It was the women panellists and audience members on the ABC’s Q+A program on Monday night that held the government to account over its own integrity and treatment of women.
Writer and commentator Jane Caro, former Labor MP Emma Husar and Independent MP Helen Haines appeared on the program on Monday alongside Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce, wasting no time as they each called out the double standards faced by women in parliament.
Husar, who left politics in 2018 after facing allegations of misconduct that were later proven to be unsupported, said her experiences as a woman in parliament were held to a different set of standards than men who had faced similar allegations.
She said if senior Liberal politicians Alan Tudge and Christian Porter, as well as the Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce, had risen to their senior leadership positions due to “meritorious selection”, then we have a problem.
Husar said the airing of last week’s Four Corners episode was “completely traumatic” and it was “incredibly galling to watch these men continue in their jobs, to continue to go forward and lead our country”.
“Mine was all over innuendo and there was a man who was wielding that agenda because I’d fired him,” she said. “A man that felt privileged, that felt like he was entitled to his job even though he was underperforming.”
Husar said the events of 2018 have had lasting ramifications on her life and she has not worked since.
“I’m probably not ready to talk about the impact it’s had on my mental health,” she shared.
“It was completely unjust, what I went through. I had media cameras parked out the front of my house for weeks on end while I had young children inside.
“I was chased across my front lawn with a camera and a mic shoved in my face, asking if I was a slut and if I was Sharon Stone.
“I was the subject of loads and loads of ridicule and trolling and horrendous threats and intimidation online.”
Jane Caro said that she rarely sees men who behave badly in parliament, or in other professional settings, held to account for their actions, especially when there is a woman involved in the situation. She referenced sexual misconduct whistle-blower,and former Liberal staffer Rachelle Miller, who has lost a contract for a new job allegedly because of her role in last week’s Four Corners.
“It’s always the woman who ends up trashed. Here’s Emma (Husar), hasn’t worked since she left. Here’s Rachelle, losing the job she thought she had,” Caro said.“Unfortunately it seems to always be the woman that pays the price.”
“I’ve heard so often people say ‘she’s going to ruin his career’ – I’m yet to see many men’s careers that have actually been ruined. I’ve seen a hell of a lot of women who’ve had to leave the country, get other jobs, whose whole working life and ambition has been ruined.”
Helen Haines agreed, telling Barnaby Joyce that relationships in the workplace are not about moral judgments.
“It’s not about making a moral judgement; this is about a workplace. This is about workplace standards. I think the point Jane makes is a very reasonable one,” Haines said. “Whichever way you look at it, things can go awry in such a situation and we need to create a workplace where we actually get on with the job we are meant to be doing.”
“We need some structural mechanisms to make sure we have a safe workplace, that’s fundamental. There should never be sexual harassment that goes unchecked. But likewise, if as you say Barnaby, there is mutual attraction… then make the right steps.”
Meanwhile, two young female audience members asked some tough questions of Barnaby Joyce, about the Nationals’ lack of support for farmers, and their continued interests in mining.
“How can you reconcile calling yourself and your party “for the farmers” while continuing to sell out current and future farming generations interests to mining conglomerates?” Bree Smith asked.
Joyce talked around the question, without addressing Bree’s concerns. That wasn’t good enough for her.
“We’re talking about the Nationals Party, why are you advocating for fossil fuels when it’s detrimental to farming as an industry?” she pressed. “You’re for the farmers”.
“How can you reconcile calling yourself and your party “for the farmers” while continuing to sell out current and future farming generations interests to mining conglomerates?” #QandA pic.twitter.com/JF6b31sxOC— QandA (@QandA) November 16, 2020
Again, Joyce seemed to have no sufficient answer – leaving it to Helen Haines, who also represents farmers and a regional community, to step in.
“What I hear from my community is that they are at the forefront of climate change. It’s famers who are telling me,” Haines said. “We know that farmers have the most to lose by inaction on climate change.”
She said she wanted farmers and regional and rural communities to be able to embrace the renewable energy boom that is coming, referencing her proposed legislation, called the Local Power Plan.
“What I want to see is that rural and regional Australia finally have the opportunity to harness this as the greatest new income stream that they’ve ever seen before.”