Australia’s political system is gaining a reputation for leaving a trail of damaged women in its wake. What will it take to finally change the ‘Boy’s Club’ culture?
The Australian political press is once again salivating over yet another sex scandal with the release of former Liberal MP Julia Banks’ book ‘Power Play’.
Banks alleges that she was hit on by a Senior Cabinet Minister by way of inappropriate touching in the Prime Ministers wing and surrounded by other MPs.
“… he put his hand on my knee and ran it up my leg, on the upper part of my leg.”
Clearly not desiring a date with defamation proceedings, Banks has thus far refrained from spilling her guts on which member has the wandering hands.
But is anyone really surprised at this revelation?
Bear in mind this is a caucus full of members with untarnished reputations like those of Christian Porter, Alan Tudge, and Andrew Laming to name a few.
Of course this isn’t the first time we have heard the tales of sexism, sexual harassment, boy’s clubs, and ’swinging-dicks’, we have come to expect more of the same every time a pollie picks up a writers pen.
Well almost every time.
We don’t have the same expectation when the memoir of a male member ends up in a bookshop window. From the fella’s we expect tales of factional dealing, skulduggery and international diplomacy, not wandering hands and leering glances. I wonder why that is, and is it a reflection on politics, the press, or the general public?
While this behaviour is appalling, it is only serving as a distraction to the root of the problem, and that is the lack of respect for female MP’s from all sides of parliament.
When Julia Banks announced she was leaving the Liberal Party to sit on the cross-bench it was followed immediately by Prime Minister Morrison making statements regarding Banks going through a tough time and being under a lot of pressure and that his concerns were for her well-being. Painting the portrait of a ‘damsel in distress’.
So concerned for Banks’ mental health were the Liberal’s, Josh Frydenberg was sent to bash on her door like a demented abuser smashing clenched fists on a locked bedroom or bathroom door.
Frydenberg’s mission was to coerce Banks into guaranteeing confidence and supply in parliament. Unbeknownst to her at first, Banks’ responses to the enraged Deputy Leader of her former Party were being broadcast nationwide courtesy of Sky News.
Now I’m not a lawyer but I wonder about the legality of Frydenberg’s actions. My understanding is that a conversation cannot be recorded without consent. I’m pretty sure that having covertly acquired and selective snippets of a conversation broadcast nationally would count as an unapproved recording. If not it bloody well should.
This ugly episode only serves to confirm that Frydenberg’s growing list of failures are not restricted to his catastrophic time as Treasurer. They appear to run much deeper.
Julia Banks has a lot to say about allegations of campaign of ‘backgrounding’ waged by Morrison’s office to destroy her credibility and reputation. Tragically this is not the first time we have heard of a Party or Leaders office backgrounding against a member of their own Party.
Most would be familiar with the former Member for Lindsay Emma Husar.
Husar was the Labor Party legend who won a tough campaign in Sydney’s West against the Liberal’s Fiona Scott, the member Tony Abbott told the world had ‘sex-appeal’.
It was an unexpected victory and within NSW Labor this should have seen champagne corks popping, instead it soon saw the NSW Right sharpening knives.
Husar was unpolished, untamed and unstoppable, quickly becoming one of Labor’s most popular MP’s due to her authenticity. Unfortunately though, within Labor ranks there were those eager to take her spot. Soon enough a disgruntled staff member and a bitter dispute in Family Court with an ex-husband provided an opportunity to see those sharpened knives put to use.
While allegations of the bullying of staff and the headline-grabbing accusations of ‘Basic Instinct’ style flashing in a male colleagues office were enthralling readers of tabloids and stirring up a storm on social media, behind the scenes there were other sinister schemes afoot.
A lot of backgrounding targeting the character of Emma Husar was occurring which most working in parliament were very much aware of, myself included.
At the time Husar was being slammed in the press and many, particularly on social media, were leaping to her defence. There was so much information regarding Husar I can’t remember most of what I heard however, there was one piece of backgrounding circulated I do remember vividly as it was quite disturbing.
The backgrounding set new standards for lack of credibility and concerned Husar’s ongoing case against her perpetrator ex-husband. It was extremely personal, highly inflammatory, incredibly damaging and completely without evidence of any kind. The objective of this subversive backgrounding appeared to me to be to ensure those who were aware of the information would not publicly or privately defend Husar. Given the nature of the backgrounding most I knew, were of the belief that this backgrounding originated from the Leaders office. Certainly nothing came from the Leader’s office to discredit what was widely circulated backgrounding throughout parliament.
Labor’s leader at the time, Bill Shorten, was publicly supporting Husar through the ordeal. Behind the scenes however the Party he led threw her under the bus and his office seemingly continued to background against her. To this day the Party refuses to stand by Emma Husar despite her level of public support.
Sometimes spectacularly failing women appears to have bipartisan support.
If only there was a Party that was ‘doing politics differently’…
Most of the current Greens Senators actively participated in the disgraceful and public humiliation campaign waged by the Greens against Lee Rhiannon for having the gall to stand by her Party’s Education policy and not bow to the wishes of the Liberal Party as her colleagues desired.
While Husar and Banks may have been betrayed by their Party it may come as a small comfort to know that they probably weren’t referred to as ‘fat hairy lesbians’ or locked out of a meeting room in their leaders office just because they were women. This kind of neanderthal sexism was reserved for the women of the Victorian Greens under their former Victorian Leader Greg Barber, a leader whom Adam Bandt supported wholeheartedly and was the brother-in-law of former Leader Richard Di Natale.
There is an overdue public conversation on the way parliament and Australian political parties treat women. Some were hopeful it would commence with the ‘Enough Is Enough’ movement and campaign. Unfortunately the complete lack of urgency concerning the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in one of Morrison’s Ministerial offices has proven otherwise.
Brittany Higgin’s spoke publicly of the backgrounding against her and her partner David Shiraz.
Backgrounding was circulated that as an ex-staffer, Shiraz was wielding his girlfriend Brittany’s rape as some form of retribution. Brittany and David have had much of the publics support since her case came to light, so when they called the backgrounding out publicly, the media supported them and it has seemingly stopped.
Probably handy that David was both a bloke and a former press-gallery alumni.
While it’s great that this behaviour is starting to be called out more often, I’m not waiting and hoping for yet another female MP ‘with the guts’ to blow the whistle.
What I’m waiting for is a leader with the integrity to smash the political system and deliver a parliament that is truly representative.
I’m not holding my breath though.