TUMBY BAY - Those men in Australia’s ruling Liberal-National coalition are currently recoiling at the idea of introducing quotas that would equalise the number of elected women with elected men.
It is reminiscent of the reaction of male politicians in the Papua New Guinea parliament to the same idea a couple of times in the past: full of warm words and frozen action.
In PNG, there were phony arguments that special seats for women would be unfair or crass symbolism or something.
In Australia we’re hearing the same dishonest talk that a belief in ‘merit-based opportunity’ is always better than enforced quotas as if the current men who occupy the government benches have in some way got there by merit.
One has to wonder whether the men’s opposition to quotas has more to do with them not wanting to have more women in parliament because that will mean fewer men, which could be them.
It’s interesting to contrast the differences between what is happening in the conservative coalition Canberra with what has already happened in the federal opposition and in many of the state parties.
Queensland’s Labor Party government, for instance, not only has a woman as premier but half the cabinet positions are held by women as are half the party’s seats in parliament.
Perhaps simply achieving parity between men and women is not the whole answer.
Maybe the big breakthrough is when women take over leadership roles. Once that happens acceptance of equality seems to rapidly follow.
There has already been a female Labor prime minister in Australia. Federal Labor – at 46% women - also has near gender parity.
How much this is due to its quota system and how much it is due to the example set by Julia Gillard is unknown but it is likely to be a combination of both factors.
Given the number of senior women in the federal Labor opposition, it would not be surprising to see one take over the leadership at some stage and go on to become prime minister.
The Liberal-National Party, on the other hand, is still struggling with parity. Recent modelling suggests that if it proceeds at its present rate it will be several decades before it reaches gender equivalence.
A party of government cannot claim to represent women’s interests with any credibility when it’s moving at such a glacial pace toward equal representation.
Its only senior female cabinet minister, Julie Bishop, gave up in disgust in 2019. The coalition has a long way to go to catch up with Labor.
Papua New Guinea hasn’t even one female member in its national parliament out of 111 seats and at the last election in 2017 went backwards.
In 1977, immediately after Independence, there were three women elected to parliament. Only the parliament elected in 2012 has ever elected as many women again. The current parliament elected in 2017 has no women MPs at all.
The same can be said for its provincial governments. In 2012 there were two female governors, now there are none.
Minority and non-binary group’s aside the number of men and women in both Australia and Papua New Guinea is roughly equal. Both groups have particular interests. You would think that behoves equal representation in their respective parliaments.
The current federal government in Australia severely underrepresents the interests of women and seems uninterested in fixing the problem. The possibility of there ever being a female Liberal prime minister in Australia is extremely remote.
The Papua New Guinea parliament wholly represents the interests of men and effectively ignores women’s interests. The possibility of there ever being a female prime minister in Papua New Guinea is so remote as to be laughable.