The ambush of Bridget Archer is the latest incident of poor behaviour from Josh Frydenberg and he’s now admitted that the ambush was preplanned with Scott Morrison.
On 25 November, Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer seconded and crossed the floor to support Independent MP Helen Haines’ motion to suspend standing orders so Haines’ Integrity Commission Bill could be debated. With Archer’s support, the House voted in favour of suspending the standing orders 66-64, but the suspension of standing orders under Standing Order 47 requires an absolute majority of 76 votes, meaning the bill could not be debated.
In response to Archer breaking rank and crossing the floor, she ended up in a conversation with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg which was photographed and shared widely across Twitter, with users suggesting that Frydenberg was intimidating or lecturing Archer — particularly after the photo was circulated again accompanying another photo of Archer leaving the chamber with Helen Haines. However, on her Twitter account, Archer tweeted a clarification stating that Frydenberg is a ‘good person’ and was ‘checking on my welfare’.
Regardless of what was said in this conversation between Archer and Frydenberg, it should be noted that when offering support and checking on one’s welfare, it’s best to sit at their level rather than standing over them and it’s best to not ambush and trick them into meeting with the Prime Minister against their wishes — which is exactly what Josh Frydenberg did.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the meeting which included Archer, Frydenberg, Minister for Women Marise Payne and himself as “friendly” — yet Bridget Archer gave an entirely different account of the meeting to Samantha Maiden:
Josh was very nice to me. I agreed to go to his office to have a one-on-one conversation. Then he said, ‘I am going to take you to the PM’s office’. I go down there and Marise and the PM are already waiting there.
It’s not having the conversation that I have the issue with. I just would have preferred to have pulled myself together.
I thought I was just going to have a one-on-one with Josh.
I spent the first half of the conversation crying and apologising. I just really felt that I would have liked to have had the conversation later in the day.
It’s clear from Archer’s words that Frydenberg deceived her and ambushed her into a meeting that she had not consented to. Archer believed she was having a one-on-one with Josh Frydenberg but instead, she was tricked into a three-on-one meeting with Morrison, Payne and Frydenberg.
In a normal workplace for such meetings, one is given time to prepare and allowed a support person — yet Archer was not provided with time nor support and the meeting with Morrison clearly could have waited.
In the interview, Sales asked Frydenberg:
“So, was that a spontaneous decision that you made when she was back in your office or had you and the Prime Minister pre-planned that you were going take her around there?”
Frydenberg’s response ignored the question entirely so Sales put the question to him again:
“Sorry to interrupt, you didn't quite answer the question. Had you and the Prime Minister made that plan before you had Bridget Archer in your office or did you spontaneously decide to take her around?”
With the question put to Frydenberg a second time, it’s evidently clear what is being asked and the first sentence of Frydenberg’s response ultimately confirms that he did indeed speak with Morrison before asking Archer to meet in his office — the ambush was preplanned:
I did speak to the Prime Minister before. I obviously spoke to Bridget and I can tell you, having been in that conversation with Bridget and the Prime Minister, it was a, I think a very constructive discussion and certainly I had the best of intentions to ensure that Bridget, the Prime Minister and I and in that case, Marise Payne, had an opportunity to discuss recent developments because Bridget is not only a valued colleague and friend but she is a very important part of the team and she is discussing important issues to her electorate and indeed, to the country.
When confirming that he spoke with Morrison before meeting with Archer, Frydenberg did not use his response to declare that taking Archer to Morrison’s office was not preplanned. This possibly accidental admission from Frydenberg is yet another clear example of the toxic workplace culture within Parliament and it undoubtedly highlights the importance of the Set the Standard report.
According to MP Julia Banks, this is not the first time that Frydenberg has tried to ambush a woman into meeting with the PM. In an opinion piece this week, Banks recounted her own experience in Parliament stating that Frydenberg had played the ‘good cop’ in an attempt to ‘lure and ambush’ her into meeting with the Prime Minister — the same tactics he used on Archer.
Previously, Frydenberg has also been happy to act as a “bad cop”. He tried to get the AGL Chief Executive sacked, he attempted to bully veteran suicide campaigner Julie-Ann Finney into retracting media comments, live-texted a private conversation with Julia Banks to Sky News and most recently, called up donors who had donated to Climate 200 in an attempt to convince them to withdraw their support.
Given the spotlight on the toxic culture within Parliament House, it is not unreasonable for Australians to declare this behaviour from Frydenberg, Morrison and others to be entirely unacceptable and demand a higher standard of our politicians. Yet Frydenberg’s ambush of Bridget Archer will likely be lost and forgotten in the media cycle so we can instead read the scoop on Morrison’s next haircut.
When the resignations aren’t demanded of politicians who are ambushing colleagues with coercive power moves, our democracy is in a very sorry state indeed.
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