Former Liberal MP Julia Banks says she will send a copy of her new memoir to the Jenkins review of workplace culture in Parliament House, but will not give a formal interview or make a submission to the inquiry because she lacks confidence in the confidentiality of the process.
Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins was appointed by the Morrison government to review workplace culture after the former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins generated a national #MeToo moment after she alleged she was raped by a more senior colleague in a ministerial office in March 2019.
But while expressing her “utmost respect” for Jenkins “on a personal and professional level”, Banks told Guardian Australia she would go no further than sharing her memoir because “based on my first-hand experience with the Morrison government” she lacked the requisite confidence that her privacy would be upheld.
The former Liberal MP added: “슬프게도, I know I am not alone in this belief.”
Banks, a corporate lawyer turned politician, alleges in her new book, Power Play, that she was inappropriately touched at Parliament House by an unnamed government MP while parliamentarians waited in the then prime minister’s office for a vote in the House of Representatives.
Extracts of the memoir were published in Nine newspapers over the weekend. The former Liberal says the unnamed colleague put his hand “just above my knee and edged slowly and deliberately to my inner thigh and then further up my leg” in an “astoundingly brazen” act.
During an interview with the ABC on Monday night, Banks said: “I know, worse things have happened to other women in the workplace, certainly they have to me – but what disturbed me about that was, here I was, a 50something corporate lawyer, member of parliament, and that move was made on me.”
Banks also told the ABC Scott Morrison was like “menacing controlling wallpaper” during the period where she decided to leave the Liberal party after Malcolm Turnbull was deposed as prime minister.
She says she intended to stay on the backbench after Morrison took over as PM but changed her mind after he attempted to “silence” her.
“I thought if I’m to exit this parliament, I’ll exit on my own terms and under my own story and not on their terms, so I announced that I was going to become an independent.
“It was the three months of Morrison’s leadership that … was definitely the most gut-wrenching, distressing period of my entire career.”
She contended the prime minister’s office was “backgrounding the press and others certainly within the party that I had had a complete sort of emotional breakdown, that I had not coped with the coup [against Turnbull]”.
Banks said the prime minister was “very good at controlling the narrative” and he had constructed “this whole narrative about me being this weak petal that hadn’t coped with coup week – and that’s the reason I was leaving”.
When Banks announced she would not recontest her marginal seat of Chisholm 8 월 2018, she delivered an incendiary statement blasting the “cultural and gender bias, bullying and intimidation” of women in politics.
At that time she described bullying and intimidation as a “scourge” in politics, the media and business, and warned those who would accuse her of “playing the gender card” that she will continue to fight for gender equality because women have been “silent for too long”.
The former Liberal MP told the ABC on Monday night when she entered politics after a career in the law and in business, the workplace culture in Canberra was like stepping back in time – “it felt like I was going back to the 1980s” – which was a shock, even though “I had worked my entire life in pretty much blokey cultures, male dominated cultures in both the legal and corporate sector”.
“It was extraordinary”.
She said she had been utterly unsurprised by the Higgins furore, and argued the culture would likely not shift until there was “critical mass” of female representation “and gender equal leadership in our government”.
Banks later told Guardian Australia she had been invited to participate in the Jenkins review, but she said the government should have just got on with implementing the recommendations the sex discrimination commissioner had made in her “outstanding and comprehensive Respect@Work report review”.
She said she had been clear since 2018 that parliament had an “entrenched anti-women workplace culture” and things would not change until there was “an independent whistleblower reporting system for workplace misconduct as is found in most good corporations”.
Banks said this needed to be implemented for “all those who work in Parliament House as a matter of urgency”.
Morrison’s office gave a statement to the ABC on Monday night addressing Banks’ allegations in her memoir and during the interview.
A spokesperson for the prime minster said Morrison was “not aware of any allegations of sexual harassment Ms Banks faced” and “any such behaviour is completely inappropriate”.
Morrison’s spokesperson acknowledged there had been “several conversations with her” after the leadership change “to understand what she was going through to see what support could be offered before she made her decision”.
But Morrison’s spokesperson “absolutely reject[ed] claims about the nature of those conversations”.
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