The Liberal Party “must act now” to encourage more women into its ranks, a conservative think tank has warned, as new analysis finds parties with a better gender balance such as the Labor Party have “greater electoral appeal”.
In an update to its 2015 gender and politics discussion paper, the Menzies Research Centre urges the Liberal Party’s male MPs and men’s networks, which it says can be “part of the problem", to form “part of the solution” in assisting the participation and advancement of women.
The report, to be released today, also reveals that the party selected a record 38 female candidates for the lower house at the July election but an overwhelming 92 per cent of them were running for marginal seats.
There was a drop in the proportion of female candidates for the Senate, from 39.1 per cent in 2013 to 38.2 per cent last year, and some “significant missed opportunities” such as the NSW preselection, with only Sussan Ley holding a secure seat in the state.
The report’s authors, MRC executive director Nick Cater and South Australian Liberal MP Nicolle Flint, say there is a “compelling reason” to address an under-representation of female MPs: voters prefer a balance of men and women in parties.
Eighteen of the Liberal Party’s 83 MPs are women (21.7 per cent) in the 45th parliament; Labor has 45 per cent female representation in its 95-member caucus.
“Correlation is not causation, but the trend over the last 20 years is clear. Labor has more women in parliament than the Coalition and it has a larger share of the female vote,” the report states. “By contrast, the number of Liberal women elected has largely flatlined. (If) the Liberal Party does not do something to address this, the gap between Labor and Liberal female MPs elected (is) likely to grow wider.
“The Liberal Party has been slow to react to the growing gender disparity. As a result the party’s ‘retail’ brand is suffering.”
In a message included in the report, Malcolm Turnbull declares there is “no greater enthusiast than me for seeing more women in positions of power and influence in parliament”.
But he notes the report is a “timely reminder of the work still to be done”.
The report is damning of Labor’s quota system, boasting Liberal women are not “Quota Queens” like the majority of opposition female politicians but “deserving of their position because of their personal efforts and abilities”.
However it concedes quotas have given the ALP a “competitive edge” after more women voted for Labor than men at the 2010 and 2016 elections following decades of the reverse voting pattern.
“Labor Party spokespeople who appear on television or radio are more likely to be women than their counterparts. In any retail-facing business this matters,” the report states.
As well as sweeping audits of the Liberal Party from the grassroots movement up, the report calls on state divisions to develop a strategy to encourage the preselection of women in secure seats.