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Dutton's defence of Berejiklian oozes Liberal contempt for women

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has spoken out in defence of disgraced former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (Screenshot via YouTube / edited)

Just when you thought the Liberals might be running out of new ways to demean women, along comes Opposition Leader Peter Dutton with his “defence” of disgraced former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.

Berejiklian was last week found by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to have engaged in serious corrupt conduct. This included failing to disclose her close personal relationship with former disgraced Liberal MP for Wagga, Daryl Maguire, and failing to report her knowledge of his involvement in corrupt dealings.

Dutton found himself caught between a rock and a hard place on the Berejiklian matter. He couldn’t accept the ICAC findings without raising the spectre of pork barrelling by the previous Federal Government, for example, the sports rorts fiasco, the regional rorts, the pool rorts and the road rorts. As Ms Berejiklian herself observed — everybody rorts. It’s not illegal, however, it is corrupt.

Dutton launched a novel defence of Berejiklian’s actions. She’d fallen in love with a dud, he declared. She’s not corrupt she just made a bad love choice. “She chose a bum, basically and he was a bad guy,” opined the Opposition Leader.

He added:

“The Gladys I know is somebody who is absolutely a wonderful person... she has paid a big price...”

In short, Dutton decided to entirely ignore the ICAC findings on Gladys and instead go with “lurve made her do it”.

The Liberals have long had a bad reputation for their attitude to and treatment of women. However, claiming that a powerful female premier is a morally incapacitated victim because of her love for a scoundrel is both ground-breaking and consistent with a Liberal ideology that sees women in politics as a necessary evil.

Dutton might as well have said: Look, we must have women in the party but see what happens when you give them power? They’re influenced by bad men they aren’t strong enough to resist.

It’s a very Dutton and a very Liberal way of giving a woman “support”. Tell her you fully understand how easily she’s taken advantage of. Isn’t that supportive?

It’s a variation on former Prime Minister Scott Morrison professing faux concern for women’s welfare, from Julia Banks (“her welfare is at stake”) to his cack-handed comments about how lucky women are in this country not to get shot when we protest.

Berejiklian is happy to go along with this narrative presenting herself as naïve, inexperienced and captured by a villain. The transcripts of her conversations with Maguire, however, show that she was willing to exercise her considerable power over public servants and even her then Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, in her lover’s interests.

Framing Berejiklian as a hapless victim of love isn’t the defence Dutton thinks it is. What he’s actually saying is that she’s incapable of holding high political office because we can’t have anyone in that office who might be taken in by a dud lover and persuaded to give their interests priority over those of the public.

By denying Gladys agency, Dutton demeans all of us. In denying herself agency, Gladys demeans herself. It beggars belief that Berejiklian fought her way to the Liberal leadership in NSW only to be entirely unaware that what was happening between her and Maguire was wrong.

How much more worthy of respect she would be if she acknowledged her own agency in this matter and took responsibility for her own errors of judgement.

It’s very telling that Gladys, Dutton and the rest of her supporters want us to believe she didn’t know what she was doing. They would rather we think of her as weak, impressionable and gullible, because of love. It’s a warped concept of love and how experiencing it makes women behave. It is, however, a concept entirely in keeping with Liberal contempt for us.

Whether it’s Tony Abbott telling us to get back to the ironing, John Howard telling us we'll never have equal representation in parliament because we are society’s carers, or the Liberals having the lowest number of women in its parliamentary ranks since 1993, the consistent message women receive from the Liberals is that we are inferior.

Dutton’s support of Berejiklian only serves to entrench this contempt.

*This article is also available on audio here:

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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