Bill Shorten’s leadership on women in Parliament; Women’s representation; Bronwyn Bishop.

EMMA ALBERICI, HOST: Ladies, welcome. And congratulations Kelly for baby Olivier; Kate for baby Samuel.



ALBERICI: How do you feel about the fact that you are both here talking about the fact that you are both mothers and politicians, when men are never asked how they juggle being fathers and pursuing a career? Kelly O’Dwyer.

O’DWYER: Well it’s a lot more unusual I think to have women in the federal Parliament who are having children, and who have children while serving as a representative in our nation’s Parliament. Frankly, I look forward to the day when it is not discussed because it is so typical. But probably – like Kate – I feel a responsibility to talk about what it is like to be a woman in politics because I hope to encourage other women to know that they can juggle family responsibilities and a representative career.


ELLIS: I think that we need to be seeing more women of all different ages, all different experiences, of all different backgrounds within our parliament. Whether they’re mothers of newborn babies, whether they’re mothers of grown children, or whether they’re future mothers. I think that it is time that we talked about – what are the strategies that are going to see that become a reality. I was really proud over the weekend that we outlined that we have strategies in the Labor party to increase our representation to 50 per cent women. We’ve heard some murmurs about some Liberals believing that it’s time that they too got out of the dark ages, and I certainly hope that’s the case. So that this isn’t such a novelty.

ALBERICI: At the moment – particularly, Kelly O’Dwyer, on your side of the fence – the numbers are fairly woeful at just 22 per cent across the lower house and the Senate. Compared to the Labor Party’s 45 per cent. Do we need targets or quotas?

O’DWYER: Well I think Christopher Pyne was right in calling this out the other night and I think he’s right in saying that actually we do need to take action. I believe that one of the best things that we can do at this point is to have targets, considered targets, those targets can be measured, and we will be able to then hold ourselves accountable for our progress in this regard. I think that, when you measure something, you achieve better outcomes. And I’d like to think that we can achieve better outcomes.

ALBERICI: Just staying with you for a moment Kelly O’Dwyer. Is it something about the culture of the Liberal Party that has meant that women have not been pre-selected as often as men up to now?

O’DWYER: I think in all political parties there have been real challenges in pre-selecting women for the Parliament. And I think the Labor party has had to grapple with this, and is still grappling with this issue, just as the Liberal Party is as well. And there are a whole variety of reasons why women choose not to go into the Federal Parliament and why sometimes women are not successful in gaining pre-selection. I don’t think there is one silver bullet that is going to solve this issue. I think we need to put in place a number of strategies to encourage women to have the confidence to put up their hand for Parliament. To make sure they are supported and set up for success. I think that people like Malcolm Turnbull have talked about being a male champion for change in terms of the political culture more broadly in the nation’s Parliament. Just as we have seen male champions for change in a corporate sense. And we have seen the numbers of women who are appointed to those boards increase. So I think we need to look at all of those aspects to think how we can better get numbers of women into Parliament.

ALBERICI: Kate Ellis, Labor, as you mentioned, Labor has vowed to boost the number of female MPs in the party to 50 per cent by 2025. Why hasn’t that happened organically, why the need for these targets?

ELLIS: I think the simple fact is that this isn’t just going to fix itself. This doesn’t improve unless there are real actions and strategies put in place. The Labor Party have had targets and we’ve had an Affirmative Action policy which has seen our numbers of female representation more than double in the last two decades. That’s something we are incredibly proud of. And that is something that I know only came about because the women of the Labor party, over a number of decades, have fought, and fought hard, to ensure there were rule changes. And we are now, of course, delighted to see real leadership at the top with Bill Shorten coming out and setting the 50 per cent target, and us outlining the strategies we’ll put in place to get there.

Now, we contrast that with Tony Abbott – appointing himself the Minister for Women – and appointing just two women to his Cabinet – and being in the dark ages with not coming up with any real strategies. Or even really recognising that a serious problem exists that they need to address on that side of the Parliament. The reality is that modern parliaments should be representative of the community that they seek to represent. And we will be at 50 per cent. We are above 40 per cent on our side of the Parliament now. But every time the Coalition win more seats, the number of women in the Parliament goes backwards, and that is a very big problem. So I hope that they do outline – not just the fact that there is an issue there – but start talking about what action is actually going to be put in place to address it.

ALBERICI: Kelly O’Dwyer, when the Prime Minister and Christopher Pyne say they don’t want targets and quotas because they want ‘merit based’ appointments, what do you say?

