28 July 2015
Transcript - #2015038, 2015

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

Interview with Patricia Karvelas and Andrew Leigh, RN Drive, ABC Radio National

SUBJECTS: Women in Parliament; entitlements; same-sex marriage

KARVELAS:

Still on the issue of representation of women in politics, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Women, Michaelia Cash, says that setting quotas doesn’t work and could be detrimental but the push for action in the Coalition is growing now with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Kelly O’Dwyer, backing targets for women’s participation in the Liberal Party and Victorian federal backbencher, Sharman Stone, wants targets and quotas. Kelly O’Dwyer joins us on the phone from Melbourne as part of our regular political panel. Hi Kelly.

O’DWYER:

Hello Patricia how are you?

KARVELAS:

I’m well. How’s the baby?

O’DWYER:

Very good. Ten weeks and she’s a great joy.

KARVELAS:

And I’m also joined by Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh, in our Parliament House studio. Welcome to you Andrew Leigh.

LEIGH:

G’day Patricia, g’day Kelly.

O’DWYER:

Hi Andrew.

KARVELAS:

I love it when we do our little reunions on the fan. Ok let’s get into it. First to you Kelly O’Dwyer. Sharman Stone has made some very strong suggestions about women in politics. Let’s have a look at some of her comments and suggestions. She wants quotas. Do you support that?

O’DWYER:

I don’t support quotas and I’ll explain why in just a moment but I would agree with Sharman and I do respect Sharman, that the Liberal Party does need to do more to encourage women to pursue parliamentary careers and I think that’s particularly true in the Federal Parliament. I think we do need to be able to demonstrate that women can combine family and a representative career and that they can do it at the highest levels and they can do it successfully. I don’t agree with quotas simply because I don’t think quotas work understanding the Liberal Party’s structure. Quotas are very prescriptive and quotas can’t be used in the Liberal Party where we have a grass roots organisation where we have plebiscites and all of those members get to cast one vote. It’s not like the Labor Party where they can parachute somebody in because of factional deals – and nor should it be. It’s not a system that I endorse. I do think though that we can have targets where we say that we want to achieve a certain women in the Parliament. Those targets should be minimum targets. I think they are critical to us publically measuring our progress and our success and holding ourselves accountable.

KARVELAS:

You’ve supported targets instead. How do targets work if they’re non-binding? I don’t get that.

O’DWYER:

By the very natures I’ve mentioned about our organisation being very grass roots, it is an aspiration. But is an aspiration that can be measured. I think if you measure it, you are more likely to achieve outcomes. We’ve seen that in the corporate world where we have seen targets for the number of women on boards and in executive positions. We’ve seen ‘Male Champions of Change’ program there that’s also been able to influence an increase in the number of women who’ve been appointed to those positions. And similarly I think that can work in the political world as well where all parties – not just the Liberal Party – can do better in getting more representation from 50 per cent of Australia’s population.

KARVELAS:

Andrew Leigh, women in the ALP have worked tirelessly to increase the quota to 50 per cent – and that’s still a decade off – why the wait? There’re remaining issues in Labor to aren’t they? I mean I know you’re going to – I’m going to just pre-empt you there – you could go on about how the Liberal Party are worse, but actually you’re not quite there either.

LEIGH:

Well Patricia let’s have a look at the history of how quotas have worked within the Labor Party. It was 21 years ago at a national Labor Party first said that it would set a quota of 35 per cent women in Parliament. Over that time we’ve now got – if you look across all Parliaments in Australia, upper and lower Houses – 42 per cent of Labor representatives are women. For the Liberal Party, that number is 22 per cent. So there are about half the share of women in the Liberal Party as in the Labor Party. We do that in concert with rank and file preselections because if you don’t meet the quota it’s the nuclear option. All of those grass roots preselections become void and you have to conduct them again. We’re now pushing up towards 50 per cent, as you said, because 42 per cent frankly still isn’t good enough. I remember, you go back to the early 1990s and people were sceptics and opponents of this change were saying well, it’s just not going to work, the women that you get in through this quota system just won’t be able to make it in the Party. They’ve been proven completely wrong. Labor women have done as well, if not better, than Labor men. There’s no sense in which people now look across the Party Room and see anyone as being anything other than a terrific contributor. We’re also pushing towards increasing the number of women who are Party officials so that’s covered by this new change at the latest party conference. That’s the one area in which the Labor Party hasn’t seen women making the same inroads as in representative politics. We’re also looking at increasing the number of indigenous MPs. There’s only seven indigenous of the 800-odd Parliamentarians across Australia. Labor’s set a five per cent target for indigenous Australians as our candidates.

