politics

"He wanted me silenced." Former Liberal MP Julia Banks left politics in 2018. She's now talking about why.

Former Liberal MP Julia Banks has levelled a number of accusations at the toxic culture of Australian politics, the prime minister and an unnamed cabinet minister in a damning ABC interview.

While appearing on 7:30 on Monday night, Banks revealed that she would have quit the Liberal Party quietly in 2018 after the leadership coup against Malcolm Turnbull, if it had not been for Scott Morrison's alleged behaviour towards her.

Watch: A snippet of the interview. Post continues after video.


Video via ABC

Banks' memoir Powerplay: Breaking Through Bias, Barriers and Boys' Clubs, which is to be released next week, goes into more detail about what she experienced during her three years in Australian politics. 

But here's what we learnt last night: 

The allegations against Prime Minister Scott Morrison. 

Ms Banks has described Prime Minister Scott Morrison as being like "menacing, controlling wallpaper," accusing him of dragging her through a "sexist spectrum narrative that I was this weak overemotional woman," when he found out about her decision to quit the party and leave politics.

The former corporate lawyer said Mr Morrison tried to portray her as a "weak petal" who had not coped with the mental strain of the leadership spill.

He had initially expressed anger when Banks wouldn't wait to announce her leave, a decision she'd made because she hadn't voted for Morrison in the coup. He asked her to at least not do any media interviews about her decision. She now says this was her first mistake. 

Banks has accused Scott Morrison of being like "menacing, controlling wallpaper." Image: Getty.

When the prime minister gave his own press conference and took questions about Ms Banks' decision not to re-contest the next election, he responded by expressing concern for her welfare.

"He wanted me silenced, he wanted me to be quiet, he wanted me out of the parliament; I mean, he wanted me out of the country," she told the ABC.

"At that time, I thought, I'm challenging him and that was his response. His response was to drag me through this sort of sexist spectrum.

"A narrative that I was this weak, over-emotional woman, to the bully b*tch. That narrative was played all the way through that three months."

Ms Banks says she was also told the prime minister's office was "backgrounding" against her, giving off-the-record briefings to journalists.

She had originally planned to serve out her term on the backbench under Mr Morrison's leadership but instead opted to become an independent, saying she rejected an offer to be posted to New York as a United Nations delegate.

"I had planned to go quietly," she said.

"But because of these attempts to silence me, either by sending me overseas or to convey this narrative about me, I thought 'I'm not going to limp out of this parliament'."

When she decided to serve the rest of her term as an independent, Ms Banks alleges Mr Morrison became "very angry" with her.

“I was under real pressure with reprisals, retribution. There was gaslighting going on,” she said.

“I had called Morrison to get his ‘bully boys’ to back off of me. I said something along those lines.”

A spokesman for the prime minister said Mr Morrison was disappointed Ms Banks quit the party and had several conversations with her to understand what she was going through and what support was available.

"That included support for personal leave so she could take the time to recover from the upset many people suffered during that period," the spokesman told AAP.

"The prime minister absolutely rejects claims about the nature of those conversations."

Ms Banks has described those three months at the end of her time in politics as the most "gut-wrenching, distressing period of my entire career."

Alleged sexual harassment by a cabinet minister.

Ms Banks has alleged she was subjected to an unwanted sexual advance at work by a coalition government cabinet minister when Malcolm Turnbull was prime minister.

During the interview with the ABC on Monday night, she explained, "I was sitting on a couch talking to another MP and then a cabinet minister sat on my right and he did that sort of flippant, ‘How are you?’ And put his hand on my knee and ran it up my leg, on the upper part of my leg and then walked away. I momentarily froze and then sort of walked away from that seat," she said.

"He certainly turned around and looked at me to see if I was going to stay there. I walked away. Went over to where the drinks and snacks were and said to this other female MP, ‘Can you stay talking to me because he made a move on me?’"

Banks says what disturbed her the most about the alleged incident is that she was a 50-something corporate lawyer and a member of parliament, and if "that's happened to me, where there's pretty minimal power disparity, you can only imagine what happens to people who don't have that sort of power parity."

A toxic, sexist culture. 

When she first entered parliament in 2016, Ms Banks said it was like travelling back in time to the 1980s.

"I had worked my entire life in pretty much blokey cultures, male-dominated cultures in both the legal and corporate sector, [and] I had seen a transformational change over the years in the corporate world. But then when I entered politics it really felt like I was going back to the 1980s. It was very sort of Mad Men as I describe in the book. Mad Men meets House Of Cards. It was extraordinary."

Banks says when she entered politics in 2016, the culture was reminiscent of the 1980s. Image: Getty.

Ms Banks said parliamentary workplace culture had not improved under Mr Morrison's leadership, comparing his alleged treatment of her to former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and ex-Australia Post boss Christine Holgate.

"When you think about all the things Morrison has said about women who have challenged him in some way or form, he will use his power in that way," she said.

"We've got to stop putting this burden on women. 

"We've seen a lot of names come out and Morrison's response to it has not been what (it would be) in other workplaces, where you have to make the tough calls against the perpetrators."

Women in politics are expressing their gratitude for Ms Banks' speaking out, commending her comments about politics being a toxic workplace for women. 

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said allegations of backgrounding and condescending language indicated a pattern of behaviour.

"I have no reason to disbelieve what Julia Banks has outlined," Senator Gallagher told ABC radio.

"It's a pretty distressing story, I'd have to say, and it's no wonder she left."

- With AAP.

Feature image: Getty/Mamamia.

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