How we frame political conversations is incredibly important, particularly when we are discussing a deeply personal topic like sexual harassment. This issue is now front and centre, and for good reason. It’s a conversation we must have, and those who have suffered should be encouraged to come forward and should expect their allegations be taken seriously.
In 2021, ground zero has been Parliament House. And fair enough. It’s no secret that inappropriate behaviour has occurred there for decades and if those in Parliament are considered to be fit to make laws for the rest of us, then their professional conduct ought to be commensurate. Now, I’m not interested in who politicians sleep with, who they hang out with and what they call themselves. That’s a thoroughly banal conversation and how can we expect our best to enter politics if the media is more interested in rifling through their private lives than pressure-testing their policy.
Allegations of sexual harassment are a totally separate issue.
And while leadership on this must come from the top, there is no magic wand the PM can wave to stop this conduct occurring within Parliament House. Frankly, eradicating sexual harassment requires buy-in from everyone and couching this as a ‘Liberal Party has a problem with women’ issue has caused it to be weaponised from the beginning and will ultimately exclude other classes of victim.
Why am I raising this now?
Well, two curious things occurred in the last fortnight.
First, former Liberal MP Julia Banks released a book in which she goes to great lengths to malign the Prime Minister and her old party, including making an allegation of inappropriate touching at an event in or about 2017. If she has an allegation to make, she should do it formally, rather than make a throw-away claim in public and call into question the integrity of all men in the cabinet. It’s equally curious that Banks appears to not have raised this incident with Malcolm Turnbull at the time, her close friend and the then prime minister.
She also refuses to participate in the investigation being undertaken by Sexual Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins because she doesn’t have faith in the process. And just like that, instead of shining a light on this issue with the view to solving it, Banks makes an already bad situation worse. How do we fix a problem if we don’t know the extent of it? And how can we expect women who have been sexually harassed, or worse, to come forward when a former MP actively undermines the credibility of the process?
In a desperate gasp for relevance and to plug her book, Banks has pulled the rug out from under other women in a way that only a woman can. Paul Murray once described Banks as the Liberal Party suicide bomber, but instead of being a one-trick pony, she has exhibited the exceptional ability of being able to blow herself up more than once.
Second, was a positively unhinged piece by Virginia Haussegger in the Canberra Times. On the back of Banks’ allegations, Haussegger leads the misandrist intifada against the Prime Minister. She cynically attempts to frame the Liberal party through comments made by Frank Sinatra in the 70s and a film called Gaslight from the 1940s. She is all in on the anti-Liberal agenda and that’s about the only clear and convincing aspect of the whole article.
But amongst the interminable drivel, one paragraph particularly struck me. She writes: ‘Given that all women have internalized some level of sexism and misogyny, we tend to nurture our powerlessness like a personal pet.’
I don’t even know where to start on the rank inaccuracy and recklessness of this comment. A perspective like this is most likely a projection by the author; an attempt to justify, and sheet home to all women, her own deep-seeded personal insecurities.
The use of the word ‘given’ creates a boundlessly misguided assumption that all women internalize sexism and misogyny, and consequently, are all self-pitying victims. We do not and we are not. In this grand effort to demonise men, Haussegger carpet bombs on the achievements and independence of women and files them firmly in the folder labelled ‘poor little dears’. Having good relationships with men does not mean you put yourself beneath them. Just like hating Liberal men doesn’t make you the Joan of Arc of feminism – in fact, it means you give a free pass to all other men who behave poorly and thereby diminish the suffering of those other victims.
Sadly, this article is solely tasked with undermining the Liberal party regardless of the consequences. Journalists of the left only pretend to care about Liberal women if, and when, they start bagging out their own side. In which case, they jump on board in the singular pursuit of achieving their own jaundiced personal agenda.
If Liberal women don’t renounce their conservatism, then they get what they deserve.
And just to be clear, I am not making excuses for poor behaviour; that behaviour needs to be dealt with and prosecuted in the proper course. But the politicization of this issue is inescapable and that’s the muck I seek to drag kicking and screaming into the conversation. Are the men of the Liberal Party perfect? Not by a long shot. Are they any worse than the men in the ALP? Unlikely, but ALP men appear to be a protected species, so a comparison is at best an educated guess for those of us not on the inside.
And does this attack levelled at the Prime Minister assist to stamp out inappropriate behaviour and affect cultural change? No, at best, it fuels partisanship — and the rights and safety of all women become the collateral damage in that pursuit.
Caroline Di Russo is a lawyer, businesswoman and unrepentant nerd.
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