Over the weekend, Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann barely blinked when he dismissed a question about the number of women in politics as a “side issue”.
Senator Cormann joins the ‘illustrious’ club of generations of male politicians who just do not feel the need to act on female representation.
I’m sure that those worthy representatives in the early 20thcentury had so many pressing issues to consider in drafting the constitution for our new nation, that the role for half the population in the business of government and the chance to have a vote, were just ‘side issues’. Fortunately for us – and when I say us, I mean society as a whole – women of the time did not accept these rights were a ‘side issue’, and they refused to be sidelined.
It took a while and it demanded strong brave women and men to agitate. Those women did not have with them the advantage of statistics and clear evidence highlighting the economic advantages of women sharing in the business and political processes.
They did not have the indisputable evidence circulating freely this week around the celebrations of International Womens’ Day which exposes the sheer social and economic waste of excluding or sidelining women’s experience and work in our economy, here and across the world.
They did not have the benefit of dynamic and effective social media networks linking women and their experiences around the globe.
They just knew they were RIGHT, and that sitting back and waiting for something to change was not the way to go; nor was there any value in politely listening to the unctuous lectures about merit or patience or the need to work slowly or any other excuses for the allocation of women ‘to the side’.
It’s inevitable that there will be strongly held views around quotas of female political representation. But hello – it is 2014, this is a discussion that should’ve been had and had resolved.
The ALP introduced quotas in our preselection process over 10 years ago – our goal is to have a minimum of 40 per cent of Labor caucus as women. Introducing the quota wasn’t an easy battle – just as Liberal MP Sharman Stone or Liberal Senator Sue Boyce who are campaigning for the Liberal Party to have a similar system put in place.
Quotas are not perfect, but it has ensured that the important equity issues are part of the process, and not pushed to the side, and if there needs to be a battle, it will be within the rules.
Australia is ranked 48 on the Women in Parliament’s world classification. We are behind countries such as Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Cuba, South Sudan, Ecuador, Uganda, Mexico, Belarus – to name just a few. This is a national shame. On no other indicator on international progress are we so clearly without merit.