Turnbull’s ‘sex ban’ speech reveals that politics is still not an equal place for women – but it is changing

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Malcolm Turnbull announces changes to the Ministerial Code of Conduct in the wake of the Barnaby Joyce affair.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Carol Johnson, University of Adelaide

The appropriateness of Malcolm Turnbull’s trenchant criticisms of Barnaby Joyce’s “shocking error of judgement” and his announcement of a ban on ministers having sex with staffers has already been widely debated.

However, when he made those statements, Turnbull also raised much broader issues about the position of women in parliament that are worth discussing in more depth.

Turnbull acknowledged that there were “some very serious issues about the culture of this place, of this parliament” that involved gender.

He stated: “Many women … who work in this building understand very powerfully what I am saying”. Consequently, the old Ministerial Code of Conduct needed to be revised because it didn’t adequately reflect the values “of workplaces where women are respected”.

Turnbull went on to say:

I recognise that respect in workplaces is not entirely a gender issue, of course. But the truth is, as we know, most of the ministers, most of the bosses in this building if you like, are men and there is a gender, a real gender perspective here.

Turnbull is crafting an image of “protective masculinity”, of a fatherly protectiveness toward potentially vulnerable women, which he hopes will appeal both to social conservatives and feminists.

Leading Liberal Party social conservatives such as Scott Morrison have supported his ban. As has been pointed out, Turnbull’s position also references the challenging of conventional gender power relations in the workplace by movements such as #MeToo. (Though it should be noted that both some social conservatives and feminists may have reservations about the specific measures Turnbull advocates.)

Read more:
Fischer calls for quick resolution of Nationals crisis, while Joyce is determined to fight to the death

It was an acknowledgement of gendered power relations in parliament that more socially conservative predecessors such as John Howard or Tony Abbott would have been unlikely to make. Indeed, Turnbull’s broader statements also raise feminist issues that may cause some tensions with social conservatives in the longer term.

For example, why, as Turnbull acknowledges, are most of the ministers in parliament male?

Turnbull was pulled up when he mistakenly claimed to have the most female cabinet ministers of any Australian government so far. It was pointed out that, at best, his record equalled Kevin Rudd’s, and that number has actually dropped since the resignation of Sussan Ley.

Indeed, Rudd had a higher percentage of female cabinet members – 30% compared with Turnbull’s initial 27% that dropped to 24% after Ley’s resignation, and to 22% when Turnbull expanded his cabinet from 21 to 23. Furthermore, there is only one female minister out of the seven in the Turnbull government’s outer ministry.

Malcolm Turnbull poses with female ministers in December 2017.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Turnbull should be praised for having both a female foreign minister and defence minister, since these are senior portfolios not traditionally held by women.
Nonetheless, Peter Van Onselen has written tellingly regarding the apparent gender bias in Liberal cabinet selections, and the serious female talent that has been overlooked as a result, in both the Abbott and Turnbull cabinets.

Despite this, the situation has obviously improved markedly under Turnbull.

Julie Bishop has talked about her experience of being the only woman in Abbott’s first cabinet, and of how she’d put forward excellent ideas that were ignored, only to have a male colleague repeat the same idea and be lauded for it.

It was, she said, a form of unconscious bias that resulted in “almost a deafness”. Clearly cultural change and more respect for women in the workplace were needed there.

Furthermore, it isn’t just a case of the majority of ministers being male – so are the majority of politicians.

Women are seriously underrepresented among Liberal MPs. As of November 2017, only 22% of Liberal politicians were women (with Labor’s proportion then being 45%).

Consequently, it isn’t just the culture in ministers’ offices that needs changing. Some female Liberal politicians, such as senator Linda Reynolds, have drawn attention to the need for broader cultural change in the Liberal Party to ensure more female politicians are recruited and women’s abilities are recognised.

Some have even suggested that, given merit is clearly not being recognised in candidate pre-selection, the Liberal Party should consider introducing quotas like Labor has done.

