Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins delivering her report yesterday (Image: (AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison could have done a whole lot of things when sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins’ report, Set the Standard, into parliamentary workplace culture dropped.

He could have apologised for leading and cultivating a workplace where horrific abuses occur. He could have fired the serial perpetrators he no doubt knows of. He could have promised to implement all 28 recommendations, effective immediately. 

There are some smaller things he could have done, too. He could have waited until after Jenkins spoke to launch his own press conference, and given journalists more than 15 minutes to go through the 456-page report before speaking.

He could have encouraged the public to take time to care for themselves after reading through the pages of trauma and promoted 1800RESPECT to ensure people had access to support — pledging extra funding to stretched sexual violence hotlines.

He did none of these things. 

Instead, speaking quietly while the sun beat down on journalists in the prime minister’s courtyard, our phones overheating and shutting off while we attempted to skim the report to formulate questions, he deflected responsibility and patted himself on the back. 

“[We] have already made this workplace safer than indeed when Brittany [Higgins] was working here,” he said. “These sort of cultures don’t appear in a short period of time.” They’re also an issue “all workplaces” deal with. 

But it’s all OK: he’s appointed more women to cabinet than anyone else. He’s undergone a pithy one hour of training on gendered violence in which he “learnt a lot”. He set up a 24-hour counselling support line.

It’s not the first time Morrison has used women’s experiences to push his agenda. He gave himself the opening address at the Women’s Safety Summit. He highlighted the vitriolic abuse women and young people experience online to promote his anti-trolling bill (despite advocacy organisations saying defamation proceedings is not something cyber abuse victims seek). And he consistently wheels out his recently promoted cabinet women.

Morrison would also like the public to believe fixing Parliament culture is not only his responsibility, just as it is not his fault, mentioning the government’s response would have to be a “multi-party” approach 10 times in the 45-minute press conference. (Perhaps it’s the responsibility of the prime minister for women?)

Harassment occurs on all sides of politics, and predators are not bound by party lines. All parties and politicians must work for change. But Morrison is the prime minister and should lead the charge to make change instead of deflecting responsibility — especially given his behaviours show a fundamental lack of respect for women.

Women, to Morrison, are wives and daughters. They’re people who need to be dragged into a back room for a “frank” discussion when they dare to have an independent thought, like Liberal backbencher Bridget Archer.

They’re people to be spoken over, even when the question is focused on their lived experience in Parliament, like Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Rushton. And they’re people who should not be met even when they meet en masse outside his workplace like the March4Justice protesters.

They’re people who should rise, but not on the basis of men doing worse.

And they are people to be backgrounded against, with attempts to destroy their and their partners’ credibility, like Brittany Higgins.

(Oh, and they’re people who don’t deserve to be spoken to with their title as when he refers to men, but on a first-name basis.)

Morrison’s approach towards women and gendered violence has improved. Record funding has been pledged to women’s services. He’s clearly been briefed on how not to approach sexual violence. (Maybe that training did teach him something).

But change is slow. Less than two hours after Morrison spoke, an MP in the House of Representatives laughed when the discussion turned to the importance of respect as mentioned in the report. On the other side of Parliament, a senator allegedly made dog-like growling noises at Senator Jacqui Lambie (an allegation he denies). 

Clearly one hour of training is not enough.

Yesterday NSW Liberal Natalie Baini announced she was quitting the party to run as an independent after alleging “inappropriate” behaviour by senior men within the party and government.

Morrison’s self-congratulatory response was pithy. Responsibility is a big thing to shoulder, but he leads a big government in a big country. Promoting his government’s advances rather than focusing on its failures does the whole of Australia a disservice.