In just under 50 words late last October, Prime Minister Scott Morrison set an improvised explosive device for himself while thinking he was kicking goals for his natural constituency – that being white males who drive RAM trucks, carry a lick of grievance and love their sports.
Confronted with the freshly exposed “fat cat largess” of $5000 Cartier watches handed out to Australia Post executives by chief executive Christine Holgate, Morrison could not have been in higher dudgeon.
He was clearly loving himself, riding his elevated steed.
“I was appalled,” he snarked when asked what he thought of Holgate’s performance gifts to four executives who had saved small post offices from parlous times.
“It is disgraceful and it’s not on.”
Morrison turned his blokey anger on Holgate: “If the chief executive wishes to stand aside, well not wishes to stand aside, she’s been instructed to stand aside and if she doesn’t wish to do that, Mr Speaker, she can go.”
That “she can go” was delivered with the junkyard puffed-up attitude we have seen before, although it’s been absent lately as the Prime Minister musters whatever he can from the right side of his brain, dressed often in soft purple and mauve shirts.
Not the uniform for a “she can go” or “any day of the week” lashing from the dispatch box so the tone is being adjusted for newly scheduled transmission.
Now it’s respect and inclusion although those “here, let me explain these things” habits are hard to shake, as we saw when he sat between his chief female ministers, Marise Payne, in charge of “women” and Amanda Stoker, who has the job of assisting.
In almost exquisite timing, Morrison was heading his new “women’s cabinet” at almost the very hour former Australia Post chief Holgate dropped a 154-page submission to a Senate committee looking at her very contentious ouster.
During what Holgate called “the 10 most difficult and disappointing days of her career” – beginning with the Senate estimates committee exposure of the watches bonus and the Prime Ministerial demand she “go!” – the experienced senior executive sought medical help and was prescribed medication for her distraught state.
While Holgate lays the predominance of blame for what she says was unlawful treatment at the feet of Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo, it’s clear the Australia Post ex-executive feels she was treated shabbily by the federal government, in particular Morrison and her portfolio minister, Paul Fletcher.
Holgate also names Senate leader Simon Birmingham, his deputy and Women’s Minister Marise Payne, and Health Minister Greg Hunt when saying she was “disappointed in the lack of open support from the many ministers whom I had worked with”.
Holgate has a very valid point and one that passes the “pub test” she says she was subjected to, and made to fail.
First, if Morrison had not unleashed his tirade against Holgate without knowing – or thinking to ask about – any of the details of the case, she would not have been “bullied” out of Australia Post, as she claims.
Absent Morrison’s unbridled outburst, Di Bartolomeo could have handled the issue internally, had a review and released the very report that was actually issued, saying Holgate did nothing wrong.
Instead he had pressure from a Prime Minister who doesn’t like not getting his way. It was unsustainable for Di Bartolomeo and he buckled. His weak behaviour could be lost in a “he said/she said” Senate report due out late this month. It shouldn’t be.
Second, Morrison may well have acted the same against a male government agency chief who handed out seemingly generous gifts to executives.
The counterfactual is not available but the Prime Minister was keen on that day in October to divert attention from the government’s negligent handling of aged care and his careless comment that “if you’re good at your job, you’ll get a job”.
Holgate became collateral damage in self-preservation. However, it has had a ripple effect since.
Many – but not all – senior business executives have been appalled, a few publicly, many privately, about Morrison’s treatment of Holgate.
A couple of key, very senior and usually centre-right media figures have been vigorous defenders of the ex-Australia Post executive.
Most noted have been experienced News Corp journalists Robert Gottleibsen and Terry McCrann, as well as radio and television host Alan Jones, who says Morrison “bullied” Holgate out of her job.
Of these, McCrann is most notable. A confidant of Rupert Murdoch, who has long sought the political and economic advice of the Melbourne Herald Sun veteran, McCrann now calls Morrison “ScoMo from Bogan Boofhead Central”.
In a column this week, McCann doubled down on his prediction for Morrison’s electoral fate: “There is no way, no way, the federal government is going to win the next election. What ‘won it for ScoMo’ in 2019 was not his inherent brilliance or doggedness but Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer, with a little help from Bill Shorten.”
This kind of shouting from the conservative bleachers is why Morrison is pretending he had nothing to do with Holgate’s demise.
Asked this week about the issue, Morrison said without a blink of embarrassment: “This is a matter now that is substantively between Ms Holgate and Australia Post and that’s where I note the predominance of her comments have been directed. Ms Holgate decided to leave Australia Post. That’s just a matter of record.”
Morrison never takes ownership for any mistake or misstep, error or egregious behaviour, action or attitude.
In anything but his scripted self-congratulatory announcements he is the Prime Minister who wasn’t there.