Former member for the federal seat of Chisholm (2016-2019), Julia Banks, recently spoke with academic-journalist, Virginia Haussegger at ANU’s Kambri Centre, about politics, parliament, and her book, Power Play. Ms Banks recited details of her 2018 departure from the Liberal Party when she became an Independent, and the orchestrated campaign against her from Liberal conservatives which caused her considerable stress. A long-time corporate lawyer, she just accepted as a given that the Liberal Party would have had better corporate structures in place, but once in parliament, she saw how her progressive views including strong support for marriage equality, and the introduction of quotas to improve numbers of Liberal Party women in parliament, worked against her. Nowadays, she says, “never say never to quotas; the merit myth is crazy town”. But Liberal moderates’ voices “were drowned out by the conservatives and religious right, especially in my state of Victoria”, she says, admitting to “being politically naive” when Virginia questioned: “Didn’t alarm bells ring out for you” when you were “confronted by young Liberal men telling me how to do things, and how to dress”, or it was suggested that you “shut up and just smile more”, or when an older Liberal man called you “the local Greek girl”. Julia also spoke of the committee meeting where she was told not to take the lead on a particular issue [despite it being in her area of expertise], because it could look “aggressive” or “bra burning”; she ignored that [male] colleague’s advice. She also described an anti-women culture in the Liberal Party and aversion to assertive women, with one flow-on effect being the silencing of some Liberal women who fear losing their pre-selections if they speak out. Ms Banks’ experiences of parliamentary women amplify the difficulties faced by everyday women who do not have the experience and status of women parliamentarians. She considers that no proper structures and training are in place in Parliament House for incoming parliamentarians about what does and does not constitute acceptable behaviour towards their colleagues and staff members.
Geri Bryant-Badham is a Canberra-based freelance researcher and journalist.
Geri has substantial experience in advocacy, policy and organising and managing projects, including handling budgets and finances. She has worked in various offices for a small business, a university and in the parliamentary, political, government and non-government sectors.