A picture told the story. Scott Morrison went to the footy last Saturday. His team lost, so he entered the winners' dressing room to a raucous "Scull one, Scotty" welcome.
The only woman present, sports scientist Tahleya Eggers, stood tall, arms folded, and death-stared his back. After the screenshot went viral, she tweeted the next morning:
"Proud to claim this one. I will not respect a man who has the time to shake hands of men who have won a football match but is 'too busy' to attend the March for Justice."
The Eels tweeted a photo of Morrison, arms around the boys: "He's ours now @Cronulla_Sharks."
The next day Crystal White, 29, backed by a male witness, joined the growing number of women standing up to Morrison's personification of patriarchal power. She met with police to discuss the admitted fact that Andrew Laming, the LNP MP for Bowman, photographed her bottom in 2019 when she bent over to stock a work fridge.
Her move mirrored that of Brittany Higgins, a young Liberal woman who simply won't take his crap. At the Canberra #March4Justice rally she accused Morrison of being two-faced - apologising to her while his staff reportedly backgrounded journos against her partner.
He said he'd never authorise such a thing, but refused more than 10 times in question time to ask his staff if it were true. Cornered by Sabra Lane on AM last Thursday, he said no journo in the press gallery had complained to his office. Huh?
Ms Higgins immediately formally complained to his office and, it appears, a journo who had been backgrounded took up his offer. So now he has ordered yet another outside inquiry into his own office. Remember, Morrison strongly denied he knew anything about the alleged rape until he read Samantha Maiden's report, despite several ministers knowing about it, internal inquiries into why Parliamentary staff cleaned up a potential crime scene and evidence that members of his staff knew of the rape at the time. Rather than sort it out himself (I wonder why) he palmed off an inquiry to his former chief of staff, who he appointed to head his department, who after inordinate delay refused to answer any questions in Senate estimates and used the police investigation as an excuse to "pause" it, a fact Morrison didn't reveal despite being asked in Parliament about its progress.
Women expected Morrison to arrange for the Queensland LNP to expel Laming after two female constituents told Channel Nine of revolting online stalking. Instead he ordered medical leave, then, after Laming downplayed the apology Morrison told him to deliver, empathy training. After Ms White went public, Laming said he'd retire at the next election and Morrison defended keeping him in the party room at his cabinet reshuffle press conference despite an outspoken call by one female Liberal MP to expel him and a female Nationals backbencher calling his actions "illegal". Ms White countered by formalising her complaint to police, which they rejected this week on the basis there was "no evidence to indicate a criminal offence".
After backing Linda "called Brittany Higgins a lying cow" Reynolds and Christian "I'll stay first law officer while suing the ABC for defamation" to the hilt, Morrison finally moved them.
He elevated Liberal women, some with new titles like "Minister for Women's Safety" and "Minister for Women's Economic Security", and in a gobsmacking admission of government policy failure, put all women in the ministry in a cabinet women's taskforce to add "a gender lens" to policy. Marise Payne, a feminist member of the crippled moderate wing, was referred to as the "Prime Minister for Women", quickly amended to "primary minister for women" after a female journo pointed out that would have formalised Morrison's position as the "Prime Minister for Men".
With Morrison there's always a kicker. He made Queensland senator Amanda Stoker, a hard-right fundamentalist, Assistant Minister for Women. Grace Tame accused her of leading a "fake rape crisis" tour of uni campuses. And in opposing a Senate motion to void the Morrison government's 2020 Australia Day award to Bettina Arndt for her "significant service ... to gender equity", Stoker brushed off Arndt's sympathy for a cop who said Hannah Clarke's husband could have been "driven too far" before he killed her and their three children.
In 2020, the year before she became Australian of the Year, Ms Tame unsuccessfully urged Morrison to withdraw the award, citing Arndt's sympathetic interview with Ms Tame's abuser, 58 when he abused her at 15, at a time she was barred by Tasmanian law from publicly identifying or defending herself. In the Arndt interview, given after he'd said what he did was "awesome" and most men "envied him", she decried "sexually provocative behaviour by female students". An infuriated Tame decided to change the law so she could defend herself and, as it happened, emerged as a leader of a new era of women's activism.
You can see what Morrison's doing. A fractured women's movement had united - how about Stoker splinters the women's wing while he watches their power dissipate with help from incensed media supporters, furious that female journos stepped up to transform the agenda of political reporting?
Many derided the reset as more marketing spin, and Ms Tame warned women to beware "distractions posing as solutions". But I think Morrison may have wedged himself. Last year's budget was condemned in women's circles for failing to address women's needs amid COVID-19, but now women's policy is, by Morrison's own words, a core policy agenda. The usual "be quiet for the sake of the party" tactics won't work if Liberal women and sympathetic male Liberal MPs seize a unique opportunity, under the eagle eye of Australia's women, to modernise and reshape a party reeling at last from the hard right's victory over Liberal moderates.
I knew Marise Payne when I was in the press gallery. She is a feminist, small l liberal who has survived several hard-right attempts to stop her entering Parliament and dump her from the NSW Senate ticket. Now, as Morrison's "Prime Minister for Women", she has enormous power, which I believe she will use wisely. For moderate Liberal women still in the party, the chance has come - for them, their colleagues bullied out of the party, and for all women - to leverage the power this extraordinary moment has delivered them to make history.
When I checked into the QT hotel the night before the Canberra rally, all the talk was of its instigator Janine Hendry accepting Morrison's offer to meet #March4Justice "representatives" in his office because he was "too busy" to attend the rally. Several women, who had rushed to build a website and co-ordinate a rally just two weeks after Ms Hendry's Twitter suggestion of a march on Parliament, and had just met her in person, were distraught.
Twitter debate had raged all day, and what would prove to be an uprising of 100,000 city, regional and rural women was on the verge of imploding before it fully formed. I tweeted, on the advice of horrified veteran feminists, "PM wants a delegation to meet him to split the #March4Justice movement. It's a spontaneous grassroots uprising bringing together women of all persuasions who are ANGRY. It's not an ORGANISATION to pick REPS to give him a bloody photo op."
We have already come to the front door, now it’s up to the Government to cross the threshold and come to us. We will not be meeting behind closed doors.— 💧Janine Hendry (@janine_hendry) March 14, 2021
Ms Hendry tweeted on the morning of the march: "We have already come to the front door, now it's up to the government to cross the threshold and come to us. We will not be meeting behind closed doors."
That decision, and Morrison's post-rally statement to Parliament that it was a triumph women weren't "met with bullets" like in Myanmar, were defining moments in the power dynamics between Morrison and women. On the morning, only Bridget Archer, Liberal MP for a marginal Tasmanian seat, said she'd attend because she too had been sexually abused. By rally time, several other female backbenchers joined her.
We didn't give him the chance then to control and destroy us. And here we are.
Make no mistake, Morrison's reset has rocked the power structure in his party. The hard right will never accept quotas to bring more female MPs into the party room. Many men will be angry that they were overlooked for higher office. And most importantly, the hard right has felt the ground shift - and it will fight back hard and dirty. Its adherents have long wanted to abolish the Human Rights Commission. Now its sex discrimination commissioner, after Christian Porter sat on her report on how to address workplace harassment against women for a year, is set to inquire into the Parliament House workplace.
Australia's women, led by a young Liberal woman inspired by Grace Tame, and the friends of an Adelaide woman determined to give her a voice after her tragic suicide, have made the political earth move. What's next depends on the majority of women across party lines sticking together and keeping our eyes on the prize - real policy outcomes and a transformed politics.
- Margo Kingston was a mainstream media journalist who thrived until she didn't. She is now a citizen journalist and climate change activist.