THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
WOMEN IN PARLIAMENT
It took some bravery for Julia Banks, Kelly O’Dwyer, Linda Reynolds, Lucy Gichuhi, and Julie Bishop to blow the whistle on the toxic culture of bullying and intimidation in the Liberal party.
This means one in four women in the Liberal partyroom have raised these serious issues publicly.
It’s an important step to acknowledge the problem. But what about taking steps to fix it?
For years, many women in the Liberal Party have railed against feminism, setting targets, or indeed the proposition that gender bias played any role in the underepresentation of women in the Liberal Party.
If these women have changed their minds, I genuinely welcome that. The more women working together with and for other women, the better.
But part of charting a new course is recognising where and why things went wrong in the past and agreeing on a concrete plan of action.
Remember in 2013 when Julie Bishop said Julia Gillard’s famous misogyny speech “trivialised” violence against women? Does Ms Bishop regret those comments? And after her 11 years as Deputy Liberal Leader how would she handle things differently now?
Back in 2012 Kelly O’Dwyer called me, Nicola Roxon, and Deborah O’Neill the “handbag hit squad” for asking hard questions of Tony Abbott. Does Ms O’Dwyer still think that kind of language is acceptable?
When Tony Abbott said Julia Gillard should make “an honest women of herself” and when he stood with many members of the Liberal Party beside signs that read “Juliar Bob Brown’s Bitch” and “Burn the Witch”, there was noticeable silence from senior Liberal women.
When Bill Heffernan described Julia Gillard as “deliberately barren”, when George Brandis said “she has chosen not to be a parent…she is very much a one-dimensional person…she just doesn’t understand the way parents think about their children”, and when Grahame Morris, John Howard’s former Chief of Staff said “Australians ought to be out there kicking her to death”, again there was noticeable silence from senior Liberal women.
Misogyny should be condemned, never used for political profit.
I truly hope that senior Liberal women now look back and agree that sexism and gender based bullying in politics is a real thing, and resolve to do something about it.
And I hope Prime Minister Scott Morrison takes serious action to properly address the concerns raised by such senior women in his own party.
In 1994, the number of Labor women in the Federal Parliament stood at just 14.5 per cent. Labor decided that was not good enough.
So, with strong Labor women leading the fight, we adopted a rule that said that at least 35 per cent of our parliamentarians should be women, and we started Emily’s List, a group designed specifically to promote, support, and fundraise to get more Labor women elected to the Parliament.
When Labor achieved our 35 per cent target we lifted it to 40 per cent. When we achieved that we lifted it again to 50 percent by 2025. And we’re nearly there. Around 47 per cent of federal Labor parliamentarians are now women. In contrast, since 1994, but without targets or supports, the number of federal Liberal women parliamentarians went from 13.9 per cent to about 24 per cent.
I support targets because they work.
Of course, gender equality is not just a women’s issue, and women should not have to do all the heavy lifting.
But it just makes sense that senior women in political parties should show leadership in promoting and supporting other women – in their own party, and across the aisle.
It’s certainly something that senior Labor women see as a priority.
There are terrific women in the Liberal party who have been arguing for change, including Judith Troeth, as well as Sussan Ley who recently proposed that the Liberals should consider setting targets to increase women’s representation.
I hope events in the Liberal Party have convinced senior Liberal women of the importance of feminism.
For me, for Labor, and I hope for everybody, the thing about feminism is that it’s about working for the advancement of all women, not just yourself. Feminism is generous.
You put in your energy in the hope that all women - other women - will benefit, not just yourself.
Feminism is not something you happen on when it is convenient, only when you’ve been cut down by the blokes.
You sign up not for personal advancement, but to build a more just society.
Generations of Labor women have fought together and supported each other to reject sexism in politics.
We stand ready to support the efforts of Liberal women to do the same, to share our experiences and improve our political culture, for the benefit of all Australian women.
This piece was originally published in Ten Daily on Tuesday, 11 September 2018.