Recently, the context of a moment of reflection struck me. It occurred in a quintessential Australian setting. I was walking along the beach, a girl skipped past me in the opposite direction and she was wearing a T-shirt which had emblazed on it ‘Equality always wins’. In the business and political world, sometimes you have to take action against appalling behaviour. Appalling behaviour is an umbrella descriptor for bullying, intimidation, harassment—sexual or otherwise—or a lack of integrity. In my political journey, a culture of appalling behaviour has been widespread, pervasive and undermining, like white ants. Sometimes the most effective and palatable action is to walk away. That’s not the same as saying you are walking past the behaviour. Walking away is very powerful and there are many men, but particularly many women, in the workplace who’ve done this. Similarly, there are thousands who’d love to but can’t afford to for a raft of reasons, including fear of reprisals or possible financial and career detriment. These are usually the same reasons that prevent women from calling out or from filing official reports of the behaviour.
To all those women, this speech is for you.
My experience has taught me that the importance of having a job outside the political world cannot be underestimated. My husband and I, the dual working couple in the private sector with two young children and ageing parents, manage the juggles and joys of life in this our beautiful country as millions of Australian men and women do every day.
There was a problem though in the business world—that was the lack of women in leadership positions. The business world addressed this issue years ago—I know; I was there.
The political world is five to 10 years behind business in so many ways. The business world embraced this need for change in a multitude of ways but there’s still a way to go. This included using targets. Targets work in business because they are tied to KPIs and incentives. Targets are a measure that work in business. The reaction to my statement two weeks ago today stunned me for so many reasons. From across the political divide, there was both the groundswell of heart-warming support received from both in and outside this place to the reprisals and retribution—the old nothing to see here, no formal complaints, no evidence, name and shame et cetera cetera—and to the Labor Party bizarrely trying to argue their behaviour within their ranks is squeaky clean, as campaigned and role modelled by union thugs.
Australians have bought none of it. In fact, this reaction has just made the support from Australian men and women even more emboldened. I’m reading all their emails, thank you. The support has come from Australians from all walks of life, men and women who want real change and who are fed up with the major parties treating such issues as either something they want to be swept under the carpet, to be managed as a media or crisis management optics issue, or for political point scoring as the Labor Party have attempted to do.
How do we fix this? There is no panacea to fix this but a good start is to increase the representation of women in our parliament. This creates a level playing field. Only gender quotas will work in politics, not targets, because you cannot tie political office to salary or incentives as you can in business.
It seems that quotas are only resisted when they are related to gender. Quotas are not demeaning to women and nor will women will regarded as a ‘quota girl’.
The concept that this will begin that path to destruction of micro quotas depending on people’s sexuality or ethnicity is ludicrous. We are talking about quotas for women, who represent more than half our population. The meritocracy argument is completely and utterly flawed. There are an equal number of meritorious women out there in the real world as there are men, but they won’t come if the barriers to entry and mountains to climb are too high.
Liberalism embraces freedoms, individual enterprise, reward for effort, strong economic management and equal opportunity for all. Liberalism is underpinned by pragmatism and should move with change. Quotas would be a reset mechanism. They would create a level playing field. We already have a quota system with our coalition partners and we use the principle of quotas to ensure geographical state based distribution on the frontbench.
An equal number of men and women should run for preselection. It’s really simple. If you only have a man running and you can’t find a woman, find one; they are out there. They represent half the population and so should a modern Liberal Party. Before that little girl on the beach is an adult, this parliament must be represented by a 50/50 split of men and women in both major parties, a parliament which truly represents the principle that equality always wins.