Queensland leads Australian governments on gender parity

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Treasurer Curtis Pitt. Source: AAP

The Queensland state government has become the only Australian government to have 50 per cent of ministry positions held by women. Minister for Women Shannon Fentiman explains how they did it.

Women make up 50 per cent of Canada's new Liberal cabinet, but in Australia only one government comes close.

The new Canadian Liberal government, headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made international headlines when it was revealed 15 of the 30 ministry position had been given to women.

When asked why, Mr Trudeau said: "Because it's 2015".

In Australia only the Queensland Labor government has been able to achieve gender parity through the party’s sometimes controversial quota system.

Queensland's Labor cabinet has eight female ministers out of 15, including Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and deputy premier Jackie Trad.

Queensland’s Minister for Women, Shannon Fentiman, said Labor’s gender quota system had enabled Queensland to achieve a gender balanced cabinet.

"The Palaszczuk government is an example of how widespread structural change of an organisation leads to cultural change,” she said told SBS.

“Affirmative action rules implemented within the Labor Party in early 1990s mean that we now have a situation where our Premier has more than enough capable, talented women to choose from to fill her cabinet.”

Ms Fentiman said she disagreed with those who said quotas meant women were chosen for their gender rather than their merit.

“Every single one of the women, and men, in cabinet got there on merit,” she said.

“Quotas remove the gendered bias that prevents people from being appointed on merit, which is why we now have so many strong, capable women in leadership positions.”

In July this year, the Labor Party lifted its quota to set a target to have women make up 50 per cent of MPs by 2025.

University of Adelaide visiting research fellow Dr Jenny Stock said it was very difficult for female candidates to win preselections, particularly for safe seats.

“Voters have proved they’ll vote for women,” she told SBS. “It’s not a problem with the voters; it’s a problem with the parties.”

Dr Stock said most female politicians were elected in marginal seats, or via smaller parties, because the larger parties often would not give women preselection for safe seats.

Queensland University of Technology visiting scholar and former federal Labor MP Dr Mary Crawford told SBS the Queensland public had welcomed the majority female cabinet.

“I don’t think being a woman is an issue if you’re doing the job and doing it well,” she said.

“Women make up 54 per cent of voters, so to win an election you need to get the majority of women to vote for you.”

Dr Crawford said women had to “work harder and smarter to get there” and often made “better local MPs” than their male colleagues because of this.

“They have to fight to get there - even with quotas it can still be a struggle,” she said.

Ms Fentiman said it was important for governments to have a mix of men and women.

“No society can achieve its potential without the full engagement of women - not just in political life, but across the community sector, business and industry,” she said.

“Research continually shows that there are better economic outcomes when both men and women are in senior decision-making roles. “

However the culture of politics still put many women off entering the profession, she said.

“Culture in politics is still a big turn-off for women, as it often feels like different standards apply for men and women,” Ms Fentiman said.

“Men who speak up are often praised for being ambitious and authoritative, but still when women do the same they are often labelled as ‘bossy’ or ‘pushy’.

“Political parties need to provide women with training and support to ensure that women hold positions of power within party organisations as well as in Parliament.

"The Federal Government needs to stop talking about gender equality and make the changes that will achieve it. 

"I am on the record as being firmly in favour of quotas because it is the only thing that works."

Australia’s female ministers:

Queensland:

15 ministers – 8 female

Federal:

Ministry – 21 ministers – 5 female

Outer minister – 10 ministers – 1 female

Parliamentary secretaries – 12 assistant ministers – 1 female

Victoria:

22 ministers - 9 female

New South Wales:

22 ministers – 5 female

South Australia:

14 ministers – 3 female

Western Australia:

17 ministers – 3 female

ACT:

6 minsters – 2 female

Tasmania:

9 ministers – 2 female

Northern Territory:

8 ministers – 1 female

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