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Malcolm Turnbull's lunch at an exclusive gentlemen's club shows the truth about the campaign.

Mamamia logo Mamamia 12/05/2016 Alys Gagnon

Right now, in this first week of the election campaign, it’s highly likely that Malcolm Turnbull has almost no control over his movements. © MARK GRAHAM/AFP/Getty Images Right now, in this first week of the election campaign, it’s highly likely that Malcolm Turnbull has almost no control over his movements.

Election campaigns are strange experiences. It’s the sort of period when the PM is unlikely to be across the minutiae of where he’ll be at any given minute of the day.

Which is probably how he ended up having lunch at an exclusive gentleman’s club in Melbourne today.

Buzzfeed confirmed Malcolm Turnbull dined at the Athenaeum Club on Collins Street in the heart of Melbourne. It’s one of the last strongholds of institutionalised misogyny, because it still the kind of place where women aren’t welcome.

It’s described as “one of Australia’s oldest and finest clubs, confident in its heritage and traditions, yet enlightened and contemporary in its outlook”.  While the Athenaeum will welcome a allow women as a guest, membership of the club is open to men only.

Right now, in this first week of the election campaign, it’s highly likely that Malcolm Turnbull has almost no control over his movements.

That’s a strange thing to suggest about a Prime Minister, but in the hustle and bustle of being on the road during an election campaign that’s the truth of the matter.

The Prime Minister’s day, as is the the Opposition Leader’s, is carefully constructed by a huge team of people. Everyone involved in the election campaign has a slice of this pie.

There are the local candidates who bid and jostle to get a slot in the PM’s diary. The PM travels with a media pack, and with that comes a priceless moment of national exposure for a candidate who, come election day, relies mostly on name recognition to pick up votes.

There is the policy team, usually a team of about 30 odd people at campaign headquarters, putting together the ‘announceables’.

The national strategists war game where the PM needs to be at any given time, and what he (or she, perhaps again one day) will say when he’s there.

There’s the ‘advance team’ who travel literally in advance of the PM, to set events up and to map the PM’s every move.

And then there’s the travelling party; usually 20 to 25 people who are with the PM at all times. Security, media advisers, policy advisers, assistants.

The PM, and I have some sympathy for him, will have a broad idea of where he’s going that day and what he’ll do when he gets there.

He’ll have had a huge amount of input at a very high level, but my guess is that lunch probably isn’t top of mind. He may have assumed someone, at some point in time would hand him a sandwich between press conferences as he moved through the marginal electorates of Melbourne.

And while he ought be given the benefit of the doubt, visiting a club where women are tolerated but not welcome is a slip up.

It’s entirely unacceptable for the Prime Minister to dine in a venue that by it’s nature discriminates against half the population.

It’s a silent endorsement of what the club stands for. And while the club may claim to have a contemporary outlook, there’s nothing contemporary about the inequality of women.

Labor’s women’s spokesperson, Senator Claire Moore told Mamamia, “On top of giving big business a $50 billion tax cut and cutting funding from schools and hospitals, Mr Turnbull thinks it’s a good idea to spend his afternoon in a men-only club.

“This just shows how out of touch Mr Turnbull really is.”

Turnbull’s lunch will create further difficulty for the Government, who (like the Opposition) are struggling to cut through in these early days of an election campaign.

Incidents like these are silly mistakes to make and can be hard to recover from. In 2015, the LNP held an International Women’s Day event at a similar venue in Brisbane. Then Prime Minister Tony Abbott quipped that the women of the LNP had cracked through the glass ceiling, but the joke fell flat with female voters.

There’s no suggestion that Malcolm Turnbull will approach this matter with the same levity, but he would do well to remember that it was not long after that Tony Abbott lost the support of his party room.

The PM will have to scramble here to reassure the women of Australia that he’s serious about tackling gender equality – and today’s blunder will be new and added pressure he could have done well without.

Mamamia sought comment from the Prime Minister and Senator Michaelia Cash but had not received a response by the time of publication.

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