Another day, another political firestorm in Canberra. And, it has to be said, yet another one surrounding Christian Porter.
Following days of mounting pressure, the former Attorney General at last announced he would be stepping down from the government’s ministry yesterday, leaving the portfolio of science, innovation and technology gaping open.
Porter’s decision came off the back of his recent admission that a defamation lawsuit launched by him against the ABC earlier in the year was covered, in large part, by a blind trust of anonymous donors.
His admission triggered swift and fierce backlash, with former LNP Prime Minister and colleague of Porter’s, Malcolm Turnbull sensationally deeming it a “shocking affront to transparency”.
“I will be even more staggered if the prime minister allows this to stand,” Turnbull said.
Unfortunately, though unsurprisingly, Scott Morrison’s read of the situation was not nearly so emphatic.
While he accepted Porter’s resignation from the front bench yesterday, he noticeably skirted around the controversial minister’s likely return with Porter reiterating his bid for preselection in the Western Australian seat of Pearce at the next election.
“If he wishes to stand again I’m sure he will put himself forward to the selectors that Pearce for the Liberal Party and in our party, though selectors will make those decisions,” was Morrison’s response.
No mention of Porter’s obligation to disclose the still anonymous donors was pushed by Morrison, nor the fact that after numerous allegations over the last 2 years, public confidence in Porter to do his job above board has dissolved to nothing.
This tactic of pretending he has nothing to do with higher decision making is one we’ve come to expect from the Prime Minister but after its 400th run, it’s wearing thin. If Scott Morrison has nothing to do with the call to potentially reinstate a minister who can’t follow the most basic principles of parliamentary conduct on top of being an alleged sex offender, then what are we paying him for?
Of course, Morrison’s open door policy for Christian Porter has little to do with ethics, and everything to do with his odds of staying top dog come May 2022. But Australians are begging for leadership with more substance.
In another example of Morrison’s perpetual evasion of accountability, we need only examine our relationship with France right now.
French President Emmanuel Macron claims to have been blindsided after a $66 billion deal signed in 2016 for Australia to purchase 12 French diesel-powered submarines was swiftly canned last week when Joe Biden, Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson announced the AUKUS alliance, with Australia now sharing nuclear submarine technology with the United States and Britain.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Australia told Paris about its plans just one hour before the announcement by the three leaders Wednesday, describing the conduct as “treason”.
Allies “don’t treat each other with such brutality, such unpredictability, a major partner like France… So there really is a crisis,” he said.
Morrison disagreed, telling reporters: “I think they would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack Class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests.”
But such a profound diplomatic fallout points to a failure in communication and grave mishandling on Australia’s part, with Paris recalling its ambassador to Australia on Friday in protest.
Before he was recalled, French envoy Jean-Pierre Thebault said he learned about the US submarine deal: “Like everybody, thanks to the Australian press.”
“We never were informed about any substantial changes,” Thebault said. “There were many opportunities and many channels. Never was such a change mentioned.”
The simple principle that Morrison fails to comprehend in his navigation of mistakes, is that people are forgiving so long as the right response is delivered. When accountability is taken, leaders continue to be perceived as strong.
Morrison’s fatal flaw is his inability to face the music early on; to make the right call, and to issue the right apology quickly and decisively. Being fallible is not the problem. It’s his absolute unwillingness to reflect on that fallibility, and to work to correct it where possible.
In just one week, two egregious examples of this were put on full display for Australia and the world to witness. And, in three years of leadership, there have been numerous– truckloads to be fair– of others.