in Australia? If the population is dwindling - how worried should we be? 

 

##JAMES:

Yeah, I mean, his research is telling us that, you know, the platypus is in a difficult place. Its numbers are going to continue to decline if action is not taken. Some of the scenarios I mean, Dr Bino and his and his colleagues have done some research around kind of projections over the next 50 years. And some of the scenarios are really very bad. I mean, they might lose up to kind of half their range in the next 50 years. 

 

You now what that means is that we're looking at, you know, not the extinction of the platypus, but lots of local extinctions. They'll just disappear from lots of areas unless we start trying to change the way we do things like managing water and things like that as well.

 

So, you know, what the researchers are saying to us is that the future for the platypus is difficult. 

 

##Archival Tape -- Dr. Gilad Bino

I think it's really important to get the platypus listed as vulnerable. I think the data that we analysed indicates that the species is vulnerable, it's been undergoing declines and we think it meets the criteria. And so I think that that, you know, to the platypus deserves our conservation in the coming future. 

 

##JAMES:

A lot of this research has been fed into a, into a submission to the Environment Department because what they're trying to do is to get the Platypus listed as a threatened species at a federal level.  

 

That is the really important process for a whole range of reasons. 

 

So many of the threats that the platypus faces are actually things that kind of extend over state borders. So there are things about water management. They're about weirs. They're about, you know, environmental flows, and they're about things like climate action.

 

We're at a point where if we do the right thing at this point, we can actually help it, we're not kind of past the point of no return. We haven't passed a kind of tipping point with it. And we know what we need to do to help it. 

 

##RUBY:

Mmm. And what would it say about us if we did allow a creature as unique and as Australian as the platypus to disappear? 

 

##JAMES:

Look, I mean, the loss of the platypus is one of those things that. Seems very difficult to countenance, it's one of those very iconic, extremely charismatic kind of species 

 

Certainly the kind of settler culture in Australia has placed it very much at a kind of centre of our idea of The land. You know, I mean, it's on our money, we used it as a, as a mascot. And there is something both kind of shocking, I think, and telling about the idea that something that we see as so iconic might actually be a victim of the society that's celebrating it. 

 

##RUBY:

Mm hmm. James, thank you so much for talking to me about the platypus 

 

##JAMES:

Thank you for having me. 

 

##RUBY:

The Monthly is Australia’s leading magazine covering politics, society and culture.

 

As a listener of 7am you can get The Monthly for half price. A 12 month digital subscription to the magazine is just $3.50 a month.

 

Go to The Monthly dot com dot au slash podcast offer to subscribe. This offer is available until April 5 .

 

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Also in the news today…

 

Queensland Liberal MP Andrew Laming (Lamb-ING) will quit politics at the next election, after a Brisbane woman accused him of taking a photo of her underwear while she was bending down at work in 2019.

 

Laming initially said he would stand aside and undertake counselling in response to the allegations.

 

And one new case of Covid-19 was recorded in Queensland yesterday, as authorities attempt to control a new outbreak.

 

The Queensland government originally claimed positive Covid-19 case had held a large house party while awaiting test results, but police now say that was false and no offence was committed.

 
I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See ya tomorrow.

7am Podcast

Scott Morrison told the women of Australia this week he was listening to their concerns. But since then the Liberal Party has been rocked by more and more allegations of bad behaviour and sexism. Today, Rachel Withers on what this week revealed about Australian politics, and whether Scott Morrison’s actions are living up to his words.

Scott Morrison says he’s listening. Should we believe him?



Scott Morrison told the women of Australia this week he was listening to their concerns. But since then the Liberal Party has been rocked by more and more allegations of bad behaviour and sexism. Today, Rachel Withers on what this week revealed about Australian politics, and whether Scott Morrison’s actions are living up to his words.

Guest: Contributing editor for The Monthly Rachel Withers.



Transcript

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones - this is 7am.

