Can gender quotas counter sexism in Australian politics?

Australian women protesting

In recent months, Australians have grown accustomed to stories of sexual impropriety by their politicians dominating the news headlines. Instances of groping, rape, and even a man masturbating on a female colleague's desk at Parliament House have become so ubiquitous that Prime Minister Scott Morrison called this week for a "shake-up" to address systemic sexism in Australian politics.

But what are the proposals currently dominating the political conversation, and where might they lead?


Backstory. For years, Australian women working in politics have described Canberra as an "Old Boys' Club" that prevents women from progressing up the leadership ladder. Over the past few years, several high-profile female politicians across the political aisle resigned from their posts, citing pervasive gender-based bullying in Canberra.

Now, that conversation is in overdrive. Last month, a former female staffer, Brittany Higgins, alleged that she had been raped by a colleague in the office of their former boss Linda Reynolds, a senior government minister. (It's been reported that Reynolds referred to the alleged-victim as a "lying cow" when she came forward.) Moreover, details of a historic rape allegation against now-former Attorney General Christian Porter were also recently revealed.

Baby steps. Morrison has been widely criticized for his tone-deaf and callous response: He initially refused to back a formal investigation into the allegations, arguing that if we are to do so, "we are eroding the very principles of the rule of law."

The PM has changed his tune in recent days as the political crisis facing his conservative Liberal Party deepens. Morrison reshuffled his cabinet this week, demoting both Reynolds and Porter. But the PM provoked more protest when he referred to Marise Payne, the foreign minister and minister for women, as "effectively the prime minister for women," further stoking the flames of female grievance: "Aren't you the women's prime minister? Aren't you not fit to do the job of prime minister?" one journalist asked.

Growing call for quotas. The political maelstrom has given rise to mounting calls for the Liberal Party to adopt a quota system to boost female representation in parliament. Morrison, for his part, has remained tentative.

In fact, the issue of gender quotas in politics resonates far beyond Australia. So, what are the best arguments for quotas?

Quotas work. Proponents argue that women make up more than half of the Australian population, and that changing the Liberal Party's rules is needed to ensure gender-equality legislation is passed. In Finland, for example, national legislation includes a quota provision that requires 40 percent male and female representation in national and municipal decision-making bodies. As a result, Finland leads the world in family-friendly workplace policies (consider that 90 percent of Finnish companies offer flexible-working options).

A solution for cultural change. The Australian Labor Party, the main opposition, introduced various quotas for women starting in the mid-1990s. As a result, its federal caucus is represented by almost 50 percent women, compared to just 23 percent for the ruling Liberal Party. It's no wonder, proponents of quotas argue, that most (if not all) of the lewd behavior in Canberra has been linked to the Liberal government. Uprooting structural and attitudinal biases that subjugate women in politics can only happen, they say, if more women are in positions of power.

But many people aren't sold on quotas.

Tokenism isn't empowering. Some women's rights activists say that a quota system is infantilizing, and has the unintended effect of demeaning rather than empowering women. (Opponents argue, however, that a "whatever-it-takes approach" is crucial to sowing the seeds for long-term change.)

What about the meritocracy? Quota critics also say that people should be elected to serve in parliament based on expertise and merit, not because of their gender. Equality of opportunity means that everyone should be on a level playing field.

Grassroots party structure should prioritize the best candidates. Critics argue that as part of Australia's preselection process — where candidates are chosen by party members to run for specific electoral seats — the best candidate for each district should be chosen without a gender condition attached. (However, advocates for electoral quotas argue that's precisely the way to address the problem, pointing to the progress made by the UK's Conservative Party, which has almost quadrupled its female representation since 2005, when it revised its preselection process and started taking proactive steps to boost female involvement.)

Contemplating her time in Canberra over two decades, Australia's former foreign minister Julie Bishop concluded: "It is evident that there is an acceptance of a level of behavior in Canberra that would not be tolerated in any other workplace in Australia."

But are quotas the way to solve the problem? Are there better ideas?

Meet Zoe Marshall, grandmother, fishmonger, and thriving business owner.

https://ad.doubleclick.net/ddm/trackimp/N6024.4218512GZEROMEDIA/B26379324.311531246;dc_trk_aid=504469522;dc_trk_cid=156468981;ord=[timestamp];dc_lat=;dc_rdid=;tag_for_child_directed_treatment=;tfua=;gdpr=${GDPR};gdpr_consent=${GDPR_CONSENT_755};ltd=

When Zoe Marshall decided to switch careers in her forties and become a fishmonger, she was scared. After leaving her job of 23 years, Zoe was forced to pivot in order to keep her family's home. Despite challenges, she forged ahead, opening Sea-Licious. Accepting Visa payments in her fishmonger shop, this access to commerce helps Zoe provide convenience to her customers and confidence in their transactions. Though she's one of the only women in the fish market each morning, her business and its place in the local community are flourishing with Visa's help.

Learn more about Zoe and her story.

Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

More Show less

Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

More Show less

For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

More Show less

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

A Trump media platform? Is this for real?

This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.

The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.

More Show less

Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal