The Liberal Party is failing women miserably compared to other democracies, and needs quotas



File 20190121 100279 1g2j4wu.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Kelly O’Dwyer last week announced she would not be re-contesting her seat of Higgins at the 2019 elections.
AAP/Ellen Smith

Chris Wallace, Australian National University

Look around the world this week and you see women exercising power and influence everywhere. In the United States, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is wrangling US President Donald Trump over his shutdown of federal government. In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May doggedly pursues Brexit. Yvette Cooper, chair of the British Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee and described by some as the Labour opposition’s “alternative leader”, is bringing forward legislation to try to head off a “hard” Brexit.

In Germany, CDU leader and likely Angela Merkel successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer co-authored a public letter to the British people urging them to remain in the European Union. And from New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote a comment piece for the London Telegraph expressing solidarity whichever way Britain goes.




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And in Australia? Reportage involving senior women in politics is dominated by Morrison government cabinet minister Kelly O’Dwyer quitting her prime Melbourne seat of Higgins, fellow Liberal Senator Jane Hume ruling out running for it, and speculation about whether or not former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will, like O’Dwyer, quit politics at the forthcoming federal election too. It is a sharp contrast. What is going on?




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View from The Hill: O’Dwyer’s decision turns the spotlight onto Bishop


The UK has already had two female prime ministers in May (since 2016) and Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990) – the latter, after Winston Churchill, the most significant British prime minister of the 20th century. This is not to say politics is easy for women in Britain – far from it. Political attacks on May are three-times as likely to be gender-based as those on Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Claims Corbyn called May a “stupid woman” in parliament got traction because of the widely perceived implicit sexism of Corbyn-era Labour, which tends to be overshadowed by controversy over its more blatant antisemitism. Female MPs come under sustained social media attacks of the most violent and reprehensible kind, something Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Jess Phillips have campaigned against prominently again and again.

It is in this climate that Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by white supremacist Thomas Mair during the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016.

But while politics is incredibly tough for women in Britain, they hang in and fight on, across the political spectrum. This is because in Britain women’s presence in politics has been normalised. There’s no sending them back to the kitchen. To an extent which should not be necessary, they are battle-hardened. Male opponents know they will not go away.

Equally in the US, women in politics will not be seen off. The pronounced misogyny of President Donald Trump stirred rather than cowed women who stormed the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, creating an all-time high in congresswomen’s numbers.

Democrat Nancy Pelosi prevailed against significant internal challenge and external opposition to be elected Speaker. From this position she is prominently calling Trump’s bluff and, since the government shutdown, bettering him in the rhetorical struggle for decent government.

In New Zealand, women in politics has long been business as usual. Ardern, elected in 2017, is the country’s third woman prime minister after Helen Clark (1999-2008) and Jenny Shipley (1997-1999). One could go on and on, citing the normalisation of women in politics in Sri Lanka, India, Israel, Iceland, Denmark, Pakistan, Indonesia, Canada, Germany and elsewhere.

Women have, often with the help of quotas, been accepted as regulars in political battle in all these places, sometimes rising to the political equivalent of generals and supreme commanders just like the men, many of whom might not like it but know it is an inescapable – and, in fact, reasonable – part of contemporary life.




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The military metaphor is unfortunate, but in this context useful to explain through analogy what is going on by contrast with women in the senior levels of the Morrison government.

May and Pelosi are playing the long game – operating strategically – in pursuit of specific political outcomes irrespective of the extra, gendered-tier of political attack to which they are subject. They do this in the confidence that women in their parties and parliaments are political “regulars”, in the business of politics for good.

In Australia, the presence of women in politics has been normalised other than in the Liberal and National parties. Labor’s Julia Gillard was prime minister from 2010 to 2013. If Labor’s sustained poll lead holds through to election day, Opposition deputy-leader Tanya Plibersek is likely to become deputy prime minister this year. The Greens have been, and before them the Australian Democrats were more often than not, led by women. Australia’s flagship far right-winger, Pauline Hanson, is a woman.

But to be a woman in the Liberal or National parties is still to be a political “irregular” – one of a group of resented interlopers, tiny in number, whom many male colleagues hope can be driven away.

