The Coalition is a boys’ own club

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The Sufragettes disapprove of the Coalition's attitude towards women (Image via @greensinspa)

The disendorsement of sitting Liberal National Party member and Assistant Minister Jane Prentice highlights the sexist nature of the Coalition parties. 

They are a boys’ own club, with some women allowed associate membership for "the optics". They disguise the patriarchal nature of their parties by selecting a few carefully vetted women.

To claim, as the Coalition does, that they represent ordinary Australians is hypocrisy. The 2016 Federal Election saw the Liberals end up with just 21% female representation and the Nationals 13%. This lack of women and women’s voices in the Coalition is systemic.

The Coalition parties represent the class they govern for — the ruling class. This is a class that, at the coalface of capitalist exploitation of its workforce, is still overwhelmingly male and white. Look at the make-up of the boards and other management structures – including CEOs and similar key operational personnel – of big business.

Those in positions of power are usually white men. According to the Australian Institute of Company Directors, women make up just 27% of the directorships on the boards of the top 200 ASX companies.

Government ministers are claiming that sacking Jane Prentice from Parliament is all about selecting people on merit. The merit argument is laughable. Dressing systemic discrimination against women in the cloak of merit does not hide the discrimination.

Tony Abbott was – and continues to be – preselected on "merit" to run as the Liberal candidate for Warringah. He became leader of the Opposition on "merit". He lasted as Prime Minister for two years on "merit".

When I look at George Christensen, merit is the first word that springs to mind. So too with Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews. And to make clear this is not just about men, merit and Michaelia Cash go hand in hand, in my mind — not to forget Julia "$40 a day" Banks, or Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

The common theme among those Coalition members I have just mentioned is not gender but their rightwing politics. It is rightwing and reactionary politics that is driving the challenges to Liberal women and some men across the country.

Politics isn’t about merit. For the conservatives, it is about who can best articulate the interests of the ruling class in a way that wins them elections. They are having difficulty in finding a leader in their ranks who can do that. Abbott could not. Turnbull cannot.

It is about group think and who can best articulate whatever the local group of members thinks should be ruling class and government policy. There are some very unsavoury people in these "democratic" party organisations.

Coalition party branches are democratic only in the sense that they bring together a small group of people, most of them divorced form the concerns of everyday workers, to determine who gets to run the capitalist state for a few years. Their democracy is built on its denial to the vast majority or working people. 

Even then, democracy in the Coalition branches is manipulated. Turnbull government Minister Craig Laundy told ABC TV that there had been "systemic additions to branches" (basically branch stacking) before the pre-selection vote that removed Jane Prentice.

Branch-stacking too has happened in Victoria, where the extreme right grouped around Marcus Bastiaan now control the party machine thanks in part to an influx of Mormons, fundamentalist Christians, and other conservatives and reactionaries. They have been specifically recruited to drive those whom Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar describes as socialists (?!) out of the Liberal Party. They will yield the pre-selection axe against the "socialists" in the months to come.  

Turnbull wanted all current parliamentarians to be preselected without challenge. The reactionary wing of the Liberal Party has responded by dumping a pro-Turnbull MP, Jane Prentice.

Gutless Malcolm will not intervene. It is for the members to decide, he bleats. Except for Ian Goodenough, whom the WA State executive has saved, using the excuse of an administrative bungle to intervene. But he is a man, so that is okay.

Prentice is not the only Coalition woman under threat. The forces of reaction in the Liberal Party are challenging Liberal women – and some men – across the country.  

In South Australia, the two female Senators, Assistant Minister Anne Ruston and recent Family First defector Lucy Gichuhi, are under threat from right wing warrior Alex Antic.

Over in Victoria, according to Michael Koziol, Benjamin Preiss and Fergus Hunter in the Sydney Morning Herald, Senator Jane Hume is being challenged. Then in New South Wales, there may be a challenge to Ann Sudmalis.

So, is the solution more women in Parliament, or to be more precise, more ruling class women in Parliament? More Margaret Thatchers or wannabe Margaret Thatchers are not going to help poor and working women in Australia. More Sally McManuses might. More correctly, more Sally McManuses might be forced by the powerful forces their election could represent – and perhaps unleash – to help poor and working-class people.

The Liberals have endorsed Georgina Downer for the formerly safe Liberal seat of Mayo in one of the four forthcoming dual citizenship inspired by-elections. It was once held by her father, Alexander Downer, but fell to the Nick Xenophon Team (now Centre Alliance) member Rebekha Sharkie in 2016.  

Georgina Downer is a wannabe Thatcher. She works for the reactionary Institute of Public Affairs. She opposes penalty rates and the minimum wage. Wouldn’t abolishing penalty rates and the minimum wage be good for working women, many of whom work in hospitality and other low paying irregular hours jobs? I merely pose the question to answer it.

A vote for Georgina Downer is a vote for more poverty. That is not in the interests of poor or working women, or poor, or working men. Politics matters, irrespective of the gender of the person wanting to become an elected representative.

Putting a dress on reaction does not alter its character. The real fight is against the politics of the likes of Georgina Downer. Her aim is to manage a system that oppresses women. Our aim should be to liberate ourselves collectively from the system that oppresses women and exploits workers.

In Melbourne, recently, we caught a glimpse of the class with the potential and the power to do that. According to estimates, more than 100,000 workers – men and women – demonstrated to change the rules.

That potentiality is our hope for the future, not Georgina Downer and other ruling class women or men.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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