29 July 2015
Transcript - #2015037, 2015

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

Interview with Emma Alberici and Kate Ellis, Lateline, ABC

SUBJECTS: Women in Parliament; entitlements

ALBERICI:

A short time ago I spoke to two women who are considered well-qualified to discuss the issue of quotas and Question Time. Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer in Melbourne and Shadow Minister for Education and Early Childhood Kate Ellis joined us from Adelaide.

Ladies, welcome and congratulations, Kelly for baby Olivia, Kate for baby Samuel.

O'DWYER:

Thank you.

ELLIS:

Thanks, Emma.

ALBERICI:

How do you feel about the fact that we're here talking about the fact that you're both mothers and politicians when men are never asked how they juggle being fathers and pursuing a career? Kelly O'Dwyer.

O'DWYER:

Well it's a lot more unusual, I think, to have women in the Federal Parliament who are having children and who have children while serving as a representative in our nation's Parliament. Frankly, I look forward to the day when it's not discussed because it's so typical, but probably like Kate, I feel a responsibility to talk about what it is like to be a woman in politics because I hope to encourage other women to know that they can juggle family responsibilities and a representative career.

ALBERICI:

Kate?

ELLIS:

Well, look, I think that we need to be seeing more women of all different ages, of all different experiences, of all different backgrounds within our Parliament, whether they're mothers of newborn babies, whether they're mothers of grown children or whether they're future mothers. And, I mean, I think that it is time that we talked about what are the strategies that are going to see that become a reality. I was really proud over the weekend that we outlined that we have strategies in the Labor Party to increase our representation to 50 per cent women. We've heard some murmurs about some Liberals believing that it's time that they too got out of the Dark Ages and I certainly hope that that's the case so that this isn't such a novelty.

ALBERICI:

At the moment, particularly, Kelly O'Dwyer, on your side of the fence, the numbers are fairly woeful at just 22 per cent across the Lower House and the Senate compared to the Labor Party's 45 per cent. Do we need targets or quotas?

O'DWYER:

Well, I think Christopher Pyne was right in calling this out the other night and I think he's right in saying that we actually do need to take action. I believe that one of the best things that we can do at this point is to have targets, considered targets. Those targets can be measured and we will be able to then hold ourselves accountable for our progress in this regard. I think that when you measure something, you achieve better outcomes and I'd like to think that we can achieve better outcomes.

ALBERICI:

Just staying with you for a moment, Kelly O'Dwyer, is it something about the culture of the Liberal Party that has meant that women haven't been preselected as often as men have up to now?

O'DWYER:

I think in all political parties you've seen real challenges in preselecting women for the Parliament. I think that the Labor Party has had to grapple with this and is still grappling with this issue, just as the Liberal Party is as well. And there are a whole variety of reasons why women choose not to go into the Federal Parliament and why sometimes women are not successful in gaining preselections. I don't think there's one silver bullet that's going to solve this issue. I think we need to put in place a number of strategies in order to encourage women to have the confidence to put up their hand for Parliament, to make sure that they're supported and set up for success. I think people like Malcolm Turnbull have talked about being a 'male champion for change' in terms of the political culture more broadly in the nation's Parliament. Just as we have seen 'male champions for change' in a corporate sense and we have seen the numbers of women who are appointed to those boards increase. So I think we need to look at all of those aspects to think how we can better get numbers of women into Parliament.

ALBERICI:

Kate Ellis, Labor, as you mentioned, has vowed to boost the number of female MPs in the party to 50 per cent by 2025. Why hasn't that happened organically? Why the need for these targets?

ELLIS:

Well, I mean, I think the simple fact is that this isn't just going to fix itself. This doesn't improve unless there is real action and strategies put in place. I mean, the Labor Party have had targets and we've had an affirmative action policy which has seen our numbers of female representation more than double in the last two decades. That's something that we're incredibly proud of and that is something that I know only came about because the women of the Labor Party over a number of decades have fought and fought hard to ensure that there were rule changes. And we are now of course delighted to see real leadership at the top with Bill Shorten coming out and setting the 50 per cent target and us outlining the strategies we will put in place to get there. Now, we contrast that with Tony Abbott and, you know, appointing himself as the Minister for Women, appointing just two women to his cabinet and being in the Dark Ages around not coming up with any real strategies or even really recognising that a serious problem exists that they need to address on that side of the Parliament. I mean, the reality is is that modern parliaments should be reflective of the community that they seek to represent. And, you know, we will be at 50 per cent. We are at above 40 per cent on our side of the Parliament now. But every time the Coalition win more seats, the number of women in the Parliament goes backwards and that is a very big problem. So, I hope that they do outline not just the fact that there's an issue there, but start talking about what action is actually going to be put in place to address it.

ALBERICI:

Kelly O'Dwyer, when the Prime Minister and Christopher Pyne say they don't want targets and quotas because they want merit-based appointments, what do you say?

