This year’s
third state election (or possibly fourth, if Queensland
goes early) will be on 25 November in Victoria.
Opposition leader Robert Doyle did not have a good year in 2005, and will be
hoping for better news soon. On Saturday he got some publicity for an announcement of 14 female Liberal candidates for
the election.

He said that “the candidates were selected on their
merits and not on gender and were first rate parliamentary contenders.”

With Victoria’s
ALP currently undergoing preselection turmoil, in which it has been accused of “overlooking talented women in favour of branch
stackers”, Doyle’s announcement was well timed. But there was less to it
than meets the eye.

A look at
the Party’s official list of candidates reveals that of the 20 most winnable lower house seats (those with margins
under 8%), only two women have been preselected compared to 14 men (four seats
still have no candidate listed). The upper house is slightly better; for 17 possibly winnable seats, there are six female
candidates (two of them sitting members).

It’s been
noted before that John Howard’s landslide victory in 1996 brought in a unusually
high number of new women MPs. The explanation was that the Liberal Party had
put women candidates in what it thought were unwinnable, or least highly
speculative, seats. Many of them actually won, and some are still there – Peter
Brent at Mumble last week had a dig at this
practice, under the heading “Class of ’96”, for giving us Jackie
Kelly and Danna Vale.

Even more notoriously, it also gave us Pauline Hanson.

Victorian Liberal Party has the flip side of the same problem.

Traditionally it has reserved most of its safe seats for
older males, so the landslide loss of 2002 was disproportionately harsh on
women & young people. The Liberals now have only two women among their 17
lower house members, and nobody under the age of 45. Doyle knows that’s a
problem, but his party is going to have to work harder to fix it.