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Former Liberal MP Julia Banks details ‘sexist’ treatment during time in politics

Former Liberal MP turned-independent Julia Banks has detailed her experience in Parliament of being subjected to an unwanted sexual advance and facing political pressure after she quit the ranks of government. 

Ms Banks resigned from the Liberal Party after the leadership coup against Malcolm Turnbull in late 2018, sitting on the cross bench as an independent before leaving politics at the next election.

Ahead of the release of her book this week, in which Ms Banks shares her account of the “Mad Men” like culture of Parliament, she spoke with the ABC’s 7.30 program in an interview to air on Monday night.

Ms Banks has described how she felt Prime Minister Scott Morrison tried to portray her as a “weak petal” who had not coped with the mental strain of the leadership spill. 

“He wanted me silenced, he wanted me to be quiet, he wanted me out of the Parliament, I mean, he wanted me out of the country,” Ms Banks told the ABC 7.30 program.

“And I felt at that time, I thought, I’m challenging him and that was his response. His response was to drag me through this sort of sexist spectrum. 

“A narrative that I was this weak, over-emotional woman, to the bully bitch. That narrative was played all the way through that three months.”  

In a statement, a spokesperson for the prime minister said he was “disappointed with the decision to quit the parliamentary party and had several conversations with her to understand what she was going through to see what support could be offered before she made her decision”.

“That included support for personal leave so she could take the time to recover from the upset many people suffered during that period. Several of Ms Banks’ colleagues had similar conversations,” the spokesperson said. 

Ms Banks said she was offered a three-month position as a delegate in New York, as well as or personal leave from parliament, which she declined.  

Ms Banks won the marginal seat of Chisholm in Melbourne’s east in the 2016 election, but ended up quitting the party following the Morrison leadership spill.  

She released a statement in August 2018 announcing that she would not be standing for re-election, referring to the poor treatment of women across the political divide.  

In an extract from her book, the former corporate lawyer also alleges she was touched inappropriately by a Coalition MP during the Turnbull government. 

She details how an unnamed politician approached her with the “smell of alcohol” on his breath asking, “How are you, Julia?” before placing his hand on her knee.

“It was more than fleeting and certainly not accidental. His hand landed just above my knee and edged slowly and deliberately to my inner thigh and then further up my leg,” the extract reads. 

She said she “momentarily froze” following the incident, which she says took place in the prime minister’s wing, which was full of Coalition MPs and “astoundingly brazen”.   

A spokesperson for the prime minister said he “is not aware of any allegations of sexual harassment Ms Banks faced. Any such behaviour is completely inappropriate.” 

“Everyone has a right to feel safe in their workplace, and the work currently underway by Kate Jenkins will continue to improve Parliament’s workplace culture,” the statement said. 

In another extract from the book, Ms Banks recalls how pressure intensified on her after announcing she would not contest the next election over whether the government could rely on her political support.

Ms Banks writes at one point she had spoken with Mr Morrison and told him to “get his bully boys to back off”.

Mr Morrison’s spokesperson said he “absolutely rejects claims about the nature of those conversations”. 

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.  

Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at Beyondblue.org.auEmbrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 

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