Adem Somyurek Dan Andrews
Adem Somyurek

Dan Andrews’ decision to reinstate disgraced former minister Adem Somyurek sends a troubling message to Australian women. When a woman comes forward to report misconduct, even when she is found to be truthful, her word is never enough and she is never enough.

The inclusion of Adem Somyurek, member for the Southeastern Metropolitan Region, in Victoria’s first gender-equal cabinet is leaving many shaking their heads, especially those who worked on his portfolios in the Victorian Public Service. It’s difficult to forget Somyurek’s poor conduct during his albeit short time as minister for small business, innovation and trade.

In 2015, Somyurek was stood down after a three-month-long investigation where former Office of Police Integrity director Michael Strong found that he had engaged in physical contact with a female staffer, which diminished her confidence in her personal safety and caused her distress.

Defending his decision to reinstate Somyurek, Andrews said that Somyurek is a “better man than he’s ever been”. Andrews did not provide evidence or examples of how he came to such a conclusion. Should the Victorian people simply take Andrews’ word that Somyurek is a changed man?

Andrews talks a big game: anti-bullying, ending family violence and violence against women, supporting gender equality. Andrews has done his fair share of call-outs. His most recent target was the Greens and their culture and treatment of women. Andrews said “I will not sit down, never sit down and negotiate with people who refuse to call out denigration of women.” The hypocrisy and double standard are glaring. Reinstating Somyurek suggests there has been no fundamental culture shift within the ALP. The Andrews government is saying all the right things without following through.

Perhaps what is most disappointing is that we hold men in positions of power to such a low standard. The bar is now so low that to be selected for the Victorian cabinet you only need to be a “better man” than the last time you were found to have engaged in inappropriate conduct towards a female staffer. As a state that wants to move the needle on gender equity and has the capacity and resources to do so, we need to be setting our sights much higher.

Liz Harding is a former Victorian Public Service employee who now lives and works in Seattle.