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It's deja vu all over again as Morrison finds himself battling on multiple fronts

Opinion

Just because Prime Minister Scott Morrison has found himself in familiar territory with the Christian Porter crisis, it doesn’t mean he remembers the way out, writes Dennis Atkins

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Some hard rules of politics shouldn’t be forgotten – and certainly not ignored – in the still swirling Christian Porter controversy.

Primary in these is that due process only ever applies to the other side. If the politician being accused comes from the other team, the niceties of procedural fairness are flexible, to say the least.

If he or she is one of yours, due process is inviolate. In fact, Scott Morrison reckons without basic checks, the whole rule of law will collapse and it’s the end of western democracy as we know it.

Next comes “my precedent is better than your precedent”. The fact Bill Shorten didn’t stand aside seven years ago when he faced rape claims condemns all of those who demand Porter should stand aside.

Meanwhile, the relentless pursuit of Julia Gillard over allegations of impropriety decades ago – which led to a royal commission – is an indisputable argument for having an independent inquiry into Porter’s actions and behaviour.

Last, the Clint Eastwood rule trumps everything. This comes from the Hollywood star’s character in the film Unforgiven who, when asked for a reason by a victim about to die, dismisses the plea by saying “deserve’s got nothing to do with it”.

Apart from Eastwood’s invincible advice, these are rules of convenience. As such, each begs its own questions.

Every piece of bad behaviour, especially in the political sphere, is dismissed by defenders of those accused with reference to what others have done in the past.

In the United States, where these scandals are more prevalent and usually additionally lurid, this is standard operating procedure.

The current Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, stands accused of sexual harassment of staff. His defenders point to behaviour by former prominent Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Likewise, when Clinton’s accusers turned on him 25 years ago, his backers harked back to the personal life of John F. Kennedy.

It’s a roll-call of men behaving badly and it wasn’t just the Democrats doing it. Donald J. Trump has boasted of his ability to treat women appallingly and plenty of other Republicans cheated on their wives or harassed and assaulted women.

Right now our prime minister is at a critical point. He is in a dangerous place between a slew of self-inflicted political wounds and an, as yet, unimagined safe harbour.

Morrison has been here before, just 12 months ago when he was flapping around after more than eight weeks of personal, political hell which began with a lie about where he was holidaying as the nation’s east coast was engulfed in a climate change fire inferno.

Unable to put a foot right, from being shunned while pleading for handshakes on the New South Wales south coast to stumbling about who had died in fires on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, Morrison rode through an ethical storm in Canberra as his junior Coalition partners bickered over leadership scraps. He was saved by the pandemic – an outsized black swan event that allowed political redemption and reinvention.

Now Morrison is back under political siege, this time founded and compounded by an inability to handle successive sexual misconduct crises. First a rape allegation made against a ministerial staffer by a colleague unfolded with claims she felt under pressure to shut up to protect herself and the looming election fortunes of her employers.

Then, even more sensationally, a claim of rape 33 years ago made against Porter, now Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister. Porter denies every aspect of the claims as they are generally known. The accuser is a woman who died by her own hand a year ago after having struggled awfully with the incident for at least a decade.

The common thread here is Morrison’s complete inability to deal with the issues or display any understanding of how women feel right now about any of this.

Morrison can’t second guess anything about these horrific incidents because his first guesses are so wide of the mark. He can’t respond to what women are feeling because he doesn’t have a clue what that might be.

So Morrison is fighting for his survival. While this struggle goes on Morrison doesn’t look like he’s governing. He was scheduled to accompany Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to Cairns on Sunday and Monday but pulled out – ostensibly to prepare for a speech to a Financial Review talkfest in Sydney.

Morrison looks consumed by protecting his own political hide because he is. It’s not something he manages with any surefootedness.

In the coming days and weeks, Morrison will try to tough out the Porter scandal because that is what his instincts tell him to do: manage and fix it politically. Mop up, cover up, distract and move on. Pretend the “quiet Australians” don’t care and suggest those who won’t stop talking about all this are out of touch.

That’s the Morrison playbook and it’s worked so often he thinks he’ll get away with it again. Maybe.

But when up to 50,000 women encircle Parliament House next Monday and ask for someone in the Morrison Government to demonstrate they understand what women in Australia are feeling right now, some people might have another think coming.

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