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The “menacing” and “controlling” Scott Morrison

Today, Paul Bongiorno on the latest allegations levelled against the Morrison government and why there seems to be no consequences.

For most of the past year the Coalition government has faced sustained criticism over its treatment of women.

Now a former Liberal MP has added fuel to the fire, lashing a culture of sexism and bullying in the Liberal party, and accusing a cabinet minister of sexual harassment. 

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on the latest allegations levelled against the Morrison government and why there seems to be no consequences.

And a warning, this episode contains descriptions of sexual harassment.

 

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Show Transcript

[Theme music starts]

BETH:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Beth Atkinson-Quinton, this is 7am.

For most of the past year, the Coalition government has faced criticism over it’s treatment of women. Now a former Liberal MP has added fuel to the fire, lashing a culture of sexism and bullying in the Liberal party…

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“His response was to, sort of, drag me through this sort of sexist spectrum, a narrative that I was this weak over-emotional woman to the bully bitch.”

...and accusing a cabinet minister of sexual harassment. 

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“I think it's symptomatic of what we've seen. It's sort of the pinnacle of what that culture, that entrenched culture is.”

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno, on the latest allegations levelled against the Morrison government and why there seems to be no consequences.

And a warning: this episode contains descriptions of sexual harassment.

[Theme music ends]

BETH:
Paul, this week, the government came under fire, yet again, over accusations of sexist bullying. What kicked this off?

PAUL:
Well Beth, former Liberal MP, Julia Banks, released a new book on Wednesday called ‘Power Play’. It's really her story of a lifelong commitment to gender equity long before she got into politics. It's really a forceful feminist manifesto. And it's in this context that she speaks of her shock about the way she was treated when she became a member of the federal parliament. And given the spectacular revelations this year about the treatment of women in the Liberal Party. Well, there was a lot of media and public interest in Banks' story… 

BETH:
Tell me about that story - who is Julia Banks? 

PAUL:
Well, Julia Banks is the daughter of Greek immigrants that fostered in her a burning ambition to make something of herself. She forged a career as a successful lawyer and businesswoman. And even there, she documents how she came up against barriers of misogyny and battling to break into a boy's club world. Then, in her early 50s, inspired by the agenda of then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, she answered a Victorian Liberal Party call for more women to come forward for pre-selection. And she was pre-selected for the Victorian marginal seat of Chisholm, previously held for a long time by the Labour Party. And even though a redistribution had made the seat more favourable for the Liberals, the party machine thought winning it was probably too tough an ask. But Banks became the only Liberal candidate to win a seat from Labour in 2016. 

Archival Tape -- Speaker of the House:
“The honourable member for Chisholm.”

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“Thank you, Mr Speaker.”

PAUL:
The only bright spot, I've got to tell you, in an election that saw the Turnbull government lose a swag of seats and come close to defeat.

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“Mr Speaker, women represent roughly 50 percent of the people of Chisholm, as in the Australian population. However, women are not equally represented in leadership positions in business, politics or in our communities…”

PAUL:
Well, Julia Banks came into some prominence with her tough questioning of witnesses in the parliamentary enquiry into the banking system. 

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“You refer to a lost decade, and however, in that lost decade we’ve seen systemic serious failures in the finance sector that has done a lot of harm to a lot of Australians…”

PAUL:
But then in 2018, there were rumblings that the party's right in Victoria was preparing to challenge her in the next pre-selections. It was a move that they were planning against a lot of moderates like her, in fact. 

BETH:
Ok so, Julia Banks is elected in 2016, but only a couple of years later she is already facing a lot of pressure from the Liberal Party’s right wing. So what happened?

PAUL:
Well, in August 2018, there was the leadership coup, as I said, against Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“Good evening. Malcolm Turnbull is hanging on as Prime Minister tonight, but only just after narrowly surviving a snap leadership vote…”

PAUL:
Turnbull resigned after a spill motion was successfully moved against him by the party's right to make way for Peter Dutton - that was the plan. 

Archival Tape -- Malcolm Turnbull:
“So, look, thank you all very much, and I wish you all the best. And above all, I wish the new Prime Minister elect the very best and his team. Thank you.”

PAUL:
Well, in the ensuing leadership vote between Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop. Banks supported Bishop. And we all know Bishop didn't win. 

Archival Tape:
“Good afternoon. As you're all aware, there was a ballot conducted in the party room for the leadership of the Liberal Party. The successful candidate was Scott Morrison, and he won this vote by 45 votes to 40 for Peter Dutton…”

PAUL:
Morrison, in a shrewd play, came through the middle and was elected party leader to then become Prime Minister, Banks said that was the last straw. Then she said she was quitting at the next election. She felt as though her brand of moderate liberal politics was slowly erased from the party. And a couple of months later, she made an even more dramatic announcement. She spectacularly quit The Liberal Party to sit as an independent, pushing the Morrison government further into minority status. 

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“Speaker, equal representation of men and women in this parliament is an urgent imperative which will create a culture change…”

PAUL:
There's the well, when she quit, she gave a blistering speech about the culture in the Liberal Party and how right wing it had become. 

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“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, the emotionally unstable or weak, or someone who should be silenced...”

PAUL:
She had been relatively quiet for the last couple of years until she returned this week to unleash on the Morrison government and level an extraordinary claim of sexual harassment against a serving cabinet minister.

BETH:
We’ll be back in a moment

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BETH:
Paul, can you tell me what Julia Banks revealed about her time as a politician in the Liberal Party? 

