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Deeper problems that quotas etc do not address
It is more difficult to secure a seat in the House of Representatives in Australia because of the high barrier created by the single-member district system and the requirement for candidates to be elected by an absolute majority of votes. It has been pointed out by Rule (1987) that this aspect of the Australian electoral system for the House of Representatives makes it particularly hard to promote the recruitment of women to parliament – compared to electoral systems in other countries.
While we do not wish to limit attempts to improve female representation, it has to be said that, at best affirmative action should be seen as a stop-gap measure in the inexorable progress that must and no doubt, will be made towards equal female representation in Parliament. Certainly the history of anti sex discrimination measures tells us that gains are often hard-won, maybe slight, and may not survive.
Affirmative action, quotas and "aspirational targets" are some options with party endorsement. That does not mean that these are the best options.
These measures are not be the most democratic options. There are a number of limitations with the use of quotas:
- there is not a true representation of gender for each electorate
- there is not balanced representation across electorates
- they transfer power to the parties – by way of unspecified measures of "merit" or distribution of opportunity within party structures
- they do not change the gender bias embedded in society
- they may suggest that women are present to represent a narrow range of issues
If there is value representing a constituency then that constituency should be equally represented.
Under the Australian system of electoral representation, the question whether an electorate is to be represented by a man or a woman should not effectively be left to one or other political party.
Electors may be suspicious of the pre-selection processes within the major political parties. It is a matter for parliament, as a whole, and not each party, to redress the under representation of women.