The Politics    Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Liberals’ woman problem

By Paddy Manning

The Liberals’ woman problem
The party has a target, but no policy ... sound familiar?

Photos of soon-to-depart female MPs – or, if they’re recontesting, likely to depart at the next election, given the polls – are lined up in this morning’s Fairfax newspapers like endangered species. The pictures tell the story of a Liberal Party going backwards. So many of the brightly jacketed Liberal women who protested in Question Time yesterday will not be there this time next year, and the picture of female under-representation we now see on the Coalition side of the House of Representatives, and in the Senate, is nothing compared with the one we will get after the next election.

A shocking front-page Fairfax Media analysis this morning showed that the predicted powerful swing against the Morrison government could leave the Liberal Party with just five women in the House of Representatives, which would represent a 25-year low. In a searing column accompanying the analysis, Jacqueline Maley wrote that the Liberals have “severely misjudged … the swell of anger women feel over this inequity”, and described the situation as “spectacular self-sabotage”. The problem is the result of years of neglect, as there is no pipeline of female candidates. And considering this dearth of future women candidates, it will take a long time to turn around (assuming there is the will to do so), which only makes the situation more bleak.

In an equally angry column in The Australian, columnist Peter van Onselen observes [$] that while the Liberals have a target of 50 per cent of women in parliament by 2025, “there is no plan to make it happen, no cultural commitment to the target and female numbers are going backwards”.

On ABC’s Insiders a few weeks ago, van Onselen predicted that there would be more Liberal women to follow Melbourne MP Julia Banks out of parliament. Ann Sudmalis, who last night lashed out at local party bullies in her South Coast NSW electorate, may not be the last. Under parliamentary privilege, Sudmalis accused fellow Liberals, including state MP Gareth Ward, of “bullying, betrayal and backstabbing”. (Ward has denied the allegations and challenged her to make them outside the parliament.)

The Liberal Party’s problem with women is not going away, and could threaten the government. On RN Breakfast this morning, Centre Alliance crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie lamented the loss of both Banks and Sudmalis from the parliament. Sharkie told host Fran Kelly that she would reconsider her supply-and-confidence agreement with the Coalition after the Wentworth by-election, saying the deal is becoming harder to honour as women quit politics citing intimidation and misconduct, and that the Liberals must resolve the complaints of bullying raised by Liberal women.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told [$] reporters today that he was “100 per cent confident” there was no bullying inside the parliamentary Liberal Party, and slammed those playing “stupid games” within the party. In Question Time this afternoon, deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek asked Morrison whether he was in effect telling those Liberal women who have spoken out, from Julie Bishop down, that “the bullying just didn’t happen?” Morrison stuck with his boilerplate answer, that the party had a rigorous and confidential process for dealing with complaints, for which chief whip Nola Marino had responsibility. Morrison then turned the focus back to Labor, pointing to Emma Husar, who will herself soon leave politics.

The Guardian’s live-blog is full of this debate today. On Sky News, defence industry minister Steve Ciobo pointed to the Coalition’s proud history of female representation, saying “58 per cent of cabinet ministers in this country, that are female, have been from the Coalition”. Sky’s Tom Connell has done his own numbers: since 1996, Labor has had 223 women representatives, while the Coalition has had 145. Conservative senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said she did not want “to be referred to as a ‘quota girl’, I want to be there because I have earned my place in the parliament, because yes, I have worked the numbers, yes I am capable, yes I have got there on merit.” On the Coalition side, it won’t help perceptions when one of former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce’s accusers, Catherine Marriott, goes on the ABC’s 7.30 tonight after a botched, inconclusive internal complaint process. 

The underlying issue is not just the Coalition’s “woman problem”, of course. Failing to represent the diversity of modern Australia, failing to face up to the challenge of climate change, failing to invest in decent-quality broadband … it is almost as though the Liberals have turned their backs on modernity itself.


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since this morning

Minutes of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s September board meeting downplay [$] risks to the housing market from rising mortgage interest rates, saying the cost of funding a home loan is still below that of a year ago.

In a Sydney court this morning, the girlfriend of former Australian Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg claimed that she was innocent of allegations she misled corruption investigators over a probe into her employment.


Wages have far outstripped [$] increased living costs over the past decade, rising 31 per cent against a 22 per cent lift in inflation, delivering real gains in living standards, according to a new study by Melbourne Institute professor Mark Wooden.

The Australian reports [$] that the man heading the campaign team for Kerryn Phelps, who is rated a good chance of beating the Liberal candidate in Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat of Wentworth, is Darrin Barnett, a professional Labor campaign operative who helped the ALP win two of July’s “Super Saturday” by-elections.

AFR columnist Joe Aston writes [$] that, ahead of the August leadership spill, Rupert Murdoch told Kerry Stokes that “Malcolm has got to go” and that the ensuing Shorten Labor government would “only be in for three years – it won’t be so bad”.

In an op-ed for the AFR, energy minister Angus Taylor slammed [$] greenhouse gas reduction policies as “corporate greed dressed up as saving the planet” while a key ratings agency warned that the government-created vacuum in energy policy was putting reliable energy supply at risk by delaying investments in on-demand generation.

The Guardian’s Transparency Project reveals that not a single lobbyist has been punished for breaching rules in the past five years – not federally, or in Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland or South Australia.

by Paul Connolly
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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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