ABC Radio National presenter Patricia Karvelas was asked by an attendant to leave the press gallery during Question Time at Parliament House because she was showing “too much shoulder”.
Ms Karvelas was wearing a white “half-sleeve” pantsuit, but a supervisor in the House of Representatives had deemed she was in breach of the dress standards, which dictate what MPs, their staff, members of the media and visitors to the public gallery can wear.
She shared an image of what she had been wearing on Twitter, while saying she thinks the Parliament House rules are “out of step with contemporary standards”.
Here’s the backstory.
Karvelas was told she needed to “cover up more”
After the widespread reaction to her original tweet, Karvelas said in an interview with ABC News that she was shocked when she had been approached on Monday.
“The attendant came up to me; she was very polite,” Karvelas said.
“She said she was essentially executing orders of her supervisor, who said my clothes, what I’m wearing: too much shoulder.
“Basically, I needed to cover up more, I needed a jacket.
“I did contest it … I said it’s not a singlet, it’s actually half a sleeve and I do think it’s in keeping with parliamentary standards.
“It’s a pretty professional pantsuit to be honest – I quite like it.
“But she said that wasn’t appropriate and I had to leave so I actually was marched out of Question Time.”
— ABC News (@abcnews) December 3, 2018
What are the rules on what you can wear in the chamber?
According to the Australian Parliament House website, decisions on the standard of dress in the chamber are at the discretion of the speaker.
In 1999, former Liberal MP Neil Andrew, who was speaker from 1998-2004, read a statement to the House of Representatives saying it was appropriate for MPs to dress “in a formal manner similar to that generally accepted in business and professional circles”.
This was reinforced six years later, when then-speaker David Hawker said, “MPs should choose to dress in a formal manner in keeping with business and professional standards” while also saying that “casual” or “sportswear” or “clothes with printed slogans” were not accepted.
Another quirk in the standards is that men are permitted to wear “tailored ‘safari’ suits without a tie”.
The speakers said there would be some flexibility for members not wearing jackets if the air-conditioning was broken in the building, or MPs had to attend meetings in a rush and had forgotten.
How have MPs and other journalists reacted?
Following Karvelas’s tweet, the Opposition asked Speaker Tony Smith to investigate the events in the press gallery.
He said he would report back quickly.
Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne said the standards needed to be upheld, while his Liberal colleague Michael Sukkar said it was “scandalous”.
Labor MP Rob Mitchell described it as “a joke”, while Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek made light of Ms Karvelas’s removal from the press gallery.
You would be OK in America – they have the second amendment. Your right to bare arms protected… https://t.co/UIX6h5Ybz6
— Tanya Plibersek (@tanya_plibersek) December 3, 2018
But the standards appear to be unevenly policed.
Following Ms Karvelas’s tweet, other social media users were quick to point out that former foreign minister Julie Bishop wore a pink, sleeveless dress in the House of Representatives on November 26.
Gareth Hutchens, an economics and political correspondent at The Guardian, revealed he was kicked out of the chamber after rushing to a special condolence motion for former Fairfax correspondent Michael Gordon and forgetting his jacket.
Sky News political reporter Tom Connell said the rules were “crazy”.
“Also for blokes though – we are not allowed to go in without a jacket. Takes about 15 seconds for someone to tap you on the shoulder,” he wrote on Twitter.
Are the rules likely to change?
Ms Karvelas herself said she felt the dress requirements for Parliament were “out of step with contemporary standards”.
Greens MP Adam Bandt said he had unsuccessfully attempted to get the “bare arms” rule changed in 2017 – given many photographers and camera operators had to wear jackets – and hoped it would be changed.
Senior Labor MP Tony Burke rose during Question Time to say he had never heard of the rule before and that “it should be fixed” if needed.
A Liberal MP told Karvelas on her RN program he thought the rules should change to “to let women show their arms”.