KARVELAS:

On RN Drive we’re conducting a bit of a political debate between Dr Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer, and Kelly O’Dwyer, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. Kelly O’Dwyer, Sharman Stone also says that there should be 50 per cent women’s representation at the preselection level – or the preselection doesn’t end up happening. Do you agree on that issue?

O’DWYER:

I certainly think we need more women putting their hands up for Parliament and I think we need to look at the different mechanism that we can employ…

KARVELAS:

Isn’t part of the problem that if you just got the preselection processes dominated by men, they look at other men and they kind of see themselves and they think that’d be a good idea. Isn’t that part of the cultural problem?

O’DWYER:

I think there are certainly strong cultural reasons why women don’t always put up their hand for a parliamentary career and it’s quite a complex issue. This is one of the reasons why the Liberal Party here in Victoria put together a report conducted by our Vice-President, Caroline Elliott, in how we can actually get more women in to the Parliament and set women up for success and encourage women at the very early stages to consider a parliamentary career. I think we need to not to just talk but we need to walk the walk and I heard what Andrew had to say just before and I think that certainly the Labor Party has been very strong on the rhetoric when it comes to women and they have achieved some good results. But it hasn’t always worked. I know that before the 2013 election in Victoria, there were four, what were considered to be very safe seats – Gellibrand, Batman, Scullin and Hotham – and every single one of them had a bloke preselected and it was only because there was a bit of a scandal in the seat of Hotham that a women actually got preselected for that seat. So it doesn’t always work in practice as much as Andrew might have you believe.

KARVELAS:

You’ve just had a baby, you’re now doing this work-family balance or whatever it’s called. Tell me. Do you think it works? Is the system flexible enough to allow you to do both jobs?

O’DWYER:

I’m ten weeks in and I do believe, very strongly, that you can combine your family responsibilities with a parliamentary career, representing your community – because it’s a real vocation to do the job we do and it’s a real privilege to do the job that Andrew and I do. I think we have to make it work. There’s nothing that’s ever perfect. Certainly I know that logistically I have to be a lot more prepared when I walk out the door in the morning and when I come home at night. There are different things that you need to make allowances for but it can be managed, it can be done. There have been other women who have done it and I’d like to think that I’ll be able to demonstrate to those women who will be following that you can do it successfully.

KARVELAS:

Andrew Leigh, Sharman Stone also talked about why women aren’t attracted to Parliament and in doing so attacked Question Time. She said, and I quote, “four hours a day is spend on rubbish. Just screaming matches between the boys”. Is that how you see it? And do you think that there’s an alternative? Should Question Time be scrapped for instance?

LEIGH:

Question Time I think plays a valuable roll, Patricia, but certainly there’s much about the culture that I think could be made a little more softly spoken. I remember someone who’d spend most of his career in blue-collar unions, said he’d never been in such a testosterone-filled environment as the floor of Parliament House during Question Time.

KARVELAS:

And that’s saying something isn’t it!

LEIGH:

Indeed. And the culture in Politics of talking over the top of people, of the snappy put-down rather than instructive argument, all of that I think is problematic. I think one of the oddities about Australia is that relatively few people live in the national capital, so if you look at Tokyo or London or Washington DC, when people get to a fairly senior level, typically they move their families to the national capital and then go back and campaign in their district. Anyone who’s watched House of Cards will see this pattern. It’s what Paul Keating did when he became Treasurer. It is very rare in Australia. That I think is something that contributes to making things a little more family unfriendly. I’m very conscious how fortunate I am when Parliament is sitting to at least be able to see my kids in the morning, albeit that ironically now we are having this conversation where I would otherwise be sitting down at the dinner table with my three little boys.

KARVELAS:

Kelly O’Dwyer, do you want to move to Canberra? Is that a solution?

O’DWYER:

I don’t think it’s a solution but certainly I’ve changed my living arrangements in Canberra so that I will be able to accommodate my baby come up with me during Parliamentary sitting weeks – at least for initially – and my husband’s changed his employment arrangements so that for the first couple of months he can likewise join me in caring for our child. I do think there are adjustment that you do need to make and that they very as your children get older and certainly there are sacrifices that you have to make but people make a lot of sacrifices whether they’re running a small business, people make sacrifices when they’re involved in volunteering for community organisations and they balance all that against their family arrangements as well. We do have challenges but there are all sorts of people in the community that have to do this juggle.

