The image of Tasmanian Liberal MP, Bridget Archer weeping in Parliament last week with both Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison looming over her, was disturbing on many fronts.
For one, Archer’s body language speaks volumes. Hunched, she sits uneasily in her seat looking up at the Treasurer. Morrison, donning a particularly cringe-worthy Australian flag face mask, glances at the pair, seemingly glad for Frydenberg to do his bidding.
Of course, this isn’t a situation analysed on body-language alone. We know that there was tension at this time between the three party-members. Only moments earlier, Archer had made the bold call to cross the floor, voting against the government to support debate over a national integrity commission.
Shortly after, Archer received a text from the Prime Minister’s office. Morrison “wanted to see [her] at 12.15.″ She replied: “I am not ready. I need a break.”
It was a simple request, and one that a compassionate leader would have honoured easily.
But of course, if there’s one thing we’ve learnt from this Prime Minister over the past three years, it’s that terms are never dictated to (or even, in this case, gently requested) of him. As a leader, he is stubborn, proud and unyielding. Bridget Archer’s wish to be afforded some space and time before a likely confrontation, was never entertained for a moment.
Reportedly, Frydenberg called Archer into his office on the pretence of concern and a one-on-one dialogue. Once she arrived, he told her: “I am going to take you to the PM’s office,” before ushering her away.
Courageously, Archer spoke out about her discomfort with the PM and Treasurer’s handling of the matter over the weekend.
Suggesting she felt ambushed by the meeting, Archer told news.com.au: “I didn’t feel like I was being marched to the principal’s office. I just felt a little disappointed that it happened when I had expressed to the Prime Minister’s office that I would have preferred, that my preference was not at that time”.
“And I had said in the text messages to the Prime Minister’s office that I didn’t want to have the meeting, before the meeting.
“They sent me a message saying he wanted to see me at 12.15pm. I said I am not ready. I need a break.
“It was a big thing. It was just the emotion of the moment.”
But these words made no imprint on Morrison. They didn’t cause him to stop, reflect and apologise. Instead, he doubled down and adopted his tried and true tactic of gaslighting.
“It was a very warm and friendly and supportive meeting,” he told reporters on Friday. “Bridget is a close friend and colleague and I wanted to ensure that she was supported. And I was pleased to be there with Senator Payne and Josh Frydenberg and to be there to support Bridget.”
For months, Morrison has battled accusations that he not only fails to understands the concerns of women in Australia, but that he doesn’t respect women sufficiently to address them even if he did.
This collective feeling has been fuelled by his abhorrent treatment of women like Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame and Christine Holgate. It’s been fuelled by his unwillingness to stand in solidarity with the Women’s March for Justice. It’s been fuelled by his inability to listen and take stock at any point during his prime ministership.
The mistreatment and “textbook coercive control” (as Grace Tame aptly labelled it) of Bridget Archer is just the latest example in Morrison’s grapple for power and achieving the final word without concern for anything else.
Describing a meeting as “warm and friendly and supportive” to directly contradict a female colleague who has clearly felt ambushed and abused by your power play, is sinister beyond measure.
It’s another example that Morrison’s learnt nothing where respect of women is concerned.