Why Scott Morrison’s apology to Brittany Higgins was tone deaf

We need our leaders to do better! Sexual assault survivors are humans not children of fathers.
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*Content Warning: This story makes reference to sexual abuse*

Earlier this week former Liberal federal minister Brittany Higgins’s rape allegations against a more senior male colleague came to light. And, the response by old mate Prime Minister Scott Morrison—or, how some people on TikTok are calling him, “Prime Sinister”—to the controversy is really Not It. 

WATCH: Labour feeling the pressure over bungled sexual assault investigation.

What happened

As a nation, we were collectively shocked and disgusted to hear the details Brittany shared about her assault on Channel Ten’s The Project.

It was a horrible reminder of the very real dangers women face in politics and the workforce.

Then of course, on Tuesday the PM had to further embarrass us by proudly announcing that his wife and young daughters had to actually explain to him the severity of the allegations.

But it is all good guys because now he gets it and also he’s a father so like he totally can empathise (but without his wife and daughters he couldn’t?).

The PM’s apology interview was aired on Channel 10 and his comments really say everything the country needs to know about him.

“What would you want to happen if it were our girls?” (Credit: Getty)

He said, “Jenny and I spoke last night and she said to me, you have to think about this as a father,” Morrison said. “What would you want to happen if it were our girls?”

“Jenny has a way of clarifying things. Always has. And so, I’ve reflected on that overnight and listened to Brittany and what she had to say.”

He went on to say, “any young woman working in this place is as safe as possible, as I would want that for my own daughters.”

When rightfully pressed by a reporter for choosing to approach the situation as a father, not like, you know a person, he replied, “in my own experience, being a husband and a father is central to me, [to my] human being. So I just can’t follow the question you’re putting.”

Then, of course, Scotty had to rub the salt into the wound and continued defending his choice to approach the situation as a father.

When asked by a reporter “Don’t you think yesterday as the leader of this country, that it was time… that you had to take charge?”

Scott replied, “I did.”

“I discussed it with Jenny, she had seen it. And we discussed it. That’s how we deal with these things. I think Australians know that I am pretty honest about these matters and I seek to deal with them in an as humanely way as possible, and my family helps to inform that, as I suspect it does most people.”

“Jenny has a way of clarifying things. ” (Credit: Getty)

Why the PM’s comments are disgusting

Right, okay, so… to be clear it is so fine that the PM loves his family and being a dad, cool. But, Australians did not elect this man to be a father figure to the Liberal party, no, he was voted in to serve and lead.

This response is not leading, as it is a form of deflecting that rids the PM of taking any accountability. He is making a performance to elicit empathy by tapping into the sanctity of family values.

These comments dangerously propose that the existence of women is only valued by society when it is validated by a man. Not only is it not true, but it gives weight to people who are misogynist and encourages this way of thinking. 

Simply put, it’s a reality that needs to be shifted, but it cannot be shifted when our leaders feed it into the zeitgeist. Even though plenty of people can see it is problematic, their words still ripple through society’s sub-conscious.

Scott Morrison’s ‘I am not a normal politician; I am an average middle-class dad’ act has been played out, and it is highly doubtful that the Australian public buys it. Shortly after Morrison’s comments, people on Twitter were furious, blasting the PM for bringing his paternal relationship with his daughters in to the conversation to emotionally understand a sexual assault survivor’s story.

The poor handling of sexual assault in Australian politics 

It is also deeply concerning that the Prime Minister of Australia was not informed of the incident for two years.

It is hard to fathom the lack of accountability within the Liberal party and Morrison, and their collective ignorant of the violence perpetrated by his staff. It has been reported that multiple coalitions and Labor senators have known about the story for months.

The way the party has handled the situation speaks volumes to what politicians in Australia value. Since the past few years post-Me Too movement, stories like this make it abundantly clear the structure of Australian politics has not evolved with society.

In our country’s recent history, we have repeatedly been shown that sexual safety is not guaranteed in our political and legal system.

Tony Abbott and ScoMo. (Credit: Getty)

From Tony Abbott and John Howard publicly defending George Pell when he was accused of pedophilia, to former judge Dyson Heydon alleged to have harassed six female associates, to allegations against Barnaby Joyce by Catherine Marriot.

These stories show that Brittany’s allegations are part of a pattern, and as we know, it is exceptionally difficult for sexual assault survivors to speak out, in any situation.

Brittany’s assaulter is still unknown to the Australian public because if his name is reported before charges are made, it will become subject to a defamation action. 

It is crucial once we learn his name that our Prime Minister acts on the proper discourse, and that he shows complete commendation of the accused actions, publicly, and fully supports Brittany’s agency as a human not the daughter of some father.

If the themes in this story have affected you or you need to talk to someone, please contact Beyondblue (1300 22 4636), Kids helpline (1800 55 1800) and eheadspace (1800 650 890). If you feel your life is in danger, call 000.

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