Recent events show a prime minister in self-preservation mode and if king-maker Murdoch is also off-side, then Scott Morrison's days at the helm are surely numbered. Managing editor Michelle Pini reports.
*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape
YOU KNOW the Prime Minister is feeling the pressure when, after unsuccessfully attacking staffers, dead victims, trial by media and, of course, the Opposition, conjuring tears and invoking his daughters, wife and mother, he points a finger at – wait for it – News Corp.
For those who missed it and wish to spare themselves the cringeworthy details, it can be summarised thus:
I know nothing. I mean no offence. Nothing is my fault or responsibility. It’s obvious I care about women because (cue tears) my daughters, my wife and my … (cue break in voice) widowed (pause for effect) mother are the centre of my life. Me, me, me. The end.
This performance was followed with questions by which time the PM’s empathy training skills and patience were fast depleting.
There were just so many questions, each one pushing Morrison further into a corner and as he had already run out of women towards which he feels any empathy, it was really only a matter of time before he would gnash his teeth and start to bare those claws.
So, by the time this question from Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell arrived – a clear sign that Murdoch’s patience with Morrison was already dwindling – the PM’s empathy quota was finally exhausted:
"Prime Minister, if you were the boss of a business and there'd been an alleged rape on your watch and this incident we heard about last night, on your watch, your job would probably be in a bit of jeopardy, wouldn't it?
Doesn't it look like you've lost control of your ministerial staff here?"
The nerve of the journo! The PM doesn’t hold the hose, the couch or the desk, after all.
The PM was angry and his advisers had clearly failed to provide enough suitable safe scapegoats in time for the presser.
Morrison decided now would be a good time to bring up information about the reporter’s workplace of which – unlike alleged rapes and assorted lewd acts in Parliament House – he had been made aware:
PM: Well, I'll let you editorialise as you like, Andrew. But if anyone in this room wants to offer up the standards in their own workplace by comparison I'd invite you to do so.
CLENNELL: Well they're better than these, I would suggest, Prime Minister.
PM: Well let me take you up on that. Right now, you'd be aware that in your own organisation that there is a person who has had a complaint made against them for harassment of a woman in a women's toilet.
And that matter is being pursued by your own HR department.
CLENNELL: I am not aware of it.
PM: You are not aware of it. So let's not, all of us who sit in glass houses here, start getting into that.
Excellent. So now we have a prime minister bullying a journalist, by making public sensitive information concerning an alleged sexual harassment incident in the organisation for which the journo works. And as it so happens, the organisation that has, up to this point, generally protected, covered up and/or glorified almost every inept, mediocre or downright dangerous thing that has come out of the PM’s mouth.
CAISLEY: How is it that you did not know about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in Linda Reynolds' office and yet you know about some incident that has happened in the media or among journalists, and have now aired that publicly despite that maybe being against the wishes of the victim, we don't know?
PM: That was brought to my attention late last night, and the issue of Brittany Higgins was only brought to my attention on 15 February, as I have said. I mean, the suggestion was made by a member of the Press Gallery that things like this don't happen in the media and I think that would be unfair.
And there was another problem with the PM’s flawed defence strategy: his information was incorrect. Not that this is usually a problem for him. A few hours later, however, News Corp chairman Michael Miller revealed no such complaint existed and denounced the PM’s claim as “simply untrue”.
In this instance, then, it poses a problem of mega proportions for Morrison, as it appears he has finally picked a fight he cannot win: he has threatened the hand that feeds him.
Because any Liberal prime minister knows that he will likely get away with taking Australia’s debt to eyewatering levels, he may get away with (in this case, a seemingly endless) number of ministers embroiled in varying degrees of scandal or a Parliament House resembling a brothel, and he may even have an attorney general accused of rape, but he cannot attack the House of Murdoch. Ever.
Recognising his glaring error, Morrison quickly offered an apology to News Corp, which, it needs to be said, appeared more genuine than anything he has served up to women so far. It seems Morrison can only drum up real remorse when something directly threatens “the centre of his world”.
The irony of a prime minister, already under fire, pardon the pun, for refusing to front women protesting violence by suggesting they’re lucky not to be shot, now bullying and employing veiled threats against the media is apparent to everyone, it seems, except this Prime Minister.
Morrison's behaviour is indicative of a man that when threatened can only attack. It is emblematic of abusers. And in a prime minister, it is simply unacceptable.
It should be remembered that it was around this time, about a year out from the two previous Federal elections, that Rupert Murdoch intervened, employing his media might, to topple both former sitting prime ministers, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull (as well as the two Labor ones before that).
If anyone could save Morrison at this juncture, it would be Murdoch of course. But now, well, if even Murdoch has lost the appetite, as recent events would suggest, then Scotty’s days are numbered.
This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.
- Rape, masturbation and lewd acts all part of Parliament House under Morrison
- Alleged rape by Cabinet member deflected by Coalition Government
- Why Morrison's response to rape is woefully inadequate
- Whether Morrison knew or not, he is an abject moral failure and should resign
- It takes more than 'speaking up' to change a toxic culture
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.