Election 2016: Women and men split on idea of gender quotas in Parliament

ABC News
June 23, 2016
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About half of Australian women support the idea of using quotas to increase the number of women in Parliament, but a majority of men are opposed to the idea, Vote Compass data shows.

Debate flared last year over the best way to bring more women into politics, on both sides of the House of Representatives.

Bill Shorten said Labor should aim to have a 50-50 male-female split in Parliament by 2025.

Senior Liberal minister Christopher Pyne said his party needed to find ways to help young women into Parliament. His colleague MP Sharman Stone backed the idea of a quota.

New data from Vote Compass shows that among women, while there’s no majority viewpoint, more support quotas than oppose them.

“My problem with targets is, what’s the penalty if they’re not achieved?” said Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne.

“It sounds to me rather arbitrary — ‘this is something we’d like to happen, but if it doesn’t we’ll just try again’. I’d rather see quotas in place that mandate that necessary change.”

But the data shows a clear majority of men are not keen on the idea.

Louisa Wilson, a 25-year-old law student who has ambitions to enter politics, said if Parliament became a more inclusive place for women, “one where they didn’t face sexism”, there would be more women seeking to run.

“They wouldn’t have to worry about being subject to derogatory comments,” she said.

Seeing Julia Gillard’s experience as the country’s first prime minister did not make her pine for the role herself, Ms Wilson said.

“It made me think I wouldn’t want to be a female Australian prime minister if I had those things being said about me,” she said.

The quotas debate is also pretty clearly split along political lines, according to the data.

A majority of Labor voters back quotas, whereas a majority of Liberal and National Party voters don’t.

Shireen Morris, 35, who is completing a PhD in constitutional law at Monash University and is in the Pathways to Politics For Women program at the University of Melbourne, is more inclined towards targets than quotas.

“I do worry about whether strict quotas will mean that you don’t get the best representative in there all the time,” she said.

Targets would enable a culture, she said, that “encourages the equal representation of men and women without mandating it”.

The population as a whole is pretty divided on the issue.