Despite three years of intense scrutiny around gender issues within Australian politics, the 2013 election has resulted in negligible change in the representation of women. Although a couple of seats are still to be decided, it’s clear that women will, once again, make up little more than a quarter of the House of Representatives.
The Coalition is predicted to win 89 seats when counting is finalised, with 16 to be held by women, a percentage of just 18%. This figure includes the loss of Sophie Mirabella in the seat of Indi, who is trailing behind independent, Cathy McGowan. The loss of Mirabella diminishes the pool of women from whom Tony Abbott can form his ministry. As one of only two women on the Opposition front bench, Mirabella was expected to pick up a significant portfolio and will be missed by the new government.
Cathy McGowan is a former National Party electorate officer. Her decision to stand as an independent, instead of a National, is in part connected to the ongoing failure of the National Party to support women into parliament. In 2013, the National Party has delivered a poor result for women; preselecting female candidates in less than 10% of seats, and then only in marginal electorates. Consequently Michelle Landry in Capricornia is the only female National party candidate with a real prospect of being elected. Landry is currently leading the ALP’s Peter Freeleagus, who replaced retiring Labor and EMILY’s List endorsed MP, Kirsten Livermore.
The people of Capricornia seem to like their female candidates. Livermore held the seat for fifteen years and Landry looks set to continue the trend. Census data from 2011 shows that Capricornia constituents provide a greater amount of unpaid care to children than their counterparts across the nation. Landry was aware of this issue and highlighted the lack of childcare in the electorate during her campaign. If she is elected, it will be interesting to see how she responds to the competing demands of her electorate and the policies of her own party, which have opposed to Tony Abbott’s Paid Parental Leave scheme.
The ALP continues to outperform the Coalition and every other political party in terms of gender representation.
While the ALP will be reduced to 59 MPs, 21 of them are women; that’s 36% of the caucus, an increase of 4% from the previous parliament. This number includes five new faces in safe Labor seats which became vacant shortly after the leadership spill in June.
Lisa Chesters in Bendigo, Joanne Ryan in Lalor, Claire O’Neil in Hotham, Sharon Claydon in Newcastle and Alannah McTiernan in Perth are some of the women to watch who will help shape the future of the ALP. O’Neil’s last minute pre-selection, following the removal of Hotham hopeful Geoff Lake, had an immediate and positive impact on the ALP’s affirmative action target. The rule, which requires women to be preselected in 40% of winnable seats, was put in jeopardy after a string of safe Labor seats in Victoria and New South Wales went to men.
Adam Bandt’s election in the seat of Melbourne was a cause for celebration for the Greens but it also came at the expense of progressive, pro-choice Labor woman, Cath Bowtell. Bowtell, a lifetime supporter of the labor movement, suffered the consequences of a Greens campaign heavily subsided by donations from the trade unions she once served. It is the second time that male-dominated unions, including the ETU and UFU, have preferred a male Greens candidate over a female ALP candidate which might prompt some reflection among Labor supporters.
The greatest loss for women in the 2013 election occurred in the Senate where the rise of the micro-party has displaced a number of female parliamentarians. Labor’s marriage equality champion, Senator Louise Pratt, lost her spot in WA and senators Ursula Stephens and Lin Thorp. Coalition Senator, Helen Kroger, will not be returning to the house.
The loss of these impressive and committed political women to a group of men running on single issue tickets is disappointing. Interestingly, the Palmer United Party has almost delivered a female senator in Tasmania in Jacqui Lambie. Until yesterday, Lambie looked like she would win the final spot but preferences are now running against her in favour of the Liberal candidate, Sally Chandler.
There was one bright light for women in the Senate however in the successful election of Nova Peris, the first indigenous woman to be elected to the national parliament.