Thursday, March 25, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Quota, unquota
How serious is the Liberal Party about the idea of quotas?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Question Time today. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Question Time today. Image via ABC News

The Liberal Party’s quota debate was in full swing this week, as more and more Liberal women came forward to speak out against the party’s culture and in favour of a quota for female MPs. The idea – first raised on Tuesday morning by Industry Minister Karen Andrews, who says she was previously “anti-quota” – went into full throttle after Prime Minister Scott Morrison indicated a willingness to consider it in Tuesday’s press conference, with media outlets covering who was for and against the proposal. Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price and Environment Minister Sussan Ley have all now voiced support (at least vaguely) for quotas, while the usual suspects have lined up against them, but today it became clear that Morrison will not be pushing particularly hard in their favour. In an interview on ABC Radio’s AM, he seemed to walk back his support for the idea – which never truly went further than being “open” to it, despite media reports of him “pushing” for quotas. When asked by host Sabra Lane how much political capital he was willing to expend on the issue, it became apparent the answer was… not very much. “What matters is the outcome,” he said. “Different divisions, I suspect, will come up with better ways of achieving it … I just want what works.” 

Morrison’s sentiments on AM seem to echo the majority in the deeply anti-quota, “meritocratic” Liberal Party. Insiders suggest that the pro-quota contingent, while growing, remains firmly in the minority – much like women in the party, who occupy only around 25 per cent of seats across state and federal parliaments. Despite the fact that it’s becoming nigh on impossible for anyone to say they are against the idea of getting more women into the male-dominated party, a large number of Liberals have come out this week to push back against the quota concept anyway, insisting they want to see more women in the party, just not in this way. 

Even as previously anti-quota Liberal women expressed openness to the idea, other vocal women remained staunchly against it: Social Services Minister Anne Ruston (who will be the only Liberal woman from South Australia in federal parliament once Nicolle Flint leaves) is pushing back against the calls; NSW Young Liberals president Deyi Wu (the first woman in that role in 15 years) says women just have to work hard; and Peta Credlin rejected the idea in last night’s Sky News segment, in which she made claims of orgies taking place in Parliament House offices. Many are promoting, instead, the meaningless concept of “targets”, despite the fact that, as The Drum host Julia Baird tweeted this morning, quotas are simply targets that are actually met. “Perhaps Liberals allergic to the word could just rebrand quotas as ‘effective targets’,” she suggested.

The quota debate seems likely to fizzle out, with Morrison unwilling to provide it with the push it needs, but Liberal women speaking out against the ugly culture within the party are not. Tasmanian speaker Sue Hickey, who yesterday alleged Senator Eric Abetz made slut-shaming comments about former staffer Brittany Higgins, was today joined by NSW Liberal member Catherine Cusack, who for days has been tweeting about having passed her tipping point, implying that more Liberal women would come forward if not for “party loyalty”. Cusack spoke out on ABC Radio this morning, and wrote in a Guardian Australia op-ed: “It has reached the point where our personal integrity is being publicly pitted against our loyalty.” Hickey and Cusack echoed Minister Andrews, who also told the ABC on Tuesday that she’d had “a gutful” of the treatment of women. Quotas for women in the Liberal Party are still unlikely at this stage, but it seems more and more conservative women are being motivated to speak out – perhaps inspired by the example set by the courageous Liberal woman who set all this in motion.

“The chair has also used information derived from this Parliamentary Committee on a political website established to support his pet personal political campaign … this creates a clear conflict of interest and undermines the committee’s work.”

Industry Super Australia chief Bernie Dean has asked Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to scrutinise Liberal MP Tim Wilson’s use of his position as economics committee chair, warning he is using the role for political purposes.

“I can only go on the basis of what Eric Abetz has said, and he’s put out a statement saying he emphatically denied that.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg this morning joined the prime minister in backing Senator Abetz, and not the female MP who accused him of slut-shaming Brittany Higgins.

The backlash engulfing an Australian arts festival
One of Australia’s biggest arts festivals is facing an intense backlash after announcing a work that called for the blood of First Nations people. Today, Tristen Harwood on what this controversy tells us about the way Australia’s cultural institutions are operating.

The number of jobs that will be at risk when JobKeeper ends on Sunday, along with 110,000 small businesses, according to Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy.

“The arts and entertainment sector is being offered another $135m to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Most of the money ($125m) will top up an existing recovery fund for arts businesses and production companies, taking its value to $200m.”

The government has announced further funding for its arts relief program, lowering the minimum grant size from $75,000 to $25,000, ahead of JobKeeper’s end. One in five arts workers is still on JobKeeper.

The list

“Typically, the Berlin Film Festival’s competition line-up is what might be called a George and Ringo affair: you might not get Pedro Almodóvar or Michael Haneke, but you will get Benoît Jacquot and Christian Petzold. No Bong Joon-ho or Hou Hsiao-hsien – but plenty of Denis Côté. The reason is simple: with just three months separating the festival from Cannes, most A-list filmmakers, producers and sales agents prefer to hedge their bets on the hope of a competition berth in May, rather than squander it on Berlin, an event with less prestige and fewer press. Did the lack of a Cannes in 2020 help Berlin in 2021? Maybe. But whatever the reason, this year’s competition line-up was unusually robust, both in terms of bigger names and relative debutantes.”

“Ahmed Kilani, sporting a kufi cap and collarless button-up shirt, is on the phone outside his favourite cafe in La Perouse in south-east Sydney. The idyllic seaside is a stark contrast to where he spends his days as a chaplain, consoling inmates and countering extremist doctrines of convicted terrorists in Goulburn’s ‘supermax’ prison. Depending on the situation, Kilani either struts with the confidence of a jailbird or glides with the grace of a new-age mystic. He talks with the patient piety of faith, in language riddled with Western Sydney suburban larrikinisms. ‘My chaplaincy is like intellectual boxing,’ he says. ‘You have to be sharp with your hit-backs and can’t give them a hint that you’re scared.’”

“Invertebrates are in trouble in this country, not just because of recent fires but because of intensive agriculture, land clearing, pesticides and climate change. This is a serious issue. Without these animals, ecosystems and economies will collapse.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate speaking before a Senate inquiry today. Image via ABC News

Holgate strikes back

Scott Morrison humiliated the wrong woman

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference on April 9. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

The cost of delay

Delays, as we have sadly learnt, can mean the difference between life and death

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference today. Image via ABC News

Vaccine rollout a (p)fizzer

The government came with good news, but the rollout remains a shambles

Image of Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Trust fall

Supply issues aren’t the only thing hampering the vaccine rollout

From the front page

Image of former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate speaking before a Senate inquiry today. Image via ABC News

Holgate strikes back

Scott Morrison humiliated the wrong woman

Up the river

Hope is running dry in the Murray–Darling Basin

Green house effect

Joost Bakker’s vision for sustainable housing is taking root


Give us not serenity but a sense of urgency in the face of catastrophic climate change