News National Don’t be fooled about women in parliament
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Don’t be fooled about women in parliament

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When you watch Question Time it may look like Australian parliament is brimming with female politicians.

But looks can be deceiving. While the PM has four women surrounding him, this is a result of a carefully chosen seating plan and not over-representation, or even equal representation, of women on the government benches.

The reality is, women are conspicuous by their absence in the federal parliament and the numbers prove it.

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Only 36 per cent of Labor MPs are female, while the Coalition lags behind with 19 per cent female MPs.

Out of all 150 members in the House of Representatives, including minor parties and independents, only 26.7 per cent are female.

In the Senate that number is higher, where 38 per cent of the 76 Senators are women.

Tony Abbott’s Cabinet contains two women. Eight of Bill Shorten’s 19 shadow Cabinet ministers are women.

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As the most recent parliamentary session closed, Australia’s taxpayer-funded women’s rights body implored government to get more females into office.

“[Politicians] have got to be doing more about women in leadership,” Program Manager of Equality Rights Alliance, Helen Dalley-Fisher, told The New Daily.

“Getting women into parliament is one of the key areas of increasing women’s visibility and showing women as equal participating members of society,” she said.

“If you’re interested in primary prevention (of violence against women) you need to improve the status of women in your society.”

Responding to The New Daily’s questions, a spokesperson for Minister for Women Tony Abbott pointed to a speech he made on August 15 to a Federal Women’s Committee luncheon.

“It would be entirely reasonable for our party to have – not a quota – but a target to increase the number of women in the parliament,” Prime Minister Abbott said.

Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek are both prominent figures in the Shadow Ministry. 2 of 8 females on it. Photo: Getty
Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek are both prominent figures in the shadow Cabinet. Photo: Getty

“If we don’t get the percentage of women up, we will be letting ourselves down … If even the Australian Army can become less blokey, then so must we.”

Mr Abbott’s Cabinet includes just two women and 17 men. Labor’s shadow Cabinet has eight.

Ms Dalley-Fisher said under those circumstances it’s impossible for policies to be created with a female perspective in mind, despite the best efforts of some men.

She agreed that simply making women more visible during Question Time was ineffective.

“You don’t get policy out of governments that properly reflects the experience of women until you’ve got voices at the table,” she said.

If political parties introduce quotas for women in politics, strong review mechanisms are needed to ensure they’re enforced, she added.

Shadow Minister for Women Senator Claire Moore’s spokesperson told The New Daily the Labor Party is doing its bit.

“Last month rule changes were supported to increase Labor women’s representation across all Australian parliaments to 50 per cent by 2025,” Senator Moore said.

“Labor already has a record that shows we believe that getting women into parliamentary roles is important.

“This is compared to the current Liberal record of women in federal parliament – with no targets.”

But while both sides like to spruik the measures they’re taking, the picture the public is presented from the House of Representatives seems suspiciously stage managed.

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