May 2021


From Abbott to Zumbo

By Rachel Withers
Image of Question Time at Parliament House, December 9, 2020.

Question Time at Parliament House, December 9, 2020. © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

A short history of the Coalition’s ‘women problem’

The “problem”, as it is known, didn’t begin in 2011. But that was the year – the first 12 months with a woman in The Lodge – that brought us the image that best sums it up. It was the moment, Julia Gillard later said, that should have ended Tony Abbott’s career: the then opposition leader, along with a bevy of senior Liberals, standing before an angry mob, framed by sexist placards reading “Ditch the witch” and “JuLIAR… Bob Browns Bitch”.

There are other images that stick out. Abbott at a radio mic, winking and smirking at the expense of a woman who can’t see him. Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann smoking cigars together before the budget. Coalition men with their backs turned as they leave the chamber, as Liberal MP Julia Banks – the sole woman in frame – stands to announce why she is leaving the party. Scott Morrison reclining in his prime-ministerial chair, staring casually down at his phone, back turned on Labor’s Tanya Plibersek as she speaks during Question Time. Every photo of the Coalition party room.

A recent image – a more hopeful one – may now prove as memorable: a young woman in white, standing not far from where Abbott stood, staring out at a very different crowd, and a very different set of placards. Brittany Higgins, the former Liberal staffer who alleges she was raped at work and then let down by her party, has kicked the Coalition’s “women problem” up several notches with her allegations. But the problem far predates her time in politics. From Abbott to Zumbo, accusations of sexism, misogyny, abuse, bullying, under-representation, marginalisation and offering anti-women policies have followed the Coalition since Abbott took the reins. For as long as it’s been in power, the Abbott–Turnbull–Morrison government has barely gone a month without reminding the nation of its women problem, whether through policy or politics, culture or commentary. It’s hard to say if it’s now reached its nadir, but it’s been a long downhill journey.

As opposition leader, Tony Abbott gave plenty of notice of the casual sexism and retrograde gender politics his Coalition would bring to government. Just weeks into his leadership – a year before he stood shamelessly before that collage of sexist signage – Abbott attempted to appeal to female voters with a reference to housework. “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing”, he told reporters in February 2010, is that “their own power bills, when they switch the iron on, are going to go up”. A few weeks earlier, the socially conservative leader, already known for his pro-life views, had used an Australian Women’s Weekly interview to describe a woman’s virginity as “the greatest gift” she could give someone – advice meant for his daughters, but offered up to the world at large.

Abbott lost the 2010 election but remained leader in 2013, when Liberal candidate and former minister Mal Brough’s preselection was not affected by the exposure of his infamous fundraiser menu, with its lewd jokes about the prime minister’s anatomy – the “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail” described as having ‘‘Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box”. The menu was leaked in the midst of a debate over Gillard’s controversial attempts to bring reproductive rights into the election. “Gillard’s comments on abortion and the Coalition are desperate and offensive,” tweeted treasurer-to-be Joe Hockey, who attended the fundraiser. “She has never deserved respect and will never receive it.”

On the campaign trail, Abbott chose to highlight the “sex appeal” of Liberal candidate Fiona Scott, when asked what she had in common with her predecessor (Scott, standing beside him, laughed, as did Abbott’s daughter). Scott recently said that she knew almost immediately, once the shock wore off, that the gaffe was going to “hurt” her, damaging her credibility long term. The line stuck to her, though Abbott glided on through.

When the Coalition was elected in September 2013, women were “once again banished from the centre of Australia’s political life”, as Gillard had forewarned in her “men in blue ties” speech. While Abbott’s shadow cabinet had contained three women, the 19-member cabinet he announced after the election contained just one, foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop – leaving him with the lowest level of female cabinet representation since 2001, when a resignation left Howard with only one woman. Abbott said he was “disappointed” there were not more women in cabinet, but that he expected women to be promoted over time, with “good and talented” women in the outer ministry “knocking on the door”. He would not add a second woman to cabinet until December 2014, when Sussan Ley was appointed health and sport minister.

But nothing could explain his bizarre decision to appoint himself minister for women. And when asked later for his greatest achievement in the portfolio, he said it was repealing the carbon tax.

