Politicians react to sexism allegations by Greek Australian ex-Liberal MP, Julia Banks

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Former federal Liberal MP and Greek Australian, Julia Banks, has alleged she was touched inappropriately by a senior male colleague and subjected to a culture “underpinned by sexism and misogyny” during her time in Parliament. 

In an extract from her new book, published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, Ms Banks alleged an unnamed Coalition minister slid his hand up her inner thigh during a function at Parliament House, around a year after she was elected Member for Chisholm in 2016. 

“For a minister to do this in the prime minister’s wing, which was full of Coalition MPs, he had to be astoundingly brazen,” she wrote. 

“I found it unbelievable. And I momentarily froze.”

On other occasions, including during her 2015 pre-selection, party members told her she was too old to be in politics at 52 and suggested she should be looking after her children.

Ms Banks resigned from the Liberal Party several months after Malcolm Turnbull was rolled as prime minister. She later contested the seat of Flinders as an independent but was unsuccessful. 

Ms Banks has called out a culture of sexism in Parliament.

Politicians react to Banks’ allegations:

Ms Banks’ startling portrait of the political culture comes just as the Parliament is undergoing a major workplace review, sparked by former staffer Brittany Higgins’ allegations that she was raped by a colleague on a couch in the ministerial wing.

Speaking on ABC’s Insider program on Sunday, Federal Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham, said any inappropriate behaviour should be reported and that was why the government was seeking to set up “improved reporting and investigatory arrangements right across the parliament to support staff, members of parliament or anybody else.”

But the minister indicated the new procedure was unlikely to cover incidents that allegedly occurred in previous parliaments, saying “it becomes a point as to where do you draw the line in those regards.” He suggested it would apply “from this parliament forward.”

“Certainly it will provide for now and into the future a model that actually enables people to have confidence that their complaints can be heard and investigated with independence and confidentiality if they wish,” Birmingham said.

Federal Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham.

This came as other Federal and State Liberal MP’s told The Sydney Morning Herald they have not witnessed the culture of sexism and misogyny within the party portrayed Ms Banks in her new book.

Victorian Federal MP, Katie Allen, who is in her first term, said she felt “very supported” by her Federal Liberal colleagues, but more support was needed for politicians and their staff to deal with the high-stakes environment of Parliament.

“Certainly my experience has been very different from Julia’s but that’s not to say it didn’t happen,” Dr Allen told the SMH. “But there is no doubt politics is contested and the outcomes can be brutal.”

Health Minister, Greg Hunt, who has served in Federal Parliament for two decades, said he hadn’t seen a culture of sexism within the government.

“That’s not one of the things I’ve witnessed,” Mr Hunt said on Saturday. “I can only speak to my own practices. For me, my practice since I have been there is that Canberra is a place for work.”

Prime Minister ‘not aware’ of sexual harassment allegations:

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

A spokesperson for Scott Morrison said the Prime Minister was “not aware of any allegations of sexual harassment Ms Banks faced” and “any such behaviour is completely inappropriate.”

In the book extract, Banks claims Morrison offered to send her to New York as a United Nationals delegate, or to negotiate with the opposition for a parliamentary pair so she could have leave, after she decided following the 2018 leadership spill to stand down at the next election.

Banks claims that Morrison’s tone in one phone call in 2018 was “bullying, short and swift and coldly calculating,” and she alleges Victorian Liberal party forces and the Prime Minister both wanted her “silenced.”

But Morrison’s spokesperson said the prime minister “absolutely rejects claims about the nature of those conversations.”

“The Prime Minister was disappointed in Ms Banks’ decision to quit the parliamentary party and had several conversations with her to understand what she was going through to see what support could be offered before she made her decision,” the spokesperson said.

“That included support for personal leave so she could take the time to recover from the upset many people suffered during that period. Several of Ms Banks’ colleagues had similar conversations.”

Source: The Guardian.

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