Early this week, Victorian MP Julia Banks announced that she would not contest her seat at the next election and would be leaving Parliament citing last week’s dramatic leadership spill as “the final straw”.
Banks, a supporter of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said she would not endure the “bullying or intimidation” tactics of her party.
“The people of Chisholm know that I say what I think. They know that I will always call out bad behaviour and will not tolerate any form of bullying or intimidation,” she said.
“I have experienced this both from within my own party and from the Labor Party.
“In anticipating my critics saying I’m ‘playing the gender card’ — I say this. Women have suffered in silence for too long.”
It’s an opinion shared by others in the Liberal Party.
Speaking on Four Corners this week, former Small and Family Business Minister Craig Laundy said at least three female politicians had expressed anguish over bullying tactics employed by those calling for the spill.
“I’ve had three females — one senator and two members of the House — complain to me that they felt stood over in trying to sign a letter which had been asked for by the Prime Minister,” Mr Laundy said.
“And, you know, that’s clearly not acceptable. Those three women didn’t sign the letter, but the term they used was: ‘We were stood over.’”
Indeed, the former PM himself agreed that this was the case describing his ousting as a “deliberate insurgency”, instigated by party members– Dutton and Abbott– as well as some members of the media who “chose to deliberately attack the government from within.”
Earlier in the year, Liberal Senators Jane Hume and Linda Reynolds also told the ABC that the Liberal Party inarguably had a problem with its representation of women but it remained a “tough thing” convincing members to act.
“If we told you that there wasn’t a bit of a collective eye roll when we start talking about this, we’d be lying,” Senator Hume said.
“One of the tough things we have to do is convince our members and our colleagues that there is a business case for increasing the number of women in parliament.”
But following these statements and Julia Banks’ emphatic resignation, some Liberal MPs have sought to quash the criticism altogether– refuting the idea that the LNP has a problem with women.
Former Liberal Senator Helen Kroger, who now chairs the party’s women’s committee, told ABC Radio’s RN Breakfast program that while last week’s leadership spill was a “unique” and “difficult” event, the party did not have an entrenched culture of bullying.
“It is a rough and tough game, politics. There is no two ways about it. It is an environment which is not for everyone,” she said.
“I feel deeply for Julia Banks, and clearly she was very upset with the week that she experienced … but politics is a career not for everyone — that’s the bottom line.”
Victorian Liberal President Michael Kroger, dismissed the claims as “scuttlebutt, innuendo, rumour” and said “99 per cent of it is all rubbish”.
Backbench MP Craig Kelly also suggested that Banks was overreacting to typical, every day political conduct .“I mediate that you’ve purchased to roll with the punches in this sport,” Kelly told Sky News.“We’re political parties. It’s a tough-and-tumble sport.”
The subtext of this narrative from the Liberal Party is glaringly obvious, it’s almost funny. Politics is a “rough, tough, sport” that women are not cut out for. Julia Banks wasn’t bullied, she was weak.
But let’s be clear: This is not remotely close to the truth.
Politics isn’t an easy career path. It requires a huge amount of resilience, tenacity and grit. All of which, Julia Banks has in spades. What she also has–which some of her colleagues seem to be missing altogether–is conviction.
A party which perpetually struggles to attract women to its ranks is also unable to keep the few it has in Parliament. Is that not worth some analysis?
Nine’s political editor Chris Uhlman summed it up perfectly this week. “Perhaps some of the men who so crave power in here should get their heads around this: You can’t win elections if you alienate half of the voting population.”