The Liberal Party had an opportunity to discuss women’s safety and send a message to workplaces across Australia over the past week, as allegations of sexual assault rocked the NSW state branch of the party.
But instead it seems some MPs preferred to dismiss and even silence questions on the issue.
Asked what message Prime Minister Scott Morrison would send to the two party members who have alleged they were sexually assaulted while working for senior politicians only to have their complaints ignored or dismissed, he said they should “contact the police“.
When Senator Michaelia Cash was asked by reporters for her response, she kept walking, offering few answers in the process. “I would say to the parties concerned that they should be referred to the appropriate authorities.”
Nick Greiner, the Liberal Party’s federal president has gone out of his way say that the new code of conduct and dispute resolution process the party will be implementing at the end of the year has nothing to do with the sexual assault allegations raised in the media this week.
“We spent almost no time, I think no time on the two examples that some of the media has run,” he’s quoted as saying. “They are not federal examples, they are historical and we have no knowledge of them.”
Felicity Menzies (pictured above) posted a comment on the page of the freshly minted member for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, asking for his response to the allegations. She says her comment was then deleted. A scan of Sharma’s page from the past week shows no mention from Menzies on addressing the safety of women.
(Dave Sharma’s office has unblocked Felicity Menzies since this piece was first published, and says her comments — as well as the MP’s response — are now visible on the page. Sharma’s office say the messages disappeared when their social media manager banned Menzies due to concerns over spam, which they concede was a mistake. See Sharma’s full response to Menzies at the end of this piece.
Facebook can get wild and it’s understandable that comments may from time to time be deleted.
But this comment from Menzies, a high profile diversity and inclusion consultant who lives in Sharma’s electorate, was very reasonable.
She asked how he’d be personally working to create a safer Australia for women, starting with responding to allegations of sexual assault made against members of the Liberal party.
She also asked how he’d commit to fostering a culture of gender equality, particularly as a father of girls.
When she received no response, Menzies followed up again. Later she realised the comment had been deleted and that she was then blocked from the MPs Facebook page.
She has since taken to LinkedIn to declare she has been silenced, where she has close to 25,000 followers, and where she’s already received dozens of comments in response.
— Felicity Menzies (@MenziesFelicity) August 3, 2019
This past week should have been an opportunity to get on the front door of addressing women’s safety in Australia. To deliver a no tolerance policy. To make clear the measure being taken to address the allegations. To make a stern statement that speaks to all workplaces in Australia.
It should have come from the Prime Minister, with the talking point trickling down to all MPs to share during their own media interviews and with their constituents, on their Facebook pages, at their community forums and elsewhere.
It’s not a time to silence women or dismiss questions about women’s safety.
And telling women to “contact the police” or touch base with “authorities” is not enough. As Liberal stalwart Kathryn Greiner said in response to the PM’s comments: “Every time I hear a prime minister or a premier or a senior cabinet minister say ‘This is terrible, these women should take their concerns to the police’, that is another way of silencing the women.”
Below is Dave Sharma’s response to Felicity Menzies.
Thanks for your message of concern about this important issue.
I take these recent allegations of sexual assault very seriously, and I have urged for their full investigation by law enforcement authorities, given their serious nature.
I agree that it is vital for all workplaces and institutions to have processes in place to address these issues, and I certainly have such mechanisms in place in my own office, and they also exist within the Parliament. Last year, the Prime Minister asked the Federal Executive of the Liberal Party to ensure there are rigorous and confidential processes to deal with concerns and complaints from Party members, and once that report is received I will be urging further action to implement its recommendations.
You also asked about the level of female representation from the Liberal Party in the parliament. This is an area where we need to do better, I agree, but I am pleased to be part of a new Liberal class of 2019 in which females account for half the new representatives, and which also includes the first openly gay Liberal female representative, the first Chinese-born representative, and the first Australian-Indian representative. The Parliament as a whole needs to do better in reflecting the diversity of Australia, but I believe we are moving in the right direction.