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Canberra Today 11°/15° | Saturday, September 25, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

The boys’ club is finally coming unstuck

Annabel Crabb… The timing was immaculate.

“An awful stench of workplace impropriety came pouring out of Parliament House together with the most loathsome ducking and weaving from the Prime Minister,” writes “The Gadfly” columnist ROBERT MACKLIN.  

IT’S rare in these days of multifarious media outlets to find a single program that becomes a communal talking point around the coffee pot. 

Robert Macklin.

But one such was certainly that recent episode of Annabel Crabb’s “Ms Represented” on the ABC. It set Australia’s tongues wagging from coast to coast.

The ending blew my socks off. In a magnificently edited peroration, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard tore strips off their male tormentors that not only sent the pulses racing but drew real tears. 

It came in the wake of behind-the-scenes revelations of male ugliness and repression in the parliamentary milieu. For those of us who have done time there, the fact of such behaviour came as no surprise. 

I worked as a reporter in “The Age” bureau for two years and as press secretary to John “Black Jack” McEwen for four – but was unprepared for the extent and depth of the recent problem.

Parliament, like the Church and most of the professions, has always been a boys’ club. They based the system on competition rather than compromise; then they picked teams to battle for the power of the purse and the perks that went with it because that’s what men do.

They resisted the “intrusion” of women for as long as possible and when they finally began to arrive they made it plain that they were surplus to requirements. So the newcomers either played the power game according to unwritten rules of the club – which made them mere decorations in the party shop window – or they either got bullied out or lost preselection.

That was then. 

Today it’s different.

In between, the parties of the left began to attract a new cohort of university educated women with the self-confidence to not only recognise the barriers to change but the determination to overcome them. And it must be said, that more recently they have been partnered with equally preceptive and supportive husbands who today are often found pushing prams along pathways in our cities and tourist towns. Australia was slowly growing to appreciate the diverse talents of its population.

Then came covid and our gaze turned inward. Survival supplanted party politics. Women led advisory bodies and state governments. And suddenly in Parliament House, a brave young Brittany Higgins called out the treatment she’d received in the wake of an horrific event in a minister’s office. A cabinet minister was accused of the rape of a debating team colleague in his youth (which he vigorously denied). And coincidentally, a young victim of disgraceful male abuse, Grace Tame, was chosen as Australian of the Year.

An awful stench of workplace impropriety came pouring out of Parliament House together with the most loathsome ducking and weaving from the Prime Minister. 

And just when the botched vaccine rollout blew away the sexist headlines, up came Ms Crabb with her mighty right pincer poised. The timing was immaculate. When she sank it into the government’s ample bum and squeezed tight you could hear the squeals from Albany to Ayr and from Bathurst to Broome. 

It was a sharp reminder that even while contending with covid, we must never allow the big issues of Australia’s coming-of-age to slip from the national agenda. 

To stay on track we might ask what has become of the Phil Gaetjens’ report into who in the PM’s office knew what and when of the Brittany Higgins rape allegations? And when, if ever, will the AFP lay a criminal charge?

robert@robertmacklin.com

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Robert Macklin

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