Read more:
How the Liberals can fix their gender problem

Parliamentary culture in general remains highly gendered, with women often bearing the brunt of sexist attitudes. The culture is also one that has often rewarded particularly macho conceptions of masculinity that can disadvantage some men as well as women.

No wonder women can become the target or collateral damage, often aided and abetted by highly gendered media coverage. The problems are not just confined to the Coalition, pervading most if not all parties, although some are doing better than others.

Indeed, while it has substantially increased its number of female politicians, Labor sometimes falls back on some of its old habits in regard to gender. These include appointing exceptionally capable female candidates to try to improve Labor’s image after male politicians have made a mess of things — a scenario that former premiers Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner knew well.

Think of Kristina Keneally replacing Sam Dastyari in the Senate – although at least she is guaranteed her spot, unlike Ged Kearney, who is faced with the difficult task of trying to retain Batman for Labor against the Greens following David Feeney’s departure.

However, clearly things are changing, and the gendered nature of parliamentary politics is under challenge. Turnbull’s acknowledgement of gendered power imbalances in parliament reveals that, even if he avoided discussing his own party’s contribution to them.

The ConversationAll states in Australia, other than South Australia, have now had a female premier, with some having had more than one. While Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, regularly had her gender used against her, Australians will be watching the progress of New Zealand’s third female prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, with great interest. Perhaps, one day, we will even stop discussing her baby and her shoes.

Carol Johnson, Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Don Burke story reveals the pernicious culture of men protecting each other in the media

Gael Jennings, University of Melbourne

It was such a cliché. At the office Christmas party of the national TV show where I worked, I emerged from the loo out the back to find one of my bosses straddling the doorway, blocking my way and waiting to pounce.

I was shocked, not so much by his sexual harassment (that was de rigueur in the newsroom cultures of the day, the 1990s), as by the extent of his male entitlement and misogyny. At the time I was still breastfeeding my baby daughter, who was next door at the party with her dad and my colleagues.

This week’s revelations that TV’s darling of nearly 20 years, Don Burke of Burke’s Backyard fame, was allegedly a “psychotic bully”, a “misogynist” and a “sexual predator” who indecently assaulted, sexually harassed and bullied a string of female employees comes as no surprise to women in Australian media. According to last year’s Women in Media Report, nearly half of us have been abused, intimidated or harassed in our working lives.

Once sexual assault allegations against Hollywood boss Harvey Weinstein exploded in the media, the open secret of male abuse of power over women was out. Social media was awash with #Metoo; in France, #BalanceTonPorc (“expose your pig”) flooded Twitter with stories of sexual harassment and assault.

New allegations appeared almost every day against other powerful men in various industries, including head of Amazon Studios Roy Price, political journalist Mark Halperin, editor at NPR Michael Oreske, Hollywood screenwriter and director James Toback, actors Ben Affleck and Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis CK, reinforcing the seeming incongruity of a self-described grabber of pussies, Donald Trump, being elected US president.

Donald Trump’s ‘Grab her by the pussy’ comments caught in this leaked recording.

A rising swell

It feels like a rising swell, a great wave of truth-telling gathering force and breadth, the crest white and flickering, teetering at the top, ready to curl and roar down upon us all, washing away thousands of years of male power and privilege. But is it?

Or will it peak, then withdraw and ebb away, diluted back into the ocean of sexist norms dominating the world and responsible for the perpetuation of sexual violence against women?

Some journalists are hopeful, because at last, in the Burke case, even some blokes have broken ranks and ratted on him.

Journalist Juanita Phillips is optimistic that “two industry veterans – David Leckie and Sam Chisholm – went on the record to condemn Burke in no uncertain terms. He was a disgrace, they said. A horrible, horrible man”. She found it significant that industry executives – the very keepers of the gates of male privilege – spoke out against one of their own.

