Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

The man in the glass house
Scott Morrison sure is throwing a lot of stones

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

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

Prime Minister Scott Morrison tried to make two things clear in this morning’s “emotional” “reset” press conference, following the latest round of disturbingly sexist allegations against his government. He wanted to make it clear to women – through tears – that he was listening to them, that he was taking their concerns seriously, that his wife and daughters (and widowed mother, this time) did count for something. But he also felt the need to make it clear to the media that he had dirt on their workplaces, and would employ it as necessary, with or without the consent of complainants. Responding to a reasonable question from Sky News’ Andrew Clennell as to whether it appeared he had “lost control” of his ministerial staff, Morrison shot back with a proverb and a threat, noting that Clennell’s own organisation’s HR department was currently looking into a complaint regarding harassment in a bathroom. “So let’s not all of us who sit in glass houses here start getting into that,” he warned. “You are free to make your criticisms and to stand on that pedestal,” he added, “but be careful.” It’s not clear Morrison set out to make that warning: it seemed more likely a flare-up of temper, a man losing control, not of his staff but of himself. But it completely undermined his point.

It was an appalling comment from Morrison, and one that has received its fair share of a very large pool of outrage, not least because he publicised and weaponised a woman’s story without her consent, while supposedly encouraging women to come forward – as Labor senator Katy Gallagher astutely laid out in Senate estimates today. Knowledge of the rumour, many have noted, makes it even harder to believe that he didn’t know about a rape alleged to have been perpetrated within his own workplace, by a member of his government’s staff, against a member of his government’s staff, and politically “managed” by members of his own staff, until almost two years after the fact – something shadow minister for women Tanya Plibersek noted in Question Time (“It’s the truth,” came Morrison’s reply). 

But also disturbing to many people was the implicit threat towards the media. What was the prime minister getting at with his promise of mutually assured destruction? That journalists could not ask questions of him if they themselves worked for imperfect organisations? (Clennell has since clarified there is no such complaint before Sky News, leading some to suspect it was News Corp the PM was referring to.) That he would be fighting allegation with allegation, if anyone dared challenge his tearful but meaningless new rhetoric? That journalists should stop turning over (let alone throwing) the rocks altogether? It sounded as much like “be quiet” as “be careful”, despite the fact that no longer being quiet is exactly what this moment is about.

It’s not the first time Morrison has invoked people in glass houses over the past few painful weeks (though let’s be grateful it’s been that and not the more biblical “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”). Ever since this issue erupted – an issue that applies to both sides of politics, and indeed workplaces across the country, but seems to be disturbingly concentrated in the Liberal Party of Australia – Morrison has engaged in the time-honoured traditions of whataboutism and bothsidesism, pointing to Labor, Bill Shorten, GetUp! and now the media. He has repeatedly employed the phrase against the Labor Party, including after the March 4 Justice, pushing back against critiques of his own actions by alluding to the Opposition’s problems, as if this somehow nullified them. And now he wants to pretend that the fact this occurs everywhere excuses the fact that it is especially prevalent within his government.

Morrison has repeated this line a number of times, and yet he seems to think it doesn’t apply to him. The prime minister is chucking a hell of a lot of rocks – boulders, even – for someone sitting in one of the most precariously glass-filled houses in the country. Perhaps he feels comfortable doing so, because his house has already been shattered by projectiles. This is not to say that there aren’t problems in Labor and the media – there are. The whole parliament, indeed the whole country, is a glass house, with a glass ceiling, and a lot of people want to see it smashed to the ground. But if Morrison wants to argue that those surrounded by glass should not point figures, it’s well past time he stopped waving his about. 

Morrison tried to make a few things clear today, but what he instead made abundantly apparent was that he is not the man for this job. With scandals mounting and polls crashing, the prime minister tried to reset the conversation; instead, he threw fuel on the fire and a woman under the bus. The country is looking for someone to lead the cultural change, to go “above politics” as Liberal MP Nicolle Flint urged last week. Instead, they got a cranky man, standing upon shards of glass, stamping his foot, and throwing stones at those who question him.

“If you are going to go and get – using public money – legal advice on a very contentious political matter, then you’ve got a choice. You can properly represent what the advice is, and better still release it, or you’ve got to stay silent about it.”

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus says that government legal advice must not be misrepresented, after the Administrative Appeals Tribunal found Attorney-General Christian Porter revealed only a “limited part” of advice about the medevac bill “for the purpose of gaining a political advantage”.

“The young fellow concerned was a really good worker and he loved the place. And I feel bad for him about this.”

Nationals backbencher Michelle Landry – the assistant minister for children and families – expresses sympathy for the man sacked for masturbating over the desk of a female MP.

The catastrophe unfolding on our doorstep
Australia’s closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is on the verge of a COVID-19 crisis. Thousands of people in the country are now infected, pushing the local health system to the brink. Today, Jonathan Pearlman on the danger facing Papua New Guinea and whether it can be avoided.

The annual salary that former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella will receive in her new appointment as a Fair Work Commissioner – or $470,000 if she is made a deputy commissioner.


“A proposal to let those fleeing domestic violence access their superannuation funds early has been scrapped by the Morrison government after widespread concerns about the possibility of financial abuse.”

The government has officially dumped its proposed domestic violence superannuation policy.

The list

“Black Country, New Road are a band of seven members, including a violinist, a saxophonist and a keyboard player, all of whom are about 22 years old, a fact that makes me regret not having formed the same band when I was young enough. The group comes from London but they’re better understood as having sprung from that metaphorical yet fertile soil that has yielded, over decades, varieties of the British Art School Band.”

“Through all this time, bizarrely, the prime minister and the home affairs minister state that they were aware there was a security breach in the defence minister’s office, but neither of them or their offices followed it up. And no one thought to appraise them of the actual nature of the incident. For almost two years they’ve been operating on the presumption that there was an unresolved security breach in the defence minister’s office. This is incompetent at best, wilfully blind at worst.”

“People ask me how we can ‘believe survivors’ and maintain the ‘presumption of innocence’. It’s infuriating. The ‘presumption of innocence’ is a legal principle upheld during investigations and trials to make sure that the wrong people don’t end up in jail. To be a person who ‘believes survivors’ is a philosophical outlook, a moral position that informs the way you treat and respect the people around you … If you decide to believe survivors, then you’re someone who thinks it’s unacceptable to make them wait years and years to know whether the person they’ve accused is even going to be charged or not. If you believe survivors, you want to help them heal and get whatever ‘justice’ looks like to them. I believe in the legal presumption of innocence and I believe survivors.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison (image via Facebook) and Industry Minister Christian Porter (image via Sky News).

The standard you walk past

Ministerial standards breach or no, there is something deeply wrong with the government’s principles

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing the new AUKUS partnership alongside UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden (not pictured). Image via ABC News

Whatever it takes

Scott Morrison says we will spend whatever we have to on defence. Why doesn’t the same apply to climate change?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former finance minister Mathias Cormann, who is now secretary-general of the OECD. Image via Facebook

The world is watching

The OECD recommends that Australia take action on climate change. Is our government listening?

From the front page

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

Image of Colson Whitehead's ‘Harlem Shuffle’

‘Harlem Shuffle’ by Colson Whitehead

The author of ‘The Underground Railroad’ offers a disappointingly straightforward neo-noir caper set in the early ’60s

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison (image via Facebook) and Industry Minister Christian Porter (image via Sky News).

The standard you walk past

Ministerial standards breach or no, there is something deeply wrong with the government’s principles

Image of Paul Kelly

Unfinished business

Every Paul Kelly song so far, from worst to best