Scott Morrison has admitted the Liberal Party has a women problem and left the door open to targets – but not in time for the 2019 election.The Prime Minister is sticking to his guns that the Liberal Party should not embrace formal quotas like the Labor Party, but conceded he will consider new policies to boost female representation if he remains leader.
But after the departure of Liberal frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer, he signalled on Sunday that he did expect her to be replaced by a woman in the seat of Higgins.
“I will leave that to the robust process that exists in the Liberal Party. It’s their decisions but I think, yes, she will be replaced by another woman,” he said.
“We will see some very outstanding female candidates coming forward. A number, I think, have been heading that way.”
Liberal Senator Jane Hume is being urged by senior Liberals to run.
But a Melbourne Cup field of potential candidates is emerging, including former ministerial adviser Zoe McKenzie, Business Council of Australia adviser Jess Wilson, paediatrician Katie Allen and state MP Margaret Fitzherbert.
There are up to 800 preselectors in Higgins, with the electorate largely untested because when Ms O’Dwyer ran in 2009, the Peter Costello-Michael Kroger forces united to force her candidacy through delivering a crushing three to one vote advantage over her competitor.
Ms Allen only recently joined the party, with insiders downplaying her chances as the party fears “another Julia Banks” who might defect.
Senator Hume is a long-time Liberal who is regarded as the leading candidate.
While Peta Credlin’s name has again been mentioned, her candidacy is more frequently mentioned in relation to the nearby seat of Menzies, held by Liberal MP Kevin Andrews.
Senior Liberals believe Ms Credlin would win preselection in the seat of Menzies in a canter if Mr Andrews resigns, with the 500 preselectors largely conservative retirees over the age of 50.
Mr Morrison was cool on the idea of quotas, but left the door open to reforms.
“I don’t agree with that,” he said
“But I would say that the selection progress for this year’s election still has a way to go.
“But that process is set in place and my predecessors in the party and others in the party have those matters that I intend to return to as leader of the party after the next election. And to deal with that and place long-term plans to make sure we meet commitments that we have set out as a party working closely with the party organisation.”
The Prime Minister also denied he was facing a mass exodus of MPs, jumping shop before a likely election loss.
“No, I’m not concerned about that at all. That is not what has driven the decisions,” he said.
“If it is OK for a Labor bloke from Western Australia to say that he is not going to contest the next election because of family decisions, then it should be all right for Kelly O’Dwyer.
“And I frankly was a bit disappointed yesterday with some of the churlish behaviour of Brendan O’Connor. Even Bill Shorten’s office was sledging Kelly O’Dwyer yesterday on social media. I thought that was pretty ordinary.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten said the while MPs did face pressures with work and family, it was no different to millions of other families.
“The real problem for millions of Australian families, millions of Australian women, is they’re not paid the same as the blokes, childcare is ridiculously expensive and growing out of control,” Mr Shorten said.
“It’s not just about one politician in the leafy suburbs of the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It’s about how do we make sure that women and men get a fair go.
“It’s childcare. It’s pay. It’s the cost of living and that’s how I think we can help all women participate more fairly.”