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July 27, 2021

Character test for PM without much

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Margo Kingston

Over Easter I visited a friend who’s spent decades doing her best to protect old growth forests, preserve human connection with nature in the raw and help save our planet from the climate emergency.

‘Yes, of course I support the birth of a new wave of women’s activism for justice’, she mused, ‘but what about the even bigger picture?’

Is it a coincidence that strong Liberal Party support for climate change action in the 1990s coincided with increasing success in recruiting quality female candidates to federal politics?

And that the domination of climate change denialism last decade coincided with significantly lower numbers of female Liberal MPs? 

The common thread is the collapse of actual liberalism in the federal Liberal party, replaced by a hard right antagonistic to liberal values, including equal rights for women and collective action to protect and preserve the home of all of us.

So to my mind, the zeitgeist shift we’ve witnessed in the last few weeks has – if sustainable – transformatory implications for our politics way beyond achieving positive policy and practice outcomes.

Many derided as a con Morrison’s humiliating no-other-choice outreach to women infuriated by his seemingly blatant attempt to personify patriarchal power.

He self-destructed his ‘I empathise now, I really do’ tears seeking forgiveness from swinging liberal female voters with a false slur of Samantha Maiden, the journalist leading the press gallery’s coverage.

His admission the government had systematically excluded women’s interests in policy formation by creating a taskforce of female ministers to add ‘a gender lens’ looked, to many, like he’d tossed his political problem to women to succeed or fail.

Advocate for survivors of sexual assault, Grace Tame, opined that the reshuffle looked like a classic Morrison ‘distract, don’t solve’ ploy.

But he’s made an explicit commitment to policy reform and cultural reform, starting in Parliament House, and if he doesn’t deliver, he’ll have to accept leadership responsibility for it.

But he never accepts responsibility, you may counter.

Sure, and that crippling aspect of his ‘leadership’ was exposed to all, over and over, after Brittany Higgins went public, and what’s been seen cannot be unseen.

He must now ‘perform’ for women, and that means he’s created his own wedge, because the hard right is apoplectic about the sudden power shift.

Official Australian politics has been stuck and stale for a long time.

Suddenly it is ablaze with energy and passion and collaborative grassroots politics and there’s a 1972 Labor It’s Time zeitgeist buzzing in the air around us.

An early indicator of the potential: The Women’s Safety Minister, Anne Rushton, gave an exclusive policy interview to female political journalist Rosie Lewis in last weekend’s Australian.

The government could adopt the private proposal of independent member for Warringah, Zali Stegall, to plug the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 loophole, exempting judges and politicians from liability for sexual harassment. 

Ms Steggall presented a private members bill to do so as part of her visibility lift in the media.

The MP representing the ultra-rich, former blue ribbon Sydney Harbourside seat has chosen to step up as a political leader of the #march4justice movement. 

Morrison had recently brushed aside her private members bill in Parliament, now Ms Rushton is touting it, and its proponent.

The government is clearly concerned that other safe seats might become even more risky than they are with climate change paralysis if it can’t change women’s hardening perceptions of Morrison.

‘What Zali Steggall has been referring to is something that was actually raised in the [email protected] report Kate Jennings has compiled’, Ms Rushton told the The Australian.

‘As part of the consideration of that report that’s currently underway by government, those types of opportunities for reform are being considered’.

Former Attorney-General, Christian Porter, bottom-shelved the [email protected] report for a year, not even asking his department to work on a response.

A response is now expected next week, and Morrison needs a big bang policy response to improve his chance or softening increasingly negative perceptions of his character.

100,000 women of all ages and political persuasions miraculously came together at the #march4justice only two weeks after Janine Hendry tweeted a suggestion for women to hold hands round Parliament House.

They achieved this together and, at the moment, they are strong.

Can you imagine the fight not being very messy and very ugly from here?

This story has just begun. If the majority of women across the barriers that so often divide and weaken us can hold unity of purpose there is a chance we can achieve a transformed politics; trusted by the people it’s meant to serve. Just a chance, sure, but, at last, It’s Time to have a go.


Margo Kingston is an Australian journalist, author, and commentator.

She is best known for her work at The Sydney Morning Herald and her weblog, Webdiary.

Since 2012, Kingston has been a citizen journalist, reporting and commenting on Australian politics via Twitter and her own Web site.

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  1. Margo Kingston is best known as the Leftist clown who kept banging on for years and years that the Queen ordered the Australian Governor General (John Kerr) to dismiss the then Labor PM, Gough Whitlam. When the documents (correspondence between Buckingham Palace and the GG) were released last year, Kingston ended up with egg all over her face.

  2. Beyond gender, there is brilliance dappled within all of society.
    But within politics, lies a male dominance in “numbers sports”, and ” me for you & you for me” gaming, with perilous community and “Earth System” outcomes.

    Women by contrast, I believe to be more innately geared towards nurturing and protection; both noble and essential attributes for community leadership.

    Now, more than ever, we need women to react to the current appalling revelations, to simply band together and swell their votes for change of government and promote survival policies.

    And we men should vote and stand alongside them.

    Humanity is at stake here, and time is running perilously short to get our act together.

  3. Bloody good article Margot! You got a few things clarified there. Really Mark it’s SO unnecessary of you dissing Margot – you can disagree without trying to insult.
    Yes 100,000 Marching for Justice was a magnificent wake up call to Australia, I really hope Margot’s suggestion that we’re at an “it’s time” moment will come to fruition. It depends of course on the will to “maintain the rage” – and don’t just leave it to women either. Justice for women means that we’ll have a more respectful, inclusive and fairer society for all. After all what fair-minded self-respecting man would want to maintain harassment, violence an discrimination against half the population?

  4. Dos that justice also include young girls sold of as child brides in Australia’s suburbs
    Silversister ? Can’t recall any women’s or
    Feminists or otherwise protesting
    For these children ?? Holding up placards
    Signs !! Not one sign in any protests
    Have i seen .. 100.000 marching for justice
    But not for these kids .. !!


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