Read more: Behind media silence on domestic violence are blokey newsrooms

It’s true the endemic abuse of women in media and entertainment has been enabled over all these years by the collusion of the men in charge. Until now, executive men have largely closed ranks and protected the perpetrators of abuse, harassment and assault against women colleagues.

This is not only because, like Burke, some harassers were cash cows for the companies and networks involved. It was also, and I believe mainly, because these perpetrators were part of the club; part of the same culture that saw the executives themselves rise to the top and stay there.

They not only had a vested interest in maintaining the cultural norm, it was their norm.

Peer-reviewed global literature clearly proves that men perpetrate violence against women when there is masculine dominance in society, when they identify with traditional masculinity and male privilege, believe in rigid gender roles, have weak support for gender equality, and hold negative attitudes towards women.

Our research at the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne and that of Women in Media indicates these norms are rampant in the media industry. Men almost exclusively own, run, and give voice to the industry. Murdoch’s News Corp, Fairfax, and APN own 92% of print media in Australia, with women owners being only 15%.

Men run nearly all of it, with only 17% of executives female, and new research shows women to be similarly underrepresented as editors (30.8%), specialist reporters (9.6%-30.2%), as experts (24.6%) and as authoritative sources (26.0%). Only 27% of AM and FM radio breakfast and drive programming hosts are female.

The rate of sexual harassment of women in media (48%) is more than twice that of other workplaces (22%), and far exceeds that of the rightly criticised rates in the Australian Defence Force, at 25% (according to the Human Rights Commission), and Victoria Police at 40%, yet has not been reported widely.

Up until now, the male-centric culture of media made it a non-story.

Will we see long overdue change?

Are we seeing a change now “The Blokes” have broken ranks with Don Burke? Is public discourse about to change? Has social media enabled a coalescence of power from LGBT people and people of colour, to join with outpouring from women who’ve been bullied, excluded, harassed and assaulted, to reach a tipping point for the wave of change?

I think not yet.

I think The Blokes who sacked predatory men in the US did it because women, LGBT and people of colour now have economic power and will use it. I think The Blokes who turned on Burke did it to protect themselves.

Read more: From Public Confessions to Public Trials: The Complexities of the ‘Weinstein Effect’

They were there; they oversaw the reign of terror and did nothing; now that the women and their coworkers are testifying, the (Old) Blokes are running for their lives and distancing themselves from every aspect of this (now) “horrible, horrible man”. Their successors are perpetuating the same workplace cultural norms that we know lead to violence against women.

When a Trump becomes a Macron, we could be more confident. The French president this week swore “it is essential that shame changes camp”, and he is putting his money where his mouth is, with a 2018 draft law to criminalise street harassment, and a massive public education program about sexism and changes to police and courts to help victims.

In the meantime, as Lindy West of the New York Times writes:

… not only are women expected to weather sexual violence, intimate partner violence, workplace discrimination, institutional subordination, the expectation of free domestic labour, the blame for our own victimisation, and all the subtler, invisible cuts that undermine us daily, we are not even allowed to be angry about it.

We women are angry. Our anger has led to finding ways, around the rule of men in the newsroom, through social media and each other, to document the scope of the crimes against us.

The ConversationThe question is whether our anger, and collaboration with powerful men, will be enough to turn that teetering crest into a massive, roaring wave of change.

Gael Jennings, Honorary Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

No Don Burke, there is no link between autism and harassing behaviour

Andrew Whitehouse, University of Western Australia

Allegations that Don Burke indecently assaulted and bullied staff during his time hosting Burke’s Backyard were heinous enough. But in an interview with A Current Affair last night, he created another victim: the autism community.

In the interview, Burke claimed that he has Asperger’s syndrome:

I haven’t been medically diagnosed but I’ve worked it out, what it is, and it’s a terrible failing.

I have difficulty looking anyone in the eye. I can look in the lense, but I have real difficulty looking anyone in the eye … it’s a typical thing. And I miss all their body language and often the subtle signs that people give to you like, ‘Back off, that’s enough’, I don’t see that.