Female LNP leavers manifest this – not just O’Dwyer and, likely, the prominently-snubbed Bishop when her decision finally crystallises – but those like Julia Banks who have left the Liberal Party and gone to the crossbench, and Liberal fellow travellers like Cathy McGowan and Kerryn Phelps who sit as independents alongside her.

It seems the position of women in the Liberal and National parties is too fragile, too brittle, for them to stand and fight like regulars. Rather, like guerillas on the wrong end of the power asymmetry women face within the Morrison government, they are withdrawing from the battlefield. It will be up to others to stand and fight another day.

That fight cannot be won without critical mass. Women in the Liberal and National parties need to embrace quotas and they need to do it now. They will never be numerous enough to achieve the status of “regulars” reached by women in most of the rest of the democratic world otherwise.The Conversation

Chris Wallace, ARC DECRA Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Liberals lose yet another high-profile woman, yet still no action on gender


Mark Kenny, Australian National University

Liberal women must surely be asking why their party is so clear-eyed when facilitating the departure of competent women, and yet so mealy-mouthed about recruiting and promoting them.

Prominent among Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s comments on Kelly O’Dwyer’s retirement to pursue family life, was to say he supported his minister’s decision, and indeed supported all such choices by women.

Such clarity has been conspicuously absent from the Liberal Party’s leadership since its now widely accepted “women” problem came to the fore in 2018 amid claims of bullying, implied career threats, ingrained gender bias, and other generally oafish behaviour.

Even more opaque has been the Liberal Party’s puzzling refusal to broach any corrective action to address a powerful internal preference for men, when selecting candidates in winnable seats. This, despite a miserable return of just 13 female MPs of its 76 in the lower house after the 2016 election.

It is even worse now, and voters are on to it.

Not the first such departure

O’Dwyer is the second female Liberal from Victoria to call it quits in six months after her friend, the talented rookie backbencher Julia Banks, spectacularly called time on the party in the wake of Malcolm Turnbull’s brutal ouster.

Banks went to the cross bench to form a quartet of competent female moderates with past ties or sympathies to the centre-right – Banks, Kerryn Phelps, Rebekha Sharkie, and Cathy McGowan.

There have been other high-profile departures this term also on family grounds with two frontbenchers on the Labor side – former minister Kate Ellis, and rising star Tim Hammond – both bowing out.

That federal politics is hard on families and relationships is hardly news, but the slew of resignations / defections underscores how little has been done to change things.

And poignant, given her portfolio

In any event, O’Dwyer’s retreat is arguably the most pointed given the current debate, her particular government portfolio, her hard-won ministerial seniority, and her party’s woes.

It makes Liberal retention of her previously safe Melbourne seat of Higgins somewhere between problematic and unlikely.

On the social media platform Twitter where cynicism and vitriol flows freely from people hiding behind false identities, her departure has been met with some appallingly personal abuse, exaggerated outrage, and claims she was merely a rat leaving a sinking ship.

It is true that retaining the seat would have been no certainty even with O’Dwyer still as the candidate, especially given Victoria’s recent anti-conservative tendencies in state election races, but with a new candidate, the Liberal jewel is undoubtedly more vulnerable.

Feminists will be aggrieved to see another senior woman go but they might also be quietly disappointed in her stated reasons.

In contradistinction to some of her predecessors, O’Dwyer, did substantive work as minister for women, and unlike some, gave the impression of actually believing in the mission.

She also garnered respect from across the aisle and within the press gallery as a person of warmth and humility – stand-out qualities on Capital Hill.

It is a portfolio she believed in

O’Dwyer created enemies however on her party’s increasingly reactionary right flank by outlining the challenges for women – especially in politics – acknowledging the Liberal Party’s poor image in some quarters.

She was even reputed to have told colleagues they were seen as a bunch of “homophobic, anti-women, climate change deniers”.

Her introduction of a women’s economic security statement last year was another material achievement resisted by some as political correctness.

But in declaring her job’s incompatibility with family life, there was an unmistakable note of resignation, even defeat in O’Dwyer’s “choice”. And coming from the minister most directly involved in remediating that problem for women, her resignation cannot help but reinforce the message that politics may well be no place for women.

Morrison’s superficially virtuous support for the choices for women, was no help either – typical of much conservative sophistry around this whole issue.

Morrison isn’t helping

Masquerading as a pro-choice feminist while endorsing a senior colleague’s decision to give up her career for child-rearing and home duties takes some chutzpah.

