The Australian government has apologised for removing a female journalist from parliament over an objection to her attire, an incident that sparked outrage online as a violation of press freedom.
Patricia Karvelas, a presenter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), said she had been “kicked out” of the chamber in the capital, Canberra, on Monday because her top allegedly revealed “too much skin”.
“The attendant came up to me, she was very polite, she said she was essentially executing orders of her supervisor who said my clothes, what I’m wearing, ‘too much shoulder’,” Karvelas said.
“Basically I needed to cover up more, I needed a jacket,” she said, adding she thought her pant suit was in keeping with “parliamentary standards”.
— PatriciaKarvelas (@PatsKarvelas) December 3, 2018
According to the Australian parliament website, the standard of dress in the chamber is a matter of “individual judgement”, but the ultimate decision of what is acceptable rests with the speaker.
The attire should involve “good trousers, a jacket, collar and tie for men and a similar standard of formality for women”.
Karvelas, who hosts a daily radio show for the national broadcaster, tweeted a photo of herself wearing a white half-sleeve top and black pants.
“This is my controversial outfit,” she posted on Twitter.
‘Right to bare arms’
The incident sparked a discussion online about protocol, with one Twitter user accusing Karvelas of “breaching existing dress standards”.
“Although the rules might be ridiculous, she has an obligation to comply with them,” she wrote.
Apart from the fact she is breaching existing dress standards.
Although the rules might be ridiculous, she has an obligation to comply with them.
And we cannot expect Lisa to actually research something before ranting can we? pic.twitter.com/gMez3fiYzL
— Vegemite Kid (@vegemite_kid) December 4, 2018
Meanwhile, others jumped to Karvelas’ defence and called the journalist’s removal a “violation of press freedom and sexism all rolled into one”.
Absolutely dreadful. Freedom of the press violations and sexism rolled into one. Australia, you’re a hot country: what’s going on?#ShowUsSomeArm
The 'right to bare arms' in Australia's parliament https://t.co/SW0ZqHC9Fn
— sparkyannc (@sparkyannc) December 3, 2018
Many also compared Karvelas’ outfit and the clothing choices with Australia’s former foreign minister Julie Bishop, who tends to wear short-sleeved or sleeveless dresses during parliamentary sessions.
— Airlie Walsh (@AirlieWalsh) December 3, 2018
“If Bishop has worn sleeveless dresses in parliament without incident … then Karvelas is totally following the rules,” said Lisa Wilkinson, executive editor at 10daily.
Women also came out in solidarity with the journalist online, sharing pictures of their arms, using the hashtag Show Us Some Arm (#ShowUsSomeArm).
— Elizabeth Saunders 👩🏼🔬 (@E_R_Saunders) December 3, 2018
Following the online furore, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne expressed regret over the incident.
“I would like to apologise on behalf of this side of the House to Ms Karvelas for being ejected yesterday from the press gallery,” he said in parliament on Tuesday.
Tony Smith, the House speaker, admitted that Karvelas should not have been asked to leave and called for a review of the parliamentary dress code for journalists.
“The journalist in question was attired in a way which would be reasonably considered professional business attire,” he said.
“In the interim, I’ve asked that the definition of the formal business attire for female journalists in the chamber be applied, having regard to the attire of members generally,” Smith added.
Pleased that female journalists will be free to wear professional clothing that reflects what politicians wear. Sensible outcome. #auspol
— PatriciaKarvelas (@PatsKarvelas) December 4, 2018
After the apology, Karvelas tweeted she was “pleased that female journalists will be free to wear professional clothing that reflects what politicians wear” and called it a “sensible outcome”.