Prime Minister Scott Morrison has heard a direct account of bullying within the Liberal Party in a meeting with senator Lucy Gichuhi that intensifies debate about the party’s treatment of women.
Senator Gichuhi revealed the conversation amid speculation she might use parliamentary privilege to outline her experience of bullying and intimidation in the lead-up to the removal of Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister.
The conversation has also changed her mind on whether to speak out in the Senate on the bullying concerns, with her spokesman saying she would not go ahead with an earlier suggestion she would use parliamentary privilege to talk about the problem.
Fairfax Media has been told there have been no complaints about bullying put to the Liberal Party whip in federal Parliament, Nola Marino, and no plans for an internal investigation into the matter.
While MPs have spoken privately of threats and intimidation during the leadership spill, they have declined to go public with details about specific incidents and those who caused them.
Senator Gichuhi said she had raised the matter with Mr Morrison on Monday.
“Regarding bullying in my political career: Yesterday I had a discussion with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The Prime Minister has taken up the issue,” she said in a tweet.
“We must live and work in a way that respects and enhances ALL freedoms of ALL Australians. Australia says NO to bullying and intimidation.”
Asked whether Senator Gichuhi would follow through on her threat to name and shame Liberal Party MPs, her spokesman said: "After talking with Prime Minister Morrison, the Senator has decided not to speak at this time. He will take it up. She has indicated she will wait for his response and direction."
Victorian Liberal MP Julia Banks issued a statement after the leadership spill saying she would not tolerate bullying or intimidation, while Western Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds spoke in Parliament on the same problem.
Fairfax Media has heard accounts of Liberals having their preselections threatened or coming under severe pressure to sign a petition calling for the leadership spill, but opinions differ on what constitutes bullying in politics.
Some of the strongest supporters of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton have denied speaking to Ms Banks during the week of leadership turmoil.
Mr Morrison called for unity in a meeting of the Coalition party room on Tuesday morning.
“The events of the past few weeks have been very difficult for us all. That’s done. We all know that. And we have a mountain to climb together,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Morrison conceded the Liberals need to recruit more women, but when asked whether adopting a quota was the best approach, the Prime Minister replied: "No."
Mr Morrison stressed Liberal organisational branches - and not the parliamentary party - preselected candidates.
"It's incumbent on every party president, every branch president, every person in the party around the country that we look to see how we can get more women into strong roles within our party," he told 6PR radio.
"We are, I think, under-represented here in our parliamentary ranks. But in terms of those who are here, we have a very strong representation in our party in the executive, in the ministry of the government."
While 24 per cent of federal Liberal MPs are women, the ratio is 48 per cent among federal Labor MPs.
Former workplace minister Craig Laundy has backed the idea of a quota as a “short-term intervention” to lift the balance to 50:50, in the wake of a similar comment from assistant minister Sussan Ley.
Radio host Alan Jones challenged the Prime Minister on Tuesday morning on whether any bullying had occurred, saying there was “no substantive proof” of it.
Mr Morrison replied: “I’ve talked to people and some have been concerned about things that have happened in their party divisions.”
The Prime Minister added that it was a “pretty torrid week” a few weeks ago and party members were seeking to get on with the job.
“We have party whips, they provide the pastoral care amongst colleagues in the Parliament. I talk to all of my colleagues and we deal with those issues, to the extent, inside the tent and inside the family,” Mr Morrison said.