AS THE QUESTION of behind-the-scenes bonking within the Federal Government came to the fore once again this week, Morrison provided evidence – in case anyone thought more was needed – of the dismissive culture towards women that characterises his prime ministership.
At a press conference during which alleged sexual impropriety in the case of two senior Government ministers was being debated, AFR’s Phillip Coorey asked the Minister for Families and Social Services:
“Ms Ruston, can I ask you as a woman in the Government, your reflections on the culture inside — has it got better, worse or no change since the bonk ban era?”
Ms Ruston’s lips had just started to move when the Prime Minister, clearly so affronted by this question he could hardly contain himself, cut the pretty little lady off with the following words of wisdom:
“How this ban is referred to, I think is quite dismissive of the seriousness of the issue, Phil.”
And just in case Ruston may have thought it was time for her to speak without seeking his permission, he added:
“And I would ask the media to stop referring to it in that way. We took it very seriously and I think constantly referring to it in that way dismisses the seriousness of the issue. It’s a very serious issue.
It was clearly very serious. Though the Prime Minister did not elaborate as to how his Government had taken the issue seriously, or what plans were under way to seriously improve the serious situation.
That the Coalition has a serious problem with women is hardly news.
But details of allegations of sexual impropriety on the part of senior Liberal Party ministers, Alan Tudge and Christian Porter, brought into the spotlight by ABC’s Four Corners this week beg the question: What constitutes a sackable offence for any man in the Morrison Government?
That Bridget McKenzie is the only person to be sacked from this Morrison Cabinet, despite a plethora of corruption scandals engulfing many senior ministers, is testament to the fact that the same rules do not apply for women.
With respect to the allegations against Tudge and Porter, Morrison has dismissed the need for an inquiry, because, according to the PM:
“They have engaged in no conduct, as they have served in my Cabinet, that is in breach of the code.”
And besides, added the PM:
“These are matters that were dealt with by the former Prime Minister [Malcolm Turnbull] years ago.”
It was actually only two years ago but who’s counting?
A reasonable question might be how, in fact, these alleged cases of sexual misconduct were "dealt with", given Attorney-General Christian Porter, was promoted to his current role two weeks after the bonk ban was introduced, though an inquiry into the allegations is yet to take place.
But it’s time to stop these impertinent questions, says Morrison, as:
“These things happen in Australia. People do things and they regret them, they do tremendous damage to their lives in the lives of many others, and I know there would be deep regrets about that.”
IA’s Dr Jennifer Wilson’s question to journalist Phil Coorey sparked further debate on Twitter:
IA sought clarification from Phil Coorey who said he felt justified in asking the question of Ruston. (Read the full response below):
‘My question to Senator Ruston was motivated by nothing more than I wanted to hear the views of a woman ... It was a genuine effort to show her some respect and seek her views.
When I saw Dr Wilson's tweet, I did not regard it as a legitimate question, but a rhetorical statement that was accusing me of putting the Senator in an invidious position and forcing her to say nice things about her boss. ... Nonetheless, if I offended Dr Wilson with my response, I do apologise.’
Dr Wilson replied (Read the full response below):
‘I appreciate Mr Coorey’s apology.
I’m unable to think of any instance in which it is fair and reasonable to ask a woman about the safety of her workplace in front of her boss. ...
A media prepared to publicly recognise the inappropriate nature of questions such as that asked of Minister Ruston would go some small way towards tackling the problem of sexism and misogyny in our workplaces.‘
Whether Coorey’s question was appropriate or not, it is obvious that had Ruston felt vulnerable in her workplace, she is hardly likely to share that feeling with the world in the presence of her boss, who also happens to be the Prime Minister.
As with any case of bullying, sexually harassed or bullied women only come forward when they feel safe to do so.
According to Morrison, however, what’s important is how we refer to this unenforced ban, not what actually happened to prompt its establishment or continues to happen since, or how it should be addressed.
Morrison’s response – which dismisses the concerns of those whose lives have already been “tremendously damaged" because any bullying may have happened when he wasn’t in charge, while also refusing to consider investigating any impropriety that may still be occurring – demeans those women within his Government who may still be under threat.
Only an independent inquiry can address this problem.
And, as we’ve said before on IA, no abuse of power, no conduct, no matter how reprehensible, seems reason enough for people to face consequences under Scott Morrison’s unaccountable Government. Unless they happen to be women, as in the case of Bridget McKenzie.
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