(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)

Even on a lazy Sunday, things can move pretty fast. Before anyone could say “back to you, Speersy!”, some comments about the gender pay gap were lighting up the interwebs.

On Insiders, ABC political editor Andrew Probyn talked about the “slow transformation” of Prime Minister Scott Morrison “from someone who didn’t understand it at all to someone who is getting some understanding”.

“I’ve heard inside some of these [government] meetings Scott Morrison was gobsmacked there was even a gender pay gap, because he can’t understand why you would have women and men paid differently for doing the same job,” he said.

The idea of the PM being gobsmacked would have been more palatable if he hadn’t so often been so cack-handed when it comes to women’s issues. It’s only a couple of weeks ago that he seemed surprised to have heard that women get talked over, belittled, and carry their keys as a defensive weapon.

The first wave of the social media pile-on was people pointing out that Morrison has quite often referred to the gender pay gap, which he has, absolutely.

But just using the phrase “gender pay gap” is not proof that he “gets it”.

He may still need to ask Jenny about the details. A skim of his speeches and press conferences shows he always uses similar, scripted lines about the pay gap, simply focusing on the fact it has decreased. “The gender pay gap is at a record low”, “the gender pay gap fell to record lows”, “the gender pay gap (fell) to its smallest level that we’ve seen”, and “the gender pay gap has actually fallen to its lowest level on record”, are just a few examples.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office said Probyn’s claim was “demonstrably false” and pointed to statistics showing the gender pay gap has shrunk. Similar sentiments were tweeted by Assistant Minister for Women Amanda Stoker.

It is possible Morrison mastered those talking points long ago, but was still “gobsmacked” to learn that, indeed, women and men can get paid differently for doing the same job.

So it may be that it’s a bit premature to call bullshit on the idea that the PM didn’t really get the pay gap stuff. He’s definitely on a learning curve, and the gender pay gap issue is one besieged by myths, where anecdotes trump data, and misunderstandings and misinformation abound.

There are those who (possibly inspired by alt-right gateway thug Jordan Peterson) simply claim it doesn’t exist.

Those who endearingly claim that men and women in the same positions are paid the same because the law says so.

Those who say it’s just because women have kids and therefore time out of the workforce. According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), that accounts for about 39% of the gap — as long as you also include the amount of unpaid work women do, and part-time work. Another 39% of the gap is from straight up discrimination.

There are myths about women choosing lower-paid jobs, which is wilfully ignorant (there is also a 2016 US study that found when women enter previously male-dominated industries, the wages drop).

Meanwhile, those government claims of the shrinking pay gap are a little whiffy, too. The WGEA says the gap is now 13.4% for full-time employees, a drop of 0.6% in six months — putting the difference at $242.20 a week. Director Libby Lyons says the difference is from COVID-19 vicissitudes, though, not any underlying structural changes.

And it still is a big enough chasm that it may not close for another quarter of a century, a recent report found.

In short, using the phrase “gender pay gap” does not in itself prove an understanding of the gap. Morrison may well have been surprised to learn some of the data and nuanced reasons for the gap. When we hear him talk less about the headline figures and more about the structural inequalities that cause them, then we’ll know that he’s starting to get it.