It’s been barely two weeks since a contingent of Liberal women threatened to blow the lid on bullying behaviour during the Dutton camp’s failed leadership coup against Malcolm Turnbull.
But one by one those women have since retreated, claiming they’re satisfied the concerns are now being addressed by internal party ‘processes’.
Julia Banks was the first female Liberal MP to blow the whistle on the bovver-boy tactics used during the leadership spill, announcing she would resign from Parliament over the bullying.
Some MPs were reportedly threatened with the loss of their preselection, so Ms Banks may have felt that by resigning she would have nothing to lose and be able to name her bullies.
But she has since been convinced to stay until the federal election. And to stay quiet on the bullying.
Senator Lucy Gichuhi may have also felt free to expose her bullies, given she’d recently been relegated to an unwinnable position on the South Australian Liberal ticket. However, after taking her concerns to the Prime Minister on Monday, Senator Gichuhi also went quiet, saying the PM had “taken up” the issue.
Then there was Linda Reynolds, who told the Senate while the leadership manoeuvrings were under way she didn’t recognise her party due to the behaviour of some of her colleagues.
But on Wednesday Senator Reynolds also toed the party line, refusing to discuss the behaviour other than to say: “Clearly there are issues we do need to address, and I’m now dealing with them internally in the party, in our processes, the prime minister and the whips have set up”.
It’s quite a feat for the new prime minister Scott Morrison to have coaxed these forthright women into keeping their explosive accusations private. They’ve done so at the risk of being accused by progressives of being complicit in entrenching the problem, and by the right of being cowards or even liars.
Right-wing commentator Andrew Bolt had already claimed Julia Banks “hurt the Liberals by creating a fake scandal about alleged ‘bullying’ in the party”.
Meanwhile others from the reactionary commentariat, particularly those with links to the Dutton numbers men whose names were associated with the bullying allegations, have also questioned the veracity of the women’s claims and challenged them to ‘put up or shut up’.
It should be said there is an alternative view to the value of using the name and shame approach. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins explained on Wednesday that when bullying is a cultural problem within an organisation, naming the bullies can distract us from looking at the problem as a broader issue.
Even so, this writer is among those who believe that only the public excoriation of the bullies will force the Liberal Party to change its hyper-masculine culture. By securing the agreement of female Liberal MPs to keep the matter behind closed doors, the PM has made it far too easy for the cultural problem to be denied or dropped in the too-hard basket, particularly once the election gets under way.
It would be fair to think that’s highly likely given that accusations of bad behaviour against women stretch across both the Coalition parties, and how badly the Nationals handled the sexual harassment complaint made against Barnaby Joyce.
After responding to a call to ‘put up or shut up’, Catherine Marriott lodged her claim against the then Nationals leader and was subjected to what the Sex Discrimination Commissioner described on Wednesday as a “brutal and unsatisfying complaints process”.
The Nationals closed its eight-month internal investigation and advised Ms Marriott last week it could not reach a conclusion due to lack of evidence.
When asked what the Liberals should do to create a culture that does not accept bullying, Commissioner Jenkins said increasing the number of women MPs would help. This is probably true, although the accusations levelled against the Labor MP Emma Husar, as well as her treatment by some elements of the ALP, show that even a party with almost 50 per cent women is still susceptible to bullying behaviour.
But there’s no denying that the bullying called out by Liberal women in recent weeks is due at least in part to the Liberal party being a sausage fest. Even the claim made (yet again) by Liberal men this week – that Liberal women don’t need quotas – is a form of bullying. By insisting that women will win Liberal preselection when they have merit, the men are actually implying their party has next to no women of merit.
That is the only inference that can be taken from so few Liberal women being in Parliament. And it’s an undeserved put-down of all the women who’ve lost preselection battles to the low-merit Liberal men who succeeded thanks to factional deals, branch-stacking or cronyism.