Anti-suffrage posters courtesy of The Suffrage Postcard Project, accessed February 17, 2016, These anti-suffrage posters are used to illustrate the arguments and stereotypes once used in an attempt to deny the vote. Similar nonsense (like arguments about merit) face the campaign to achieve equal representation.  

Why 50:50?

The simple answer is - because democracy requires that women who make up just over half the population should have at least half the seats in Parliament.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that women outnumber men in the Australian population.

At June 2014, there were 105,700 more females than males residing in Australia, with 11.7 million males and 11.8 million females. The sex ratio (the number of males per hundred females) was 99.1. The sex ratio of the states and territories ranged from a low of 97.9 in Victoria to a high of 112.2 in the Northern Territory. Only in the Northern Territory and Western Australia (102.4) did males outnumber females.

However, men consistently and persistently greatly outnumber women in positions of power.

The chronic under-representation of women in all spheres of public life

Sydney Morning Herald graphic (20 April 2016) - gender representation at management levels


At the federal level in Australia in 2016, the proportion of women in the House of Representatives was 26.7 per cent. In the Senate it was 38.2 per cent. This places Australia in 54th position globally according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The growth in the proportion of women in the Australian parliament (from 1986 to 2010) is summarised by the Australian Bureau of Statistics with an interactive chart.

  • We can no longer pretend that it is okay for women to not be properly represented.
  • We cannot rely on men to represent women.
  • Patching the existing system with quotas means that gender is represented in a clumsy patchwork determined by the parties - not the people.

The single member electorate system combined with party pre-selection processes act as barriers to women's participation in politics. This system also allows the backroom decision-making of the parties - not the people - to decide who gets into parliament. See for example criticism of the process in NSW for the Liberal Party.

Unlike in other states where there is an open vote among all party members, NSW pre-selections are decided by small groups of delegates that opens the door to factional stacks.

For electors who reside in safe seats, the lament is that the member can take them for granted and for those in marginal seats, the voice of their member will not be heard if not part of the government. Growing dissatisfaction with politics once dominated by two-party contests which may mean that old certainties are fading and electorates are increasingly hungry for more options. A positive option that is legally possible and gives immediate effect to achieving truly representative gender balance in the parliament is to have two person (male and female) representatives for each electorate. To keep the parliament in its current size simply halve the number of electorates.

Australia's relative performance against 145 countries measured by the World Economic Forum 2015

Taken from the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2015 showing that Australia (like other nations) performs worst in the area of women in politics

Taken from the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2015 showing that Australia (like other nations) performs worst in the area of women in politics

Australia is in 50th position globally on gender equity in the lower house of parliament according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. 

In the 45th parliament (2016-19?) 28.7 % of members of the House of Representatives are women.

In the 44th Australian parliament (2013-16) the IPU noted the percentage of women in the House of Representatives was 26.7% and for the Senate 38.2%. It took 41 years for a woman to enter the federal parliament. It was not until 1996 that the proportion of women got to at least 10%. Since then, the extra women entering the house roughly matched the increased number of seats in the House due to general population increases. The representation of females over 116 years is 6.19%. 

The two charts below show the gender composition of the federal parliament for the 44 parliaments by election year. Women first entered the federal parliament in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the 1943 election.

As the Australian Electoral Commission notes:

The time lag between the right to stand and parliamentary representation by women, forty-one years later, was the longest in any western country.
Since the 1970s women have been increasing their representation in our parliaments. This representation is still small and disproportionate to the number of women in the national electorate. During the 1990s various proposals to impose more equitable 'quotas', both within political party structures and parliaments, have been actively promoted in Australia.

Issues to note in presenting these data include: 

  • a number of small adjustments to the number of seats in the House of Representatives Chamber arise because of the rules concerning a nexus with the size of the Senate and apportioning seats across the states according to census data
  • where the person holding a Senate or House of Representatives seat changes due to death or retirement of an incumbent within the term of a parliament - different procedures apply for each chamber so that there is a by-election for a vacated seat in the House and a process of appointment of Senate replacements 
  • in the few instances where a female replaces a sitting female senator or member they are included in the count of female parliamentarians (double counting for the one seat) 
  • because of delays in senators taking their seats following an ordinary election female senators are counted from the date formally elected using Women parliamentarians in Australia and online data for parliaments 40-44