This week, Prime MInister Scott Morrison told the women of Australia he was listening to their concerns on the issue of sexual assault and harassment. But in the days that followed the Liberal Party was rocked by more and more allegations of bad behaviour and sexism. Today, contributing editor for *The Monthly* Rachel Withers, on what this week revealed about Australian politics, and whether Scott Morrison’s actions are living up to his words.

***

RUBY:

Rachel, on Tuesday, Scott Morrison, held a pretty extraordinary press conference. And this was really an attempt to finally address the biggest issue that has been facing his government for weeks now - that issue being these rolling revelations and allegations about the sexism, harassment and abuse of women in politics. So tell me about what happened? 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Good morning everyone. I want to do two things this morning. I want to address again the rather disturbing and continuing…”

RACHEL:

So the prompt for this press conference on Tuesday was a new allegation which emerged on Monday night of, frankly, disgusting, sexist conduct. There was a report from Channel Ten that Coalition staffers had been exchanging photos in a group message, filming themselves masturbating on female MPs desks, and allegations that there was also procurement of male sex workers by staffers for particular MPs. One of those staffers has been sacked, was sacked immediately, and it was obvious that Scott Morrison had to come out and address the media and the public about these disturbing claims - claims that are now emerging from Canberra with increasing regularity.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“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.”

RACHEL:

So the Prime Minister made a couple of things clear in his press conference. He wanted to make it clear to women through tears that he had heard them and that he was listening to them. 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“We've been talking about it in this place for a month. They've been living with it for their entire lives. And the women listening to me today know that to be true. So as much as it has been a topic of discussion here and around the country, specifically in relation to these disgraceful acts, it is something that has been the lived experience of Australian women for a very long time. And I welcome the spotlight that is now being placed on this.”

RACHEL:

He said that he was taking their concerns seriously and he said that his wife and daughters and this time his widowed mother did count for something

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Criticise me, if you like, for speaking about my daughters but they are the centre of my life. My wife is the centre of my life. My mother, my widowed mother is the centre of my life. They motivate me every day on this issue. They have motivated me my entire life, they have taught me the values and the faith that sustains me every single day in this job, which is why I'm here. I owe them everything. And to them, I say to you girls, I will not let you down.” 

RACHEL:

But he also felt the need all of a sudden to make it clear to the media that he had dirt on their workplaces and he would employ it as necessary, with or without the consent of complainants. 

RUBY:

So tell me about that, because this was pretty extraordinary. Scott Morrison was being asked about the treatment of women in Canberra, and he responded with this accusation about the treatment of women in the media. Can you tell me about what was actually said?

RACHEL:

Yeah. Sky News's Andrew Clennell asked Scott Morrison whether he had lost control of his ministerial staff. 

Archival Tape -- Andrew Clennell

“If you were the boss of the business and there'd been an alleged rape on your watch and this incident we'd heard about last night on your watch, your job would probably being in a bit of jeopardy, wouldn't it? Doesn't it look like you've lost control of your ministerial staff?”

RACHEL:

and Morrison shot back...

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Well, I'll 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'd invite you to do so. “

Archival Tape -- Andrew Clennell

“Well, they’re better than these I would suggest, Prime Minister”

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Well let me take you up on that…”

RACHEL:

The Prime Minister went on to note that Clennell own organisation's HR department was currently looking into a complaint from a woman regarding harassment in a bathroom.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“Right now, you'd be aware 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”

Archival Tape -- Andrew Clennell

“I’m not aware of it.”

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“You’re not aware of it!”

RACHEL:

And he went on to reference the proverb that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“So let's not all of us who sit in glass houses here start getting into that. What I'm suggesting…”

RACHEL:

And he ended the entire exchange with what can only be considered a warning. 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison

“So you're free, you're free to make your criticisms and to stand on that pedestal. But be careful”. 

RUBY:

Mm. So what do you think is going on here and to what extent do you think we should be hearing this as a warning? 

