Scott Morrison at his church in Sutherland (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

When it comes to claims of sexual assault from within government ranks, Scott Morrison really should take advice from Scott Morrison.

That’s the Scott Morrison, at least, who delivered a soaring address to Parliament by way of a national apology to survivors of institutional abuse.

In late 2018, the newly elevated Morrison stepped into a role to which, at least on the day, he seemed born: offering salve and succour to a nation sickened by the years-long revelations of institutional abuse laid bare by the McClellan royal commission. With a tone and bearing befitting the nation’s pastor-in-chief, Morrison deployed a soaring rhetoric which drew deep on the wells of compassion and understanding.

These are some of Pastor Scott’s words from the national pulpit, with some edits for brevity:

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“Mr Speaker, silenced voices. Muffled cries in the darkness.

Unacknowledged tears. The tyranny of invisible suffering.

The never-heard pleas of tortured souls bewildered by an indifference to the unthinkable theft of their innocence.

Today, Australia confronts a trauma — an abomination — hiding in plain sight for far too long.

Today, we confront a question too horrible to ask, let alone answer.

Why was their trust betrayed?

Why did those who know cover it up?

Why was our system of justice blind to injustice?

Why didn’t we believe?”

Such moral clarity.

To be sure the royal commission dealt with the experiences of children. But it also dealt with institutional power imbalances and those who put an institution’s interests first.

Funny then that Morrison in 2021 should now be so confounded by how to deal with claims emerging from his own ranks. And odd that he should be so unclear as to the impact of sexual assault that he would need to consult his wife, Jen.

Yet one thing we might have learnt from the royal commission is how quickly moral clarity disappears when allegations of sexual abuse land at the door of an institution — and the lawyers get involved.

Far from the listening and believing Pastor Scott of 2018, the 2021 version has challenged anyone to prove he was told anything of recent rape allegations involving former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins. He conceded he hadn’t even read the document setting out historical rape allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter.

With the Liberal party in the frame, though, maybe it’s not so easy to simply believe.

At a press conference this morning the mounting allegations and revelations of the last month appeared to catch up with Morrison who tearfully conceded that the things he’d learnt were “just so foreign to me that I can hardly process them”.

Perhaps Morrison 2021 needs to heed the advice of Morrison 2018:

“We will endeavour to bring some healing to our nation and to learn from our past horrors.”