Watching Question Time Monday, June 22, I was reminded of the old Harry Belefonte lyrics to the song; “Man Piaba“.
The song tells the story of a boy who is confused about growing up.
And so it was when the Prime Minister of Australia stood before the parliament with its assembled MPs and said:
“I have been very clear with this house.”
It was followed by laughs of mischievous intent from the opposition.
Scott Morrison, true to form, had not shown the slightest bit of clarity at all. It was as clear as mud. A look of defiance descended upon his lie beaten brow.
When Labor asked him to update the House as to the progress of a report he had commissioned by the head of his department, Phil Gaetjens, he looked like a man ready for an unnecessary war.
He is a man much used to lying, but this time he couldn’t seem to drag one from the closet, so he sought out the cousin to the lie, confusion.
In the muck-ridden conservative party formerly called the Liberal Party, there were once people of integrity. Or people who would let scandal pass through the sewer of their internal problems but always stop before it got beyond their conscience. Only a few remain.
Before I go on, I must tell you that my wife interrupted my writing to say that Morrison was on the television. It was last Tuesday at about 10am. A press conference of importance was taking place. Because of our natures, my wife and I are suckers for tears of sad moments, regrets, or mistakes well worn.
Morrison was pouring it on, and the tears were welling in our eyes. When it became apparent that he was answering the criticism of his handling of the accusations of rape over the past month and that this press conference was actually more about him than the scandals themselves, we quietly put the tissues aside.
He was so used to confusing people every time he gave a press conference that he breezed through most of the questions. Then when confronted with a fair dinkum question from Sky News journalist Andrew Clennell alluding to an employer of theirs “dealing with a person who has made a complaint made against them for harassment of a woman in a women’s toilet”, the dog was out of the kennel. The attack dog was back.
The following day the media was full of apologies from the Prime Minister with regrets that he had even raised the matter. The presser was really about two sides of the Prime Minister’s personality. The front end was just sanctimonious bullshit about how he was listening; he heard all the problems women have living in a society that treated them so pathetically.
The problem was that he gave so much time to listen that there was little left over to pursue answers. He had none.
The back end saw the return of the Morrison we know so well. The know-all, the snake oil salesman untrustworthy liar, prepared to do or say anything that would progress his cause.
Later in the day, on Facebook, he apologised.
Sorry, I just had to fit that digression in. Now back to Question Time and some background. Morrison had asked the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s department, Phil Gaetjens, to undertake an inquiry – to check if any communications between members of his office and the former government staffer Brittany Higgins existed. That was February 17.
Remember the date because a short time after Higgins had come forward with her allegation that she had been raped in Parliament House by a colleague on February 19, varying views had emerged as to who knew what and when.
Now let’s move on. On February 12, Morrison has identified Fiona Brown as the one who had first heard of the allegation. This is after news.com.au submitted a series of questions to the office about the events of March 2019.
This statement was incorrect and can be proven so. Fiona Brown, a member of Morrison’s staff, was all over it. Why? Well, “she managed the fallout while employed as chief of staff to Linda Reynolds.”
She was also employed by Morrison before she worked for Reynolds. Then she returned to the prime minister’s office after the 2019 election.
Clear as mud, isn’t it?
It seems evident that Brown (now a Morrison Staffer) knew what had happened, which also suggests that others could have learned about it in the manner of human gossip.
It was revealed by Guardian Australia that:
“… another senior Morrison staffer had been in the office of the special minister of state at the time the man alleged to have raped Higgins left the government.”
Brittany Higgins also remembered an approach via WhatsApp from Yaron Finkelstein, one of Morrison’s senior political advisers. A “how is it all going call?”
It was about the Four Corners program exploring workplace culture at parliament that had aired in 2020.
With all the goings-on:
“Morrison asked Gaetjens to get to the bottom of what had gone on. But then the investigation seemed to fall into a black hole.”
With their ears, pricked Labor began to ask questions.
One month bled into the next. Morrison gave no indication of when the report would be tabled. No information was forthcoming at all. Morrison had not given any indication that it had been “paused”.
Following on from that, The Guardian reported that:
“Gaetjens told Senate estimates on Monday he had “paused” his investigation after advice from the Australian federal police commissioner Reece Kershaw on March 9. Kershaw wanted a “clean corridor” for a criminal investigation into the rape allegation.
Disconcertingly, the deliberation accounts in early March between Gaetjens and Kershaw (who was in another estimates committee on Monday morning) didn’t align entirely on the first telling. But Kershaw later issued a clarifying statement confirming that pausing the inquiry had been his “strong” advice to Gaetjens.
Gaetjens duly paused his efforts, and says he conveyed the decision to hold off to the prime minister’s office and to Morrison himself shortly after.”
So this is where we are at now?
After many questions to the Prime Minister regarding Gaetjens investigation, the prime minister (according to Gaetjens in Estimates) was fully aware the inquiry was on hold.
But instead of being transparent, instead of just telling it like it was, Morrison continued to deceive.
In response to Labor’s questions, Morrison said Gaetjens:
“… has not provided me with a further update about when I might expect that report.”
It is a mystery why Morrison would risk being accused of misleading the Parliament when Gaetjens had already given him an update about the timeline for reporting.
“Gaetjens had told him, implicitly, that he wouldn’t be reporting soon because Kershaw needed “a clean corridor” for the criminal investigation.”
Gaetjens is undoubtedly the most influential public servant in Canberra, and as such, it is unusual for him to appear before Senate hearings.
When one compares the evidence of Gaetjens before Senate Estimates and the statements Morrison has made in the House, one can reasonably, I think, conclude that Morrison was misleading the House.
By playing this silly game of one-upmanship, all the Prime Minister achieved was to make himself look mischievous.
Katherine Murphy writing in The Guardian, got it right when she wrote that all he had to say was:
“I am aware there has been a development, but I can’t convey it to the house in detail for probity reasons, but Gaetjens will advise you about that either through his own channels or at Senate estimates next week, as is proper.”
Was he just being a smart arse?
He must have known that at some point in time that he would have to reconcile the contradictions between what he was saying in the house and what Gaetjens was telling the Senate Estimates.
The wash-up now is that he has made himself look guilty and his party seem amateurish. Whether he likes it or not, Prime Ministers are elected to lead, not tell lies or avoid answering questions. If I were him, trying to swim my way out of the shit he has created for himself, I would want to appear as clean as a surgeon’s hands.
Did he mislead the house? Well, it certainly looks that way.
My thought for the day
Do you shape the truth for the sake of a good impression? On the other hand, do you tell the truth even if it may tear down the view people may have of you? Alternatively, do you simply use the contrivance of omission and create another lie. I can only conclude that there is always a pain in truth, but there is no harm in it.
In breaking news, Brittany Higgins has formally lodged a complaint with the Prime Minister’s Department regarding backgrounding on her partner David Shiraz and family members.
The Prime Minister said he couldn’t comment because nobody had made an official complaint.
Now he has one.
A final word
I may be guilty of oversimplification here, but why on earth should there be a need for legislation that outlines rules and regulations pertaining to men’s behaviour when all that is required of them is that they demonstrate some excellent old-fashioned manliness.
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