Last night on ABC’s 7:30, Leigh Sales interviewed Prime Minister Scott Morrison directing, sharp, pointed questions at him regarding a range of issues including JobKeeper, hotel quarantine and COVIDSafe.
But the interview has seen some people describe Sales as “aggressive”, and Jeff Kennett tweeting that it was “disrespectful” and suggesting the ABC host has “bad manners”.
Here’s how it went down.
“You are shifting JobSeeker and JobKeeper to lower amounts,” Sales began when talking with the Prime Minister. “Why would you pull any money out of the economy during what will be one of the worse recessions in the century?”
Morrison said the existing payment that has been running for some months will run out at end of September, and that at that point, it will move to the next phase.
“Australians understand that running JobKeeper at $11 billion a month is something that’s not sustainable. The nature of things are changing,” he said.
Sales then questioned Morrison on the reality of universities putting off thousands of workers, asking him: “Why doesn’t the government put the same value in a job in a university as a job in a cafe or a shop?”
Morrison took two attempts at answering this question, though ended up repeating himself — comparing universities to large corporations and saying, “Universities are organizations that have very large reserves in the billions. Their CEOs are paid multi-million salaries.”
When Sales pressed on, saying universities have taken a big hit because of foreign students being unable to travel to Australia, clarifying “Surely, that means they deserve to qualify for JobKeeper?” Morrison repeated the ‘test’ – “The test is whether they’ve had a 50 percent fall in revenue, applied to all other large organisations,” he said.
“They [universities] are expected to draw on their reserves. Certainly, they have their challenges with the international market and we’ll be doing our best to try to help them restore that,” – though he never explains how.
“They are not getting a special deal,” he added.
Sales moved onto the state of the arts sector, an industry that employs over 600,000 people and contributes billions of dollars to the economy. “Why are their jobs valued less?” Sales asked. “The nature of your job means you don’t have one employer. A lot of people in the arts sector don’t work for companies, they are freelancers.”
Morrison stressed the importance of the existence of JobSeeker, saying that he believes JobKeeper and JobSeeker will work together.
“We are recognising these significant impacts in the entertainment sector,” Morrison said. “We put out the $250 million package, $400 million for film. We understand there are sectors hit harder than the others.”
When asked about the waste in overpayment for part-time workers debacle a few months ago, Morrison said, “39 percent of those jobs lost were for people who had second jobs and third jobs.”
“They lost their jobs. They weren’t getting job keeper payment for those jobs. We made sure JobKeeper was just paid through one employer. And that made up for the income that they might have got from other jobs.”
Sales attempted to clarify her question to Morrison, asking: “Do you accept that there is no urgency to pay down debt or return the budget to surplus by slashing government spending, that it would be detrimental to the economy?”
Further clarifying her inquiry, she added, “The point I’m trying to get to is, we won’t hear you announce next year of plans to slash government spending so we can pay our debt in a rapid fashion?”
Morrison responded vaguely, saying “ We have a number of goals. Guarantee the essential services. School funding. Aged care funding…”
Sales asked whether that means Morrison will be keeping government spending high and not looking for areas to slash government spending in the short to medium term.
Morrison responded simply; “We’re keeping our commitments.”
Sales ejected another question: “I’m trying to get to a first principles issue here, Do you accept that the state of the economy is going to require debt for a long time and government spending to remain high to prop it up?”
Morrison replied by stating that the Australian government will provide the support that is necessary.
When asked about the Covid situation, Morrison described it as a “radically changing situation” and said he believes the country needs to “keep those health standards up to match standards all the time.”
“We’ve been pursuing an aggressive suppression strategy to keep the numbers down on COVID,” he said.
“What’s living with COVID going to look like?” Sales asked.
“Keeping the discipline, the distance, the registering to app, wearing masks.”
“Have you worn a mask anywhere yet?” Sales asked.
Morrison said “That depends. I wore it to my consultation with an optometrist,” he told Sales, and said that if he were going to watch a Sharks game, he’d wear it if social distancing wasn’t available.
In the last 12 hours, Leigh Sales has yet again been trending on Twitter Australia, she’s been called “disgusting,” a “very cranky interviewer” and a “bully.”
Former Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett tweeted “Leigh Sales ought to watch her interview with the PM tonight. Simply disrespected! PM calm and patient. LS just kept interrupting. A good educational piece for young aspiring journalists as how not to behave. Not even a tough or insightful into interview. Just bad manners!”
But then other opinions described Sales as having conducted a “very light-weight interview” and that she “allowed the PM to mislead viewers by telling them the #COVIDSafe app is helping when it clearly isn’t. Ignored allegation one of the companies involved has links to the Liberal Party. ”
Yet another Twitter user said she wished Sales “wouldn’t apologise every time she holds the PM to account and forces him back on track. It’s not Sales’ fault she needs to interrupt his nonsense to force him to answer the question.”
The various opinions highlight the continued challenges female journalists face.
There were some prominent supporters of Sales though.
Ben Law tweeted: “Appreciating @leighsales holding the PM to account over the fact so many artists and arts workers haven’t been able to access welfare because of how we work. Such an unnecessarily ugly year for so many colleagues and mates in the industry. It’s almost felt personal.”
Another wrote: “This was one of the best interviews that she has ever done. It’s about time that Morrison was made to give straight answers.”
Another stated that “We must have watched a different interview. She had a go but folded too readily and let him bluster on and on like the bully he is. Leigh Sales was not rude, she was just trying to get the PM to answer the questions.”
Earlier in the week, Sales had retweeted a ‘combative’ interview with Fox News Chris Wallace with Trump
with the comment: “Every journalist who gets a one-on-one with Trump should be interviewing like this – calling out the untruths and aggressively challenging the dubious assertions. twitter.com/nytimes/status…
To which one response tweeted: “We’ll be watching you hold Morrison to account tonight @LeighSales Given your tweet of yesterday we expect you call out his untruths and assertively challenge his dubious assertions. #auspol”
She did just that. It appears that criticism comes, no matter what you do as a female journalist.