News Will more women in federal government fix Parliament’s toxic culture? These Liberals think so

Will more women in federal government fix Parliament’s toxic culture? These Liberals think so

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“Moronic, misogynistic behaviour” within the Liberal Party and Parliament House will continue if gender quotas aren’t mandated.

That is the message from Liberal Party women and allies who are pushing to enshrine a gender quota in the party after the PM opened the door to the idea on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Industry Minister Karen Andrews, Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price and MP Sussan Ley have all spoken out in support of the measure.

They’ve been joined by former Liberal MPs, who say the lack of women in parliament has caused the current toxic culture.

“We’ve gone on long enough imagining that business as usual will bring women into parliament,” long-serving former Liberal MP Sharman Stone told The New Daily. 

“Given the attitude of many in the party itself, I can see us having less than 30 per cent for a long time to come unless quotas are adopted.”

She said the argument quotas would disrupt candidates being elected on merit was “offensive to women”, because if parliament was truly a meritocracy there would already be 50 per cent of women sitting in the House.

“Women have higher tertiary education. They have the same, if not better professional and societal experiences,” Dr Stone said.

“So it’s just nonsense to say merit would no longer prevail with quotas.”

The PM defended himself on Tuesday saying he “actively sought to recruit female candidates” during his time as NSW state director of the party.

Dr Stone said the PM may have encouraged women then, but as leader, he had missed the mark.

The cabinet has 30 per cent women, but the Liberals wider representation is poor. Photo: AAP

“Clearly he has failed because we don’t have the numbers,” she said.

For the party to achieve gender equality it needs to make sure women were preselected in safe seats, so they actually get to parliament, she said.

“Quotas are just the beginning. Many of the women who do get elected are in seats with a margin of less than 10 per cent,” she said.

This is an old debate for the Liberal Party, and the women pushing for change are already being met with resistance.

It is becoming a bitter divide.

On Wednesday Queensland LNP member Andrew Wallace argued against gender targets, telling Sky News the “best candidate should get the job”.

The younger generation also isn’t convinced. Deyi Wu is the first female president of the Young Liberals in 15 years.

She’s staunchly against quotas, believing “if you work hard, you can do it”, but says it is a “critical” time for women, across the political divide to get involved.

“The key thing is to build a critical mass of women within Australian political parties,” Ms Wu told TND.

“It’s easy to walk away or criticise from the outside but breaking the glass ceiling and shifting the perception from within is what creates real change.”

Currently, the Liberals have fewer than 30 per cent female representation across their 74 seats. That dips even more, to about 25 per cent, when the Nationals, the junior party in the Coalition, are included.

The ALP shows a 45 per cent female representation. This higher quota was born from affirmative action policies for equal gender representation, adopted in 1994.

Associate Professor Chris Wallace, who works with the 50/50 By 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra, said Labor’s ruling meant the party had less of a culture problem.

Because the Labor party has a critical mass of women, Labor men know they can’t get away with committing the moronic, misogynistic behaviour that has been exhibited in LNP ranks,” Professor Wallace said.

She said women will continue to be under-represented in the Coalition unless its own women push for quotas – and they have the backing of the Prime Minister.

“The PM being open to it, as he said yesterday, is a very weak and unconvincing position that will lead to nothing changing,” Dr Wallace said.

He and [Nationals leader] Michael McCormack should have a joint announcement, declaring the beginning of the quota era.

“Their parties would be a lot healthier if they did that.”

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