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Gladys Berejiklian’s fate speaks volumes about gendered politics


Gladys Berejiklian’s untimely resignation as the 45th Premier of NSW speaks volumes about gendered politics and it has cost NSW the leadership of one of its most popular Premiers.

By Shivani Gopal published by Women's Agenda October 2021.

It begs the question, how big is the gender gap within our Australian political system? Women continue to miss out on a fair go while trying to play fairly. Worse still, most of the time women don’t get a ‘go’ at all.

Case in point is Gladys herself. She’s one of only two women to ever hold NSW’s top job, and yet upon resignation, she is to be succeeded by two men, Dominic Perrottet with Stuart Ayers as his deputy.

At the federal level it’s even worse. We’ve only ever had one female Prime Minister, and we all know how that story unfolded for Julia Gillard. Women have waited all too long to be represented in political leadership and any victories we’ve had have been short lived.

The reaction from women over Gladys’ resignation at large has been one of devastation, heartbreak and anger. Anger at so many things: why now, ICAC? After 12 months of sitting on this, why now? Yes, we get it. Corruption can’t wait. But wait – it did! A whole year in fact. At a time when NSW has weathered the heavy blows of COVID, and is so close to the other side of 70% vaccinations and freedom, we now find ourselves rudderless, and leaderless from the very hand that has steered us to safety. 

Gladys’ steadfast resignation comes as a result of her living up to her own standards of upholding the integrity of her office. She too has not intervened to support others while being investigated or subsequently cleared by ICAC. Her consistency in applying the same standards to herself is an honourable one, despite taking away the presumption of innocence with irreversible punishment being delivered before the verdict.

It’s refreshing too, because here’s what she hasn’t done: dug in her heels and hung on for dear life, till every last thread is breaking bare or justified any wrongdoing off the back of her many successes – and there are countless: her handling of the bushfires, her expert balance between health and industry in the management of the covid crisis, her leadership in advocating for Australians travelling back home from overseas are just a few.

Yet it’s exactly this kind of behaviour we are so used to: the implied tradeoff of hanging in there off the back of success, capability or intelligence, despite _____ (you can insert your issue here).

Now, let’s take a look at Christian Porter, a man who remained in cabinet, up until just weeks ago, despite having rape allegations levelled against him. While Porter has now resigned from his ministerial position, he has indeed remained in parliament. Not only that, but he received a big pat on the back from our Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, publicly backing Porter’s decision to remain on the backbench. Statements like “he’s had a bad day at the wicket” and “he should be given another chance at some future time in a senior role” trivialize the seriousness of the accusations along with the integrity required to uphold a role in parliament.

It’s painfully clear that if given the chance, Porter will have another go in a senior position and hope the accusations of the past have been long buried under yesterday’s news.

And therein lies the issue with gendered politics: women get stung playing ‘fair’ in what is an unfair game. I’m so sick of women being the ones who do the right thing, the honourable thing, or becoming the martyr, which Gladys will likely be seen as should ICAC’s investigation clear her. I’m sick of women being the quiet achievers and the upholders of values, culture and integrity. It’s about time the playing field was levelled, with men doing exactly the same.

As much as it pains me to see Gladys go, she’s done the right thing. We can’t have our political leaders in office while under investigation. But it’s time those same standards of integrity are applied across the spectrum, as standard, for state and federal parliament. We need more leaders like Gladys who don’t just talk the talk, but walk it too.

Gladys, I’m glad we had you for as long as we did.

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