Julia Gillard says gender bias fed into Liberals’ decision to ignore Julie Bishop

Former PM weighs into Liberal leadership spill, and says it is positive discussions around bullying are now mainstream

The former prime minister Julia Gillard says gender bias played a role in the Liberal party’s decision to ignore Julie Bishop in the first round of voting during last month’s leadership spill.

But she also thinks there is cause for optimism that there is a public discussion about bullying and intimidation inside the Liberal party, with senior Coalition women leading the conversation.

“The fact such matters are being raised at all, and taken seriously when they are, is progress,” Gillard said.

“And even when politics is not throwing up dramatic events like leadership spills, gender is part of the discourse.

“When I governed, the overwhelming mindset of the media was to dismiss out of hand any suggestion that anything happening to me was in any way related to gender.”

Gillard delivered a public lecture on “Women and leadership” at the University of Adelaide on Tuesday.

She used the occasion to weigh in on the problems inside the Morrison government, with accusations bullying and intimidation took place inside Liberal ranks ahead of the leadership spill.

She said there had been many reasons why the vast majority of Liberal MPs voted for Peter Dutton or Scott Morrison, but not Bishop, in the first round of their leadership ballot, but gender would have had something to do with it.

Julie Bishop arrives for a press conference on 27 August to announce she will sit on the backbench as the member for Curtin, despite speculation she could immediately leave parliament after losing the leadership spill.
Julie Bishop arrives for a press conference on 27 August to announce she will sit on the backbench, despite speculation she could immediately leave parliament after losing the leadership spill. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

She said there would be votes motivated by how far to the right the Liberal party should sit on the political spectrum, or by policy concerns, or on the experience of the contenders.

Equally, there would be votes motivated by internal conversations where contenders showed their capacity to unite colleagues, motivate a team, articulate a vision for the country.

“But I think one item that should appear on it is votes touched by bias, conscious or unconscious, about gender,” she said.

“What was the precise mix and the weighting of these kinds of factors in a Liberal member’s or senator’s head? We don’t know and maybe the individuals involved couldn’t even precisely articulate it themselves.”

She said there were optimistic trends in Australia’s national conversation, however.

“Now conversations about gender and leadership, including political leadership, are mainstream,” she said.

She said while attention was on gender and the conservative side of politics, there was one big lesson the Liberal party should learn from “hard evidence”.

“In 1994, the ALP and the Liberal party had around about the same percentage of women in their federal caucuses,” she said.

“For Labor, it was 14.5% and for the Liberal party, it was 13.9%. Today, women are 46% of federal Labor, a jump of over 30 percentage points. In contrast, the Liberal party has inched forward to 23%, a jump of just over nine percentage points.

“In the years in between, it has been argued by Liberal party figures that mentoring and networking for women are the most effective strategies and that there is no need for targets or quotas.

“I think the easiest answer to that is ‘scoreboard’. Or maybe I could simply steal from Gough Whitlam the words: ‘It’s time.’”

She laid out the problem facing those who are fighting for more female leaders.

Globally, women make up just 23% of national parliamentarians, 26% of news media leaders, 27% of judges, 15% of corporate board members and 24% of senior managers worldwide, she said.

“If you believe as I do, that merit is equally distributed between the sexes, then any result that isn’t around half and half should be troubling,” she said.

She told the audience change was coming at a glacial pace.

“For example, the number of women in senior management globally has risen just one percentage point in 10 years, from 24% in 2007 to 25% today,” she said.

“In politics, at the current rate of progress, it will take another half-century to reach parity with men.

“Equally concerning, when progress is made, it can also be reversed; women are now more underrepresented in the American cabinet than at any time since the Reagan administration.”


Gareth Hutchens

The GuardianTramp

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