New laws to follow abuse apology

The federal government today plans to introduce legislation in response to a review into parliamentary workplace culture, after a formal apology to victims of harassment and abuse.

What we know:

  • The legislation aims to implement some of the recommendations from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ inquiry into parliamentary workplaces (ABC); 
  • “It will put in place additional protections for employees recommended by the sex discrimination commissioner, so they have confidence the same sorts of protections that apply in other workplaces also apply to employees of members of parliament,” said Finance Minister Simon Birmingham;
  • The move follows an apology in parliament on Tuesday from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other party leaders – which was another recommendation of the review;
  • Morrison apologised for the “terrible things” that happened in Parliament (The Guardian);  
  • A cross-party taskforce acknowledgment recognised “the unacceptable history of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces … and we say sorry” (The Conversation); 
  • Former Australian of the Year Grace Tame, who was not present in the chamber, tweeted: “How about some proactive, preventative measures and not just these preformative, last-minute Band-Aid electioneering stunts?” 
  • Tame and former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins will today address the National Press Club;
  • Higgins and other victims of alleged harassment were in Parliament for the apology, after fighting to secure a last-minute invite (news.com.au).
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Religious bill passes partyroom vote

A majority of the Coalition party room has endorsed the Morrison government’s religious discrimination bill, including controversial amendments to protect gay but not transgender students from expulsion.

What we know:

  • The endorsement followed a lengthy debate, with moderate Liberals raising concerns about the lack of protections for trans students and LGBTQI teachers (SBS); 
  • Liberal MP Bridget Archer said she was “horrified” government amendments excluded children that identified as transgender and still plans to vote against it (The Guardian); 
  • Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said the decision to protect only gay students – but not transgender students – from expulsion as part of the proposed laws was about ensuring single-sex schools were not ill-equipped to deal with students who transitioned (The Age); 
  • Swimming champion Ian Thorpe, in Canberra to lobby against the proposed laws, condemned the bill as “state-sanctioned discrimination” that sought to “gain rights for one group of people, whilst excluding another group of people” (The New Daily); 
  • Labor shadow assistant treasurer Stephen Jones called on the parliament not to rush through the bill, paying tribute to his nephew, Wally, who recently took their own life while struggling with their gender identity (ABC); 
  • Labor is yet to finalise its position, with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese supporting “the idea of course that you shouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of your faith”.

Lifeline Australia — 13 11 14

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Defence grants poorly managed

The Department of Defence inappropriately managed the expenditure of taxpayer funds in a range of grants, a previously confidential audit reveals.

The internal audit conducted in June 2020 uncovered widespread failures in the defence department's grants process (ABC). 

Auditors noted that the department approved grants totalling $196m between 2017 and 2019.

Grant approval documents, including briefings to relevant ministers, were not provided to auditors, the department was unable to locate financial assessments, and most grants failed to provide updates to ensure funds were being spent appropriately.

“Every one of them failed in one way or another to follow the prescribed procedures for obtaining grants. And that is very disturbing,” said former Victorian Supreme Court justice David Harper.

Harper said there was an urgent need for a new national integrity agency that could oversee such issues.

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Drought driving East Africa into famine

An estimated 13 million people in the Horn of Africa are facing severe hunger after three consecutive failed rainy seasons, the UN has warned.

The UN World Food Programme said drought has affected pastoral and farmer populations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia (Al Jazeera). 

“Harvests are ruined, livestock are dying, and hunger is growing as recurrent droughts affect the Horn of Africa,” said Michael Dunford, director of the WFP for eastern Africa.

“The situation requires immediate humanitarian action and consistent support to build the resilience of communities for the future.”

Shortages of water and pasture have decimated crops and caused abnormally high livestock deaths, while hikes in staple food prices and low demand for agricultural labour have reduced people’s ability to buy food.

The UN warned last year that more than 100 million “extremely poor” people across Africa were being threatened by accelerating climate change that could also melt away the continent’s few glaciers within 20 years.

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Covid pushes arts industries to brink

The creative industries across the world lost 10 million jobs in 2020, a UNESCO report estimates, with artists’ incomes collapsing due to Covid restrictions and the rise of digital consumption.

“All over the world, museums, cinemas, theatres and concert halls – places of creation and sharing – have closed their doors … what was already a precarious situation for many artists has become unsustainable, threatening creative diversity,” said Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of UNESCO (The Guardian). 

The global value of the creative industries contracted by more than $1bn in 2020, according to figures in the report

The study authors called on governments to strengthen labour protection for artists and a minimum wage for cultural workers.

They also urged action to bridge the “streaming value gap” – the disparity between the value that streaming platforms extract from content and the revenue generated by creators.

The report comes as Ireland introduces a basic income for arts and culture workers (ArtNet). 

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The risk of media attention is considered low … however it is noted that anti coal-seam gas sentiment exists around Chinchilla, with an active ‘Knitting Nannas Against Gas’ group.

A Queensland government briefing memo reveals why state authorities took so long to address a gas seep “capable of posing risk to life or property”: they were too busy fretting about activist nannas (The Guardian).

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Postscript: They’re Flamin’ Hotting Everything Now

“​​More than a spicy sensation or a national craze, Flamin’ Hot is an attitude, one that pushes you to reject the status quo and embrace your inner edge,” writes a brand rep for Ruffles in an email. This comes with the announcement of the company’s new Flamin’ Hot Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles, in partnership with LeBron James (Eater).

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Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.