PAUL:
Well Beth, we got a lot of detail When Banks sat down for a prime time interview with 7.30’s Laura Tingle on Monday night. 

Archival Tape -- Laura Tingle:
“Julia Banks, you had a lot of experience in both the corporate and legal world before you got into politics. And your book reflects that…”

PAUL:
She told her version of events about the period of her departure from the Liberal Party and the way she was treated by Scott Morrison.

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“Morrison called and he said straight away, you know, ‘Julia, you can't do this’. ‘You can't do this statement now’. ‘You know, you have to delay it a couple of months’. And I said, well, Scott, I'm going now. I'm not delaying it a couple of... ‘well, at least wait until, you know, the next sitting week’. And I said, no, Scott, I'm making - I can't lie to my staff, my constituents and my family. You know, I'm going to make this announcement now…”

PAUL:
She said that Morrison was desperate to stop her announcing she was going to leave at the next election. Banks told Laura Tingle that Morrison called and said, you can't do this. You can't make this statement now.

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“And he said, Julia, I am the Prime Minister. And I remember thinking... I think I said something along the lines of: I know who you are, Scott. But he said, ‘look, just give me 24 hours’. And I said, all right, OK, 24 hours, fine. And that was my first mistake…” 

PAUL:
She said the prime minister was very heavy-handed in attempting to keep her in parliament...

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“And then he and his treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, had earlier made this offer to me. ‘We can take you away from all of this’. ‘We can send you to the United Nations delegate to New York, three months, all expenses paid’. And that was clearly to get me out of the parliament…”

PAUL:
And well, according to Banks, Morrison was desperate to try and keep her in the tent and made all sorts of offers. But when he couldn't buy her off or enforce her silence, Morrison's office and colleagues, she says, embarked on a media campaign of negative backgrounding. She says Morrison was like a menacing, controlling wallpaper...

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“Morrison, the most powerful man in the country. He was...I describe him as like a menacing, controlling wallpaper…”

PAUL:
Not a bad image - it only served to steel her resolve. And she quit the Liberals banging the door as she went.

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“At that time, I thought, I've you know, I'm challenging him. And that was his response. His response was to sort of drag me through this sort of sexist spectrum, a narrative that I was this weak, over-emotional woman to the bully bitch. You know, that narrative was played all the way through that three months…”

PAUL:
Now, Morrison's office denies her version of the Prime Minister's conversations and says he was unaware of any inappropriate behaviour.

BETH:
OK, so Julia Banks did eventually leave the Liberal Party and then the parliament altogether. But what about this allegation of sexual harassment? Paul, what did she say about that? 

PAUL:
Well, Banks told a story about the time she and her colleagues were crowded into a room in the ministerial wing waiting for a late night crucial vote.

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“I was sitting on a couch talking to another MP and then a Cabinet Minister sat on my right and he sort of, did that, sort of, flippant ‘how are you’ and then put his hand on my knee and ran it up my leg on the upper part of my leg and then walked away…” 

PAUL:
She says she froze and walked away and told another woman MP what had happened. 

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“I walked, walked away, went over to where the drinks and snacks were and said to this other female MP: ‘can you stay talking to me? Because he made a move on me’...” 

PAUL:
She didn't name the Cabinet Minister, but she did say it was in front of the whole room. And it made her wonder how this Minister would act towards other, more vulnerable women where the power dynamic was skewed in his favour.

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“You know, if that's happened to me, where there's pretty minimal power disparity, you know, and imagine, you can only imagine, what happens to people who don't have that sort of power parity…”

PAUL:
And it's interesting how similar the story Banks told was the story of Brittany Higgins - Higgins described a very similar culture of trying to control the narrative and cover up the situation and how that was more important than actually creating a safe environment for women. 

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“This whole narrative, which is what he’s very good at, controlling the narrative, in this whole narrative about me being this weak petal that hadn't coped with coup week. And that's for the reason I was leaving, was the narrative that they had created and that he was complicit, absolutely complicit, in when he did that first presser.”

PAUL:
And ultimately, it's why she says she left the parliament. She said that Morrison was trying to silence her and wanted her out of the way.

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“It's about leadership and it's about accountability. And we haven't seen that to date, despite everything that's happened in 2021…”

PAUL:
But what this is highlighting is that parliament is a toxic workplace and it's actually worse than other workplaces. And Julia Banks in making this point, sheets home a lot of the blame at the boys club culture of the Liberal Party.

Archival Tape -- Julia Banks:
“For as long as we don't have that critical mass and gender equal leadership in our government, I really don't believe we will get good policy, good sound policy. And certainly we won't get a healthy workplace culture in Federal Parliament.”

BETH:
Paul, thanks for your time. 

PAUL:
Thanks, Beth, lovely to work with you. Bye.

[Advertisement]

BETH:
Also in the news today…

 

NSW recorded a further 38 locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as the federal Government has announced the state will receive 300,000 extra doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines to help control the growing COVID-19 outbreak.

 

And the Morrison Government has rejected a request from the Marshall Islands to phase out coal power ahead of an upcoming United Nations meeting on Australia's human rights record this week. It’s one of a number of requests from countries calling on Australia to overhaul its approach to human rights.

 

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Michelle Macklem, Cinnamon Nippard, Kara Jensen-Mackinnon and Alex Gow.

 

Our senior producer is Ruby Schwartz and our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. 

 

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Follow in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out. 

 

I’m Beth Atkinson-Quinton, see ya next week.

 

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