Representation of women in Australian parliaments 2014

9 July 2014

PDF version [1.05MB]

Dr Joy McCann and Janet Wilson
Politics and Public Administration Section

 

Executive summary

  • Across Australia women continue to be significantly under-represented in parliament and executive government, comprising less than one-third of all parliamentarians and one-fifth of all ministers.
  • Internationally, Australia’s ranking for women in national government continues to decline when compared with other countries.
  • The representation of women in Australia’s parliaments hovers around the ‘critical mass’ of 30 per cent regarded by the United Nations as the minimum level necessary for women to influence decision-making in parliament.
  • There is no consensus amongst researchers in the field as to why women continue to be under-represented in Australia’s system of parliamentary democracy, although a number of factors contribute to the gender imbalance. This paper includes discussion of some of the structural, social and cultural factors influencing women’s representation including the type of electoral system, the culture of political parties, and the nature of politics and the parliamentary environment in Australia.
  • This updated paper draws on recent data and research to discuss trends and issues relating to women in Australian parliaments within an international context. It includes data on women in leadership and ministry positions, on committees and as candidates in Commonwealth elections. Whilst the focus is on the Commonwealth Parliament, the paper includes comparative information about women in state and territory parliaments. 
  • The issue of gender diversity is also discussed within the broader context of women in leadership and executive decision-making roles in Australia including local government, government boards and in the corporate sector.

Contents

Executive summary
Introduction
How does Australia rate?

Parliamentarians
Leadership positions
Candidates in Commonwealth elections

Historical overview

Trends in women’s representation
Longest-serving women in parliament
Youngest women
Indigenous women

International comparisons
Structural factors

Electoral systems
The influence of political parties

Cultural and social factors

Standing for election
In the parliament

Beyond the parliament

Local government
Women on boards

Conclusion

Appendix 1: Women in national parliaments—top 50 ranked countries 2013 with 2008 and 2001 compared
Appendix 2: Women in the Commonwealth Parliament, 1943–2014
Appendix 3: Women in Commonwealth ministries, 1901–2014, as at 1 January 2014
Appendix 4: Presiding Officers in Australian parliaments by party and gender, as at 6 June 2014
Appendix 5: Organisations maintaining gender data on executive and board positions
Appendix 6: Selected milestones for women in Australian parliaments
Appendix 7: Twenty longest-serving women in the Commonwealth Parliament as at 30 June 2014
Appendix 8: Commonwealth ministry and shadow ministry by gender, as at 30 April 2014
Appendix 9: Proportion of female senators and members, 1943–2013
Appendix 10: Total number of senators and members since 1901 by gender, as at 1 July 2014
Appendix 11: Percentage of women in all Australian parliaments, annual snapshot 1994–2013
Appendix 12: Percentage of female candidates and elected MPs in House of Representatives by major party, 1998–2013
Appendix 13: Selected references

Abbreviations

AD: Australian Democrats
ALP: Australian Labor Party
D4D: Dignity for Disability Party
GRN: Australian Greens or the Greens
IND: Independent
IND LAB: Independent Labor
LNP: Liberal National Party
LIB: Liberal Party of Australia
NAT: The Nationals

Introduction

According to the United Nations, women and men should participate equally in the decision-making processes of parliament.[1] As at 7 July 2014 women comprise 29.0 per cent of all parliamentarians in Australia (see Table 1 below), well below the proportion of women in the Australian population (50.2 per cent in the 2011 Census).[2] Despite individual women having held key political leadership positions in recent years—including that of Prime Minister of Australia—women continue to represent less than one-third of all parliamentarians in Australia and occupy one-fifth of all ministry positions.

Women first entered the Commonwealth Parliament in 1943 and female representation remained at less than five per cent until 1980. Since then it has increased very slowly to the current level of 30.5 per cent. This includes 26.7 per cent in the House of Representatives (the lower House) and 38.2 per cent in the Senate (the upper House). In international terms, however, Australia’s comparative ranking for women in national parliaments has steadily declined over the past decade from 20th position in 2001 to 48th in 2014.

There is now a considerable body of research on the issue of women’s parliamentary representation in Australia. Whilst there is no consensus as to why women continue to be under-represented in Australia’s system of parliamentary democracy, researchers have identified a number of factors that are likely to inhibit women’s political participation. These issues, which are discussed further below, include party candidate selection practices, the nature of the electoral system, the challenges women face in balancing work and family responsibilities, discriminatory views about women in politics, and the adversarial nature of the parliamentary environment.[3]

Most statistics are presented as at 30 April 2014. Where possible they have been updated to include the composition of the new Senate as at 7 July 2014.[4]

How does Australia rate?

Parliamentarians

Women currently comprise 29.0 per cent or less than one-third of all Australian parliamentarians, with variations between jurisdictions and chambers (see Table 1 below).

There is a marked difference in the percentage of women in the Senate (38.2 per cent) and House of Representatives (26.7 per cent).[5] This is also the case in three of the five bicameral parliaments: New South Wales (NSW), Western Australia (WA) and Tasmania (Tas.). Of the other two bicameral parliaments, women comprise one-third of both chambers in Victoria (Vic.), while South Australia (SA) has a slightly higher representation in the lower house.[6]

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislative Assembly currently has the highest proportion of women members (41.2 per cent), and the Queensland (Qld) Legislative Assembly has the lowest (21.3 per cent). Overall, women have the highest level of representation in the three smallest parliaments: Tasmania (Tas.), Northern Territory (NT) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).  See below for a discussion of the influence of electoral systems.

Table 1: Composition of all Australian parliaments by gender, as at 7 July 2014

Parliament
Lower House
Upper House
Total for both chambers
M
F
Total
% F
M
F
Total
% F
M
F
Total
% F
Commonwealth
110
40
150
26.7
47
29
76
38.2
157
69
226
30.5
NSW
74
19
93
20.4
29
13
42
31.0
103
32
135
23.7
Vic.
59
29
88
33.0
27
13
40
32.5
86
42
128
32.8
Qld*
70
19
89
21.3
-
-
-
-
70
19
89
21.3
WA
46
13
59
22.0
21
15
36
41.7
67
28
95
29.5
SA
35
12
47
25.5
17
5
22
22.7
52
17
69
24.6
Tas.
16
9
25
36.0
9
6
15
40.0
25
15
40
37.5
ACT*
10
7
17
41.2
-
-
-
-
10
7
17
41.2
NT*
15
10
25
40.0
-
-
-
-
15
10
25
40.0
Total
435
158
593
26.6
150
81
231
35.1
585
239
824
29.0

Source: Compiled by Parliamentary Library from Commonwealth, state and territory parliamentary websites
*Single chamber only

Leadership positions

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Gender Equality Blueprint 2010 identified women in leadership as one of five key priority areas in achieving gender equality. Given this objective, how does Australia rate?[7]

Vice-regal positions

Women currently occupy three of the 10 vice-regal positions in Australia, and only one woman will occupy the position at the end of 2014 as follows:

  • Marie Bashir: the first female Governor of New South Wales (appointed 2001, term ends 2014)
  • Penelope Wensley: the third female Governor of Queensland (appointed 2008, term ends 2014), and
  • Sally Thomas: the first female Administrator of the Northern Territory (appointed 2011).[8]

Dame Roma Mitchell (Governor of SA, 1991–96) was the first woman to be appointed to a vice-regal position in Australia. No woman has yet been appointed to a vice-regal role in West Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, the Territory of Norfolk Island, or the Australian Indian Ocean Territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The ACT does not have an Administrator.

Quentin Bryce (Governor-General of Australia, 2008–14) is the only woman to have been appointed to the role of Governor-General since 1901. She had previously served as Governor of Queensland (2003–8).

Government leaders

In recent years there have been notable highs and lows in terms of women in executive leadership roles. A snapshot of female leaders in mid-2011, for example, showed that women occupied four of the nine government leader positions in Australia, as follows:

  • Julia Gillard: the first female Prime Minister of Australia (ALP, 2010–13)
  • Lara Giddings: the first female Premier of Tasmania (ALP, 2011–14)
  • Katy Gallagher: the third female Chief Minister of the ACT (ALP, 2011–),
  • Anna Bligh: the first female Premier of Queensland (ALP, 2007–12).

As at 30 April 2014 only one Australian government has a female leader: Katy Gallagher (ALP), Chief Minister of the ACT.

No women have served as Leader of the Opposition in the Commonwealth Parliament, however three women have served as Deputy Opposition Leader: Jenny Macklin (ALP), Julia Gillard (ALP) and Julie Bishop (LIB).

Every state and territory except South Australia has had at least one female premier or chief minister. Eight women have led ALP state or territory governments, and one woman (Kate Carnell) has led a Liberal territory government. The ACT has had the highest number of female government leaders: Rosemary Follett (ALP, 1989, 1991–1995), Kate Carnell (LIB, 1995–2000), and Katy Gallagher (ALP, 2011–). Two of the state and territory opposition leaders are currently women: Delia Lawrie (ALP, Leader of the Opposition for the NT) and Annastacia Palaszczuk (ALP, Leader of the Opposition for Qld).

Presiding officers

The most senior leadership role in Australia’s parliaments is that of presiding officer. They maintain the authority of their chamber, and uphold its rights and privileges. In the Commonwealth Parliament the presiding officers are the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. In the state and territory parliaments the Speaker is the presiding officer in the lower or single house, and the President is the presiding officer in the upper house (in bicameral parliaments).

There is currently a female Speaker in seven of the nine parliaments in Australia (see Appendix 4). This includes the current Speaker in the Commonwealth Parliament, Bronwyn Bishop MP, who is the third female Speaker in the 113-year history of the House of Representatives. It also includes Elise Archer MP, appointed on 6 May 2014 as the first female Speaker in the Tasmanian Parliament. There are currently no female Presiding Officers in an upper house in those jurisdictions with a bicameral parliament.

Ministers

The Commonwealth ministry comprises Ministers of State who form the Federal Executive Council. The ministry is selected and led by the Prime Minister, and is responsible for the decision-making process of government. The Commonwealth ministry, unlike the states and territories, is divided into an inner and outer ministry.[9] Women’s representation in the full ministry (16.7 per cent) is much lower than in the Commonwealth Parliament. This includes 5.3 per cent in the Cabinet or inner ministry and 36.4 per cent in the outer ministry (see Figure 1 below).[10] The Leader of the Opposition leads the Opposition ministry or shadow cabinet. Women have higher levels of representation in the Opposition ministry (37.9 per cent) than in the Government ministry. This includes 26.3 per cent in the shadow Cabinet and 54.5 per cent in the outer ministry.

