Liberal women divided over bullying
Leaked messages from a WhatsApp group chat between female Liberal MPs have revealed a damaging split over whether some colleagues should have publicly aired claims of bullying and intimidation in the wake of last month’s bitter leadership spill.
The Australian has seen a secret WhatsApp chat involving as many as 20 Liberal women, in which some push for the unspecified allegations of bullying to be dealt with through the party rather than in the media or in parliament. Others in the group called for the Liberal Party to introduce quotas, given women make up just 22 per cent of the party’s 107 federal MPs.
The group, Coalition Women, includes senior MPs such as Julie Bishop, Kelly O’Dwyer, Marise Payne, Michaelia Cash, Melissa Price, Nola Marino and Bridget McKenzie.
It previously included Julia Banks and Lucy Gichuhi, who have both made public allegations of bullying.
In the WhatsApp discussion, West Australian senator Linda Reynolds called on her fellow female MPs to show support for Senator Gichuhi, Ms Banks and Ms O’Dwyer, the Minister for Women.
Sources said the group had not conversed on the bullying issue since September 5 when 35-yearold Queensland senator Amanda Stoker, who assumed her seat only in March when she replaced George Brandis, intervened during a discussion about bullying.
“While I’m very supportive of all the ladies on the team, I don’t think this public airing of bullying claims is doing our women, or our leadership team, any good,” Senator Stoker wrote to the group.
“Of course if there’s a complaint of bullying to be made, it should be particularised and fully investigated — but our avenue for doing that is through the whip’s offices, not through the media or in the chamber.”
Senator Stoker’s message almost two weeks ago appeared to have terminated debate on the group chat.
One member of the group, NSW senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, said yesterday she did not believe the Liberal Party had a problem with bullying.
“For many of my colleagues, especially those who have only been here a short time, the last few
weeks have been very difficult,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells said.
“Politics can be ruthless, robust and very challenging.
“Over my years of involvement, I have stood up for my values and beliefs but I have not experienced bullying.”
Senator Fierravanti-Wells said she did not support quotas.
“I would not want to sit in parliament knowing I had only been selected to help make up the numbers,” she said.
Earlier in the discussion, Senator Reynolds wrote: “Lucy, Julia and Kelly need our moral support — the question is how. I see this as a much wider issue of respect in parliament, not one of ‘drying your eyes princesses’; this is an issue for all parties.
“Instead of justifying a race to the bottom on standards of behaviour that are unacceptable in any other workplace, we should seek to lead the way in respectful behaviour while encouraging far more robust debate on issues in the partyroom, in public and in the parliament. The question is how!?”
Senator Reynolds declined to comment yesterday but has since said she believed the correct forum to address concerns was discussion within the Liberal Party processes rather than in the media or in parliament.
Ms Bishop told the group she had been asked to speak at a women’s forum the next day.
“Perhaps I’ll have some insights,” she said, in a comment that was accompanied by an emoji of a red high-heel shoe.
The next morning, Ms Bishop spoke at the Australian Women’s Weekly event and unleashed over the “appalling culture” in Canberra.
Two days earlier, several women used the group chat to congratulate Ms O’Dwyer for her performance that evening on the ABC’s 7.30.
Ms O’Dwyer told the program she believed some women Liberals were “subject to threats and intimidation and bullying” during the spill.
Environment Minister Melissa Price wrote: “Well done Kell.”
Others congratulated Senator Gichuhi over an interview in which she threatened to use parliamentary privilege to name and shame those inside the Liberal Party who she says bullied and intimidated her.
She has since backed away from the threat.
Clockwise from top left: WA Liberal senator Linda Reynolds, former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop, NSW Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Queensland LNP senator Amanda Stoker