Coalition staffer: ‘I did not bonk the boss’

A YOUNG female ­adviser for the Turnbull government has spoken of her trauma at being at the centre of a Canberra whisper campaign claiming she is having an affair with a minister.

The accusations come amid an outbreak of nasty political rumour-mongering that has ­engulfed Parliament in the wake of the Barnaby Joyce affair and this week boiled over in several fiery clashes between the Liberal and Labor parties.

National Political Editor, Sharri Markson. Picture: Justin Lloyd
National Political Editor, Sharri Markson. Picture: Justin Lloyd

The Coalition staff member ­denied the allegation and expressed outrage at being one of many females targeted, saying it was unfair innocent women were now the victims of unsubstantiated slurs to score political points.

"When I first started hearing the rumours, I was quite shocked by it," she told The Daily Telegraph.

"Then it was everywhere.

"The rumours went ballistic.

"It was just so ­unfair."

 

THE SMEAR GAME

There is a real danger in the current climate that if a male minister has to choose between hiring a female ­adviser and a male of similar qualifications, you can bet he'll choose the bloke.

And why wouldn't he? It's the safer option that could not possibly lend itself to innuendo or rumour.

The choice would be even simpler for him if the woman is attractive, ­unmarried or young.

Even before Michaelia Cash's sexist outburst in Senate Estimates, some male politicians, both Labor and Liberal, were reluctant to be seen alone with a woman - be it their adviser or a journalist - lest rumours arise from the sighting that could be used by ­opponents to smear the politician or destroy his career.

Michaelia Cash has emerged as the ultimate anti-feminist figure.
Michaelia Cash has emerged as the ultimate anti-feminist figure.

What a sorry state of affairs we have landed at in Australian politics.

We are meant to be heading ­towards a society where we are gender blind, where people are treated equally in professional environments and judged purely by their ability to do their job at the highest level.

Feminism is not a concept owned by women on the Left; its very definition is equal opportunity and pay for both genders. It is essential that equality exists in the nation's capital.

But we have taken a backward step and Michaelia Cash has emerged as the ultimate anti-feminist figure.

In an indefensible performance, she spread ­rumours about women she doesn't know and has never met. She also drew attention to unsubstantiated slurs about women who work for her, who have reached the highest level in politics.

A white screen is used to shield Michaelia Cash’s journey to Senate Estimates.
A white screen is used to shield Michaelia Cash’s journey to Senate Estimates.

These are defamatory insults that are a disservice to all women who work in politics.

A young Coalition ­adviser who has been the subject of a vicious and false whispering campaign that she had an affair with her boss told me of her deep "outrage" over the "unfair" ­rumours.

"When I first started hearing the rumours, I was quite shocked by it. Then it was everywhere, the rumours went ballistic. It was just so unfair," she said.

"We are very close and we do go out a lot but nothing was inappro­priate. I started worrying about what would  happen if somebody did print this."

The adviser, who agreed to speak to me for this column but did not want to be named, said she can ­understand how the rumours arose because she was seen so often travelling with her minister, or having a drink after work.

"I spend a lot more time with my minister than my friends and family. That is the reality. That's the nature of being an adviser. I've been through thick and thin with my boss. You're always travelling. You're texting at 6am and at 10 o'clock at night. When there's a big crisis, they're the one that you're with. You do build a very close relationship, and you work such long hours and under such great pressure. It's relentless pressure," she said.

"Some mornings I wake up and it's constant phone calls from 4.30 in the morning. After big days, you go out, you have a drink so you can sleep - that's the only way you can get to sleep otherwise your head keeps going through work.

"Then you get into a toxic culture of travelling, drinking, not sleeping, and working constantly."

Rumours and slurs are infecting parliamentary life. Art: John Tiedemann
Rumours and slurs are infecting parliamentary life. Art: John Tiedemann

In the cut-throat political environment, the adviser said "you have to have nerves of steel" to make it.

"To survive in this building, you bury everything else in your life. You don't have enough time with your friends or family," she said.

"The culture is: Is she going to crack or survive? You survive every crisis and suddenly you realise everything else around your life has fallen apart and you're still a Parliament House staffer. "

A young Labor woman who has worked in Parliament House as an adviser for close to a decade ­described the women in politics as "tough".

"There are lots of long hours, lots of personal sacrifices. It's no secret that Parliament is a blokey place," she said.

"Cash's defamatory public comments go to our reputations, they go to how hard we've worked to get here, and how hard we work.

"The worst part of it all, is trying to explain to your family and friends what this is all about.

"Her comments make it harder for women to keep making progress in this building."

Politics is all about perception, says Sky News host Peta Credlin, who as chief of staff  to Tony Abbott held one of the most powerful positions in the country.

"Politicians are so sensitive to perception and now that they're trading blows over their private lives, women risk being collateral," she says.

"I would be concerned that MPs will be hypersensitive to having women in senior roles in their offices, let alone single, attractive young women. It'll be a weapon of choice for inter-party rivalries to throw allegations around about staff."

There is a risk, Credlin says, of workplace attitudes regressing back to the days when the men held the senior roles in political offices and women were in the lower ranks, or seen to be there to make up the numbers, or as a token appointments, rather than there on merit - something we should have progressed from decades ago.

"If we just disappear because everyone is too scared to hire women in the current climate, it's as damaging as losing female MPs, because having women as senior staff is critical to policy development and politics. After all, we're over half the bloody electorate," Credlin says.

"You need resilient women, who get wounded, sure, but keep smashing it out. Otherwise the risk is women will go back to being seen as 'different' in the political workplace; back to the old days when we were only seen in the typing pool."



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