As an uppity journalist and presenter of the 7.30 Report in Adelaide, back in the mid-90s, I was taking my seat in the South Australian press gallery one day when all heads turned my way. ‘Oh, it’s Virginia Interruptus’ one of the jolly old MPs called out, giving me a wave. Laughter all round. ‘Virginia Interruptus!’ Ha, ha, ha.
It was an old joke but a goody. ‘Virgin Interruptus’, one bellowed. More laughter.
The previous night I had interviewed the Premier, live on-air. And I interrupted him. A lot. A lovely man who was well intentioned, Mr Premier was nevertheless a boring waffler. Not a liar. Just a dull and turgid explainer of peripheral issues, while desperately trying to avoid answering questions about core policy failure.
When I saw the social media flack flying this week about Leigh Sales’ interview with the PM, well, ‘dismay’ is the printable version of what I felt.
Here we are, a quarter century later and women doing their job on television – attempting to hold to account slippery politicians who are now expertly skilled in marketing spin – and still women are being told to ‘calm down’, to be silent and listen, be ‘nicer’ and learn to fawn with the sort of ear-flapping, deferential respect to which these men of power are accustomed. Really?
I don’t ever recall anyone telling Kerry O’Brien or Tony Jones to ‘calm down’.
Even dear old Jeff Kennett raged on Twitter that Sales was “disrespectful”. Oh Jeff! The man who once threw a shovel of dirt in my face (and my cameraman’s). The man who repeatedly turned his head and walked away during interviews. Respect?
Many journalists have great respect for politicians. I certainly do. Most take their elected position, privilege and power very seriously and are genuinely motivated by service to their community. Most. However, slick and media savvy with armies of spinners mean it can be excruciatingly difficult to extract truth, clarity, and honesty from a politician during an interview.
Gosh, just ask Fox News host Chris Wallace. His Trump interview this week was…? Mind boggling! Is this where we are heading in Australia?
Josh Frydenberg spent the later part of this week spruiking his ‘mini budget’, but days beforehand Ross Gittins succinctly outlined what the Treasurer needed to do for women – in order to prove the adequacy of the budget, including removal of the barriers that are a powerful disincentive for new mothers to return to work. Did Treasury dare do it? In a word – no. Angela Priestly rightly bemoans:
…“the continued lack of targeted measures that could minimise the already disproportional impact of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic on women.”
Do MP’s need a code of conduct? And would such a thing stop the likes of Senator David Leyonhjelm slut shaming colleagues and bellowing at them across the Chamber to “stop shagging men”?
Already ahead of us on this issue, in 2018 New Zealand women MPs conducted a survey on sexism and bullying in their workplace, which returned particularly disturbing results. Not surprisingly, this week’s fallout from NZ National MP Andrew Falloon’s resignation following revelations he sent unsolicited, sexually explicit photos to young women, has stepped up calls for an Independent Commission for Parliamentary Conduct. Shouldn’t Australia follow suit?
How do people become good, effective politicians? Well, apparently, they can’t if they are ‘mothers’, according to the state director of the Queensland Liberal National Party. It seems the candidate vetting system up north is more than tough. We learnt this week that it even pokes an eye into the bedroom!
Speaking of sex, apparently despair over the pandemic has ramped up our sex lives. (According to Liz Allen from ANU and I believe anything she says). But all that activity isn’t going to lead to a spike in our declining fertility rate. Therefore, the Treasurer’s comments today at the National Press Club that echoed Peter Costello’s … “and one for the country”, was only a limp attempt at encouragement. (And he failed to get the joke!)
Still on politicians, I spent a fascinating and thought-provoking hour this week interviewing retired MP Kate Ellis for our soon-to-be released podcast BroadTalk. Kate’s candour about the impact of the media treatment she received as a woman in parliament for 15 years is powerful, perhaps even surprising. (But would she do the leather dress shoot again if she had her time over? Stay tuned!)
BroadTalk goes live next week, with another very candid chat you must catch – Senator Marise Payne. (Look out for it on all podcast platforms: BroadTalk with Virginia Haussegger).
Our Gender News this week is again full of good, solid reads, as is BroadAgenda with articles on transformative economics and MMT; an excellent explainer by Romy Listo on VET and the crying need for a gender equity framework; and another popular piece by Julie Hare on the gender skew of higher education (or perhaps I should say ‘screw’!)
Lastly, I know we shouldn’t laugh at embarrassing drunken raves by women writers we admire, but Susan Orlean – I’m with ya sister!!