August 2018 marked the 75th anniversary of the first Australian woman to be elected to the House of Representatives – Dame Enid Lyons, who stood for the United Australia Party, the forerunner of the Liberal Party of Australia. In the last three decades, female MPs have become a familiar sight in both houses of the Australian parliament. But that is just part of the tale – female MPs remain a minority – even more so on the non-Labor side. On Tuesday 31 July 2018, Sophie York, lecturer in Public International Law & Legal Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and Jurisprudence at the University of Sydney, joined academic Peter van Onselen, a commentator and contributing editor at The Australian and Katherine O’Regan, executive director of the Cities Leadership Institute to discuss and debate the issue of women and the Liberal Party of Australia.
THE LIBERAL PARTY’S WOMEN MPS – WHERE ARE THEY?
May I begin by acknowledging the elder stateswoman of the NSW Bar in the audience: Janet Coombs who is a friend and mentor. The lone woman at the Bar in 1959!
This question for this night’s topic is answered from my own perspective: that of a conservative woman who lives and breathes politics – and has done so for life. I want to firstly thank my mother for fanning the flames of my political embers all those years ago. Many hours we spent, thrashing out the latest political outrage. And my Dad – a good Navy man – he always makes me feel I can do anything in life! In addition to other ventures, he inspired me to join the Navy, 28 years ago.
Tonight, I ask that you take me on my individual worth. I am a human being first – character and capability is surely what matters. Please assess me not as a “woman” as such – but simply as a person who is willing to put her hand up to be a voice for others, in the public square. And, for the record, I have dear friends in the Liberal Party, whom I respect.
I want to state, from the outset, that I do not support quotas. Or “targets”, which are simply unenforceable quotas. Quotas in politics make women more vulnerable to blame when there is electoral loss (on the basis that they may not have in fact been “the best candidate”). Quotas mean that, immediately, when people walk into a meeting, they do not see the woman in that room as an equal. It creates resentment. If men and women are competing for positions, and a woman gets it due to a quota and a man misses out, it yields the ingredients for bitterness – the opposite of the synergy you need in a political team.
I want to state, from the outset, that I do not support quotas. Or “targets”, which are simply unenforceable quotas.
The answer to tonight’s question is very much linked to what happens internally in the Liberal Party. To have women MPs, you need a feeder pipeline. You need women in significant numbers: a)joining, b)putting their hands up for office, and c) winning pre-selection.
Why would a conservative woman join the Liberal Party? The Party under Robert Menzies was once the natural home for conservatives. But no longer.
Peter Kellner analysed the British Conservative Party, which he described as having always been driven by two distinct impulses – the capitalist instinct of trade, commerce and enterprise and the patriotic instinct of nationalism, tradition and the flag. When the two impulses worked together, the Conservative Party was always invincible. When these two were at war with each other, the Conservatives have ended up out of office. My own view is that this analysis is correct for Australia also.
The Liberal Party is now beholden to the wishes of big business, rather than small business. “The Forgotten People” Menzies spoke of were not the global entities which manipulate governments, and disrespect national sovereignty. They were, instead, the humble salary-earners, the shopkeepers, the artisans, the farmers – the “middle class”.
The Liberal Party is now beholden to the wishes of big business, rather than small business.
The Liberal Party, in its current form, does not emphatically champion conservative causes – such as private property rights, preservation of human life at all ages, religious freedom from employment-ethos policies to tax policies recognising the work of true charities (ie the ones that work for the neediest in our society – not the ideological, fake charities), preservation of traditions in our society, nativity scenes, school pageants, Bibles in hospitals. Education which fosters appreciation of our history, rather than warping the minds of the young – making them reject the past and embrace revisionist versions of it; Education which does not confuse children about their gender or saturate them in fringe adult sex concepts! Education which respects, rather than “shuts out” parents;
Today’s Liberals don’t champion freedom of opinion in civil society. Whatever happened to the repeal of s18C? Why are we not getting rid of commissions or tribunals which themselves oppress people? They don’t adequately vet the numbers and the backgrounds of immigrants in our national interest – instead they co-author some “UN Migration Pact” which could override our sovereignty.
They say they’ll ensure that energy is reliable and affordable – only to remain captive to dubious Greens’ theories; they’re not stopping government waste and subsidies; they’re not safeguarding the intellectual heritage, nor the architectural beauty, that has been handed down by Western civilisation-founded-on-the-Enlightenment.
