Australia has a Federal Government, we have been urged to believe repeatedly this week, that operates with the same arm’s-length deniability of a terrorist cell.
At the end of the most depressing week in recent depressing memory, we know now that five separate ministers were aware of the rape of Brittany Higgins and elected not to tell Scott Morrison, their boss, about it. Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs and blatantly obvious horcrux, sat on this over the weekend before summoning Morrison from his Bunnings man cave, stunt chooks presumably fed and put away, a solitary nail placed back in its spot next to the rubber hammer on his pristine workbench.
As this story broke, more women came forward with their stories of assault and abuse in the nation’s capital. We learnt the Prime Minister’s Office – but crucially NOT the Prime Minister himself – sent in the Liberal Party equivalent of Pulp Fiction’s Mr Wolf to tidy up a political crisis, not a personal one.
The stench of rot in Canberra is so overwhelming that even the Australian Federal Police had to put it explicitly in writing: Guys, report the crimes in your offices please, this is getting awkward for us!!
The AFP this morning has called out a culture of silence that makes it harder to hold perpetrators to account. Ministers need to report criminal allegations, or provide genuine support for their staff to do so.
A brief ad:
— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) February 25, 2021
What hope of any justice does Australia realistically have?
With the violent, misogynistic culture of Canberra’s political life well and truly public knowledge, how is ignorance by design a reasonable defence for the PM? Toxic workplaces thrive with either the tacit approval of those in charge, or their wilful blindness. If we are expected to believe that Scott Morrison systematically wants to know nothing about anything, how is that remotely good enough?
And to drench this batshit week with even more guano, the nation learned of this rape – inside Parliament House no less, the no-longer-beating heart of Australian democracy – against the backdrop of the Liberal Party yet again breaking Australia’s internet through ham-fisted self-interest. A penis measuring contest between the new media billionaires and the old ones is not a battle ordinary people, nor this Government, can win.
Morrison’s ongoing project to funnel ever more money towards Rupert Murdoch broke social media, and legacy media, in exciting new ways this week! The Chaser established a short-lived news media monopoly while the Facebook user experience improved dramatically; our feeds once again the domain of struggling indie bands and unhinged posts from high school friends slowly going nuts. The LNP’s commitment to fucking up our internet is a strange legacy to insist on building, but at least they approach it with rare conviction.
And, if reality wasn’t already a contentious enough topic as it is, amidst this discombobulating landscape, Australia had to cope with the presence of two Prime Ministers!! For Victorians accustomed to having zero, this felt like quite a lot.
Kevin Rudd reappeared inside the Senate as he has long threatened to do, jazzed for the Murdoch smackdown he is throwing down on behalf of half a million Australians. He called the Murdoch media monopoly a “cancer”, not only on our democracy, but on the UK’s and the USA’s as well – both these nations exist in various states of fucked-up-ness, and Rudd explicitly stated he fears the same for us here.
He positioned Rupert and Lachlan as “far-right” champions, describing them as a source of fear in Canberra – at least powerful white men have a smidgen of that too! He described them as an “unnameable” spectre in the stained halls of Parliament, and explained how this father-son Bond villain hybrid wields its monolith as a political bludgeon, serving its own business interests first, but ultimately also the interests of conservative politicians and extreme conservative ideology.
“In the 19 most recent federal and state elections across the last decade, the Murdoch media empire campaigned viciously for one side of politics, and viciously against the other,” said Rudd, receipts on the table.
As NewsCorp insists publicly, Rudd’s personal catharsis was clearly treated to a day at Disneyland, gorging itself on free-range schadenfreude, revenge for coverage like the above. But this is a far less convincing counter-argument than NewsCorp thinks it is. This is evidence and experience, not a conflict of interest. Rudd’s presentation was methodical, his case rock solid and evidence based. More than that, his concerns are clearly of the most existential nature, deeply felt, and shared by many.
You can watch his presentation in its entirety here (fair warning: an hour and 45 minutes is quite a lot of Kevin Rudd), or, if you’d prefer two minutes of prepared barbs, The Chaser’s no-doubt-exploited interns have cut that together here.
At a crucial moment in Rudd’s presentation, David Van, a Liberal senator from Victoria, swinging stupidly for the boundary rope, described his home state as “Danistan”. Van’s use of News Corporation’s perverted language to deny that News Corporation perverts language this way was… well, basically what you’d expect from Victorian Liberals. This is a subset of private school kids defined by repeated attempts to undermine a successful but depressing coronavirus lockdown – and an extraordinary ability to mess up arithmetic by around 60 billion dollars.
In the starkest of contrasts, this week’s other Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, leads a Federal Government that quite clearly covered up a rape inside Parliament House. And because the things that Rudd asserts are quite clearly true, the protection racket arm of our national newspapers looked like this.
The coronavirus vaccine “launch” was originally meant to be a tri-partisan affair, Anthony Albanese of the ALP and Adam Bandt of The Greens scheduled to be jabbed alongside the marketer in chief. The public health benefits of presenting a united front on this should be obvious even to Pete Evans and Craig Kelly.
But the Prime Minister’s oversized branding brain needed a pivot. The jab was moved forward a day, the other political leaders ditched for the solo spotlight on Scotty’s flag-draped mask. “Scomo”, the solitary hero taking a jab for the nation.
