There is rarely a dull moment in Australian politics right now. Wednesday’s most jaw-dropping spectacle came in the form of a fiery debate in Senate Estimates between the employment minister Michaelia Cash and Labor senator Doug Cameron.
When Cameron asked which office her new chief of staff came from, Cash responded that she didn’t like the line of questioning.
Michaelia Cash threatens to name "every young women in Bill Shorten's office" that she's heard rumours about.
Labor senator Doug Cameron tells her to take what the young people call a "chill pill". #estimates pic.twitter.com/bfNXhfM60E
— Alice Workman (@workmanalice) February 27, 2018
She warned it was a dangerous path and threatened to name “every young woman in Bill Shorten’s office” about whom “rumours abound”.
“If you want to start discussing staff matters, be very, very careful. I am happy to name every young woman in Mr Shorten’s office about which rumours in this place abound. If you want to go down this path today I. Will. Do it. Do you want me to start naming them? For Mr Shorten to come out and deny any of the rumours that have been circulating in this building for many, many years. Dangerous path to go down, and you know it.”
It was an extraordinary response and really does need to be watched to be believed.
The comments were woefully sexist, vicious, unhelpful and wildly controversial.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) February 28, 2018
Given the Prime Minister’s own recent commitment to improving parliament as a place of employment for women, following the unmitigated debacle of Barnaby Joyce’s demise as deputy PM, it’s astonishing she tabled them.
Unsurprisingly Cash’s comments have caused quite the stir.
Labor's deputy leader Tanya Plibersek says Michaelia Cash's comments were "sexist, ghastly, a 1950s throw back" and her offer to withdraw the remarks were "mealy mouthed & weasel worded".
— Stephanie Peatling (@srpeatling) February 28, 2018
Shortly afterwards Senator Penny Wong entered the room and demanded an apology.
— Tom McIlroy (@TomMcIlroy) February 28, 2018
“It can’t be allowed to stand. I think it is disgraceful and sexist and it is impugning of the character of various staff. I would ask the minister to withdraw.”
Initially Cash dug in saying she didn’t agree with Wong’s description of the comments, suggesting that merely mentioning rumours was not impugning anyone’s character.
Michaelia Cash threatened to name young women "rumoured" about in Bill Shorten's office. Penny Wong heard, walked straight into the committee, and dropped a mic. 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/g5jWrVUryx
— Alice Workman (@workmanalice) February 28, 2018
Wong came back.
“… you chose instead to make what were frankly disgraceful remarks impugning the character of staff working for the leader of the opposition. You should withdraw that. And if you don’t, we will have to deal with it on the floor of the Senate.”
At that point Cash relented. “If anyone has been offended by my remarks, I withdraw.”
Hardly a complete or comprehensive apology.
— Shorten_Suite 👊 (@Shorten_Suite) February 28, 2018
It is unclear exactly what, or whom, Cash was referring to. A number of high profile political journalists have commented publicly today that they aren’t aware of any such rumours.
Without venturing any further details Cash’s comments amount to an unjustified smear against young female staffers, during a time where the treatment of women in the political offices is front and centre.
Hey PM, or Minister for Women, might have been nice to start #qt by repudiating the shameful conduct of Minister Cash.
— Andrew Giles MP (@andrewjgiles) February 28, 2018
During Question Time on Wednesday the Prime Minister was asked to rebuke his minister for the comments. It’s hard to overlook the fact this woeful contribution to Australian politics was delivered by the former Minister for Women, no less.