Politics with Michelle Grattan
Stephen Duckett on what’s gone wrong with the rollout

Stephen Duckett on what’s gone wrong with the rollout

April 7, 2021

As of Tuesday, only 920,334 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered - a fraction of the four million doses the Morrison government had promised by end-March. 

The rollout's complications and failures have sparked a backlash from some GPs, pharmacists, and states. 

The federal government says the problems are mainly supply issues – notably, the failure of millions of doses to arrive from overseas. Also, CSL has had trouble quickly ramping up its production. 

At the same time, there have been glitches in the logistics of delivery to doctors and the states.

This week Stephen Duckett joins the podcast to critique the rollout. Currently director of the health and aged care programme at the Grattan Institute, he was formerly secretary of the federal health department and so has seen the health bureaucracy from the inside.

Duckett is highly critical of how the rollout has gone, with the government over-hyping expectations. 

"The government hasn't met a single one of its targets so far. They had targets about four million people by the end of March. They had a target, about more than 500,000 residential aged care workers and residents by mid-March. 

"Now, sure, it's the biggest logistic exercise we have ever seen, but the government has had eight months or so to prepare for it. 

"I think the government should have set reasonable targets. It should have said, look, we know it's really, really important to get the vaccine rollout started, but we are reliant on overseas."

"The prime minister said he wanted to under promise and over deliver. He did the reverse."

One issue Duckett identifies has been the politicisation of the process. 

"There's been a huge number of vaccine announcements. Every micro-possibility has been wrung out of every announcement. We've got photos of vaccines coming off planes. We've got announcements that we're thinking about having a contract."

"I think[...]the commonwealth initially thought it was all going to go very smoothly and they'd coast into the election very, very comfortably on the back of a successful vaccination rollout programme.

"So I think it had a political overlay from the start." 

Linda Burney on the treatment of Indigenous Women

Linda Burney on the treatment of Indigenous Women

April 1, 2021

In the passionate debate over the treatment of women in workplaces, and particularly the extent of violence and harassment, the voice of Indigenous women, especially those living in isolated communities, has gone largely unheard.

Linda Burney, speaking at the ALP’s National Conference this week, strongly advocated for equality and opportunity for all in Australia. She called for a constitutionally-enshrined voice for First Nations people in parliament, commitment to realising the Uluru Statement in full, and a renewed focus on ‘truth-telling’.

As Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, and for Indigenous Australians, Burney joins the podcast to discuss the voice of Indigenous people, especially in light of the current cultural movement.

Domestic violence against women in Indigenous communities is a serious issues - a 2018 report by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare assessed Indigenous women as 32 times as likely to be hospitalized due to family violence as non-Indigenous women.

Burney sees the abuse partly in historical terms.

“Think about the Stolen Generation…so many women that were removed were sexually assaulted and ended up in dreadful situations. Now they became mothers, and those mothers became mothers, and that trauma is handed down.”

Burney calls for change on at a “local community level”

“The Aboriginal women that I speak to don’t necessarily want this to end up with a man with a criminal conviction and the possibility of going to jail.

"What they want to see is for the violence to stop and for men to get help. And where I’ve seen domestic violence programmes in the Aboriginal community that are really successful, is at a local community level. Because the community has to own the problem, before it’s dealt with.”

And what about the attitude of Indigenous men?

“I don’t think aboriginal men are resistant to change. We have in the Aboriginal community a very strong movement in terms of mens’ groups.

"Men realise that there is a problem. They realise that they’re part of the problem. But we have to find ways to make them part of the solution as well.”

Sussan Ley on being a woman in politics

Sussan Ley on being a woman in politics

March 25, 2021

Over the last month, as more and more stories of sexually explicit behaviour and misconduct within the walls of Parliament House have been revealed, the “culture” of politics has come into question.

One particular issue is the role and representation of women, and the need for more female voices to express the interests – and pain and frustrations – of women across the country.

As Sussan Ley puts it:

“I feel overwhelmingly that the culture of this place has got to change.”

Ley, Senator Marise Payne’s “proxy” as minister for women in the House of Representatives, represents the regional seat of Farrer in southern NSW. She acknowledges there is much work to be done in educating the diverse members of her electorate about how far the whole gender debate has moved.

While there was a small women’s march in her electorate - in Albury - she notes the silent majority who are desperate for change:

“Women on farms, women who are powerless in their relationships because they wouldn’t even be able to talk about these things at their kitchen table or, in some cases, women who aren’t allowed to leave the house because of the nature of their personal relationships.

"There were women silently cheering this from everywhere.”

Ley was one of the first government MPs to voice her support for quotas within the Liberal Party - to afford more women political opportunities.

Talking to Michelle Grattan, Ley advocates for what she calls for a “smart quota system” in contrast to a “blunt instrument”.

“I’m uncomfortable with something that would say ‘okay, your seat’s a woman seat, your seats not’. I mean, that doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Under her idea, “in [the Liberal Party] constitution, it will say we accept that we will have 40% or 30% of women candidates in our seats.