The problem goes far beyond backward attitudes or a few politically incorrect “jokes”. It appears, rather, to go right to the heart of the Coalition parties’ internal culture.

Malcolm Turnbull, to his credit, tried to address the lack of female representation when he took over the Liberal leadership in September 2015, increasing the number of women in cabinet from two to five, or from 10 to 24 per cent – a figure at least reflective of the party’s parliamentary make-up. Nevertheless, the Turnbull years brought forth a series of harassment scandals that indicated the true depths of the problem. In December 2015, cities minister Jamie Briggs was forced to give up his portfolio after behaving inappropriately towards a female diplomat in Hong Kong. In February 2018, then deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce was revealed to be having an affair with his media adviser Vikki Campion. It soon came out that he was also the subject of a sexual harassment complaint from a Western Australian businesswoman, following a 2016 incident which left her crying and unable to sleep. The complaint, made confidentially to the National Party, was subsequently leaked to the media, against her wishes.

Turnbull, an avowed feminist (an unusual thing among both Coalition men and women), reportedly tried to clean up the behaviour and certainly didn’t engage in the kind of ham-fisted commentary Abbott had. Following the revelations of Joyce’s affair, Turnbull introduced the infamous “bonk ban”, an amendment to the ministerial code banning ministers from engaging in sexual relations with their staff. Turnbull was later quite open about the culture he saw at the time, telling Four Corners that the attitudes and the lack of respect towards women reminded him “of the corporate scene, you know, 40 years ago”. The “bonk ban” was aimed not just at Joyce but at ministers Christian Porter and Alan Tudge.

As reported last year by the ABC’s Four Corners, Tudge and Porter, both married with children, had also been engaged in inappropriate workplace behaviour at that time. Porter, who has been accused of “making unwanted advances to women during his time in federal politics”, was allegedly seen “kissing and cuddling” a young staffer at Canberra’s Public Bar, an incident he denies (a photo snapped on a journalist’s phone was reportedly deleted at Tudge’s furious insistence). Tudge has admitted to a “consensual” affair with former media adviser Rachelle Miller, which she says involved a significant power imbalance and led to bullying that forced her out of politics.

But it wasn’t just a highly sexualised culture. Little by little, the depths of the Coalition’s “boys’ club” problem was becoming clear. Following the August 2018 spill that ended Turnbull’s prime ministership, instances of harassment and aggression drove a number of women from politics. Many Coalition women began to shine a light on the sexist bullying and anti-woman hostility they faced.

Former Chisholm MP Julia Banks became the most high-profile whistleblower when she quit the Liberal Party in November 2018 to sit on the crossbench, and has spent years calling out the “toxic, masculine, anti-women workplace culture” she experienced in politics, especially during the August coup that saw Scott Morrison take the prime ministership – a time of bullying and threats that left a number of women in tears. (In September, Morrison had promised an internal party review into the sexist bullying allegations, but it had amounted to nothing.) Banks’s decision – at first only to not recontest, but later to move to the crossbench – was based on the treatment she both witnessed and experienced from the moment she entered politics, including during the canvassing of support to replace Turnbull. The events around the spill were just the final straw.

Banks wasn’t the only woman horrified by the events of August 2018, though she was the most open about it. The then senator Lucy Gichuhi slammed the male “bullies” in the Liberal Party, saying “we have to stop beating up our women” and publicly threatening to name names. Linda Reynolds also spoke out, as few seem to remember, telling the Senate she was “distressed and disturbed” by the behaviour she had witnessed. (Both senators soon went quiet, saying the new prime minister had “taken up” the issue.) Two months later, minister for women Kelly O’Dwyer privately ripped into Victorian colleagues over the fact the Liberal Party had come to be regarded as “anti-women”. She soon announced she wouldn’t be recontesting the seat of Higgins, and though she never formally blamed the events of the spill, they are widely believed to have been a factor. Around the same time, Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis also decided not to recontest her seat, blaming the “bullying, betrayal and backstabbing” of a male state MP. “Enough is enough,” she said.

But the most damning act of all might have been the departure of deputy leader Julie Bishop, who quit the front bench, then politics altogether, after being overlooked in the leadership spill – despite being the most senior and popular of the candidates, male or female. Bishop, famed for her loyalty, has only recently begun to open up about the “appalling” culture and gendered discrimination she faced, and the “Big Swinging Dicks” group who reportedly conspired to hold her back.

