6 March 2018

Cash's smear debases parliamentary currency

| John Hargreaves
Join the conversation
Michaelia Cash

Photo: Government website.

Can’t let it pass not to comment on the appalling behaviour of the erstwhile minister for Women, Michaelia Cash. Her casting aspersions on the morality of staff members of the Leader of the Opposition went to subterranean depths. I was gobsmacked as was everyone I have spoken to since then.

And to exacerbate matters, a qualified apology, followed by an unreserved one, followed by hiding behind a white board to avoid negative photos, the minister struts ever onward, defended by the Prime Minister, who described questioning from Senator Cameron as bullying. Anyone who has seen Senator Cameron in full flight will tell you this was not such an occasion. Indeed suggesting that the minister take a “chill pill” seems to be the opposite.

Contrast this with the performances of Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong. They sprang to the defence of the defenceless staffers, demanding apology and withdrawal of the horrid innuendo, but they did so in a measured and polite way. They cut the core of it all and exposed the minister for what she is. One of the boys. Jenna Price, whose stuff I don’t usually read got it right in describing Cash.

She said that Cash was selected for her job because she was, “someone just like [the boys in the Liberal Party]”. And that Cash was “a woman who behaves just like a man. The sneering, the threats, the bullying, the intimidation…”

I saw Tanya Plibersek in action on Thursday afternoon when she opened an exhibition of the artwork of Myrun Sukamaran, one of the two Bali Nine guys executed by the Indonesian authorities. Her compassion for the family of Sukamaran was real and it showed. Her repulsion of the death penalty was real and it showed. She spoke in a measured and controlled way evoking emotions in the audience and bringing the whole rehabilitation vs death penalty into perspective.

Contrast this with Cash, who fronted the Estimates Committee. It was all there on show – her thinly veiled threat to out the innocent on the basis of innuendo.


But how far have we, men, come in the matter of how we regard women. I reckon the majority of us have come a long way although the road ahead is still long.

I remember distinctly, back in 1978 receiving this pearl of wisdom from my boss, when I took up a new job. We were talking about the recruitment of staff and I had pointed out that the female staff were in the drudge jobs of “registry” and minor clerical employment whereas the more senior jobs were being performed by blokes. What he said then amused me at the time but would elicit howls of derision today.

He said he was not keen to employ women at all, unless they had finished having kids. His logic was that when they were recruited in their late teens or early twenties, they did a good job at first and then the “boyfriend” effect turned up. When their relationships went south, they were emotional wrecks and incapable of rational thought for days on end. Then the “proposal” turned up and they were distracted for weeks talking to their colleagues about this “knight in shining armour”.

After a while things settled down until the engagement party needed organising and then more weeks of distraction, followed by the wedding plans which took over everything. Then the wedding happened and a honeymoon had to happen and lost production ensued. On return form the honeymoon they were distracted by recounts of places visited and the showing of photos.

After a while of stability, the news of a baby hit the workplace and for months on end, distractions were a daily occurrence. Baby showers, name competitions, medical appointments and total chaos. Baby arrives and off we go on maternity leave, but the job could only be filled temporarily because the owner was on leave.

This went on through all the child bearing years. The outcome was instability in the workplace.

As he said, “Ya don’t get this stuff from the blokes do ya?”

The wrongness in all of this is not only the outright discrimination against a gender for the natural biological reason for being, but also the notion that women were inferior beings.

Try that on today and see how far you get. Massacred is what I’ll guess.

I have had bosses who were fantastic to me, mentoring and guiding. I have had bosses who were enlightened. This one was none of that. The best boss I had in 30 years of public service life was a woman. She was, and is, smarter, better educated, more articulate, less aggressive and more tolerant than I will ever be. If I had a choice, I’d go for a female boss anytime.

When I look at the leadership in this debate, I look to the Tanya Pliberseks and Penny Wongs of this world. I don’t look to the Michaelia Cash’s of this world. In case anyone is thinking I’m politically biased, let me also say that Julie Bishop’s compassion in her support of the Sukumaran family shows her colours as well. She is a tough opponent, prone to a gaff or two from time to time, but not all that bad a role model.

And I guess I should unreservedly apologise to the Michaelia Cash’s of this world.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
CanberraStreets6:41 pm 07 Mar 18

Senator Cash’s outburst was unconscionable, as was Senator Carr’s outburst the very next day. Meanwhile, in the House of Reps, use the word “inept” was trending like pre-January Bitcoin values – and we all know why.

I am trying to imagine another workplace that finds this sort of sledging and trolling acceptable or even laudable. While there is historic precedence for some incisive badinage, this is entirely different behaviour.

It would be nice if the politicians tried to deliver some hard policy to solve wicked problems rather than expend all that brainpower on trolling each other. Perhaps we should require them to bring their Nannas to sit next to them during sittings.

HiddenDragon5:37 pm 07 Mar 18

The Cash outburst was regrettable in many ways. On the other side, we had a follow up from Cameron which some might put under the heading of mansplaining – regardless (perhaps) of how beguiling the accent in which it was delivered.

Ah yes,
Senator Cameron was asking about staff changes in Cash’s office (for which he already knew the answer) because he was really interested in HR.

For those too slow to grasp the implication, a younger female staff member had moved from one ministers office to Cash’s.

Considering what has happened recently with Barnaby Joyce, the implication was clear and Cash took the bait.

Stuart Hartley9:25 am 06 Mar 18

Exactly right. Bill kept his head down during the whole Joyce thing, which started out as an unsubstantiated rumour.

Capital Retro8:15 am 06 Mar 18

What will happen if the rumours about Shorten’s staffers are correct?
Many on the hill scoffed at the initial rumours concerning Barnaby Joyce and Ms. Campion.

I don’t have much time for Cash, but what I heard was that the questions she had been subjected to in estimates prior to her outburst amounted to slurs and innuendo targeted at liberal staffers. The questions were designed to provoke a response and once they did the response was the story rather than the provocation and response.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.