Less than two weeks ago the Liberal member for Higgins, Kelly O’Dwyer, gave birth to her second child, a baby boy called Edward.
Eight days later reports surfaced that her seat is under threat. According to Fairfax Media and News Corp, some members of the Liberal party are seeking to displace the Financial Services Minister and Peta Credlin is being touted as a candidate to challenge her.
It is abysmal, even for a political party with very little credibility in its treatment of women.
Credlin told News Corp she had not been “formally approached” but as The Australian‘s Peter Van Onselen noted: those word were carefully selected and they hardly put the reports to bed.
“Credlin could have snuffed out the story very quickly by using the same rhetoric she has in the past when ruling out interest in a political career. Whether publicly or privately she has been adamant that she has no ambitions in that direction. On this occasion, Credlin chose her words deliberately — she has not been “formally approached”, she said. The aim can only have been to kick the story along…”
The timing is breathtaking: it’s audacious, appalling and unlikely to be accidental.
Shame on Credlin for fuelling fire https://t.co/GBvJmHEe5m
— The Australian (@australian) April 23, 2017
Barely one week into a planned six weeks of maternity leave, O’Dwyer was targeted. She is reportedly being punished for her role in the coalition’s plans to amend superannuation laws. Reforms, which it ought to be noted, didn’t arise in the days since O’Dwyer was in the delivery suite.
They have been underway for years.
Wielding a knife a week after a frontbencher gives birth is toxic on a political level. On a human level, it is unforgivable.
On Friday, before the ructions around Higgins had been reported, O’Dwyer spoke about the intersection of her career with her young family.
“You can have a family and you can pursue a life of public service and you can do so at the highest levels,” she told Fairfax Media. “It is absolutely possible.”
It is true: as it is in any other field. As many women have shown, holding down a high powered, consuming, job while also raising small children is possible, but it requires a few things.
It requires support at home and understanding at work.
O’Dwyer has plenty of support at home, but it seems she isn’t being afforded much understanding or support from her work. Sadly this isn’t uncommon: pregnancy discrimination remains rife.
But as an elected representative O’Dwyer’s position is slightly different: she was elected at the last election with a healthy margin of 9.9% per cent. Even if she held her seat by a far smaller margin, like some of her peers do, she still wouldn’t deserve to be ousted. But the fact she convincingly held her seat is relevant.
O’Dwyer is one of only 13 women out of the government’s 76 members of the House of Representatives. If the Liberal Party is even remotely serious about meeting its target of 50% women in parliament by 2025, holding on to O’Dwyer is an attractive imperative.
The fact that even needs saying is alarming. Women in parliament aren’t just going to “pop up” from no where: to achieve greater representation a pipeline of women needs to be built, encouraged and supported.
If an experienced and accomplished politician like O’Dwyer is subject to reports she might be dumped days after leaving the delivery suite, the Liberal Party’s “women problem” is worse than first thought.
And at first thought, it was desperately dire.