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23rd of October 2018

Australia News

Liberals need to talk about gender imbalance

But Mr Morrison's response has been tentative at best. He has promised to look into the allegations of bullying without outlining a mechanism for preventing it in the future. Meanwhile Liberal MP Craig Kelly has told female colleagues to "roll with the punches" as if Parliament was a men's locker room.

The gender madness of the coup is now threatening to infect a wave of pre-selection battles starting with the seat of Wentworth vacated by Mr Turnbull.

At a ballot that was to be decided as the Herald went to press on Thursday night, Mr Morrison, reportedly influenced by polling showing voters would prefer a female candidate, was backing the deputy mayor of Woollahra, Katherine O'Regan.

Yet former prime minister John Howard and perhaps other conservative Liberals who do not see gender balance as an urgent problem are backing Dave Sharma, former ambassador to Israel.

Mr Morrison's problem is in pushing for a woman for this seat at the last minute, he is making it easier for conservatives in the party to argue the job is not being decided on merit.

A broader solution is required. Currently, only 22 per cent of Liberal MPs are women, less than half the share of the ALP. The Liberal Party has commendably set itself the target of increasing the share of its federal women MPs to 50 per cent by 2025 but it has no plan for getting there.

The "base" of the Liberal party is philosophically opposed to gender quotas, which they see as a form of "political correctness" that rewards mediocrity. Yet the evidence is that quotas work. Since 1994 the ALP has used a quota system to increase female representation. More and more Liberal women are embracing the idea. "Quotas are not demeaning to women and nor will women be regarded as the 'quota girl'," Ms Banks told Parliament this week.

If the Liberal Party is to come to terms with its demons over gender balance, Mr Morrison must at least speak openly about the need for change and commit to solving the problem. The issue of quotas must be placed on the table. Something must be done to break the vicious circle where the party's culture is seen as hostile to women and qualified women do not even bother trying to join.

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