When asked about his view on quotas John Howard’s former chief-of-staff Grahame Morris offered this, rather unedifying, response.
“I’m not one of those people who is a great believer in ‘hey it’s time for a woman’ because then you get a woman who is there just to make up numbers. Look at some of the dregs behind Bill Shorten who are just there to make up the numbers.”
— Shorten Suite 👊 (@Shorten_Suite) September 11, 2018
Dregs. He actually described a cohort of female politicians as dregs.
To Morris’s credit he did offer an unreserved apology afterwards in which he specifically recognised that his language was wrong and could deter other women from politics.
John Howard's former chief of staff, Grahame Morris: To @billshortenmp and the women behind him I say sorry.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) September 11, 2018
Notwithstanding his apology it’s hard to dismiss the bitter aftertaste his comments leave. If they were made by a representative of a party in which women were well represented it would, perhaps, be easier to brush off as offensive but inconsequential, but that’s not the case.
To the contrary they were made by a man from a party in which women are chronically underrepresented. A situation it is difficult to imagine being rectified anytime soon.
The fact Senator Eric Abetz ran a similar argument, using Labor women as a reason not to embrace quotas, suggests the disrespect for female politicians inherent in Morris’s comments may not have been a unique slip of the tongue.
Eric Abetz is against quotas for women in the Liberal Party. "Look at the Labor Party side of the parliament and you can see what quotas do and it aint a good look." #auspol #politas pic.twitter.com/Q5Wj8fwPEI
— David Marler (@Qldaah) September 11, 2018
There are currently only 13 Liberal women in the House of Representatives compared to 62 men and given women disproportionately hold marginal seats, that number is expected to shrink at the next election.
The representation of women in the Liberal party in federal parliament is currently less than 25% which is particularly dismal when you consider Labor’s representation of women sits at 48%.
On Sunday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg suggested that quotas weren’t necessary for the party to reach its 50:50 target by 2025. His optimism is laudable but it’s impossible to fathom how the party will get anywhere near that figure without a mechanism to achieve it.
On Tuesday Liberal MP Craig Laundy became the first male voice in the discussion to say the Liberal party needs to consider quotas.
Exclusive by @vanOnselenP | Former minister and close Malcolm Turnbull confidant Craig Laundy is the first male Liberal member of parliament to come out in support of gender quotas to address the party’s low number of female representatives https://t.co/iI1IzlyYIR #auspol
— The Australian (@australian) September 10, 2018
“We need to change this and perhaps a first step is short-term intervention with a quota system in safe seats and selected safe Senate spots so the party can grow its female representation to the 50/50 level,” Laundy told The Australian.
It’s not an argument that Prime Minister Scott Morrison agrees with as he explained to Leigh Sales on ABC’s 730 program on Tuesday night.
“I believe in any political organisation it should be a matter of one’s own credibility, exertion, work and merit,” Morrison said.
He’s focusing on ensuring the obstacles that are preventing more women from moving forward are removed.
“I don’t think quotas are a way of removing obstacles,” he said.
Rather he favours a more ‘practical’ approach like training programs and support to help women get to a position where they win preselections and then ‘understand what’s expected of them’ once they reach parliament.
How do the women of Australia feel about have it “PM-splained” to them that we just need more training so we can “better understand what is expected of us”?
— Kristine Ziwica (@KZiwica) September 11, 2018
Morrison cited the record intake of women in the Liberal party in 1996 under John Howard as an example of how this works. It is true that did happen but the fact that two decades on the Liberal party has leaked women to the point we’re now at, makes it far less compelling.
Without quotas it’s impossible to see how the representation of women in the Liberal party will change and despite a growing number of voices making that argument it’s impossible to see that happening. Perhaps an electoral wipe out is the only thing that will trigger change.