politics

Malcolm Turnbull's lunch at an exclusive gentlemen's club shows the truth about campaigning.

Election campaigns are strange beasts, and for those involved in one it’s a time unlike any other.

It’s the sort of period when the Prime Minister is unlikely to be across the minutiae of where he’ll be at any given minute of the day.

Which is probably how Malcolm Turnbull ended up having lunch at an exclusive gentleman’s club in Melbourne today.

Buzzfeed confirmed Mr Turnbull dined at the Athenaeum Club on Collins Street in the heart of Melbourne. It’s one of the last strongholds of institutionalised misogyny, the kind of place where women still aren’t truly welcome.

Though they are described on their website as “one of Australia’s oldest and finest clubs, confident in its heritage and traditions, yet enlightened and contemporary in its outlook”, the Athenaeum will only allow women as guests. Membership of the club is still only open to men .

Right now, in this first week of the election campaign, it’s highly likely that Malcolm Turnbull has very little control over his movements.

That’s a strange thing to suggest about a Prime Minister, arguably the most powerful person in the country. Surely this is a person who can yay or nay a lunch venue. But in the hustle and bustle of being on the road during an election campaign the Prime Minister’s time is not his own.

His day, as is the the Opposition Leader’s, is carefully constructed by a huge team of people. Most everyone involved in an election campaign has a slice of this pie.

There are the local candidates who bid and jostle to get a slot in the Prime Minister’s diary. The Prime Minister travels with a media pack, and with that comes a priceless moment of national exposure for a candidate who, come election day, relies mostly on name recognition to pick up votes.

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There is the policy team, usually a team of about around 30 people at campaign headquarters, putting together the ‘announceables’.

The national strategists war game where the Prime Minister needs to be at any given time, and what he (or she, perhaps again one day) will say when he’s there.

There’s the ‘advance team’ who travel literally in advance of the Prime Minister, to set events up, organise the intricate logistics of a leader’s event, and to map the Prime Minister’s every move.

And then there’s the travelling party; usually 20 to 25 people who are with the PM at all times. Security, media advisers, policy advisers, assistants.

The Prime Minister will likely have a broad idea of where he’s going on a single day and what he’ll do when he gets there. He’ll have had a huge amount of input into his day at a very high level, but his lunch arrangements aren’t top of mind.

He may have assumed someone at some point in time would hand him a sandwich between press conferences as he moved through the marginal electorates of Melbourne.

And while he ought be given the benefit of the doubt, visiting a club where women are tolerated but not welcome is a slip up.

It’s just not acceptable for the Prime Minister to dine in a venue that by it’s nature discriminates against half the population.

It’s a silent endorsement of what the club stands for. And while the club may claim to have a contemporary outlook, there’s nothing contemporary about the inequality of women.

Labor’s women’s spokesperson, Senator Claire Moore told Mamamia, “On top of giving big business a $50 billion tax cut and cutting funding from schools and hospitals, Mr Turnbull thinks it’s a good idea to spend his afternoon in a men-only club.

“This just shows how out of touch Mr Turnbull really is.”

It’s worth noting, in 2015, the QLD Liberal National Party held an International Women’s Day event at a similar venue in Brisbane. Then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott quipped that this was evidence that the women of the LNP had cracked through the glass ceiling, but the joke fell flat with female voters.

There’s no suggestion that Malcolm Turnbull will approach this matter with the same levity, but he would do well to remember that it was not long after that Tony Abbott lost the support of his party room.

The Prime Minister will have to work to reassure the women of Australia that he’s serious about tackling gender equality – and today’s misstep will be new and added pressure he could have done well without.

Mamamia sought comment from the Prime Minister and Senator Michaelia Cash but had not received a response by the time of publication.

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