RACHEL:

Well, it's not clear that Morrison set out to make that warning. That wasn't the point of the press conference, but it seemed a bit more like a flare up of temper, a man losing control of himself. But it completely undermined his point. And really any of the goodwill that he built up with what he'd said before. It was an appalling comment. In effect, he publicised and weaponized a woman's story without her consent. And it's all the worse because he did it while supposedly encouraging women to come forward, saying that they were going to be listened to. And as for that anonymous complaint, Sky News has actually said that no such complaint exists, as has News Corp. News Corp did reveal later in the day that there was one incident on its books, but it didn't involve a bathroom, didn't involve alleged sexual misconduct, and no formal complaint was made to the H.R. department. So it's not clear what the prime minister was referring to. And he's since apologised to News Corp in a Facebook post from 11pm that day.

But what is also disturbing, I think, about the comment was this implicit threat made towards the media. He was sort of getting at this idea of mutually-assured destruction, that journalists couldn't ask questions of him if they themselves worked for imperfect organisations and that he would be fighting allegation with allegation if anyone dared challenge him. And he's his new tearful rhetoric. It was sort of saying that journalists should stop turning over rocks, let alone throwing them. And it sounded a bit like be quiet as much as be careful, even though you're no longer being quiet is exactly what this moment is all about.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

[ ADVERTISEMENT ]
 

RUBY:

Rachel, on Wednesday, we had a fresh sexism scandal to contend with, this one also involving the Liberal Party. Can you tell me about it? 

RACHEL:

Yeah. So this scandal is brought to us by Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz. He's been a Senator for 25 years and he is associated with the hard right of the Liberal Party. He was an ardent Abbott supporter. So on Wednesday, the speaker of the Tasmanian Lower House, a Liberal MP named Sue Hickey, got up in Parliament and detailed a conversation she had with Abetz on the 1st of March. 

Archival Tape -- Sue Hickey

“On Monday the first of March at the Hobart City Council citizenship ceremony, I casually asked Senator…”

RACHEL:

According to Hickey, Abetz essentially slut shamed former Liberal staffer Brittney Higgins and suggested she had actually put the country's security at risk. 

Archival Tape -- Sue Hickey

“He then said, ‘As for that Higgins girl, anybody who is so disgustingly drunk who would sleep with anybody could have slept with one of our spies and put the security of our nation at risk’.” 

RACHEL:

And she also referenced comments that he allegedly made about the woman who accused Christian Porter of a historical rape - an accusation he denies. Basically, she asked him, was it Christian Porter who'd been accused - it was still an anonymous complaint at that point...

Archival Tape -- Sue Hickey

“The Senator quickly responded that ‘yes, it was the First Law Officer of the nation, Christian Porter. But not to worry, the woman is dead and the law will protect him’.”

RUBY:

Mm, ok. And so what is Eric Abetz saying about all of this? 

RACHEL:

So at the time Hickey was making those claims in the Tasmanian Parliament, Abetz was actually in Federal Parliament chairing a Senate committee. He paused the committee's proceedings to deny the allegations and actually accused Hickey of trying to destroy the Liberal Party. 

Archival Tape -- Eric Abetz

“I have draughted a statement categorically denying the mischievous assertions made under parliamentary privilege, and a statement will be coming out shortly…”

RACHEL:

Hickey was elected as a Liberal, but she's planning on running as an independent at the next election after being disendorsed by the party. And so Abetz is suggesting this is an act of political retribution. 

Archival Tape -- Eric Abetz

“On Sunday, the Premier informed her she was no longer welcome or wanted in the Liberal Party, and one can imagine what has occasioned these outbursts by her...”.

RACHEL:

But Hickey, for her part, responded to Eric Abetz as the response again in Parliament, standing by her initial statement and refuting the suggestion that she's doing this for revenge. 

RUBY:

OK, and all of this is happening just a day after the Prime Minister got up and said that he was here to listen to the women of Australia and he would take on board their concerns. So what is he saying about these allegations?

