“This place attracts and rewards narcissists, and many narcissists are sociopaths,” a ‘Coalition figure with a long history working in Parliament’ told ABC reporter Andrew Probyn last week. Hard truth last month on who and what our political parties pick for us when we follow the brand not the person. Brittany Higgins’ steel-eyed testimony saw spiders crawl from under rocks and spread in all directions.
As women from both sides of politics unfurled their fury at the profoundly, deliberately unsafe workplace for women in ‘our House’ the Prime Minister, whether you believe him or not, defined leadership failure by saying he found out about an alleged rape in a Cabinet Minister’s office not from the several ministers and personal staff who already knew but by reading Samantha Maiden’s story, and that there would be no consequences for anyone who kept him in a dark on the alleged crime down the hall from his office.
In the early 1990’s a daring women’s recruitment campaign by moderate NSW Liberal Chris McDiven with the backing of then leader John Hewson – including an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald asking interested women to give her a call – saw female Liberal MP numbers treble at the 1996 election. “The new government could for the first time put more than one token woman in Cabinet,” I wrote. Howard chose two, and his women’s minister Jocelyn Newman predicted the influx would raise ‘the tone – people outside badly want a better behaved parliament’.
But when Tony Abbott returned the Coalition to power 17 years later he appointed one woman to Cabinet and himself women’s minister. Howard and Abbott presided over the near collapse of the Party’s liberal wing; the outcome of hard right hegemony for women 23% of their federal MP’s are women compared to 47% of Labor. No surprise then that several female liberal ministers and backbenchers decried bullying and intimidation from the boys when they supported Malcolm Turnbull in the 2018 leadership spill.
The big parties are now tiny tribes run by nasty, ugly numbers men, as the recent Sixty Minutes reports in Victoria revealed. Loyalty is to the tribe, not the voters. Parliament doesn’t debate and finesse policy because decisions have been made in backrooms. Politics is performance, spin, donor service. The public interest, the pledge to govern for all of us, has collapsed; Morrison seems bored pretending sports roots was a fair process based on need. It’s a bit chicken and egg, but no wonder the talent pool is no narrow, insular, overstocked with the self serving, the corrupt, the narcissists, the sociopaths. Can anyone seriously imagine women of substance answering a Liberal Party ad for candidates in 2021?
When Turnbull fell for the second time trying to enact a solid climate change policy his exit saw Wentworth independent Kerryn Phelps take his seat with a 19% swing. I was in the public gallery to see Morrison lead a Coalition MP walkout when she stood to give her maiden speech, a contemptuous trashing of the civilised Parliamentary full house tradition.