Australia

What does Julia Banks' resignation say about the Liberal party?

Most Liberals have denied that Julia Banks' resignation speaks to a larger cultural problem in the party.

The resignation of federal MP Julia Banks has caused a flurry of soul-searching within the Liberal party.

But few are openly admitting to a wider problem of bullying or unfair treatment of women.

The first-term MP announced this week she will not recontest her marginal Melbourne seat at the next election, calling out bad behaviour from both within her party and the Labor opposition.

"The scourge of cultural and gender bias, bullying and intimidation continues against women in politics, the media, and across business," she said.

Kelly O'Dwyer, Malcolm Turnbull and Julia Banks at Parliament House.
Kelly O'Dwyer, Malcolm Turnbull and Julia Banks at Parliament House.
AAP

The Liberals' Women's council chair Helen Kroger appeared to downplay the episode on Thursday.

She described politics as a "rough and tough" game, saying last week's leadership spill, which Ms Banks called the "last straw", was a unique environment.

"I feel really sorry for her, but politics is clearly not for everyone," Ms Kroger told ABC radio.

I feel really sorry for her, but politics is clearly not for everyone.

Helen Kroger

The former Liberal senator said she had experienced leadership spills which created robust conditions that Ms Banks may have considered to be bullying.

"I do not believe there is a culture of bullying and intimidation in the Liberal party," Ms Kroger said.

Ms Kroger's ex-husband and Victorian Liberal party president Michael Kroger also said he was not aware of bullying complaints within the party.

'A wake-up call'

But former Victorian Liberal premier Ted Baillieu criticised the party for its "problem" with women, saying the resignation should be a "wake-up call".

"There are some individuals involved who just haven't been barracking for our female members of Parliament," he told ABC radio.

"That's a problem for the party and the party has to overcome it. Whether it's hostility - or whether it's just taking female candidates for granted - it's a problem."

Voices from Parliament

Several female Liberals in Parliament have responded to this week's events.

Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer tweeted "bullying in any workplace, whether on the shopfloor, or in our nation's Parliament, is totally unacceptable".

While Liberal MP Sarah Henderson said discussions with colleagues around the time of the spill were "considerate and respectful", and blamed Labor for bullying her.

NSW Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells criticised Malcolm Turnbull's insistence on a petition with a majority of names to call another partyroom meeting.

"The insistence on the petition brought undue and unnecessary escalation of tension," Senator Fierravanti-Wells told the ABC.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has quit the frontbench.
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells says Malcolm Turnbull's demand to see names of MPs who wanted him out increased the tension last week.
AAP

She said colleagues had told her they felt pressure, but denied there was a culture of intimidation.

And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday he would support Ms Banks, promising to ensure bullying won't occur under his watch.

"I have laid down the law to my ministry," he said.

Electoral impact

The Australian National University's Blair Williams, an expert in gender and politics, said the fallout around Julia Banks' resignation could have an electoral impact for the Liberals.

"Women are already less likely than men to vote for the Liberal party," she told SBS News, citing how at the 2016 election, 47 per cent of men voted for the Liberal party in comparison to 38 per cent of women.

Ms Williams claimed the Liberal party "has an image of having a deep-seated 'woman problem', in part because of the lack of female participation within the party, both inside and outside of Parliament, the multiple barriers that women MPs face as well as their 'boy's club' culture".

She said the episode may also "dissuade young women, who already largely view [Parliament] as an unwelcoming place, from entering politics".

Additional reporting: Nick Baker

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