Often, when good women call out or are subject to bad behaviour, the reprisals, backlash and commentary portrays them as the bad ones – the liar, the troublemaker, the emotionally unstable or weak, or someone who should be silenced …” Julia Banks, former Liberal, now Independent MP for Chisholm.
Julia Banks’ resignation speech is eerily prophetic. Spooky. In a flash, this week, a pack of Liberal women call her a liar – in effect. Worse, at least one of the women, Senator Linda Reynolds, is a victim of political bullying herself. So she says – but she’s happy for ScoMo to sort it all out. Naturally, he’ll pass it all on to an “independent” review.
In September, he told the party room the federal executive “would consider how they will take steps to ensure there is a rigorous and confidential process to deal with concerns and complaints from party members, including members of parliament”.
But he’s also declined to take any responsibility for the bullying, a dead give away, or, reports Fairfax’s Latika Bourke, to back allegations of bullying against female MPs during the leadership spill. His cop-out, his abdication of any kind of leadership, is that “both men and women were subjected to intense pressure during the episode”.
Even more alarming, is the way Reynolds quickly finds another MP to undermine Banks’ testimony with disinformation, an evergreen propaganda technique which can only further weaken our democracy.
Banks doesn’t know what she’s talking about snipes MP for Corangamite, Sarah Henderson. “In my view, being lobbied for votes does not constitute bullying,”
Henderson deploys the classic bully technique of invalidating the victim’s testimony by misrepresentation and selective misquotation.
“I can’t walk in anyone else’s shoes; I can only speak about my experience. But I can certainly say that being lobbied for votes is an integral part of a political process and it does not constitute bullying.”
No, Sarah. What Banks has trouble with is “supposed colleagues, “sniping” behind her back, spreading malicious rumours and then trying to shut her up by hustling her out of their way with an all-expenses-paid posting to New York. She accuses supporters of Victorian Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger of backgrounding against her.
“There was … backgrounding that I was an emotional wreck.”
Julia’s experiences deserve to be shared. There is a truth in her simple testimony that the bullies just cannot explain away and a Prime Minister exposed as a gutless wonder.
“The Liberal Party can be proud of its record on women,” Reynolds insists in The Australian. “Reform may be slow but it’s solid,” she claims in a whopper that monsters all credibility. It’s pernicious, too, with its Trump-like, duplicity- its utter contempt for truth. First fake news, now fake views. But how easily are we seduced?
Oddly, only last August, at the time of Turnbull’s knifing, Reynolds was “deeply saddened and distressed”.
The behaviour of some had “no place in [her] party or this chamber”. By contrast, she notes, “I greatly respect my friend and colleague Julia Banks who is an outstanding local member and a woman of great integrity.”
You can’t polish a turd. “Great integrity” won’t help there, either, Linda. The Liberal record is damning.
What is “solid” about a party that only gives female candidates seats they are unlikely to win? What is there to be “proud” of? Last election, only three women Liberal candidates, out of thirty-eight, were pre-selected for safe seats. With Banks’ defection, only 12 of the Coalition’s lower house of 74 are women.
Six may not survive May’s election, given many of the 12 are marginal – and against record disaffection. News poll has the Coalition primary vote at 35%, lowest in the poll’s history, four months from an election. Labor is on 41%.
Oddly, Scott Morrison is upbeat, riffing about coming back like Whyalla. It’s a whole new trope for him. No-one has the heart to explain that Whyalla steel’s new owner, UK billionaire, Sanjeev Gupta, who’s made a fortune snapping up steel companies in the old Dart, others wouldn’t touch with a pair of tongs, is installing 780,000 solar panels.
Some UK papers report that bankers wonder whether Gupta has “too many plates in the air”, a very British way of hinting – (not that ScoMo or his work experience treasurer would listen) – that the brilliant billionaire whose plans rely on the heavy involvement of key Chinese corporations in Whyalla’s comeback may be a tad undercapitalised.
