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I like cats but ...

By Geoff Aigner - posted Friday, 3 June 2011

I wish this hadn't descended into a political slanging match. It might have allowed men and women on both sides of the political divide to look a bit more closely at how we work together in this small democracy down here. And I don't just mean how we work together as men and women but how we all work together - particularly how those with more power (in the mainstream) work with those in the minority. White with black, men with women, those who "grew here" with those who flew here.

Unfortunately, and I say this as part of the mainstream myself now (as a white male manager), it is usually those who don't have power who have to wake us up to our own rank and power. And how we might be sharing it …. or not.

I wouldn't say I feel sorry for Liberal Senator David Bushby but I can understand what happened to him. Mr Bushby was probably the last person in the room to comprehend what he was doing. He was doing what power always does when it is threatened… bites back. I can also snap when I feel my power threatened without understanding what I am doing in the moment.


If we take how men and women share power as a case in point, you could say that men have been so sure in their power that they haven't had to concern themselves with what happens to women in power. A friend said to me the other day, "I am amazed how the women managers in my workplace are so vicious with each other". He works for a construction company where there are few women with any power at all. We all need some kind of power over our lives. When we don't have enough we end up having to fight it out for the scraps. This is always a brutal game. We can see the same in Indigenous communities and indeed any community where there is precious little power to go around.

And when Social Inclusion Minister Tanya Plibersek raised the issue in Parliament, it was always going to be Ms. Bishop who stood up and tried to shout her down. As a white mainstream woman and beneficiary of the status quo it is disturbing to see the balance of power threatened. It is sad to see women used as unwitting pawns for men to maintain business as usual.

But yesterday's events fall in a wider context of consistent attack and merciless scrutiny of our (female) prime minister. It is testament to Australia's poor progress on men and women sharing power. We want women to move up, or so we say, yet we are not willing to give anything up. Can we handle women standing up to men; not being demur or putting up with our chest beating?

If the men and women in the highly visible and symbolic stage of politics share power so poorly do we wonder why there is violence between men and women in family homes? What are we modelling? On both sides of politics? In industry as well as in our communities?

A mark of an advanced and civil society is its ability to graciously share power with all. So where are we in Australia when it comes to our maturity about power? We have some growing up to do if Australia is going to move beyond blaming those with less power for their inability to take part in the mainstream.

We can hope for great shifts forward through policy, regulation and cultural change. And we will be waiting a long time. I have to hand it to Senator Wong, whose grace under snide attack is waking us up to the work that is ahead for those with power in Australia.


Are we ready to share power? Are we ready to grow up?

Or we could just talk about cats.

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About the Author

Geoff Aigner is director of The Benevolent Society’s leadership centre, Social Leadership Australia. His book Leadership Beyond Good Intentions is published by Allen & Unwin.

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