An alternative approach might have been to lament her departure as symptomatic of a flawed representational system, acknowledge the failure of politics to renovate its male paradigm, and vow to change the culture in material ways.

It might even be called leadership.

For a government laced with longstanding (if undeclared) quotas for ministerial selection – think ratios in the ministry applied to the number of Libs to Nats, House to Senate, moderates to conservatives, and even between states – the blind spot over women’s under-representation and the philosophical objection to corrective action (quotas) is all the more bizarre.

It is a mark of how far conservative Liberals have drifted from contemporary public attitudes and even their own philosophy that some would countenance re-nationalising of energy assets and building new coal-fired power stations before correcting a clear market imperfection within their own organisation.




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And with speculation that Julie Bishop could also withdraw from the 2019 field, the situation facing Morrison’s Liberals threatens to deepen.

Through all of this, voters’ views come second.

Not so long ago, Bishop was easily the most popular alternative to Malcolm Turnbull in voter land but such unrivalled public support was good for just 11 votes in the party room.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Senior Fellow, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: O’Dwyer’s decision turns the spotlight onto Bishop


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The political down time over summer can be something of a respite for
an embattled government. But for Scott Morrison, it has just brought
more setbacks. The weekend announcement by cabinet minister Kelly
O’Dwyer that she will leave parliament at the election is the latest
and most serious.

O’Dwyer says she wants to see more of her two young children, and
would like to have a third, which involves medical challenges.

Her decision is understandable. The first woman to have a baby while a
federal cabinet minister has been juggling an enormous load.

But with the general expectation that the Morrison government is
headed for opposition, many people will think (rightly or wrongly)
that O’Dwyer was also influenced by the likelihood she faced the grind
of opposition, which is a lot less satisfying than the burden of
office.

Bad timing for the minister for women

Her insistence at Saturday’s joint news conference with Morrison
that he will win the election won’t convince anyone.

If the Liberals didn’t have their acute “woman problem”, O’Dwyer’s
jumping ship wouldn’t be such a concern. She’s been a competent
minister, not an outstanding performer. She was not in “future leader”
lists.

But it’s altogether another matter to have your minister for women
bailing out when there has been a huge argument about the dearth of
females in Coalition ranks, damaging allegations of bullying within
the Liberal party, and high profile Victorian backbencher Julia Banks
deserting to the crossbench.

All in all, the Liberal party is presenting a very poor face to women
voters. It was O’Dwyer herself who told colleagues last year that the
Liberals were widely regarded as “homophobic, anti-women,
climate-change deniers”.

Anti-women climate-change deniers?

An effort earlier this month to have assistant ministers Sarah
Henderson and Linda Reynolds talk up the Liberals’ credentials on women looked like the gimmick it was.

O’Dwyer says she has “no doubt” her successor as the Higgins candidate will be a woman. Morrison also says he thinks there will be a female replacement.

But this just highlights how the Liberal party’s failure to bring
enough women through the ranks now forces it into unfortunate corners.

The candidate will be chosen by a local preselection. As one
journalist quipped at the news conference, is the situation that blokes needn’t apply?

And what if a man happened to win? Remember Morrison’s experience in the Wentworth byelection, where he wanted a woman and the preselectors gave him Dave Sharma?




Read more:
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Sharma was generally considered a good candidate – and Morrison is happy for him to have his second try against independent Kerryn Phelps at the general election.

Assuming, however, that Higgins preselectors heed the gender call,
it seems they will have some strong female contenders to choose from.

Paediatrician Katie Allen, who contested the state election, has
flagged she will run; Victorian senator Jane Hume is considering a
tilt.

There is inevitable speculation about whether former Abbott chief-
of-staff Peta Credlin might chance her arm for preselection.

But her hard-edged political stance would be a risk in an electorate
where the Greens have been strong – savvy Liberals point out a climate
sceptic wouldn’t play well there. And it would be embarrassing for her
if she ran for preselection and was defeated.

O’Dwyer rejects the suggestion she was swayed by the possibility she
might lose Higgins. Some Liberals were pessimistic about the seat
after the party’s drubbing in the Victorian election, and Labor was
ahead in two-party terms in a poll it commissioned late last year.




