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Will rape allegations change Australia's 'toxic' politics? – BBC News

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“In my time working in this area and particularly looking in workplaces over the [past] 30 years, I’ve never seen any moment like this,” said Kate Jenkins, Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner.

Ms Jenkins was describing the extraordinary moment Australian politics finds itself in after a succession of rape and sexual misconduct allegations in the past month.

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“I think our community is changing… we’re at a turning point,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Sunday.

Ms Jenkins has been appointed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to oversee a review into parliament’s workplace culture following rape accusations that have primarily marred his own Liberal Party.

The allegations in the past few weeks – and how they’ve been handled – have hit a nerve with so many Australian women.

They have resurfaced long-standing grievances about how Canberra has historically treated women who work in the country’s corridors of power. And how – most of the time – power does not tilt in their favour.

Damaging allegations

Despite the brave faces the prime minister and other cabinet ministers have put on in recent weeks, this has been a very bruising time for the Morrison government.

The long-term effect of this fallout remains to be seen, but as it stands Mr Morrison has two senior ministers with crucial portfolios on sick leave.

Both in the shadow of the aftermath of separate and explosive rape allegations. Both facing mounting calls for them to step aside from their high-profile roles.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who was admitted to hospital almost a fortnight ago for a pre-existing heart condition, will remain on leave for another month.

She’s faced sustained criticism for her handling of an allegation by Brittany Higgins, a former political adviser. Ms Higgins alleges she was raped by a male colleague in Senator Reynolds’ ministerial office in 2019 and said she did not get adequate support from the minister or her staff in the aftermath.

(L-R) Defence minister Linda Reynold, Attorney General Christian Porter and Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Getty Images/EPA

Ms Higgins – who made her allegation public in the media on 15 February – prompted several women to come forward with similar claims.

Later, it was reported that Ms Reynolds had called Ms Higgins a “lying cow”. It’s a remark she has not denied making and which the prime minister has said she “deeply regrets”.

Last week, Attorney General Christian Porter publicly identified himself as the government minister at the centre of a historical rape allegation – an accusation he has vehemently denied.

His accuser had gone to the police early last year, but then later took her own life. The allegation – which dates to 1988 – was made public last month after a letter was sent by the woman’s friends to the prime minister and two opposition senators.

Mr Porter said last week he would take a fortnight of leave for his mental health.

Mr Morrison said this was a matter for the police, who subsequently found there was “insufficient admissible evidence” to go ahead with an investigation. Prosecuting such cases is effectively impossible without an alleged victim’s testimony, legal experts say.

The government had hoped this and Mr Porter’s public – and at times emotional – denial would let them move on to talk about other subjects like the vaccine rollout or how the economy has fared better than expected this quarter despite the global pandemic.

But try as they may, those in power can’t seem to brush this issue aside. Neither the story nor the pressure have gone away. Scott Morrison still finds himself in hot water.

There’s sustained pressure for an independent investigation into the allegation against the attorney general. Mr Morrison has also faced questions about why he did not read the allegations when they were sent to him.

Mr Morrison’s defence of his two ministers and his adamant refusal to hold an independent investigation – arguing it would set the wrong precedent – seems to have inflamed the situation.

He argues that the case with Mr Porter has been dealt by the “rule of law” and that effectively it should be left at that.

There have been arguments that his statement dealt with a very narrow aspect of the rule of law and that, complicated as the case is, there should be other avenues to investigate if the police cannot.

‘Toxic’ culture

But for many, especially women, this is also about leadership. It’s about a head of government who seems unattuned to the political or public mood at this very crucial moment.

“It is very dangerous for a prime minister to cast himself as a sort of passive onlooker in very serious instances like this, because the message that sends to the women of Australia is: ‘I’m not listening – I’m not taking this seriously,'” said Guardian Australia political editor Katharine Murphy on the podcast Full Story.

Scott Morrison in parliament

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Julie Bishop, a former foreign minister and Liberal Party deputy leader, has argued the environment in Canberra often forces women into silence.

“There’s a powerful culture within all political parties to ensure that no individual does anything that would damage the party’s prospects, the party’s image, or its reputation, particularly at election time,” she told the ABC this week.

“It can mean that a culture develops whereby those who are prone to inappropriate or unprofessional – or even illegal – behaviour get a sense of protection. It makes it a very unusual workplace in that regard. But also, we don’t have the structures in place to counter that.”

Despite being one of the most senior and formidable female figures in Australian politics before she quit in 2019, Ms Bishop has revealed that a group of male Liberal MPs who dubbed themselves the “big swinging dicks” tried unsuccessfully to logjam her career.

“My ambition was to be the foreign minister of Australia, and I served in that role for five years. And likewise, I was deputy leader of the party for 11 years.” Ms Bishop said. “If their ambition was to thwart my aspirations, then they failed.”

Political arenas are known for their viciousness across the world. There’s an expectation of the verbal jabs and jousts in parliament chambers.

But what’s unique about sexism in Australian politics is its overtness. Many women lawmakers have regularly reported a culture of gender bias and intimidation in parliament and slurs that are specifically targeted at them as women and not at their male colleagues.

In 2012, the then prime minister Julia Gillard made an impassioned speech against what she called sexism and misogyny by Tony Abbott – the opposition leader at the time. Much of it, she argued, happened inside the chamber.

This all adds to a growing chorus of calls for change in Australian politics – an environment that has been described as toxic for women.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said as much recently when pushed on the subject. “This after all is the Australian Parliament and the rest of Australia looks to our workplace, as an example, and the culture in this place does need to improve and improve fast,” he told the ABC.

The Canberra bubble doesn’t just include the movers and shakers of the country’s politics – the press corps which covers it is also very much a part of that picture too. The problem, of course, is that it can often be too close and at times too cosy.

This was starkly demonstrated when Peter van Onselen, Network Ten’s political editor, was asked to make a general observation about the implication of these stories coming out the way they have.

“At a macro level, I couldn’t be happier that there’s a shift that has occurred and women are coming forward,” he said on the local Insiders programme.

“But when it’s someone you know and if they claim to be innocent, boy that’s a difficult issue.”

A reckoning for Australia

Only a couple of hours before the attorney general spoke publicly and placed himself in the eye of an ever-growing political storm, another young woman made some scathing remarks.

Grace Tame – a sexual assault survivor, activist and this year’s Australian of the Year – was asked what she made of the prime minister’s handling of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation.

Mr Morrison had said that he had to consult his wife, Jenny, before making a public response and that he was looking at this case as “a father”.

Ms Tame said: “It shouldn’t take having children to have a conscience… On top of that having children doesn’t guarantee a conscience.”

Ms Higgins, pictured here with Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a party fundraiser

ABC

You could hear applause in the National Press Club hall in Canberra after her comments. She had sharply echoed a criticism raised by many Australian women of why it should take having daughters for a prime minister to take a rape allegation seriously.

It’s been described as Canberra’s “MeToo” moment. The framing of it almost doesn’t matter. It’s a moment of reckoning whichever way you look at it.

This is about women amplifying their voice to call out a powerful political system that seems to protect and defend only those in power.

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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