The question Scott Morrison asked Julie Bishop that speaks volumes about the Liberal party.

After Scott Morrison’s first full party meeting since becoming Prime Minister, he sought advice from Julie Bishop.

The former foreign minister, who he had defeated in the leadership spill just weeks beforehand, had 11 years of experience as the Liberal deputy and extensive knowledge of fundraising, looking after the backbench and keeping foreign affairs in order.

But Morrison didn’t need help with any of this. What he did need was the phone number of Australian singer-songwriter Tina Arena.

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He was going to her show, you see, and he wanted to let her know. It was very important.

ABC political journalist and commentator Annabel Crabb told Mamamia’s new podcast The Quicky this story – shared by Sydney Morning Herald political editor Peter Hartcher – is just one glaring example of how women are treated in politics.

“It doesn’t on its own mean anything, but in the history of Julie Bishop, who is probably the most impressive minister of this coalition government who has spent 11 years as the party’s deputy, travelling around, fundraising, looking after the backbench, being an emotionally intelligent force in that party, for her to not really receive an emotionally intelligent treatment in return is one of the great deficits,” Crabb told host Claire Murphy.

“Her story, just like Julia Gillard’s story, fills in gaps in our understanding of what happens to women in politics, and if we’re smart, provides us with signposts about how we change things.”


Julie Bishop was a contender for the Liberal leadership – and therefore Prime Ministership – following last year’s Liberal leadership spill.

Julie Bishop arriving for her press conference to resign as foreign minister. Image: AAP.

She had all the experience required - more experience than both Morrison and Peter Dutton - and consistently out-polled the other contenders, but leaked WhatsApp messages from her colleagues showed she never had a chance of winning their support.


Crabb said while she doesn't think Bishop's treatment at the leadership ballot was entirely down to gender, she doesn't believe it would have played out the same way if she was a man.

"Now I think what happened to her in the recent leadership ballot wasn't entirely explained by gender, it had lots of other factors in play, but the way that she was treated in the conduct of that ballot which is that there were a bunch of people talking about planning to vote against her strategically and so on, and not really including her in this discussion would never have happened to her if she was a man, I think."

And this wasn't the first time Bishop had been left out of conversations about her role. In fact, during the 2009 Liberal leadership spill, she was in the room when it happened.

"It's a weird little story but I think it really tells you something quite powerful about the difference between how women are perceived in politics often and men," Crabb explained.

"So, Julie Bishop as a member of the leadership group wandered into this meeting and then became aware that it was full of these guys talking about 'right, who's going to run for this position?' and someone said 'well, who's going to run for deputy?' and somebody else said 'Oh, Peter Dutton's going to be the deputy'."

"And she was sitting there thinking well 'hang on a minute chaps, I'm the deputy, we're talking about my job here'. I always remember that story because I think that it wouldn't have happened had she been a bloke."


High profile departures of Liberal members such as Julia Banks, who delivered a scathing critique of the treatment of women in politics, and Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer have brought the party's 'women problem' to the forefront of people's minds.

julia banks
Julia Banks. Image: Getty.

In 2018, Australia slipped to the 50th spot on global rankings of female parliamentary representation – 35 places lower than where we sat in 1999. Yep, we're going backwards.


There are more than twice the number of Labor women in Parliament than there are Liberal women, in both raw numbers (44 vs 19) and proportional terms (46.3 per cent vs 22.9 per cent), the ABC confirmed this week.

Crabb said this was mainly down to a Labor decision way back in 1994. At a party conference that year, Labor voted that they would preselect women in 33% of winnable seats before 2002, she said.

More than 25 years down the track, this decision has led to a much healthier representation of women in the Labor party.

The coalition is openly against quotas and any centralised mandate that dictates who is chosen for a role - but this has led to an incredibly low proportion of women in these parties.

"The difficultly is, I suppose, it's turning into a significant problem because of the assumptions that are made at the pre-selection level about who makes a good political candidate. And this is a much deeper and more endemic problem I think," Crabb said.

"Because traditionally politicians have been men, usually married men with children, so historically when we think of a politician we think 'Oh yeah, a guy with 2.5 kids'. That has an effect on the way people make decisions I think, when they recruit.

"Not only does that effect decision making... But it also creates something quite unattractive electorally which is 'Why is this party full of blokes?'".