The Politics    Friday, November 26, 2021

Archer becomes the target

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to Adelaide today. Image © Matt Turner / AAP Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to Adelaide today. Image © Matt Turner / AAP Images

Morrison yet again undermines a female MP, while publicly showing “support”

Scott Morrison, renowned respecter of women, has done it again. Several outlets have reported that Liberal MP Bridget Archer was yesterday “hauled into” an unwanted meeting with the prime minister after she crossed the floor on Helen Haines’s integrity commission bill, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Minister for Women Marise Payne in attendance as well. What followed was reportedly a “frank exchange”, in which Morrison sought to find out “what the problem was” – though it’s unclear whether he’s gone to the same lengths to interrogate others who aren’t toeing the party line. (He could have checked Archer’s interview with Guardian Australia if he really wanted to know.) “Why is it that Scott Morrison could take action against Bridget Archer but is silent about George Christensen?” Labor leader Anthony Albanese rightly noted, while others pondered whether respected moderate Warren Entsch would have received the same treatment had he crossed the floor, as he has threatened to do over religious discrimination. 

Asked about the tone of the meeting at a press conference in Adelaide (a trip which may have more than a little to do with the critical campaign for Boothby, which Nicolle “above politics” Flint is vacating at the next election), the PM said it was “very positive and very encouraging”, rejecting suggestions it was “frank”. (Archer disagrees.) He repeatedly said that he wanted to “support Bridget” (note the use of her first name), suggesting he held concerns for her mental health – exactly as he did for the last woman to openly challenge the Liberal Party from the inside, Julia Banks. As Banks later noted, Morrison has a habit of doing this, comparing his undermining of and faux concern for “Julia” to the way he treated Christine Holgate and Brittany Higgins. (Australian of the Year Grace Tame has her own observations on the “convenient” way she herself has been undermined.) One wonders if Morrison has offered his “support” to George and Gerard (Rennick) in these trying times.

Archer was reportedly offered a “pair” for next week – a bizarre proposition given the circumstances. She declined, maintaining her right to cross the floor on any issue at any time. Morrison now intends to send his religious discrimination bill to a joint committee of MPs and senators, rather than the government-controlled Senate committee he’d hoped for, in a bid to avoid another defeat in parliament. (The government yesterday lost a motion to send it where he’d wanted, in any case.) But religious discrimination remains the government’s priority, Attorney-General Michaelia Cash told an inquiry today, adding that the integrity commission bill was unlikely to be introduced this year.

Archer’s effective example has raised uncomfortable questions for the “moderates” who didn’t join her, and the growing independents movement has jumped to highlight the contrast. Simon Holmes à Court, the figure behind Climate 200 (which today added former Australian Democrats leader Meg Lees to its advisory council), tweeted at a number of the most high-profile men – Dave Sharma, Jason Falinski, Tim Wilson, Josh Frydenberg, Greg Hunt and Trent Zimmerman – wondering why they hadn’t shown similar integrity, with a special jab reserved for Angus Taylor. Protection for gay students and teachers in the religious discrimination bill is shaping up to be a real issue for those inner-city Liberals, especially Sharma and Zimmerman. Wentworth MP Sharma has been keen to talk up his advocacy in this area on social media, but star challenger Allegra Spender (whose backers have received an interesting write-up in the AFR) says voters should pay attention to how Sharma actually votes. Wilson, who yesterday gained his own high-profile challenger, doesn’t appear to be taking it well, reportedly sending out a letter referring to former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel as a Labor and Greens “puppet”. This too is a familiar way for the Liberals to refer to women, tweeted Banks, who was previously labelled “Turnbull’s puppet”.

The small-L Liberals would presumably be wincing at Morrison’s latest attacks on the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. The PM has been slammed for his decision to attack ICAC as a “kangaroo court” (a line he doubled down on today), as well as his use of former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian as a human shield – the same Berejiklian that he reportedly used to bully, patronise and undermine when she wasn’t doing what he wanted. There could be more to this than simply his desire to avoid a powerful ICAC, as the chatter around the still-popular Berejiklian running federally to take Warringah back from Zali Stegall is reaching a fever pitch. (Frydenberg told Sky News she would be “welcome” in federal politics; Wilson put a “Gladys for Warringah” angel on his Christmas tree. Both are Victorian.) The moderates’ enthusiasm for Berejiklian is clear, although Frydenberg may want to watch out: the AFR reports that the centrist faction sees her as the potential next leader.

The small-L Libs should also be wincing at the PM’s sinister undermining of Archer, a woman who stood up for her values. Today’s news only adds to the perception, so expertly laid out by Banks, that the PM is a “constant, menacing, background wallpaper”. The growing independents movement is very much driven by climate and integrity, but it’s worth remembering that it’s also focused on the treatment of women – not least by the man who leads the country. Archer, at least, isn’t ready to be robbed of her voice.

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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