Cash out­burst not war­ranted

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - WORLD -

I SPENT over a decade work­ing for sen­a­tors be­fore I moved to the lower house. There was a level of col­le­gial­ity then and us­ing the cover of par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege to square off, with its pro­tec­tions against defama­tion, was con­sid­ered the low road. It was called “coward’s cas­tle” for that rea­son. To­day, maybe MPs think ev­ery­thing is fair game af­ter the Prime Min­is­ter opened sea­son on the pri­vate lives of politi­cians.

But I can’t de­fend Michaelia Cash’s out­burst this week. No real con­ser­va­tive can be­cause the po­lit­i­cal con­test should al­ways be about the bat­tle of ideas, not crude ac­cu­sa­tions.

I have long ad­mired Cash be­cause she has a back­bone and is quick with ev­i­dence to back up her ar­gu­ments. She is tena­cious and fights her cor­ner with the best of them, es­pe­cially on in­dus­trial re­la­tions. I guess that’s why I find her threat, us­ing “coward’s cas­tle” in Es­ti­mates last week, to name young women in Bill Shorten’s of­fice “about which ru­mours in this place abound” so dis­ap­point­ing.

With that ac­cu­sa­tion, she im­pugned the char­ac­ter of ev­ery woman in Shorten’s of­fice and in­deed, women staffers in gen­eral. Hav­ing been one of that same tribe for 16 years, I find it of­fen­sive, too, and the cheap­est slur you can hurl at a hard­work­ing, pro­fes­sional woman. Imag­ine if a bloke had said it. What’s hap­pened to our polity that we’re now in the busi­ness of us­ing staff as weapons when it should be poli­cies and out­comes that de­ter­mine po­lit­i­cal suc­cess?

I’ve been the sub­ject of base­less ru­mours and it is de­bil­i­tat­ing. They fol­low you into ev­ery meet­ing, they change how you deal with other males in your work­place, they make you think twice about shar­ing a cab with some­one or speak­ing up in a room of men. They hurt your fam­ily and you think about pulling back.

And that’s the pur­pose. To put women in their place. As a staffer, you have no way to re­turn fire. I know Cash claims she was bul­lied into it by her La­bor coun­ter­part but I’ve watched it closely, and that’s rub­bish. She’s a se­nior Cab­i­net min­is­ter — if that’s her only re­tort then she’s not the im­pres­sive per­former I thought she was.

Se­na­tor Michaelia Cash.

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