Gender equality should have been a key feature of the federal election campaign and its absence was to the detriment of both major parties, experts say.
The Liberal Party in particular is considering how to appeal to Australian women after shock losses to high-profile, female independents in six traditionally blue-ribbon seats.
“The results showed there were voters who clearly wanted the major parties to talk about gender equality,” Gender Policy Fellow at the Australian National University Sonia Palmieri told AAP.
“It was a missed opportunity at their expense, because voters found an alternative in independents who were talking about it.”
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Six months before the election, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins released her report on parliamentary workplaces.
It found one-in-three people who took part in the review had been sexually harassed working at parliament house.
Sitting MPs underestimated how the report was received by voters who wanted more action to improve gender equality, Dr Palmieri said.
“Parliament is a microcosm of Australian society and the report reflected what people were experiencing in their own workplace,” she said.
“A lot of people – not just the Canberra bubble – were interested in it … leaders didn’t want to acknowledge that.”
But female voters simply did not hear what the Liberal Party was offering for them at the election, deputy leader Sussan Ley says.
“(Women) didn’t believe, perhaps, that we were focusing enough on them and their lives, but … many women actually did support us,” she told ABC Radio National.
She admits the opposition must win back the trust of Australian women if it wants to be voted into government in three years.
More women must be attracted to the Liberal Party through quotas with merit, Ms Ley said.
“Quotas on their own sometimes overlook the issue of merit,” she said.
“I’ve raised this issue (of quotas) before and it’s a conversation we need to have but it’s one part of the conversation, there’s a whole lot more going on.”
Yet neither of the major parties make it easy for women to run for parliament, even with the introduction of quotas, Dr Palmieri said.
“The Liberal Party will find it difficult to implement quotas but that is their choice,” she said.
“Through its own processes, the party itself is choosing not to pre-select women.”
As a result, women who would typically run as Liberal candidates will choose to run as independents instead and be successful, Dr Palmieri said.
The party must be honest with itself about why and how it lost the election, Ms Ley’s Liberal colleague Anne Ruston said.
“Women voters have been the ones that have been disappointed, perhaps, in what they’ve seen happening in Canberra and disappointed in our party,” she told Sky News.
“What we have to do over the next three years is gain back the confidence of those people who previously voted for us who didn’t vote for us in this election.”
But any suggestions former prime minister Scott Morrison did not understand the concerns of women is “rhetoric”, Ms Ley said.
“There’s a lot of people who have all sorts of views about ‘what went wrong’ … ‘what needs to be done’ … ‘the women problem’,” the deputy leader told Sky News.
“All of this is rhetoric and it’s interesting commentary but I have always taken my cues from people that I meet.”