Quotas are patronising: former PM

Australia’s second longest serving prime minister, John Howard, has joined the ‘women in Parliament’ debate, saying he, too, wants more female representation in government.

“I would like to see more women in the House of Representatives on our side of politics,” said Mr Howard.

Ironically, his comments were made at the exclusive all-male Tattersall’s Club in Brisbane.

Responding to questions about bullying of women in the Liberal ranks, Mr Howard said he feared his party was struggling to recruit women representatives in time for the next election.

The Liberal’s former deputy leader, Julie Bishop, agrees, saying that the ugliness of ‘bullying’ was one of the reasons that women were reluctant to enter public life.

“It’s not acceptable for our party to contribute to the fall in Australia’s ratings from 15th in the world in terms of female parliamentary representation in 1999 to 50th today. There’s a lot to be done,” said Ms Bishop.

“Our party, in fact all parties, recognise they have a problem in attracting and maintaining women, diversity in general.

“I have seen and witnessed and experienced some appalling behaviour in Parliament, the kind of behaviour that 20 years ago when I was managing partner of a law firm of 200 employees I would never have accepted. Yet in Parliament it’s the norm.”

Mr Howard said there were more Liberal women in the Parliament 20 years ago and is all for more female representation, but he is opposed quotas, saying they are patronising.

“I’m sure the women amongst us would agree with me overwhelmingly that, in the end, it’s all about merit,” said Mr Howard.

“But I think that whole notion of quotas is wrong. It’s patronising. There should be equality of opportunity and there should be merit-based selection.”

The YourLifeChoices Friday Flash Poll – Equality, meritocracy or opportunity? – called on older Australians to weigh in on the debate, asking them if they would like to see more women in Parliament.

The Flash Poll received 1169 responses, of which 64 per cent said yes, 22 per cent said no and 13 per cent were undecided.

Labor uses quotas to encourage women into Parliament, and it seems to work, as the party has around 50 per cent female representation on a federal level.

YourLifeChoices asked whether the Liberal Party should adopt a similar ‘quota’ policy. Almost half of all respondents agreed, with just 39 per cent still saying no and 13 per cent, again, undecided.

While having more women in Parliament is an admirable aim, it’s what happens once a politician takes power that matters most. It should come as no surprise that trust in democracy is at an all-time low. So much so, that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has again called on the Government to adopt a watchdog to expose corrupt public figures and help restore Australians’ faith in the system.

In a letter penned to Scott Morrison, Mr Shorten said winning back trust from voters is “more important than ever”, and he called for bipartisan support for a National Integrity Commission to reveal political corruption.

He also stated that Labor would implement the commission should it win the next election. It was not the first time Mr Shorten had called for the watchdog, having also extended the same proposal to Malcolm Turnbull.

“Eight months have passed, with no action and no response,” Mr Shorten wrote to Mr Morrison.

“I’m sure you will agree that trust in politics in Australia is at a low point … There is nothing to prevent you from taking a fresh look at this issue and responding positively to the thousands of Australians who want this change to happen.”

Would having more women in Parliament be a step towards restoring faith in Australian politics?

The majority of older Australians polled don’t think so (43 per cent), although many are on the fence (37 per cent). Only 15 per cent said more women would restore integrity to the system, while six per cent were undecided.

And as far as that trust goes, well, it doesn’t …

When asked if you trust politicians, 45 per cent said ‘mostly never’ and 21 per cent said ‘never’. That’s two-thirds of older voters who distrust the people for whom they’ll vote.

Just four people of the 1169 respondents said they always trust politicians, 22 per cent said ‘sometimes’ and 12 per cent were neutral.

While many may think that the call for more female representation would be made by left voters, perhaps surprisingly, that may not be the case, as the majority of respondents were Liberal voters.

Regardless of gender, the role of politician should be about working for the people and the nation. Male, female or other, Australian politicians have done themselves no favours by ignoring the lack of confidence from voters and their desire for stability and assurance.

As Ms Bishop told Channel Nine political editor Chris Uhlmann: “(They are) no better than schoolchildren. In fact, not as well behaved as schoolchildren.”

The focus should be on employing quality representatives who recognise the fact that they work for us – not the other way around.

Will more women make a difference? Probably not. But it’s at least a step towards restoring fairness and integrity to a system that could do with all the help it can get.

Your Opinion: Should we have more women in Parliament?

The following comments are the various opinions of YourLifeChoices’ members and not that of the publisher. Some have been edited to keep to the point. If you would like to read all the comments made, head to our  Equality, meritocracy or opportunity? thread.

“I don’t particularly have a preference for men or women in any political party. But what I do have a preference for is, a person of conscience, morals and ethics. A person with a vision for the future of Australia that reflects the desire of the majority of the people.” ~ Blinky Bill

“Not the best woman for the job regardless of gender……. or the best man for the job regardless of gender … we want the best person for the job.” ~ Trebor

“They should get into Parliament on merit not because they are a man, woman or whatever. Quotas not acceptable.” ~ Cassius

“Why have those women suddenly decided to complain now. They’ve all been around the traps for ages, yet suddenly they’re being ‘bullied’! Especially Julie Bishop, who has been in Parliament for a long time. As a woman of great influence, why has she never broached the subject until now. If that is the level of maturity and intelligence that lot of women bring to politics, thank heavens we don’t have any more. From a woman.” ~ Darcy

“Unless positions in the government of the day are based on merit we will all be the losers. Where a man and a woman are found equally worthy, for want of a better word, then let the woman go forward … What we need is a definition of merit. What are the criteria involved in judging who is better for the job? I would suggest that good listening skills, empathy, leadership and a proven ability to get things done, could be some of them. Also included would be objectivity, good manners and an abhorrence of dirty play.” ~ Maggie

“Australians want politicians who listen and can relate to what Australians need. Australians don’t want politicians that are puppets for corporations and the rich. Those politicians whether they be women or men are useless and a waste of taxpayer money as well as the people that vote them in.” ~ Jackie

“Why didn’t Julie Bishop speak up when Julia Gillard broached the subject?” ~ Felicity

“I’d like to see more women in politics. I don’t believe in quotas though. It should be the best person for the job, be it 100 per cent women or 100 per cent men. The perfect scenario is 50/50 of course. It’s time for women to step up and get more involved in politics.” ~ MarkAdel

“My personal observation is that the biggest hurdle for women in politics is women themselves. I have participated in conversations about politics and have heard women assessing female politicians in terms of their choice of clothing, hairstyles and/or body shape, even whether their shoes ‘match’ their outfit. The media is not much better. Only when the general conversation about politics centres on policy and direction will we truly have gender-neutral politics.” ~ Eddy

“Let the best man or woman get the job.” ~ Nerk

Do you agree with these opinions? Are you surprised by John Howard’s comments? Do you think Julie Bishop’s comments will be heard by her party?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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