Former Coalition cabinet minister Karen Andrews has revealed she suffered harassment inside the House of Representatives and had a colleague breathing heavily down her neck.
- Karen Andrews endured lewd comments and “breathing down the back of her neck” while she sat in question time.
- She fears that women will continue to be treated poorly, a prospect she calls “depressing.”
- Andrews says former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg should have challenged Scott Morrison for PM
The Queensland Liberal, who did not identify the politician, said she was subjected to gasping and rude comments during question time, a time when all lower house MPs are present in the chamber.
“I’d just be sitting there minding my own business and they’d be breathing down my neck,” she told ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet with Annabel Crabb.
“And if I asked a question, it would be, ‘That was a great question, incisive and probing.’
“But you know what the problem is? Well, there would be people who would say, ‘You can’t take a joke? Can’t she take a joke?’ I mean, really… and sometimes I say it out loud, but sometimes I just say, ‘I can’t be in every fight.'”
In a wide-ranging interview, Ms Andrews spoke about the isolation she faced as an MP and when speaking out about incidents within her party.
She has also revealed she fears there will be little change in the way women are treated in federal politics and that, in hindsight, former Liberal treasurer Josh Frydenberg should have challenged then-prime minister Scott Morrison for the leadership.
Ms Andrews quit the Liberal front earlier this year when she announced she would stand down at the next election.
Before the last election, she was one of the most senior women in the coalition government.
She attracted headlines in 2020 when she spoke out about the treatment of women, telling ABC at the time that she had “had a fit of anger” and that “my conscience no longer allows me to remain silent.”
The former engineer and industrial relations specialist spent her pre-political career in male-dominated industries, but she said they were nothing compared to what she faced in federal politics.
“Throughout all those careers, I never once thought that being a woman made any difference,” she said.
“But I dedicated myself to politics and it is the first time that I feel that I have to fight for things simply because I am a woman.
“It’s depressing. That’s depressing. So, to be honest, I don’t know if this is going to change in my life. And that’s really sad.”
Andrews entered federal parliament in 2010 and spent his first term in opposition.
He said his experience at the parliamentary sessions in Canberra was isolating because he deliberately chose not to socialize after hours.
“There are a large number of people who don’t go back to bed alone,” Ms Andrews said.
“I think some of that behavior has changed. But that was certainly very, very common. There’s a lot of alcohol.”
Andrews wonders if she wasn’t rushed to the front because she didn’t mix with people after hours, something she says meant she could “get a good night’s sleep.”
He said that in these nightly meetings, usually the men, they plotted their own future and that of the party.
“That’s where I really found it difficult as a woman,” she said.
“I didn’t get invited often when my male colleagues got together for drinks or cheese or all that kind of stuff.
“There was a lot of strategizing going on at those meetings, and women who weren’t invited to them were simply never part of them.”
Andrews would feel that isolation again later in his career, when he spoke out against Morrison.
Before the 2022 election, the then prime minister promised Andrews that she would retain the Home Affairs portfolio if the Coalition kept the job.
That’s why he was so shocked when it was revealed that Mr Morrison had secretly sworn in five ministries, including his own.
“I don’t understand why he did that and I was very disappointed that it overshadowed everything we did,” Mrs Andrews said.
“And it would always be the secret ministries, the five ministries. And as long as Scott Morrison was in parliament, we could never move on. So I was asked the question: ‘Do you think I should resign?’ And I said, ‘I do,’ (and) history tells us that no one had my back, no one, no one else.”
When asked if she felt lonely afterwards, she replied: “I didn’t think about it at the time, but I did afterwards.”
The former treasurer should have challenged
Mrs Andrews kept the Home Affairs portfolio in the opposition and held that position when the secret ministries emerged.
She said she was very disappointed in Frydenberg, the former Liberal vice-president, who had lived with Morrison during the early parts of the pandemic. Andrews said Frydenberg probably should have challenged Morrison for the leadership, a move she hopes would have helped her retain his Melbourne seat.
Morrison apologized to Frydenberg and former finance minister Mathias Cormann for secretly taking over their portfolios, but only called Andrews after it emerged he had not apologized to her.
Political life comes to an end
Ms Andrews’ federal political career was marked by interactions with Peter Dutton.
After her husband completed his PhD, the mother-of-three ran for LNP preselection, sparking a battle with Dutton, who was seeking to move from her marginal electorate to a safer seat on the Gold Coast.
“I got this email from one of the preselectors who said, ‘You shouldn’t run for preselection because you’re not going to win anyway. But I would never let my wife leave our kids,'” he said.
“I thought, ‘Thanks for that.’ Now, I don’t know if that was said to Peter… (who) had kids younger than me.”
Andrews won that preselection and has successfully held it in every election since 2010.
She would later replace Dutton as Home Affairs Minister and then served on his front bench until she announced her plans to retire from politics.
Despite everything he has faced throughout his political career, he said he would leave politics behind with good memories.
“I would never have imagined little Karen from Townsville would have ever done (all this),” he said.
“So I’m not going with any bitterness and I want my party to do well.
“I think I’ve done everything I could… I’m very proud of the party.
“I don’t think we’re in a good place right now. And we have a lot of work to do. But we will do it… but it doesn’t include me.”
Watch Kitchen Cabinet tonight on ABC TV at 8pm or ABC iview.
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