Dai Le: My experience in politics has been enabling, not empowering

Dai Le: My experience in politics has been enabling, not empowering

Dai Le
Dai Le has had plenty of experience in politics. She shares her thoughts on women’s representation in politics, and more on the issue of bullying. Dai is also a judge on the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards.

The issue of bullying and intimidation has been intertwined with the lack of female representation in Parliament, in particular the Federal Liberal Party.

Since the leadership spill, we have seen much on the two issues reported. We’ve seen this with the sudden resignation of Julia Banks MP from Parliament where she cites “cultural and gender bias, bullying and intimidation” of women in politics.

Both topics are powerfully valid from my own personal experience as a woman in politics. But I would like to tackle each facet individually, as they both deserve in-depth analysis.

Women’s representation in Parliament

I have been heartened to hear loud discussions on the topic of women’s representation in Parliament following the Federal Liberal Party leadership spill.

As a woman from a non-English speaking background, I thought it would take another decade or two before political parties moved away from just paying lip service on the importance of diverse representation to actually implementing initiatives that would force change.  However, after spending many years driving the conversation and initiatives for diversity in leadership, I find it would need more than a few good men stepping up the ante, or women, to shift the dial.

Andrew Bragg, reported to be the front runner for the Liberal Party blue ribbon seat of Wentworth, posted on social media saying “I believe the Liberal Party should preselect a woman and my withdrawal can pave the way”.

His believe that they should preselect a woman didn’t match up to the reality of what happened, with Dave Sharma winning selection on Thursday night. Nevertheless, Bragg’s decision was a breath of fresh air.

Another Liberal Federal MP joined Bragg in the message of having more women, and came out talking about short term measures to address the lack of women in the Liberal party.

Craig Laundy, MP for Reid, alluded to a quota system as a short-term measure to see an increase in women’s representation in the elected representatives of the Liberal Party. Currently, there are just 18 women out of the 84 Liberal MPs and senators in the Federal Parliament. In NSW, there are just 11 women out of 49 Liberal MPs.

So will all these discussions and brouhaha force a shift in the representation of women in our Federal and State Parliaments?  Will we see the needle shift? I doubt it.

Because first, the talent pool is minimal. Second, of the 51 per cent of women who make up the population, a large proportion are from ethnic backgrounds, and not enough of them are in the playing field. Thirdly, the leadership pipeline of most institutions are often lined with young, ambitious and power-hungry alpha males.

There are not many women in the leadership pipelines of major political parties and major institutions. I speak from the experience of talking to many major organisations over the years who have bemoaned the lack of diversity in their own pipeline.

An enabling experience

As an Asian woman who has traversed Liberal Party politics, I can personally say the experience has been enabling, not empowering. Enabling, because it has enabled me to be a stronger person, to withstand robust and aggressive behaviour and tactics; it has enabled me to choose. It has enabled me to take a lead from a different platform and it has enabled me to have a voice.

I have often said that things will only change if we reach a tipping point.  If there were genuine and diverse representations in political parties, we will see a shift in the way politics is played.

Bullying and Intimidation in Parliament

The current bullying and intimidation discussion about Federal politics seems to focus mainly on the impact it has on women.

Naturally, with Julia Banks’ very public reasoning for quitting Parliament, the spotlight was on bullying. But we must not forget that bullying and intimidation affects both men and women.

I have heard stories of women bullying women, men bullying women, and men bullying men. And often, bullying and intimidation is not about the ‘robustness’ of politics (the screaming, the yelling and calling of names) but the less overt behaviour such as the tone, the use of language, and the other underhanded ways of behaving that often we don’t see, and can find hard to report. It has been brought to my attention that at a recent Labor party branch meeting, the men in the branch intimidated and bullied a young woman bringing her to tears.

A few years back, I grappled internally when I was intimidated and bullied while on Council. I didn’t know if I should report the behaviour, and I felt that as a woman in politics, I should just take it on the chin. But then I asked myself, was I allowing the bullying behaviour to continue if I didn’t speak up?

I reported to the Office of Local Government the bullying and intimidation behaviour. Prior to reporting to the Office of Local Government, I had reported a code of conduct and an independent assessor reviewed my complaint and found that the male had breached the code of conduct and provided the clause below:

  • clause 3.1 e) in that his remarks were likely to “…cause, comprise, or involve intimidation, harassment or verbal abuse;”
  • clause 3.3 in that by his conduct he failed to treat others (Councillor Le) with respect at all times;

I asked the Office of Local Government what their response was.

I wrote: “In light of the issue about encouraging more women’s participation in local government, I hope that this case will give your office a catalyst to develop programs for men like (the councillor in question) in how to manage their anger, behaviour and conduct in public office.  As a publicly funded office, I believe it is in the best interest of organisations like the OLG to show initiatives in developing such programs.  I would be very willing to facilitate and put the OLG in touch with appropriate programs in the market place.”

The OLG did not respond. I also reported the matter to the NSW Liberal Party and nothing was done either.

I was expelled from the Liberal Party prior to the September 2016 Local Government Election in NSW. I ended up running as independent for the Mayorship for Fairfield City Council. While I didn’t win the Mayorship, I enabled another independent to win the Mayorship of Fairfield City Council.  It was the first time in the history of Fairfield City Council, that the people elected an Independent Mayor over either Labor or Liberal Mayor.

I welcome the discussion on female representation and I welcome the discussion on bullying and intimidation. It all starts with a conversation. But so much more needs to be done to shift the culture and the mindset of our current leaders to transform the hundred-year-old institutions we have inherited.

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