There is a definite culture of sexism in Australian politics, and it’s now reached epic proportions, writes Neil Pharaoh.
There is a definite culture of sexism in Australian politics, and it’s now reached epic proportions, writes Neil Pharaoh. Kelly Barnes - The Australian

Neil Pharaoh: ‘I am sick of the sexism in politics’

OPINION

When someone you work with restrains you and removes your underwear, when reported to "management" in any normal job, your actions would preclude you from that industry for life.

Yet a few months down the track the man who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman became "eligible" for a potential promotion and was being considered for preselection for the Liberal Party.

When this is backed up by senior Liberals saying "for every woman that comes forward with a complaint is probably representing at least five more", you know something is broken.

The biggest double standard in politics is sexism.

On all sides of politics, the way we treat women differently to men astounds me. And this is coming from a man who has been involved in politics.

If you got through that far in this opinion piece, you will either be quietly agreeing or telling me I don't believe in "merit"; if the latter, stop reading now.

Why is it when a male is stiff as a board, monotone and boring that we call him "statesmanlike", yet when a female is she is "detached, cold and ruthless"?

Why is it that men don't get asked about who will look after the children, yet women do?

The sexism in politics has reached epic proportions.

Emma Husar stood up after Question Time in the House of Representatives and defended her reputation after she was defamed by a media outlet. Picture: Gary Ramage
Emma Husar stood up after Question Time in the House of Representatives and defended her reputation after she was defamed by a media outlet. Picture: Gary Ramage

On the Labor side, this week we saw the settlement between Emma Husar MP and Buzzfeed. Let's revisit the situation: unproven allegations, six-week media cycle against Emma, no proof, Emma forced to not recontest her seat, political career over, nothing ever proven - female.

Take her circumstance versus Greg Barber MLC, where a bullying claim led to a settlement of $56,000 (that is your taxes paying for a bullying settlement for a MP), and he was still able to continue as a MP, even after the "hairy-legged feminist, power pussies" comments (coupled with his "men's room" to boot).

So why can an allegation kill a female MP's career, but not a male? Even when the male has settlement payments for bullying on the taxpayer funded books? Not to mention Barnaby and his affair - all proven, yet none lost their career. Emma? She is gone.

Let's look a bit deeper at sexist comments directed at women; Fiona Scott being called "sex appeal" during the Lindsay 2013 campaign, which then clouded her time in office - meaning everywhere she went, the "sex appeal" comment remained. Now, what man has had such an equivalent comment levelled at him? And has it stuck? Exactly. Silence.

Sarah Hanson-Young, in court commentary: "Mr. Leyonhjelm called me a hypocrite because I have sex with men," said the Greens senator during cross-examination over Leyonhjelm's comments about her in the media following a debate in the Senate last year.

"What's sexist about that?" Leyonhjelm's barrister, Tony Morris, QC, replied.

"He wouldn't say it to a man," she replied. Again, double standards of behaviour.

Globally women's participation in parliament is a tad above 24 per cent, yet accounted for only 8 per cent of national leaders and 2 per cent of presidents' posts. In Australia, Labor has 47 per cent and Liberals 23 per cent after the last Federal election.

Still, Fiona Scott insists Tony Abbott’s description of her as “sex appeal” damaged her credibility and by default, her career. Picture: Supplied.
Still, Fiona Scott insists Tony Abbott’s description of her as “sex appeal” damaged her credibility and by default, her career. Picture: Supplied.

We all know the story of how Julia Gillard was taunted with tag lines like "ditch the witch" and described as "barren" as well as many other names. Name for me a male who has got equivalent levels of vitriol in public debate and discussion.

Julie Bishop - an amazingly capable, talented woman - looked over for Scomo and Dutton. Jane Prentice: lost preselection to a former male staffer, Julian Simmonds.

Ann Sudamalis: again another male, Grant Schultz (whose bullying complaint and review has still not announced its findings).

On Labors ledger, Lauren Palmer lost preselection to James Martin in Hasluck, and Lyndal Howlison in NSW for Brian Owler. Time and time again we walk past more capable and qualified women for men - it can't continue.

