REPORT: Quotas 'not the answer' to increased female representation in Parliament

Julie Bishop, the only female member of the Abbott cabinet. Picture: Getty Images

ALP-style quotas will not curb the lack of female representation in Australian Parliament, a new report by Liberal think-tank the Menzies Research Centre has suggested.

Women currently make up less than a third of federal and state parliamentarians, forming a minority in every, state, territory and federal chamber and in both major parties.

But the report raises the problems underlining ALP’s pledge to have a quota of 50% female MPs by 2025.

“Quotas remind me of what Stalin used to set for wheat production in villages … we don’t think that’s very effective, we think a much better way is to empower people at a grassroots level to become aware of this,” Menzies Research Centre director Nick Cater told the ABC.

“It’s a top-down approach, you mandate that you must select X percentage of women, and Labor are saying 50% by 2025.

“We don’t think that’s very effective, we think a much better way is to empower people at a grassroots level to become aware of this,” Cater said.

Last month, Education Minister Christopher Pyne said it was important for Parliament to encourage women, especially those with families, to run for public office.

“We need to make it a lot easier for younger career-minded women to choose public life, to choose politics and to choose families at the same time,” he told the ABC’s 7.30.

Pyne said that it was crucial that young women looking to enter into politics were given the “support — if not of a husband or a spouse or a partner — of a network of people who can make that happen”.

Without that, he warned, “we’ll not get the very important input women provide to cabinets, to parliaments, to party rooms”.

“I think we have suffered in the last decade or so, in not having enough women in our party room,” he said.

Cater says that “great strides” were made within the Howard government during the 1990s when there was a record number of women MPs in Parliament.

But improvement has been at a standstill in the last 20 years especially when Prime Minister revealed his first cabinet in 2013 where Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was the only female.

More broadly, Australia’s ranking for women in national government has continued to decline in recent years with concerns that it’s dangerously close to the minimum requirement of 30 per cent deemed necessary by the UN to influence decision-making in parliament.

The report has called for “incremental targets” at all branch levels over the course of three or four elections.

Abbott has welcomed the findings of the report saying: “The Liberal Party must do better at training, mentoring, sponsoring and identifying women candidates. As well, we must identify and remove the barriers that deter women from participating in the activities of our Party”.

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