Figure 1: Proportion of women in Government and Opposition ministries in the 44th Parliament

Figure 1: Proportion of women in Government and Opposition ministries in the 44th Parliament

Sources: Commonwealth Government Abbott Ministry, 19 March 2014; Shorten Shadow Ministry, n.d., Australian Parliament House website, all accessed 23 June 2014

In state and territory parliaments (see Table 2 below) women hold less than one-quarter of all ministry positions (21.4 per cent) and a little more than one-third of all shadow ministerial positions (35.3 per cent). The ACT has the highest percentage of women in Cabinet (40 per cent) and Qld has the lowest (10.5 per cent).

Table 2: Ministries and shadow ministries in Australian parliaments by gender, as at 30 April 2014

Parliament
Government
Opposition
 
Male
Female
Total
% Female
Male
Female
Total
% Female
Commonwealth
25
5
30
16.7
18
11
29
37.9
States and territories*
ACT
3
2
5
40.0
5
2
7
28.6
SA
9
4
13
30.8
7
1
8
12.5
NSW
17
5
22
22.7
15
6
21
28.6
Tas.
7
2
9
22.2
3
4
7
57.1
NT
7
2
9
22.2
4
4
8
50.0
Vic.
18
5
23
21.7
15
9
24
37.5
WA
14
3
17
17.6
14
5
19
26.3
Qld
17
2
19
10.5
3
5
8
62.5
All states and territories
92
25
117
21.4
66
36
102
35.3
All Australian parliaments
117
30
147
20.4
84
47
131
35.9

Source: State and territory parliament, government and political party websites
*All ministers in state and territory ministries are members of Cabinet

Parliamentary secretaries

Members and senators may be appointed by the Commonwealth Government as parliamentary secretaries to assist ministers in their work. They are sworn in as members of the Federal Executive Council, but do not have their own portfolio. In the past they were known as assistant ministers or parliamentary under-secretaries. In the House of Representatives, parliamentary secretaries sit in the row of seats immediately behind the government frontbench. They can stand in for a minister in the Chamber, and perform all the duties of the minister on the floor except for answering questions on portfolio matters. Their legal status and extent of their powers is the subject of debate from time to time.[11] Since 1999 they have been paid a salary of office. All state and territory jurisdictions with the exception of the ACT have parliamentary secretaries (in Qld they are known as assistant ministers). Table 3 below shows the current gender balance of parliamentary secretaries in all jurisdictions.

Table 3: Parliamentary secretaries in Australian parliaments by gender, as at 30 April 2014

Parliament
Male
Female
Total
%
Female
Commonwealth
11
1
12
8.3
State and territories
SA
0
2
2
100.0
NT
3
2
5
40.0
WA
5
3
8
37.5
Qld*
8
4
12
33.3
Vic.
9
2
11
18.2
NSW
11
2
13
15.4
Commonwealth
11
1
12
8.3
Tas.
2
0
2
0
ACT
-
-
-
-
All states and territories
49
16
65
24.6
All Australian parliaments
60
17
77
22.1

Source: Commonwealth of Australia, The 43rd Parliament, Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia 2011, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, accessed 10 June 2014; state and territory parliament and government websites
* Parliamentary Secretaries were redesignated as assistant ministers following the 2012 Queensland election

Candidates in Commonwealth elections

Of the 1,717 candidates in the 2013 Commonwealth election, 470 (27.4 per cent) were women. This included 143 women (27 per cent) in the Senate half-election and 327 (27.5 per cent) in the House of Representatives election, as follows:

Table 4: Female candidates in 2013 Commonwealth election

State/Territory
Senate
House of Representatives
 
Seats
Male
Female
Total
% Female
Seats
Male
Female
Total
% Female
NSW
6
80
30
110
27.3
48
260
92
352
26.1
Vic.
6
71
26
97
26.8
37
245
99
344
28.8
Qld
6
62
20
82
24.4
30
176
57
233
24.5
WA
6
47
15
62
24.2
15
95
33
128
25.8
SA
6
55
18
73
24.7
11
46
20
66
30.3
Tas.
6
37
17
54
31.5
5
21
14
35
40.0
ACT
2
19
8
27
29.6
2
8
5
13
38.5
NT
2
15
9
24
37.5
2
10
7
17
41.2
Australia
40
386
143
529
27.0
150
861
327
1,188
27.5

Sources: ‘Senate nominations by gender’, Election 2013, Australian Electoral Commission, 1 November 2013; ‘House of Representatives Nominations by gender’, Election 2013, Australian Electoral Commission, 4 November 2013, all accessed 21 February 2014.

Candidates for the Senate

An analysis of Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) data for Senate candidates between the 1983 and 2013 Commonwealth elections (Table 5 below) indicates that the proportion of nominations by female candidates in the 2013 election (27.0 per cent) was at its lowest since 1987 (26.7 per cent). Over the twenty-year period, the highest proportion of female candidates for each of the major parties was attained in 2007 by the ALP (55.5 per cent) and the Liberal Party (40.7 per cent).

Both of the larger minor parties (the Australian Democrats and Australian Greens) have consistently had a high proportion of women candidates in those elections contested. The Democrats had the highest number of female candidates for that party in 2004 with 63.6 per cent or nearly two-thirds of their candidates being women, whilst the Greens reached a record high for any party in 2010, with women comprising 71.4 per cent or more than two-thirds of their total candidates.

Table 5: Percentage of female candidates for the Senate by party, 1983–2013

Election year
Political party
 
ALP
%
LIB*
%
NAT
%
AD
%
GRN
%
Others
%
All parties
%
1983
27.5
11.8
17.7
32.3
0
15.6
19.2
1984
25.0
22.6
25.0
34.6
0
26.8
26.7
1987
23.9
23.4
28.0
28.0
50.0
27.8
26.7
1990
25.0
19.2
18.2
52.2
56.3
26.1
29.6
1993
21.4
22.6
30.0
52.2
55.0
29.2
31.6
1996
48.0
32.1
42.9
36.0
64.7
29.4
34.9
1998
40.7
39.3
22.2
28.0
61.9
26.0
30.7
2001
48.0
22.6
37.5
46.2
54.5
27.2
32.6
2004
44.0
28.6
27.3
63.6
56.7
25.2
32.4
2007
55.5
40.7
10.0
33.3
58.6
33.2
36.8
2010
48.3
30.4
50.0
35.7
71.4
29.9
35.5
2013
41.9
39.1
14.3
21.4
46.2
36.7
27.0

Source: Compiled by Parliamentary Library from AEC data
*includes NT Country Liberal Party

Candidates for the House of Representatives

Amongst the major political parties (ALP and Liberal/Nationals Coalition), the proportion of female candidates for the House of Representatives has fluctuated considerably since the early 1980s. An analysis of AEC data for House of Representatives candidates between the 1983 and 2013 Commonwealth elections indicates that the proportion of nominations by female candidates in the major parties and larger minor parties remained steady at around 17–18 per cent between 1983 and 1990, increasing to a high of 27.9 per cent in 1996 and remaining steady at around 27 per cent until 2013.

As Table 6 shows, the proportion of female candidates for both major parties was relatively similar for Commonwealth elections held between 1983 and 1996. In 1998, however, the proportion of ALP female candidates leapt from 20.3 per cent in 1996 to 34.5 per cent in 1998, and subsequently remained above 30 per cent, and reached its highest level (38.7 per cent) in 2001. The proportion of female candidates for the Liberal Party increased substantially from 15 per cent in 1993 to 25.6 per cent in 1996, and reached its highest level (25.8 per cent) in 1996. The Nationals achieved the party’s highest proportion of female candidates (30.3 per cent) in 2001 then fell sharply in 2010 to 6.3 per cent of the Nationals’ total candidates.

Of the larger minor parties, the Greens and the Australian Democrats have maintained a relatively stable proportion of female candidates for those elections that they have contested, with the Greens reaching their highest level in 2001 (48.0 per cent) and the Democrats in 2007 (37.2 per cent).

Table 6: Percentage of female candidates for the House of Representatives by party, 1983–2013

Election year
Political party
 
AD
%
ALP
%
LIB*
%
LNP
%
NAT
%
GRN
%
Others
%
All parties
%
1983
23.3
16.0
8.2
-
3.0
-
23.0
17.0
1984
26.8
12.2
11.4
-
9.7
-
23.8
17.4
1987
35.7
17.6
8.7
-
4.8
-
18.6
17.8
1990
27.1
12.8
14.1
-
12.8
39.3
16.0
17.8
1993
25.0
17.7
15.0
-
13.4
46.0
25.9
23.6
1996
34.7
20.3
25.6
-
6.5
42.2
26.5
27.9
1998
28.4
34.5
23.0
-
15.6
46.3
21.7
27.0
2001
36.7
38.7
17.9
-
30.3
48.0
16.4
27.7
2004
35.2
30.7
23.7
-
20.8
46.2
21.4
27.5
2007
37.2
30.0
23.1
-
25.0
38.7
19.6
25.8
2010
12.0
31.3
20.7
20.0
6.3
41.3
24.0
27.1
2013
-
32.7
23.1
20.0
5.0
46.0
15.4
27.5

Source: Compiled by Parliamentary Library from AEC data
*includes NT Country Liberal Party

Historical overview

South Australia led the world in women’s political rights in 1894, when women won the right to vote and to sit in the SA Parliament. Most Australian women (excluding Indigenous women in some states) won the right to vote in Commonwealth elections as a result of the passing of the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902. Four women stood at the 1903 election, the first Commonwealth election conducted after the passage of that Act. None of the four candidates were successful, but they were the first female candidates for any national parliament in the British Commonwealth.[12]

By 1909 all Australian states and the Commonwealth had enfranchised most women. Women won the right to vote in WA in 1899, but they did not win the right to sit in the State Parliament until 1920. Edith Cowan was the first woman to enter any Australian parliament when she won the WA Legislative Assembly seat of West Perth in 1921.[13]

Women were not elected to the Commonwealth Parliament until 1943, when Dorothy Tangney won a Senate position to represent WA and Enid Lyons was elected to the House of Representatives in the seat of Darwin, Tasmania.[14] By 1980, women still made up only three per cent of the House of Representatives and 10.9 per cent of the Senate (see Figure X below).[15] Appendix 6 presents a selection of key milestones for women in Australia’s parliaments.

