Of all the issues to plague the Liberal Party in recent months, there’s one in particular that won’t go away — the number of women in its ranks.
The Liberal Party looks set to see its smallest number of female candidates running this century.
While the party insists it has no problem with women, analysis by Fairfax Media has revealed that only 22 Liberal women are vying for the Lower House in the upcoming federal election.
By comparison, 102 of the confirmed candidates are male — highlighting a problem with female representation the party is finding it increasingly difficult to ignore.
It comes as new research shows that the Liberal Party has a clear problem with female voters. At present, women hold just 20 per cent of the Coalition’s government seats across both houses of parliament.
And they hold just 20 of the Liberal party’s 68 seats across both houses.
But the party’s notoriety with employing women in senior positions is nothing new. Just over a month ago, federal member for Chisholm Julia Banks sensationally quit the Coalition to sit as an independent, citing the Liberals’ issues with women as one of her reasons.
Ms Banks announced she would not be contesting the next election after accusing both major political parties of “bullying and intimidation” in the wake of the leadership spill in August.
In a bombshell speech to parliament, the Victorian MP took aim at the Liberals’ “women problem”, saying the level of regard and respect for women in politics across both major parties was years behind the business world.
“There is also a clear need for an independent and whistleblower system as found in many workplaces to enable reporting of misconduct of those in power without the fear of reprisal or retribution,” she said.
Political analyst Peter van Onselen summed it up as the “Liberal Party problem that won’t go away”.
“The problem with having so few women in your parliamentary ranks is that there really aren’t that many women who you can call on to defend the status quo. Or as I prefer to put it, defend the indefensible,” he wrote in The Australian.
He noted Julie Bishop — the Party’s most prominent female candidate before the August leadership spill — “knows the Liberal Party has a problem with a women”.
When approached for comment, she said she was “disappointed with Australia falling from 15th to 50th in the world when it comes to female parliamentary representation since the Howard years”.
Earlier this week, Liberal assistant ministers Sarah Henderson and Linda Reynolds — both who were promoted by Scott Morrison in his ministry reshuffle — pushed back against the claims, saying the Coalition’s record with women “far exceeded Labor”. This is despite the fact that women make up less than a quarter of Liberal MPs, while Labor’s gender split is almost 50-50.
“In my view, being lobbied for votes does not constitute bullying,” Ms Henderson told The Australian. “I can’t walk in anyone else’s shoes; I can only speak about my experience. But I can certainly say that being lobbied for votes is an integral part of a political process and it does not constitute bullying.”
The newspaper issued a follow-up editorial calling for more Liberal women. “The party cannot live in the past,” it said. “The low number of women and the claims of bullying cannot be ignored. Put simply, there should be more female Liberal MPs.”
The editorial suggested the Liberal Party should set a target for female MPs, and place more responsibility on the male majority to see party leaders headhunting women to stand for preselection.