Thursday, March 25, 2021

Porter, Reynolds face demotions

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is eyeing a cabinet reshuffle that would see Attorney-General Christen Porter and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds lose their portfolios, in a bid to defuse criticism of the government’s response to sexual assault allegations. A range of media outlets are reporting that Porter would shift out of the attorney-general role to avoid perceptions of a conflict of interest while he sues the ABC over its reporting of rape allegations. He would potentially swap ministries with Employment Minister Michaelia Cash. Following Reynolds’ heavily criticised handling of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations, Peter Dutton has been tipped for her defence ministry, with Stuart Robert flagged for the Home Affairs portfolio and Reynolds to potentially move into his Government Services ministry. Morrison is also set to unveil measures to counter discrimination in response to Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ Respect @ Work report, which he has been sitting on for a year.   

NSW Nationals state MP Michael Johnsen will take leave from NSW Parliament, after identifying himself as the politician under police investigation over allegations he raped a sex worker at a Blue Mountains lookout. Johnsen, who has declared that he is innocent, will stand aside from his parliamentary secretary role and move to the crossbench. His statement came after Blue Mountains Labor MP Trish Doyle used parliamentary privilege to say she had been contacted by a woman 18 months ago who alleged she had been sexually assaulted by an MP in the Berejiklian government. It comes as Tasmania’s Premier Peter Gutwein has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, urging he “consider” accusations Liberal senator Eric Abetz “slut-shamed” alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins.

Australians with rooftop solar panels could be charged for exporting electricity to the grid under new rules being recommended by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC). According to AEMC modelling, an export charge would slightly reduce the returns solar customers received but help reduce congestion on the power grid. The report shows people with a large rooftop solar system earning more than $1200 a year could see their benefits cut by about $100, while those with a smaller system of 2kW to 4kW could lose about $30 a year. They would still earn about $645 a year from feed-in tariffs.

The European Union on Wednesday further tightened restrictions on exports of Covid-19 vaccines, as the continent battles a third wave of the virus. The Netherlands extended its lockdown by three weeks, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has walked back a plan to impose a short lockdown during the upcoming Easter holiday. After backlash over her plan, Merkel said that she was rescinding the order to label the Thursday and Saturday before Easter “rest days”. Germany is battling a third wave of Covid-19 infections, recording 15,813 new infections on Wednesday, an increase of 2,378 compared with a week earlier. The number of Covid-19 deaths surpassed 75,000 on Wednesday, with 248 people dying in a span of 24 hours.

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.

“The federal government gave a legal undertaking in 2012 to introduce specific education and training for MPs, senators and their staff about sexual harassment and bullying and how to manage and report it. But more than eight years on, this training remains optional. The pledge was made by the then-Labor government as part of the financial settlement of a harassment suit from former Liberal staffer James Ashby … But this training is not mandatory and requires staff and parliamentarians to opt in. Many appear unaware of it.”

“Wrestlers on the bill – who have alter egos such as ‘Big Rig Fox’ and ‘Australia’s Most Dangerous Man’ – are introduced with their gender pronouns, and ... there are no gendered divisions for the wrestlers. At each event there is a quiet, dimly lit room for audience members with sensory needs who are feeling overwhelmed, in which fidget spinners and headphones are available. But can a sport so knockabout and unruly by nature, one that relies on the audience buying into feuds and the legitimate danger the performers face, really be curtailed and made safe without killing its spirit?”

“Walking is fantastic too. I get stuck, and I think, oh shit. And then I go for a really long walk, and all of a sudden those ideas are released from the rigidity of sitting at the desk. You can solve problems then that you can’t solve on the page, you solve them out in your garden and in the street. Things get solved subliminally – lovely things.”

“A man found submerged in a ute in the Gold Coast hinterland has become the second death connected to the past week’s floods. Queensland rescue crews found the body of missing man David Hornman on Wednesday afternoon, hours after another person was located dead in a submerged car in floodwaters at Glenorie in northwest Sydney. Earlier on Wednesday afternoon, NSW Police confirmed the death of a 25-year-old Pakistani man after responding to reports of a car being trapped in floodwaters on Cattai Ridge Road at about 6.25am.”

“Farmers are holding out hope that the recent downpours will bring the exploding mice population under control in parts of the state. CSIRO lead mouse researcher Steve Henry said if burrows were flooded it would wipe out a whole generation of mice … Mr Henry, who is taking part in talks on mice control around NSW next week, said a lot of the mice's food supply would also be taken out by rain because it would either germinate or disintegrate.”

“In some trials of psychedelic therapy internationally there are protocols that require therapists overseeing the researchers to be administered a dose of the psychedelic drug themselves as part of the training. ‘The irony is,’ Michael says, ‘I could never admit to, say, taking ecstasy at the weekend … I know there’s something in these drugs, in DMT [N,N-Dimethyltryptamine] in particular, that has tremendous therapeutic potential, in a way that I can’t yet articulate. If I talk about that I’m going to be seen as a hippie. That’s not the position I want to be portraying in the media or with other academics.’”

“Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park staff have shared a selection of photos of the ‘unique and extraordinary weather event’ … ‘Rainwater on the rock’s surface causes it to change colour,’ the post said. ‘From dark burgundy to shining silver and even black, every side of Uluru takes a different shade, making this spectacle a photographer’s delight. Following the rain, desert plants bloom and many animals emerge to mate and feed.’ Some of those animals have already made themselves known, with the national park staff revealing a cheeky group of native burrowing frogs became so active at the Cultural Centre building they set off security alarms.”

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