Gaming the electoral law? - a Queensland example

Recent changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act have the effect of making it more difficult for micro parties to get elected in the Senate.

In Queensland, as this article by Amy Remeikis shows, manouevering by the Queensland Labor Government used an Opposition sponsored Bill to change the State electoral law to require compulsory preferential voting instead of optional preferential voting.

Optional preferential voting favoured the Labor Party when introduced. It meant that conservative votes in seats with Liberal and National party candidates could end up split. However, this advantage was lost when the conservative parties merged.

The system of optional preferential voting then became a threat to Labor where it is in competition with other non-conservative parties (such as the Greens).

As Remeikis explains, the Labor Party found an opportunity to return to compulsory preferential voting by adding this change to an opposition Bill to increase the number of electorates.    


Male, pale and stale - all 41 Parliaments overwhelmingly dominated by men

A rough working out of members entering the House of Representatives over the last 41 elections gives a count of 4840 times a person gains a seat. Persons serving more than one term are counted separately for each term. Of the 4840, 300 are women. The representation of females over 116 years is 6.19%. It was not until 1996 that the proportion of women got to at least 10%. Even then, the extra women entering the house roughly matched the increased number of seats in the House due to general population increases.

Is there any wonder then that the parliament remains male dominated? 

NSW National Party sets goal to have women make up half of their MPs by 2025

The New South Wales branch of the National Party does not endorse quotas. However, a goal for 50 % representation by 2025 was recently set:

State leader Troy Grant said the 50 per cent target was to ­'ensure the long-term and fiercely independent ­future of the NSW Nationals'.

Mr Grant has not endorsed quotas for women but said he would be part of a “Male Champions for Change” program that would see senior male Nationals drive the push for gender parity.

As well, the party’s women’s council and Young Nationals will implement mentoring training programs for young women, and the party will adopt its own version of the Canadian Liberals’ #InviteHerToRun campaign, where community members were invited to nominate women as potential candidates.

Why we still need a Sex Discrimination Commissioner

The Age newspaper made a headline of the comment 'I didn't imagine we would still need a sex discrimination commissioner in 2016'Ms Jenkins cites the progress made in a landmark case of 1979. It is perhaps important to take stock of the mix of legal cases; statutory protections; statutory offices; independent monitoring agencies; independent voices; funded services; attention to data collection, research and analysis, which together shape progress on gender issues in Australia. The need for a Sex Discrimination Commissioner is very real. 

It is interesting to read in this context, the account by Anne Summers of the systematic campaign within the Liberal government under John Howard to undermine and disempower (if not abolish) the office of Sex Discrimination Commissioner among other attacks on support for women. 

See: The end of equality: Work, babies and women's choices in 21st Century 2003 Australia Random House Australia Sydney at Chapter 6: Cold shoulder from Canberra.

Summers says: '...with John Howard Australia got its most reactionary Prime Minister for at least thirty years...he immediately set out to try and end, and where possible, reverse, more than thirty years of women's economic and social progress' (125). Summers talks of 'a two-pronged attack on women's equality and independence' with cuts to services and reduction in political influence of government offices set up to protect women. Summers details:

  • cuts to childcare funding; 
  • cuts to the Office of the Status of Women (OSW); 
  • effective neutralisation of the OSW by selective appointment; 
  • cuts to the Women's Electoral Lobby; 
  • abolition of the register of women in New South Wales; 
  • abolition of the Women's Bureau in the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs;
  • moves to shut down the Affirmative Action Agency;
  • cuts to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC);
  • cuts to the human rights branch of the Attorney-General's Department;
  • accusing the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner of being 'a Labor stooge', the encumbent resigned and the role was left vacant for fourteen months;
  • an attempt to merge the roles of Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Affirmative Action Agency and OSW into one office - an obstacle to this was the fact that statutory duties of the first two positions could not be performed in a policy unit of government;
  • cuts to HREOC's powers;
  • moving complaints procedures to the Federal Court with greater expenses for claimants, filing fees and less likelihood of accessing dwindling legal aid funding;
  • the removal of complaint handling powers (apparently without the knowledge of the head of the OSW) substantially eroded the function of the Commissioners - and complaints dropped from 2000 to 300 within three years;
  • abolishing the Women's Statistics Unit of the Australian Bureau of Statistics;
  • demoting nearly all women in Cabinet in 1997;
  • taking Ministerial responsibility for the Status of Women out of Cabinet level and thus removing the chance to be aware of or contribute to Cabinet deliberations;
  • proposing to abolish the role of Sex Discrimination Commissioner (and all the other existing commissioner positions).

Summers concludes 'An unprecedented roll-back of women's rights was underway, a reversal of much that had been achieved over the past 30 years.'

