Julia Banks and Julie Bishop have both left politics (Image: AAP)

Most Australians want to see more women in politics. But not just any women. Research by not-for-profit organisation Women for Election Australia found they want honest, intelligent, empathetic and transparent politicians.

But after the release of sex discrimination commissioner Kake Jenkins’ damning report into parliamentary workplace culture, support for former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian’s running for federal politics even before the outcome of an investigation into potential corruption is known, and years of lies and rorts, it seems Australians aren’t getting what they want.

But it’s not all bad news: the WEA says there is an influx of women looking to join politics to change the culture from the inside.

What did the study find? 

The data, which has been seen by Crikey but not yet publicly released, found 63% of Australians wanted to see more women in politics and 69% believed greater diversity in politics would lead to better outcomes for all Australians. Two in three believe politicians don’t accurately represent Australia’s diverse population.

Surveying 1017 people with a 50-50 gender split, WEA found that along with honesty, empathy, transparency and intelligence, Australians ranked experience, organisational skills and decisiveness as qualities for an ideal political representative. Ranked lowest was self-interest, being a smooth talker and ambition. 

In stark contrast, those surveyed believe politicians in power had the opposite traits of what they wanted — they are perceived as being ambitious, confident, self-interested smooth talkers.

How does Australia track for representation?

Australia ranks 57th out of 200 countries when it comes to the percentage of women in federal Parliament, with women making up only 38% of members. The Senate has 53% women compared with the House of Representatives’ 31%. In the lower house, Labor has 43% women compared with the Liberals 21%; the Nationals have just two female MPs. Women make up just 23% of Liberal MPs across state and federal parliaments. 

Australia also ranks 50 in the  World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Index, sliding six places from 2020. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, released today, also found that although women’s participation in the workforce has increased from 53% in 2001 to 60%, women work fewer hours for less pay and complete 48.7 hours of unpaid work a week compared with 27.8 hours for men. 

What does this say about Australian politics? 

The Jenkins report, Set the Standard, found gender disparity and power dynamics were a driver for abuse in Parliament House; one in three people experienced sexual harassment at work. 

WEA’s CEO Licia Heath tells Crikey the results of her organisation’s study were powerful. 

“Given the survey was national, with some states such as Victoria nearing gender parity in politics, and half the respondents were men, 63% of people wanting more women in politics is heartening,” she said.  

The survey was completed before the Jenkins’ report was tabled, but the results link up with some of the report’s recommendations, such as more diversity in Parliament and gender quotas. 

“If everyone sitting in a parliamentary chamber is between the age of 55 and 63 and white and had a similar life, those homogenous skills and lived experience just end up being homogenous policy outcomes,” Heath said. 

Despite several high-profile women leaving politics in recent years — such as former Liberal MPs Julia Banks and Julia Bishop — and some MPs leaving their party to run as independents — such as former NSW Liberal Natalie Baini — Heath says there were many more women looking to join politics. 

“Our organisation has had to spend much less time in the last 18 months inspiring them to run and more on training them, while we have more women coming to take courses with [Women for Election Australia] than we’re able to service,” she said. 

“The work we do is nonpartisan … and a lot of the training is about mobilising women, teaching them to hear one another’s point of view, prosecute a case and maybe reach a compromise, and create a powerful network.”