Trends in women’s representation

Since Federation, women have comprised just 11 per cent of the 1,656 members who have served in the Commonwealth Parliament (see Figure 2 below).[16]

Figure 2: Total number of senators and members since 1901 by gender, as at 1 July 2014

Figure 2: Total number of senators and members since 1901 by gender, as at 1 July 2014

Source: Compiled by Parliamentary Library from Parliamentary Handbook

Figure 3 shows that women’s representation in all Australian parliaments has increased by less than 10 per cent over the last 17 years, from 20.7 per cent in 1997 to 29.0 per cent in 2013. As shown in Figure 3 below the highest level of female representation was achieved in 2009 (30.8 per cent) and has declined since then.[17]

Figure 3: Representation of women in all Australian parliaments, 1997 to 2013

Figure 3: Representation of women in all Australian parliaments, 1997 to 2013

Source: Gender and party statistics for all Australian parliaments regularly published by Parliamentary Library

Longest-serving women in parliament

Bronwyn Bishop MP, currently Speaker of the House of Representatives and one of only five women to have held a seat in both Houses, is the second longest-serving woman in the Commonwealth Parliament with a total period of service of 26 years 10 months 21 days as at 30 June 2014. Kathy Martin (later Sullivan) is the longest-serving woman in the Commonwealth Parliament with a total service of 27 years three months and 25 days. Appendix 7 provides a list of women who have served in the Commonwealth Parliament for ten years or more.

Youngest women

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young (GRN), elected to the Senate for South Australia in 2007 at the age of 25, is the youngest woman to enter the Commonwealth Parliament. Natasha Stott Despoja (AD) was previously the youngest, following her election to the Senate in 1995 at the age of 26. Kelly Vincent (D4D), elected to the South Australian Legislative Council in 2010 at the age of 21, is the youngest woman to be elected to any Australian parliament.

Indigenous women

Senator Nova Peris is the first Indigenous woman to be elected to the Commonwealth Parliament since Federation.[18] She was selected as a Senate candidate for the NT and elected at the 2013 federal election.

Indigenous women are under-represented in all state and territory parliaments. Carol Martin (ALP) was elected to the WA Parliament on 10 February 2001, becoming the first Indigenous woman to be elected to any Australian parliament. She was re-elected in 2005 and 2008.[19] The NT has had the largest number of Indigenous Australian women MPs of all the state and territory parliaments. Marion Scrymgour (ALP) was elected to the NT Legislative Assembly in 2001 and became the first Indigenous female minister in Australia in 2003. She served as Deputy Chief Minister of the NT between November 2007 and February 2009, making her the highest-ranked Indigenous person in government in Australia’s history.

In 2005, another two Indigenous women were elected to the NT parliament—Malarndirri McCarthy, and Alison Anderson. Alison Anderson was a minister in the Northern Territory government from 2005 until she resigned from the ALP in 2009 to become an Independent. She subsequently joined the Country Liberal Party in 2011, and more recently moved to the Palmer United Party, becoming leader of the party in the NT.[20] In New South Wales, Linda Burney became the first Indigenous person to be elected to the NSW Parliament in 2003. She held several ministerial positions in the NSW Cabinet between 2007 and 2011, and became Deputy Leader of the Opposition in NSW in 2011.[21]

International comparisons

Around one in five parliamentarians across the world are women. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) data on 188 countries as at 1 April 2014, women comprise 21.9 per cent of all parliamentarians in national parliaments. Of these, 38 countries exceed 30 per cent female representation in the lower or single House which has been widely adopted as the so-called ‘critical mass’ necessary for women to ‘make a visible impact on the style and content of political decision-making’.[22]

The IPU’s historical data indicates Australia’s ranking for women in the Commonwealth Parliament has significantly declined over the past decade when compared with national parliaments globally (see Figure 4 below). Australia’s ranking declined from 20th place in 2001 to 44th in 2013. A comparison of the top 50 IPU country rankings for women in national parliaments in 2013, 2008 and 2001 is at Appendix 1

Figure 4: Women in national parliament: Australia’s world ranking 2001–2013

Figure 4: Women in national parliament: Australia’s world ranking 2001–2013

Source: Compiled from Inter-Parliamentary Union, Women in national parliaments archive

As at 1 April 2014, Australia’s ranking had further declined to 48th position, behind New Zealand (25th) and ahead of Canada (54th) the United Kingdom (64th), and the United States of America (84th).[23] The IPU’s regional averages show that Nordic countries have the highest number of women in the single house or lower house of their national parliaments (42.1 per cent), followed by the Americas (25.7 per cent), European OSCE member countries including Nordic countries (24.9 per cent) and European OSCE member countries excluding Nordic countries (23.2 per cent).[24] The Pacific region has the least number of women MPs overall (13.4 per cent). However of those national parliaments with an upper house, the Pacific region has the highest average number of women (38.6 per cent).[25]

In September 2011, women political leaders attending the 66th session of the UN General Assembly in New York noted that women comprised less than 10 per cent of world leaders and fewer than one in five parliamentarians. They signed a joint statement calling for women’s equal right ‘to participate in all areas and at all levels of political life’ and reaffirming support for the role of the UN in achieving gender equality and empowerment of women.[26]

Given the slow progress internationally, many countries have adopted some form of gender quota to increase women’s representation in politics.[27] Electoral quotas have gained international support and have shown to be effective in ‘fast-tracking’ women’s political representation to produce equality of results, not just equality of opportunity. The Quota Project, a global database of quotas for women in politics, reports that half of the countries of the world today use some type of electoral quota system for women, including candidate quotas, reserved seats and voluntary quotas for political parties. Different systems are preferred in different regions. Reserved seats tend to be used in the Arab region, in South Asia and partly in Africa.[28] However, electoral quotas remain controversial in liberal democracies such as Australia, where critics oppose them on the basis that they discriminate against men and undermine the selection of candidates on the basis of merit.

Structural factors

The problem of women’s parliamentary under-representation is found in many countries worldwide. The United Nations has identified a number of barriers that inhibit women from being elected to national parliaments including Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. These barriers include:

  • the nature of the electoral system
  • the nature and processes of political parties
  • women’s lower levels of education and socio-economic status
  • traditions and beliefs about the role of women in society, and
  • the burden of combining work and family responsibilities.[29]

In recent years, academic researchers have examined these barriers in the Australian context in order to understand the particular structural barriers and issues that influence women’s political representation and parliamentary experience. These include the electoral system, the turnover rate of parliamentarians, the party system, and the structure and operation of the parliament itself.[30]

Electoral systems

International research over several decades has suggested that the type of electoral system used has a direct impact on the representation of women. The Beijing Platform for Action, developed at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, recognised this by calling on national governments to review the impact of their electoral systems on women’s representation and to undertake necessary reforms.[31]

The electoral system known as proportional representation (PR) involving multi-member electorates is widely considered to be more favourable to women than single-member systems. A comparison of women’s representation in the Commonwealth Parliament since the first women entered parliament in 1943 shows that women have had greater success in being elected to the Senate than to the House of Representatives (see Figure 5 below).[32] According to political scientist Scott Bennett, where PR is used ‘parties feel they can afford to allocate more places on candidate lists to female candidates’.[33] Australian election analyst, Tony Smith, suggests that the electoral system used in the Senate also favours the minor parties which tend to be younger and:

...less prejudiced against women than Labor and the Coalition, whose longer histories created traditions in times when the public and private spheres were sex-differentiated. It might also reflect the fact that most ambitious men aim for the lower house where government is formed, and regard upper house seats as career backwaters.[34]

Figure 5: Proportion of women senators and members in the Commonwealth Parliament, 1943–2013

Figure 5: Proportion of women senators and members in the Commonwealth Parliament, 1943–2013

Source: Compiled by Parliamentary Library from Parliamentary Handbook

The influence of political parties

The candidate selection process used by political parties is another significant factor in determining the level of parliamentary representation by women.[35] The decisions they make are usually influenced by the party’s rules and strategies for maximising the number of seats they win. In Senate elections where candidates compete for multiple positions, parties have adopted a de facto list system, ‘with the parties effectively sealing the fate of individual candidates by virtue of determining their order on the party ticket’.[36]As former senator Margaret Reynolds has observed:

... it is easier for women to gain the endorsement of their parties for preselection for upper houses where a listing system is adopted and it is easier to argue for power sharing. Whereas, when there is only the one position there is considerable competition.[37]

The problem was recognised by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs as early as 1992. In its report, the Committee recommended that ‘all political parties examine their selection procedures for systematic discrimination against women and develop appropriate affirmative action programmes which would give women equal opportunity to take a greater role in the political process’.[38]

Between 1903 and 1943, only 26 female candidates were nominated for election to the Commonwealth Parliament, and no woman was endorsed by a major party for the Senate prior to the start of World War II. Whilst there were more female candidates during the 1950s and 1960s, they were rarely supported by the major parties ‘in the belief that women could not poll well in Commonwealth elections’. By 1971, only seven women had been elected to the Senate and three to the House of Representatives.[39] Where women were supported by major parties, they tended to be endorsed for marginal seats—a trend that was reported in the 1990s.[40]

A survey conducted by Malcolm Mackerras in the 1980s however showed that, once female candidates were preselected, they were generally getting equal results to those of male candidates.[41] Of the 1,054 candidates contesting 150 seats for the 2007 Commonwealth election in the House of Representatives, for example, 14.7 per cent of the female candidates and 14.1 per cent of the male candidates were successful. These results suggest that the reasons for women’s political under-representation are more to do with party preselection processes than the polls.[42]

The strategies that parties use for preselection are therefore of particular significance to women’s representation. The following table presents the party affiliations of all women who have served in the Commonwealth Parliament between 1943 and 2013 (see Appendix 2 for a list of all names). It shows that the ALP has had the highest party representation of women in the Parliament since 1943 (50.6 per cent) followed by the Liberal Party (33.3 per cent).[43]

Table 7: Number of women in the Commonwealth Parliament by party, 1943–2014

Party
Number of women
 
Senate
House of Representatives
Total
Australian Labor Party (ALP)
36
59
95
Liberal Party (LP) (a)
27
35
62
The Nationals (NAT) (b)
3
3
6
Australian Greens (GRN)
10
-
10
Australian Democrats (AD) (c)
9
-
9
Independents (IND) (d)
2
2
4
Independent Labor (IND LAB)
-
1
1
Palmer United Party (PUP)
1
-
1
Total
88
100
188 (e)

Source: Parliamentary Handbook
Explanatory notes:
a)     includes Enid Lyons, United Australia Party (UAP), Natasha Griggs, Country Liberal Party (CLP), and Agnes Robertson who represented the Liberal Party from 1949 until 1955 when she was elected representing the Country and Democratic League, aligned with the Country Party (CP)
b)     includes Country Party (CP), National Party (NP) and National Party of Australia (NPA)
c)     includes Janet Powell who left the Australian Democrats (AD) in July 1992 and subsequently sat as an Independent; also Meg Lees who resigned from the AD in July 2002 and sat as an Independent until she formed the Australian Progressive Alliance (APA) in April 2003.
d)     includes Jo Vallentine who, although elected to represent the Nuclear Disarmament Party (NDP), sat as an Independent until July 1990 when she was elected to represent the WA Greens; also includes Irina Dunn who represented the NDP until she was expelled for refusing to comply with the party’s request that she resign in favour of Robert Wood who had been elected to the Senate but was initially ineligible to take up his seat
e)     this total represents 183 women including five women who have served in both Houses: Cheryl Kernot (AD, ALP), Belinda Neal (ALP), Kathy Martin/Sullivan (LIB), Bronwyn Bishop (LIB) and Deborah O’Neil (ALP)

Figure 6 illustrates the trends in female representation by major party across all Australian parliaments between 1994 and 2013.

