PM Scott Morrison and his fellow MP's put there hands up in Question Time in the House of Representatives chamber, Parliament House in Canberra. Picture Kym Smith
PM Scott Morrison and his fellow MP's put there hands up in Question Time in the House of Representatives chamber, Parliament House in Canberra. Picture Kym Smith

Scott Morrison’s ‘fair go’ lie

USAIN Bolt won the 100 metres time and time again, because he was objectively the fastest sprinter in the world and could prove it, every single time.

When he won, he won on merit. He was the fastest. He deserved it.

We're led to believe that politicians who represent their party during an election contest are chosen for the ticket because they're the ones who deserve it the most. We're told that they got there on merit.

The truth is though, being chosen by your party is nothing like winning a running race. There's no objective measure that proves one person has "more merit" than the next. In reality, there will be a field of candidates, all of whom could be quite deserving, a field that usually contains both men and women. Yet in the case of the Liberal party, when it comes to preselection, especially in safe seats, the choice is so frequently a man. Why?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison loves to talk about the importance of everyone getting a fair go. A good place to start might be the women in his own party getting a decent look-in. When it comes to being the party's pick for safe seats, Liberal women face the same battles that women fight in jobs everywhere else: trying to overcome rusted-on structures and attitudes that favour men over women. There's no fair-go in that.

In preselection battles, there's a vote, sure. But candidates tend to be chosen in the vote because of the faction they belong to, their support among senior politicians and deal-makers, their family connections, their friends, the favours they are owed and sometimes an element of luck. If there's a choice between a man and woman, more often than not, powerbrokers side with the man. It's as simple as that.

They might fool themselves that this is a merit based system, but they're not fooling anyone else.

Julia Banks, a Liberal MP who recently announced she's quitting politics, referring to "culture of appalling behaviour", gave a speech last week where she said "the meritocracy argument is completely and utterly flawed."

"(Women) represent half the population," she said.

"And so should a modern Liberal party."

Of course it should. But there is nothing modern about the Liberal party. Just look at the numbers in Parliament.

Women make up just 22 of the Liberal Party's 107 members of federal Parliament. They're outnumbered almost 5 to 1.

By contrast, nearly half of all federal Labor politicians are women. This didn't happen by accident. It was because the party recognised it had the same problem, but chose to change it through a quota system, ensuring that women would be chosen to represent the party in a decent proportion of winnable seats. In doing so, the sky hasn't fallen in, nor the party fallen apart. In fact, the ALP has attracted and retained women and the polls have the party in a commanding position ahead of the forthcoming federal election.

A recent look at the gender gap in politics out of the University of Melbourne examines the issue closely and reported that "voluntary quotas are some of the most effective mechanisms to increase female representation in parliaments."

But if you think quotas are just a wild and wacky left-wing idea from down under in Australia, think again.

Gender quotas in politics are in place in more than 100 countries around the world.

Some countries, like Ireland, have even enshrined it in law. Over there, women must make up thirty per cent of a party's field of candidates, otherwise that party misses out on half its funding for the next term of parliament. Naturally, it has seen more women elected to parliament, and by extension, it has seen the Irish parliament become more reflective of the community.

One of the arguments against quotas, is that if they're introduced, inferior female candidates would appear on ballots, simply to make up the numbers, and when elected, they won't be up to the job.

But the international evidence just doesn't support this. In France, a parity law to increase female representation was introduced nearly twenty years ago. A 2010 study found that the fear that parity would give the country a stack of average politicians turned out to be wrong. The research claimed that "once women are elected, the volume of activity shows no evidence of being gendered, suggesting that women are as effective in the job as men."

Another study looked at Uganda, to see whether the experience with quotas there meant the country ended up with inexperienced and unqualified women. But it didn't. What was found was that "on the vast majority of measures, quota women do not differ significantly from other MPs. Indeed, on some indicators they appear to be better prepared for office than non-quota legislators."

So will the Liberal party learn from this?

Not any time soon.

On quotas, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told ABC's 730 recently that "it's never something I have supported."

His view, and it is shared by many, is that he "believe(s) in any political organisation, it should be a matter of one's own effort and exertion and credibility and merit."

In theory it sounds great, but in reality it just doesn't happen. Does he really believe that men in his party are five times more credible, have five times more merit, work five times harder and exert themselves five times more than women? It's impossible to believe, yet using his logic and looking at the numbers on the floor of Parliament, that seems to be his argument.

The truth is actually a little closer to how Julia Banks puts it.

"There are an equal number or meritorious Liberal women out there in the real world as there are men," she says.

"But they won't come if the barriers to entry and mountains to climb are too high."

And that's really the difficulty that women in the Liberal party face. It's not that there aren't women of equal or superior merit. Of course there are. It's just that they have to battle in a system that's been stacked against them since, well, forever.

Scott Morrison loves to talk about people getting a fair-go, yet women in his own party, of all places, don't seem to get one.

How the Liberal party deals with this issue, of course, is a matter for its leaders and its members. It's their party, their rules, they decide.

But if it continues to remain so utterly unrepresentative of the population and if its men keep refusing to share opportunities equally with its women, it won't only be in danger of losing elections. In time, it will be in danger of losing relevance altogether.

- Chris Urquhart is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @chrisurquhart