RACHEL:

Yeah, so as you mentioned, he had said that women weren't listened to enough and that he promised he was going to start doing so. But after Sue Hickey made those allegations, he had a perfect chance to actually demonstrate that, to back up his words with actions by listening to a woman who claims that a member of his government had said some truly shocking things about women. But he didn't do it. He backed Eric Abetz’s version and said he accepted his denial, and we've now since seen the Tasmanian Premier, Peter Gutwein, come out and write to Morrison and inform the media that Sue Hickey did raise these comments with him before she raised them in Parliament, and that he had considered the matter raised, basically challenging Morrison to actually look into them, or that's at least how it's being interpreted. So we'll see how tenable it is for Morrison now to just accept another man's denial and move on.

RUBY:

Mm. And it seems like Scott Morrison thought at the beginning of this week that he would be able to try and reset the conversation around sexism and and sexual assault and harassment in politics. But, judging by the reaction to his press conference and also these rolling allegations, it seems like every day there is something new coming out, that strategy isn't going to work. So do you think that it is possible for Scott Morrison to try and manage this situation politically without actually making any structural change?

RACHEL:

Look, probably not at this stage. I think at the start of this six weeks ago, the ‘Scotty from Marketing’ that lives in some people's heads could have managed this politically if he'd stepped up and said some of the correct words that he tried to use on Tuesday, but he didn't. And then when he tried to start doing that on Tuesday, he made the situation worse. So he thought, I guess, that he could wait this out, but it's just not gone away. In fact, it's snowballing. This week has been full of allegations, we started with the Liberal staffers, with their group chat, then we had Abetz, and then yesterday after Abetz we had allegations that a New South Wales government MP had raped a sex worker, which were aired in parliament. And that's a Nationals MP who since come forward to acknowledge that he's under investigation, and he’s denied it. We've also had Greens Senator Lydia Thorpe talking about her experiences in Parliament of really horrific sexual harassment towards a Senator from, again, Coalition figures. And we know there's just heaps more. So, yeah, it looks like we are going to have to see something bigger from Morrison now. We are actually going to have to see some serious action because this is a serious issue that demands structural change and saying that he's listening, even if he hadn't immediately gone and disproven, that isn't enough.

RUBY:

When you look at what has unfolded over the past week and the reaction to what Scott Morrison has said, how much pressure do you think he's under and how damaging is this becoming to him politically?

RACHEL:

Yeah, I think this week we saw how specifically damaging it is to him after those Tuesday comments when he threw out the ‘people in glass houses’ line at the media. We saw even News Corp begin to turn on him the next day with negative front pages. I mean, he did directly attack their organisation with an unfounded allegation. What was supposed to be a day that he reset the narrative. It all became a lot more personal for him. It's clear that he's realised this is extremely personally damaging to him and it's as much about solving his political problem as it is about solving the crisis. There's a lot of conversation going on about Josh Frydenberg and Peter Dutton and what they might be thinking about this week, especially if News Corp really has turned on Morrison; we'll see how long that lasts - it might have been just a bit of a slap down. He's apologised to News Corp, but without them on his side, he's in serious trouble. 

RUBY:

Rachel, thank you so much for your time today.

RACHEL:

Thanks, Ruby.

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RUBY:

Also in the news today…

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that his Chief of Staff will investigate whether his office leaked negative comments about former staffer Brittany Higgins’s partner to the media. Morrison has resisted calls to investigate the issue but announced the inquiry after Higgins wrote to him with a formal complaint.

And a 37-year-old Barkindji man Anzac Sullivan has died during a police pursuit in Broken Hill. Sullivan’s death occurred on the 18th of March, making it the fourth Indigenous death in custody in Australia in three weeks. The NSW Aboriginal Legal Service is calling for an independent investigation into Sullivan’s death.

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Elle Marsh, Michelle Macklem, and Cinnamon Nippard, with technical production by Atticus Bastow.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. 

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Follow us in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out.

I’m Ruby Jones, see ya next week.