Figure 6: Percentage of women in all Australian parliaments by major party, 1994–2013

Figure 6: Percentage of women in all Australian parliaments by major party, 1994–2013 

Source: Historical data for composition of Australian parliaments by party and gender, maintained by Parliamentary Library since 1994

The following summarises some of the ways in which the major parties in Australia have responded to the issue of women’s political participation and parliamentary representation in recent decades.[44]

Party commitment to gender equity

Rule 10 of the ALP’s National Constitution developed in 2011 committed the party to having equal numbers of men and women at all levels in the organisation and in preselections for public office.[45] The ALP’s National Labor Women’s Network, launched in 1996 at the National ALP Conference, represents all women members of the party. It encourages women ‘to participate in all levels of the Party’s structure, the government and public life’.[46] EMILY’s List is a women’s network established by prominent Labor women in 1996 to provide financial, political and personal support for the election of ‘progressive’ Labor women candidates committed to pro-choice positions on abortion and other gender equity issues. The group claimed to have helped elect 123 Labor women to parliaments across Australia by 2004. It actively supports Labor women’s campaigns in parliamentary elections Australia-wide. Its slogan is ‘When women support women, women win’.[47]

The Liberal Party encourages women’s preselection through a range of mentoring, training and support mechanisms. The party also has a long history of women’s representation on the Federal Executive. The Federal Women’s Committee (FWC) was established in 1945 at the inaugural meeting of the Liberal Party Federal Council in August 1945, and incorporated in the party’s Constitution in October 1946. The FWC has had representation on the party’s Federal Executive since then, and actively promotes women for elected office. The party’s federal Constitution also requires the vice-president of the party to be a woman, and the federal party and some of the state divisions have designated organisational positions for women.[48] In addition to the work of the FWC, the party’s state branches have their own peak women’s councils that provide advocacy and support. The Women’s Council of the NSW Liberal Party, for example, aims to increase representation, membership, and awareness of issues concerning women.[49]

The Nationals provide opportunities for women to participate in the party and seek leadership or parliamentary office. The National Party Constitution includes provision for a Women’s Federal Council (WFC). The President is a member of the party’s Federal Council and the Policy Standing Committee, while two delegates of the WFC attend the Federal Conference.[50] The WFC promotes and supports women to take on leadership roles within the party with a particular focus on increasing the involvement of women in policy, politics and decision-making.[51]

Amongst the larger minor parties, both the Australian Greens and the Australian Democrats have embraced gender equity as a founding principle in their respective organisations. The Greens have attributed their higher female representation in parliament to the party’s open decision making and preselection processes, a strong emphasis on grassroots membership, and the party’s acceptance of gender equity as a core principle.[52] The state Greens parties have also adopted specific strategies. The NSW Greens’ Constitution, for example, requires the state party to attempt to achieve at least 50 per cent representation by women as well as membership from rural and regional areas and amongst minority and disadvantaged groups.[53]

Affirmative action and quotas

Whilst gender quotas of different kinds are widely used internationally to increase women’s participation in national parliaments, they have been somewhat controversial in the Australian context. In 1981 the ALP Conference endorsed affirmative action principles whereby women were to hold 25 per cent of all internal party positions. In 1994 the ALP adopted a mandatory 35 per cent preselection quota for women in winnable seats at all elections by 2002.[54] The proportion of female candidates preselected rose from 14.5 per cent in the 1994 election to 35.6 per cent in the 2010 election. As political commentator Hutch Hussein points out, these figures clearly demonstrate how the rule changes within the ALP have helped to achieve greater gender equality in Australia’s parliaments.[55] A 40:40:20 quota system was introduced from 1 January 2012 ‘to produce an outcome where not less than 40% of seats held by Labor will be filled by women, and not less than 40% by men’. The remaining 20 per cent may be filled by candidates of either gender.[56]

Figure 7: Female candidates and elected members in House of Representatives by major party as percentage of total candidates and members elected, 1998–2013

Figure 7: Female candidates and elected members in House of Representatives by major party as percentage of total candidates and members elected, 1998–2013

Source: Data compiled by Parliamentary Library from Australian Electoral Commission election data and Parliamentary Handbook

The Coalition parties (Liberal Party and the Nationals) have not adopted affirmative action measures for their respective parties’ parliamentary wings on the basis that gender quotas contradict the principle of merit. The Liberal Party uses women’s networks within the party, and provides support and mentoring to encourage women who stand for preselection. Nevertheless, the issue has been the subject of debate in recent years. In 2010, Liberal Senator Judith Troeth prepared a policy paper noting that, from its formation in 1944, the Liberal Party had reserved 50 per cent of the Victorian Division’s executive positions, and that these arrangements had survived the party’s ‘recent radical reform’ in Victoria.[57] She called for the introduction of a quota system for the Victorian Division to endorse women for preselection in a minimum of 40 per cent of its seats for the Commonwealth election to be held in August 2010, recommended that the quota be increased to 45 per cent within a five year period, and that women comprise 50 per cent of training candidates. In 2012 Liberal Party historian Margaret Fitzherbert noted that women gained prominence in the early years of the Liberal Party as a result of party activists promoting female candidates. Since the 1990s, however, she observed that there had been a decline in numbers and an increasing reliance on merit-based preselection processes. She pointed to the importance of ‘persistent pressure to keep preselecting women’ as well as the need to address aspects of party culture that may discriminate against women seeking preselection.[58]

An analysis of female candidates compared with the percentage of women elected to seats in the House of Representatives by major party (see Figure 7 above shows that in 1998 both major parties had a similar level of female representation (23.9 per cent ALP and 23.4 per cent Liberal Party) although the ALP had a higher proportion of female candidates (34.5 per cent) than the Liberal Party (23 per cent) as a result of the ALP’s introduction of a 35 per cent preselection quota in 1994. Since 2001, however, the ALP’s female representation of both candidates and elected MPs has been consistently higher than that of the Liberal Party, averaging 33 per cent for candidates and 31.5 per cent of elected MPs, compared with the Liberal Party’s average of 21.9 per cent for candidates and 22 per cent for elected MPs.

Cultural and social factors

Recent international research has drawn attention to the social and cultural factors that influence both the level (sometimes called ‘descriptive or symbolic representation’) and contribution (or ‘substantive representation’) of women parliamentarians.[59]Some studies have suggested that lower numbers of women in parliament directly impacts on how citizens generally perceive their level of inclusion in society. One US study, for example, noted that ‘[w]omen in public office stand as symbols for other women, both enhancing their identification with the system and their ability to have influence within it.’[60] The study also found that prevailing perceptions of traditional social roles still actively discourage women from standing as political candidates. Even where women do stand for election, they are less likely than men to seek leadership positions or to be motivated by political ambition.[61]

The Westminster system of representative democracy has tended to promote a confrontational style of politics in the chambers. This has been reinforced by the ‘majoritarian’ model of government versus opposition, as well as the tradition of strong party discipline. Political scientists Marian Sawer, Manon Tremblay and Linda Trimble argue that this model of democracy makes cooperation on areas of interest to women more difficult on the floor of the chamber, suggesting that women parliamentarians find more scope for cross-party cooperation on committees. A notable example of cross-party cooperation occurred in the Commonwealth Parliament in 2005, when four women from the ALP, Australian Democrats, Liberal Party, and The Nationals joined together in a private members’ bill to remove ministerial power over the use of the ‘abortion pill’, RU486.[62] An Australian women’s rights activist, Sara Dowse, noted in 2009:

The fact that a vote like the one on RU486 has yet to be repeated prompts some reflection. For how well does our parliament actually serve the citizens it’s designed to represent, if women, who comprise over half the voting population, still constitute less than a third of the parliament?[63]

In a recent Australian study involving interviews conducted with women MPs in the Victorian Parliament in 2012 the researcher found that, whilst achieving a ‘critical mass’ was important, it was their willingness to use their position to act for women that had challenged the nature of political leadership.[64] This finding echoes that of international gender expert, Drude Dahlerup, whose research on the impact of women in Scandinavian legislatures found that numbers alone were less important in creating cultural changes in parliament than the actions of women to bring about ‘women-friendly’ policies.[65] According to a survey conducted by the IPU in 1998, women in parliament tended to feel a particular responsibility to represent women and women’s interests, a point also made recently by Queensland’s former (and first female) Premier, Anna Bligh.[66]

Several key arguments have emerged over time about the need for higher levels of women’s representation in national parliaments, including that:

  • women bring particular experiences and priorities (based on women’s traditional maternal role in the family)
  • women should have equal rights to participate in decision-making and should not be discriminated against
  • women comprise 50 per cent of the population but have much lower representation in parliament (referred to in Europe for example as the ‘democratic deficit’)
  • at least 30 per cent representation is necessary to achieve a critical mass in order to ‘make a visible impact on the style and content of political decision-making’[67], and
  • more women in politics would ‘change the way politics was done’ (referring to the way in which women might to exercise power differently to men).[68]

These arguments continue to resonate in public debates about women in parliament in Australia. In an analysis of women in parliament in 2010, for example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics described the issue of women’s under-representation in terms of equal rights:

One of the principles underpinning democratic government is that parliament should represent and express the will of the people. Civil society is seen by many to be more effective if parliament is widely representative of the population. Since women make up approximately half of Australia's population, their representation in parliament is seen as crucial in a democratic society.[69]

Rachel Nolan, formerly a Minister in the Queensland Bligh Labor Government, has recently written that the equal rights argument tends to ignore the fact that women bring different qualities to leadership roles and that ‘their different perspectives are exactly what we need ... The exclusion of women is the exclusion of diverse thinking’.[70] Political scientists Lenita Freidenvall and Marian Sawer note that this argument—that women parliamentarians bring different gendered life experiences—is a powerful argument in older-established democracies such as Australia.

