By Robert Macklin
The ghosts of Watergate are curling through the corridors of Australia’s Parliament House, thrilled to be called for an encore, even if it’s for a distant out-of-town performance. They haven’t had this much fun since Richard Nixon gave his mad farewell wave, both arms aloft, as the helicopter warmed up on White House lawn.
Scott Morrison’s press conference this week – like so many of the Nixon TV appearances – was designed to ‘reset’ the issue, to get ahead of the media wave and control the agenda. And for about an hour and a half it worked…sort of.
Some of the (male) journos in the Press Gallery were moved by the PM’s emotional reference to his wife, daughters and widowed mother. That was straight from the Nixon playbook – though the President preferred his ‘sainted’ mother in the cameo role. The rest ground their teeth and hammered out their rage on the nearest keyboard.
To them, it seemed that he was far more ‘outraged’ by the male wankers on female MPs’ desks who had been outed by Channel 10 than the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins on a ministerial couch. To others, he was either ‘deliberately concealing the truth’ or was ‘downright misleading’. As Michelle Grattan wrote in CityNews, ‘The prime minister [has] resorted to a tactical ploy that flies in the face of any claim the government is dealing with the Brittany Higgins matter with respect.’
In Question Time the Opposition was equally unimpressed. They continued the frontal attack while all around him, ‘Parligate’(?) was turning into a hydra-headed monster with gaping jaws from which new and ever more Deep Throat accusations were tumbling daily. And at night the totally authentic security guard, Nikole Anderson via Four Corners was pushing the gate a little wider.
The NSW floods which in other days might have been a much needed distraction, this time simply provided a fitting muddy backdrop. The real problem, as Nixon himself said, was not the crime – which in this case was very much worse than Watergate’s ‘third rate burglary’ - but the cover-up. And by now the PM was so deeply mired in excuses that he appeared to be covering up the cover-up! But underneath it all was the same old question: ‘What did the President/Prime Minister know and when did he know it?’
Next, he made the awful mistake of charging News Ltd with hiding its own workplace sexual assault. It was just the blunder the Murdoch forces were waiting for. They had always regarded Morrison as the second-best replacement for Malcolm Turnbull; they really wanted Peter Dutton at the helm of good ship Australia. And Dutton was still seething for the chance.
Now Rupert could turn all his right-wing guns on the listing flag ship; and while Morrison dithered about demoting or sacking Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds, Brittany Higgins’ formal complaint about his Chief of Staff briefing reporters about her loved ones raised the spectre of a Nixon replay of the Haldeman and Ehrlichman departure to ‘save the presidency’. Either way, Dutton would be the biggest beneficiary.
There is, of course, much more to come before Parligate sees off the Nixonian stand-in and no guarantee of the dramatic Woodward and Bernstein ‘Final Days’. But at a time when Australia’s women have found their voice to confront generations of aggressive paternalism at the hands of tone deaf middle-aged male entitlement, Scott Morrison makes an irresistible target.
At least there’s no helicopter warming its rotors on the Parliament House laws…yet.
VIDEO: Mark Humphries: Message to Australian women
The Prime Minister wants to get on the front foot and win the support of Australian women. To help him, satirist Mark Humphries and his co-writer Evan Williams have put together this message.