Mere moments after Scott Morrison had called for a greater “culture of respect” in parliament during an International Women’s Day event yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton proved why such words, in a government like this one, ring sickeningly hollow.
Speaking for the first time about the harrowing rape allegations made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins last week, Dutton described the situation as a “he said, she said” affair, before revealing that he had tipped off the Prime Minister’s office about the incident at Parliament House on February 12 but the information had not been relayed to Morrison by his advisors.
“I took a decision that I wasn’t going to disclose that to the Prime Minister. I think that was the right decision,’’ Dutton said.
“And when the media inquiries came in, we provided information, not to his office about the detail, the detail of the allegation, it was at a higher level, which is the basis on which I was briefed by the AFP Commissioner, more in terms of process, as the commissioner advised me at the time.
“And there are other matters, unrelated to this, obviously, that I was briefed on during that discussion with the commissioner on the 11th.
“And I wasn’t provided with the ‘she said/he said’ details of the allegation. It was at a higher level.”
Now, let’s unpack the connotations of the phrase “he said, she said”, and the glibness in which one of the government’s most senior ministers felt compelled to describe the seriousness of an alleged rape case. In Parliament. Perpetrated by a party member.
Peter Dutton knew exactly what he was doing when he chose to describe the allegations in this way. He knew that by doing so he’d immediately cast public doubt on the testimony of Brittany Higgins– a young woman brave enough to come forward and relive a trauma that will likely stay with her for life.
He knew that by describing the case in that way he could effectively communicate his own doubt about the claims and the side he was taking: that women like Brittany Higgins are not to be trusted.
Perhaps, even more despicably, he thought he could communicate the position of the government.
No wonder women– and particularly young women– commonly stay silent. Why would anyone speak up when the risks are so great? Why would anyone speak up when those with power do everything they can to diminish their accounts?
Peter Dutton should feel deeply ashamed, but I suspect he feels the opposite.
As for Morrison and his supposed quest to “respect, protect and reflect” when it comes to women’s safety, spare us the BS.
If you want to respect women, don’t send senior ministers like Dutton out to undermine their courage. If you want to protect women, implement some measures to address the crisis head on. If you want to reflect, don’t tell us you need your wife to remind you how to lead with empathy.
Pretty simple really.