28 July 2015
Transcript - #2015036, 2015

In the role of: Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer [23 December 2014 - 20 September 2015]

Interview with Rafael Epstein, Drive, 774 ABC Melbourne

SUBJECTS: Women in Parliament; entitlements

EPSTEIN:

I mentioned the call nationally sparked in part by the ALP's adoption of 50 per cent of their preselected candidates within ten years. It's got the Liberal Party federally talking considerably. Kelly O'Dwyer is a Federal Liberal MP here in Melbourne – the seat of Higgins. She's also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. She's not up for quotas. Sharman Stone though has got the ball rolling significantly. Kelly O'Dwyer throwing her voice into the mix as well. I asked her when I spoke to her earlier what her solution is to the problem. 

O'DWYER:

I think Christopher Pyne has kicked off a really important debate and that is that the Liberal Party does need to do more to encourage women to pursue Parliamentary careers, particularly in the Federal Parliament. We need to be able to demonstrate that women can combine family and a representative career and that they can do it successfully and at the highest levels.

I don't think quotas are the solution to this problem. They are very prescriptive by their nature but I to think that minimum targets will be critical to us publically measuring our progress on this important issue and holding ourselves accountable.

EPSTEIN:

What sort of target?

O'DWYER:

I'm not going to give you a figure today Raf, I think that's something that we need to debate. But I think we need to agree on the principle that targets are important. They're important in helping us to shine a light on this issue and they're important to help us measure our progress. I think they are a sensible, measured way forward for us to be able to encourage more women into the Parliament, and also to be able to make sure that those who do enter the Parliament are given every opportunity as well in order to be the very best that they can be.

EPSTEIN:

And what's the point of a target if it isn't mandatory like a quota? How does it help?

O'DWYER:

Well because it measures. And I think if you actually measure something, you're more likely able to progress. I think if you don't measure, if you have no target, you're unlikely to achieve better outcomes and I think it has been demonstrated when you look at the business community, when you look at the targets that have been put in place there, they have been able to achieve better outcomes. And so I think that applies in the political sphere as well.

EPSTEIN:

It's a bit odd, the Victorian Liberal Party – I'm not sure about the other states to be honest – but the Victorian Liberal Party has on its executive 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men and I think that's practice going back decades.

O'DWYER:

That goes back to the very formation of the Party in 1944.

EPSTEIN:

Yes.

O'DWYER:

It was because of the power of the Australian Women's National League. In actually founding the party with Menzies, they had considerable money, considerable membership and considerable clout and because of that 50 per cent of elected positions in the Party's organization are women.

EPSTEIN:

So if the Party itself has a mandatory quota, 50 per cent of the office holders have to be women, why on earth is that not the same for MPs? What's so different between the Party and the Parliamentary representation?

O'DWYER:

We are a grass roots organization. We are very different to the Labor Party, which can parachute people in a factional deal to particular seats. We're a grass roots organisation that relies on our membership to determine who it is should be preselected for a particular seat. And I think we can't say to our membership that they must, in certain circumstances, preselect only a woman for that particular seat. They need to be able to preselect whoever they think is the right person for that seat.

EPSTEIN:

But you can say that when it comes to the board that runs the Party.

O'DWYER:

Hang on a second, what we can say to Party members is – we think you need to think really carefully about what you think merit is and what you believe is important for an individual – what capacities you think they need to have – to best represent that particular seat.

When it comes to the Party, there are some positions that are elected that are not restricted to a particular gender and we do have votes on those and sometimes it's men and sometimes its women. I think our Party organisation has historically been very strong in being able to support the advancement of women. We had the firsts in terms of the first woman elected to the Parliament, Dame Enid Lyons, the very first women to hold an economic portfolio with Dame Margaret Guilfoyle so we've got a really good record to talk about but there's probably more work to do now.

EPSTEIN:

1300 222 774 is the phone number. Kelly O'Dwyer is with me. She is an MP here for the Liberal Party in Melbourne – the seat of Higgins – she's also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. 1300 222 774. What should or shouldn't the Liberal Party do? Kelly O'Dwyer, I know Michael Kroger, the new President here in Victoria, is given the State Election loss, reviewing issues. I don't know for sure how they impact federally, but do you think here in Victoria there is a willingness to take on that idea?

O'DWYER:

I certainly think that there was an excellent report produced by our Party Vice President, Caroline Elliott, that looked at how we can get more women into the Parliament and how we can support women in the Parliament. And there are a whole host of elements that are important including role models and making sure that we provide the right training and advice to people – early on – when they might be considering a Parliamentary career. That report was recently released to our State Council and I think there is a lot of food for thought in that and I'm very confident that the Party organisation will take some action in relation to it.

EPSTEIN:

Do you think that women in the Liberal Party are afraid to speak up about this?

O'DWYER:

I don't see it as just a women's only issue. In fact I think it's really important that men talk about this issue as well and Christopher Pyne actually sparked this debate in his comments last night on the 7.30 Report. We certainly know that people like Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and others have had a lot to say about the importance of getting women into the Parliament and supporting women in the Parliament. We've seen men have a huge influence on changing corporate Australia through Liz Broderick's 'Male Champions for Change' so I don't see it as a women's only issue but I do think that as a women in the Parliament, as one of the younger women in the Parliament and a women who has just recently had a baby and who is combining family with a parliamentary career, I do think I have a responsibility to talk about these issues and to say…

EPSTEIN:

So there is no fear there in the Party?

O'DWYER:

I have no fear in talking about this issue and I believe it's incumbent upon people like myself to say to other women that yes, you can combine your vocation in representing your community in the nation's parliament with having a family. You can do both and when it comes to talking about this issue, I think nobody should have any fear in shining a light on it.

EPSTEIN:

Can I ask you a question on a completely different matter about the Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop? I can't see the legitimate reason, and I'm not sure one's been provided for her not returning money, her travel to Sophie Mirabella's wedding – every other Liberal politician that went to that wedding returned the cash. She didn't. This is costing your Party a lot in terms of public perception isn't it?

O'DWYER:

I think every Member of Parliament knows the entitlement rules and every Member of Parliament is responsible for their own entitlements and for keeping within their entitlements. I'm not going to make a commentary on Bronwyn Bishop's entitlements because I don't know the circumstances surrounding her claims. But I would say this – that every MP needs to act within entitlements and I think that unfortunately when that doesn't occur the judgement of the public, quite rightly, is harsh.

EPSTEIN:

Do you think she should stay on as Speaker?

O'DWYER:

I'm not going to get into a commentary on the commentary. I think that's for others to judge. I think that she has performed very strongly in the role as speaker. In terms of entitlement issues I know that there is currently a review being done into that by the finance department and I think that's appropriate for that to be concluded.

EPSTEIN:

Kelly O'Dwyer is the MP for the seat of Higgins. She's the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer as well. Kelly, thanks for your time.

O'DWYER:

No worries. Thanks Raf.