The Liberal (and National) Coalition, via state and federal governments, currently preside over horrendous levels of red tape, gradual encroachment on what people may do on their own property, they’re leading the way on euthanasia, they’ve created “exclusion zones” around abortion clinics, they’ve allowed severe encroachment on our sovereignty, in multiple ways, by the Chinese Communist government, they’ve politicised our fighting force – not caring whether it becomes emasculated, weak and even ridiculous – nail-polish on pinkies? They’ve legislated for same-sex “marriage”, and in the process stealthily changed the definition of all Australian marriages – by removing all reference to man and woman (a significant alteration, which was not asked about in the postal survey) and they conducted a religious freedom review… the most crucial issue of all – which reported to the PM in May, the contents of which are still unknown.
The Liberal (and National) Coalition, via state and federal governments, currently preside over horrendous levels of red tape, gradual encroachment on what people may do on their own property
How tragic that we have come to this point.
I lay the blame for the current situation squarely at the feet of politicians who position themselves as conservative and invite voters to see them that way – but then in actuality steadily erode all the conservative features of society. Among them are even those who actively propagate the new fascism of identity politics: where you are no longer an individual, the cultural Marxists decide which collective you belong to.
Women putting their hands up for office
Despite everything, some conservative women are still willing to go into politics. The question is – do they have the aptitude and capabilities. Well – let’s distil what the job entails. What does being a politician require?
Despite everything, some conservative women are still willing to go into politics. The question is – do they have the aptitude and capabilities.
Well, you have to:
- be a good communicator
- have the ability to manage competing demands, and
- simultaneously deal with complaints – from multiple sources, all at once.
- Be persuasive and negotiate, even with unreasonable people,
- compromise on content sometimes, where necessary – but
- NEVER give up your principles, NO MATTER WHAT
- work long hours – and soldier on, even if sleep-deprived.
- Look good and smile, even with everyone spewing on you.
That’s more a list from a “Raising Children” Manual. But you get my point. It’s the same skillset.
The Liberal Party is not doing all that it can to secure good women candidates. Not by a long shot. Other outfits seeking talent, have designated talent scouts. In the world of sport, such as rugby and cricket, talent scouts scour the schools, and the local clubs, to seek out talent – and when they find it, they foster it and promote it. Corporations headhunt.
But in the one area where it affects the lives of all Australians – the making of their laws – this does not happen.
The preselection process in the NSW Division of the Liberal Party is basically that of a cartel. Only office-holders in the branches can be delegates in a preselection. Only delegates get a vote. There’s a lot of rancour about this, because delegates are often controlled by factional leaders, who are professional private lobbyists.
The preselection process in the NSW Division of the Liberal Party is basically that of a cartel.
For eight years, I tried – along with many others – to reform the Division, supporting John Ruddick, Walter Villatora and later Jim Molan, now Senator, in this effort. We got reform to the stage where there was a big convention at Rosehill racecourse, where the members voted 2 to 1 [748-476] for reform, so that every member would have a vote in the preselection of the candidates for their electorate. One member, one vote (plebiscites). This was designed to loosen the grip of the lobbyists.
- Lobbyists control the delegates.
- Lobbyists decide who wins the preselection.
- Lobbyists control the purse-strings.
Thus, they control most MPs – both state and federal.
Lobbyists see the Party as the political wing of their private business. So – it is pretty bad.
Conservative Women, as you can imagine, don’t want a bar of any of this! So the women who get ahead tend to be the type willing to do the bidding of a factional boss.
Conservative Women, as you can imagine, don’t want a bar of any of this! So the women who get ahead tend to be the type willing to do the bidding of a factional boss.
This is not good for the party, it is not good for the public. And yet one MP who tried very hard to eradicate the corruption – Tony Abbott – got rolled in a coup. Organised by, you guessed it – a faction.
One of the women who backed reform, gave a stirring, fearless speech at that Rosehill event. We will never forget Anna McPhee – sadly she passed away, a month later. Her key points included that male faction leaders were about power and control, wanting only puppets rather than who would best represent their electorate; and that women get turned off by the “petty internal games”. She said, “When the Liberal Party gets serious, women will get interested.”
For all its faults, the Liberal Party can be credited with a number of female “firsts”. The first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first female member of Cabinet: Dame Enid Lyons, widow of Joseph Lyons, former PM. She and Joe had twelve children together. She served in Parliament from 1943 to 1951. The Menzies Research Centre is hosting a dinner next month in her memory.
The Liberals had:
- The first woman with a portfolio in Cabinet (Margaret Guilfoyle),
- They yielded the only female president of the Senate (Margaret Reid),
- The only female Foreign Minister (Julie Bishop),
- the only female Defence Minister (Marise Payne)…
… and so on.
