Well aside from the Liberal Party’s leadership problem and its energy policy problem and its polling problem, there’s also the recently contested issue of a “woman problem” or, as the The Conversation neatly puts it, a “man problem”.
Liberal MP for Chisholm Julia Banks’ resignation citing bullying and intimidation this week has set off a domino effect: mostly of people denying the problem or telling her to suck it up. Her statement echoed the likes of Linda Reynolds who said she did not recognise her party, its values and “the bullying and intimidation that has gone on” in the leadership spill push by Peter Dutton and his conservative camp, not to mention commentary suggesting Julie Bishop was hard done by.
Sky News’ Laura Jayes also tweeted about the alleged bullying, noting it was widely known that “some Liberal MPs were mercilessly bulled into showing their ballot papers to colleagues” with future pre-selection on the line if they refused.
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But the question of intimidation of women in the Liberal Party is a difficult topic to draw those precise women on. Speak out, and you’re instantly fielding attacks. So we asked two experienced female politicians with difference perspectives: how big is the general problem of bullying in politics and what can be done?
Cathy McGowan: current independent member for Indi
Julia [Banks] is a woman of extraordinary courage, [this is a] lesson for all our workplaces. If you’re not safe in your workplace, have the discussion with the people you’re responsible to and then leave. It would had have been terrible if she had been pressured into staying. That’s a really important message — if your workplace is not working out, you should leave.
Everyone is jumping up and down and saying it’s bad that she’s going, but I say good on her.
I don’t think this should stop women entering politics though. I think you should know your “why” or your motivation. To many women I say, come and work in my office and see if that’s what you really want. My advice for women is stand as an independent and win a country seat. I don’t get bullied.
I think most of us can cope with people behaving badly, you only need to be part of any community group or netball group to know what that looks like, you get through life and learn to work around it. Or you know your boundaries and figure out when to leave.
Meredith Burgmann: former president of the NSW Legislative Council
I think right now it’s a bunch of blokes who want to continue behaving badly, and women have to too because that’s their party culture. Women are such a tiny percentage — just over 20%. There aren’t enough women there to threaten anyone or to make it clear you can’t behave in a certain way. The Labor Party are now 48% and that is critical mass, so men recognise they can’t behave that way without consequences.
Bullying can only happen from your own. The other side is pretty irrelevant, that’s ritual, and it’s not terribly distressing but it’s only when your own side piles on that you can feel bullied. There were occasions when I felt bullied by my leadership which was a male leadership. I was in parliament 30 years ago and the leadership was very male.
Another more controversial view I believe is that the formalised factions in the Labor Party make for a more civilised discourse because the rules are known. There are formal factions, what is expected of you, what you can or cannot do. No one in the right would have dreamt of approaching me if there was a vote on. It wouldn’t have happened. When I talk to women’s groups, I tell them to fight for formal rules, fight for there to be written rules. If there are only unwritten rules, only the men know them.
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