Whyalla Norrie and Port Augusta, along with Nullarbor and Coober Pedy have some of the highest rates of domestic violence offences in the state of South Australia. Police responses are, however, improving in both quality and promptness – but longer-term support such as mental-health therapy for victims – often falls by the wayside because of lack of resources. For this, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government is responsible.
Tanya Plibersek is quick to instance some other ways the Coalition is culpable. “The Liberals argued against increases to the minimum wage that substantially benefit women … and they also tried to cut around $35m from Community Legal Centres that provide crucial legal services to family violence victims.”
No politician could possibly be proud of the national statistics. There is a war on women. Domestic violence? Try male violence. One woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. Nine women were killed last October, seven allegedly in the context of a current or former intimate relationship.
One in three women has experienced violence since the age of fifteen. Intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk factor for women aged 25-44.
Indigenous women are 45 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women. The severity of the violence is also greater, with higher rates of hospitalisation. Yet for all women, there is no sign of action by government or any authority to effectively deal with the crisis.
Awareness campaigns such as the Federal Government’s Let’s stop it at the start are relatively easy to run and can help increase public understanding but changing public attitudes to violence is the critical challenge. And so far it has proved hardest to accomplish. A key factor, sadly, is the strength and persistence of victim-blaming.
Awareness campaigns are no time to be diverted by those who ask why male victims are overlooked. Men need to become a voice in this fight. Experts suggest that as role models, men’s voices are crucial in calling out violence against women. Any voice. Some campaigns explore holding the general public accountable for preventing.
Queensland’s #dosomething campaign, works along these lines. Similarly, Victoria has its “Respect Women: Call it Out“ campaign. Yet there is no sign of any practical initiatives from the federal government. Just cuts to funds for refuges and advisors.
Silke Meyer, Senior Lecturer in Domestic and Family Violence Practice CQ University Australia writes in The Conversation “In order to make domestic violence everyone’s business rather than an issue solely for women, awareness campaigns need to follow these examples.”
“More importantly, they need to address how perpetrators manipulate victims, their families and their communities, and how we all play a role in speaking out against such violence”.
To the privileged, sheltered, old white males who run the party under instruction from their sponsors and who mould its patriarchal culture, gender inequality is like social and economic inequality. Or like climate change. Or renewable power. Not only does it not exist, or not work, it’s heresy to maintain otherwise.
It’s a threat to their world view, a denialist fantasy which in many cases hasn’t changed since the good old days the MP attended St Ignatius College, Riverview, for example, the exclusive Jesuit day and boarding school on the Lane Cove River, where senior tuition plus boarding fees costs $49,520 P.A. Both Joyce and Abbott are old boys.
There are few signs that their schooling helped them understand or relate to women but there are key events which can help us understand their real attitudes and values. One fertile example will suffice.
At Sydney University in 1977, an enraged Tony Abbott punched the wall either side of the head of Barbara Ramjan, his young student political opponent, when he was miffed at losing a student representative council vote. Despite Ramjan’s sworn affidavit Abbott denies the incident. Old pal and Donald Trump fan, The Australian‘s Greg Sheridan supports him. “It was inconceivable”, he writes – and besides “there were no witnesses”.
In the 1970s, Menzies era throwback, Tony Abbott, set the Liberal benchmark on gender equality,
“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”
Abbott’s on-air rubbishing of the Human Rights Commission’s bright idea that women should have equal representation on boards last year, shows he hasn’t changed his views much. When the HRC proposed that company boards work towards a 40:40:20 representation, the Riverview old-boy was outraged. King of wittering talkback 2GB’s Ray Hadley was dead keen to broadcast to his equally threatened old white male fans.
“Obviously we have to give women a fair go, but some of this stuff sounds like it’s just anti-men,” rants Abbot. “There are lots of things we can’t change but one thing we should never do is fail to call out politically correct rubbish.”
The “anti-men” canard may be an expression of Abbott’s own fear of women but even from a former PM, it is a dog-whistle, a covert and inflammatory signal to similarly threatened or misogynistic men to abandon all attempt at reforming their hostility to women. It is a shameful, reprehensible remark.