I suffer from a terrible problem with that, of not seeing … and no-one can understand how you can’t see it. But you don’t.

In examining Burke’s comments, it’s helpful to separate “excuse” from “explanation”. It’s clear there is no excuse for humiliation, bullying and harassment. Nevertheless, reasonable explanations can still underlie inexcusable behaviour.

Burke sought to use Asperger’s syndrome as that explanation. Whether or not Burke would meet criteria for Asperger’s syndrome is not the issue. The problem is that the statements he made about Asperger’s syndrome are utterly false and have an impact far beyond his own circumstance.

Remind me, what is Asperger’s syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome is part of the autism spectrum, and is characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication.

Autism spectrum conditions are diagnosed by a team of clinical experts, often including a specially trained medical doctor, a psychologist and a speech pathologist. While autism is a heritable condition (it “runs” in families), we currently don’t know enough about the genetic factors underlying the condition and so we diagnose based on observable behaviours.

Read more: The difficulties doctors face in diagnosing autism

A defining characteristic of autism (and Asperger’s syndrome) is differences in social behaviours, such as difficulties initiating or maintaining social interaction with others. However, these social difficulties bear no relevance to a lack of empathy for others, which, of course, underlies bullying and harassing behaviour.

Empathy comes in two forms – cognitive empathy (ability to recognise others’ emotions), and emotional empathy (ability to feel others’ emotions once that emotion has been recognised). There is strong research evidence that some individuals with autism may have challenges with cognitive empathy, but no evidence for difficulties with emotional empathy.

In essence, once there is understanding of what a person is feeling, people on the autism spectrum are often intensely empathetic.

More likely to be bullied than a bully

While the behaviours that characterise autism can create challenges in day-to-day life, there is no link between autism and the perpetration of bullying and harassment. Indeed, dozens of scientific studies have investigated this, and all evidence indicates that people on the autism spectrum are far more likely to be the victims of these behaviours than the other way around.

Read more: Why children with autism often fall victim to bullies

Burke’s statements create real and lasting damage. There is considerable research evidence showing the stigma that still surrounds autism, and the detrimental effects that stigma can have on people with the condition and their families.

I think about the young man with Asperger’s syndrome, who has fostered enormous courage to attend and enjoy school, and now has another target placed on his back.

I think about parents of newly diagnosed children, who are met with yet another jarring myth to swirl around their tired and worried minds. I think about how this may affect their view of the years that lie ahead of them. These years will come with great challenges, but also the greatest of joys.

I think about employers, who are just starting to understand the vast talents and economic benefits people on the autism spectrum bring to their workplace, and how even the smallest seeds of doubt can be fertilised by the public airing of patently false statements.

Read more: Why employing autistic people makes good business sense

I think about all of these people – the wonderful autism community – and how they would feel in being used as a punching bag yet again. The autism community frequently takes punches from media and public figures in an attempt to excuse or explain human behaviour.

The ConversationAustralia would do very well to not simply ignore Don Burke’s comments, but instead use the anger they generate to continue the path of cherishing and valuing the diversity that the autism community provides our society.

Andrew Whitehouse, Winthrop Professor, Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

With its 2017 budget the government is still discouraging women

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Recent figures show that women are adversely effected by the 2017 federal budget.
AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

Helen Hodgson, Curtin University

The 2017 federal budget was pitched as a fair budget, but much depends on your definition of fairness. Reviewing the policies through a gender lens, there is little to address the entrenched economic disadvantage experienced by women. The Conversation

Australia was known for being a pioneer of policies that are sensitive to the impacts on different genders, but that 30-year history came to an end in 2014 when the Abbott government announced it was abandoning the practice. Rather than see this analysis disappear, the National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) stepped in and partnered with academics like us, to analyse the budget through the gender lens. We review the effect that each announced policy will have on women’s lives: their economic status and well-being.

