Michaelia Cash at her worst threatening over rumours about staffers during estimates

Michaelia Cash at her worst threatening over rumours about staffers during estimates

Michaelia Cash is what you get when you hire on merit. Or at least the Liberal Party's version of merit.

Merit. That's the excuse used by the party of the Prime Minister to keep women in their places. The Liberal argument goes that there can be no mechanism such as quotas to ensure decent representation of women or minorities in the party because that would get in the way of getting the best person for the job.

So when they went looking for the best person for the job, a senator in Western Australia, they found Cash. They wanted someone just like them.

They found her.

Minister for Jobs and Innovation Michaelia Cash during the estimates hearing on Wednesday.

Minister for Jobs and Innovation Michaelia Cash during the estimates hearing on Wednesday.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

A woman who behaves exactly like a man. The sneering, the threats, the bullying, the intimidation, all on show in Senate estimates on Wednesday. This, of course, is all par for the course among male politicians; and you can hear their appalling behaviour in question time.

But on Wednesday, we heard Cash at her worst. Actually not just her worst.

The worst.

The failed former minister for women and phony Employment Minister threatened advisers to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. She told a Senate estimates hearing she would "name every young woman in Mr Shorten's office of which rumours in this place abound".

"You want me to start naming them? You want me to start naming them for Mr Shorten to come out and deny any of the rumours that are circulating in this building now for many, many years?"

First, let me say that wherever young women work, rumours swirl. That is the just the way the patriarchy works, babe, idle chitchat, goss.

"Whoa! She got her job because her legs are up to here!" Never mind that she also has an MBA, a PhD; and experience as long as those legs. (Could everyone note how tall young women are these days? I have height envy.)

This way of talking about women is just another way of keeping them in their place, of saying women are unsafe for work. Those young women join an army of women, young and old, about whom malice is spread every single day. Nudge. Wink.

Be not afraid, women in Bill Shorten's office! You are the best, no matter what callous Cash might have us believe. Take heart from the support of Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong who reveal it's possible to be decent human beings and politicians. They are role models, not Cash.

So what made Cash lose her mind?

Labor Senator Doug Cameron asked her about the staffing of her office, which some of us might be tempted to call a revolving door.

So I made some calls myself about the revolving door. Looks like Cash has just appointed a brand new chief of staff, Gisele Kapterian, who will leave the office of Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, where she is deputy chief of staff.

Kapterian, who has a lengthy and brilliant CV with expertise in trade, is leaving that office to join the staff of a more junior minister (yes, I know Cash looks senior but there are not too many women for the Liberal Party to brandish so needs must).

It is wrong to leave Ciobo's office on the eve of important trade negotiations to join the staff of a minister for employment who has just had responsibility for the Fair Work Act stripped from her. Pay rises are just not that important.

Now Cash has had trouble at mill with staffers. They come and they go, in good times and in bad.

Most significantly, senior media adviser David De Garis was forced to resign after he admitted telling the media about AFP raids of the Australian Workers Union. Cash, of course, denied, denied, denied, denied and denied until it was no longer possible to do so. We still don't know exactly who knew what and the order in which they knew it and apparently the AFP is taking forever to find out. Hope they never have to do anything in a hurry except raid for no reason.

Anyhow, if you are worried about de Garis, don't be. Liberals look after their own and de Garis now has a great job with the Australian Hotels Association, which benefited from a deal with Cash's office which would create 10,000 PATH interns.

Cash lost Simon Berger, he of chaffbag infamy, now the deputy director of the Liberal Party. That's the current standard of the Liberal Party for you.

Media adviser Andrew Hudgson, a very nice bloke. Ben Davies, her former chief of staff.

As minister for women, she appointed a brand new adviser on both employment AND women with no experience in either employment OR women, Melanie Brown. I'm not sure if she's there or not.

Mind you, as we all know in the wake of the Barnaby Joyce fiasco, getting a handle on the names of ministerial staffers is nearly impossible. The ministers don't have to make it public so they don't. Someone, sometime, should sort that out. The act that covers them makes it clear they can do whatever the hell they like.

Very seriously, for a minister for employment Cash struggles with employment of staffers. And as a minister for women, she struggled with representing women.

Now she is struggling with being a decent human. She couldn't even make a decent apology to the women she smeared. Penny Wong, the Albus Dumbledore of Australian politics, forced Cash to apologise.

"If anyone has been offended by my remarks, I withdraw."

I hope that's a promise. If not, I have some advice. If she has material evidence of wrongdoing in any member's office and she doesn't feel comfortable about reporting it to the relevant authorities, I recommend leaking to the press. If she needs advice, she can always ring her former media adviser for help.

Jenna Price is a Fairfax columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.

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Twitter: @jennaprice

Jenna Price is a Fairfax columnist, and an academic at the University of Technology, Sydney.

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