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Never mind the doghouse roses, PM must do more to show women he gets it

Politics

The Prime Minister’s emotional mea culpa was a small step, but Scott Morrison still has a long way to go to show he really understands why Australia’s women are so angry, writes Dennis Atkins

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We may look back on the last two weeks of March this year as the time Scott Morrison lost the next national election.

His inability to understand the basic sentiment, let alone the anger, behind the spontaneous and heart-felt expressions of frustration from women across the country have marked him down in a way which equals the disappointment Australians felt when he fumbled his way through the bushfire crisis of 2019/20.

His auto-pilot response in parliament, day after day, rolling out a scripted laundry list of claimed achievements and cobbled together aspirations has been noted with varying degrees of rage by most women and many men.

Morrison’s brain, which he boasts is equal to any challenge he faces, has neural roadblocks in the pathways usually used for empathy and cultural appreciation.

As a leader, he’s like the bloke who rolls into the local servo on the way home to buy some doghouse roses in the hope of forgiveness and redemption. It isn’t coming.

An eleventh-hour explanation this morning of just how deeply he says he cares and is driven by his devotion to his mother, wife and daughters will be seen as too little too late. It was near to the mark but it stood in stark contrast to the rote responses day after day.

Yes, he did say some of what needed to be said but it took an explosion of a political expose that represented an immediate threat to his own future.

Will he be forgiven by what too many will look like a bunch of doghouse roses? We’ll see.

He wasn’t helped by quickly reverting to attempts at equivalence and seeking to shift blame to “another time”.

In the longer train of events, women have been appalled and were, from the time Brittany Higgins bravely exposed the way she says she was raped in a ministerial office by a staffer colleague, hoping to hear something that would at least assuage their deep anxiety and concerns.

They heard a tick-a-box answer, that list of what we’ve done for you and as much blather as could be mustered in the hope that political management would out run the swirling crisis.

When women gathered in Canberra and around the country, Morrison didn’t go to meet them or listen but rather stayed in the relative safety of Parliament House.

Even then he fumbled his lines suggesting those at the rally were lucky they weren’t shot at like people in Myanmar. It was his worst moment since he told Australia he didn’t hold a hose as fire rages along the east coast.

Just a minute into the first Question Time of this week exposed Scott Morrison’s singular goal for the remaining sitting days of this month. He is desperate to outrun the clock that’s ticking towards the adjournment motion late on Thursday when Peter Dutton moves the House shut down until Tuesday, May 11.

He continues to be chased by demons, real and conjured up. Confusing and contradictory information has emerged in Senate estimates committees suggesting that, at best, Morrison has been too clever by half in how he didn’t answer questions on who in his office knew what about how Higgins was treated.

Shocking images of sex acts among male staffers in MPs’ offices and claims of rent boys being ferried into Parliament for the pleasure of politicians are the latest addition to what what’s been almost two months of shame for the government and parliament.

These things might have shocked the Prime Minister into rhetorical action but still are in sharp relief when placed against everything that’s been said since early February.

It’s been widely assumed Morrison will go to an election later this year and this remained a live option until a few weeks ago. Now it is consigned to the “in emergency break glass” category, only to be used if circumstances make it available and potentially profitable.

Morrison has also been rated as a likely winner because of his government’s perceived successful handling of the health and economic consequences of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

The way many in the public views these things may still save Morrison but he is now facing an existential threat because of his inability to appreciate what has been a genuine cultural moment for so many Australians.

The fact he doesn’t get it and can’t seem to see things beyond the current issues brief prepared by his department and staff, is what’s chasing him the fastest at the moment.

This is a workplace issue for Parliament House and, particularly, the ministerial wing but it is so much more than that. This was why more than 100,000 women rallied and marched on March 15 and will, probably, do so again in the lead up to the election early next year.

There was an echo of what’s happened in Australia seen in the United States last week in the wake of a series of murders of Asian massage shop workers in Georgia.

Across the USA marches were held spontaneously with people telling stories of violence against Asian and Pacific Islander people. Pent-up frustration and anger bubbled over.

This is what happened here as well in relation to the treatment of women.

Morrison doesn’t understand that what has happened is not just important for what happens to women working in Parliament House, as critical and in need of attention as that is.

It is also important because women suffered discrimination, harassment, verbal assault and physical attack for decades. Morrison has no comprehension of those feelings and deep wounds.

If he remains genuinely incapable of hearing or understanding, he will pay a heavy price at the ballot box.

 

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