The Politics    Friday, March 25, 2022

Tit for tat

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Western Australia earlier this month. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Western Australia earlier this month. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Those calling Labor hypocrites over factional in-fighting have little interest in the safety of women

It has been another terrible week when it comes to the Coalition’s problems with bullying, sexism and misogyny – though what else is new? Independent senator Jacqui Lambie has alleged she felt intimidated and threatened by the PM while they were negotiating a secret refugee resettlement deal, adding that there were threats of jail time if she spoke out. (Whatever one thinks of Lambie’s choices, the fact that she was threatened in this way is not okay.) Scott Morrison is now blatantly lying about his relationship with Hillsong’s disgraced founder Brian Houston, a clearly toxic figure with whom he has a long association. A University of Adelaide study found that female Liberals were systematically undermined, silenced and discredited by those in their own party following 2018 bullying allegations. A survivor of child sexual abuse says the two Tasmanian Liberal ministers who groaned at a question asked on her behalf had refused to apologise, making her feel “disrespected and minimised and gaslit”. Victorian shadow treasurer David Davis has again apologised (while claiming a smear campaign) amid further reports of his drunken behaviour, including that he aggressively lambasted bar staff because he didn’t get the meal he wanted. But hey, how about those Labor “mean girls”?

You wouldn’t think the Coalition was the party with the problem judging by this week’s political coverage, which has remained steadfastly focused on the alleged bullying of the late Labor senator Kimberley Kitching, and the alleged hypocrisy it represents. (Hypocrisy is seemingly more important to some than the actual treatment of women.) The government has not stopped hounding Labor over it, with Morrison claiming that Anthony Albanese had “gone into hiding”, and the conservatives continuing their utterly galling demands for an inquiry – despite the fact that Kitching’s friend and ally Bill Shorten said this morning that he is not calling for one. The Opposition has continued to argue, fruitlessly, that an inquiry is not required: deputy leader Richard Marles today denied that Kitching made any formal complaint to him, while Albanese yesterday said her removal from the tactics committee was part of “normal processes”.

Many of us are tired of saying this, but Kitching’s alleged treatment, whatever it was, did not have anything to do with sexism – similar drama is said to have been happening to Kim Carr. Labor’s unwillingness to launch an inquiry into its factional skirmishes has nothing to do with its attempts to call out the government’s serious women problem last year, nor does this mean they have “double standards”, as Morrison has claimed. It’s become clearer too that this was not “bullying” per se but an unpleasant factional shitfight, in which posthumous allegations, while no doubt coming from a place of genuine pain, were used to score points (several of the players are today fighting the interrelated branch takeover in court). Meanwhile, unbecoming reports continue to pick over the drama that Kitching was involved in at the time of her death, with today’s leaked texts and footage between her and Linda Reynolds doing the late senator’s memory no favours.

Certain sections of the media have been all too happy to parrot the government line that sexist bullying is now a both-sides issue. Today’s column on hypocrisy from the AFR’s Phil Coorey – who has spent all week wilfully pretending Kitching’s treatment is the same thing the Coalition was accused of – deserves special mention for its blatant twisting of the situation. Coorey’s claim that Morrison would never have dared dismiss allegations of bullying as “politics”, as Albanese has, is galling, considering this is exactly what this week’s report found the Liberal Party did do in 2018, regarding allegations that were on the record. Coorey’s suggestion that Labor is seeking a latitude it refused to give the Coalition last year, where “inquiries were demanded and held, no attempt at qualification or defence was tolerated or permitted”, defies belief. Why? Why pretend to yourself and others that this is what happened?

Coorey, interestingly, accuses those defending Labor of “wilful blindness”. We all have our blind spots here, there’s no doubt. But those wilfully implying that Labor’s attempt to keep a lid on a factional skirmish is the same as Morrison’s refusal to so much as look into rape allegations aren’t motivated by concerns about bullying, or concerns about the treatment of women. They are motivated by wanting a “gotcha” moment, and by the media’s desire to “both sides” everything. People who are doing this under the guise of “feminism” don’t really care about the mistreatment of women – or else they would take a good hard look at what they are doing.

Labor is far from perfect. But it’s obvious from this week’s headlines that there is one party with a serious women problem, and it’s not Labor. Those pretending it is simply don’t give a damn.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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