Flat White

‘Mean Girls’ will shape the next election

28 March 2022

12:00 PM

28 March 2022

12:00 PM

Liberals are basking in schadenfreude after allegations of bullying were levelled at Labor’s Senate leadership team of Penny Wong, Katy Gallagher, and Kristina Keneally by supporters of deceased Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching. Allegations that those named continue to stringently deny.

They’re prosecuting the case in the media as a get square against Labor which has run a sustained campaign about the Coalition’s alleged bullying and woman problems.

If the Liberals think this is going to positively affect the election outcome for them they are wrong. However, the Mean Girls are likely to be one decisive factor in this election.

The problem for Liberals pursuing the issue of bullying is that it resonates with their enemies, not their supporters. Their supporters, while sympathetic towards the plight of Ms Kitching, and others like Liberal Nicolle Flint (retiring this election because of the Green/Labor abuse she has received), tend to take the view that parliament is an arena designed for bullying.

Parliament is not a workplace like any other. The parliamentary chamber can be a place where good work is done, but even in the most urbane of parliaments, question time, and the various forms of estimates committees, are gladiatorial contests.

Which is as it should be. You want politicians who will not be scared to ‘shirtfront’ Vladimir Putin, for example. (Now there’s a real bully – Putin, not Abbott.)

Indeed, Ms Kitching was adept at this herself. She fired the first shots against former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate. Scott Morrison felt so pressured (bullied) by this he then went over the top denouncing Holgate adding to his ‘woman problem’.

What happens in the parliamentary chamber also happens within political parties, and in the electorate, with elections often being particularly brutal. It’s a little quaint to complain about bullying in such a milieu.

Labor and Greens are the party of the victim, but only if they get to choose who the victim is. Liberals can’t be victims, because by definition they are privileged, and the privileged are the oppressors, and therefore by definition, bullies.

When Liberals complain about bullying, all Green and Labor hear is the two words ‘bully’ and ‘Liberal’, so it energises them against Liberals, as the oppressor party.

Unfortunately for the Libs, it also energises the female vote, because the modern woman, no matter how successful, sees herself as a member of a group that is victimised. (If you doubt the dynamics of female victimhood, pause to think that the Brisbane Club, a bastion of privilege, has a ‘Women’s Network’ presumably because even their privileged female members need group solidarity to smash ceilings of various types.)

The Liberal’s woman problem extends to the fact that women tend to vote Greens and Labor, with 52 per cent of women doing that at the last election compared to only 43 per cent of men.

Labor is aiming to increase that figure this time. The early policies they have released are aimed at young families with promises of more available free childcare and faster access to doctors featuring prominently.

Labor’s Mean Girls will be a key asset in appealing to the female vote. They are effective warriors, they will press every opportunity to portray the government as oppressors, and they will deflect every effort to expose their own bastardries.

This is the election when gender will come into its own. The only question is, what backlash will there be from men, and will this amount to an equal and opposite reaction?

Graham Young is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress and founder and editor of On Line Opinion.

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