Former Liberal MP has Julia Banks has alleged she was touched inappropriately by a male Coalition minister and faced attempts from the Prime Minister’s office to paint her as an emotional, overwhelmed woman during her time in Parliament.
In a blistering extract from her book Power Play: Breaking Through Bias, Barriers and Boys’ Clubs published in today’s Good Weekend, Ms Banks details a toxic, sexist culture in the Liberal Party before and after she was elected in 2016.
One local preselector implied Ms Banks was an absent mother for wanting to run and when she pointed out her children were in their late teens, said she was too old to serve in Parliament at 52. An unemployed young Liberal in his 20s suggested he should be handed her preselection instead, then applied to work for Ms Banks when she won her Melbourne seat of Chisholm.
In late 2016, a colleague suggested he take over Ms Banks’ line of questioning of bank bosses amid the furore around the sector’s conduct that was raging at the time. The MP, who Ms Banks does not name, put his hand on her bare knee, then stood up and said if she asked forthright questions it would be seen as too aggressive, like “bra burning”.
Ms Banks, who had a highly successful career as a corporate executive and lawyer before entering politics, asked the questions anyway and received positive headlines.
About a year into Ms Banks’ tenure in Parliament, she recounts another experience of unwelcome contact. A male minister, whose breath smelled of alcohol, slid his hand up Ms Banks’ thigh while she sat at a Coalition function.
“This was a senior MP, a cabinet minister, in the prime minister’s wing,” Ms Banks writes of the unnamed man. “I kept thinking to myself over and over: ‘if he was prepared to do that to me – a 50-something corporate lawyer MP – in that room, what must he do to women he has real power over?’”
Her book comes amid a wave of anger over the treatment of women in politics. Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation against a fellow former staffer triggered a series of reviews of Parliamentary culture, including one under way by sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins.