It’s now clear Scott Morrison is incapable of ever delivering effective change on the treatment of women within his own party, within parliament or across the country.
He doesn’t understand the issues, and he continues to regard them as a problem of political management. Very likely, he can only understand them as a problem of political management.
The history of Morrison’s political management is that, at some point, it becomes clear that it is only political management. And like a classic case of diminishing returns, the gap between the announcement and the disillusionment about its lack of substance has been reducing over time.
The months it took it to become clear that bushfire funding wasn’t reaching victims became the weeks before it was clear his promises about vaccines were false, then the days before it was clear his promise to find out what happened in his office regarding Brittany Higgins would never be delivered.
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Yesterday it was down to minutes — the gap between Morrison’s purported Damascene conversion to understanding and wanting to address the toxic cultures women face, and his spiteful get-square with a journalist using what turned out, by his own admission, to be fake claims about sexual harassment in News Corp.
Press gallery journalists had barely started devising their introductions to the exact articles Morrison and his office were seeking yesterday — about his tearful mea culpa and crucial change of heart — before they were astonished that a glass-jawed prime minister was throwing around what was supposedly confidential information about a harassment complaint in a public forum for the purposes of attacking a journalist who’d offended him.
The harassment complaint was completely fictional. Within minutes, Morrison’s own office was backing away from his claims, and by late last night — too late for the morning paper editions — Morrison had apologised to News Corp for lying about its staff.
It still wasn’t enough for some journalists, who are today pondering whether Morrison will back up his words with actions, and whether he will be believed. But the entirely performative nature of Morrison’s statements yesterday had been clearly displayed, yet again. His mea culpa and tears were more political management.
All it took to expose it was one relatively innocuous question about whether Morrison had lost control of his staff. Morrison demonstrated that the loss of control was a lot closer to home than his staff, and confirmed that his only focus is on political management.
You can’t simultaneously argue you want to create an environment in which women feel safe and respected and then weaponise harassment complaints to score points off those trying to hold you to account.
There’s something else just as troubling as Morrison’s inability to see this issue as anything other than about political management: Morrison’s reflexive instinct to lie.
Morrison’s repeated lying about matters big and small and the fact that he is far beyond other politicians in that regard has been remarked upon before.
But Morrison’s first instinct whenever he feels threatened, or whenever he is angered, is to lie. Yesterday he justified his claims about sexual harassment at News Corp by verballing the journalist who offended him, Andrew Clennell of Sky News, who, he said, had claimed sexual harassment didn’t happen in media companies.
Clennell said nothing of the sort — as Morrison well knew. But Morrison said it anyway, right in front of Clennell and the other journalists who’d heard perfectly well what he’d said — that workplace cultures in media companies were better than those of Parliament (they could hardly be worse).
A man who can only see political problems to manage with media stunts and endless announcements, and whose base instinct is to lie, even when it is clear he will be shown to be a liar, can’t be a competent prime minister. And he certainly can’t lead cultural change.
The stench from the Morrison government grows ever worse. And contributing to it now is a whiff of political mortality around Morrison himself.