This is a front page case study in how to shift a conversation, something the Daily Telegraph exists almost exclusively for. It is a public-facing shield for the vileness of self-interested rich old white men, the continued concentration of wealth in the hands of the already immorally loaded, and it breeds callous indifference towards the victims of this world – to untold numbers of discarded women and shattered souls.
Science now has a definitive answer to the question, “Do the husks abusing the very principles of journalism ever struggle with their conscience?” Clearly no. If doing Scott Morrison’s PR during this moment of national reckoning doesn’t keep Chris Evans, editor of The Tele, awake at night – nothing ever will.
The pivot continued as the week wore on: a baffling speaking role at an International Women’s Day event, and a few shiny coins flung at both JobSeeker recipients and the gaggle of hacks in Canberra starved of Liberal Party fluff content. This week has been tough on the shills too!!
Morrison boasted of lifting the dole from 37% of the minimum wage to 41%, as though 4% less cruel is worth anything much at all for lives this deep below the poverty line.
And as we have reported already this week, it just might work, again. On Wednesday a search on Murdoch news sites this past week reveals Ms Higgins was covered 53 times, the coronavirus vaccine 291 times, and Facebook 465.
The rape of Brittany Higgins has ushered in an awkward conflict between the fearless reporting of a very good journalist, Samantha Maiden of NewsCorp’s News.com.au, and the arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire that typically looks something like this.
An unwieldy corporation seeking both to expose this brutal truth and to distract from it.
The man who raped Brittany Higgins inside Parliament was another Liberal staffer. He received not only impunity from the Morrison Government but its self-interested protection in the lead up to an election. Ms Higgins, in her own words, was relocated to WA, gaslit, encouraged to be quiet, and made to fear for her dream job.
Having checked in with Jenny and now fully cognizant that rape is wrong and not just a case of boys being boys (because it can happen to your own women too, Scotty!), Morrison has now promised to investigate the matter. Phil Gaetjens, the PM’s former chief of staff, will dive into the matter and deliver a report the public has no legal expectation to ever see a word of.
What justice, yet again, should women across this country realistically hope to achieve?
Whether the cover up of Brittany Higgins’ horrific rape makes it all the way to Morrison personally – which these things have a habit of not doing – little changes about the light cast on the Prime Minister’s lack of character.
I am loath to blame the innocent women in these scenarios, because the Prime Minister has done far too much of that already, but could Jenny please have a few more conversations with Scotty for us? Could she serve as his imaginary moral compass on just a few more issues? These are extraordinarily basic morality tests that our Prime Minister freely admits to failing without Jenny colouring in between the lines for him.
Could Jenny also explain the moral repugnance of leading a political party that covered up a rape in the lead up to an election?
While she’s at it, could Jenny unpack the sick, twisted inhumanity of waving a lump of coal inside Parliament House during the last few years humanity has left to do anything at all about the climate crisis? Could Jenny explain to Scott that yes, his own daughters and grandchildren and so on will be impacted by a devastated ecosystem. “YES DEAR, YOUR OWN WOMEN TOO!” The coal thing just might be an issue for them as well.
Should a person incapable of feeling empathy for anyone beyond their own immediate family lead any nation?
This is a man that surfed Hawaii through our bushfires, rode tanks through Victoria’s health crisis, and who conveniently keeps himself at arm’s length from 124 instances of documented corruption, ranging from standard shady rich guy shit to an almost impressively brazenly colour-coded chart of pork barrelling.
Why does this nation have such staggeringly low standards in not only its political leaders, but in its own moral character?
Could it have anything to do with the thing Kevin Rudd is on about?!?!? Because the argument that our media landscape is sycophantic, cowed, ineffectual, and in bed with the Liberal Party is difficult to dispute this week. And the brave, driven reporting of Samantha Maiden only serves to shine a starker light on the propaganda arm of Rupert Murdoch’s conservative social engineering project. Sky News’ official Twitter account is still yet to mention it at all.
Rudd’s case is not borne of the alternative-facts dimension that NewsCorp presents to the world: a diorama of imaginary communists, trampled liberties, brave conservative heroes, climate denial, racism with just the right degree of deniability, significantly more “die for the economy” content than is typically healthy, and some highly suspicious medical advice now too.
One Prime Minister stood up for our democracy this week. The other continues his project of eroding it. Kevin Rudd acted with the urgency of a man doing one of the most important things he has ever done. Scott Morrison continued to brand manage his way through his time in office – a period of Australian history defined by basically nothing good happening to anyone.
To hope everyone involved in this rape and its cover up – both of which occurred inside Parliament House – gets everything they deserve, feels staggeringly naïve now. This was a dire week for the nation’s soul, a stain on our democracy we risk never recovering from. And if we continue to elect mediocre billboards that serve the interests of our oligarchs over our citizens, Australia’s fate is sealed.
At least Melbourne’s pubs are open again this weekend.
Our writers can't live off exposure, but they sure can die from it. You can donate or become a supporter to help us write more stories like this one.
Live in Sydney?
See some of The Shot's top writers live at The Shot's Annual Wrap - 12th December at the Seymour Centre. Book now.
Our entire range of stickers are now back in stock - $2 - Buy now from The Shot Store