We found there were no measures designed to specifically address gender inequality and the related women’s entrenched financial vulnerability.

It’s a relief that the government has abandoned the so-called “zombie measures” which included changes to the family tax benefit and paid parental leave measures. These measures would have had a direct impact on women by adding to the effective marginal tax rate. They would also have reduced the female workforce participation rate, having a long-term effect on the economic well-being of women and their families.

However the budget still includes measures that have a disincentive effect in the workforce. The increase in the Medicare levy will affect those on incomes greater than A$21,644. For those with eligible children, the Family Tax Benefit A payment rates are frozen for two years and those who pay child care fees receive will continue to face high effective marginal tax rates (EMTR’s).

A flat increase in taxes or levies will particularly impact low income earners. Women are overrepresented in the lowest income levels, so changes to government benefits and increases in taxes have a disproportionate affect on women. Recently released ATO statistics show the median income for women was A$47,125 in 2014/15, while for men the amount was A$61,711.
And the recent reduction in penalty rates has already been identified as disproportionately affecting women.

These changes hit those earning well below the average wage, and are particularly harsh for women. Combined, these changes could lead to effective marginal tax rates of possibly 100% or higher for some women, particularly as Family Tax Benefit Part A begins to decrease at A$51,903.

The long awaited housing package will have some benefits for women. But community organisations will need to be vigilant in ensuring that the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement ensures that funding is guaranteed for the homeless and for women fleeing domestic violence.

There has already been criticism of initiative to encourage older Australians to downsize their homes, but when a gender lens is applied, the inherent bias becomes clear. Economic patterns established during a woman’s pre-retirement years mean that women are more likely to be in receipt of the age pension, and are more likely to be receiving the full age pension. They are also less likely to have superannuation, and the balance will be lower.

Where a person is in receipt of the age pension, the downsizing initiative will reduce it, so single women are more likely to lose entitlements if they access this benefit. For example, a widow maintaining a home that is bigger than she now needs, will not be able to benefit from downsizing with this policy.

The increase in the Medicare levy to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is also a mixed outcome. The primary carer for a person with a disability will benefit from access to the NDIS, as the additional funds for services will relieve financial and emotional pressure on the carer. But because women are still more likely to be the primary carer for a family member with a disability, this measure will disproportionately improve the lives of women.

Despite the commitment to fully fund the NDIS there are no measures to address workplace conditions. The caring economy is still largely based on women, whether they provide paid care or unpaid care.

Women working in the care sector still endure historically undervalued pay rates and working conditions, whether in the NDIS, childcare or aged care. The current consumer directed care model encourages the use of casual workers, which further reduces economic security for these women.

This year’s budget delivers some significant improvements in infrastructure, disability support, health and housing. These are welcome because they place a higher weight on the provision of government services, than unfair policies aimed at arbitrarily reducing the surplus.

The 2017 budget contains initiatives that help alleviate some of the worst aspects of its predecessors. However, it doesn’t radically turn things around for women.

Helen Hodgson, Associate Professor, Curtin Law School and Curtin Business School, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

India: Toddlers Gang-raped

The link below is to an article reporting on the gang-rape of two toddlers in separate incidents in India. India has a major problem in the treatment of females and serious action needs to be taken.

For more visit:

5 Arrested in India Over Alleged Rape, Kidnapping


Indian police say they have arrested five men in connection with the alleged rape and kidnapping of a Japanese woman.

The woman, who claims she was abducted for 12 days, told police a man pretending to be a tour guide led her from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) to Gaya district in Bihar, where she was raped by two men who held her at gunpoint, the New York Times reports.

Kolkata police official Pallab Kanti Ghosh said Saturday that the roles of two of the five men arrested still need to be confirmed, as well as the exact amount of time she was held captive during the incident, which is believed to have taken place some time after November 20, 2014.

Violence against women in India has drawn national more scrutiny and international attention in the last two years, the NYT wrote, following the horrific gang rape and murder of…

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