The Liberal Party hasn’t had a great track record on women’s representation, so the loss of one sitting female MP during a preselection process over the weekend has sparked calls, once again, for the party to address the problem.
And, once again, any calls for a quota-like system have been quickly dismissed by a number of male frontbenchers in the Turnbull Government who say the system is fine as it is and based on merit.
Assistant Minister for Disability Services Jane Prentice has held the safe LNP seat in Western Brisbane since 2010, but lost preselection for the seat over the weekend to Julian Simmonds, a Brisbane City Councillor.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said that while he felt for Prentice, that the “rank and file” get to make the decisions about who represents them.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that those voting in the preselection had “looked at the merits of each candidate” and decided to vote in favour of Simmonds. He said Simmonds won because he’s “an energetic person” and “somebody who has demonstrated his capacity to deliver for local residents in the western suburbs.”
Dutton, who wrote a reference for Prentice, went on further to say that: “We have a 100 per cent commitment to getting more women into politics, but equally we have a democratic process.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that he’s also sorry to see Prentice go, but that this is the “consequence of having a grassroots political party.”
The Coalition’s lack of women is particularly problematic in Queensland where until Prentice’s dumping, there were just three women serving in the lower house.
Women account for five of the 24 ministers in Turnbull’s cabinet and four of 12 assistant ministers (including Prentice). Just one in five Liberal MPs are female, with women making up even less, at 14%, of Nationals MPs.
A number of party members including sitting MPs are not happy with Prentice’s dumping and have voiced their disappointment accordingly. MP Michelle Landry told the ABC she was “totally appalled” by the move and that young women have been calling her up and threatening to resign from the party. She said she told the young women to not resign, that “we’ve got to fight this.”
And Queensland MP Warren Entsch has said that it’s a “bloody disgrace” that Prentice had been dumped. “She doesn’t deserve it and I think it sends a very, very bad message with regards to women in politics in Queensland.”
The Guardian reports that Prentice had an agreement to pass on the seat to Simmonds, and had been expected to step down at the 2016 election. Supporters of both Prentice and Simmonds dispute when the baton was due to be handed over.
Regardless of what was agreed, this looks very bad for the LNP and is a reminder again that significant steps are required in order to improve the party’s representation of women.