The moniker #ScottyFromMarketing is meant to be funny but in truth? It’s unspeakably sinister.
What 2021 has revealed is not that Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has an image or ‘marketing’ problem; it’s accountability and integrity where he is dreadfully exposed. New shocking revelations about the way Scott Morrison’s government has handled the alleged sexual assault of Brittany Higgins in Parliament House in February 2019 make it difficult to conclude that the PM is not dishonest and incompetent.
On Tuesday morning Samantha Maiden reported the bombshell confirmed by the Australian Federal Police that Peter Dutton’s office was informed of the alleged sexual assault of Higgins in Parliament House in October 2019. This differs dramatically from Dutton’s public comments that he first learned of the alleged sexual assault in February this year.
At this point in Australia we are, alarmingly, comfortable with “bombshells” of this nature. A minister caught lying was once a sackable offence: now it’s just a Tuesday. No doubt Peter Dutton will ask the people of Australia to believe that he wasn’t told or that the AFP was mistaken or that it’s ‘fake news’, or a combination of the above.
A fake answer will not do. Minister Dutton needs to explain the inexplicable difference between when the AFP says his office was notified, and when he says he was notified. There is an explanation for the difference and Australians deserve to hear it from Minister Dutton.
Regardless of what the explanation is, the fact there is little doubt that Minister Dutton will evade responsibility and avoid any adverse consequences is a sad indictment on the standard of conduct we’re now accepting from Federal politicians. That we’re comfortable with a Prime Minister who steadfastly avoids accountability and embraces obfuscation as his modus operandi is worse still.
The ongoing farce that no one told the Prime Minister about the alleged sexual assault of Brittany Higgins that happened less than 100 metres from his own office until the morning the allegations were printed – almost two years after the crime allegedly took place – illustrates the anemic standard we’ve come to expect and accept from the highest office holder in this country.
The impunity with which Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his office are emboldened to act was painfully apparent in Senate Estimates on Tuesday morning. The secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, had the gall to admit that more than four months after he began “an investigation” into who knew what when in the PM’s office about Brittany Higgins he:
- can’t say who, or how many people, he has interviewed;
- can’t say if the report will be made public; and
- can’t say when the investigation will be finished.
It is deeply insulting that the Prime Minister expects the people of Australia to accept this. In what other workplace would we tolerate a leader or manager so brazenly obfuscating responsibility in relation to a serious crime? In what other workplace would a manager give another senior leader responsibility for an important, time-sensitive process – that could be completed in a matter of weeks – and tell the other employees it won’t reveal the findings?
There are only two explanations for the inexplicable delay and deliberately opaque nature of Gaetjens’ inquiry into who knew what when about the sexual assault of Brittany Higgins inside Parliament House: gross incompetence or gross dishonesty. The manner in which Gaetjens’ inquiry has been approached seems a path that only a Prime Minister with little regard for integrity, and total faith in his license to operate without accountability, would entertain.
That is a dangerous Prime Minister. But no Prime Minister is above accountability. Not even Scott Morrison as the women of Australia reminded him of earlier.
On Monday the 15th of March 2021, hundreds and thousands of Australians took to the streets at midday to protest the Federal government’s treatment of women in this country. Explosive allegations from a young and courageous former Liberal staffer made public exactly one month earlier, on the 15th of February, set the wheels for #March4Justice in motion.
What Higgins alleged happened to her inside Parliament House, in a minister’s office on the 22nd of March 2019, rocked the nation. How the alleged crime, exposed by Samantha Maiden and Lisa Wilkinson, was handled by her employer and workplace compounded the shock. But the inadequacy of the Prime Minister’s own response was the affront that sparked the fury that propelled women to march.
Historic sexual assault allegations levelled at Minister Christian Porter, who back in March was the attorney-general, and a government determined to ride it out also proved incendiary. The viral petition that Sydney-based university student Chanel Contos started that revealed the prolific sexual abuse schoolgirls have endured was also highly flammable.
But, ultimately, the white hot rage experienced by thousands of women – and men – across the nation in March this year was ignited by the manner in which the Prime Minister himself responded to these issues. How the Prime Minister treats women.
There were the clumsy and contrived comments Morrison offered after consulting with “Jen” who we were told has a way of ‘clarifying things’. A Prime Minister who needs his partner in marriage to ‘clarify’ that a young woman allegedly being raped in her place of work is a cause for human concern, is a cause for serious concern.
There were multiple occasions where the Prime Minister, in Question Time, sought to ‘tell’ the people of Australia what “Brittany”, not Ms Higgins, not Higgins, but “Brittany”, wanted.
Morrison offered his view on what “Brittany” would want, despite his own office failing to meet with Higgins and hear for himself what she may or may not want.
The PM resisted meeting with Higgins weeks after he had the gall to tell Tracy Grimshaw on TV that he would meet her. It was only after Higgins publicly expressed her disappointment that the meeting hadn’t happened that it actually happened.
There was the steadfast refusal to answer questions about whether or not the PM’s office had been backgrounding against Brittany Higgins’ partner.
And, of course, the enduring farce that the PM was in the dark about a serious crime in Parliament House until the rest of Australia learned of the shocking allegations on the 15th February 2021. It will never not be shocking that the PM either didn’t know to ensure plausible deniability or said he didn’t know to ensure his political survival.
In March we marched and now? We must maintain the rage. Because despite the PM assembling his “women’s Cabinet taskforce”, shedding his tears to Tracy Grimshaw and finally meeting Brittany Higgins, the news today proves definitively that it’s all just smoke and mirrors.
Until the Prime Minister is willing to stand up alongside Peter Dutton and the former minister for defence, Linda Reynolds, and offer full and frank disclosure of exactly how the alleged sexual assault of Brittany Higgins was minimised and covered up, and how they will ensure that never happens again, he will be a Prime Minister who fails women.