Australia

The WA Liberal party will field 88 candidates at this year's state election. Less than one third are women

Western Australia's Liberal leader Zak Kirkup has defended the gender ratio of his party candidates. Source: AAP

Women make up barely a quarter of candidates preselected to represent the WA Liberal Party at this weekend’s state election.

WA Liberal leader Zak Kirkup has defended his party’s lack of quotas ahead of this weekend’s state election, despite women making up less than a third of preselected candidates.

The WA Liberal party will field 88 candidates in both the Upper and Lower house at the 2021 state election, but only 24 candidates are women.

Speaking to SBS News earlier this month about the diversity of candidates and pre-selection processes, Mr Kirkup said WA Liberal candidates were chosen on merit, and rejected the use of quotas.

“From our perspective, it's about finding the best possible candidate regardless of their background or who they are. We want to make sure that they are the very best person for their community,” Mr Kirkup said.

“This isn’t like the Labor party’s ticking the box exercise. We preselect our candidates because they represent the very best of what the Liberal party has to offer. 

“We don’t have things like quotas, we embrace anyone who comes to stand for the Liberal party and hope that we find the best candidate for their community.”

SBS News has contacted Mr Kirkup today for further comment.

By contrast, more than half of all WA Labor candidates contesting the election - 41 out of 78 - are women.

“WA Labor has affirmative action requirements in our party rules. We first adopted a target of 30 per cent women's representation in 1997 and it now stands at 50 per cent,” a spokesperson told SBS News.

WA Liberal State president Faye Duda says her party has adopted its own initiatives to encourage and promote women within the party. 

“Our proactive initiatives like Emergent Women and Liberal Women's Council will continue to provide mentoring and encouragement to participate in the Liberal Party, from policy development and organisational roles, to running for Parliament,” Mrs Duda says.

“The Liberal Party has a number of women in key leadership positions, including the Deputy Leader of the WA Parliamentary Liberal Party – Libby Mettam, the President and Senior Vice President of the WA Liberal Party organisation.

“While there is more to do, we believe the best way to encourage greater participation in our democracy is to talk up and support the exceptional women who put their hand up to take on these roles, not to talk them down and treat them as a number.”

'Quotas are incredibly important'

Martina Ucnikova is the co-founder and chair of She Runs, a non-partisan organisation that encourages women from across the political spectrum to enter politics.

“I think quotas are incredibly important. They allow us to level out the playing field and ensure everyone can take a seat at the table. I think they ensure a more representative number of women in parliament,” she told SBS News.

She Runs offers a ‘Campaign School’ for emerging women leaders across Western Australia, teaching women to campaign, connect and grow while changing the ‘Old Boys’ Club’ of Australian politics.

She Runs offers a ‘Campaign School’ for emerging women leaders across Western Australia.
She Runs offers a ‘Campaign School’ for emerging women leaders across Western Australia.
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Ms Ucnikova says that pre-selection is only the first hurdle for women entering politics, with societal attitudes towards women in leadership roles in need of change.

“As a society, we still have a long way to go to accepting female leaders. We know that women, once they go through the election process, get treated differently when they actually are in parliament,” she says.

“As a society, we need to start changing our behaviour towards women and women in leadership positions. That will take time.”

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