The former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spent an hour on television on Thursday evening for a special episode of the ABC’s Q&A program.
Much attention has been paid to his methodical naming and shaming of the nine MPs, cabinet members included, who ousted him from the leadership position.
Malcolm Turnbull says he can't answer why he isn't prime minister anymore #qanda
He says only Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott, Greg Hunt, Mathias Cormann can answer that.
— Alice Workman (@workmanalice) November 8, 2018
But it was his response to a question about women in politics that caught my attention.
A woman called Millie Gillard asked the former PM this:
“Politics is an aggressive and competitive environment, and numerous women have survived it, however behaviour such as that exhibited during the recent leadership spill emphasise the challenges that women in politics face.
What is your perspective on the treatment of women in federal politics, specifically the treatment of Julia Banks and Julie Bishop during the leadership spill, and how do you propose it improves for future female politicians?”
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) November 8, 2018
He was unequivocal in his response.
“I believe the culture in parliament is not sufficiently respectful of women,” he began. “As someone who came in from the corporate world, it’s decades out of date. It’s like stepping into an office in the 80s. It’s very very blokey and insufficiently respectful of women and that’s something just about every woman in parliament could confirm in one way or another.”
It’s hard to dispute but am I alone in wishing this cultural deficiency had been identified and called out when Turnbull was actually in a position to do something about it?
Turnbull proceeded to explain that it was his desire for women to be treated respectfully that prompted him to introduce the “bonk ban”, forbidding ministers from having sexual relations with staff members, in the wake of Barnaby Joyce’s extra-curricular activities.
“At its foundation, that’s why I introduced the bonking ban which is something you think you wouldn’t need – but what I set out to do was make sure parliament as a workplace was respecting women in the way a modern workplace is expected to.
To Turnbull’s credit, he made this very statement back in February when he introduced the ban. But aside from that move, which was prompted by a political scandal embroiling his government rather than a spontaneous desire to improve the conditions for women in politics, what other action was taken to boost the number of women in parliament?
To address this “blokey” culture? To elevate the respectful treatment of women?
I’m all for calling a spade a spade and in 2018 it’s harder than ever to deny the very real barriers and disincentives that prevent women from pursuing careers in politics. In this regard the fact Turnbull openly named the problem is obviously preferable to pretending that parliament is a nirvana of equality and respect. But far more preferable is tangible action.
Actual steps taken to fix the problem. Nothing has ever changed for women – in business or politics – anywhere in the world without there being a concerted effort and plan to cultivate change. Quotas. Targets. Programs. Gender equal cabinets.
Earlier this week the UK PM Theresa May delivered a speech on this very topic. A speech alone doesn’t spell change but it signals a commitment to making change.
If only Turnbull had signalled that commitment when he was in office.