Features and Explainers

Sexism in politics

Over 80% of female politicians have experienced some form of sexism whether it be verbal, physical, sexual or another type of sexism, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s report into sexism, harassment and violence towards female politicians throughout the world.

So how does Australia stack up against the rest of the world? While Julia Gillard was in parliament, she experienced numerous types of sexism such as the opposition’s leader, Tony Abbott, standing in front of sign labelled ‘Bob Brown’s bitch’, among numerous other types of sexism. Gillard made a famous speech in parliament saying “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not.”

In a later speech, in 2016, Gillard said women going into politics should expect rape threats.

Earlier this year former chief of staff to the NSW Liberal Premier Anna McPhee said, in a speech at a NSW Liberal Party conference, that women get overlooked in politics because male factional leaders “tend to pick men, because ultimately, they think male candidates will deliver them more control”.

McPhee also said on her first day as deputy campaign director she was asked by a male staffer to make him a cup of tea.

Sexism in Australian politics has impacted future females from entering politics, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s report. In Australia, 60% of women between the ages of 18 and 21, and 80% of women over 31, said they were less likely to become candidates after observing the extent to which women were treated in the media.

So what displays of sexism have we seen in Australia’s parliament this year so far?


‘You’re not my type either mate’

Senator Penny Wong was regularly interrupted by Liberal National senator Ian Macdonald throughout the Senates estimates in June.

At one point when Macdonald interrupted Wong, Wong said “thank you Mr president, the senator Macdonald really does have an unhealthy obsession with me,” Wong said, “but I digress.”

Macdonald continued to interrupt Wong while she was speaking. One of the comments Macdonald made while Wong was speaking, which was inaudible to the press gallery, prompted Wong to reply “you’re not my type either mate.”


The flowers

South Australian senator Alex Gallacher asked if foreign minister Julie Bishop brought flowers, as she was “probably the only female on the list of Australian foreign ministers”, for a budget night party during the Senate estimates.

Liberal senator Zed Seselja, who was representing Bishop at the Senate estimates, replied “I’m not really sure of what the relevance was … that because it’s a female foreign minister we have to know about decorations and flowers?”

A few hours later Gallacher apologised.

In a later statement a spokeswoman for Bishop said “this might come as a shock to Senator Gallacher but Australia’s first female foreign minister spends her time focusing on serious issues of Australia’s national security and other important matters of state.”


Speaker compares a female MP’s attire to a military jacket

Sexism has also occurred throughout State and Territory parliaments. During a vibrant question time in Adelaide’s parliament, speaker Michael Atkinson said to Liberal deputy leader Vickie Chapman, “the deputy leader who seems to, judging from her apparel, have some affiliation with a Hussars Regiment, will not charge at the minister out of order.”

Liberal MPs said that comparing someone’s attire to a military jacket “amounted to a dose of old fashioned sexism”.

Atkinson defended what he said in The Advertiser ““one tries to control a rowdy House in Question Time using some humour but clearly this didn’t resonate with the Opposition and I withdrew it immediately”.

The Advertiser wrote this comment comes amid an ongoing dispute between the Labor and Liberal parties about the low amount of women running for the 2018 state election.


NSW premier compared MP Jodi McKay’s behaviour to a “calendar shoot”

And in NSW, NSW premier Mike Baird interrupted MP Jodi McKay’s speech during question time to yell “she’s up there doing calendar shoots! Who wants me?! Who wants me?!”

McKay posted a video of Baird’s comments on social media and she wrote: “it is not funny nor is it appropriate to liken women seeking leadership to a ‘calendar shoot’.

“We should be doing all we can to encourage women into leadership roles in NSW – this behaviour shows how far we still have to go.”

Baird apologised for his comment but then said it was just “light banter”.


“A couple of the guys were a bit uncomfortable about inviting a chick”

But sexism isn’t limited to politics in federal and state parliaments. It’s also part of political university clubs.

The president of the University of Melbourne’s Liberal club, Xavier Boffa, uninvited a female member to a Liberal club event because “a couple of the guys were a bit uncomfortable about inviting a chick.”

Boffa also works for state shadow attorney-general John Pesutto.

The event was meant to be held by the club in a bar in the city and only attended by Liberal club members and alumni.

A spokesperson for the club says Boffa was talking “rubbish”.

But one member of the club told Fairfax “it’s a boys club and they don’t recruit female members or invite them to some events”.


There have been many other cases of sexism in politics this year. And Australia won’t achieve gender equality in parliament until 2046 according to Fairfax.

About the author

Alice Rennison