"It then has to say not just women candidates, because sometimes candidates have a very small chance of winning in safe opposition seats. So you’d have to say we’ve got seats that we describe as winnable…and unwinnable.”

“And the ones that step forward in seats where there’s not so much chance would get very well supported, so they wouldn’t be left to fend for themselves.”

Zali Steggall on Monday’s march and Scott Morrison’s response

Zali Steggall on Monday’s march and Scott Morrison’s response

March 18, 2021

On Monday, women across the nation marched, demanding justice, safety and equality. But the government's response was lacklustre, with Scott Morrisona and the Minister for Women Marise Payne refusing to go outside to the crowd. 

Morrison later chose his words badly when he said: "Not far from here, such marches, even now are being met with bullets, but not here in this country".

Independent MP Zali Steggall described Morrison's comments as "incredibly sad" and "just stunning".

A former lawyer and olympian, Steggall is currently championing two private member's bills - a proposal for a national climate change framework, and an amendment to the sex discrimination act which would allow judges, MPs, and statutory appointees to be prosecuted for sexual harassment.
Steggall is disappointed in the government's response to the strong push for women's rights. "I've been quite baffled to understand the Prime Minister's response to this situation and the [rape] allegations."

And she doesn't believe Payne has been much better. "I've been absolutely, really disappointed with the minister for women's response."

She is somewhat more encouraged by the government's changing attitude towards climate change, noting Morrison's language has changed "dramatically" in the last 12 months. But simply saying he wants to get to net zero "as soon as possible" is not good enough, she says.

"That's not the certainty that business and the private sector are looking for. They are looking for it to be legislated, and with a clear pathway."

Fleur Johns on the rule of law

Fleur Johns on the rule of law

March 11, 2021

Christian Porter has unequivocally denied the historic rape allegations levelled against him, and says he is determined to stay in his job as attorney-general.

Both Scott Morrison and Porter are adamant the "rule of law" in this country places the attorney-general beyond prosecution, now that the NSW police have closed the case.

Porter is the country's first law officer and many argue that requires a stiffer test of suitability.

This week UNSW professor of law Fleur Johns joins the podcast, to discuss the legal role of the attorney-general, how allegations of this kind can affect the performance of his duties, and the validity of the "rule of law" argument.

The role of the office of the attorney-general is both one of "actual powers" and "a repository of great symbolic power," Johns says. 

This symbolic power is compromised by "serious allegations that go to the ability of a person to exercise power over another person in a way that is responsible."

"Allegations that are made of a serious abuse of power having been conducted could erode...public trust, especially when those allegations have not had an opportunity to be tested, as is the case here."

Johns "wholeheartedly" rejects the view an independent inquiry into the rape allegations would compromise the rule of law.

"It's absolutely par for the course that the rule of law is delivered through a range of different procedural mechanisms."

"The testing of these allegations...with the appropriate protections to ensure the rule of law, would actually be a way of ensuring that that ideal of the rule of law is defended and promoted.

"[It would show] that we do experience a sense of being governed by laws and legal processes and legal institutions, rather than by particular men and women who happen to be in power at any one time."


Politics with Michelle Grattan: Patricia Sparrow on the Royal Commission into Aged Care

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Patricia Sparrow on the Royal Commission into Aged Care

March 4, 2021

The Royal Commission into Aged Care has now delivered its final report, and its findings are an indictment of the inadequacies of the present system. The report calls for a refocus within the aged care system, placing the people receiving care at the centre.

However the feasibility and affordability of the 148 recommendations are yet to be assessed.

Patricia Sparrow is CEO of Aged & Community Services Australia, a peak body which represents not-for-profit members providing residential care for some 450,000 people throughout the country.

Speaking to Michelle Grattan, she says she is disappointed the commmission did not provide estimates of the funding needed to reform the system.

“Royal commission research showed that Australia spends around 1.2% of its GDP on aged care, but other comparable countries in the OECD, the average they spend is around 2.5%.

"I’m not saying that’s exactly what’s needed, but I think it gives us a sense of the scale and the scope of what’s going to need to be considered.”

As for fears the government might fall short of serious change when it releases its full response around budget time, “I think the indications are that they will do a serious response, but [there have been] 20 reports over 20 years and that hasn’t happened.”

“We want to ensure that…there is a desire to fundamentally reform the system. Because anything short is not going to cut it.”

Former MP Kate Ellis on the culture in parliament house

Former MP Kate Ellis on the culture in parliament house

February 23, 2021

The revelation of the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and subsequent allegations of sexual misconduct have sparked multiple inquiries into the culture of parliament house. 

It's a subject on which Kate Ellis is an expert. Ellis was a Labor MP from 2004 to 2019, and held various ministries in the Labor government. She was then – and still is – the youngest person to become a federal minister.

Ellis retired to spend more time with her young family.

