OPINION

Morrison has revealed himself as the playground bully

He doesn't hold a hose, mate - or an inquiry. Picture: Getty Images
He doesn't hold a hose, mate - or an inquiry. Picture: Getty Images

I've met some bullies in my life. These are people who make an attempt to humiliate you in public. Who try to divide their employees or others. Who do their very best to smear you.

So it is my sad realisation that, slow learner that I am, Scott Morrison is a playground bully. Big. Powerful. Doesn't care who he hurts along the way. Sometimes bullies get their comeuppance, and that is a glorious moment for everyone concerned. I've just had an experience of that in my own life and geez, it felt good.

So I have my fingers crossed that the Prime Minister too will get that comeuppance. Sooner rather than later. He has utterly squandered the political capital he acquired by pandemic proxy, through the work of the premiers and chief ministers. They made him look good and his polling numbers benefited.

But his behaviour since the moment Brittany Higgins gathered her courage to reveal what had happened to her in Parliament House - on his watch - has been utterly deplorable. Where he could cover up, he did. Where he could mislead, he did. He protected his colleagues and appeared to be more devastated over the defilement of a desk than of the alleged rape of a young woman.

Morrison claims time and time again, as he did at a press conference on Tuesday morning, that his daughters and his wife and his mother are the centre of his life.

"They motivate me every day on this issue. They have motivated me my entire life," he said.

Great. Let's see that motivation. Instead, what I am seeing is terrible behaviour. At the press conference, he started with his usual parroting of family values. But then Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell put to the Prime Minister some hard questions about leadership.

"If you were the boss of a business and there'd been an alleged rape on your watch ... your job would probably be in a bit of jeopardy, wouldn't it? Doesn't it look like you have lost control of your ministerial staff?"

Morrison responded like a child putting his fingers in his ears, going "lalalala" then saying something along the lines of "it takes one to know one".

"Right now, you'd be aware in your own organisation, that there is a person who has had a complaint made against them for harassment of a woman in a women's toilet," he said.

"And that matter is being pursued by your own HR department.

"So let's not, all of us who sit in glass houses here, start getting into that."

But it turns out that Clennell is not in a glass house. In fact, it turns out that despite Morrison's attempt to demean and deflect and humiliate Clennell, there is no sexual harassment case at Sky News. In fact, News Corp Australia executive chair Michael Miller has directly refuted the Prime Minister's allegations.

Got that, PM? And even if there was - even if there was - how on Earth do two incidents of alleged sexual harassment make it all right?

Wouldn't you love a Prime Minister who responded to questions like an actual adult? Is that too much to ask?

Haven't women been saying for years (and decades, and centuries) that they are not safe at work? If the Prime Minister is genuine (and I struggle to believe he is genuine about anything except getting re-elected), then he could be genuine about listening to women. He could stop trying to score cheap points by sacking wankers and actually take his responsibilities to all his constituents seriously.

As for Clennell's point about leadership, I asked an actual expert on corporate governance. Kirstin Ferguson - former acting ABC chair, former ABC deputy chair, non-executive director, leadership and culture specialist and QUT Colin Brain corporate governance fellow - what she thought about the working environment at Parliament House.

"When we talk about corporate culture, you often hear the old adage, the fish rots from the head," she said.

"Good corporate governance requires boards to hold the senior leaders of their organisation to account for the cultures they create. There is no doubt that if Parliament House was an organisation, its board would be seriously considering whether the leadership of the organisation needed an overhaul."

Scott Morrison has failed in this. He has failed in every area on which he campaigned, most recently the cruel industrial relations bill he cooked up with Christian Porter. It made my heart sing when that sank without a trace, its lead hand in limbo (or what might be called legal leave).

One of the best possible actions we could all take is to increase the power of unions who have worked hard against sexual harassment at work. Of all the powerful stories I've heard about women's experiences of this kind of bullying, Michele O'Neil's stands out. She is now president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and says it was her own experience of sexual harassment at 14, working as a waitress, that introduced her to the union movement.

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It was her very first job in hospitality, and her supervisor would repeatedly push her into the coolroom and try to kiss her. She eventually confided in other women, who were union members.

"I never had to work with him again," she said.

"Sex discrimination law should be able to provide a power to investigate industries or sectors where there is a clear identifiable problem ... I have been part of seeing collective responses to harassment in circusmtances where women have exposed a harasser in the workplace and then the union, with those women, have seen the [perpetrator] be disciplined or removed."

So that's the answer for the women and the decent men who work in Parliament House. We have to remove the harassers and assaulters, and we have to remove the enablers - particularly enablers-in-chief.

Folks, we are the shareholders in the great organisation called Australia, and our time to act is now. No matter what party you are aligned with, you now have to preselect people who really align with your values.

And I'm pretty sure your values do not align with serial harassers, serial sexual assaulters, and wankers. And leaders whose phony tears show us just how little they really understand what is going on in the lives of girls and women.

  • Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.
This story Morrison has revealed himself as the playground bully first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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