Lib­eral women di­vided over bul­ly­ing

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW BUR­RELL JANET ALBRECHTSEN

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

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