Leaked chats reveals MPs divided over bullying
LEAKED messages from a secret WhatsApp group chat reveal female Liberal MPs discussed the need for quotas and "active anti-bullying" measures within the party.
The messages, published in The Australian today, also show a split among the female MPs over whether claims about bullying within the party should have ever been made public.
Julie Bishop and other senior MPs such as Kelly O'Dwyer, Marise Payne, Michaelia Cash, Melissa Price, Nola Marino and Bridget McKenzie are reportedly part of the group chat called 'Coalition Women'.
One series of messages from September 4 and 5 show female MPs urging their colleagues to lend "moral support" to Liberal women who had spoken out against bullying - Julia Banks, Lucy Gichuhi and Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer - and another female MP responding that the public airing of bullying claims wasn't doing the party "any good".
"Ladies Lucy, Julia and Kelly need our moral support - the question is how," West Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds wrote in the chat on September 4, a day after Senator Gichuhi threatened to name and shame bullies in Parliament.
"I see this as a much wider issue of respect in parliament not one of 'drying your eyes princesses', this is an issue for all parties," Senator Reynolds said.
"Instead of justifying a race to the bottom on standards of behaviour that are unacceptable in any other workplace, we should seek to lead the way in respectful behaviour while encouraging far more robust debate on issues in the party room, in public and in the parliament. "The question is how!?"
Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis added in response that the party could consider quotas or "active anti-bullying" measures, while saying it was "time to make a stand".
"While we think add the idea quotas?," she said.
"Preselection rules, active anti-bullying by State directors when they are told it's happening locally? This is not a new phenomena but it's clearly time to make a stand!"
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop then added that she had been asked to speak at a women's forum on the topic and said: "Perhaps I'll have some insights."
She then told a Women's Weekly forum in Sydney that she had experienced "appalling" behaviour in her time in politics.
Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker, who replaced George Brandis when he retired earlier this year, then responded that bullying claims should not be aired through the media.
"Hi ladies. While I'm very supportive of all the ladies on the team, I don't think this public airing of bullying claims is doing our women, or our leadership team, any good," she wrote on September 5.
"Of course if there's a complaint of bullying to be made, it should be particularised and fully investigated - but our avenue for doing that is through the whip's offices, not through the media or in the chamber."
Her response reportedly ended the discussion on the WhatsApp group.
NSW Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told The Australian she did not believe the party had a problem with bullying.
"For many of my colleagues, especially those who have only been here a short time, the last few weeks have been very difficult," Senator Fierravanti-Wells said.
"Politics can be ruthless, robust and very challenging.
"Over my years of involvement, I have stood up for my values and beliefs but I have not experienced bullying."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said today there was a "range of different views" about what had taken place during the leadership spill which ousted Malcolm Turnbull, while adding that "intense lobbying" took place at such times.
He said he expected his team to now focus on the needs of the Australian people, not "dust being kicked up here in Canberra".
"I have no truck with bullying in any workplace. That's my standard. That's the one I live to and expect my team to," he told the Nine Network's Today Show.
"I also expect us to not focus on the dust being kicked up here in Canberra but to look through that dust to the real needs of the Australian people who are our primary focus."
Mr Morrison added that when his leadership team had spoken to MPs who had raised concerns about bullying, those individuals "actually referred to what was happening back in their state divisions of the Liberal Party".
"It wasn't about what was actually happening here in Canberra," he said.
"I have been raising that with the party organisation itself."
Mr Morrison said he thought there had been "some mixed messages" about events during the leadership spill.