You get the government you deserve, the saying goes, but do the people who form the government deserve a better workplace?
With Julia Banks and Ann Sudmalis announcing they will quit politics amid allegations of bullying and intimidation, the raw wounds inside the Liberal Party were bared. Undermining, threats, intimidation. And it’s not even NSW Labor.
Politicians say it’s a “rough and tumble” business, and they enter it with their eyes open. But who would put their hand up for that kind of treatment?
The hours are long – 24/7. The job security is minimal. And your colleagues are often out to get you. But do politicians deserve better?
Or, as Peter Garrett found out when he joined the Labor Party and became a supporter of Pine Gap, before fading into ineffectiveness, do you get the party you help form?
It’s somewhat curious that it’s Sudmalis around whom this issue has galvanised, given that she has proven less impressive as a politician than as a fudge manufacturer.
So there’s factional manoeuvring to unseat her. This is par for the course in politics, a battle of ideas and ideologies. Should all attempts to defeat an adversary be called undermining? Or is it the how?
When Tony Abbott undermined Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership for a year, was that bullying? It fits the workplace definition. But can you bully the Prime Minister?
The thing is, Sudmalis and Banks are alleging more than just competition, but aggression and intimidation from men to women. And the Coalition has such a problem with gender equity that the benefit of the doubt has been lost.
It’s a decency issue, it's a gender issue, but is it a workplace issue? Can politicians ever have the same workplace rights as everyday people? (Let’s chuckle for a second at the idea of Turnbull claiming unfair dismissal).
Context matters. We don’t expect the same behaviour of the SAS as we do of school teachers (everyday commandos).
Most ordinary workers would be in trouble if they abused colleagues or fought to get rid of them. But we elect politicians who spend a fair whack of their time on these internal factional spats. We know this, and we elect them again.
Spend any time in the public gallery in the House of Representatives and you’ll see what a boys’ sledging club it is. It’s all about attacks, ridicule and abuse.
It will only change when votes demand it.
A footnote to the story is that Sudmalis has reportedly been offered a posting to the United Nations. That’s some prize – being sent out of the picture, to an organisation that coalition governments ignore and disrespect? Why not a study tour to Pyongyang while you’re at it?
Isn’t that the same UN posting that Banks said she was offered and which was seen as a move to get her away from parliament, nice and quietly?
That’s quite the loyalty rewards system they have in the Liberal party. And if you really behave, perhaps you could become our special envoy to Nauru.
Has the PM misjudged the strength of feeling about gender issues in the wider world outside the Shire?
And would the behaviour be much different if women formed the majority of members?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we are in any immediate danger of finding out.