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A political cat fight?

Inga Peulich calls Samantha Ratnam a ‘pig’

Calling anyone a ‘pig’ is not and cannot be jocular.

And coming from a politician of the experience of MLC Inga Peulich makes it even more serious. However, Ms Peulich immediately apologized to the house although Greens leader Samantha Ratnam does want a personal apology and is waiting for it.

It all started when Ms Ratnam rose to make a statement on ‘women in parliament’ – leading from Liberal Senator Jane Hume’s appearance on ABC TV’s Q&A program (on May 21).

Ms Hume making a comment on the issue of only few women in politics (particularly from her side of politics), and an indirect remark on quotas for women in political parties:

“I really dislike being patronised as if I am a minority,”

“[Women] have to work for what we want. And for women that don’t get there, the trick is work that little bit harder. Don’t get bitter, get better. Work harder.”

Ms Ratnam said she was shocked to hear that, ‘along with thousands of women across this country’.

And Ms Ratnam decided to make a statement in the chamber.

In essence attacking the Liberal party she said: “… it was clear why the Liberal Party has some of the lowest representation of women in parliaments across this country. It is clear that members of the Liberal Party have little if any understanding of the privilege and advantage that helped install them and their friends into their powerful positions…”.

Seeing this as a personal attack not only on Senator Hume but all female Liberal MPs, MLC Inga Peulich rose to attack back saying it shows:

how some women in politics, who profess to be committed to diversity and to increasing the number of women in our political environment, are more than prepared to sink the high heels into another woman in order to gain political advantage.

“She ought to be ashamed of her hypocrisy…”.

Ms Peulich was followed by another Liberal MLC Georgie Crozier who accused Ms Ratnam of taking Jane Hume’s words out of context.

… Dr Ratnam took the words that Ms Hume said out of context. What Ms Hume was saying was that no-one deserves a free kick just based on their gender…”.

It was during Ms Crozier’s time at her feet when Ms Peulich interjected and called Ms Ratnam a ‘pig’.

Ms Peulich was not on her feet at the time of the comment and could not be picked up on the microphones.

Upon Ms Ratnam rising on a point of order – seeking President’s intervention and asking if calling another member ‘pig’ was parliamentary, Ms Peulich apologised to the house saying: “if whatever it was that I uttered was offensive to anyone, I apologise”.

Doing some explaining later Ms Peulich said:
“I was incensed at this blatant display of hypocrisy by Ms Ratnam and the Greens but did withdraw an intemperate remark I made and apologised and hope Ms Ratnam will also apologise for her offensive and misogynist comments.”

This melodrama was a frivolously grievous ‘cat fight’ over a very serious issue which deserves much more than political point-scoring. And the drama that ensued in the chamber was not warranted either.

But really?

Arguably, relishing an obvious triumphant moment, Ms Ratnam sent a tweet:

Samantha Ratnam@SamanthaRatnam

Just called out the Libs in @VicParliament over the idea that women “just need to work harder” to get elected. And boy did they react to that truth bomb. Bernie Finn & Josh Morris kicked out of the chamber for their heckling. Inga Peulich called me a pig. #springst

10:22 AM – May 24, 2018

Putting an altogether new spin on the ruckus in the chamber and claiming the whole saga to be her leader’s ‘contribution on women’s equality & WOCs leadership opportunities’, another Greens MLC, Nina Springle also hit her Twitter handle:

Nina Springle@ninaspringle

@IngaPeulichMP just called @SamanthaRatnam Leader of the Victorian Greens a pig in the chamber for her contribution on women’s equality & WOCs leadership opportunities. Two other Libs MPs were expelled from the chamber- says a lot about the @CoalitionVic #springst 10:17 AM – May 24, 2018

Outside parliament Ms Ratnam added  the race card:

“It is quite telling when the Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs breaches parliamentary standards to call one of the only women of colour in parliament a pig”.

Ms Peulich said, “it was an intemperate remark and I have since withdrawn and apologized”.

