Julia Banks women's caucus parliament
(Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Julia Banks has a lucky suit. She wore it when seeking preselection for the division of Chisolm and again on the night of her electoral win. Maybe it was out for cleaning when she claimed that she could live on the Newstart Allowance of $40 a day; these comments from the “sensible centre” were not well received.

Perhaps it was pressed in preparation for her “wide-ranging” interview published last Sunday in The Guardian. Therein, we learn of Banks’ lucky suit, and of her “extraordinary” contributions to Australian political life, or something. Political editor Katharine Murphy is one of many reputable local journalists so apparently surprised by this unsurprising wad of neoliberalism, there’s got to be some magic in Banks’ pantsuit.

FFS and, indeed, really. I understand that the parliamentary iteration of Me Too may be the source of elation to ladies who pay no heed to Canberra. I understand that parliamentarians such as Sarah Hanson-Young and Richard Di Natale may make strategic re-use of Julia Gillard’s “misogyny” speech. I do not understand, even a bit, why otherwise sane analysts of all genders are not merely willing but positively thrilled to tie their capacity for thought up in some quasi-feminist ribbon to “celebrate” the “empowerment” of a few mediocre sacks of policy.

Surely, those who have served hard time in the gallery know by now that any bipartisan cause is a lost one. Surely, a writer of Murphy’s sagacity knows that the fact of gender does not eclipse the fact of work done in parliament. Surely, at some point, my gender will be acknowledged as one just as capable of faithful service to the 1% of the 1%.

I do not doubt the intelligence of writers like Murphy or the rarely ruffled Julia Baird. I do suspect, however, that the sense they may have in their own careers of the potential for ascent may have shot them past the troposphere. These are equable writers now gasping for air.

Sarah Hanson-Young may call for a women’s caucus, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the media class must join her. I’d say that observers like Baird and Murphy are not altogether convinced by supply-side economic prescriptions, yet they find themselves unable to resist belief in trickle-down gender equality.

“The recruitment of people like Julia Banks is exactly what Australian politics needs,” wrote Murphy in a piece last August. The political editor fails to explain why people like Julia Banks are needed. She chooses to “cut a long story short” and not make an argument for the recruitment of a market-friendly opponent of welfare like Banks. The argument that is beyond reproach in left-liberal press now no longer needs to be made. To wit: we need more women in positions of political leadership.

No. As Banks and so many others have shown, one can be simultaneously female and not much chop. To argue for the “inclusion” of a woman is not, at all, to argue for policy that is not inimical to women. This case is so effing obvious, thanks to the Baroness Thatcher, I feel embarrassed making it. But, I do think many of our writers and broadcasters could choose to be just a little embarrassed by their uncritical enthusiasm for Girls Gone Wild in Parliament, or whatever we’re calling this bipartisan pyjama party.

Not only do I have little in common politically with Banks and her magical suit, my fellows have little to gain from her neoliberal unconcern for the many. She is a former businessperson who believes her assets and CV were solely gained by hard work and that those who do not have these things were simply not trying hard enough. This view has all the contours of sexism. It is structurally identical to sexism. It’s no better than sexism for despising the poor instead of the female.

Murphy writes that modern “political movements hampered by a reflexive stone-age sensibility when it comes to respecting the talents of women”. Again, the magic Banks pants must be at play here. That a journalist of Murphy’s great experience can claim that it is a lack of respect for women’s talent that hinders modern political movements is, frankly, incredible.

Women will not redeem democracy and democracy was not hampered by anything with its origins in the “stone age”, not an era particularly known for institutionalised sexism, or institutionalised anything. Women are not a civilising influence and nor is their emergence in institutions from which they were hitherto excluded destined to improve those institutions.

Modern political movements are hampered by a reflexive neoliberal sensibility when it comes to respecting the flourishing of all people.

Peter Fray

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