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Bishop, Gichuhi, Sudmalis et al: spare me the bullying tales


The Liberal Party has a problem with women. It cannot get them into parliament in anything like the numbers of Labor women. Even worse, the party has a problem with the disgruntled bunch of women who miraculously have come through a preselection system stacked against them. From this second group the claims of bullying have produced many a dry eye across the country.
Many of the women complaining about bullying had absolutely nothing to say when factional bosses did what they did to get them preselected. Not all of them are in that category, but some are.
Although I have the warmest personal regard for Julie Bishop, her recent behaviour has been a bit rich. She is unhappy that she polled so poorly in her tilt for the leadership, but she largely has herself to blame.

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In a three-day race, she gave Scott Morrison a two-day start. That’s a mistake because, as my decades of experience in ballots — ranging from local branch level to leadership challenges — taught me, it is much more difficult to get someone to vote for you if they already have committed their vote elsewhere.
She was particularly irate that not one West Australian Liberal voted for her. She had served for a long period as deputy to a bewildering series of opposition leaders and prime ministers. In 20 years in parliament, including as deputy leader and foreign minister, she apparently never encountered bullying. It seems, this occurred only in the last of the countless upheavals she witnessed. I just don’t buy it.
Lucy Gichuhi had been relegated to an unwinnable spot on the South Australian Senate ticket. She complained bitterly about bullying, but I wonder how she could be bullied. When you have already lost your spot, I am unaware of what threat could be made against you.
Then there is Linda Reynolds, the senator from WA, and I would be staggered if 1 per cent of Australians could pick her out of a line-up. I couldn’t.
To top it all off, in blundered Ann Sudmalis, the member for the federal seat of Gilmore. Her claims of bullying against a state MP, Gareth Ward, are quite frankly laughable.
I have never met Ward and hold no brief for him, but he has stacked the branches during the past couple of years and Sudmalis knows she has no chance of winning a preselection ballot. She just couldn’t stack the branches as well as Ward, but branch-stacking, while it may not be the most inspiring of undertakings, is not, and can never be, bullying. I think you can see a pattern here.
Julia Banks was the first to pull out and announce she would not run for the seat of Chisholm — which, incidentally, was the only seat the Liberals gained in Malcolm Turnbull’s hopeless election debut in 2016. The aggrieved Banks knew she could not possibly hold her seat and sought virtue in her capitulation.
All these women had something in common. Whether it was thwarted ambition, facing imminent defeat or having nothing to lose, they did themselves no credit and managed to draw attention to the problem with women that Morrison has inherited.
What needs to be made plain, though, is that when the top job in this country is up for grabs, I would always hope for a truly robust contest. If it were all played by the Marquess of Queensberry rules, you would never be sure that the person was robust enough to be successful in the nation’s toughest job.
If a threat or a nasty word is uttered, then so be it. If we start to see a candidate say “I may have lost but I lost nicely”, then we have lost the plot. Leadership ballots are torrid challenges and in my experience of them the men and women who sit in the partyroom together get treated equally.
Sometimes that is equally well and sometimes it is equally awful. You cannot legislate to make men or women behave well. That must come from their hearts, and I believe Australia does pretty well in this regard.
There must come a time, and I suspect it will come soon, when the Liberal Party will have to address the issue of its miserably low numbers of women.
This week on Richo on Sky News, I interviewed Dave Sharma, preselected by the Liberals for Wentworth. He defeated the favourite allegedly anointed by the Prime Minister, but certainly anointed by the dominant NSW faction led by Michael Photios. That woman could not even manage 10 per cent of the vote. I have spoken to many who voted in that preselection who had the view the women who were running were not as good as a few of the men.
Quota systems are anathema to the Liberals, but without affirmative action the attempts by the whips to seat the tiny number of women they have right behind the Prime Minister during question time look laughable. With the Wentworth by-election around the corner and Kerryn Phelps the chief opponent for the Liberals, we soon may find out whether voters care about this issue. But it will dog the Liberals and Morrison for some time to come.
Morrison has made an impressive start. While Labor is entitled to be a short-priced favourite, one of Morrison’s strengths is shining through. Turnbull had no idea what Australians were talking about at their dinner tables and did not care. Morrison knows what the punters are thinking and on Wednesday his Twitter feed contained brilliance. He encapsulated everything ordinary folk think about the bastards sticking pins in strawberries and he put it in language that everyday people use. It’s why Morrison was by far the best choice for his party.
Labor can take nothing for granted and must make every post a winner. Morrison is good at what he does.

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