The Coalition under Morrison attempted to put the sexist genie back in its toxic bottle, quietening some women while portraying others as “weak” or unable to handle a bit of lobbying. The new prime minister said he was 100 per cent confident there were no bullies among the federal Liberal Party, while Victorian party president Michael Kroger also denied bullying had gone on during the spill. But it had already become clear by that stage that the Coalition was an extremely unpleasant workplace for women.

“It’s open for anybody to see,” said Gichuhi, before she fell silent. “If we can start by accepting we have a problem, we address it.”

As leader, Scott Morrison has proved himself as clueless as Tony Abbott when it comes to the opposite sex – despite both living in a house full of women – and has repeatedly exacerbated the Coalition’s gender problem.

Early in his prime ministership, Morrison joked to a Gold Coast radio station about his mates wanting to be made his “special envoy” to meet with TV star Pamela Anderson, after she publicly appealed to him to help WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The following year, he attracted the ire of women worldwide with his International Women’s Day line about not wanting to see women rise “only on the basis of others doing worse”.

Since then, his limited understanding of gender politics has become even clearer – whether thinking “as a father first” after having to ask his wife Jenny about the emotional impact of rape, or noting that protesters in nearby countries were “met with bullets” just after women had marched in Canberra for justice, or referring to women (whether rape victims or chief executives or chief nursing officers) by their first names in a way he never would for men. The Higgins, Porter and Holgate affairs were bound to expose his inadequacies.

Not that other men of the modern Coalition have been much better. Eric Abetz, an Abbott loyalist, has been accused of slut-shaming and victim-blaming Higgins for having been “disgustingly drunk” at the time of her alleged rape (comments he denies). Then there’s Peter “she said, he said” Dutton, Christian “more holes than Snow White’s hymen” Porter, and Andrew – where to begin? – Laming. And it’s not just the men. The women of the Coalition have been guilty of gender commentary that is at best tone deaf, and at worst openly sexist, from former defence minister Linda Reynolds calling Higgins a “lying cow”, to Nationals MP Michelle Landry telling reporters that she felt “bad” for the “really good worker” who had lost his job for masturbating on a female MP’s desk.

Julia Banks writes that this culture has flourished “like house mould” in the last two years in particular.

The boys’ club has carried on: amid a litany of accountability and corruption scandals involving the Morrison ministry, the only Coalition minister to face any consequences for inappropriate actions is former Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie, who was hung out to dry over the “sports rorts” affair. Morrison is known for obstinately standing by his man, but apparently this did not extend to a woman. Similarly, while former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate has accused the prime minister of publicly humiliating her over the Cartier watches scandal, saying his Question Time attack was “one of the worst acts of bullying” she had ever seen, men in similar positions have held on to their jobs, and been instantly believed by the government over women at every turn.

The latest round of issues has prompted even more Coalition women to come forward. New Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told the ABC she’s had “a gutful” of the disrespect towards women, saying the “drinking, partying culture” left women socially isolated and cut out of political discussions. Recently disendorsed Tasmanian state speaker Sue Hickey, who accused Abetz of victim-blaming, said the “men in dark suits are firmly in control”, with no room for women who “refuse to kowtow or be subservient to the dominant males”.

Many senior Coalition women have defended the party or remained silent, but NSW state MP Catherine Cusack, who passed her own personal “tipping point” recently, claims they do so out of “party loyalty”. “For years there has been a ludicrous expectation by Liberal leaders that we female MPs can be wheeled out to defend these disgusting behaviours,” she wrote in Guardian Australia, calling for her colleagues to find their voices. The Liberal boys’ club, she adds, “calls the shots” in the aggressive and macho factional system.

If the bullying, blokey culture has run riot, it’s clear the debauched and dangerous one has, too. After all, what does it say that Brittany Higgins’ alleged rapist – a Liberal staffer who is alleged to have assaulted numerous other women – felt that the best place to take his victim was Parliament House? Higgins’ revelations have placed renewed attention on assault allegations against Liberal staffers from recent years, while the veil has been lifted on other kinds of behaviour, from the filmed masturbation in a female MP’s office to the harassment and upskirting of constituents (and getting to keep your job). The Coalition was aware of allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards interns, including unwanted touching, levelled against Craig Kelly staffer Frank Zumbo, but did nothing for months. Morrison would not even comment on the allegations until Kelly quit the Liberals and moved to the crossbench.

