Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has revealed a group of male Liberal MPs who dubbed themselves the “big swinging dicks” tried to stymie her career.
In an extraordinary interview with 7.30 host Leigh Sales, the former deputy leader also suggested it was surprising to her that Defence Minister Linda Reynolds never told the Prime Minister of the allegation that a Liberal staffer had allegedly been raped in her office.
But when Ms Sales asked Ms Bishop about claims that a group of Liberal MPs called the “swinging dicks” sought to block her progression she quickly corrected her.
“It was actually big swinging dicks,’’ Ms Bishop said.
“No-one self-identified to me. My ambition was to be the foreign minister of Australia, and I served in that role for five years. And likewise I was deputy leader of the party for 11 years.
“If their ambition was to thwart my aspirations, then they failed.”
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Reports of the “big swinging dicks” were first revealed by former Sunday Telegraph journalist Glenn Milne in 2009.
Ms Bishop has a longstanding professional relationship with the Attorney-General Christian Porter, who has strongly denied any sexual contact with an Adelaide woman who had accused him of rape, and previously hired him in WA when she managed a legal firm.
But she suggested a coronial inquest into the matter was a “logical step”.
“This is such a difficult area and I feel so unspeakably sad for everyone involved,’’ she said.
“And there are families and friends who are still suffering and there will be trauma for some time. The challenge of course is that the allegations are historic, that the woman who made the allegations took her own life, and now a serving cabinet minister has been informed that the police investigation is at an end. So, there are no answers.
“I do know, however, that the South Australian coroner is considering an inquest and to me that is the next logical step.
“It’s within the criminal justice system. There are checks and balances and there are statutory powers. It has legal standing.
“And so, that is the next step and I understand from media reporting that’s what the family would welcome.
“I think the mainstream media have been taking very careful legal advice and are ensuring they don’t publish evidence, they don’t cross in the areas of contempt and defamation, although I note the Attorney-General has got a defamation lawyer.
“I knew him when he was a young lawyer in Perth. He was a highly intelligent young man. He had a bright future ahead of him. People spoke of Christian Porter as someone who would go on to better things.
“I didn’t work closely with him. No-one made complaints to me. The first I heard about these particular allegations was about six months ago from an informal source. So, people hadn’t raised these issues with me.”
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However, she also observed that if she had heard such serious allegations she would have reported them.
“Obviously, as a senior female in the Liberal Party and as a deputy leader, had serious allegations been brought to my attention, I would have reported them to the Prime Minister, to the police, and continued down that path,’’ she said.
Ms Bishop said she wondered why the Prime Minister had not read the allegation contained in an anonymous letter sent to him.
“I have not seen the material. I have not seen any of the documentation. I haven’t read media articles about it. But I wonder why they haven’t,’’ she said.
“I think in order to deny allegations you would need to know the substance of the allegations or at least the detail of the allegations.”
Ms Bishop said she was not surprised that some women chose not to report to police.
“There’s a powerful culture within all political parties to ensure that no individual doesanything that would damage the party’s prospects, the party’s image, or its reputation, particularly at election time,’’ she said.
“There’s so much at stake. One party forms the government. Ministerial careers are in the balance. Marginal seat holders could lose their seat.
“Hundreds of staff jobs are on the line if you lose the election. So this culture has developed where there’s a very low tolerance for mistakes, that people are encouraged not to do anything or say anything that is out of line with the party’s prospects.
“Paradoxically, it can mean a culture develops whereby those who are prone to inappropriate or unprofessional or even illegal behaviour get a sense of protection.
“They know that people aren’t going to complain because that would damage the party, it would damage the party’s prospects. This is across Parliament. It makes it a very unusual workplace in that regard.”