It is hard to imagine a more perfect time to publish a book by a former Member of Parliament about her time in politics than right now, when the frustrations of women about the culture of Australian politics have reached fever pitch and the spotlight is firmly on the government boys' club.
Sexual innuendo and gossip are rife, as are critiques of women's bodies, clothes, appearance. Ellis' first introduction to the culture occurred shortly after her election when she was asked how many people she had to sleep with to get her job. Over her 15 years in Parliament she was intensely scrutinised and had many rumours spread about her, in an effort to undermine her.
As a young woman who rose to the Ministry in the Rudd government after only three years in Parliament, Ellis faced a lot of criticism even from within her party. But Ellis was never a light-weight. She is intelligent, strategic and was able to get things done. I had the pleasure of meeting Ellis several times when she was the Minister for Early Childhood Education. Of all the Ministers I engaged with in this portfolio, Ellis had the most genuine interest and understanding of the importance of the early years and a commitment to ensuring quality and universal access.
Sex, Lies and Question Time is compulsively readable - it is frank, honest and clear. Ellis has structured the chapters thematically - weaponising sexual gossip, slut shaming, the politics of motherhood - and the cumulative effect of reading is one of disappointment and rage. The chapter on the 'sisterhood' makes it clear that not all women are agreed on the changes needed to improve the culture - party-solidarity and threats from within also restrict women from speaking out. Fortunately, Ellis includes a chapter on why it's worth it - talking about public service and the transformative effect of progressive government policy decisions. Here she makes a convincing case for women entering politics.
One of the interesting segments is on whether women in Parliament should have spoken out louder and earlier against sexism, particularly during the Gillard years when our Prime Minister faced relentless criticism, which culminated in her now-legendary misogyny speech. The consensus, in hindsight, is that more should have been done by people in Parliament, the media and the broader public to speak out against this appalling behaviour.