In regards to “Where are the women in the Liberal Party?” published in Crikey last week.
South Australian Liberal women have a proud history. South Australia was the first place in the world women could stand for Parliament and the first women elected in South Australia as State and Federal parliamentary representatives were Liberals. South Australia has elected such strong Liberal women as Amanda Vanstone, Jeannie Ferris, Joyce Steele, Joan Hall and Jennifer Cashmore over the years. But what of South Australian Liberal women today?
At the Federal level, only one Senator and none of the five South Australian Lower House Liberals are women. This compares with the ALP where four of the five Senators and two of the six Lower House MPs are women. South Australia’s sole Federal female representative is Senator Mary Jo Fisher who won her spot in an all woman contest to replace the retiring Amanda Vanstone. Senator Fisher’s future in the Parliament must be considered to be under serious threat as she faces preselectors along with Senators the Hon Nick Minchin and Alan Ferguson within the next 12 months.
Both former Member for Wakefield David Fawcett and State Party President Sean Edwards are strongly rumoured to be challenging for winnable spots on the ticket and in South Australia only the first two Senate positions are safe for the Liberals.
In the South Australian Parliament, three of the Liberals’ 14 Lower House members and two of their eight Legislative Councillors are women. This compares with 13 female Labor MPs out of 28 in the Lower House and two of eight in the Legislative Council. The results of Liberal preselections show that this situation is not going to improve any time soon.
In the Legislative Council, one of the Liberal’s two women is retiring and in the preselection for the ticket to take to the next election, men took the first three positions. At the last election, the Liberals only won three Legislative Council seats and current polls suggest the Party would have to be lucky to win any more. This means that Michelle Lensink could be the sole Liberal woman in the Legislative Council after the next election.
In addition, one of the Liberal women in the House of Assembly, Liz Penfold, is retiring from the safest seat in the Parliament. The resulting preselection, as well as those in formerly safe, now retiring-Independent held Mt Gambier (Lib vs ALP 2PP majority 5.7%) and National-held Chaffey (Lib vs ALP 21.9%) and the marginal seat of Stuart (Lib 0.7%) were all male affairs. This means that the number of Liberal women in the House of Assembly will drop to two if no seats are won off Labor in 2010.
The preselections for Light (ALP 2.2%), Mawson first-time around (ALP 2.3%) and Morialta (ALP 8.0%) were also all male affairs. No marginal seat preselections have been all female contests for the Liberals.
In seats that the ALP hold by less than 10%, only two preselections were won by women. In Newland (ALP 6.9%), high profile former Member for Makin Trish Draper will contest the seat and in Bright (ALP 9.5%) former Senate candidate Maria Kourtesis won preselection. In the seats of Frome (Lib 3.5%), second-time Mawson (ALP 2.3%), Norwood (ALP 4.3%), Hartley (ALP 4.7%), and Fisher (ALP 9.5%) male candidates were successful over women. In Norwood, Steven Marshall defeated two women and in Mawson Matthew Donavon overcame three female challengers for preselection.
Now, if you talk to Liberal members they will tell you that in each of these cases the best candidate was successful. It beggars belief that the Liberal Party has only enough women strong enough to win state two preselections — especially when the defeated female candidates include small business owners, advisers, vignerons, lawyers and journalists.
But if you suspend belief long enough to accept that the best candidates won each time, then the question that must be asked is: where are the strong Liberal women? Especially if there are only three Liberal women in the South Australian Parliament after the next election compared to 25 or more men and no South Australian Liberal women federally, compared with 10 men.
Personally, I don’t believe quotas or that all female preselections are the answer, but work must be done. In the UK, under David Cameron’s leadership, Conservatives have made great strides in encouraging more women to stand for, and win preselection. So where is SA Liberal Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith in all of this? His party room is becoming blokier at each election but publicly he doesn’t seem to be fazed.
The Liberal Party needs the votes of women to win the next election, but it doesn’t say much for their confidence when only high-profile women can win preselection for the Party.