It was a tense Senate Estimates hearing that went dizzyingly awry.
Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash was repeatedly probed about her newly hired chief of staff when something snapped.
After warning Labor Senator Doug Cameron that his questions were embarking upon a “dangerous path”, the Minister for Jobs and Innovation launched.
“If you want to start discussing staff matters, be very, very careful,” she said. “Because I’m happy to sit here and name every woman in Mr Shorten’s office, over which rumours in this place abound.
“If you want to go down that path today, I will do it.”
You can watch Michaelia Cash’s outburst below. Post continues.
Despite being told to “take a chill pill”, the Senator’s words only snowballed in their toxicity.
“Do you want to start naming them? Do you want [me] to start naming them for Mr Shorten to deny any of the rumours that have been circulating in this building now for many, many years?
“Dangerous path to go down and you know it.”
After ex-Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s unbecoming fall from power – which simultaneously crushed a 24-year marriage and made a woman’s burgeoning belly the topic of dinner table conversations – it’s understandable that Senator Cash seeks to expose any wrongdoing she suspects thrives within the opposition’s walls.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s sex ban may indeed see other parliamentarians topple with the same humiliation. Some might even argue the ‘bonk ban’ was imposed for that very strategic reason.
What isn’t understandable, whatsoever, is why Senator Cash would so clumsily infer blame and shame onto “every woman” she has heard whispers about.
In 2018, why would a woman with such power delight in a witch hunt?
When we make women the crux of conversations about men abusing their power, we infer that there’s only one place where the blame should be fixed. It’s an archaic and frankly unhelpful stance; if the rogue accusations about Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s office are indeed true, then it is Bill Shorten who has questions to answer.
If these rumours – and as Senator Cash said, they are nothing more than rumours – do surface publicly, the 47-year-old has done a disservice to every woman working in Labor’s offices. In casting a suggestive and salacious veil over every woman who works for Mr Shorten, Senator Cash has deprived them of the right to be believed if any of these “rumours” are, in fact, untrue.
What makes the former Minister for Women’s recklessness even more infuriating is that the veracity of her claims is impossible to test. If these rumours make it to the tabloids, then these women will have been denied the ability to defend themselves.
Senator Cash may have withdrawn her threat, but once you push venom into veins, it is awfully hard to suck out.
And in Michaelia Cash’s case, she just clamped down on dozens of unsuspecting women, without giving much thought to the consequences.