On Monday Charles Richardson commented in Crikey on the Victorian Liberals’ surprising decision to grant ex-National Julian McGuaran third spot on the Senate ticket. Charles noted, “That’s a significant lurch to the right for the Victorian division.”
What he didn’t point out is that it amounts to replacing a woman with a man.
This means that when Troeth finishes her term there will probably only be one Liberal woman, Senator Helen Kroger, federally representing the whole of metropolitan Melbourne unless you count the small urban section of McEwen. The fact that the decision was made two days before International Women’s Day adds an extra little twist.
The shortage of Liberal women in parliament is one of the great unnoted stories following the last election. In 1996 the Liberals made much fuss of how they had elected more women than the ALP (even proportionally) and had done it without affirmative action rules. Since then, the trend has been all the other way.
Currently 10 of the 37 Coalition Senators are women, so with no other changes Troeth’s retirement will take it below 25%. The House is similar at 13 from 54. However, the remarkable thing is the geographical distribution. The majority of Coalition seats are in the capital cities, but only four of these are represented by women, along with the borderline case of Pearce (Judy Moylan). In rural and regional areas women make up about a third of Coalition MPs and almost half the Liberals.
There’s probably a thesis in why women can get preselected for the Liberals in safe rural seats, but not in the cities. However, for the last quarter century the senior positions in the Liberals have been overwhelming held by those representing urban seats.
This probably explains why no one wanted to roll Julie Bishop as Deputy Leader after her disastrous stint as shadow treasurer. Aside from Bishop the only women in the shadow cabinet are Helen Coonan and Sharman Stone.
Granted there are only four women in cabinet, but with 27 women in the House, 14 in the Senate the Labor team comes across as a whole lot more inclusive. If Bishop left the deputy position the male domination on the opposition benches would become too obvious. It’s hard to tell whether this would be a significant electoral drag, but in their current state the Opposition don’t need another thing to worry about.
Parties don’t reserve specific seats by gender, so sometimes it will happen that a woman is replaced by a man. What is much more of a worry for the Liberals is that it doesn’t look like women are in the running for Kooyong, Bradfield or Higgins (should Costello not contest) or, well, anywhere really.