Recent studies of women in leadership in the corporate sector have framed the argument differently, placing less emphasis on equality and diversity, and more on the outcomes including corporate image, economic performance and good governance. In 2013 the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) went further, stating that:

The gender gap isn’t just an image problem: it has real implications for the performance of every aspect of our society: In business, in the community, in politics and for families. Despite the gains made in recent decades, the transformation of the barriers facing young women and the slow progress across major ‘women in leadership’ headline indicators suggests that our current approach to tackling these challenges either isn’t working or is working at an incremental pace.[71]

Standing for election

One factor that has historically influenced the number of women seeking election to Australian parliaments relates to their personal circumstances and networks. In a study of 36 women political candidates contesting the 1982 Victorian state election, political scientists Marian Sawer and Marian Simms found that most had experienced conflict between campaigning whilst meeting their family and childcare responsibilities. They also encountered prejudice from those who thought that women were not equipped to deal with ‘hard’ policies such as economics, suggesting that the party would lose votes at election because of their gender. According to one successful candidate, the disadvantages of being a woman candidate in the 1980s could be summed up as having ‘weaker access to established power networks..., lack of accumulated income’, and the strain of juggling campaigning with family responsibilities.[72]

Since the 1980s, lack of access to established networks is less likely to be an issue for women standing for election because successful candidates are increasingly coming from professions that equip them for their political careers. As the following table illustrates, women entering the Commonwealth Parliament are now more likely to come from occupational backgrounds similar to those of their male colleagues. In 1988, teaching was the most common previous occupation amongst women in the Senate, whilst their male colleagues in both Houses tended to come from occupations in law, business management, unions and other professional or administrative roles. By 2008, there were fewer parliamentarians coming from a career in education, and women and men were tending to come from professional careers in law, business management and professional or administrative roles in the House of Representatives, and unions, politics and business management in the Senate. As Marian Sawer notes, this means that women are more likely to have the professional networks that inform their political careers, as well as enabling them to ‘work collectively’ with other women and represent the interests of their constituents.[73]

While data has not been collected for this paper in relation to the seniority of women prior to entering parliament, recent research suggests that women are poorly represented in senior positions. A 2011 study of the legal profession in New South Wales, for example, revealed that whilst the number of female solicitors in the state had increased to 46 per cent since 1988 (grown at a rate of 452 per cent compared to 65 per cent for men), there was only one female managing partner in the largest 30 firms in Australia. Of those law firms with 40 or more partners, only 23 per cent were women, and the figure was even lower in mid-sized and small law firms.[74]

Table 8: Previous occupations by gender in Senate, 1988, 2008 and 2011

Occupation*
Year
 
1988
2008
2011
 
M
F
Total
M
F
Total
M
F
Total
Barristers, solicitors, legal
7
3
10
5
3
8
6
5
11
Business executives, managers
11
2
13
13
5
18
11
4
15
Farmers and graziers
4
-
4
2
2
4
1
1
2
Lecturers, professors, teachers
5
6
11
4
2
6
2
1
3
Local government official (non-elected)
-
-
-
-
1
1
-
1
1
Medical practitioners, dentists, nurses, other health professionals
3
3
6
1
-
1
2
-
2
Members of state/territory legislatures
3
-
3
2
-
2
2
3
5
Other professional and administrators
8
2
10
5
2
7
2
2
4
Party and union administrators and officials
14
-
14
13
5
18
15
5
20
Political consultants, advisers
2
-
2
2
6
8
1
6
7
Public service/policy managers and administrators
1
-
1
-
1
1
-
1
1
Researchers, research assistants, electoral and project officers
2
-
2
2
-
2
3
1
4
Tradespersons
-
-
-
-
-
-
1
-
1
Total
60
16
76
49
27
76
46
30
76

*Occupation immediately prior to entering the Commonwealth Parliament
Source: Summary of data compiled by M Lumb from Parliamentary Handbook

Table 9: Previous occupations by gender in House of Representatives, 1988, 2008 and 2011

Occupation*
Year
 
1988
2008
2011
 
M
F
Total
M
F
Total
M
F
Total
Barristers, solicitors, legal
19
1
20
13
8
21
10
9
19
Business executives, managers
25
-
25
25
9
34
32
10
42
Farmers and graziers
14
-
14
7
-
7
6
0
6
Lecturers, professors, teachers
14
2
16
1
-
1
1
1
2
Local government official (non-elected)
-
-
-
-
1
1
1
1
2
Medical practitioners, dentists, nurses, other health professionals
5
1
6
3
-
3
3
1
4
Members of state/territory legislatures
13
1
14
8
1
9
7
1
8
Other professional and administrators
23
2
25
12
6
18
11
2
13
Party and union administrators and officials
12
-
12
16
4
20
14
2
16
Political consultants, advisers
3
-
3
18
5
23
22
3
25
Public service/policy managers and administrators
5
-
5
5
2
7
4
5
9
Researchers, research assistants, electoral and project officers
5
3
8
3
4
7
2
2
4
Total
138
10
148
111
39
150
113
37
150

*Occupation immediately prior to entering the Commonwealth Parliament
Source: Summary of data compiled by M Lumb from Parliamentary Handbook

In the parliament

Portfolios

Annabelle Rankin, as Minister for Housing, was the first woman to administer a Commonwealth department in 1966. Since then, 51 women have served as ministers (Cabinet and non-Cabinet) and parliamentary secretaries in the Commonwealth Parliament (see list of women at Appendix 3).

An analysis of portfolios held by women (see Figure 8 below) shows that few women have held senior portfolios associated with matters of government, defence, foreign affairs, justice, finance, infrastructure and communications. These include:

  • Julia Gillard: Prime Minister (24 June 2010–27 June 2013)
  • Julie Bishop: Minister for Foreign Affairs (18 September 2013–present)
  • Nicola Roxon: Attorney-General (14 December 2011–4 February 2013)
  • Senator Penny Wong: Minister for Finance and Deregulation (14 September 2010–18 September 2013)
  • Senator Helen Coonan: Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer (26 November 2001–18 July 2004), and
  • Senator Margaret Guilfoyle: Minister for Finance (3 November 1980–11 March 1983).

To date, no woman has been appointed as Treasurer, Minister for Defence, or Transport, although women have served in the more junior positions of Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister assisting the Minister for Defence. The majority of portfolios held by women have been associated with social and cultural services including the community services and housing, ageing, employment, training and workplace relations, education, health, sport, tourism, Indigenous affairs, women, arts, housing, local government, and social security.

Former Commonwealth MP and academic, Mary Crawford states that, despite increasing numbers of women in parliaments in industrialised democracies such as Australia, in many ways they remain ‘gendered organisations’.[75] She argues that a ‘gendered division of labour’ is evident in the types of ministries traditionally allocated to women in the Commonwealth Parliament, and that a ‘further hierarchy’ was created with the distinction between the inner ministry or Cabinet and the outer ministry.

Figure 8: Portfolios held by women in Commonwealth Parliament, 1943–2014

Figure 8: Portfolios held by women in Commonwealth Parliament, 1943–2014

Source: Summary of data compiled from Parliamentary Handbook
* including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Vice-President of the Executive Council
** including community services, families, youth, housing, human services, social security, social inclusion

Parliamentary committees

In the 44th Parliament (see Table 10 below) women chair 40 per cent of committees in the Senate and 32 per cent in the House of Representatives. In the Senate there are currently no female chairs of Joint Select Committees, Parliamentary Joint Committees or Joint Standing Committees. The parliament delegates some of its tasks and associated powers to committees comprising small groups of senators or members. They have the power to perform functions which the Houses themselves are not equipped to perform, including gathering evidence from expert groups and individuals, and allowing direct contact between the parliament and the people. Most committees comprise representatives of all parties, and participation has become a very important aspect of the work of senators and members.[76]

The earliest committees were established in 1901, mostly dealing with the workings of the parliament. The current Senate committee system took shape from 1970 with the establishment of the Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees and Estimates Committees. In 1987 the House of Representatives established a comprehensive committee system with eight general purpose standing committees. The numbers have increased since then and the names and subject areas have varied over time.[77]

Table 10 below lists the gender composition of committee chairs in the 44th Parliament. The role of committee chair is regarded as a stepping stone to senior political positions including minister or parliamentary secretary, and the roles are highly sought after.[78] The first woman to chair a committee was Senator Marie Breen OBE, who chaired a domestic standing committee, the Senate Printing Committee, from 1965 to 1968. In 1968 Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood chaired the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs, and also one of the first of the Senate’s new legislative and general purpose standing committees, the Health and Welfare Committee (1970–71). That Committee’s report on the health needs of people with mental and physical disabilities in Australia was the first to be tabled by these influential committees.[79]

Table 10: Committee chairs in the 44th Parliament by gender, as at 30 April 2014

Senate
Chairs
Committees chaired by women
 
Male
Female
Total
% female
 
Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees
 
  • Legislation
7
1
8
12.5
Community Affairs
  • References
2
6
8
75.0
Community Affairs; Education and Employment; Environment and Communications; Finance and Public Administration; Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade; Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Select Committees
1
2
3
66.7
National Broadband Network; School Funding
Joint Select Committees
1
-
1
0
-
Parliamentary Joint Committees
4
-
4
0
-
Joint Standing Committees
1
-
1
0
-
Domestic Standing Committees
2
3
5
60.0
Privileges; Scrutiny of Bills; Senators’ Interests
Total Senate
18
12
30
40.0
 
House of Representatives
Chairs
Committees chaired by women
 
Male
Female
Total
% female
 
House Standing Committees
6
3
9
33.3
Economics; Indigenous Affairs; Infrastructure and Communications
Joint Standing Committees
6
3
9
33.3
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade; Migration; Public Works
Domestic House Committees
5
2
7
28.6
Appropriations and Administration; Selection
Total House of Representatives
17
8
25
32.0
 

