Former foreign minister and Liberal leadership aspirant Julie Bishop has joined the chorus of female politicians speaking our against the toxic culture in Australia’s parliament.
Bishop, who moved to the backbench after missing out in the three-way tussle to replace Malcolm Turnbull a fortnight ago, thus freeing her up to speak her mind, said the “appalling behaviour” in Canberra would not be tolerated in any other workplace.
The former corporate lawyer, who rose to become the party’s deputy leader under Tony Abbott and then Malcolm Turnbull, was speaking at the Women’s Weekly Women of the Future Awards event in Sydney yesterday.
While is was “too soon” to discuss the spill that saw Scott Morrison become the third Liberal leader in five years in government, Bishop said it provoked a broader debate about workplace culture, including allegations of bullying, harassment and coercion and the unequal treatment of women.
“It’s evident that there is an acceptance of a level of behaviour in Canberra that would not be tolerated in any other workplace in Australia,” she 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.”
Bishop said people needed to take responsibility for their behaviour.
“We must defend and strengthen our institutions, and we must treat our parliament with more respect. Unacceptable workplace practices are the responsibility of us all to identify, to stop it, to fix it,” she said.
The veteran MP singled out another corporate lawyer, Victorian MP Julia Banks, who is leaving politics after just one term, over the bullying and intimidation she claims she experienced during the leadership spill and the subsequent reaction from male Liberal colleagues.
“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’,” Bishop said.
That culture then feeds through to public perceptions of politicians, she argued.
“When we politicians show such contempt for each other, aren’t the public justified in feeling contempt for all of us?” she said.
Bishop said all political parties recognised they had problems with both attracting and maintaining women, as well as diversity in general.
“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.
She also took aim at the confrontational histrionics of the daily Question Time calling it “an embarrassing circus”.
“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.”
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