Even Bronwyn Bishop and the helicopter affairs stinks of double standard, when a number of male politicians have undertaken similar activities without consequence - Bronwyn had to go after a helicopter flight to a Liberal Party Fundraiser. Yet Tony Abbott charged taxpayers over $3000 to attend the birthday party of Santo Santoro without consequences.

That's right, a birthday party. Again, one standard for women another for men.

“Looking back on my time in politics, I do wish I’d called out the sexism earlier,” former Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters last year. Picture: Kelly Barnes/The Australian
“Looking back on my time in politics, I do wish I’d called out the sexism earlier,” former Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters last year. Picture: Kelly Barnes/The Australian

Susan Ley had to resign from a role over a taxpayer funded trip to the Gold Coast to purchase an apartment, something she admitted was within guidelines but failed the pub test.

Yet Darren Chester did EXACTLY the same thing for an apartment purchase in Melbourne and yet no consequences for him, no resignation or role reduction. I mean, can the hypocrisy be any more obvious?

I can't tell you the number of times in Labor preselection that I have seen amazingly qualified women looked over for men - let alone discussed it with friends who are Members of the Liberal Party and say they are continually disadvantaged during preselection.

Margaret Fitzherbert (Liberal) undertook professional polling on this issue and found 38 per cent of Liberal preselections think it is OK to ask a women who will look after her children if she is elected into parliament. A question which she rightly says has no right answers (not focused enough on family and too focused on career etc). And in the private sector, that question is illegal.

Former MP Margaret Fitzherbert named her report the Double Hurdle. “The first hurdle is a woman’s own self-assessment of her readiness for preselection; the second is a preselection process that often treats men and women very differently, with motherhood identified as a key issue,” she said. Picture: Penny Stephens
Former MP Margaret Fitzherbert named her report the Double Hurdle. “The first hurdle is a woman’s own self-assessment of her readiness for preselection; the second is a preselection process that often treats men and women very differently, with motherhood identified as a key issue,” she said. Picture: Penny Stephens

And don't let the Greens Party claim moral high ground; the majority of their Federal leadership is also white men.

And while Labor is better on Parliamentary benches, peel back the curtain to the backrooms of power and you will find the "powerbrokers" behind the politicians is usually a room full of men.

Look to the number of single mums we have around Cabinet tables in Australia? None that I know of, for I have seen when a single mum wasn't supported to sit in Cabinet because a Leader won't assist with a reduction in portfolios, or offer other support to keep her in the Cabinet. I am sorry, but I want my taxpayer dollars to fund a full-time nanny just so we can have a single mum (or dad) in Cabinet. That is the Australia I want to live in.

Ironically, in the 2019 election there is one seat which was won by Labor. Labor won't learn the lesson in it though. That is: that Fiona Phillips MP won Gilmore, and she had never worked as a staffer or advisor, was a local through and through, had deep strong roots to the community, and was a female running against a male. Coincidence? I think not.

Fiona Phillips delivering her maiden speech in the House of Representatives Chamber, at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith.
Fiona Phillips delivering her maiden speech in the House of Representatives Chamber, at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: Kym Smith.

I have personally alleged sexism within the Labor Party against a certain Parliamentarian - an accusation which after an internal investigation was found to be legitimate and accurate - only to be personally disadvantaged and brought before the disputes committee of the Labor Party for "disloyalty" and "bringing the party into disrepute" (for calling out sexism against a Parliamentarian). How is that for double standards?

If a male bystander receives a harsher penalty for calling out sexism than the person who was independently found to have been sexist, there is an issue. (Oh, and he got away with a simple written apology to the victim, not made public of course).

What I have learned from the many amazing women I have seen survive in politics, who try and try again and again, is that even those who never get preselected, those who don't sit on parliamentary benches, have overcome so much more and are often so much more connected to the community than the men who succeeded them.

We need to change the discussion. We as men need to start calling this for what it is, whether Liberal, Labor or other. It is sexism and it needs to change.

Neil Pharaoh was the Former National co-convener of Rainbow Labor and twice Victorian Labor Candidate for Prahran. Continue the conversation @neilpharaoh


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