There have been many attempts to paint these issues as a Canberra problem, or a societal one, rather than a Coalition problem. There’s little doubt there are issues in the Labor Party, and wider society as well. But it’s clear there’s something especially rotten in the Coalition ranks.

The fact that the Coalition continues to harbour an alleged rapist, with the prime minister accepting his innocence, and denying the need for an inquiry, without so much as reading the allegations, says it all.

Many are keen to rebrand the government’s “women problem” as a “men problem”, to emphasise where the fault lies, but it could also be accurately described as the “lack of women problem”. As Malcolm Turnbull said in March 2019, “the Liberal Party does have a women’s problem, in the sense we do not have enough women in parliament”. Over the years, many of the women the party does have in parliament have raised the gender imbalance, including Judith Troeth, Sharman Stone, Sue Boyce, Marise Payne and Sussan Ley. The Coalition’s culture has been known to drive even the more resilient women from its ranks – a problem, since the Coalition doesn’t have many women to begin with.

Female representation in Australian politics remains embarrassingly low, with Australia ranked 49th in the world based on the percentage of women in the federal lower house, and this is mainly the fault of the Coalition, for which women hold only a fifth of seats, compared with 42.6 per cent for Labor. These figures are 26 and 48 per cent when senators are added.

Increasing the number of Coalition female MPs federally has been slow going. In its eight years in power, the federal government has increased its female parliamentary representation from 20 per cent in 2013 to 26 per cent today. The Liberal Party alone has raised its female representation from 22 to 26 per cent in that time, far from the noble target of equal representation by 2025, which it set in 2016 with no roadmap to achieve it.

As Chris Wallace, associate professor at the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation (an initiative of the University of Canberra established in 2017), wrote in The Conversation, the presence of women in politics is normalised in Australia – except in the Coalition. “To be a woman in the Liberal or National parties is still to be a political ‘irregular’,” she wrote, during the exodus of Coalition female MPs that followed the Turnbull–Morrison spill, “one of a group of resented interlopers, tiny in number, whom many male colleagues hope can be driven away.”

It’s not as if the Liberal Party has been unaware of this particular facet of its “women problem”. In 2015, its federal executive commissioned a report to address the ongoing decline of its female vote. The report – titled “Room for Movement: Women and Leadership in the Liberal Party”, and recently obtained by the ABC’s The Drum – found women were far less likely to be preselected by the party, due to “inherent barriers” such as family obligations and a lack of women already in leadership. A “middle-aged blokey culture” – in which men often speak over women and “engage in chauvinistic behaviour and attempt to intimidate women” – was identified as one of the largest inhibitors.

The Liberal Party’s own think tank, the Menzies Research Centre, has been reaching the same conclusion for years, with its latest gender report arguing that the Liberals’ lack of women was hurting its brand, causing it to lose female voters. It found the issue began at the grassroots, with not enough women joining the party, meaning fewer women in the pipeline.

And yet party members, it found, still need to be persuaded there is even an issue. “The first step in addressing the representation of women in the Liberal Party,” the October 2020 report reads, “is to acknowledge that the Party does in fact have a problem.”

In announcing his recent ministerial reshuffle, Scott Morrison said it would bring in the “strongest ever female representation” in an Australian government cabinet – though at seven out of 23, or 30 per cent, he was only really matching Kevin Rudd’s 2013 rate. Morrison did it by adding a woman to the cabinet, rather than dropping any men, in line with his preference for seeing women rise without men giving up anything whatsoever. And it remains the fact that all of the prime minister’s key advisers and confidants – the “magnificent seven”, as they have been described – are men.

To the prime minister’s credit, the percentage of cabinet who are women now outstrips the percentage of female Coalition MPs in parliament. That latter number remains a serious problem. Recent modelling by The McKell Institute indicates that, at the current rate of improvement, the Coalition will delay gender parity in the House of Representatives for decades – potentially even until next century.

Nonetheless, while it’s become impossible to deny that the Coalition needs more women, there remains stubborn resistance to a sure-fire method of achieving that: quotas for winnable seats.

