Scott Morrison is trying to have things both ways over disgraced Queensland Liberal Andrew Laming.
Laming, who has allegedly bullied constituents and photographed a woman inappropriately, announced at the weekend he won’t seek another term.
But he hasn’t been booted out of the parliamentary party, which is what should happen.
Having Laming go to the crossbench would wipe out the government’s majority, which is what the prime minister wants to avoid. The departure of Craig Kelly to the crossbench has already removed the Coalition’s working majority on the floor of the house.
When Nine on Thursday was about to run a story on the bullying, Morrison called in Laming and made him apologise in the house. Laming then trashed his own apology, saying on Facebook he didn’t even know what he’d apologised for. Morrison gave him another talking to.
On Saturday (speaking before the story about Laming photographing a woman stacking a fridge, whose underwear was showing, came to public light) Morrison told the media: “I spoke to him again this morning, and I’m arranging for Mr Laming, for Andrew Laming, to now go and get appropriate assistance through an appropriate course to build his understanding and awareness about his actions.
"And I think this is one of the important things that we need to do. The way you fix this is we’ve got to educate, inform and increase awareness to change behaviour. I want to see behaviour change.”
This sounds like some parallel universe – the prime minister “arranging” for Laming to get “appropriate assistance”, and suggesting he has to build “awareness about his actions”.
This MP has been in parliament since the 2004 election. He trained as a doctor. Let’s be frank: no MP needs a course to know gross bullying of people in his local community is appalling conduct for a parliamentarian.
As seems the way now with Coalition parliamentarians in trouble, Laming has gone on leave.
He said in a weekend statement he will “get assistance with courses in empathy and appropriate communication, not just to be a better MP, but to be a deeper and more empathetic person than what the recent events have demonstrated.
"The common thread of the last week has been not demonstrating anything close to understanding how my actions affect others. I intend to own those mistakes.
"I will also be obtaining clinical counselling, for a duration decided by others, but I will aim to complete it by the next parliamentary sitting”.
That is, when the government needs him back.
His leave is from electorate and committee work but Laming says his office will be “continuing to serve the community”.
Laming is the third embattled Liberal to go on leave in a few weeks. The others are ministers Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds.
Reynolds’ leave is a justified case – she has a heart condition.
It’s another matter with the others. Leave, frankly, looks like an excuse not to be around.
Morrison (who must be wishing he could get a bit of stress leave himself) will be bracing for any more revelations about people in his ranks.
It will be interesting to hear how he responds to the Sunday suggestion by two of his female backbenchers, Sarah Henderson and Katie Allen, on the ABC that MPs should be subject to drug and alcohol testing.
Henderson said she had heard “a few rumours about drugs”, although no names had been mentioned to her.
Meanwhile, early this week Morrison will announce his reshuffle. This involves shifting Porter and Reynolds but keeping them in cabinet, another compromise likely to be criticised as inadequate.
But a real test in this reshuffle is what Morrison does with the position of minister for women.
If he is serious about women’s issues, he should reallocate this post, at present held by the Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
Payne has shown no sign she can drive the agenda for women. She certainly can’t carry the very difficult public debate for the government; she has been little seen on the issues in the last few weeks. She did not even participate when the PM addressed Coalition staff the other day.
Given the present crisis embroiling the government, Morrison should have a stand alone cabinet position of minister for women.
This article has been corrected to remove a quote wrongly attributed to Josh Frydenberg.