Earlier this week, Minister for Jobs Michaelia Cash made some pretty problematic threats in the Senate to divulge rumours about Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s female staffers. Her rant was in response to questioning from Labor Senator Doug Cameron about staff movements in her own office. In case you missed it, the major takeaway was the withering promise:
“If you want to start discussing staff matters, be very, very careful. Because I'm happy to sit here and name every young woman in Mr Shorten's office over which rumours in this place abound."
Safe to say, Cameron hit a nerve.
Now, I assume you’ve been on Twitter before, so I don’t need to explain why threatening to basically dox female staffers is uncool. Luckily, labor Senator Penny Wong exists; she immediately stepped up to demand Cash retract her comments, which Cash did.
But while Cash has taken the threat back, and called her remarks “highly inappropriate,” Bill Shorten is gunning for a full apology. In a statement yesterday the opposition leader said, “I’m honestly shocked she hasn’t said sorry. I’ve been waiting for her to ring up my office and organise it.”
Spoiler alert: that’s not happening. Not only is Cash disinterested in saying sorry, Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t feel she needs to. Addressing parliament, he said: “Senator Cash was being bullied and provoked by Senator (Doug) Cameron who was making insinuations about staff.”
Home affairs minister Peter Dutton also got stuck in during a radio interview, saying: “There’s a history of problems in Bill Shorten’s personal life.”
Understandably, Shorten isn’t loving all this, and has questioned how this whole mess fits in with the PM’s recent call to make Parliment a more respectful workplace for women.
In an interesting point of contrast, this drama went down as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrived in Australia for a 24-hour visit. Chatting to The Conversation, she said she would personally struggle in this political environment: “I have observed and thought, 'Gosh, there is another level there in Australia.'" Fair call, sister.