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Today Scott Morrison assured women he'd heard their complaints. Then he went off-script.

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.

On Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave a strongly worded speech about hearing and listening to the calls of Australian women over the past month.

"I acknowledge that many Australians, especially women, believe that I haven't heard them," he said.

"And that greatly distresses me. I have been doing a lot of listening over this past month, but not for the first time."

He recounted what he'd learned in recent weeks, the conversations he'd had and the unjust treatment of women right across society, not just in Australia's parliament.

Watch: Prime Minister acknowledges the reaction to his 'as a father' comments. Post continues below video.


Video via ABC.

When his speech was done, he opened up the floor to Canberra's press gallery.

The past month has been a mess for Morrison's government, with new allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and misconduct appearing seemingly weekly since former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins came forward in February to allege she was raped by a former colleague in the office of their boss, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.

The morning after Higgins made her allegations public, Morrison said he was "shattered". But by his own telling, his approach to the allegation was inspired by a conversation with his wife.

"Jenny and I spoke last night," Morrison said. "And she said to me, 'You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?'

"Jenny has a way of clarifying things — always has."

Read more: Scott Morrison responded to Brittany Higgins' allegations "as a father". Why not as a person?

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When further details were alleged about members of his office making contact with Higgins, he questioned her memory.

"I understand that over time, particularly in situations like this, that information can become confused over time about who makes contact and things like that," he stated.

On February 26, Morrison was one of a handful of politicians who were sent a letter detailing a sexual assault allegation in relation to one of his own cabinet ministers, later identified as Attorney General Christian Porter. Porter, currently on leave, has strenuously denied the allegation. 

Morrison said he did not read the letter, and has rejected calls for an independent inquiry.

Then came the women's March 4 Justice on March 15, with women demanding justice and change, before fresh allegations this week.

March 4 Justice protestors outside Parliament House on March 15, 2021 in Canberra, Australia. Image: Getty.  

That afternoon, in Question Time, Morrison said it was "right and good" that people were able to congregate in peaceful protests.

"Not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country, Mr Speaker," he said, referring to Myanmar's violent protests.

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Tuesday morning's speech came after the most recent allegations.

As reported by Ten News and NewsCorp on Monday evening, coalition staffers were allegedly involved in a Facebook group, which shared images and video of themselves performing sex acts. An unidentified whistleblower said at times the acts had been performed on the desks of female MPs. 

Parliament House's 'prayer room' was also named as a place where staffers regularly go to have sex.

Morrison responded quickly and decisively that same evening, which he did not with the allegations from Higgins and against Porter.

"Everyone has a right to feel safe at work. The reports aired tonight are disgusting and sickening," Morrison said soon after the allegations aired on The Project.

One of the staffers involved was immediately sacked.

Morrison continued: "It's not good enough, and is totally unacceptable. The people who come to work in this building are better than this," he said.

If the past month has shown us anything, it is that the people inside that building are not better than this.

Image: Getty. 

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This was made even clearer when hours later, Four Corners aired another episode about Higgins' allegations, questioning who knew what about the night in question and what they did in response.

It wasn't until his Tuesday morning press conference that Morrison condemned the culture of not just parliament, but all of society where women feel uncomfortable.

He reflected on the way people had reacted to his controversial comments:

"I acknowledge that many have not liked or appreciated some of my own personal responses to this over the course of the last month, and I accept that... No offence was intended by me saying that I discussed [Higgins' allegations] with my wife. And equally, that is in no way any indication that these events had not already dramatically affected me already at that point," he said.

"Equally I accept that many were unhappy with the language that I used on the day of the protest. No offence was intended by that either. I could have chosen different words. I have already explained those matters in the House.

"But what I am more, even more concerned about, even more importantly, I acknowledge that many Australians, especially women, believe that I haven't heard them. And that greatly distresses me."

Image: Getty. 

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He acknowledged people's disapproval but he did not apologise for anything he said.

He listed things he had been told; of women walking with keys in their hands, of women being too afraid to call out bad behaviour in fear of their livelihoods, of women being overlooked and talked over by men.

He choked back tears as he spoke about his daughters, and his wife, and his mother.

"I need women to stand with me, as we go about this. As we stand together I need them to stand in this place. I need them to stand in this place. I need them to stand right where they are. I need them to continue to blaze that trail right here in this place. I admire their courage and I call on it," he concluded.

When his speech was over, Morrison called on media questions. 

The Prime Minister said how badly he wanted more women to enter politics, and how important it was for us to be part of the solutions, but was ambiguous on questions about quotas. 

He didn't offer any new ideas on how he planned make things better and to improve the Canberra culture.

When asked by a journalist if he would find his job in danger if the government was a private company, he hit back by weaponising a claim of abuse at Sky News, presumably without consent the alleged victim at that workplace and alerting us all to the fact he was aware of this external issue, yet unaware of complaints within his party.

Morrison's pre-written speech had the best of intentions, but in the context of the past month and after watching his off-the-cuff responses to press gallery questions, his assertion that he had heard us and listened rung hollow.

Morrison was at pains to say just how impacted he has been by recent times, but he has more than a month's worth of poorly thought out words to overcome first.

The best way to start is perhaps with some action.

Read more:

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

Feature image: Getty.