Source: Committee Offices, Departments of the Senate and House of Representatives

Parliamentary researcher Sonia Palmieri examined committees between 1987 and 2008 and identified a number of factors that influence the selection of committee chairs. These included the chamber in which they sit, their political party, their experience as deputy chair, and their expertise in relevant fields prior to entering parliament. She noted that the number and range of House of Representatives committees chaired by women had ‘improved significantly’ since the 1980s, reflecting the increase in the number of women parliamentarians as well as their range of experience prior to entering parliament. She also noted particular differences that have emerged between the two chambers. The House of Representatives, for example, has a strong tradition of appointing women to procedural committees, whilst relatively few women have chaired joint committees which tend to deal with higher status issues such as foreign affairs.[80] This reflects Crawford’s observation that committees considered to have a higher status are typically dominated by men—foreign affairs, economic and financial matters and security and terrorism issues—whilst women are typically found on the ‘less prestigious and powerful’ committees dealing with ‘soft’ or ‘nurturing’ issues including health, education and welfare.[81]

The parliamentary environment

The parliamentary environment itself has also become the focus of researchers seeking to understand the slow progress in women’s representation. For most of the twentieth century, women were either absent or present in very small numbers in Australia’s parliaments, and the values, rules, procedures and practices that prevail have been largely shaped by male parliamentarians. The proportion of women parliamentarians has grown steadily since the 1980s, and some reforms have been introduced that go some way to addressing these changes. On 30 June 1994, for example, the House of Representatives passed a resolution requiring that references to members should be made using gender-inclusive pronouns, including ‘chair’ rather than ‘chairman’. The Standing Orders were amended accordingly on 9 November 1994.

With the increase in the number of women having children whilst in office, there have also been cross-party calls for family-friendly reforms to the parliamentary environment and its practices. In 1983 Ros Kelly became the first woman to have a baby while serving in the Commonwealth Parliament. Since then a number of female parliamentarians have had children whilst in office and there have been several instances where very young children have been brought into the chambers. The presence of children in the chambers has attracted a range of responses from presiding officers, parliamentary colleagues, and the media.[82] Most notably, in 2009, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s two-year old child was removed from the Chamber during a division after a ruling by the President of the Senate relating to access by ‘strangers’ or ‘visitors’.

This incident became the focus for a wider debate about work-life balance for parliamentarians, and drew attention to the competing demands of a modern workplace, ensuring that a nation’s democratically elected members can fully participate in the parliament, and upholding the rules of parliamentary practice. In more recent years, some measures have been put into place to accommodate the parenting needs of parliamentarians, staff, and members of the public visiting Parliament House. These have included an on-site childcare facility, rooms for breast-feeding mothers, and a special provision for nursing mothers to vote by proxy during divisions in the House of Representatives.[83]

The IPU has called for parliaments to strengthen their role in advancing gender equality in parliamentary environments and mainstreaming a gender perspective into parliamentary processes. According to the IPU’s report Gender mainstreaming in the Australian Parliament:

... gender equality is not guaranteed simply by the presence of women in parliament. It also depends on a parliament’s gender sensitivity and awareness, its policies and infrastructure. Gender-sensitive parliaments ‘remove the barriers to women’s full participation and offer a positive example or model to society at large.[84]

One such strategy that has been widely adopted in national parliaments is the establishment of parliamentary bodies or standing committees specifically dealing with matters of gender equality. According to the IPU, there are currently 138 such bodies in 113 countries, although the Australian Parliament does not have such a body.[85]

Beyond the parliament

The representation of women in Australian parliaments can also be seen as a reflection of gender diversity in other leadership and executive decision-making roles. The Office for Women within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet highlights the importance of women’s participation in key decision-making roles such as local government and board membership. According to the Office, community leadership roles in local government, for example, offer ‘a positive pathway’ for women to move into more influential leadership roles.[86] Journalist Catherine Fox has argued that ‘[w]hen you normalise women’s presence in leadership and senior ranks’, women are no longer treated as a minority group and are less likely to be subject to the type of ‘scrutiny and double standards’ that women have experienced in senior positions such as those in parliaments and on boards.[87]

Local government

Election to local government offers an important avenue for those seeking pursuing parliamentary careers. In the 44th Commonwealth Parliament, 12 female senators and members previously had experience in local government.[88] Whilst women’s representation in elected local government positions varies across the jurisdictions, in general it remains less than 30 per cent of all elected representatives. A national survey of local government councillors in 2011, for example, showed that women comprised 27.8 per cent of elected representatives and 22.6 per cent of mayoral positions (see Table 11).[89]

The Australian Local Government Association has noted that, despite efforts to increase women’s participation in elected and executive roles, the proportion of women elected to local government had changed little in the past 20 years.[90] Whilst more recent comparative data is not available for all local governments in Australia, reports from the two largest states indicate little change. Following local government elections in Victoria and New South Wales in 2012, women comprised 34 per cent of all Councillors and 25 per cent of mayors in Victoria, and 27 per cent of Councillors and 19 per cent of mayors in New South Wales.[91]

Table 11: Women in local government, as at October 2011

State
Candidates
Elected representatives
Mayors
 
M
F
Total
% female
M
F
Total
% female
M
F
Total
% female
NSW (2008)
2,961
1,480
4,441
33.3
1,068
387
1,455
26.6
114
34
148
23.0
Vic. (2008)
1,363
612
1,975
31.0
443
188
631
29.8
61
18
79
22.8
Qld (2008)
940
423
1,363
31.0
313
167
480
34.8
50
11
61
18.0
WA (2009)
738
312
1,050
29.7
497
196
693
28.3
97
31
128
24.2
SA (2010)
912
362
1,274
28.4
468
179
647
27.7
53
14
67
20.9
Tas. (2009)
215
76
291
26.1
243
38
281
13.5
20
7
27
25.9
NT (2008)
140
66
206
32.0
96
51
147
53.1
12
4
16
25.0
Total
7,269
3,331
10,600
31.4
3,128
1,206
4,334
27.8
407
119
526
22.6

Source: Compiled by Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government and supplied by the Australian Local Government Association, 27 October 2011

Women on boards

Government boards

In 2010 the Commonwealth Government set a target of 40 per cent women and 40 per cent men on Commonwealth Government board positions by 2015, and this target was achieved for the first time in 2013.[92] As Table 16 shows, the percentage of women appointed to Commonwealth Government boards and bodies has gradually increased from 33.4 per cent to the current level of 41.7 per cent, although the total number of women occupying the available positions has remained relatively unchanged. The Office for Women maintains AppointWomen, an online register that matches ‘board-ready’ women with vacancies on Government boards and decision-making bodies, and BoardLinks designed to increase the number of potential candidates for boards.

Table 12: Women on Commonwealth Government boards and bodies, 2008–2013

Year
Boards and bodies
Positions
Women
% women
2008–9
529
5,655
1,887
33.4
2009–10
530
6,115
2,029
33.2
2010–11
466
3,960
1,396
35.3
2011–12
457
4,129
1,587
38.4
2012–13
460
4,039
1,685
41.7

Sources: Women on Australian Government boards reports for 2008–2013[93]

Corporate boards

The matter of gender diversity on corporate boards has attracted attention both in Australia and overseas, with many countries adopting strategies or quotas to increase the number of women in boardrooms. See Appendix 5 for a list of organisations that maintain data on women on boards.[94]

In 2011 the Australian Institute of Company Directors reported that women accounted for nearly 30 per cent of all new board appointments by the 200 largest companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX 200), largely as a result of the ASX corporate governance recommendations on gender diversity that required members to adopt and disclose a diversity policy, establish measurable objectives for gender diversity on boards, and provide results in annual reports. The Institute attributed its success to its chairmen’s mentoring program, where 80 leaders have mentored and recruited women.[95] However, by 2013, women comprised only 15.8 per cent of board members of ASX 200 companies, and 48 of the ASX 200 boards did not have any women members.

In recent years a number of business organisations have examined the trends and proposed initiatives to address gender diversity in leadership positions as follows:

  • A Deloitte study of global trends published in 2011 noted that the debate about the role of women in public life has rapidly shifted in recent years, from equality of opportunity and promotion on merit to that of productivity and good governance. The study provided an overview of initiatives introduced in different countries to increase the number of women on corporate boards.[96]
  • In another international study published in 2013, Thomson Reuters found a steady increase in the presence of women on corporate boards internationally, noting that those with women board members had out-performed those without women on their boards.[97]
  • A 2013 study by the Business Council of Australia, a business lobby group representing 120 of Australia’s biggest companies, noted the ‘inherent biases [that] have produced a “male-gendered concept of merit-based assessment’’ in many companies’, and committed its membership to a quota of 50 per cent of senior positions to be filled by women in the next decade.[98]
  • According to a 2013 study of the gender gap in leadership positions by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), women account for more than half of Australian professionals, but represent less than 10 per cent of executives. The study concluded that:

Despite the progress made over the past 50 years, Australia still has a long way to go to achieve equality of opportunity. The failure of meritocratic processes due to unconscious bias, gender stereotypes and the reinforcement of those stereotypes, the way we have historically designed and organised work without much thought to non-work responsibilities, lack of mentoring and role models, and the prohibitive cost of childcare are all barriers to gender equality in the workplace.[99]

Conclusion

Under-representation of women in parliament remains a significant challenge in Australia. More than 110 years after the first women contested a Commonwealth election, only one in four Members in the House of Representatives and two in five Senators are women. Despite several women having filled high profile roles in Commonwealth, state and territory parliaments in recent years, including Prime Minister, Attorney-General and Minister for Foreign Affairs, women continue to be significantly under-represented in the Commonwealth Parliament and in senior federal ministries and parliamentary positions. 

Recent studies of women in Australia’s parliaments indicate that there are still significant social and cultural factors that inhibit women from participating on an equal basis as men. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and parliamentary associations such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union, are focusing on ways to encourage national parliaments to better accommodate women. The IPU’s 2008 global study of women in parliament, Equality in politics: a survey of women and men in parliament stated that parliaments have a key role to play in mainstreaming gender in society as a whole as well as within the parliamentary environment itself.[100] More recently the IPU has advocated a gender-sensitive parliament that will respond to ‘the needs and interests of both men and women in its work as a nation’s peak legislative institution’.[101] The IPU found that ‘women are overwhelmingly the main drivers of progress in gender equality in parliament but that parliaments, as institutions, also have responsibilities’.[102]

The subject of women’s under-representation in leadership and decision-making has also been a matter of considerable debate beyond the parliamentary environment. The proportion of women elected to local government in Australia, for example, has changed little in the past 20 years and remains well below 30 per cent. Women have been better represented on government boards in recent years since the introduction in 2010 of a 40 per cent target within five years. The gender imbalance in leadership positions has also been a matter of concern in the corporate sector where the representation of women on corporate boards remains low. Strategies for improving women’s representation on corporate boards has now shifted focus from creating equality of opportunity and promotion on merit to that of improving productivity and good governance by tapping into a wider talent pool.

