Traditional values are standing in the way of policies that could improve gender equity within the Liberal Party, a leading expert has claimed.
The NSW Liberal Party, which lists ‘individual freedom’ as one of its core beliefs, has long fought against adopting gender quotas to balance their ranks, which Dr Marija Taflaga, the director of the Center for the Study of Australian Politics, said had slowed progress.
She added “liberalism is all about the individual”, and many Liberals believe mandatory quotas to promote gender equity in parliament are “insulting”.
However, recent gender quotas have proven to be effective in Australian politics. At the 1991 NSW State Election, three years prior to Labor’s institution of mandatory gender quotas, women made up just 8 per cent of Labor ranks in the Legislative Assembly; today they account for 48 per cent.
In the same period, the Liberal party has only increased its female representation from 9 per cent to 36 per cent.
“[The Labor model] is exceptionally well designed, because it actually creates a collective action problem for factional bosses and it’s in their interests to fulfill the quota,” Taflaga said.
The longer women serve… the more likely they are to be sympathetic to quotas because their lived experience is that nothing is changing.
The senior ANU politics lecturer added that a well-designed gender quota is one that has a true desire from a political party to actually implement the set target. Without this she said it is doomed to fail.
“Unless there is either an ideological commitment or deal making, alongside good rules and enforcement, they’re not going to work,” she added.
Kellie Sloane, the newly elected MP for the Eastern Suburbs seat of Vaucluse is one of nine female Liberal members in the 93 seat lower house, and said that despite their lag in representation, her party should be celebrated as inclusive.
“It has taken a long time to increase female representation in parliamentary ranks in the Liberal Party, this election we saw a big increase,” she said.
It’s up to us to throw the rope down and pull some more women up with us.
According to Taflaga, the success of the Labor model has proven to be an issue for the Liberal Party with quotas “branded as a Labor solution”.
She added, it meant the Liberal Party may need to develop its own way of fixing its gender gap, but that its rejection of gender quotas was not representative of how all female Liberal parliamentarians felt about equity measures.
“The longer women serve in the Liberal Party, the more likely they are to be sympathetic towards quotas because their lived experience is that nothing is changing,” she said.
“But [female parliamentarians] that are newly elected are the fiercest opponents of quotas because they know they have to work four times as hard to get selected. They really are excellent and they don’t want their achievement diminished.”
After their significant loss of heartland seats to female Teal independents at the 2022 Federal election, Taflaga isn’t confident the Liberal Party is electable without changing its posture towards women.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are centre-right women out there who are looking at the Liberal Party and thinking this organisation is too hostile to women’s interests,” she said.
While at the 2023 New South Wales state election women accounted for just 36 per cent of Liberal MPs in the lower house, that number was a significant increase on the 20 per cent elected at the previous election in 2019.
Sloane argued it is the responsibility of female Liberal MPs to encourage women to run for seats in upcoming elections.
“It’s up to us to throw the rope down and pull some more women up with us, and we all intend to do that,” she said.
“I’m really looking forward to a time when we don’t have to have this conversation. It’s a very important conversation to be having now, but I really believe that we are seeing change. It’s come too slowly, but it’s happening and it’s important that it happens.”
Main image of Kellie Sloane, supplied.