If the Morrison government loses the next election, yesterday will likely be seen as the day the rot really started to set in.
It was the day that the Prime Minister finally conceded he has lost control over the political bushfire ignited by the allegations made by Brittany Higgins and has gone on to ensnare Defence minister Linda Reynolds, engulf Attorney-General Christian Porter and, yesterday, burn Scott Morrison’s reputation for political mastery to the ground.
Contrary to the baying hounds of social media, and moralising members of the Canberra press gallery, clearly Morrison is sincere in his concern and disgust about what allegedly happened to Higgins, the latest revelations of Coalition staffers engaging in lewd and misogynistic acts, and everything in between. His personal distress yesterday was palpable and very real.
But the PM’s press conference, when he declared he stands with women and wants women to stand with him, was a month too late.
On television, his being genuinely angry and overwrought looked too theatrical, even melodramatic and was exploited by antagonistically manipulative journalists and producers. His becoming hyper-defensive and warning a Sky news journalist against talking about ‘glass houses’ when it comes to sexual misconduct allegation, only to be exposed by News Corp later as being entirely mistaken was disastrous on four fronts. Morrison bombed by emulating his antagonists in weaponising sexual misconduct matters to win a political point; doing so while getting his facts completely wrong; claiming knowledge of a matter under investigation in a private company when he insists he is at arm’s length from the internal inquiries into the Higgins matter; and counterpointing his choice not to even be briefed on the contents of the dead women’s dossier that has arraigned Porter before the kangaroo court of the commentariat and social media.
His solution? Weed out miscreant staffers and compel all government staffers to undergo appropriate training and induction. In doing so, Mr Morrison has wrongly adopted the false credo of radical, misandrist feminism on sexual and family violence: that all men are potential perpetrators. But as Charles Pier wrote yesterday, the Prime Minister missed a key point. The reality is the sociopath and deviant staffers who have so galvanised him to act are there because they are hired by MPs and ministers – or chiefs-of-staff on their behalf – who are either blind to the dangerous flaws in the people they appoint; don’t due their due diligence; or simply don’t care.
Seeing senior Morrison ministers pompously declaring they are ‘sickened’ by the latest lewd conduct revelations, yet utterly failing to acknowledge the elected Upstairs is responsible and accountable for those whom they employ Downstairs, is itself sickening. As Pier wrotes, there is always someone else to blame, but generally blaming the hired help, most of whom are loyal, incredibly hard-working and not the problem, is the most cowardly blame-shifting of all.
Last week I wrote that the Prime Minister has lost control of the political agenda to a 26-year-old girl. I was wrong. He has lost control to hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of Australian women, and not just those in the political and chattering classes who want to see the back of him anyway.
By failing to read the steadily-increasing public anger since the Higgins allegations surfaced; by his flat-footed and tin-eared reactions to revelation after revelation, allegation after allegation; and despite the fact he is sincere in his concern and his determination to act, his credibility has been shredded by his successfully being framed, by his political enemies and the relentless media pile-on, as anything but. Morrison may feel, with justification, hurt and hard done by, but his increasingly dire political and leadership predicament is largely of his own making.
The Year of Covid, for which the Morrison government can take great pride in its achievement in making our pandemic and economic survival the envy of the world, earned the government huge reserves of political capital. But rarely has so much costly political capital been squandered so quickly.
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