Bullying of women in the Liberal party won't help boost numbers

Bullying in the Liberal party & the real deterrent for women

women in the liberal party
If anyone in the Liberal Party seriously believed the recent leadership spill would create anything like clear air for the new Prime Minister they were mistaken. Badly.

Scott Morrison isn’t two weeks into the new role and to describe the party he’s leading as being in turmoil is an understatement.

The bruises inflicted from the spill aren’t fading: the ugly truth about the machinations leading to the ousting of Malcolm Turnbull have been revealed as both chaotic and cruel. The treatment of women has emerged as particularly toxic.

Last week Liberal MP Julia Banks quite boldly announced her intention to resign and cited the bullying and intimidation she faced as a key reason for her exit.

On Monday Liberal senator Lucy Gichuhi told ABC’s RN she will use parliamentary privilege to name those inside the Liberal Party who bullied and intimidated her.

She said the bullying she witnessed had politicians in tears.

“I’m talking about senators and ministers who were in tears because they were at the crossroads where they could not choose, especially the ones from Victoria went through a very, very rough time because they were holding a carrot … like this is your preselection — ‘hey you do this, we do that’,” she said. “One senator had to be told that on your marking the ballot paper you show another senator. What kind of workplace is that?”

On ABC’s 7.30 program on Monday, the minister for women, Kelly O’Dwyer confirmed to host Leigh Sales that bullying did take place in the spill.

“I’ve had conversations with many members of parliament, both male and female, and it is clear to me that people were subject to threats and intimidation. And bullying.”

When Sales asked her to comment on the sentiment expressed by some Liberals in relation to Julia Banks that she ought to accept the ‘rough and tumble’ of politics O’Dwyer pulled no punches.

“Well, frankly, I’m a bit disgusted by that. Julia Banks is no petal. She’s no snowflake. And no princess.

“She’s someone who has had a stellar legal career, before coming into the parliament and was the only woman and the only member of the Government to actually win a seat off Labor at the last federal election.

There’s no question, that politics can be robust. Just as there’s no question that other careers can be robust. If you play Australian Rules football, it’s a robust sport, but we do not say it is at all acceptable for someone to punch him in the head behind play.”

It is clear that in parliament there has been a lot of punching from behind and the past six months alone provide a compelling case for why political careers are hardly beckoning more women.

Consider Sarah Hanson-Young. Or Emma Hussar. Or Julie Bishop. Or Julia Banks. And ask yourself this: Why would intelligent, talented and committed women dedicate their professional lives to a career in politics? It’s increasingly difficult to answer which presents a cataclysmic dilemma that perpetuates the cycle.

It is not a silver lining because it doesn’t detract from its detrimental impact but the fact women are speaking out – publicly – about the way they’re being treated means it cannot be as readily diminished or swept aside. The numbers don’t lie and the number of women in Canberra is far too small, particularly in the Liberal party.

It is difficult to imagine they will fare well with female voters when we next attend an election though whether that proves to be instructive is anyone’s guess.

It is clearer than ever before that a lack of merit has absolutely nothing to do with the lack of women represented and a lot more to do with the way women are treated. It’s not the rough and tumble women can’t face – from this vantage point it’s the relentless and often fruitless battle just to be treated with the same respect as male colleagues that’s the real deterrent.

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