Australia: Quotas best way to elect more women

AGORA moderator's picture

To watch the accompanying video interview, please click here

Women's representation in parliaments is most likely to increase where there is some sort of system of quotas, an analysis of international elections held last year shows.

However, the US bucked the trend by recording an historic number of women elected without any kind of quotas, the study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union found, a result which was attributed to the large number of women candidates.

Government MPs on Tuesday defended prime minister-elect Tony Abbott's decision to appoint only one woman - Julie Bishop - to his 19-member cabinet.

''I believe in people being promoted on merit,'' Ms Bishop, who will be sworn in as foreign affairs minister on Wednesday, said.  ''The number of women in the ministry will build over time. Currently there are a number of capable, talented women who will be considered for cabinet in due course.''

Former Liberal Party senator Judith Troeth urged the party to consider a quota system in 2010. However, the idea was rejected.  Ms Troeth argued more women needed to be elected to Parliament in order to increase not only gender representation but the pool of women who could be promoted.

Long-serving Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop criticised the idea. ''I never want to see affirmative action - that is, you got the job because you were a woman - because that makes you a permanent second-class citizen,'' she said. 

The Inter-Parliamentary Union research shows that quotas are an effective way to increase the number of women in parliament. Last year, electoral quotas were used in 22 countries holding elections.

With legislated quotas, women took 24 per cent of seats, and with voluntary quotas, they gained 22 per cent.  Where no quotas were used, women took 12 per cent of seats.

France elected its largest number of women last year, 12 years after a gender parity law required every party to have between 49 and 51 per cent of women candidates.  However, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP Party preferred to be fined €4 million ($5.7 million) by fielding only 26 per cent of women candidates.

Labor on Tuesday circulated a graph showing how the incoming Australian cabinet compared to the rest of the world.  Canada has 12 women in its cabinet, Indonesia has seven, Germany and New Zealand each have six and the United States has three.  There are four women in the 22-member cabinet of Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron.  Mr Cameron has failed to meet a target he set for himself before the most recent British election in which he promised to appoint women to one-third of ministerial positions.

The latest figures from the Australian Institute of Company Directors shows that 16.3 per cent of board members of ASX 200 boards are women.  Labor frontbencher and leadership contender Bill Shorten said the incoming cabinet was a ''throwback to the 1950s and '60s''.  ''This shows they're really out of touch,'' Mr Shorten said.

SOURCE: Sydney Morning Herald, September 17th 2013: