Amid mounting pressure within Liberal Party ranks for the government to boost the number of women entering the parliament, the nation’s first female prime minister has pointed to a decline in female representation which began its slide after she won office.
Speaking in Sydney on Wednesday at the launch of the ANZ Women’s Initiative, a program aimed at closing the gender gap in the workplace, Ms Gillard said female representation in Australian parliaments had declined from its high of 30.8 per cent in 2009.
“We’ve gone backwards as other nations have gone ahead,” Ms Gillard said.
“So when you compare Australia with other countries, Australia has declined in the rankings for women in parliament from 20th in the world in 2001 to 48th in 2014.”
The comments come in the wake of demands from female government MPs for greater representation of women in the Liberal Party, led by Howard government minister Teresa Gambaro, who said it was time to “get out of the dark ages”.
The debate has also been given impetus after Labor moved at the weekend to boost the number of its female parliamentarians to 50 per cent by 2025.
Ms Gillard said there was more to do on all sides of politics.
“But I do note that these statistics particularly point to insufficient numbers of women on the conservative side of politics and that must be addressed even as my own political party seeks to do more and get better and better,” she said.
Women make up fewer than one in four federal Liberal MPs.
But Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says that while her party does need to better reflect Australia’s diversity, the overriding consideration for preselection and election should be merit.
Ms Bishop – one of only two female cabinet ministers – said she did not believe setting a target of 30 per cent would be useful, while also accusing Labor of double standards.
“Why not aim for 50 per cent if it’s to be truly representative?” she asked.
“I don’t think setting quotas that are abandoned when it doesn’t suit male union bosses to take a seat should be necessarily the answer.”
Senior Liberal Scott Morrison said it would be better to provide training and support to women than impose mandatory quotas.
He dismissed Labor suggestions parliament needed to be more reflective of the community.
“If that’s the case, perhaps there should be caps on the number of union officials who become Labor MPs,” Mr Morrison said.