 

Appendix 1: Women in national parliaments—top 50 ranked countries 2013 with 2008 and 2001 compared

Appendix 2: Women in the Commonwealth Parliament, 1943–2014

Appendix 3: Women in Commonwealth ministries, 1901–2014, as at 1 January 2014

Appendix 4: Presiding Officers in Australian parliaments by party and gender, as at 6 June 2014

Appendix 5: Organisations maintaining gender data on executive and board positions

Appendix 6: Selected milestones for women in Australian parliaments

Appendix 7: Twenty longest-serving women in the Commonwealth Parliament as at 30 June 2014

Appendix 8: Commonwealth ministry and shadow ministry by gender, as at 30 April 2014

Appendix 9: Proportion of female senators and members, 1943–2013

Appendix 10: Total number of senators and members since 1901 by gender, as at 1 July 2014

Appendix 11: Percentage of women in all Australian parliaments, annual snapshot 1994–2013

Appendix 12: Percentage of female candidates and elected MPs in House of Representatives by major party, 1998–2013

Appendix 13: Selected references

Australian Electoral Commission, Senate nominations by gender and House of Representatives nominations by gender, Election 2013, 1 November 2013

Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Women in leadership: understand the gender gap, June 2013

Crawford, M, ‘Where are the women MPs?’, Australasian Parliamentary Review, 28(2), Spring 2013

Crawford, M and Pini, Barbara, ‘Gender equality in national politics: The views of Australian male politicians’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 45(4), December 2010, pp. 608–10

Curtin, J and K Sexton, ‘Selecting and electing women to the House of Representatives: Progress at last?’, Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, University of Adelaide, 29 September-1 October 2004

Curtin, J, Women in Australian federal Cabinet, Research Note no. 40, 1996–7, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, March 1997

Dahlerup, D and M Leyenaar, eds, Breaking male dominance in old democracies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013

Drabsch, T, Women in politics and public leadership, Briefing paper no. 6/2011, NSW Parliamentary Library, Sydney, September 2011

Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, Australian census of women in leadership, 2012

Fitzherbert, Margaret, Liberal women: Federation–1949, Federation Press, Annandale, NSW, 2004

             , So many firsts: Liberal women from Enid Lyons to the Turnbull era, Federation Press, Annandale, NSW 2009

Inter-Parliamentary Union, Women in national parliaments website

McAllister, I and DT Studlar, ‘Electoral systems and women’s representation: A long-term perspective’, Representation, 39(1), 2002, p. 3–14

Palmieri, SA, Gender-sensitive parliaments: a global review of good practice, Inter- Parliamentary Union, Reports and Documents no. 65, 2011

             , Gender mainstreaming in the Australian Parliament: achievement with room for improvement, Research paper, Parliamentary Studies Centre, Australian National University, n.d.

Parliamentary Library, ‘Historical information on the Australian Parliament’, Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia 2011, 43rd Parliament, Parliamentary Library, Department of Parliamentary Services, Commonwealth of Australia 2011, pp. 480–3

Reynolds, M, The last bastion: Labor women working towards equality in the parliaments of Australia, Business and Professional Publishing, Sydney, 1995

             , Women, preselection and merit: who decides?, Papers on Parliament no. 27, March 1996

Sawer, M, ‘Moving backwards? Women in Australian parliaments’, Australian Policy Online, 7 May 2012

Sawer, M and M Simms, A woman’s place: women and politics in Australia, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 1993

Sawer, M, M Tremblay and L Trimble, eds, Representing women in parliament: a comparative study, Routledge, Abingdon, 2006

Smith, T, Candidate gender in the 2010 Australian federal election, Democratic Audit discussion paper 1(10), August 2010

Tremblay, M, ‘Democracy, representation, and women: a comparative analysis’, Democratization, 14(4), 2007

Wilson, J, First women in Australian parliaments—historical note, Research Note no. 55, June 1997

Wilson, J and D Black, Women parliamentarians in Australia 1921–2013, Research paper series, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 14 February 2014

Women in the Senate, Senate Brief no. 3, April 2014



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[2].         Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘4102.0 – Australian social trends’, April 2013, accessed 28 May 2014.

[3].         S Palmieri, Global survey on gender-sensitive parliaments: A global review of good practice, Inter-Parliamentary Union, Reports and documents 65, 2011, accessed 5 March 2014.

[4].         The New South Wales Parliament held a joint sitting in the first week of July 2014 to fill the Senate vacancy created by the resignation of Bob Carr and filled by Deborah O’Neill until 30 June 2014.

[5].         The reasons for this are discussed below in The electoral system.

[6].         Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory have unicameral parliaments. The proportional representation (PR) voting system was first used for the Victorian Legislative Council in the 2006 election. See ‘A new electoral system for Victoria’s Legislative Council’, Legislative Council, Parliament of Victoria, Information sheet 16, April 2009, accessed 10 June 2014.

[7].         See J McCann, Australia’s female political leaders: a quick guide, Research paper series, 2013 ̶ 14, Parliamentary Library, 24 June 2014.

[8].         The new Governor of NSW is the head of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, and the new Governor of Queensland is Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul de Jersey.

[9].         BC Wright, ed, House of Representatives Practice, sixth ed, Department of the House of Representatives, Canberra, 2012, pp. 74 ̶ 6. The two-tier cabinet system was introduced by Prime Minister Robert Menzies in 1954 and has been adopted by all subsequent governments except the Whitlam Government.

[10].      See data in Appendix 8.

[11].      ‘Senate nominations by gender’, Election 2013, Australian Electoral Commission, 1 November 2013; ‘House of Representatives Nominations by gender’, Election 2013, Australian Electoral Commission, 4 November 2013, all accessed 21 February 2014.

[12].      The female candidates were Vida Goldstein (Victoria), Nellie Martel and Mary Ann Moore Bentley (NSW) for the Senate, and Selina Anderson (later Siggins) for the seat of Dalley (NSW) in the House of Representatives.

[13].      ‘Electoral milestones for women’, Australian Electoral Office, 26 January 2013, accessed 30 May 2014.

[14].      Ibid.

[15].      Data compiled by J Wilson, Parliamentary Library, from Parliamentary Handbook, op. cit.

[16].      See data in Appendix 10. The total includes 44 men and five women who have served in both Houses and are counted once. The five women who have served in both Houses are Bronwyn Bishop, Cheryl Kernot, Belinda Neal, Kathy Sullivan and Deborah O’Neill.

[17].      See data in Appendix 11.

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[23].      The slow progress in increasing women’s representation in the United Kingdom Parliament was the subject of a 2011 workshop comprising politicians, experts, journalists and activists. See J Lovenduski, ‘Feminising British politics’, The Political Quarterly, 83(4), October-December 2012, pp. 697 ̶ 753, accessed 22 May 2014.

[24].      European OSCE stands for Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

[25].      IPU, Women in national parliaments, op. cit.

[26].      ‘Joint statement on advancing women’s political participation’, United Nations Women, New York, 19 September 2011, accessed 9 May 2014.

[27].       See J McCann, Electoral quotas for women: an international overview, Research paper , 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 14 November 2013, accessed 9 May 2014.

[28].       ‘QuotaProject: Global database of quotas for women’, QuotaProject website, accessed 16 May 2014.

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[30].      See, for example, I McAllister, ‘Women’s electoral representation in Australia’ in M Sawer, M Tremblay and L Trimble, eds, Representing women in parliament: a comparative study, Routledge, 2006; M Sawer and M Simms, A woman’s place: women and politics in Australia, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 1993; M Tremblay, ‘Democracy, representation, and women: a comparative analysis’, Democratization, vol. 14 (4),24 July 2007, accessed 31 May 2014.

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[32].      See data in Appendix  10.

[33].      S Bennett, ‘Inglis Clark’s other contribution: a critical analysis of the Hare-Clark voting system’, Samuel Griffith Society, 23, Hobart, 2011, p. 39, accessed 31 May 2014.

[34].      T Smith, ‘The boys hold their own: candidate gender in the 2007 federal elections’, Australian Policy Online, 23 November 2007, p. 2, accessed 1 June 2014.

[35].      ‘Candidate selection within political parties’, ACE: The electoral knowledge network, second edn, accessed 22 May 2014; McAllister, op. cit., pp. 36–7.

[36].      McAllister, ‘Women’s electoral representation’, op. cit., p. 37.

[37].      M Reynolds, Women, preselection and merit: who decides?, Papers on Parliament, 27, Senate, March 1996, p. 41, accessed 22 May 2014.

[38].      House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Half way to equal: report of the inquiry into equal opportunity and equal status for women in Australia,  Recommendation 41, AGPS, 1992, p. xxxvi.

[39].      ‘Women in the Senate’, Senate Brief no. 3, Senate, April 2014, accessed 22 May 2014.

[40].      McAllister, ‘Women’s electoral representation in Australia’, op. cit., p. 144; Coopers and Lybrand, ‘Women and Parliaments in Australia and New Zealand: a discussion paper’, Office of the Status of Women, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 1994, p. 18.

[41].      M Mackerras, ‘Why women are getting elected’, Australian Quarterly, summer 1983, pp. 375–87.

[42].      T Smith, Candidate gender in the 2010 Australian federal election, Democratic Audit discussion paper 1/10, August 2010, accessed 22 May 2014.

[43].      A detailed breakdown of the numbers of women in the Commonwealth Parliament by party since 1943 can be found in ‘Number of women in Parliament’, The 43th Parliament, Parliamentary Handbook, op.cit. An updated summary will be contained in ‘The 44th Parliament, Parliamentary Handbook’, forthcoming.

[44].      See McCann, Electoral quotas for women: an international overview, op. cit. See Appendix 2 for a summary of arguments for and against the use of electoral quotas.

