Morrison’s reshuffle was laudable but it was hard to take seriously while his government continued to protect Queensland MP Andrew Laming.
Laming faces allegations he took a photo of a woman’s bottom without consent, and that he harassed two other female constituents. He concedes he took a photo of a woman’s backside but says it was a harmless joke. Constituents have told media Laming has abused them online and noted personal details about them, such as where their children go to school.
This is where the “philosophical” objection comes unstuck.
Laming is a one-man sky-banner advertising the falsehood of the so-called “merit” argument against gender quotas.
If he is in Parliament on merit, then our democracy is even more buggered than we thought.
And conversely, if the Liberals are pre-selecting superb jerks like him, then perhaps it’s time they did some blue-sky thinking in terms of their recruitment processes.
When Julia Gillard was prime minister, a thickening stench of corruption arose from one of her MPs – the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson, a former national secretary of the Health Services Union. Thomson was elected to the Central Coast seat in 2007.
In 2009, Kate McClymont published a story in The Sydney Morning Herald reporting that when Thomson was head of the HSU, he used the union credit card to pay for prostitutes, bankroll his election campaign and withdraw more than $100,000 in cash.
Thomson denied the claims, issued a defamation writ against the Herald, and went on to increase his margin at the 2010 election.
After his seat was re-secured, the Labor MP dropped the defamation action, but wrote to colleagues saying the Herald had settled the action. That was a lie.
Fair Work Australia investigated Thomson and the HSU. Political pressure built.
Then opposition leader Tony Abbott agitated for the Fair Work report, asking why it was taking so long – and why the Labor Party was protecting someone accused of corruption.
“The report was prepared at vast taxpayer expense, and the public deserves to have this report,” Abbott said in 2012.
He was right. Labor frontbenchers tied themselves in knots trying to defend the party’s position, when the truth was obvious – they were in minority government and could not afford to lose an MP, no matter how dodgy he was.
Gillard’s government was embarrassed when the report was made public. It found Thomson had used union funds to hire sex workers. Fair Work launched court action against Thomson (he was eventually convicted of theft charges and fined $25,000. Other charges of obtaining financial advantage by deception were dismissed on appeal).
He was expelled from the Labor Party and moved to the crossbench for the rest of his time in Parliament. But that did not satisfy the Opposition and it did not fix the political problem.
Abbott continued to hammer Gillard over accepting Thomson’s “tainted vote”.
It seems clear the reason Morrison won’t eject Laming to the crossbench is because he doesn’t want to lose his government’s one-seat majority, which he only holds because the Speaker can vote if necessary.
Nonetheless, it is astounding Morrison has not kicked Laming out, at a moment when he is trying to convince Australians he takes seriously the disrespect and harassment of women.
Morrison has no legislative agenda to be threatened by an unstable working majority in the lower house. It seems he wants to hold onto his technical majority purely for the political optics of it.
In NSW this week, a Coalition MP accused of rape, and of sexting with a sex worker during parliamentary sittings, was swiftly ejected from the Nationals and urged to leave NSW Parliament. He denies the rape allegation.
A byelection will be held and the NSW government will probably lose the seat.
Women in Morrison’s own party have said they are uncomfortable with Laming sitting in the party room. He is currently on taxpayer-funded leave attending something called “empathy training”.
No MP should need to be coached in human decency and no one in his position should still have their job.
The divergence between political rhetoric and political reality is rarely this obvious or this gross.
A postscript: after Thomson was disgraced, he was photographed having a drink with a former colleague at the Belgian beer cafe in Sydney’s CBD. That colleague was Anthony Albanese.
Jacqueline Maley is a columnist.