The Politics    Friday, December 10, 2021

Stunt woman

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian in July 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian in July 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Real or contrived, Morrison’s “Gladys for Warringah” push showcased his lack of respect for integrity and women

Gladys Berejiklian is not, as you have probably heard, nominating for the federal seat of Warringah. The former NSW premier this morning publicly confirmed that she would not be contesting the seat (“or any other federal seat for that matter”), after reportedly informing Scott Morrison last night, ending a week of pointless conjecture and public appeals that many suspect had more to do with a PM in need of a distraction. Some are now criticising the media for so intensely covering the “dead cat” story, but was it really that? Or was Morrison truly trying to pressure Berejiklian into helping save his government at the next election? Whichever it is, the PM’s actions this week were both desperate and newsworthy: either he was willing to openly back a candidate under investigation for corruption, or he was willing to use a woman at a low point in her career as a cheap distraction. Regardless, Morrison was more than happy to trash the standing of the NSW anti-corruption commission (not to mention the confidence in the actual Liberal nominee for Warringah, Jane Buncle), while showing little regard for Berejiklian’s preferences or privacy.

Many are now questioning just how realistic the idea of “Gladys for Warringah” ever really was. It was first floated in October, when senior Liberals reportedly approached Berejiklian about a hypothetical run, but the story seriously picked up pace on Monday when Morrison launched a full-throated campaign for it. Sources claimed that the former NSW premier had shifted from a hard no to a maybe, and the nomination closing date was reportedly extended just for her. Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell is among those lambasting journalists who covered the “story” seriously this week, noting that it took him only “two phone calls” to confirm that Berejiklian was never running. “Seven days of journalists running with utmost seriousness a yarn that was never going to happen,” he tweeted, questioning whether it was for clicks. “Bizarre stuff, particularly by [Nine] newspapers.”

Yesterday, as it became clearer that Berejiklian was a no (amid mounting pressure for her to rule herself out of a position she never asked for), state Liberals began suggesting that Morrison was using his recruitment efforts as a deliberate distraction from his poor polling, Labor’s policy announcements and independent campaign launches. “You don’t do what they’re doing if you actually think she’s going to run,” one source added.

It’s more than likely, however, that Morrison truly did want Berejiklian to run, seeing her as his best chance to regain the seat, and was doing everything he could to try to convince her and the public that it was a good idea – with the added bonus of getting to attack the anti-corruption commission and justify his own toothless proposal in the process. Far from helping him, this week’s “distraction” has been a terrible look for the PM: he has been snubbed by his preferred candidate, had his public overtures rejected (a “disaster” for him, as he attempts to wrangle the NSW factions, party sources said), made the woman who has nominated for pre-selection look like second choice, revealed just how threatened his party feels by independents such as Zali Steggall and further torched his reputation when it comes to integrity – one of the core issues the independents are running on. Not sure we’d call it a win.

Or, if the PM was in fact seeking a media distraction, did he get what he wanted? Perhaps slightly. But Morrison’s public antics this week, real or contrived, dead cat or desperate, were certainly worthy of coverage. The PM was willing to publicly back someone who recently resigned over allegations of breaching the public trust and turning a blind eye to corruption, with the subsequent public hearings revealing, if not corruption, then at least highly unsavoury conduct. In doing so, Morrison further solidified his character-defining rejection of accountability, his win-at-all costs mentality and his comfort with corruption.

“The fact is conservatives used to stand up for institutions and this country,” said Labor leader Anthony Albanese. “This prime minister does not stand up for institutions, he just knocks them down.”

That’s not the only thing this saga has confirmed. The entire episode has been yet another example of Morrison’s bullying behaviour and disregard for women’s autonomy. Berejiklian’s preferences (she was reportedly briefly considered running in response to early appeals, but quickly ruled it out) appear to have played little role in Morrison’s game. He has publicly cajoled her and praised her at length, after backgrounding against her when she was in office, and is today talking up their “dear” friendship (the pair are not close). As Crikey’s Amber Schultz notes, Morrison has spoken for her throughout, even going so far as to make this morning’s “announcement” before she could, via a drop to the media.

Berejiklian, who still has an ICAC-shaped cloud hanging over her head, has made the right move in turning down the nomination she never sought, whether out of self-interest (she’s set to go into the private sector) or some semblance of shame. Unfortunately for her, the PM has the former in spades, and absolutely none of the latter.













Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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