Julie Bishop has taken aim at the behaviour of her parliamentary colleagues saying she has witnessed “appalling” behaviour she never would have accepted while running a major law firm 20 years ago.
Speaking at a Women’s Weekly awards event in Sydney she expanded on her experience of being a senior woman in the Turnbull government.
The former foreign minister said it was “not acceptable” that less than a quarter of MPs in the Liberal Party were women.
“It’s not acceptable for our party to contribute to the fall in Australia’s ratings from 15th in the world in terms of female parliamentary representation in 1999 to 50th today. There’s a lot to be done,” she said.
“Our party, in fact all parties, recognise they have a problem in attracting and maintaining women, diversity in general.
“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’.”
She said it was “too soon” to comment on the Liberal leadership spill which saw her replaced as deputy, but conceded it had prompted a discussion on the “bullying, intimidation, harassment and coercion” by federal politicians and “unfair unequal treatment of women”.
“Politics is robust, the very nature of it, it’s not for the faint hearted,” 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 managing partner of a law firm of 200 employees I would never have accepted.
“Yet in Parliament it’s the norm.”
Ms Bishop, now 62, continued to use her wry sense of humour to make a subtle but pointed comment on leaving her job and speculation she would have been a popular choice for prime minister.
“The events surrounding the leadership change will be discussed, and debated and dissected for years to come,” she said.
“I’m just sitting back wondering ‘gee what will I do when I grow up’.”
‘Aren’t the public justified in feeling contempt for us?’
Now a backbencher, Ms Bishop was free to speak her mind on a range of issues, and pointed out what she saw as flaws in the adversarial nature of parliament.
She argued it allowed oppositions of all political persuasions to use their position to force governments from power.
“Oppositions now use their position to bring down a government for purely self-interested motives,” she said.
“They will oppose [policies] and vote against them to impose maximum pressure on the government even though it’s in the national interest for that policy to be implemented.
She was particularly critical of the behaviour of members during Question Time and its “take no prisoners approach”, but admitted she did not occupy the moral high ground.
“I believe this televised theatre does more damage to the Parliament than virtually any other issue,” she said.
“It ends up as an embarrassing circus. Ministers and shadow ministers are judged on their performance in Question Time and the more you sledge, the more you ridicule, the more you’re applauded.