SBS reporters Jason Thomas and Lauren Johnson investigate the number of women stading for election in winnable seats in the 2016 Australian federal election. They show how women are often relegated to contesting unwinnable seats, particularly by the conservative parties:
Australian women are better represented in this year’s lower house election than ever before, the release of candidate details for this election shows. For the first time in Australian political history, the percentage of candidates who are women in the house of representatives, or lower house, is above 30 per cent.
For more than two decades women have made up about 27 per cent of the candidates for the lower house. This election women make up 36.2 per cent of all upper house candidates, which is roughly the same level as in the 2007 and 2010 elections.
The gender mix for candidates this election has moved closer to parity in the Australian Greens, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and in the Liberal Party of Australia. The Greens remain the most gender diverse of those three.
The increased gender diversity of lower house candidates could translate into more elected female politicians, but that depends on whether those candidates have a chance of winning their seats, Professor Carol Johnson from the University of Adelaide said. Her research includes Australian politics and gender in politics.
‘If you are serious about getting more women into parliament, you need to have a reasonable number in seats they have a real chance of winning,’ Professor Johnson said.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) defines a ‘safe’ seat as one where the current member won with 60 per cent or more of the two-party-preferred vote at the last election. SBS News checked the major party's safest seats, and the data is available here.
In the 25 safest Labor-held seats, which Coalition candidates will struggle to win, the Coalition has a slight over-representation of women compared to its gender distribution for all its lower house candidates. Labor has a slight under-representation of female candidates in these safe Labor seats.
For the 25 safest Coalition-held seats however, the Coalition has just two female candidates. SBS News asked the Liberal party if it prefered to have male candidates in its safest seats. Liberal Senator and Minister for Women Michaelia Cash said pre-selection should go to the best person for the job in each electorate.
The argument over what barriers existed for women had been going for 20 to 30 years, Professor Rodney Smith said. ‘The Liberal party will still say there’s no fundamental barriers,’ he said. ‘If there’s anything there’s a bit of unconscious bias, but it’s mostly women who need to get involved [and] it’s their lack of confidence.
‘The Labor line will be there are barriers, and you need to do more than just encourage women - you need to change your party rules to say ‘we’re really going to aim for gender equality’.’
Former Liberal MP, Ms Hull said she was certain gender parity in the national parliament would be a good thing for Australia, as women were just as capable as men. ‘It should come down to merit, and that’s when we will have more women in the parliament,’ she said. ‘When it comes down to merit, we will see the gap narrow.’