Does the will exist to end bullying and intimidation of women in politics?


Updated

September 08, 2018 11:09:32

As the list of federal female politicians who have either experienced or witnessed bullying and intimidation in the workplace continued to grow this week, a key question remained — is there any genuine appetite to tackle the problem?

The claims have no doubt only further dissuaded more women from entering politics — a blow to a group already grossly underrepresented in parliaments at both a state and federal level.

The debate about the treatment of female MPs was sparked when federal Liberal MP Julia Banks announced she would not contest the next election after suffering “bullying and intimidation” at the hands of both Labor and the Liberals over her political career.

Announcing her decision, Ms Banks said the events she witnessed during the recent leadership spill of Malcolm Turnbull were “the last straw”.

Her brave and blunt statement triggered a wave of support, and also prompted a number of other female MPs to back her claims and speak out about their own experiences.

Liberal Senator Lucy Gichuhi even flagged using parliamentary privilege to name and shame those responsible for the threats and intimidation when Federal Parliament resumes.

But Ms Banks did not receive unanimous support. Liberal MP Craig Kelly said her resignation was the wrong thing to do and that she should “roll with the punches in this game”.

It was a choice of words that sank like a stone with the MPs raising the claims and sent social media into a frenzy, with many voters arguing Mr Kelly’s comments only served to reinforce the view that there is a problem.

This week former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop used a speech at a Women’s Weekly awards event in Sydney to throw her support behind Ms Banks.

“When a feisty, amazing woman like Julia Banks says this environment is not for me, don’t say ‘toughen up princess’, say ‘enough is enough’,” Ms Bishop said.

“I have seen and witnessed and experienced some appalling behaviour in Parliament.

“The kind of behaviour that 20 years ago when I was the managing partner of a law firm with 200 employees I would never have accepted. Yet in Parliament it’s the norm.”

Bad behaviour not confined to national stage

WA politics has had its own recent debate about the treatment of female MPs, sparked when a senior Labor minister was accused by WA Nationals MP Vince Catania of “feigning a headbutt” in Parliament towards his boss, WA Nationals Leader Mia Davies.

Ms Davies referred the alleged behaviour of Water Minister Dave Kelly to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, claiming it “bordered on intimidatory”.

Mr Kelly steadfastly denied the allegation, while Premier Mark McGowan said the allegations of a feigned headbutt were “fabricated”. Speaker Peter Watson eventually ruled Mr Kelly “did not move his head in the Member’s direction”.

A debate in State Parliament to have the complaint referred to a powerful committee for investigation provoked fiery and emotional scenes as WA’s most senior female MPs from both sides shared stories about the bad behaviour they had endured in the parliamentary chamber.

Ms Davies came close to tears as she described how the alleged incident involving Mr Kelly made her feel “uncomfortable”.

She said she understood Parliament was a special workplace where there were different rules of engagement, but argued MPs should be able to have a debate without feeling intimidated by others in the chamber.

“It is a robust environment,” Ms Davies said. “We expect to be tested, absolutely Mr Speaker, and I take no umbrage at any of the comments that I get from members opposite, in this place or externally.

“I have thick skin. I have been here for a while. But I will tell you … when I feel uncomfortable in my workplace, I will absolutely make a statement to that effect, and I will seek to do it through the appropriate platform.”

But the debate showed neither side of politics in WA was immune from bad behaviour directed towards female members at the hands of their political opponents.

During the debate Transport Minister Rita Saffioti shared her own experience of being incessantly heckled by others on the Liberal and National side while in opposition, even when she had revealed she was trying IVF to have a child and had suffered a miscarriage scare.

Police Minister Michelle Roberts revealed she had experienced a lot of “nasty stuff” including being told to stick to her knitting, and being forced to endure comments about her appearance.

One law for workplaces, another for parliament

It is a positive sign that many female MPs at both a state and federal level have spoken out and acknowledged there is a problem with how women are treated in politics, including in the parliamentary chamber.

But let’s face it, this is not a new problem. While openly discussing the issue might be helpful, many might rightly ask what it would take to prompt actual change?

Given female MPs across the political spectrum have now openly called out this bad behaviour, is it not time for a bipartisan admission that this is a problem that requires a similarly bipartisan approach to stamp out?

As Ms Davies said, parliament by its very nature is a robust and combative environment and most female MPs readily accept a thick skin is required.

But this recent commentary indicates a growing feeling among politicians and voters that, like any workplace, parliaments and the political arena more broadly need enforced standards of acceptable behaviour.

Society’s views towards workplace bullying and intimidation long ago progressed to a point where it is no longer tolerated, and indeed there are laws in place to enforce that.

Voters might rightly expect that it is time the workplace that makes the laws of the country caught up with broader community expectations and standards.

As Federal Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer pointed out this week, Australian Rules Football is a robust sport, but that does not mean it is acceptable for one player to punch another in the head behind play.

In bemoaning the adversarial nature of politics and calling out broader bad behaviour in Parliament, Ms Bishop did not mince her words.

“When we politicians show contempt for each other, aren’t the public justified in feeling contempt for us?” Ms Bishop asked.

If politicians want to reclaim respect from voters, and attract more women into parliament, they need to move swiftly to address this issue.

Topics:

government-and-politics,

state-parliament,

gender-roles,

discrimination,

australia,

wa

First posted

September 08, 2018 08:33:51



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *