A tale of two Morrisons

There are two Morrisons who have confronted sexism in their ranks. One, David, showed leadership. The other, Scott, showed the antithesis of leadership.

It is eight years since the Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison addressed a sexist misconduct scandal involving more than 100 Australian Defence Force troops.

It wasn’t a popular move with everyone in the ranks. The Army is the home to many gung ho macho types and sometimes, as in Afghanistan, that spilled over into behaviour which allegedly resulted in murders.

The 2013 misconduct was less fatal but destructive of morale and unacceptable in any modern workforce – military or otherwise.

In a video distributed to all the Australian troops Morrison said that women were “vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future.”

“If that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable, but I doubt it”, he said.

“I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values, and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this.

“If we are a great national institution – if we care about the legacy left to us by those who have served before us, if we care about the legacy we leave to those who, in turn, will protect and secure Australia – then it is up to us to make a difference. If you’re not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters.”

David Morrison was named Australian of the Year for his stance.

Eight years later the contrast with Scott Morrison couldn’t be starker. Faced with a similar problem Morrison prevaricated, let some deep nastiness break out and treated it all as a political management issue rather than a leadership issue.

No words to Ministers about getting out and finding another employer or never being appointed to a well-paid government job after a suitable interval. No ruthlessness in ridding the Parliament of people whose attitude and behaviour was unacceptable – other than one hapless staffer who, however bad his behaviour, became the scapegoat for systemic failures.

In a foreword to Nick Jans’ book Leadership Secrets of the Australian Army David Morrison recounted an early career problem. He had joined the Army without much of a sense of vocation, broke, just finished an indifferent ANU Arts degree and thought he would try the Army for a few years and then get out.

Then he made a mistake. He was a junior officer but a senior sergeant working for him said he wanted a word. Officers have rank but senior NCOs have experience and the best of them guide and protect young officers who need it. Only an arrogant young fool would fail to take their advice.

The sergeant said: “You need to realise that you are the legacy of all who have served before you – thousands of men and women who put service before self. …What you are not asking yourself is about the legacy you are going to leave.”

Morrison, reflecting on the memory, wrote: “It’s all about legacy. The gift we all get to give. It can be big, sometimes touching nations and huge corporate entities if that is the station in life we achieve, or it can be small but vital, touching families and friends if we live a life more private. But big or small legacy is delivered through leadership and belief.”

Well Scott Morrison has belief – but it goes along with cunning, a deep capacity for evasion, and a refusal to accept responsibility or accountability on his own behalf or that of his Ministers and MPs.

Nick Jans’ book was dedicated to another leader, Colonel Mick Crawford who died in 2015 before the book was published. He was Nick’s (and the author’s) commanding officer in Vietnam.

At the 1987 Sydney Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home March the battery he commanded milled around in the Domain before setting off on the march.

The gunners knew the salute was being taken by then Prime Minister and former ACTU President, Bob Hawke, and quite a few of them remembered mail delays caused by industrial action while they were in Vietnam.

Combined with the usual military organisational standard – hurry up and wait – they were getting angry and bolshie about giving Hawke the eyes right.

Mick Crawford, who had heard the mumbling and objections but said nothing about them, quietly said shortly before the battery was to move out: “In a little while we will be heading off. When we reach the Town Hall I will give the eyes right command.”

Not a further word was spoken and when we all reached the Town Hall everyone – however long they had been out of uniform – smartly and uniformly marched eyes right.

David Morrison and Mick Crawford didn’t need marketing slogans. They didn’t evade responsibility. They didn’t raise their voices.  They were just what the people in the ranks knew and respected –  leaders.