Gender quotas won’t put Liberals back in touch with voters

Jeremy Sammut

13 September 2018 | The Daily Telegraph

AFTER three changes of prime minister in less than six years, some pundits now claim that what really ails the federal Liberal Party is its “woman problem”.

That only a quarter of Liberal MPs are female has led to calls for the Liberal Party to follow Labor’s example, and mandate gender quotas to get more women elected.

The were calls for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to intervene in the pre-selection process for the seat of Wentworth and demand that a woman be nominated. The frontrunning male candidate conveniently withdrew from the contest, citing the need to run a female candidate at the 20 October by-election.

However, the assorted feminists and social justice warriors who insist that gender quotas are essential to fix the “sexist” Liberal Party are promoting a false panacea.

Evening up the gender balance in parliament is no guarantee of political success in an age of political disruption.

As the election of US President Donald Trump and the “Leave” victory in Britain’s Brexit referendum both demonstrated, the major political divide in western nations has little to do with gender.

The major political fault line in countries like Australia is the growing divide in values and attitudes between inner-city dwelling, university-educated so-called “elites”, and “ordinary” voters in outer suburbs and the regions.

These divisions are especially important given that the political class these days is overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of the elites.

Many politicians — irrespective of party — have trodden a similar career path. Most are likely to have graduated from student politics at university into a political advisors job in an MPs office, with maybe a brief period working for a union or a big corporate, before running for office.

The decline in both Liberal and Labor Party membership has also made it easier for the political class to control the nomination processes that consistently reward like-minded “insiders”.

Under these conditions, quotas dictating that “Stephanie” must be pre-selected ahead of “Stephen” will achieve a cosmetic gender change.

But putting another insider elite, who happens to be female, into parliament won’t make political parties more representative of the wider-electorate.

It will mean that on key issues such as energy and immigration, a political class that is preoccupied with slashing emissions and promoting a ‘Big Australia’ will remain out of touch with ordinary voter’s concerns about power bill, house prices, and congestion.

Ensuring gender balance doesn’t appear to have made the Labor Party more successful. Since the introduction of gender quotas in 1994, it has won only one federal election outright.

This was the 2007 “Work Choices” election, primarily fought on the issue of industrial relations that resonated with ordinary voters worried about job security and working conditions.

History suggests that rather than obsess about symbolic gender arithmetic, the path to political success — for Liberal and Labor alike — lies in responding to ordinary voters’ concerns about bread and butter issues.

Jeremy Sammut is director of the Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society program at The Centre for Independent Studies.

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