politics

How Julia Banks became a hero for every woman who's been told to shut up and sit down.

Julia Banks’ resignation from the Liberal Party on Tuesday was the kind so many women would secretly love to make. A microphone. A captive audience. A chance to call out the culture of bullying and intimidation that’s kept women silenced for so long.

In a stunning move that chipped further into Scott Morrison’s minority Government, the MP for the Victorian seat of Chisholm defected to the crossbench where she’ll sit as an independent.

Bank’s explanation to her colleagues and constituents was brief and biting.

She is sick of the “reactionary right wing” that lead the coup against Malcolm Turbull in August.

She is sick of MPs putting their own ambition and agenda ahead of the public’s needs.

She is sick of the lack of meaningful action by the Liberals to close the gender gap in Parliament.

She is sick of the lack of an independent whistleblower system to protect politicians who allege misconduct by their more senior colleagues.

“There’s the blinkered rejection of quotas and support of ‘the merit myth’, but this is more than a numbers game. Across both major parties the level of regard and respect for women in politics is years behind the business world,” she told the chamber.

“Often when good women ‘call out’ or are subjected to bad behaviour– the reprisals, backlash and commentary portrays them as the bad ones; the liar, the troublemaker, emotionally unstable or weak, or someone who should be silenced.

“To those who say politics is not for the fainthearted and that women have to ‘toughen up’, I say this: the hallmark characteristics of the Australian woman (and I’ve met thousands of them)… are resilience and a strong authentic independent spirit.”

The sentiment expressed by Banks is one that’s been bubbling very close to surface in Parliament House this year. A year in which Australia has slipped to the 50th spot on global rankings of female parliamentary representation – 35 places lower than where we sat in 1999.

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Yep. Somehow, we’re actually going backwards.

It’s why the former corporate lawyer has been an outspoken advocate gender quotas in politics. For while quotas ensure nearly half of Labor MPs are women, and while Victoria’s freshly reinstated state Labor Government has just introduced a gender-equal cabinet, only 21 of the Liberal Party’s 107 federal parliamentarians are women.

“There are equal numbers meritorious Liberal woman out there in the real world as there are men,” Banks told the lower house in September.

“It’s really simple, if you only have a man running and you can’t find a woman: find one.”

But as Banks said on Tuesday, it’s more than “a numbers game”.

Out from the confines of the cabinet, former foreign minister Julie Bishop publicly Speaking at a Women’s Weekly event back in September, the backbencher pointed to the culture that underlies the problem.

“I have seen and witnessed and experienced some appalling behaviour in Parliament, the kind of behaviour that 20 years ago when I was managing partner of a law firm of 200 employees I would never have accepted,” she said.

“Politics is robust, the very nature of it, it’s not for the faint-hearted. [But] when a feisty, amazing woman like Julia Banks says this environment is not for me, don’t say: ‘Toughen up, princess.’ Say: ‘Enough is enough.’”

The frustration is coming from both sides of aisle, too. Labor’s Emma Husar, who yesterday back-flipped on her plan to quit politics ahead of the next election, said the issue is bigger than any one party.

“I think the Parliament does have a problem and I don’t think it’s an ALP problem, I don’t think it’s a Liberal problem or a Green problem,” she told ABC.

“It’s a men problem.”

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