The appointment of Ms Jenkins was announced on 11 February 2016 after a five month delay after Elizabeth Broderick completed her term in September 2015. 


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New Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and quotas


In a speech to the National Press Club, Ms Jenkins is reported as saying - The biggest area of "grave concern" was the growing proportion of young people who accepted violence or discrimination against women, and including young men and women who believed men should be the decision makers in society - Financial Review newspaper 20 April 2016.

The full speech is here. Ms Jenkins identified three priority areas of gendered violence; pay equity; and participation in decision making. On participation Ms Jenkins said:

Women are still significantly under-represented in management and at board level - right across the public, private and community sectors and in government.

Gender equality will never be achieved without women having meaningful and truly representative roles in decision-making and leadership.

And the overall result will be that our companies, institutions, communities --- our country -- will not get to reap the now recognised and quantifiable benefits of diversity.

So, all that needs to change. 

The topic of quotas for women to enter parliament was raised - as reported by the Guardian:

Jenkins was receptive to the idea of quotas for women in politics. 'It’s not for lack of good women that we haven’t seen them come through the system,' she said. 'Targets really focus the mind on getting women through and if targets don’t work, then quotas may well do that.'

Shortly afterwards, the minister for women, Michaelia Cash, indicated that she would be open to implementing targets in the Liberal party. She stepped back from comments from her party colleague, Sharman Stone, who wanted hard quotas instead.

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Confusing message about disrespect - in the house but not the home?

$30m National advertising campaign against domestic violence

On 20 April 2016 a new $30 million advertising campaign targeting domestic violence was announced by the Social Services Minister Christian Porter and Minister for Women Michaelia Cash.

In a report of the launch mention is made of the behaviour of politicians as role-models, The Australian says:

Senator Cash said Australians needed to “stop accepting or excusing disrespectful behaviour” and hoped the campaign would help so-called “influencers” — parents, teachers, employers and others — become more aware of their actions.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter, who described the campaign as “very confronting”, said politicians could also take responsibility.
“It’s somewhat unhelpful I think in the interaction between men and women in politics when men overdo it, are too loud, too aggressive,” he said.
“The flip side to that is for young women watching politics … to see people like Michaelia and to see other great female members of parliament from both sides of politics who are firm, who are giving as good as they get.”

This appears to be a fairly lukewarm admission that in parliament the worst behaviour is when men 'overdo it' and are 'loud and aggressive' but, at the same time, it does not really matter because 'strong' female MPs can match what they get.

A Canadian MP, the Honourable Michelle Rempel recently wrote about everyday sexism in the Canadian legislature. Rempel concludes:

If you’ve ever sung along to violent misogynistic lyrics, bought a girl a Barbie when they wanted the Meccano set, attributed a woman’s success to her sexual skills, cat-called a woman, assumed a pregnant woman wants her belly to be touched by you, stayed silent during a disgusting sexist joke, assumed your female partner was going to clean your house and make dinner because of traditional gender segregation of housework, stayed quiet while a friend is abusing a woman, or if you’ve abused a woman yourself, you’re the problem, not her.
Bottom line, I shouldn’t have to mentor the young women on my staff with tips and tricks to combat sexism.
If it’s truly 2016, sexism should be your problem to deal with, not simply ours.

 See here for some of the response to the article by Ms Rempel.

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No women on Tasmanian Liberal Senate ticket for 2016

Tasmania's Acting Premier is urging the Liberal Party's administration to do more to increase female representation at the federal level. 

Acting Premier, Jeremy Rockliff has also not rejected the idea of a quota to address an imbalance. 

The party has been criticised after the Tasmanian branch failed to select any women in the six spots on the Senate ballot paper for this year's election.

Key points:

  • Calls for Liberals to reform Senate selection process
  • Academic Kate Crowley wants quotas set
  • Jeremy Rockliff says it's up to party administration
  • Speaker Elise Archer says it's not just a Liberal issue



Victorian Liberal leader sets gender target

Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy has warned his party it is time to "get serious" about its lack of women, and has set a clear target to boost female representation in the state parliament by 10 percentage points at every election.

In a strongly worded speech to be delivered to his state council on Sunday, Mr Guy will warn that thinking about women's representation "10 minutes before pre-selection nominations close" is not a solution to the party's gender gap, and that much more needs to be done to recruit Liberal women into politics.

With two years until the next election, the Opposition Leader will unveil an ambitious target to lift the Liberals' female representation by a further 10 per cent at every poll, rising from 27 per cent this year to 37 per cent in 2018, and to almost half by 2022.

And in a bid to boost the chances of achieving that goal, he will also outline plans for a new group – Women To Win – which will be responsible for recruiting, training and mentoring women in hope that more will seek preselection.

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