Julie Bishop will go down in history as one of the greats of the Liberal Party for a variety of reasons. A long-serving federal deputy leader, an accomplished foreign minister, and a somewhat less accomplished shadow Treasurer. She is our very own Elizabeth Taylor: diva, minister for entertainment and best-supporting actress.
But she has arguably failed to leave a mark when it comes to her internal legacy. Since leaving politics she has decried gender deafness and grotesque sexism within the party, most recently on Andrew Denton’s latest talk show last night. No doubt the party has its hardheads – every board, council, organisation, and P&C committee around the country does. But when you are the most senior woman in the country, replete with political and commercial influence, it is incumbent on you to lead on real change from within and it’s hard to argue the case as to why you haven’t.
Sure, she has said she’s not a feminist. Sure, she has made the odd speech about female empowerment. There is a speakers’ circuit full of women espousing the same platitudes. But what where her efforts, within the party and out of the spotlight, to change something which she now suggests is such an arresting problem?
It’s a bedside confession without repentance. And if there is a mess, she needs to take some responsibility for it. You can’t just blame the status quo and wash your hands of it.
I’m not suggesting she could’ve or should’ve done it all on her own, but I find it hard to believe that the deputy party leader had no power to effect cultural change. The inconvenient fact is, she made it to deputy leader and remained there for over 10 years, so being a female can’t have been too much of a hindrance. Perhaps she’s just disgruntled she wasn’t anointed as the leader post-Turnbull when she may have felt she was entitled to be.
In light of recent sexual assault and bullying allegations, the Liberal Party has undertaken a review headed by Brian Loughnane and Chris McDiven. If there is an issue, then it needs to be addressed and party leadership needs to make it clear that that behaviour is unacceptable. Gone are the days when independent schools could get away with just suspending the captain of the First XVIIIs footy team for dealing drugs. The same goes for the Liberal Party. Bad behaviour needs to be called out and there needs to be material consequences. There will always be those relicts of a bygone age when men ran the show and women more twinsets and made cups of tea. But those dinosaurs need to realise those days are gone, they need to get with the program or get out of the way. And if they won’t, the party needs to show them the door.
At a general level, all this talk raises the question: does the Liberal Party have an insurmountable problem when it comes to women? If recent elections are anything to go by, then it appears the party is still attracting ample female talent to its ranks. The likes of Amanda Stoker, Nicolle Flint and newcomers Gladys Liu, Melissa McIntosh, amongst others, may just be heralding a new era for the party. After all, once you turn on the air-conditioning you need to wait for the room to cool down. Cultural change happens gradually. We need to give it time and space. And from what I have seen so far, these women are hard workers: they are focused on producing outcomes for their electorates and not waiting for their entry into politics to be signalled by a red carpet and string quartet. They are not just good; they are good at it.
I am a fresh member of the party myself, having only been a card carrier for the last six months or so. So far, I have found the men at the grassroots levels of the party to be welcoming and encouraging, despite them being aware that I am a bit of a cage rattler. I wasn’t born knowing the ropes (and I still don’t know most of them) but when I need help, I ask for it. When there is an opportunity, I take it. And when there is work to get done, I get on with it. For what it’s worth, this is my lived experience, as the woke kiddies like to say.
And as a parting thought, if we think there is an issue at the highest level of the party when it comes to women, then perhaps that’s the best argument so far for greater democratisation within its ranks.
Caroline Di Russo is a lawyer, businesswomen and unrepentant nerd.
Illustration: 7plus screen capture.
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