Managing editor Michelle Pini examines Scott Morrison's claims of parliamentary workplace improvements since the Brittany Higgins rape allegations in February.
*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape
PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON attempted to make all the right noises in his response to Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins' report into parliamentary workplace culture this week.
THE STANDARD MORRISON WALKS PAST...
Triggered by Brittany Higgins' parliamentary rape allegations in February, the report, 'Set the Standard', found a staggering one in three federal parliamentary staff experienced sexual harassment. More than half reported they'd experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault.
Summoning an expression of disappointment and a suitably sombre tone, the PM thanked Brittany Higgins for her courage in coming forward and talked about how grave it all was, before denying any responsibility and declaring that "we all share in the ownership of the problems". There was no mention that Brittany Higgins' family was backgrounded by the PM's office, while the alleged rapist had mysteriously left parliament.
After denying culpability, shifting the blame to include all the non-government parties and then to all of us, Morrison then made the extraordinary claim that things have improved since the Higgins' revelations in February.
... AND DENIES
Although Morrison stopped short of sticking his arms up in the air in the manner of a footballer accused of foul play, the meaning was clear: Sure, shit happens and yes, I’m the PM but it’s not on me and besides, it’s everywhere, plus things have really improved!
It is telling that the female Sex Discrimination Commissioner was not flanked by the Prime Minister or the Minister for Women but stood alone as she delivered the findings of her report at a press conference this week.
And scarcely before Jenkins had time to finish speaking, the Prime Minister was already giving his own media conference, responding to Jenkins' report and claiming nothing much to see here. Of course, he had been busy frying bigger fish, by attempting to pass anti-troll legislation — giving parliamentarians even more opportunity for defamation lawsuits against those who dare to criticise or hurt their delicate feelings, on social media.
There are so many things wrong with the leader of the nation refusing to take responsibility for disgraceful conduct happening on his watch and within his ranks, but let’s start with the part about anything having improved since the Jenkins report was commissioned.
After claiming a no-fault defence, Morrison repeated the need for a “multi-party” approach to the report (in case anyone still harboured thoughts that the person at the helm might actually take action), blamed everybody else for good measure and added:
“So it is a challenge I think all workplaces are dealing with.”
Then, in an astonishing act of self-congratulation, the PM announced:
“[We] have already, even before we get to working on the recommendations of this report on a multi-party process … made this workplace safer than indeed when Brittany [Higgins] was working here.”
Unsurprisingly, the PM did not provide concrete evidence of anything being any safer, or even more respectful.
Indeed, on the very same day the report was handed down, a male Liberal Senator made dog noises and growled as Senator Jacqui Lambie took the floor in Parliament. Senator David Van eventually apologised. But only after being caught out, refusing any wrongdoing and, finally, admitting he'd made noises but denying making animal noises or growling.
Again, it comes as no surprise that Senator Van was not hauled into the PM’s office to face any consequences, Morrison simply stating it was "disappointing".
Liberal Senator Jane Hume told ABC News Breakfast that she was:
“Proud to be part of the Government that commissioned the review.”
Apparently, being part of a Government that is dragged kicking and screaming to commission a review about a workplace culture where rapes occur and are ignored and covered up, and where one in three people experience sexual harassment, is an achievement.
Hume then repeated Morrison’s latest catchcry that “all the recommendations should be considered by all parties”, before excusing David Van since he "apologised to Lambie” — case closed.
It's a pity female Liberal MP and child sexual assault survivor Bridget Archer wasn't afforded the same treatment when daring to cross the floor, last week, to back the Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill. On that occasion, Archer was ambushed by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and marched into the PM’s office, like a disgraced pupil fronting the principal.
Let’s take a look at the other ways in which things have shown no improvement but indeed have declined during Morrison’s watch and since this latest report was commissioned in February.
In March, Morrison refused to meet with women protesting domestic violence and, instead, announced in Parliament that they were lucky not to have been "met with bullets".
Also in March, when historical rape allegations against then-Attorney General Christian Porter emerged, Morrison declared Porter innocent — without holding any inquiry or even bothering to read the 31-page dossier sent to him by the alleged victim before her untimely death.
Again in March – the very busy month for improving workplace culture – Morrison dismissed former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s confirmation of the existence of the "Big Swinging Dicks Club" within the Liberal Party, which attempted to impede the advancement of women, by stating that “they weren’t very successful”. Perhaps they were small dicks, after all.
In April, when Liberal National MP Andrew Laming admitted to stalking two women on social media, Morrison brought the hammer down — he made Laming attend online empathy training!
The PM announced an optional one-hour course on gender violence for parliamentarians in July.
Morrison appointed himself to give the opening address at the Women’s Safety Summit in September.
In November – the same month Bridget Archer was bullied for crossing the floor – when Senator Matt Canavan led a group of five Coalition senators to cross the floor and back One Nation's "anti-discrimination” protections for the unvaccinated, that must have just been democracy at work, since no summons to appear before the PM eventuated.
Only last year, Morrison allocated just $2.1 million following the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Sexual Harassment Inquiry, 'Respect@Work'. And then promptly ignored its 55 recommendations.
Today, as the 'Set the Standard' report delivered another scathing indictment on this Government’s toxic workplace culture, Morrison denies culpability, and orders more meetings and multi-party consultations but no action.
TROLLING AUSTRALIAN WOMEN
In his response to the damning report this week, the Prime Minister also said: “These sort [sic] of cultures don’t appear in a short period of time”, which is about the only thing on which we agree. These “sort of cultures” as he described them, in fact, stem from the top.
But instead of apologising for leading a workplace where horrendous abuses occur, or just implementing all 28 recommendations without further delay, Morrison has, bizarrely, taken credit for imagined “improvements” already made.
As Australian of the Year and sexual abuse survivor Grace Tame put it:
‘Parliament’s ecosystem of abuse has been revealed ... 15 minutes after the 500-page Review launched today, Scott was already claiming it’s a safer workplace than when Brittany was there. This, days after he coercively orchestrated the ambush of Bridget Archer.'
If indeed there have been any improvements in the workplace culture since the Brittany Higgins allegations first surfaced in February, they have happened in spite of this Prime Minister.
If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.
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