Proud of its record? When, in 2013, Tony Abbott made himself Minister for Women, a clear gesture of contempt for women in itself, (Michaelia Cash was to be his assistant), he promptly discontinued the Women’s Budget Statement, a measure of accountability and justice which now falls to volunteers to compile.
Gender bias towards men is inevitable in a budget which chooses to avoid explaining its impact on women. In March 2015, Abbott’s government then stripped $300 million from women’s legal services domestic violence advice and casework services and refuges. Some found themselves turning women away who couldn’t pay.
This year, the Coalition does highlight budget measures of interest to women in its 2018 Budget statement ‘Women’s Economic Capability and Leadership’. But it’s not a gender-based analysis of proposed policies, it’s a quick tick-and-flick list of initiatives that may benefit women.
As for reform, a weasel-word now used to denote any change while trading on the connotation of improvement, as in calling tax cuts for the rich tax “reforms”. The Australia Institute finds that men get twice the benefit from the income tax cuts compared to women – because men dominate the ranks of high-income earners. Previous spending cuts mainly disadvantage women because women are bigger beneficiaries of government services.
As for the Coalition’s sainted record on women, Tanya Plibersek retorts,
“Over the last five years, all Scott Morrison and the Liberals have done is deliver policies that disadvantage women. The Liberals tried five times to slash paid parental leave, and called working mums ‘rorters’ and ‘double dippers’.
Not to mention the defunding of women’s refuges and local legal aid centres. As Eliza Berlage writes, “in its 2018 budget the government could map out the costings of a seven-year tax cut package but wouldn’t secure that same forecast period of funding for frontline domestic violence services.“
Plibersek could add much more. Household income is lower than it was in 2011. Part-time and multiple poorly-paid or casual, insecure jobs with too few hours now dominate our economy. 69% of part-time workers are women. Of 12.5 million workers in the workforce there are now at least 2 million casuals.
Underemployment, underpayment and even wage theft are becoming the norm for Australian workers and it is women who bear the brunt of the decline in wages, conditions and job security. Most commonly, it is the woman who must seek further casual work to pay the bills – on top of her regular work and work in the home.
Last July, Fair Work inspectors forced business to pay $472,000 to 616 employees after their audit of the hospitality industry in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. 72 percent of businesses had underpaid their employees.
The Coalition has helped keep wages at record lows by such means as stacking the Fair Work Commission with representatives affiliated with employers. Low wages may help boost profits in the short term but in the long term it is a recipe for social and economic decline. Raising wages boosts both family security and the economy.
Banks’ testimony and the accounts of other women MPs bullied during Turnbull’s political assassination, last August, are an indictment on the Liberal party. The women were betrayed; their silence bought by promise of an independent inquiry, as Kellie O’Dwyer insisted, which has ended up as a review. It will go nowhere.
Yet it won’t go away. As the new year begins Scott Morrison must deal with the albatross around his government’s neck. His own neck. Or is he bullying women into claiming there is no bullying? Or at least persuading them to collude in the cover-up of a toxic Liberal Party bullying culture by propagandising that women get a wonderful deal?
It’s alarming to see Linda Reynolds, who complained of being bullied in August now leading a group of women who contend, bizarrely against all evidence that the Liberal Party has done more women than Labor. What pressure are they under? What threats or promises have been made?
How have they been coerced into taking this stance? Or are they, as Jenna Price suggests, victims of Stockholm syndrome, in thrall to their captors and abusers?
One thing is certain. The Coalition’s unfair treatment of women in its own party, coupled with revelations of a culture of bullying and intimidation, if not misogyny, will cost it dearly at the next election. Its failure to craft policy to significantly advance the cause of gender equality and its shameful failure over its five years in office to address the crisis of male violence towards women – beyond raising awareness campaigns is reprehensible.
The truth is inescapable: women are the forgotten people of the modern Liberal Party yet without women’s support, the Liberals will be out of power for a long time.