Claims of Parliament's toxic culture reignites push for gender quotas


It's been 75 years since women entered the Commonwealth Parliament. But some experts say the system still functions in a way that privileges men.

There's a renewed push to incorporate gender quotas within Australian politics, amid ongoing criticism of the treatment of women in Canberra.

A global ranking of 193 countries looks at the percentage of women represented in the lower house.

Australia comes in at 50, well behind neighbouring New Zealand ranked at 19th place.

Rwanda comes in at number one, while the UK is ranked 41st and the US comes in at 102.

The University of Sydney's Associate Professor Anika Gauja researches political institutions in modern democracies.

She told SBS News that the top ranking countries have gender quotas.

"Places like Scandinavia do a lot better than us because they've had quotes for some time," she said. 

Seventy-five per cent of the Liberal Party are men, and for some, that's unacceptable.

Malcolm Turnbull's daughter, Daisy, has weighed into the debate, tweeting quotas "may be the only way to win back female supporters."

Last month, Australia reached two parliamentary milestones for women.

Seventy five years of women in the Commonwealth Parliament and Australia's 100th female senator, Dr Mehreen Faruqi was sworn in. 

But at a time when they're supposed to be feeling inspired, young, female political students are disillusioned.

Isabella Skelton told SBS News the toxic culture in Canberra is turning young women away. 

"It’s just incredibly disheartening and I would not be surprised if a large group of young people, young women, in particular, are disenfranchised from the political sphere because of that."

Madeline Lucre, who is heavily engaged with student politics at the University of Technology Sydney agrees.

"The internal structures that occur within major political parties are really disadvantaging young women."

Associate Professor Gauja's research backs that claim.  

"The understanding or assumption that anybody can put their hand up and run for politics and get elected is a complete myth. When we think about how people -men or women -  are recruited to run in parliament, it's through interpersonal political networks.

"And these networks have always privileged men," she said. 

Young, female political students Ella Longhurst and Isabella Skelton say they are disillusioned.
Young, female political students say they are disillusioned.

Ella Longhurt, who majors in politics and is part of her university's women's commitee says the turmoil in Canberra has one upside.

"I think there is more conversation happening about how women are being treated and why there is more female representation."

Ms Lucre agrees. 

"We are starting to really hold those apolitical people in power accountable but I do think far more needs to be done to air out those political conversations being held behind closed doors."

Liberal frontbencher backs calls for gender quotas

Liberal frontbencher Sussan Ley says her party should consider introducing quotas to address the low number of women in federal parliament.

The NSW MP says the level of female representation in the Liberals has forced her to reconsider her opposition to quotas.

"I've never been a fan of quotas but I must say recently I've wondered whether we should consider them," Ms Ley told ABC radio.

"In what context I'm not sure but we don't have enough women. The issue has to start long before you get to parliament."

She said the party should talk about how a quota system would work in the event one was adopted.

Source AAP - SBS

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