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'How about he rings?': PM's woman problem hits peak farce

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30.11.2018

After hearing her public complaints of being bullied and intimidated, Scott Morrison invited the Liberal senator Lucy Gichuhi to his office in Parliament House. The newly installed Prime Minister asked her to recount her story.

"I told him everything," Gichuhi recalls. "After the leadership spill, I was ready to say everything that had happened. I saw adult women crying, even ministers. It was very, very tense. Scott said, 'Leave it with me'. They were the last words as I left him."

Illustration: John ShakespeareCredit:

That was three months ago. What has she heard back? "Nothing," she tells me. "I haven't heard anything back."

The government, says the senator from South Australia, has the wrong attitude. When her fellow Liberal MP, Julia Banks, said she'd been bullied, "instead of getting to the bottom of it to learn the problem, their attitude is 'Don't talk, just support us so we look good'".

And there was no shortage of material. Banks also made public complaints about her colleagues bullying and intimidating her during the Liberal leadership upheaval. She was so dispirited that she said in August that she would not stand for Parliament again.

Julia Banks in the House of Representatives, announcing her decision to quit the Liberal party and join the crossbench.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

And this week her complaints, unheeded, exploded. Banks announced that she would be quitting the Liberal Party and moving to sit on the crossbenches as an independent in the House of Representatives. Morrison's minority government just became even more minor.

When Banks had made her bombshell announcement just after noon on Tuesday, she returned to her office and found a text message from the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, on her phone: "Are you okay?"

Her own leader was trying to reach her through intermediaries, but it would be some hours before he succeeded. Morrison dispatched Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Minister for Jobs and Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer to persuade her to visit his office.

"I won't be called to the headmaster's office," Banks told the emissaries. She reminded them of her office number. Morrison was welcome to visit. In the interim, Frydenberg offered to negotiate a package of government infrastructure spending and other sweeteners for her........

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