O'DWYER:

Well of course you make sure that whoever is preselected is preselected based on their skills, their attributes, their experience - based on merit. That goes without saying. No-one for one moment is suggesting that you don't preselect people who are not up to the job. But the point that's being made here is that with targets, with focusing people's mind on the fact that there are a lot of women of great merit who could make a wonderful contribution in the Parliament and it gives people the opportunity to really reflect on that – and targets, I think, as I said before, does focus the mind of preselectors.

ALBERICI:

…But you are - sorry to interrupt you, but you are going to have to - you're at odds already with Christopher Pyne here. You're going to have to convince your male colleagues on the Liberal side that you - that having quotas or targets and having merit are not mutually-exclusive concepts.

O'DWYER:

Well, well I think - I mean, quotas are different to targets and quotas, I think, unfortunately - quotas don't work in the Liberal Party. We are a grassroots organisation. We're not like the Labor Party where you can stitch up factional deals between different factional warlords to determine who should be shoehorned into a particular seat, and nor do I want to see the Liberal Party go down that path. I mean, we have grassroots members who determine who should represent them in the nation's Parliament or who should be put before the electorate to represent them in the nation's Parliament, more accurately.

Now, targets really do focus the mind of a lot of people. I know that there are many of my colleagues who support the idea of targets. I think the Liberal Party has a strong record when it comes to the advancement of women. Despite what is said we had the first woman who was elected to the Parliament, we had the first woman hold an economic portfolio, we have a very long list of firsts. But we do have more work to do and that's where we're actually making the statement that we recognise there is more work that needs to be done. The Labor Party though, don't have all the solutions, and don't have all the answers on this. In fact, they have to match the talk with walking the walk. And I know that before the 2013 election in my home state of Victoria we saw four safe seats come up for the Labor Party and those four seats all preselected men, despite the fact that they have a quota system and it was only because of a scandal in one of those seats that we saw a woman be preselected. So, for all the talk, we have to make sure that people walk the walk and I think this is an important discussion.

ALBERICI:

And before we go, I have to ask you both about Bronwyn Bishop's claim for the airfares to attend Sophie Mirabella's wedding. She says she had to hold a secret meeting the night before the wedding because she was committee chair. In fact, she was the chair of a committee you were on at the time, Kate Ellis.

ELLIS:

This was an inquiry into balancing work and family and we were looking at childcare solutions. Bronwyn Bishop in particular was very keen on nannies as - I mean, this was not the subject of confidential, secret meetings. I just - I can't see any reason why there would need to be a secret meeting which the committee that I was a member of was never informed of. That just doesn't wash with me.

ALBERICI:

What do you think, Kelly O'Dwyer?

O'DWYER:

Well I haven't heard what's been said, but I would say this, that every member of Parliament is responsible for managing their own entitlements. It has to be within the rules ...

ALBERICI:

But they answer to the public, though, don't they?

O'DWYER:

Of course. It has to be within the rules and the public is rightly very, very upset if they feel that a Member of Parliament has acted outside of their entitlement, and quite rightly, the judgment is very harsh.

ALBERICI:

How do you feel about it, Kelly O'Dwyer? Do you think it appears at the very least that she may have acted outside her entitlements by attending a wedding, claiming the airfares and then telling us afterwards that it was because she needed to attend a secret meeting the night before?

O'DWYER:

Well, I'm not aware of the circumstances of her travel and I'm not going to make commentary on the commentary. What I would say is the Department of Finance does look into travel entitlements and is the appropriate authority to actually look at whether or not money - taxpayer money has been used properly. I'm very confident that they would be doing their job in this regard.

ALBERICI:

Only one in five Australians now think she should stay in the job as Speaker. Do you think that matters, what the public thinks?

O'DWYER:

Well of course we always listen to what the public has to say and, you know, public perception and public views they're always very, very important. I do think that Bronwyn Bishop is doing a good job as the Speaker of the House and I think that it's quite right that the Department of Finance reviews these matters, as they have said that they will, and be given the time to do that and to be able to report so that we all know the facts.

ALBERICI:

And a final word from you, Kate Ellis, on this. Do you think her position is tenable after the latest series of revelations, particularly considering Tony Abbott had said already she was on probation?

ELLIS:

I don't think her position is tenable and I don't think Tony Abbott's inaction on this issue is tenable any longer at all. We need to see leadership from the Prime Minister. He needs to stick up for what are appropriate standards. And following on from the helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong to attend a Liberal fundraiser, him himself stating that she was on probation, I think Australia is waiting to hear from Tony Abbott on this issue.

ALBERICI:

Kate Ellis, Kelly O'Dwyer, we're out of time. Thank you both very much.

ELLIS:

Thank you.

O'DWYER:

Thank you