Prime Minister Scott Morrison just delivered one of the best speeches of his prime ministerial career, saying “we must do better” and “we must get this house in order.”
It was the speech he should have given weeks ago, delivering powerful lines and even what appeared to be tears.
But unfortunately, beyond the scripted remarks, Morrison’s comments lacked enough substance when it came to taking action. And things took a considerable turn as he took questions from journalists, and shifted to the defensive.
In his speech, he spoke of his daughters and his wife, again. He spoke of his widowed mother. He talked about them as the “centre of my life” – no doubt causing some eyerolls from those who (rightfully) note that you don’t need daughters or a wife to understand these issues.
But his anknowledgement of the harassment and fear women face every day, was at least a strong and powerful message. Finally.
He said he had listened. He’d heard women don’t feel safe walking to their car. Women feel talked over and overlooked. Women are afraid to call out behaviour due to the fear of losing a job. He said he has heard how women have been marginalised, belittled, intimidated, dismissed, objectified. “This is not ok,” he said.
“Whether this is unconscious deafness and blindness, or whether it is wilful malevolence that is behind all of this, it must be acknowledged. It must be called out, and it must stop,” he said.
“That is all our job, it is my job, it is my ministers’ jobs, it is my members and senators jobs, it is your job.”
“This is not something that is of a scale that any government can simply change. It is something we must change as a society because we know it happens all over this country, but for me and my house, the house I work in here, then we must take responsibility, it is our problem here, it is our responsibility here, and I’m committed to dealing with that. We must do better in this place. All of us, and in our country we must do better.”
A powerful message indeed.
The problem? That was it. And, frankly, he failed to really acknowledge his own responsibility in making the change and the adjustments that are needed.
He did not announce any key measures. There was no real mention of concerns regarding his own ministerial staff, instead preferring to note actions that have been taken against more junior staff. He said himself that he had not come into the press conference that day with a “shopping list” of measures to put forward.
Acknowledgments are not enough. We’re looking for solutions. Morrison has now had weeks to consider them — he’s had the time to deliver a half-decent speech on the matter. But still, he’s come up short on what will happen next.
And the speech, frankly, came far too late. It’s clear Morrison feels up against the wall, like he (and has advisors) have finally realised these issues and this noise from women and men across Australia is not going away. It should not have taken weeks of listening — and it certainly should not have taken conversations with his wife to understand the magnitude of what’s going on.
Morrison’s comments came after his horror response to the women’s March 4 Justice last week, sharing his pride that we live in a country where such protesters are not “met with bullets”. As well as following comments earlier last month in response to the rape allegations from Brittany Higgins, in which he said he has spoken about the matter with his wife, who told him to consider it had happened to one of his daughters.
Morrison did not apologise for these comments, rather he said he ackowledged they may have come across as offensive.
On taking questions, Morrison continued to divert away from taking direct responsibility for what has occured — noting that the incident reported in the media on Monday happened when he wasn’t even prime minister.
And when probed by journalists in the room, he spoke of “all of us working in glass houses”. “You’re free to make those criticisms and to stand on a pedestal, but be careful,” he told a journalist — raising a specific harassment issue Morrison alleged to have occured in that journalist’s own organisation.
This was a particularly concerning development in today’s press conference, it showed how when he’s pushed against the ropes he will target journalists and their organisations (remind you of anyone?).
Meanwhile, if Morrison actually knows about an issue that has occurred in a news organization that is, as he said, allegedly with the HR department, then Morrison may have seriously breached the privacy of whomever may have been involved, and had made the complaint.
Overall, Morrison appeared to be suggesting that bad things occur in all organisations — that you can’t be across every inch of a building. So therefore, why should he take responsibility?
Asked if this is the speech he should have given last week, as thousands of people descended on Parliament House for the March 4 Justice, Morrison said he believes he provided the opportunity to meet with the organizers that day.
Finally, when asked if he’d encourage his own daughters and other girls and young women to consider public life, Morrison said before abruptly leaving:
“Because they want things to be better and because they have something to contribute to that.
“I believe in my girls. I believe in all the women of Australia.”
It’s not enough to believe in women. It’s not enough to believe in girls. It’s not enough to urge society and business and the community to change. We need real measures, real action, real inquiries, real consequences and real money spent on these problems. Now.