News Jane Gilmore: PM’s inaction on men’s violence inflicts even more damage
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Jane Gilmore: PM’s inaction on men’s violence inflicts even more damage

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Scott Morrison’s responses to allegations of rape and sexual harassment in Parliament House have been described as “fumbled” or “mishandled”, as if the past month has been a series of unconnected minor missteps.

They weren’t.

They were an ongoing fundamental failure to grasp the magnitude of men’s violence against women and the breadth of trauma it causes.

After his wife Jen explained that rape was bad, and not knowing turned out to be worse than not asking (who knew?), and aren’t women who protest against rape lucky they don’t get shot, Mr Morrison is still struggling to even understand the problem, let alone find a solution.

In Question Time on Monday, he was again asked about Brittney Higgins’ assertion that “the Prime Minister of Australia publicly apologised to me through the media, while privately his media team actively undermined and discredited my loved ones”.

Brittany Higgins’ partner David Sharaz has hit back at the PM’s office. Photo: Twitter

The PM swung between looking rattled and gazing off into the distance, self-satisfied smile fixed firmly in place.

Satisfied with what, you have to wonder. His ability to avoid answering direct questions about whether he asked his staff if they were backgrounding against Brittany Higgins’ loved ones?

“There’s no information about that before me” the Prime Minister said.

Because he doesn’t ask the questions, mate.

Then there were more questions about the inquiry the head of his department, Phil Gaetjens, was running into who knew about Ms Higgins’ rape allegation and when they knew it.

Phil Gaetjens on Monday.

Mr Gaetjens gave evidence in Senate Estimates that he had halted the investigation after the AFP Commissioner expressed concerns it might interfere with the police investigation.

Mr Gaetjens also said he told Mr Morrison about this on March 9, a full week before Mr Morrison told Parliament that Mr Gaetjens was making those inquiries.

Now there’s an allegation that a Liberal staffer masturbated onto the desk of a female MP – a truly revolting display of misogyny – and more questions raised by Four Corners about whether ministers and staffers were covering up the alleged rape of Ms Higgins.

Mr Morrison’s claim that he knew nothing, was told nothing and asked nothing has become even more untenable.

This can look like minutiae. Petty squabbles over who said what to whom and when. We’re so accustomed to inconsequential point-scoring in Parliament that it’s almost counter intuitive to believe it matters. But this time it does.

This is about how the Prime Minister responded to a woman who says she was raped in Parliament House by a man who worked for his government.

What would you do if you were told a woman was raped in your house or your business?

Think about your reaction in the first five minutes, five hours, five days after being told of such a horrific thing, and then compare it to what little we know of the  PM’s reaction and the behaviour of the people who work for him.

Was he outraged that such a heinous crime might have occurred in his Parliament House?

Did he immediately summon ministers and staffers to his office and demand a full account? Did he do everything within his considerable powers to find out the truth of what happened, if only to make sure that such a thing could never happen again?

If he did all those things, he seems strangely reluctant to say so.

It would certainly be difficult to reconcile such a response with his obfuscations over the past four weeks.

Brittany Higgins’ allegations have shed light on the treatment of women in the halls of power.

If, on the other hand, he asked no questions, took no action, brushed it aside and carried on with business as usual, his responses make much more sense.

They also make sense if you view rape as just a women’s issue if it’s kept private, a PR issue if it’s made public and a political issue if it’s in Parliament.

Rape is certainly a problem for women, children, non-binary people and the trans community.

Rape is even sometimes a problem for adult men.

It is a crushing problem that there are too many rapists in our schools, our homes, our workplaces, our parliaments and our football clubs. And it is most definitely a problem that there are not more rapists in our prisons.

Rape as an issue, however, belongs to men.

It is a crime committed overwhelmingly by men and so it is an issue for the men who do it, the men who dismiss it, the men who joke about it, the men who ignore it, and the men who fluff themselves up in outrage when a man is accused of it.

Rape is something that can only be changed by men willing to change themselves and each other.

Scott Morrison, as a man, a public servant, a parliamentarian, and a Prime Minister, has a duty to lead that change.

So far, he has comprehensively failed to live up to that duty. And time is running out.

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