So how many Liberal women are there, right now, in our parliaments? At the federal level, in the House of Representatives there are 12 women out of 73 Liberal Party MPs. In the Senate, there are eight women out of 26 Liberal Party senators.In the NSW parliament, the Legislative Assembly has eight women out of 37 members; in the Legislative Council there are three women out of 16 members.
So how many Liberal women are there, right now, in our parliaments? At the federal level, in the House of Representatives there are 12 women out of 73 Liberal Party MPs.
As I said at the outset, I am not a supporter of quotas. But a level playing-field would be nice. Every female candidate in the last federal election, except one, found herself fighting a marginal or unwinnable seat. In short, even if the women win preselection, the seats are unwinnable. Women ought not be disadvantaged – but clearly they are. And you cannot build a parliamentary career on such seats.
“Stacking the deck” costs votes. Until 2001, the Liberal Party was the party most women voted for. Not anymore.
So what to do?
Our country faces problems that the Liberals, Nationals, Labor and the Greens have shown themselves unable or unwilling to address. The failure to strongly stand up for freedom of speech is of huge concern, to me and many others. When people speak out about important issues which need to be spoken about – they are punished.
When people speak out about important issues which need to be spoken about – they are punished.
When Margaret Court, our greatest tennis champion, spoke about traditional marriage she was vilified publicly. When Israel Folau, our phenomenally talented rugby player, spoke about his Christian faith he was attacked on social media. When Bernard Gaynor, the Australian Army Officer who served in the Middle East, spoke up about the military marching in uniform at the gay Mardi Gras, he lost his commission.
The late Bill Leak, our nation’s brilliant cartoonist, was hounded by authorities simply because he drew an insightful cartoon about fatherlessness amongst the Indigenous. Bill died of a sudden heart attack, at the height of being pursued by the Human Rights Commission. A group of Queensland University students were ejected from a computer lab because of their skin colour. They then spent the next few years defending themselves against an alleged s18C breach.
Channel 9 presenter Sonia Kruger spoke about Muslim immigration and whether it is in Australia’s best interests. This is a pretty important issue to women, who fare rather badly under strict versions of Islam. Kruger is now facing court.
This is a pretty important issue to women, who fare rather badly under strict versions of Islam. Kruger is now facing court.
The flow-on effect of these incidents, onto the rest of society, is insidious. Because there are many others who care too, but cannot risk a legal wrangle – so they simply say nothing. Our wonderful nation only works well if there are good, strong, trustworthy people in it, who have the courage to speak up.
Gerard and Anne Henderson host thinkers from different walks of life and, to their great credit, facilitate debate – without any trigger warnings, safe-places, name-calling, demonstrations, or tribunal hearings coming out of it – to the great enrichment of our society and nation. The Sydney Institute is proof that it is possible. Long may this last, in our free Australia. Leaders like Senator Cory Bernardi are publicly and constantly defending the foundations of our society: marriage, family, the flag, freedom of speech, faith and enterprise.
That is why the Australian Conservatives Party was formed. Because the Liberal party had departed from its foundations – and that was no longer tenable. After 30 years in the Liberals, Cory Bernardi took the principled and brave step of forming a new party. Government is there by consent of the people. It is not there to usurp freedom, it is about protecting freedom.
Philosophers such as John Locke understood that politicians are at the service of the people. When the politicians up-end this order, they put themselves “at war” with the people. His famous “no taxation without representation” meant: if you take from the sweat of my brow, you’d better give me a say in how you spend my money. How many Conservatives are happy with the billions of dollars being spent on subsidies to the unreliable renewable energy sector, when we are a country rich with reliable energy sources?
So, the question “Where are the Liberal Party’s women MPs?” is best answered by asking, “Where are the Liberal women?” In short, due to factional corruption and the rejection of conservative principles, women are joining alternative parties like the Australian Conservatives. Just as I did.
the question “Where are the Liberal Party’s women MPs?” is best answered by asking, “Where are the Liberal women?”
And in this new party, you find yourself often saying to others: “What? You too? I thought I was the only one who thought that way.” And, as CS Lewis pointed out, it is that moment when friendship is born. You feel you are amongst friends. Given we all have a limited time on this earth, to spend time with friends is a wonderful experience.
 “From Eccentric to Defining Force in British Politics” Nick Miller SMH 18-19 Oct 2014 p41
 Liberal Party men should ‘make own cuppa’ The Australian newspaper JULY 22, 2017