The Politics    Tuesday, February 16, 2021

‘As a father…’

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via ABC News

Isn’t it lucky the prime minister didn’t have sons?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally responded to the Liberal Party sexual assault allegations this morning, apologising to former adviser Brittany Higgins and announcing a cultural and structural review into the handling of claims of harassment. “We clearly need to do better,” Morrison said, wearing a teal ribbon for sexual assault awareness. But the prime minister’s reasoning for the announcement drew a fierce backlash, disgusting women around the country. 

Morrison said it was a discussion with his wife, Jenny (another empathy consultant?), that prompted him to announce the review. “She said to me: ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’” he said. “Jenny has a way of clarifying things,” he added, saying he had reflected on it overnight.

Once again, Morrison showed himself to be short-changed in the empathy department, relying, as too many men do, on his relationship to the women in his life in order to see other women as deserving of dignity. (Not to mention, relying on his wife to help lead him to the conclusion that what happened was worthy of taking action.) It’s hard to believe we’re still having to call people out on the “as a father of daughters” trope, after so many instances of it, and it was no wonder that “Oh FFS”, along with #ScottyTheMisogynist and #AskJen, began trending on Twitter. As is pointed out every time this comes up, women are not just someone’s daughter/wife/sister; they themselves are someone, and men shouldn’t need to imagine them as their own relations to care about what happens to them. Would Morrison have been able to mount the appropriate level of empathy for Higgins (or anyone else in this situation) if he had only sons? Or, as his answer implies, would his mind have been with the perpetrator? 

10 News political reporter Tegan George rightly called the prime minister out on his comments. “Shouldn’t you have thought about it as a human being?” she asked during the press conference. “What happens if men don’t have a wife and children?” Morrison only dug in deeper. “In my own experience, being a husband and a father is central to me, my human being. So I just can’t follow the question you’re putting.” As Sean Kelly noted, Morrison has a history of employing the “as a father” trope, in a manner that looks like empathy but is actually a “circumscription of empathy”. He also has a broader tendency to employ the women in his life and his “daggy dad” persona to soften his image and deflect criticism – such as using his wife and daughters to defend against attacks of sexism following 2019’s controversial International Women’s Day remarks. (“I have three wonderful women in my life,” he said the next day. “I’m a champion of women for them.”) On the one hand, it seems shocking that Morrison hasn’t figured this out yet, considering the backlash these kinds of comments often raise. But on the other, Morrison is the marketing man, and he likely knows what he is doing.

Morrison announced that the review of the complaints process will be led by his department’s deputy secretary, Stephanie Foster, while a review of the Coalition’s cultural problems around the treatment of women will be led by Liberal backbencher Celia Hammond, a former university vice-chancellor.

But as The Drum host Julia Baird was quick to note, Hammond is a “staunch anti-feminist”, who has in the past worried about women’s sexual freedoms, saying that young women who have premarital sex are “searching for something more”. 

Morrison told reporters today that he had only heard of the rape allegation in the past 24 hours, and was not happy he hasn’t been informed earlier, denying having a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. But as many have noted, it’s a stretch to believe he wouldn’t have known, considering it involved a breach of Parliament House security, as well as the involvement of one of his own advisers. Something doesn’t add up here, and journalists don’t seem likely to let up on the issue. But assuming for a moment that Morrison did only just learn of Higgins’s allegation, there was already plenty of evidence available to him of the Liberal Party’s “women problem”. Higgins is the third Liberal Party staffer to allege she was sexually assaulted by men in the party in recent years, with Nine Media reporting on two other alleged Liberal Party assaults in 2019, and more recent reports on the behaviour of Christian Porter and Alan Tudge, and yet Morrison is only making this an issue now. If only Jen had suggested he look at those women like daughters… or even just people.

“Are we prepared as a nation to have the hard conversation around empowering Indigenous men and women to lead their own communities?”

Controversial Liberal MP Andrew Laming slams the government’s new Closing the Gap efforts. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

“The fact that [Labor] haven’t put the anti-vaxxers last is a very significant threat to Western Australia.”

WA Liberal leader Zak Kirkup takes a shot at Labor for preferencing One Nation last instead of the No Mandatory Vaccination Party. The Liberals placed One Nation as high as fourth and, despite Kirkup’s criticism, did not put the anti-vax party last on every ballot.

The colonisation of space
The early era of space exploration was dominated by romantic ideas of universal connectedness. But the increasingly privatised nature of the space industry has obscured that vision. Ceridwen Dovey on the new space industry entrepreneurs, and why we should be worried about what they’re planning.

BHP’s net profit before writedowns for the second half of 2020, with shareholders to receive a record half-year dividend.

“The Morrison government has dumped its controversial changes to the Fair Work Act’s better off overall test.”

The Coalition will remove the two-year exception to the BOOT for COVID-affected businesses from its industrial relations bill.

The list

“The footage used in Australia Remastered was shot almost entirely on film stock from the 1970s to the early 2000s, without the technical wizardry available to recent series such as the BBC’s Planet Earth and Netflix’s Our Planet, such as the gyro stabilisers that enable digital cameras to track animal movement fluidly and dynamically, and the digital techniques that make it possible to correct poor exposure, crop framing and adjust colour balance. Regardless of their much more rudimentary equipment, the cinematographers who contributed to this series have produced cinematic gems.”

“There’s a population of Victorians – small, I hope – that can be identified by the hashtag #IStandWithDan, and is characterised by a near-religious devotion to their premier and a pronounced distaste for any journalist committed to his accountability. To which I say: government is not your friend, footy club or a replacement for God. It is not Bono or Paddington Bear. It is not a wrist bracelet or a yoga mat. It is your servant. A powerful one, comprised of flawed people who often forget their servitude, and who are helped in their complacency by your strange devotion.”

“A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, every mainland state in Australia has seen transmission of the virus from hotel quarantine. In recent months, the virus has breached quarantine in Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne, with leaks becoming more frequent, not less. While none has so far resulted in an outbreak on the scale of Melbourne’s second wave, experts are worried it would take only a single guest with a high viral load to spark one. Which prompts the question: Why isn’t Australia most important line of defence against this pandemic working as it should?”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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