Read more:
Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer says Liberals were ‘subject to threats’ in leadership battle


But the government has a 10% margin in two-party terms against Labor, and despite the polling the ALP doesn’t expect to win the seat. (In 2016 the Greens finished second.)

O’Dwyer, who is also minister for jobs and industrial relations,
remains in her positions and in cabinet until the election.
Understandably Morrison would not want a reshuffle. But having a lame
duck minister in the important IR portfolio is less than optimal.

Attention turns to Bishop

Inevitably O’Dwyer’s announcement has turned attention onto the future
of former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop. Bishop has said she is
contesting the election but there is continuing speculation she might
withdraw.

While she has previously left open the possibility of running for the
opposition leadership this makes no sense.

Now in her early 60s, her chances of ever becoming PM would be
virtually nil if Labor won with a good majority and was set for two
terms. That’s if she had the numbers to get the leadership in the
first place.

It is assumed Bishop has said she’s staying so she stymies any replacement
she doesn’t want (such as attorney-general Christian Porter whose own
seat is at risk) and can secure a candidate she favours.

Even though she’s a backbencher now, it would be a another blow for
the Liberals if Bishop does decide to retire at the election.




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She was humiliated when she received only a handful of votes in the
August leadership ballot. Her treatment left her deeply angry,
especially because none of her Western Australian colleagues supported
her.

But out in the community she is very popular and many voters still
can’t understand why, when there was a change of prime minister, she
was not the one chosen.

If Bishop were to walk away, she would be making a rational decision.
But it would send another powerful negative vibe to voters about
the Liberal party and women.


UPDATE: Jane Hume, interviewed on the ABC on Monday morning, has
ruled out running for the Higgins preselection.

UPDATE: In reply to queries to her office, Bishop said on Monday: “I am pre-selected as the member for Curtin and it is my intention to run”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer says Liberals were ‘subject to threats’ in leadership battle


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Liberal party row over bullying has deepened, with the Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, declaring that MPs endured threats and intimidation during the leadership crisis.

At the same time a Liberal backbencher, Lucy Gichuhi, has flagged she is willing to out people when parliament resumes next week. She said she could not do it outside parliament but was “absolutely” willing to do so under parliamentary privilege.

O’Dwyer told the ABC the bullying was a longer term problem, and also pointed to “elements in the party organisation”.

The issue of bullying, in particular against female Liberals, flared when Victorian marginal seat holder Julia Banks cited it in her decision not to recontest the election. Another Liberal woman, senator Linda Reynolds, also highlighted standover tactics.

O’Dwyer said she’d had “conversations with many members of parliament, both male and female, and it is clear to me that people were subjected to threats and intimidation. And bullying.

“But that isn’t just over the course of the last week. There are some people who have raised concerns about elements within the party organisation,” she said.

Asked whether she had ever been bullied or threatened by her colleagues O’Dwyer said, “There have been people in the organisation that have tried”.

She rejected those who, in response to the Banks statement, had said Banks and other complainants needed to toughen up.

“Frankly, I’m a bit disgusted by that. Julia Banks is no petal. She’s no snowflake. And no princess”, O’Dwyer said, pointing to Banks’ “stellar legal career” and her being the only member of the government to win a seat off Labor in the 2016 election.

“There’s no question that politics can be robust,” O’Dwyer said. “Just as there’s no question that other careers can be robust. If you play Australian Rules football, it’s a robust sport, but we do not say it is at all acceptable for someone to punch you in the head behind play”.

O’Dwyer said Scott Morrison in the party room on Tuesday would make it clear he “has no truck with bullying.”

“He will set the standard and bullying is certainly not something that he will accept.”

She said there always needed to be an independent process if people wanted to make a formal complaint, but a lot did not want to do that.

Gichuhi said she would tell of her experience not only with the spill but more generally, “because this is a culture, this is a systematic kind of issue. I will say from when I joined the Liberal Party, from when I joined politics – and how, what, where I think would be construed or would fit the definition of bullying.”

She told the ABC she saw the intimidation used against others. “I had senators and ministers in tears. You know, that’s how hard it was. One of my colleagues was in tears the whole day.”

Gichuhi, who joined the Liberal party from the crossbench, was pushed in the recent preselections into an unwinnable position on the South Australian Senate ticket.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.