Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed the abhorrent behaviour in parliament. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed the abhorrent behaviour in parliament. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Proof the PM still doesn’t get it

OPINION

On first glance, Scott Morrison's speech about sexual misconduct in Parliament House looked terribly sincere. He nearly wept. He talked about the "lived experience of Australian women". For a moment, I started to feel moved. But then the cracks soon began to emerge.

"I am shocked, and I am disgusted" the PM said, looking on the verge of tears. "It is shameful. It is just absolutely shameful."

He was talking, of course, about the revelations a male Liberals staffer performed a lewd act on a female MP's desk and sex in the Parliamentary prayer room.

The PM was engaging in a performance of remorse. He looked tearful, he promised to do better, and he appealed to our empathy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared emotional as he talked about the abhorrent behaviour in Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared emotional as he talked about the abhorrent behaviour in Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

But then I remembered: a woman was allegedly raped in Parliament House, and the PM didn't get up and weep about that. In fact, he needed to be schooled by his wife on how to feel about that rape.

Suddenly, the weeping seemed less sincere and more performative. It felt like Morrison wasn't so much hit with the empathy stick as he was trying to appeal to ours.

REFERRING TO HIS FAMILY

"They are the centre of my life," Morrison said of his daughters. "My wife is the centre of my life. My mother, my widowed mother, is the centre of my life."

Now, it's standard for men whose behaviour is being questioned to highlight their strong family ties. I figured that Morrison's subtext here was that if he cares about his female relatives then he must be a decent person. And if his wife and daughters and mother love him, then he must, by definition, be loveable.

But this felt like emotional manipulation, and it's utterly irrelevant to the issue.

Scott Morrison keeps referring to Jenny and the kids but it’s irrelevant to the issue.
Scott Morrison keeps referring to Jenny and the kids but it’s irrelevant to the issue.

We don't appoint leaders because they care about their families; we expect our leaders to care about their families. What we need our leaders to do is care about their constituents, the people they don't personally know. And Scott Morrison has proven, time and time again, that he doesn't.

TALKING ABOUT HIMSELF

In a speech that was supposed to address the pain of Australian women, the PM referred to his own pain at being misunderstood.

"What I am even more concerned about," he said, "even more importantly, I acknowledge that many Australians, especially women, believe that I have not heard them, and that greatly distresses me."

The PM's distress is irrelevant. He is certainly not as distressed as Brittany Higgins. He is probably not as distressed as the female MP whose desk was used for a sex act. He is not as distressed as any of us women who have experienced sexual harassment or gendered violence.

If the PM is distressed about not being heard, he should try harder to listen. If the PM feels misunderstood, he should demonstrate his empathy more directly. Coming out to speak to the organisers of the March 4 Justice would have been a good start.

STILL TALKING ABOUT HIMSELF

The cracks widened when Morrison started telling us how well he's handled this crisis. He shows a "keen interest", he insisted, in women's issues. He has been "listening carefully" to women and has spoken to "many colleagues" and "many friends."

This was the PM trying to convince us that he was doing a good job by telling us that he was doing a good job. But words mean nothing, particularly in politics. The only meaningful performance indicator is action. And there was nothing in his speech about an action plan. There was nothing in his speech about change.

The PM was all talk and no action in his speech. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
The PM was all talk and no action in his speech. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

If you watched Morrison's speech and believed he was sincere, you're probably an empathetic and optimistic person who always sees the best in people.

But too many of us could see the cracks in his veneer. We saw the shallow appeals to our empathy, the defensiveness, and the focus on himself.

Unfortunately for the PM, once you become aware of it, the insincerity is impossible to ignore.

Kerri Sackville is a freelance writer and author of Out There: A Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife | @KerriSackville

Originally published as Proof the PM still doesn't get it



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