The quota conversation was recently reignited, but almost as quickly extinguished, with pushback from those who claim quotas undermine merit and “tokenise” women, turning them into a number (or a “quota girl”, as they say in the Coalition). Critics ignore the fact that factional arrangements mean parliamentary and party roles are decided according to quotas all the time, and that women still have to be extremely meritorious to be preselected – as has been the case in the once-blokey Labor Party, where quotas have been highly successful. The Coalition remains adamant that its unenforceable “targets” are the way to go, despite the fact they are making little progress.

Those arguing that quotas wouldn’t be a silver bullet are correct in one respect: having more women in the Coalition won’t end the problem if those women aren’t the type willing to push back against the prevailing culture. Few attended the March 4 Justice protest over the treatment of women, many female Coalition MPs still eschew the term “feminist”, and most seem more loyal to their party than their gender. The “Coalition women” WhatsApp group has reportedly been silent on the sexism allegations plaguing the government, while Minister for Women Marise Payne has been largely absent from the debate, other than when defending the prime minister. Many only begin speaking out after they leave.

At the end of the day, however, any extra Coalition seat held by a woman will help ease the problem, if it means one less problematic man. (Not that we want to see improvements for women “on the basis of others doing worse”, of course.)

While the lack of women in the Coalition is deeply troublesome, perhaps the most concerning consequences of the “women problem” have come through in its policies. Over the past eight years, Liberal–National policy has failed to support and, in some cases, has actively harmed women, often unknowingly, with budgets that have been neither women-focused nor women-driven – two things experts agree are closely linked.

The Abbott government’s first budget – the one that brought us Hockey and Cormann’s celebratory cigars, and Abbott’s mocking wink – was the first in decades not to include a women’s budget statement, outlining how different measures would impact women, with Australia having been a pioneer in such gender budget analysis. The 2014 “austerity budget” had terrible implications for women, slashing everything from social welfare to the Schoolkids Bonus to funding for family violence services, all of which disproportionately affected women.

As the minister for women, Abbott did take office with a raft of women-focused policies, the headline being his full-salary, 26-week parental leave scheme, which he had taken to two elections. The scheme was never implemented, however, with Abbott forced to abandon it in the face of resistance from within his own party. Two days ahead of the 2015 budget, treasurer Hockey used Mother’s Day to announce a crackdown on women accessing government-funded leave if they also received leave through their employer, suggesting women who accessed both – legally – were committing “fraud”.

Abbott failed to implement his paid-leave scheme, and a lot of what he did manage to achieve in his short time was far from women-focused. In fact, many of the Coalition’s ongoing policies have negative implications for women, from regressive tax changes (affecting lower income earners, i.e., women), to the hands-off management of aged care (whose residents and workers are predominantly women), to increases in the fees for humanities degrees (two-thirds of which are studied by women). The Coalition also repeatedly attempted debilitating cuts to community legal aid, only to be forced to reverse them in the face of backlash.

Turnbull, in his eagerness to change the tone on women’s issues, immediately made some splashy feminist policy announcements upon taking up the leadership, including a $100 million Women’s Safety Package – but this was one-off funding that reversed only some of the $300 million Abbott had cut from family violence services. In many ways, Turnbull carried on the more general anti-women policies the Coalition had seen under Abbott, his positive words never quite matched by action, his budgets slammed for their low financial commitment to the cause.

The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) began producing its own annual “Gender Lens on the Budget” report soon after the government stopped the practice, though its analysis only scrutinises what has been decided, rather than encouraging the government to proactively consider women in its decision-making. Professor Helen Hodgson, chair of NFAW’s social policy committee, says the Coalition’s mentality these past eight years has been one of “gender blindness” rather than open hostility. The removal of the women’s budget statement is telling: there is an unwillingness to consider how its policies might affect women differently. It’s not that Morrison hasn’t heard of the gender pay gap, as has been recently suggested, it’s that he doesn’t see how it applies to tax rates. “To suggest that it’s got something to do with the tax system is nonsense,” he said as treasurer, back in 2018, after analysis showed that $30 billion of the $41.6 billion of the Coalition’s Stage Three cuts would flow to men.