Her coming book, Sex, Lies and Question Time, published in April, discusses the history of women in parliament, their triumphs, but also the adversities faced by female parliamentarians and staff. It draws on contemporary accounts.

Ellis describes her time as a parliamentarian as "the best job in the world" but says "if you're a woman in our federal parliament, you are treated differently than if you are a man."

She chose to "overstep the line" as an employer, when she was a minister, to warn staff of the hazards of the life and culture around parliament.

"There are several occasions where I would sit my staff member down and actually play more of a maternal role...kind of talking about the culture, making sure that they were okay and making sure that they knew that they could come to me.

"Now, that's not the traditional role of an employer. Normally what people do outside of their strict work hours is up to them. But just having seen enough of the Canberra culture, I felt that it was my responsibility to play that role. And it's something that I did on a number of occasions."

David Littleproud on The Nationals and net zero

David Littleproud on The Nationals and net zero

February 11, 2021

Scott Morrison has indicated he wants to embrace a 2050 target of net-zero emissions. That, however, requires bringing the Nationals on board, and a vocal group in that party is fighting a fierce rearguard action.

The Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud, who is Minister for Agriculture, is sympathetic to the target - so long as there is a credible path to get there, which won't disadvantage rural Australians.

In this podcast Littleproud says he believes the pathway could be settled this year. 

"That's not in my remit. But there is a hope to accelerate that and to make sure that we can provide that [pathway] as quickly as we can. The money's been set aside for a lot of that work and some of that work's already been completed."

As for that Nationals, "our position is we want to see the plan first. Our party room hasn't got to a juncture of dismissing it. We want to see what the plan is and who pays for it."

Asked whether agriculture would have to be exempted for the Nationals to sign up to the 2050 target, Littleproud says, "Well, with respect to ag, I think it cane be part of the solution".   

On the ANZ's announcement this week it would stop lending to Australia's biggest coal port, the Port of Newcastle, Littleproud is scathing:

"Well, they're a pathetic joke... We had a banking royal commission and here we are, a bank telling the Australian people about how society should run. That is not their role. Their role is to provide capital." 

Anthony Albanese on his new frontbench, Joel Fitzgibbon, and Labor’s imminent workplace policy

Anthony Albanese on his new frontbench, Joel Fitzgibbon, and Labor’s imminent workplace policy

February 1, 2021

Last year, Anthony Albanese was criticised for his lack of cut-through during the COVID crisis, as Labor was sidelined by a hyperactive government.

This year, amid ALP leadership speculation and now a shadow ministry reshuffle, Albanese is seeking to assert himself more forcefully, declaring last week “I will be leader of this country after the next election”.

With that election possible within the year, the need for Labor to outline its policies, including on climate change and industrial relations, is becoming more pressing. Albanese is still intent on taking his time on climate policy, where international developments are fast-moving, but the IR policy is imminent.

This week, the opposition leader joins the podcast to discuss the reshuffle, and his and his party’s goals.

“Labor will always stand up for the interests of working people,” he says, and that commitment will be at the heart of its workplace policy.

The policy’s “priorities are very much on job security and income security.”

“Whether it be people in labour hire companies…working next door to someone but earning less money… whether it be people in the new gig economy who are sometimes working for almost nothing in some cases, whether it be issues of workers who are having to bid against each other.”

Albanese says the policy will be in direct contrast to government legislation, drafted last year and now before parliament, which would “cut wages and conditions”.

Will the ALP definitely vote against the government’s measures?

“We’ve said we will not vote for any legislation that cuts wages or cuts conditions such as penalty rates.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on promising budget figures

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on promising budget figures

December 17, 2020

This week's update shows an improvement on the numbers in the budget that was delivered only 10 weeks ago. The prospects for growth and employment have been revised upwards. While the forecast for the deficit remains massive, at nearly $200 billion, it has been revised down. 

But even as we return to some sort of normality, it will be many years before the economy resembles its pre-COVID self. And the Parliamentary Budget Office predicts the federal budget won't leave its deficit behind in this decade. 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg joins the podcast to discuss Thursday's budget update and the economy's future. 

Frydenberg acknowledges the road back will be tough, for the economy and the budget. 

Given the "huge economic shock" of COVID, the "unprecedented spending" will leave us in the red for a long time. "There will be a very challenging fiscal environment for years out of this crisis."

But the economic future looks vastly better than in the hairy initial days of the COVID crisis. 

"Very early on it was uncertain, and many of us feared the worst."

"Treasury told me early on in the pandemic that the unemployment rate could reach 10%, and, but for Jobkeeper, reach 15%. That's a very different world to the one that you and I face today."

"Programmes like JobKeeper, the cash flow boost, the JobSeeker Coronavirus Supplement, the $750 payments, now $250 payments to pensioners and to carers and others on income support have very much helped pull Australia through this challenging time. 

"Australians go into Christmas with real cause for optimism and hope."

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