Sadly, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins is wrong. We are not having “a certain degree of political ‘me too'” currently, as she suggested yesterday. Unless your idea of #metoo is professional women, upon being told they’ll never work in this town again, recanting their revelations of assault, harassment and other misconduct.
One by one, the Liberal women who expressed dismay about bullying during the “Muppet Show” farce of a fortnight ago, have gone silent. Lucy Gichuhi — despite having nothing to lose, after getting a spot way down the South Australian senate ticket for being a blow-in — the soon-to-depart Julia Banks and newly promoted Linda Reynolds have all declined to give substance to their claims of various forms of misconduct by their own colleagues, suggesting that the issue will be addressed “internally”.
Reynolds even last night attacked “Labor women in this chamber” for “sadly” airing stories of bullying within the government. “It was extremely disappointing to see the Labor Party again making very cheap political capital out of this issue in this chamber,” Reynolds lamented.
It’s almost as if, one by one, they’d been called in and told to stop talking about misconduct. Or, in the case of Banks, had damaging internal allegations about her leaked to News Corp journalists.
Nor are the Liberals open to the idea of lifting their abysmal level of female representation via quotas, backed by Banks, former minister Craig Laundy, Sussan Ley and others. “I am a merit person,” Scott Morrison says. “I don’t believe quotas are the way you remove obstacles.” He thinks supporting female MPs is more important. “Support”, presumably, of the kind Gichuhi, Banks and Reynolds have received in recent days. Josh Frydenberg thinks “recruitment, retention and mentoring” are more important than quotas. This high-level hostility to quotas appears to reflect the views of the party’s precious, if diminishing, base.
The issue of quotas erupts periodically within Liberal ranks and has been since the time of John Howard, who airily dismissed the need for “the patronising use of quotas”. The number of women in Liberal parliamentary ranks has fallen noticeably since then, of course. Not that Howard thought the use of quotas for National party representation in Coalition ministries was “patronising”. In fact, he didn’t use the term “quotas” for Coalition ministry quotas, preferring terms like the “iron laws of arithmetic”.
That is, the Left has offensive, namby-pamby quotas, whereas the Right has thrusting, vigorous, “iron laws” — iron as hard as the rugged individualists who make up its parliamentary ranks.
The current debate is thus less a #metoo moment than another iteration of the Liberals’ continuing effort to wish away its lack of diversity. It needn’t be thus. The Liberals once led the way on female representation in politics, far ahead of hopelessly male-dominated and woman-hostile ALP.
Labor changed, in a process that took decades, but led to a substantial shift in female representation, not to mention Australia’s first female prime minister. The Liberals could catch up again, but it needs leaders who are prepared to actually do something about it rather than utter banalities and demand women shut up.