/ 23 February 2021

Fast and furious in Canberra

The Morrison Government faced another day fending off questions from Labor about its handling of Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ claims that she was sexually assaulted by a colleague in 2019. And as more claims about the accused attacker surfaced, an epic change of subject popped up last night.

That the JobSeeker payment will be permanently increased. Set to be announced after the Coalition’s party meetings this morning, Nine News last night/its papers this morning said that the $565.70-a-fortnight unemployment benefit will be increased after years of political debate. The payment was doubled last year via a coronavirus supplement. That was reduced to an additional $150-a-fortnight from the start of this year with the supplement due to end on 31 March. A permanent increase has been resisted by the Morrison Government and those that came before it, but it was backed this month by Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, who said “it’s not a macroeconomic management issue, it is a fairness issue”.

A fourth woman has now made allegations against the man in question, the ABC reported yesterday. On Sunday, she told police that he’d made an unwanted advance on her by stroking her thigh under a table at Canberra’s Public Bar in 2017. Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland yesterday asked why PM Scott Morrison had been kept in the dark when there appeared to be an “alleged serial rapist on the loose in Parliament House”. Morrison says he was not informed about Higgins’ case until media reports surfaced last week. Yesterday, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham (whose department oversees the employment of political staff) said he’s spoken to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins for guidance on formulating policies and practices that make staffers feel “supported and empowered in their decision-making when such matters arise.”

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