It’s been a tumultuous few weeks (again) in Australian politics. After a young woman named Brittany Higgins saw Grace Tame, a survivor of sexual abuse, standing beside the PM, accepting her Australian of the Year Award, she decided to come forward and pursue allegations of sexual assault that she alleges occurred in Parliament House, when she worked there as a staffer.
Since then, another three women have come forward to complain about the same male staffer as well.
Brittany Higgins has commented that she was made to feel that if she had pursued her initial complaints, her job as a political staffer might have been affected.
There have been a lot of things happening in regard to women in the Australian Parliament, and indeed, within the political parties.
More recently, Julie Bishop, who had been Deputy PM for years, and was Foreign Minister and an accomplished international spokeswoman, missed out on leadership of the Australian Liberal Party. She has been described as arguably ‘the most popular PM Australia has never had.’ Instead, Scott Morrison, a relatively unknown to the Australian public, (except for having created Robodebt), who ended up as PM.
The Morrison Government has, in comparison to many other governments, handled the pandemic reasonably well. But with some exceptions – preferential treatment for sports and sports people, celebrities, and politicians for example. Generally, the government has listened to the health professionals, but the state premiers have played an important role in keeping things from escalating out of control at times.
However the Morrison government’s track record in other areas has been problematic. There has been a culture of ignoring significant issues – like Sports Rorts, for example, where sports grants were handed out to organisations who scored more poorly under the criteria, but were in marginal electorates, and the decision was made by the minister. Add to that significant issues in aged care – a federal responsibility, blurred lines between government and business – the list goes on.
And now we come to the issues in parliament house, and indeed embedded in the culture of politics in Australia.
Firstly there are the issues that ‘no-one knew anything about the allegations’ until ….whatever date is currently in vogue.
When Brittany Higgins spoke out, it took a while for the PM to come out and apologise for her treatment when she initially looked for assistance (part of which involved being interviewed in the office in which the alleged assault took place). He only apologised when his wife said: ‘”She said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’
This is Grace Tame’s (Australian of the Year) response to that at her speech at the Press Club today.
You can see her whole speech here, and I recommend watching it.
The point of course, is that culture comes down from the top. In a ‘normal’ workplace of a major company, there’s a human resources department which has mechanisms for working through complaints processes, and of course usually includes going to the police when a potentially criminal act has been committed.
And then there’s the thing where the boss is the place where the buck stops. Corporate bosses generally know about alleged sexual assaults committed in their workplaces when there are policies and procedures to follow and are followed. (I’m not naive but I have worked in industry, and also in public health – and there are processes, imperfect to be sure, but processes and chains of command.)
The only times bosses don’t know about stuff is when one of three things happen.
- The underlings keep things quiet. Because – they feel they’ll get into trouble if they raise the issue. Or they have something to hide for some reason.
- The boss is incompetent. Because – there are no clear chains of command, no-one knows who to report to, or the boss simply doesn’t care.
- The boss chooses not to know.
None of the three reasons indicate a healthy corporate culture. It is clear that the current government has issues with women. I’m not exonerating the other political parties by any means, but this is all occurring within our current ruling party’s government. This party has less women in office than the other more major parties. Not none, but not as many or proportionally as many as the others.
There is a culture of avoiding issues, blaming other people, denying that there is a problem, and then having to be reminded to have compassion by one’s wife.
Culture comes from the top. Think about that. And as Grace Tame said: It shouldn’t take children to have a conscience.