Upon Ms Ratnam adding her colour to the mix , Ms Peulich said “the race card would not work here”. As to cashing in, “That I will leave for others to judge”.

When asked if she would say the same thing to anyone else making such a members statement, Ms Peulich said, “I should not have made that remark and I do not think I would… to anyone …”.

On offering a personal apology to Ms Ratnam, Ms Peulich confirmed she is happy to offer one, provided Ms Ratnam apologises for her offensive and misogynist comments.

Ms Ratnam on this issue of exchanging apologies said to BT that she stands by her statement in the chamber.

She asserted that Senator Hume’s Q & A comment “ignores the privilege and advantage that some people have over others. That was the point I was making in my statement in Parliament”. 
Is Ms Ratnam suggesting that the Liberal party is controlled by a bunch of privileged people who have ‘smartly barricaded’ themselves against anyone entering their domain, especially women from culturally diverse backgrounds?

Ms Ratnam said that she is “suggesting that Jane Hume and others who may share her views do not understand how their own privilege helped them get into positions of power. So many women and especially women from culturally diverse backgrounds face explicit and implicit barriers and discrimination.

So are Liberal party head honchos covert racists or elitists?

“No – but I am suggesting that they should learn more about what privilege is and how to create more pathways for women to get involved in politics”. 

Commenting if success in politics depends almost entirely on one’s ability to first understand and then work the machinery of the political outfit, Ms Ratnam believes that “success in politics is about pursuing your passion and working with a group of like-minded people for a purpose beyond yourself.

“Political parties are groups of people who share a set of values and common goals. They should all be inclusive”.

It is a fact however, that, that very ‘group of like-minded people’, becomes your privilege or advantage to install you where you want to be, perhaps the leader of that group.

Surely one can find instances of advantages enjoyed by people in all political parties in Australia, including Greens.

It is a fact that Liberal party has very few women in parliament and thus it has become pastime for all other political parties to use that as a teaser at every opportunity. If there are fewer women preselected by the Liberals, it is for the Liberal Party to take a closer look at their process and that is where the attack should focus.

The chiefs in national or state headquarters of the Liberal Party do not have the veto power to reject a pre-selected candidate, male or female. It may very well be that the pre-selection process is seen intimidating by some female members of the Liberal party.

The quota argument – very proudly flaunted by the ALP, is equally flawed. What if a particular electorate does not have an able female candidate? Do you advocate selecting a second-grade talent then or parachute an outsider?

Then there is another issue – of partners’ (spouses) or family members’ advantage.

With a partner (or a family member) as a power broker in the party machinery, it may be easier for the other partner (or family member) to secure a plum electorate’s pre-selection.

Should that be termed as an unwarranted ‘privilege’ or ‘advantage’ that the candidate enjoyed over others who do not have that advantage and thus start way behind?

Politics or otherwise, people will always enjoy their relationships and the support which comes with it. Neither can it be legislated against nor should it be viewed as repugnant or reprehensible.

Whosoever does not have that support base – which Ms Ratnam calls ‘group of like-minded people’, what do they do – in the words of Senator Hume – ‘work harder, work better’.

Promotion of women in politics should be the focal point and the society, as continuously evolving – will throw its own requirements from time to time – along with solutions.

But Quotas must not be an option.

Academic and writer Randa Abdel-Fattah extends the quota argument to suit her own views, now wants quotas used to increase the ethnic diversity of parliament, saying “I’m not really interested in more white women in parliament.”

Anything closely resembling that will make our future political landscape pigeonholed and pigmented. It will be undesirable.

Australia has always given a fair go for all. It has worked for Samantha Ratnam and there will be many more like her in the future.

Abdel-Fattah’s argument is against the very fundamental value of our society which has always endeavoured to treat everyone equally – irrespective of their gender, colour, creed, race, or ethnicity.

How can the beneficiaries of that fair go for all, now suddenly engage in reverse racism?                                                                                              –DM

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