Julie Bishop’s style shows why Liberal quotas won’t fix women’s problems

Julie Bishop knew how to fight in a conservative man's world, Donna Ward writes.

Julie Bishop knew how to fight in a conservative man's world, Donna Ward writes. Photo: Getty

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Australian women are enraged by the misogyny at the heart of our democracy.

The bones of Australian misogyny were on full display, again, when Liberal Nationals MP Sue Hickey, informed the Tasmanian Parliament of Senator Eric Abetz’s response, when she asked which federal Cabinet minister faced historical sexual assault allegations.

Senator Abetz denies it now, but according to Ms Hickey, included in his reply was the statement, ‘… not to worry, the woman is dead and the law will protect him’.

Later, Senator Abetz accused Ms Hickey of trying to destroy the LNP.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, predictably, supported Senator Abetz rather than investigate Ms Hickey’s claim, as would automatically happen in most Australian workplaces.

LNP women have had enough.

They want more LNP women in Parliament to change this culture.

This might transform the party, but I’m not convinced it will eliminate misogyny in Australia.

Let’s remember how it goes in the LNP, and return to that remarkable moment on ABC’s 7.30, when Leigh Sales asked Julie Bishop, how it was to know a group of fellow men, self-named the Swinging Dicks Club, formed deliberately to stymie Ms Bishop’s progress.

Ms Bishop replied, ‘Well, actually, I believe, it was, Big Swinging Dicks …’ And she joked about the name before outlining her remarkable achievements, and saying, ‘…if their ambition was to thwart my aspirations, then they failed’.

I enjoyed the jokes, but expected Ms Bishop to comment on the demeaning, sexist nature of the club’s name, and how that shouldn’t happen in any workplace, let alone one expected to be exemplary.

Then I remembered the difference between conservative and progressive politicians.

Julie Bishop told 7.30 attitudes towards women and the handling of complaints must change.

A conservative politician doesn’t see how the system is stacked against individuals, and expect individuals to use their talents and resources – and luck, if they have some – to navigate the system. Success is the mark of a person’s merit.

This is why the LNP resists using quotas to increase women parliamentarians. Ms Bishop said she isn’t a fan of quotas. She prefers women of merit.

If luck doesn’t come, or a person has to jump hurdles – child care, a disability, a sexual harassment suit, a violent partner, for example – the system isn’t considered flawed, but the individual unlucky or wanting.

State help is offered, but not too much, lest the individual burdens the system.

To accrue it in a conservative world, everyone must fight like a man. And that’s what Ms Bishop did. She fought the Big Swinging Dicks on their terms.

All power to her. But even she left the party.

Julie Bishop’s style caught the eye of everyone in Parliament House. Photo: Getty

Progressive politicians, on the other hand, are keenly attuned to the hurdles every citizen faces across the nation.

They want justice for everyone. And, if the politician is a woman, she fights for justice on her own terms.

Take Kristina Keneally on last week’s ABC Insiders, when David Speers pushed for specific ideas to change Parliament’s misogynistic culture.

Senator Keneally said, ‘…when I first came to the federal Parliament, …I was struck by the intersection between sex and power in that building. It was unlike any workplace I’d ever seen. And yes, there needs to be cultural change.

“But I don’t think this moment in Australia, just relates to politicians. I don’t think it just relates to Parliament House. Brittany Higgins was right to say, her alleged rape inside that building said to women across Australia, this can happen anywhere, this can happen to anyone.”

So there you have it. More conservative women in Parliament might change their party’s culture, and possibly Parliament’s perniciously misogynistic environment. But will it change the nation?

I’m unconvinced they’ll ever see and eradicate the hurdles that rob all women of their right to a safe respectful workplace, an adequate income, and a set of laws that protect them when they are insulted, sexually harassed, and violently abused.

Hopefully, I’ll be proven wrong.

Donna Ward is a writer, editor and author. She is also a psychotherapist and social worker

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