(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)

By now there have been so many scandals involving the Morrison government and gender issues that there’s a well-established template for how they unfold.

There’ll be an initial revelation, shocking in and of itself. The nature of the revelation will be such that further information is almost certain to emerge.

From there, Scott Morrison’s office will determine how to manage the government’s response, inevitably choosing the most cack-handed and inadequate option possible, ignoring the inevitability of further revelations.

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The latter will then combine with the angry reaction to the tone-deaf nature of Morrison’s response to exacerbate the whole thing.

That’s how the latest scandal, about LNP MP Andrew Laming, played out, to the letter.

Laming is a troll with a long-term record of shitposting and offensive behaviour. Once a light was shone into his garbage can, it was inevitable that further scandals would emerge. But that thought didn’t occur to Morrison’s office, where the initial response was simply to order Laming to apologise for bullying two women online.

Within 24 hours Laming was mocking his own apology and suggesting he had no idea what he was apologising for. Onto the next stage: having been openly defied, Morrison then told Laming to undertake an empathy course, and told the media he’d told Laming to undertake an empathy course.

An empathy course.

And so we proceeded: out came the disgusting story of Laming upskirting a young woman. Most upskirters try to hide their actions while lurking on escalators with phones in bags, and then deny it if sprung. Laming — who has also lurked behind bushes to photograph a victim of his trolling — did it in front of people and admitted to doing it. “I thought it was funny but your reaction was awkward,” Laming responded to one of the people involved in the incident.

That’s the mentality of the troll summed up perfectly. “I thought it was funny”. It’s the decency of other people that is “awkward”.

Apart from anything else, upskirting is a crime. Laming should be being investigated by police, given he’s confirmed his actions.

By this stage of the cycle, Morrison had gone to ground, or at least to the footy, where perhaps he thinks he’s safe from all this women’s stuff. It was left to leader-in-waiting Josh Frydenberg to announce Laming wouldn’t be standing again. Laming himself said he was taking leave to get some therapy and hilariously asked for “privacy”.

Laming defiles Parliament with his presence. He’s a walking, talking, upskirting example of the Coalition’s profound problems with women. He embodies Scott Morrison’s utter cluelessness about why he has been smashed by gender issues and the explosion of rage about the abuse, disrespect, harassment and assault of women that characterises so much of Australian life.

Yet he will apparently sit in Parliament until the next election.

As a further demonstration of the once contested, now accepted view that Morrison can only respond to gender issues as political problems to be managed away or toughed out, Laming is perfect. Half-arsed apologies, “empathy courses”, taking leave at taxpayers’ expense, but continuing in politics, because Morrison is on the edge of minority government.

Morrison insists he’s not part of the Queensland LNP and has no control over it. Keeping Laming on the books between now and the next election would add to the LNP’s track record of vile actions, including preferencing One Nation.

But Morrison has the moral authority of the prime ministership, if he believes a principle is at stake. And he can decide if Laming sits in the Liberal Party room, and the joint party room, and if he accepts his vote in Parliament (that, of course, would be an issue for the leader of the House, who happens to be — oops, Christian Porter).

And with Laming, it’s likely only a matter of time before the next scandal emerges. When it does, and Morrison is forced to abandon Laming fully, it will look too late and reactive. He and his advisers have learnt nothing over the last few weeks. They’ve learnt nothing because they just don’t get it.

How should Scott Morrison have handled the Andrew Laming scandal — and is it too late for him to change course? Let us know your thoughts by writing to letters@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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