The Australian Liberal Party has not decided whether to go with gender quotas for its preselection of political candidates, despite the call from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other members of Parliament over the past week.
The call by some Liberal politicians comes as the Morrison government is under increasing scrutiny over its handling of allegations of sexual violence and misconduct towards a female staffer and female MPs by male MPs and staffers.
“We must get this house in order,” Morrison declared on March 23, saying that the revelations of scandals over the last month had been traumatic.
But he noted that there had never been a more critical time for women to work in the Parliament.
“I want to see more women in this place. I have done many things to get more women in this place, and I intend to do more,” Morrison said. “I need women to stand with me as we go about this, as we stand together. I need them to stand in this place (Parliament).
“I need them to stand right where they are, I need them to continue to blaze the trail right here, this place. I admire their courage, and I call on it,” he said.
Morrison has been at the forefront of placing women in positions of power in Parliament, currently having the highest level of women in his cabinet than any other prime minister.
But Morrison said he believes more needs to be done and thinks that a gender quota system in the Liberal Party may be a better option than the current target-based methods.
The idea has met with both support and concern from his party room, including by some female politicians who disagree with quotas.
The Australian reported that frontbenchers and cabinet politicians have all said they believe the idea has merit.
These include Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Health Minister Greg Hunt, Environment Minister Sussan Ley, Industry Minister Karen Andrews, Education Minister Alan Tudge, Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price, and Financial Services Minister Jane Hume, as well as about a dozen backbenchers.
Payne, who is also the minister for women, noted during an interview on March 23 that the Liberal Party needed to consider every option available to encourage and ensure that more women enter Parliament.
“Whether it takes a good, hard look at options for much more focused initiatives like quotas—well, of course, we should look at those, and we should look at them properly because clearly, there are ongoing issues that mean in parts of our organisation, we have not been able to achieve the outcomes we want,” she said.
Victorian Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson, a former member of the lower house, has said that only 6 of the Liberal Party’s 39 safe seats were held by women, and there was only a 26 percent female representation at a federal level.
“That is not good enough, and strong action is required, in particular, to ensure more women are preselected in safe seats,” she told The Australian.
“I support a robust conversation about any mechanism, whether or not it involves quotas, which results in more female Liberal parliamentarians,” she said. “With a disproportionate number of Liberal women battling to hold marginal seats, no matter how talented, this impacts on their capacity to move into senior leadership positions and into Cabinet where government decisions are made.”
However, not everyone believes that quotas were the right path for the Party.
NSW Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells wrote on Twitter that she doesn’t believe in quotas. “Preselection must be on the basis of merit and bad politicians need to be responsible for their own actions,” she wrote.
Likewise, Tasmanian Liberal Senator Claire Chandler, who led a party review into female engagement, said improved representation could be achieved without mandated quotas.
“The review I led into female engagement in the Tasmanian Liberal Party in 2017 resulted in rapid and significant improvements in female representation, with three of the last four Tasmanian Liberals elected to federal parliament being women,” she said
Nick Cater, executive director of the Menzies Research Centre, echoed Chandler and Fierravanti-Wells, arguing that the quota system is an ineffectual method to create gender parity.
“Quotas are an ineffective tool beloved of socialists that attempt to regiment equality and sideline merit,” he wrote in an op-ed piece for The Australian. “In an attempt to end discrimination against women, quotas seek to discriminate in their favour and arguably to discriminate against men. Their proponents denounce the fallacy that women are the weaker sex while treating them as victims and offering them a protective hand.”
“While quotas may satisfy Labor’s quest for equal outcomes, at least on paper, they are hardly the solution for a party committed to the far nobler aim of equal opportunity like the Liberal Party,” he wrote.