Even when policymaking has focused on women, it has been more in line with “neoliberal feminism”, with a spotlight on helping individual women succeed, rather than addressing any underlying disadvantage, as academics Sue Williamson and Linda Colley have explored for The Conversation. Turnbull and Kelly O’Dwyer’s 2018 Women’s Economic Security Statement – the government’s first major policy on “gender equality” – was all about helping women professionally, but failed to address or recognise the broader issues impacting women’s security, from problems in the social-security system to quality part-time work and affordable housing. (And how could it have done so? The plan only allocated $119 million for the entire package.) “The Coalition government should take note: neoliberal feminism may benefit some women,” wrote Williamson and Colley, “but is unlikely to herald long-lasting changes that improve the lives of all women, particularly those at the lower end of the pay scale.”

International research shows that having women in politics is the most important factor in improving gender equality, with women more likely to introduce legislation that benefits women. But without a solid contingent of feminist women in parliament, there is little attention being paid to women’s needs.

This lack of attention to policy impacts on women has been particularly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s response has been widely criticised for being so focused on men, when women have been more acutely affected – whether in terms of lost employment, domestic labour burden, or domestic abuse – by what journalist Jess Hill described as a “gendered pandemic”.

Some of the government’s early initiatives were worthy of praise: childcare was made free, and additional funding was put into frontline services to counter the rise in family violence (never mind that so much had recently been stripped from such programs). But women received less overall from the government’s stimulus packages. Casuals, who are disproportionately women, were mostly excluded from JobKeeper, while multiple schemes were aimed at supporting and creating jobs for the predominantly male construction industry. And when it came time to the “snap back”, women were the first cut loose. Childcare workers were among the first taken off JobKeeper, and free childcare was cancelled.

Critics labelled the delayed 2020 budget “a blue-collar budget for a pink recession”, with its focus on helping male-dominated industries, despite women losing their jobs at a higher rate than men, and a recession likely to especially hurt older women’s employment prospects. NFAW’s analysis found that the budget’s tax cuts would disproportionately favour men and, despite earlier commitments to address a spike in domestic violence, would increase the gender inequality correlated with abuse. When journalist and gender advocate Georgie Dent wrote that the budget hadn’t delivered for women – noting that only $240 million, or one-third of 1 per cent of the whole budget, was targeted towards women – she was reportedly told by the Prime Minister’s Office that no one “credible” shared her view.

More recently, the government abolished the Family Court, merging it with the Federal Circuit Court, a move advocates say will increase the stress and risk to survivors of family violence. It was, thankfully, forced to abandon further plans (pushed by the new minister for women’s economic security, Jane Hume) to allow domestic violence victims to access their superannuation to financially support escape from their partners, which would drain retirement funds and put women at risk of further abuse. The government was also slammed for leaving Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ “Respect @Work” report and recommendations untouched in the attorney-general’s office for more than a year.

The current crisis has forced Morrison to be seen to be undertaking a reset on policy, with the announcement of a new women-focused taskforce. The taskforce will reportedly apply a “gender lens” to whole-of-government policies, including the budget – something the government plainly should have been doing already. Helen Hodgson says it’s likely too late for this gender analysis to make any substantive difference to the 2021 budget, but she hopes this year presents a turning point: “It really is time that the government stepped up and started to actually do some gender-responsive budgeting, and to look at how the decisions and their policies affect men as opposed to women and women as opposed to men.”

The Coalition’s “women problem” is a huge problem for the women of Australia. But just how big of a problem is it for the Coalition? Despite rising concerns about the long-term decline in its female vote, the Coalition has continued to win elections, and it’s for this reason that the prime minister may have assumed that he could just wait this out.

For years the Coalition was able to dismiss the women problem as a concern only to “tertiary-educated women” (not regarded as a core constituency) and, according to reports, thought it could continue to do so now. But the damaging polls and widening gender gaps make it clear this is no longer the case, with women’s fury transcending the political divide. Morrison’s approval rating among women has dropped dramatically since February, with even Coalition-voting women diverging from their male counterparts in thinking this is more than just a Canberra insider story.

The true depth of the problem has only now become apparent to the government and, in many cases, to women themselves. The Coalition’s problem is finally catching up with it, 10 long years after Tony Abbott stood in front of a sign calling for the country to “Ditch the witch”. Enough, it seems, is enough.

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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