PM needs action after anger clouds words

·2-min read

Scott Morrison's road to Damascus on the treatment of women was cut short by a self-directed detour down a path of threats and anger.

In a sombre and emotional tone, the prime minister conceded many Australians - especially women - felt they had not been heard.

He spoke about all the things he learned over the past five weeks of community anger and despair.

The rising tide of deep feeling was triggered by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins' allegations she was raped inside Parliament House in 2019.

Morrison noted women were afraid to walk the streets out of fear they would be attacked.

Others were belittled, talked over, humiliated, objectified and marginalised.

There was an emotional defence of consulting with his wife before calling out rape allegations and an explanation of why he so often speaks "as a father" on women's issues.

But the mea culpa's tone soon encountered a violent shift.

A journalist had the gall to question whether the prime minister would face sacking if he was running a major company dogged by allegations against staff.

Morrison reverted to warning the media about throwing stones from glass houses.

In an acidic blast, he raised an unproven allegation that someone at another news organisation was being investigated for harassing a woman in a women's toilet.

"Be careful," he warned the senior reporter.

What started with some contrition, switched to criticism of an "unfair" double standard.

And what of the victim in the case Morrison raised? Does she not deserve the same privacy senior ministers cited when under pressure about their responses to Ms Higgins' complaint?

Ending the Liberals' long-held resistance to female candidate quotas appears one step Morrison is likely to take.

But that will do nothing to dampen calls for major reform.

The demands of tens of thousands of women who marched around the country would seem a perfect starting point.

A massive increase in funding for gendered violence prevention, a new federal law to promote equality and implementing 55 workplace sexual harassment reforms are among the list.

It also includes full independent investigations and timely referrals of gendered violence.

Tuesday could have been Morrison's tide-turning moment.

But now the prime minister's actions are even more crucial than his words, in large part undone by his stunning attack.