News National Solving the women problem with bravado

Solving the women problem with bravado

Senator Jane Hume
Coalition backbenchers have been lobbying Senator Hume to abandon the promised increase. Photo: AAP
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The Liberal Party’s problem with women is tying them in knots so they are resorting to marketing spin to solve it.

One of the federal party’s few representatives in Parliament, Victorian senator Jane Hume, denies point blank it even has an issue with people of her gender.

She told ABC TV no government in the past 40 years has done more for women. She cited the number now in the workforce, and the fact the gender pay gap has closed 3 per cent on the Coalition’s watch, as proof of her claim.

As gloss it doesn’t go very far. The women in the workforce – like the men – are struggling to make ends meet as wages stagnate, and for them the pay gap is still a reality.

Senator Hume rhetorically asks: “Do we have an under-representation of women in the Parliament? We do.”

But the party has no short-term solution on how to address this problem, and Labor strategists say Scott Morrison’s relative unpopularity with women voters isn’t helping.

The consolidated Newspoll shows Mr Morrison is less popular with women voters than Malcolm Turnbull was. And while the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is also more popular with men than women, his problem is alleviated by Labor’s strong female representation.

About 46.5 per cent of Labor MPs are women, while the Liberals have 22.6 per cent and the Nationals are at 9.5 per cent.

It is interesting that both Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten are constantly reminding us they are married with children. They both turn up to events with their wives in tow, a time-honoured way of “softening” an image.

Scott Morrison has been known to bring his wife and children on press calls. Photo: Getty

Senator Hume’s poor defence of her party’s record on women came as she announced she would not be chancing her arm to win pre-selection for the hitherto blue ribbon seat of Higgins, being vacated by cabinet minister Kelly O’Dwyer.

Senator Hume prefers the safe haven of the Senate, where she has another three years to serve but she says there are plenty of talented women in Higgins and as a “woman’s champion” hopes one of them gets the nod – although the candidate should be chosen on merit not on gender. She nominated former state MP John Pesutto as an excellent prospect.

The senator ridicules quotas as “a Labor solution to a Liberal issue”. This is a curious view that is blind to the fact quotas are the very solution used to work out the Liberals and Nationals Coalition agreement after every election.

Mr Morrison says he will dedicate himself to a greater representation of women in the party if he is leader after the next election.

This could be a harder ask than his insistence the rank-and-file members in Higgins pre-select a woman. Their counterparts in Wentworth ignored a similar pleading.

The fact is the Liberal state divisions are jealous of their prerogatives to run their own pre-selection processes.

One senior strategist believes only an election win similar to John Howard’s in 1996 will see a significant improvement in women’s representation. That’s when Liberal women pre-selected in Labor marginals carried the day.

In the meantime, Mr Morrison – like his colleague Senator Hume and the two women assistant ministers sent out last week – are left to spin the party’s record with women in the hope some voters will buy it.

Mr Shorten says Labor is the party that “Australian women, when they look at the benches of Parliament, will see we look more like the Australian people than the men of the Liberal and National parties”.

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