O’DWYER: Well, of course, you make sure that whoever is pre-selected  is pre-selected based on their skills, their attributes, their experience: based on merit. That goes without saying. No-one for one moment is suggesting that you don’t pre-select people who are not up to the job. But the point that is being made here, is that with targets, with focusing people’s mind on the fact that there are a lot of women of great merit, who could make a wonderful contribution in the Parliament – and it’s important that we really give people an opportunity to really reflect on that. And targets, I think, as I said before, does focus the mind of pre-selectors –

ALBERICI: Sorry to interrupt you – but you are going to have to – you are already at odds with Christopher Pyne here. You’re going to have to convince your male colleagues, on the Liberal side, that having quotas or targets, and having merit, are not mutually exclusive concepts.

O’DWYER: Well I think that quotas are different to targets. And quotas I think unfortunately – quotas don’t work in the Liberal Party. We are a grass roots organisation. We are not like the Labor Party where you can stitch up factional deals between different factional warlords to determine who should be shoe-horned into a particular seat. And nor do I want to see the Liberal Party go down that path. I mean, we have grass roots members who determine who should represent them in the nation’s Parliament. Or who should be put before the electorate to represent them in the nation’s Parliament, more accurately. Now targets, really, do focus the mind of a lot of people. I know there are many of my colleagues who support the idea of targets.

I think, you know, the Liberal party has a strong record when it comes to the advancement of women, despite what is said. You know, we had the first woman who was elected to the Parliament. We had the first woman hold an economic portfolio. We have a very long list of firsts. But we do have a lot more work to go. And that’s where we are actually making the statement – that we recognise that there is more work that needs to be done. The Labor party though, don’t have all the solutions, and they don’t have all the answers on this. In fact, they have to match talking the talk with walking the walk. We know that before the 2013 election in my home state of Victoria, we saw four safe seats come up for the Labor Party, and those four seats all pre-selected men. Despite the fact they had this quota system. And it was only because of there was a scandal in one of those seats that we saw a woman be pre-selected. You know, for all the talk, we have to make sure that we walk the walk. And I think this is an important discussion.

ALBERICI: And before we go, I have to ask you both about Bronwyn Bishop’s claim for the airfares to attend Sophie Mirabella’s wedding. She says that she needed to hold a secret meeting to night before the wedding because she was committee chair. In fact, she was the chair of a committee that you were on at the time Kate Ellis –  

ELLIS: This was an inquiry into balancing work and family. We were looking at child care solutions – Bronwyn Bishop, in particular, was very keen on nannies. This was not the subject of confidential, secret meetings. I just can’t see any reason why there would need to be a secret meeting which the committee that I was a member of, was never informed of. That just doesn’t wash with me.

ALBERICI: What do you think Kelly O’Dwyer?

O’DWYER: Well I haven’t heard what has been said. But I would say this: every member of Parliament is responsible for managing their own entitlements –

ALBERICI: They answer to the public though, don’t they?

O’DWYER: Of course. It has to be within the rules and the public is rightly very, very upset if they feel that a Member of Parliament has acted outside of their entitlement. And quite rightly –

ALBERICI: How do you feel about it Kelly O’Dwyer? Do you think it appears, at the very least, that she might have acted outside her entitlements by attending the wedding, claiming the airfares, and then telling us afterwards that it was because she needed to attend a secret meeting the night before?

O’DWYER: Well I’m not aware of the circumstances of her travel. And I’m not going to make commentary on commentary. What I would say is that the Department of Finance does look into travel entitlements. Is the appropriate authority to actually look into whether or not money – taxpayer money – has been used properly. And I’m very confident that they would be doing their job in this regard.

ALBERICI: Only one in five Australians now think she should stay in the job as Speaker, do you think that matters? What the public thinks?

O’DWYER: We always listen to what the public has to say, and public perception, and public views. They’re always very, very important. I do think that Bronwyn Bishop is doing a good job as Speaker of the House and I do think that it’s quite right that the Ministry of Finance reviews these matters, and have said that they will. And be given the time to do that, and to be able to report so that we all know the facts.

ALBERICI: And a final work from you on this Kate Ellis. Do you think her position is tenable? After the latest series of revelations? Particularly after Tony Abbott had said she was on probation?

ELLIS: I don’t think her position is tenable, and I don’t think Tony Abbott’s inaction on this is tenable any longer at all. We need to see leadership from the Prime Minister – he needs to stick up for what are appropriate standards. And following on from the helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong to attend a Liberal fundraiser, him himself stating that she was on probation, I think Australia is waiting to hear from Tony Abbott on this issue.

ALBERICI: Kate Ellis, Kelly O’Dwyer, we’re out of time. Thank you very much.