Former Liberal cabinet minister Karen Andrews says the party must rapidly implement its election review recommendations and attract more female candidates to increase its chances at the next federal election.
In an interview before the LNP pre-selected Cameron Caldwell for the safe Queensland seat of Fadden on Saturday, Andrews said she was disappointed only five candidates – just one woman among them – had stepped forward before the July 15 byelection.
Local branch chair Fran Ward and medical doctor Dinesh Palipana were the other frontrunners, while Craig Hobart and Owen Caterer had put their names forward but were the first eliminated in the vote by preselectors.
The Liberal Party’s post-election review, led by party elder statesman Brian Loughnane and finance spokeswoman Jane Hume, made detailed recommendations to increase the number of women in parliament and the party. Those recommendations have been formally adopted, but little has been said publicly about their implementation.
The recommendations included adopting a target of 50 per cent female representation within 10 years or three parliaments; a target of 50 per cent female party membership; developing a training program to help women who are considering running for parliament; and setting up the Dame Margaret Guilfoyle Network for current and former female MPs, staff, and members to promote greater female representation.
Caldwell’s pre-selection is a missed opportunity for the party to increase the number of women in parliament. The LNP in Queensland currently has just three women in 20 federal lower house seats (of the 14 who sit in the Liberal Party room, two are women).
In NSW, just three of the Liberal Party’s nine lower house MPs are women. In Victoria, the party has just one woman among its seven lower-house federal MPs. The Senate is more gender balanced, with 11 women among the Liberal Party’s 26 senators.
Andrews will vacate her Gold Coast seat of McPherson at the next election, but due to party rules she couldn’t comment on pre-selection for her electorate.
In the nearby seat of Fadden, which has been vacated by Stuart Robert, she said “the party is best served by having a wide field of candidates”.
“I’m disappointed that there were only five people who nominated for a seat such as Fadden. So I would hope that there was a big field in McPherson,” she said.
Andrews agreed when asked if she was disappointed about the slow progress in implementing the Loughnane-Hume recommendations.
“We cannot wait a minute. Every opportunity that we have to improve our prospects for the next election needs to be taken,” she said.
“That report was done. It needed proper consideration, and it now needs to be implemented.”
“I remain hopeful that it will be and maybe there’s work being done on that behind the scenes, but I would like that to become more public because I think that would give a high level of reassurance in our communities that we take these matters seriously.”
A party spokesperson said the review recommendations had been adopted and work was under way to progress all 49 recommendations.
“As recommended, state divisions will report on progress in relation to recommendations 28 and 29 [the 50 per cent women targets] at the next meeting of federal executive in June,” the spokesperson said.
“It should be noted that there have been four federal preselections conducted since the last election. In three of those four – Aston, Lyons and for the Senate vacancy in NSW – outstanding Liberal women were selected.”
Last weekend, the party selected former NSW Liberal Party president Maria Kovacic to fill a Senate vacancy created by the death of Jim Molan.
But the review noted the party currently has the lowest number of women in the lower house since 1993.
Charlotte Mortlock, the founder of Hilma’s Network, which aims to grow the number of women in Liberal politics, said there had been some positive changes in attitude towards the issue in NSW in the past year.
“I think the denial is finally over and it certainly feels like party members are not only willing, but also wanting to support women,” Mortlock said.
“The gender targets cannot be the virtue signalling that we have seen in the past. They cannot be set and forget. I believe we need quarterly goals to ensure they’re actually happening.
“It would be foolish to focus solely on the federal election as the one event and one opportunity to support women. Every Senate vacancy and every byelection needs to be considered and contested by a woman if we are going to improve the 29 per cent female Coalition representation.”
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