 

7am Podcast

One of Australia’s biggest arts festivals is facing an intense backlash after announcing a work that called for the blood of First Nations people. Today, Tristen Harwood on what this controversy tells us about the way Australia’s cultural institutions are operating.

The backlash engulfing an Australian arts festival



One of Australia’s biggest arts festivals is facing an intense backlash after announcing a work that called for the blood of First Nations people. Today, Tristen Harwood on what this controversy tells us about the way Australia’s cultural institutions are operating. 

Guest: Art critic for The Saturday Paper Tristen Harwood.



Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am

 

One of Australia’s biggest arts festivals is facing an intense backlash after announcing a work that called for the blood of First Nations people.

 

The work, by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra, was revealed as the headline piece at Tasmania’s Dark Mofo festival.

 

It purported to be a comment on the bloody history of colonialism, but to many Indigenous artists - it was insulting and reductive. 

 

Today - art critic for The Saturday Paper Tristen Harwood, on the problems with shock jock art, and what this controversy tells us about the way Australia’s cultural institutions are operating. 

 

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Tristan this week, Dark Mofo, which is the arts festival based in Tasmania, announced its first major project for 2021 and it created a huge backlash. First, though, can you tell me a bit about the festival itself and the lead up to the announcement for this specific work? 

 

TRISTEN:

Yeah, so Dark Mofo is a festival which is attached to the Museum of Old and New Art, which has been described as a subversive adult Disneyland. It's centred around themes of sex and death, and the festival’s known now for often using, like quite a shocking headline performance.

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter #1:

“Thousands of people have today shunned protesters and petitions to witness an Australian exclusive as part of Dark Mofo…”
 

TRISTEN:

So in 2017, they hosted the Austrian provocateur Hermann Nitsch and the artwork he produced for them was a performance, in which he invited volunteers to smear themselves in the bloody entrails of a slaughtered bull, and this is sort of done for an audience.
 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reported #2:

“The deceased bull, the centrepiece of the Viennese actionism, involving an orgy of live orchestra, pungent smells, eating and drinking and the removal of the beast’s internal organs.”

TRISTEN:

You know it’s about creating a bloody scene, a spectacle, and obviously it's going to attract disgust and that's sort of, all part of it. You know, the idea is that it kind of challenges your expectations of art. And I think when that is the premise of your festival, you're already heading into dicey territory, because you constantly are going to need to ‘up the ante’ and so it becomes a question of ‘how far can we go before it's too shocking for our audience?’ And so they're always they're always trying to push the line of, like, what an audience is willing to accept. And, you know, up until 2021 that has kind of worked for them.

RUBY:

Mmm, so what happened this year?

 

TRISTEN:

So for about a week Dark Mofo has been running the promotional material, which is a red square, with black text that reads ‘We Want Your Blood’, and it looks like a kind of still from the intro to a horror film or something like an Alice Cooper album cover. Y’know it was the typical kind of thing that you would expect of Dark Mofo, but it was about four days ago the real intentions of this promotional material were revealed to the public.

The promotional material was for an artwork by Santiago Sierra. The artwork is called ‘Union Flag’, and for the artwork, Santiago Sierra is calling on First Nations people whose territories were colonised by the British Empire to donate their blood, which then would be used to drench the British flag. 

 

RUBY:

Ok, and before we unpack the problems with that particular work, can you tell me a bit about the artist behind it, Santiago Sierra?

 

TRISTEN:

So Santiago Sierra is an internationally recognised white Spanish artist, and he's well known for his provocative artworks, which typically replicate forms of exploitation. So, for instance, in his work ‘160cm Line Tattooed on Four People’ consisted of the artist paying four sex workers who were living with heroin dependencies the price of a single shot of heroin to allow him to tattoo a straight line across their bodies, and the result of that is, is an editioned photograph and a video that Sierra presents as the artwork.

