The prime minister’s mishandling of the Four Corners exposé of the Coalition Government’s toxic workplace culture and ministerial sexual misconduct highlights the vulnerable fragility of his own Trumpian public persona: reflexively chauvinist, bigoted, bullying, and surprisingly tone deaf for a spin doctor.
The first indications of this came as attempts by his government to prevent the programme from ever being aired, and intemperate comments from Scott Morrison before he saw the Four Corners report. He argued that he expected the ABC to expose sexual misconduct among Labor MPs as well as the Coalition, but without offering any evidence of it.
Therein lies a trap for him: most ALP MPs do not campaign on ‘family values’, the way many Coalition MPs do. Nor is the ‘bonk ban’, rules specifically forbidding ministerial dalliances with their staff, really the cover Morrison argued, when he said the reported affairs preceded the more specific rules on sexual misconduct. Rules have long existed demanding the highest standards of conduct from MPs and ministers.
Curiously enough, the news media hasn’t really taken the PM to task for the family values hypocrisy. When politicians use the term ‘family values’, it is a shameless euphemism for a broader Christian right agenda to impose an authoritarian social order, underpinned by an ideology promoting dominance for white, patriarchal, bigoted, Protestant men. It’s no secret that the Coalition as a whole opposed same sex marriage, has demonstrated racist overtones in relation to ethnic communities and migrants, and continues to support a culture of sexism in its own ranks, treating younger female staffers as disposable courtesans who are just perks of high office.
Those who argue that the affairs exposed by Four Corners were private matters and should not have been reported fail to understand the legitimate public interest in exposing the lack of integrity and the hypocrisy of privileged white men who pay lip service to the literal meaning of family values, but then conspicuously, contemptuously act in complete contradiction.
The PM’s response to the Four Corners investigation was to rule out any disciplinary action against two senior ministers outed for conducting extra–marital affairs, Christian Porter and Alan Tudge, because the affairs occurred in 2017, and were ‘private matters’. So private both men conducted them in public! Too hypocritical to stand by their family values rhetoric, and too stupid to be discreet. Porter and Tudge should be sacked for gross incompetence alone.
The PM’s strategy for doing nothing under the cover of classic Scotty–from–marketing–spin came back to bite him yesterday, when he conducted himself in such an odious way during a press conference on the very topic of misogyny that he outed himself as the Coalition’s rôle model and champion for changing nothing about its toxic culture of sexism (to say nothing of racism and other bigotries).
Standing in front of journalists with his Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston, he interrupted his colleague when she attempted to answer a question put to her, to thunder at the journalists that they should not be referring to any ‘bonk ban’ because the issue was too serious for such a label! So serious he’s denying there’s any need to discipline his ministers.
In one moment of live TV, the PM exposed some of his worst traits: a patronizing, sexist attitude to women, who are to be used only for tokenist symbolism, not equals, and to be interrupted and corrected by fat old white men; and an arrogant, bullying demand that journalists report his version of an alternate reality in which he has the right to dictate words and topics. Perhaps a direct result of Morrison enjoying too much his life in the Murdoch–controlled News Corp media bubble, which routinely distorts truth and spreads disinformation in the Coalition’s favour.
But Morrison’s inability to control his own toxic personality misfired: the whole affair then became subject to media attention in the UK and the USA, as well as lighting up the social media domain with condemnations.
The fall–out now includes a please explain from the female staff member linked to Tudge, Rachelle Miller. She is seeking some explanation of how her career as political advisor was destroyed after the end of her affair with the minister.
And WA’s former deputy Nationals leader, Jacqui Boydell, felt moved enough by the Four Corners exposé to come forward about her own experiences of being patronized and bullied by male colleagues.
Christian Porter’s feigned outrage at the story, and denial any affair took place, is perhaps predictable. I just hope he makes good on his threat to launch legal action against the ABC. A court case would expose all relevant facts in excruciating detail. Porter knows that. My bet is no legal action will ever ensue.
The toxic masculinity displayed by the Prime Minister and his front bench is part of a deeper problem for Australia: the nation’s born–to–rule elite of Protestant white men comes invariably from private school backgrounds in which no consequences accrue for grotesque bigotry. As illustrated by the North Shore School ‘muck up day’ scandal. By ensuring no consequences flow to senior ministers for overtly corrupt or tawdry behaviour, the PM has attempted to insinuate the same culture of zero consequence for bad behaviour into the highest public offices of the land. Not one prosecution for banking fraud. Not one censure for sports rorts or land deals. And not one for misogynistic sexual misconduct. It’s a legitimate question to ask exactly what ministers and MPs in the Morrison Government are actually accountable for?
Scotty from marketing better realize he can’t just spin his way out of this situation. It has the makings of combining with other issues, like the federal integrity commission championed by Christian Porter, to make a perfect storm for him. Perhaps the PM now needs to do some self–reflection on his own personality, and his many prejudices. Particularly, though, he ought to reconsider just how electorally damaging it is to stand out as a Trumpian oaf in a world that has seen Donal Trump rejected decisively. If nothing else, Morrison has a keen eye for retaining power and privilege; could that mean the PM must at least present a chimera of a less toxic personality?