At the start of his press conference on Thursday at which Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to Christian Porter’s categorical denial that he raped a young woman in 1988, Morrison held forth for nearly four minutes on “the rule of law”.
In typically arrogant “Morrison knows best” mode — and with obvious contempt for anyone who might question his “final word” on whatever issue is to hand — Morrison informed the gathered media scrum and thereby the watching nation that “there is a lot at stake”.
Mirroring Porter, who at his own press conference the day before — in an extraordinary act of overreach I suspect he will come to regret — declared that if he stood down there “wouldn’t be much need for an Attorney General anyway, because there would be no rule of law left to protect in this country”, Morrison told us that “the rule of law is essential to liberal democracy”. And he warned us of the “terrible things that can happen in a country where the rule of law is not upheld”.
Let me state in the strongest possible terms that I am weary of allowing Morrison and Co. to frame the “what is at stake” narrative at the heart of the ongoing, much-needed national debate we’re currently having about violence against women.
No, the “rule of law” is not at stake.
The meaning of justice is at stake.
Women’s safety is at stake.
Whether women, or indeed any of us, can have confidence in those who oversee the “rule of law” is at stake.
And I suspect that from the perspective of Morrison, Porter and those standing in the way of an independent inquiry, what’s really at stake is men’s privilege and entitlement –their belief that they can sail through life avoiding any accountability, particularly in relation to their treatment of women.
I suspect that’s what’s really driving Morrison and Co., not a genuine fear for “the rule of law”.
As I watched Porter’s press conference on Wednesday and Morrison’s the next day, I couldn’t help but conclude that while they were – on the face of it – appealing to the Australian public to back them as noble defenders of liberal democracy, their true audience was other powerful men in politics, the media and industry who might have skeletons in their closet. They hoped these men would back them as (not so noble) defenders of men’s privilege.
“If they come for me, they will come for you…and we mustn’t let that happen”, was the heavily implied message in amidst all that bluster about “law and order”.
“We have to put a lid back on this can of worms”, was the not so thinly veiled plea.
Morrison, meanwhile, stoked fears of “mob” rule, of outspoken “tribes” coming for everyone and everything and snuffing out the fire-burning careers of unsuspecting victims. “This is not the mob process,” he said. “There is not the ‘tribe-has-spoken’ process… That’s not how we run the rule of law in Australia.”
What “tribe” is he afraid of. What “mob” does he fear. When he says “tribe” and “mob” does he really mean women seeking justice…women seeking equity. Because that is their ask. And if that’s how Morrison sees them and how he publicly chooses to describe them, that is most unfortunate indeed.
I feel strongly that Porter, Morrison and all could have vigorously professed Porter’s innocence while also acknowledging that this is a conversation we need to have. Or at the very least, they could have not so obviously done their darndest to hold back a reckoning driven by disclosures.
My, admittedly cynical, view only hardened following numerous media reports that Morrison and Porter hatched a plan last Wednesday (when they became aware of the letter and its’ allegations) to manage the political and legal fallout of the rape allegations. And that plan, according to reports, involved them not even showing the alleged victim enough respect to actually read the allegations.
Friday morning, Natasha Stott Despoja told the ABC’s AM programme that she was “saddened” by the Government’s obvious “lack of empathy” in the way they have dealt with these allegations and survivors these last few weeks. If the reports about Morrison and Porters strategy are true, it’s worse. Cold and calculating would be a more accurate description of their obvious contempt for victims.
The “lying cow” remark Defence Minister Linda Reynolds made in regards to Brittany Higgins, it seems, doesn’t even scratch the surface.
If framing the “what’s at stake” narrative as “the rule of law” is part of their calculated plan to “manage” this crisis, we mustn’t let that happen.
And if Morrison is still labouring under the belief that women’s anger can be “managed”, he hasn’t been paying attention.
Kristine Ziwica is a regular contributor. She tweets @KZiwica
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