Other works that Santiago Sierra’s produced are ‘240 Cubic Metres’ in which he travelled to a German town just outside of Cologne and created a gas chamber in a former synagogue; and to do this he got six cars and essentially plugged their exhausts into the synagogue, creating a poisonous atmosphere and, you know, people that defend his work will say that he's kind of showing the banality of the Holocaust to an audience, whereas the Jewish community in Germany were shocked and upset by the work.

So there's this perpetuation of a kind of white supremacist idea in serious work that, he's the knowledge holder and he's the person that that speaks for the vulnerable person who he's representing in his work.
 

RUBY:

And is that his rationale for this particular work, ‘Union Flag’? What has he said about what the intent of it is?

 

TRISTEN:

So this is what I find interesting about ‘Union Flag’ is that some of his rationale for the former works seems to be lost in ‘Union Flag’. You know, the claim there's a kind of confused claim that's happening in his letter calling for donations of blood, where he's saying that he's showing how bloody the history of colonialism is, and he’s educating a broad audience who may not know about this. But at the same time his letter says things like ‘all blood is red’ and ‘all blood has the same consistency’, these kind of, post-racial cliches. But his work, in calling for a racialized subject, the First Nations person, relies on that very racial hierarchy that he's also trying to counter so there’s something a little bit confusing happening in the work.

 

RUBY:

And so how did people respond to this work? 

 

TRISTEN:

Understandably; outrage, upset...

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #1:

“Consider the difference between claiming freedom of expression for work which is provocative or controversial, versus work or commentary that’s really actually just racist or culturally offensive…”

TRISTEN:

...vexation, despair…

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Commentator #2:

“They've already taken our blood. The damage has already been done within the Tasmanian community and the art sector, and the trauma and distress that we've had to wear as a community the last couple of days trying to explain why this is so wrong…”

TRISTEN:

...and I think a really adequate response from First Nations people who are, you know, creatives, artists and curators, and other allies that have been exposed to Dark Mofo. Some of the comments were from performers who had formerly performed at the festival, including the rapper Briggs, who's said that we have already given enough blood. 

 

Kimberly Molton, who's a Yorta Yorta woman and the senior curator of Museums Victoria said that it's an insulting and abhorrent curatorial decision. There has been enough First People's blood spilt across the world because of the English. This is not decolonising. It's not provocative or groundbreaking conceptual practise. It's shock jock art. 

 

Another person, Jam Graham Blair, who's a Trululawei artist wrote that ‘Indigenous bodies are not tools to be used by colonizers, we are not props for your white guilt art’. And that, I think, is a really important insight into Sierra's practise because he requires his “marginalised” participants to not be collaborators, to not have a voice, to not be interlocutors in the work; because the material of his work, what he's showing, what he's using to provoke, is their suffering, is their marginality. So for them to speak, it reduces their marginality and also decentres him as the kind of creative entrepreneur behind this artwork.

So to see this kind of really intelligent, and thoughtful, and cutting critique shows not that the work was provocative in how it wanted to be, but that there is already an existing critical mass of Indigenous practice in this country and that, for me, that's where radical art practise exists. And if you want to do something radical and unconventional as a festival, why aren't you going to these people in the first place? And that's a big question from me, for Leigh Carmichael, who is the creative director of Dark Mofo. 

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

 

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RUBY:
Tristen, how has Dark Mofo responded to the criticism that they received about Santiago Sierra’s work, ‘Union Flag’?
 

TRISTEN:

The initial response from Dark Mofo, or specifically from the festival's creative director, Leigh Carmichael, was to stand by the artwork. 

Archival Tape -- Leigh Carmichael: 

“The artist is anti colonialism. He's very firm about that. I feel very comfortable standing next to him on that. I believe he has a right, as all people do, to voice their opinions and views, freedom of expression is real and it's a fundamental right of artists, and all of us…”

 

TRISTEN:

And he's quoted as saying that he'd been working on this work for two years, which is quite alarming to me. It wasn't okay to take our blood two years ago, a year ago, and it's still not now, so...where was the consultation around that? So Carmichael said that it was like a complex and confronting work, he thinks that this is why it should be shown. 