[45].       Australian Labor Party, ‘National Platform’, 46th National Conference, December 2011, Australian Labor Party Constitution, Chapter 12, Australian Labor Party website, pp. 231-269.

[46].      National Labor Women’s Network (1996 ̶ ), The Australian Women’s Register, 7 April 2004, accessed 2 June 2014.

[47].      EMILY stands for Early Money is Like Yeast, referring to the benefits of early campaign funding for women candidates. The original EMILY’s List was established to raise funds for pro-choice Democrat women candidates in the United States in 1985. EMILY’s List Australia; M Sawer, ‘”When women support women ...”, EMILY’s List and the substantive representation of women in Australia’, in Sawer et al, Representing women in parliament, op. cit, pp. 103–19, all accessed 2 June 2014.

[48].      ‘Liberal Women’, Liberal Party website; Liberal Party of Australia Federal Women’s Committee (1945 ̶ ), The Australian Women’s Register,  7 April 2004, all accessed 28 May 2014.

[49].      ‘Liberal women’, Liberal Party of Australia, op. cit.

[50].      ‘National Party of Australia Federal Constitution’, as adopted by Federal Council on July 1988, amended in June 2010 and June 2013, The Nationals website, accessed 2 June 2014.

[51].      ‘The Nationals’ Women’, The Nationals website, accessed 30 May 2014.

[52].      ‘Policies: Women’, The Greens website, accessed 27 May 2014.

[53].      Constitution, adopted 16 October 1993, amended August 2009, clause 1.4, Greens NSW website, accessed 2 June 2014.

[54].      EMILY’s List Australia, ‘Our history’, accessed 29 May 2014.

[55].      H Hussein, ‘Why changing the rules matters—lessons from the ALP’s Affirmative Action quota’, ABC Drum Unleashed, 8 March 2011, accessed 30 May 2014.

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[59].      Hannah Pitkin first distinguished between ‘descriptive’ representation describing the numbers of women parliamentarians, and ‘substantive’ representation describing how far women act on behalf of women in parliament. See Sawer, Tremblay and Trimble, Representing women in parliament, op. cit., p. 15.

[60].      B Burrell, cited in JL Lawless, Becoming a candidate: Political ambition and the decision to run for office, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2012, p. 8.

[61].      Ibid., pp. 58, 71–72

[62].      Senators Claire Moore (ALP), Lynette Allison (AD), Judith Troeth (LP) and Fiona Nash (NAT).

[63].       S Dowse, ‘A different kind of politics’, Inside Story, 19 December 2009, accessed 22 May 2014.

[64].      M Grey, ‘The nature of women’s political leadership: women MPs in the Parliament of Victoria’, in P Grimshaw, R Francis and A Standish, Seizing the initiative: Australian women leaders in politics, workplaces and communities, eScholarship Research Centre, The University of Melbourne, 2012; DE Campbell and C Wolbrecht, ‘See Jane run: women politicians as role models for adolescents’, The Journal of Politics, 68(2), 27 April 2006, pp. 233–47; C Wolbrecht and DE Campbell, ‘Leading by example: female Members of Parliament as political role models’, American Journal of Political Science, 51(4), October 2007, pp. 921–39, all accessed 5 March 2014.

[65].      M Sawer, ‘What makes the substantive representation of women possible in a Westminster parliament? The story of RU486 in Australia’, International Political Science Review, 23 April 2012, p. 2, accessed 22 May 2014.

[66].      L Freidenvall and M Sawer, ‘Framing women politicians in old democracies’, in D Dahlerup and M Leyenaar, eds, Breaking male dominance in old democracies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 20133, pp. 269̶–70; ‘Bligh carried pressure of the sisterhood’, Courier-Mail, 30 May 2014, accessed 3 June 2014.

[67].      United Nations Expert Group Meeting, ‘Equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes, with particular emphasis on political participation and leadership’, Ethiopia, 24 ̶ 27 October 2005; IPU, Women in national parliaments, situation as of 1st April 2014, all accessed 22 May 2014.

[68].      The equal rights principle was enshrined in the UN Convention on the Political Rights of Women (1952) and CEDAW Convention (1979). Australia signed CEDAW in 1980; L Freidenvall and M Sawer, ‘Framing women politicians in old democracies’, in D Dahlerup and M Leyenaar, eds, Breaking male dominance in old democracies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013, p. 270.

[69].       ‘Women in parliament’, Democracy, governance & citizenship, 1370.0 – Measures of Australia’s progress 2010, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 15 September 2010, accessed 19 May 2014

[70].      R Nolan, ‘Men of a certain age: what is the cost of propping up Tony Abbott’s favourite minority?’, The Monthly, May 2014, p. 21, accessed 19 May 2014.

[71].      Women in leadership: understand the gender gap, Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), June 2013, accessed 9 May 2014.

[72].      M Sawer and M Simms, A woman’s place: women and politics in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1993, pp. 71–72.

[73].      Sawer, ‘When women support women’, op. cit., p. 117.

[74].      L Farrow, ‘A glass ceiling, of torts’, Daily Telegraph, 2 December 2011, accessed 23 May 2014.

[75].      M Crawford and B Pini, ‘Gender Equality in National Politics: The Views of Australian Male Politicians’, Australian Journal of Political Science, vol. 45, no. 4, December 2010, pp. 608–10.

[76].       ‘Senate Committees’, Senate Brief no. 4, Senate, February 2014; ‘Committees’, Infosheet no. 4, House of Representatives, October 2010, all accessed 22 May 2014.

[77].      Wright, ed, House of Representatives Practice, op. cit., p. 642; Ibid., Chapter 18, updated information, April 2014, accessed 2 June 2014.

[78].      S Palmieri, ‘Gender mainstreaming in the Australian Parliament: achievement with room for improvement, Research paper, Parliamentary Studies Centre, Australian National University, n.d., accessed 2 June 2014.

[79].      D Scobie, ‘Wedgwood, Dame Ivy Evelyn Annie (1896 ̶ 1975)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, (online edition), National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed 20 June 2014.

[80].      Palmieri, ‘Gender mainstreaming in the Australian Parliament’, op.cit. As Palmieri notes, the designation of committee chair is determined by the rules of each chamber: chairs of House of Representatives and Joint committees are drawn from the governing party; in the Senate some committees are chaired by government whilst others are chaired by opposition or minor parties.

[81].      M Crawford, ‘Gender and the Australian Parliament’, Online Opinion, 8 May 2007, accessed 2 June 2014.

[82].      See Table 2: Children brought into the parliamentary chambers, in M Rodrigues, ‘Children in the parliamentary chambers, Parliamentary Library, Research Paper no. 9, 2009–10, 19 November 2009, p. 13, accessed 2 June 2014.

[83].      Ibid, pp. 20–2. On 12 February 2008, the House of Representatives passed a resolution allowing nursing mothers to vote by proxy ‘for any division except that on the third reading of a bill which proposes an alteration of the Constitution’. In doing so it recognised that Members required to nurse infants may not always be able to attend in the Chamber to vote in divisions. The provision was first used on 20 October 2008 by Mrs Sophie Mirabella. See House of Representatives, Votes and Proceedings, 12 February 2008, item 27, pp. 27–28, accessed 22 May 2014.

[84].      Palmieri, Gender mainstreaming in the Australian Parliament, op. cit.

[85].      See IPU, PARLINE database: specialized parliamentary bodies, Inter-Parliamentary Union website, accessed 16 June 2014.

[86].      Office for Women, ‘Increasing leadership and representation opportunities’, op. cit.

[87].      Fox, ‘Gillard’s performance does not define women’, op. cit.

[88].      Local government service is listed in individual biographies for senators and members. See Parliamentary Handbook, op. cit.

[89].      Data compiled by Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government and supplied by the Australian Local Government Association, 27 October 2011.

[90].      Australian Local Government Association, Women in politics: showing the way in 2010, ALGA, 2010, p. 2, accessed 23 May 2014; 2010 was declared the Year of Women in Local Government and included a national awards and accreditation program ‘50:50 Vision – Councils for Gender Equity’.

[91].      Women’s Participation in Local Government Coalition, Participation of women in Victorian local governments fact sheet, December 2013, accessed 9 May 2014; NSW Office of Local Government, NSW Councillor and candidate report 2012: local government elections, 2013, accessed 9 May 2014.

[92].      Office for Women, Gender balance on Australian Government boards report 2012 ̶ 2013, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, accessed 9 May 2014; Office for Women, ‘Increasing leadership and representation opportunities’, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 21 November 2013, accessed 9 May 2014.

[93].      Office for Women, ‘Women on Australian Government Boards Report 2008–2009’, Australian Government, 2009, accessed 22 May 2014; Office for Women, ‘Women on Australian Government Boards Report 2009–2010’, Australian Government, 2010, accessed 22 May 2014; Australian Government, ‘Gender balance on Australian Government Boards Report 2010–2011’, 2011, accessed 22 May 2014, Office for Women, ‘Gender balance on Australian Government Boards Report 2011–2012’, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, 2012, accessed 22 May 2014; Office for Women, ‘Gender balance on Australian Government Boards Report 2012–2013’, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, 2013, accessed 22 May 2014.

[94].      M Shave, ‘Change gender mix or face quota’, Australian, 23 April 2011, accessed 4 April 2014.

[95].      L Lamont, ‘Unprecedented number of women joining boards’, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 August 2011; see ASX 200 list of companies directory, all accessed 2 June 2014.

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[97].       Thomson Reuters Corporation, ‘Average stock price of gender diverse corporate boards outperform those with no women’, media release, 10 July 2013, accessed 19 March 2014; A Chanavat and K Ramsden, Mining the metrics of board diversity, Thomson Reuters, June 2013, p. 2, accessed 19 March 2014.

[98].       F Smith, ‘BCA’s radical gender targets’, Financial Review, 5 November 2013, accessed 30 April 2014.

[99].      CEDA, Women in leadership: understand the gender gap, op. cit.

[100].   J Ballington,     Equality in politics: a survey of women and men in parliaments, Inter-Parliamentary Union, Geneva, 2008; Equality in politics: a survey of women and men in parliaments, an overview of key findings, IPU, 2009, all accessed 2 June 2014.

[101].   Palmieri, ‘Gender-sensitive parliaments: a global review of good practice’, op. cit., p. 6, accessed 2 June 2014. The United Nations defined gender mainstreaming in 1997 as ‘the process of ensuring that policies and practices meet the needs of men and women equitably’.

[102].   AB Johnsson (Secretary General), Foreword, ibid, p. v.

 

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