Scott Morrison has delivered a tearful speech today addressing the past several months in Parliament—and it’s about time, with the Prime Minister having a lot to answer for as a leader right now.
We’ve been confronted by Brittany Higgins’ allegation that she was raped in Parliament House; saw former Defence Minister Linda Reynolds issue an apology after calling Higgins, an alleged rape victim, a “lying cow”; backlash over Morrison invoking his daughters to empathise with Higgins’ experience; a nationwide rally to March 4 Justice; and finally, an allegation of Coalition staffers filming and sharing footage of themselves performing sex acts in Parliament House.
“I am shocked, and I am disgusted. It is shameful,” he began his address in Canberra. “It is just absolutely shameful. I was completely stumped, as I have been on more than one occasion over the course of this last month.”
His speech attempted to resurrect a reputation that has been tarnished by seemingly endless allegations of misconduct behind Parliament walls, and while his address did touch on the fears women face every day, it failed to deliver what we’ve been actually been asking for: action.
Morrison moved on to talk about the women in his life—his wife and daughters, and his widowed mother—calling them the “centre of my life.”
“I have the deepest of vested interest, criticise me if you like for speaking about my daughters, but they are the centre of my life. My wife is the centre of my life. My mother, my widowed mother is the centre of my life.
“They motivate me every day on this issue. They have motivated me my entire life, they have taught me the values and the faith has sustained me every single day in this job.
“Which is why I am here, I owe them everything. And to them I say to you girls, I will not let you down.”
He even, on the brink of tears, asserted he’d listened to how distressed these allegations have made women feel, hearing our needs to feel safe walking home at night, to not be talked down to or looked over, to our real concerns of calling out behaviour in the workplace in the fear of losing a job. “This is not ok,” he said.
“Whether this is unconscious deafness and blindness, or whether it is wilful malevolence that is behind all of this, it must be acknowledged. It must be called out, and it must stop,” he said.
“This is not something that is of a scale that any government can simply change. It is something we must change as a society because we know it happens all over this country, but for me and my house, the house I work in here, then we must take responsibility, it is our problem here, it is our responsibility here, and I’m committed to dealing with that. We must do better in this place. All of us, and in our country, we must do better.”
It was a powerful sentiment, indeed. But while Morrison’s speech touched on what we’ve been thinking for the past several weeks, he failed to do the one thing we need a leader to do right now.
The PM didn’t announce new initiatives, new plans or key measures for change. No, he merely acknowledged what we’ve known all along—that this behaviour is not okay and it needs to change.
Some might have been able to forgive Morrison’s seeming inaction, but his address was quickly derailed when taking questions from media—where he quickly proved he was still unwilling to address any wrongdoing or take responsibility.
When probed by journalists in the room, who referred to his recent comments following the March 4 Justice rallies, where he shared we should be thankful we live in a country where such protestors are not “met with bullets”, he became immediately defensive, referring to “all of us working in glass houses.” The inference that no workplace is free from such allegations.
Morrison glaringly revealed one problem with that simple statement, that we have a leader who genuinely believes no workplace is ever free from bad behaviour. That we should all remain hush about incidents of sexual misconduct, because hey, it’s happening everywhere, right?
Demanding we see a “cultural shift” is no longer acceptable from the man who holds the nation’s highest position of power—because, we all know that—we need someone who is going to insight real action, real change. And we need it now.