 

Archival Tape -- Leigh Carmichael:

“As an outsider, he brings a different perspective, potentially an objective perspective, to the table. And I'm interested to see how it plays out. But I'm very passionate about those issues. If this gives some Tasmanian Aboriginal community members a voice they wouldn't have otherwise had, then it will have been worthwhile.”

 

TRISTEN:

And after staunchly standing by the work in the morning of Tuesday, he later in the day completely backflipped, and put out an apology saying that he was sorry for the hurt that the work had caused, and that the work would be cancelled. And that was kind of the extent of the apology. There wasn't really any promise for any structural reform within Dark Mofo. 

 

RUBY:

What does all of this say to you about the structures of Dark Mofo and the attitude and approach that it's taking here? 

 

TRISTEN:

Nala Mansell, who's a campaigner at the Tasmanian Aboriginal centre, gave an interview on ABC Radio saying that she was unaware of any consultation with Aboriginal peoples before the idea was put out there for the work. 

 

Archival Tape -- Nala Mansell:

“We’ve spilled enough blood over the past 220 years, and we’d like to see amends made for the blood shed by Aboriginal people over the past 200 years, rather than asking for more.”

 

TRISTEN:

But what it says to me about the processes within Dark Mofo, is that there's a lack of understanding about Indigenous artistic practice, there's a lack of understanding about things that are happening in Australia, there's a lack of understanding about like the implications of colonialism that are continuing in Australia; and that as an organisation there needs to be structural reform where Indigenous peoples are in positions with decision making power. So, to me, it seems like there's a lack of capacity within the organisation to even begin to engage with Indigenous peoples in the local community, and in the broader artistic community. 

 

RUBY:

And is this bigger than just MONA and Dark Mofo? Are these kinds of issues common in the art world, in Australia? 

 

TRISTEN:

On a structural level, yes. So I would say have a look at the major institutions in Australia: how many Indigenous gallery directors do you see? How many senior curators do you see, even in the positions that are responsible for Indigenous collections? It's not often that you're seeing something as offensive as ‘Union Flag’ in the public sphere, but when you're entering into gallery spaces and museums, there's collections that they are responsible for that have a long history related to this kind of colonial violence: theft of remains, theft of ancestral objects, and the kind of classificatory systems that are used to define indigenous art practise, which render one object an artefact and another object an artwork, without really considering the context and the intentions of the creators of these works. 

 

But I think it's really important to acknowledge that this work was scrapped because of a collective action and Indigenous peoples refusal to engage in the terms of the artwork. And to me, this is one of the most successful critiques of Sierra's practise because it shows that his so-called ‘marginalised subjects’ are not powerless, colonised peoples, and it demonstrates that he's never spoken for the subjects that are in his art, and that he never could. 

 

RUBY:

Tristen, thank you so much for your time.

 

TRISTEN:

Thank you. 

 

RUBY:

You can read Tristen Harwood’s story on Dark Mofo and ‘Union Flag’ in this weekend’s edition of The Saturday Paper.

 

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RUBY:

Also in the news today...

 

Tasmanian state MP Sue Hickey has used parliamentary privilege to accuse Liberal senator Eric Abetz of "slut-shaming" former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.

 

Ms Hickey said she had a conversation with Senator Abetz on March 1, in which he said “anybody so disgustingly drunk, who would sleep with anybody, could have slept with one of our spies and put the security of the nation at risk.”

 

In a statement, Senator Abetz said he "categorically denied" that he made the comments.

 

And, the New South Wales government has announced a significant easing of COVID-19 restrictions, putting social distancing rules at almost pre-pandemic levels. 

 

As of March 29 there will be no restrictions on dancing or singing, no caps on numbers at weddings, funerals, and private homes, and 100 percent seated capacity allowed at entertainment venues.  

 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

 

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