Going for his third reset in a week and his second in a day, the prime minister fronted A Current Affair last night. The appearance dispatches the fantasies of a number of press gallery journalists and Coalition MPs that all this women stuff is confined to voting demographics hostile to Scott Morrison and thus irrelevant.
By the end of his sit-down with Tracy Grimshaw, Morrison had still not extricated himself from his cover-ups, evasions, deceits and relentless efforts to politically manage the explosion of issues that has smashed him and his government.
After the catastrophe of Tuesday’s attempted reset — in which Morrison lost control and lashed out at his chief backer, News Corp — he tried again on Thursday morning in an interview with Sabra Lane. But his obsession with political management prevented him from making any headway.
“Can you categorically say that your office hasn’t been backgrounding against one of [Brittany Higgins’] loved ones?” Lane asked, repeating a question that the PM has been asked more than a dozen times in Parliament.
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Morrison responded with evasion.
“No one, there has been no one in the gallery, nothing has been raised with my office from anyone in the gallery making any of those accusations or any discomfort about anything that my office has done. People make allegations all the time second, third-hand. But there’s no one who has raised that with my chief of staff out of the gallery.”
Within hours, Brittany Higgins had raised it with his chief of staff. The PM could run, but he couldn’t hide.
The issue continued to dog him all day. In question time — a forum in which he blatantly lied last week about the Gaetjens inquiry — he admitted he had received Higgins’ correspondence.
“Separate to that, following my interview this morning on ABC AM, my chief of staff received confidential information from a primary and direct source regarding these matters. In response, based on that information, I have asked my chief of staff to commence a process…”
So finally, weeks after Peter van Onselen revealed that Morrison’s staff had been backgrounding against Higgins’ partner David Sharaz, Morrison had finally got around to asking what his office had done. Reluctantly. When he had run out of excuses and evasions.
By the time he fronted Grimshaw, he spoke, almost incoherently, about multiple sources in his own office: “Well, it was both a direct source, so spoke directly to my chief of staff and it was a primary source. So someone who allegedly had witnessed this.”
But if Morrison had been finally dragged to inquire about who had been spreading smears about Sharaz, there was no movement on other long-running evasions and deceits.
Grimshaw pressed him on why he hadn’t bothered to read the documents detailing the alleged rape committed by Christian Porter in 1988 before asking Porter about it, and accepting his assurance it didn’t happen.
He hadn’t read them because he “had no copy of those … I wasn’t in Canberra, I was in Sydney. They weren’t sent to me electronically. They were sent to me in hard copy and they were immediately forwarded to the federal police as the commissioner had advised me to do.”
“Have you read them since?” Grimshaw wondered. “Well, I don’t have them, they’re with the federal police…”
So, they don’t have faxes or photocopiers in the PMO? The copying of physical documents is beyond the grasp of the office of Australia’s leader? Not even by the team of monks with quill and ink that Tony Abbott installed there?
The more Morrison tries to “reset”, to escape his disastrous misjudgments of recent weeks, the tighter his own lies and evasions trap him.
It wasn’t all down to Morrison himself. Not long before the interview, Nine News revealed the despicable online bullying of two women by LNP MP Andrew Laming. After questions to the Prime Minister’s Office, Morrison demanded Laming apologise publicly for his disgusting behaviour (having, inevitably, “hauled in” the backbencher).
Morrison and his staff were apparently shocked — shocked — that Andrew Laming was a persistent troll on social media. The idea hadn’t occurred to them in January, when Laming made a racist post on Facebook. Evidently they missed it in 2018 when three LNP branch members called for Laming’s ouster given his penchant for “belligerent Facebook arguments with local voters”. Or that time in 2017 when he lambasted teachers. Nor had they learnt from that time in 2016 when he devoted an entire weekend to trying, unsuccessfully, to troll a Simpsons meme page.
It’s decidedly like the fact that Morrison and his office knew all about the allegations of predatory behaviour of Craig Kelly adviser Frank Zumbo but did nothing about it after Kelly defied Morrison and refused to dismiss him.
The prime minister and his grubby staff will only take action when forced completely into a corner — when they’re all out of excuses, distractions and evasions. He’s still doing it. That’s why he’s no more capable of any “reset” than of wiping the perpetual smirk off his face.
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