KARVELAS:

I just want to change the conversation. We’ve got to go there – to Parliamentary travel. The Federal Opposition – your side Andrew Leigh – says Speaker Bronwyn Bishop must produce proof she didn’t misuse her entitlements when she travelled to Aubry for Sophie Mirabella’s wedding in 2006. That’s fair enough isn’t’ it Kelly O’Dwyer, that she actually provides some evidence?

O’DWYER:

Every MP is responsible for their own travel entitlements and for fitting within the travel entitlements. They are responsible to the Department of Finance in justifying the taxpayer dollars that they have spent. Quite rightly, I think the Australian public judge very harshly those MPs who act outside of their entitlements because no one should be misusing or wasting taxpayer’s money.

KARVELAS:

So therefore she has to provide the document doesn’t she?

O’DWYER:

It’s a matter for the Department of Finance to be satisfied as to whether or not that entitlement has been used properly.

KARVELAS:

It doesn’t look satisfactory does it? We would have been given a reason by now.

O’DWYER:

I’m not aware of the circumstances surrounding her travel, nor her claim. I’m not sure that anybody is. It’s a matter for the Department of Finance though to look into any matters that concern them regarding travel entitlements and to make all of the inquiries that they need to, to make sure that taxpayer money has not been misused.

KARVELAS:

Do you still support her as speaker?

O’DWYER:

I think Bronwyn has been a very strong Speaker and I think that she has done a good job as Speaker in the Parliament.

KARVELAS:

But this is getting a bit embarrassing isn’t it? This is going on and on and I can’t hear anyone defend her really, there is broad consensus on this from commentator from the left to the right. Everybody is condemning her now given this is such a huge issue. More and more evidence every day coming out.

O’DWYER:

The point I would make is that there are currently, the Department of Finance is currently looking into the arrangements and entitlements that have been claimed. I think that they should be given the opportunity to properly complete their report. I think, until then, commentary on commentary is really not going to be all that helpful.

KARVELAS:

I’ve got to ask you Andrew Leigh, because I’ve got a text message that I think pretty much nails it and I actually have to admit I agree with the listener who’s texted this in. Now ask Andrew Leigh how he manages work/family balance in Parliament. Women always get asked how they manage work/family responsibilities but people never ask men that exact questions. It’s true isn’t it?

LEIGH:

It really is and it is a constant juggle Patricia to try and be as god a parliamentarian, as good as dad as you can.

KARVELAS:

Do you pull your weight around the home? Do you share the labour?

LEIGH:

Absolutely I do not pull my weight around the home. My wonderful wife Gwyneth does far more than her fair share. But one useful tip that I got from a colleague was when you have to say no to an evening event in order to spend time with your fairly, don’t apologise for that. Because you are as much doing your job going home and giving the kids a bath and reading them a bedtime story as you are speaking at a local event. People [inaudible] say sorry for working that balance.

KARVELAS:

Kelly O’Dwyer, one last question before I let you go because I’ve got carried away I always enjoy talking to you both. Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed in June that marriage equality is a matter for the Parliament but Channel 7 last night reported he’s canvassing a referendum. Have you been asked your opinion and do you support a referendum on marriage equality?

O’DWYER:

I’ve heard the reports. I haven’t been asked my opinion about that so I’m not sure if those reports are actually accurate or not. I would say that Tony Abbott as Prime Minister made it very clear going into the 2013 election that the matter of same sex marriage was one that would be debated, considered, in the Party Room and I fully expect that that will occur. I think referendums are usually held on issues to do with changing our Constitution and I’m not quite sure how this would fall within that category.

KARVELAS:

And do you think that it should be discussed straight away when Parliament returns?

O’DWYER:

Any individual can raise any matter in the Coalition Party Room and I fully expect that this matter will be raised in the Coalition Party Room, just as the Prime Minister said before the 2013 election. I think it’s entirely appropriate. I think that there’s been a lot of community debate and discussion about this issue. I find the Labor position very confusing where they’re talking on the one hand about the need for a binding vote and on the other hand, telling the Coalition that we shouldn’t have a binding vote. I’ve made my position very clear on this issues. I believe that there should be a free vote on this issues. I believe that this is something that the Liberal Party, at its very essence, feels very strongly about allowing members the opportunity to vote according their values and beliefs on matters of conscience. I believe this is such a matter and I’m very confident that we will have a very interesting and robust discussion in the Party Room.

KARVELAS:

Andrew Leigh, can I give you a right of reply before I wrap up? What do you say to that, that muddy message we’re going to have a conscience vote, what are you a couple of terms and then a fixed vote? Seems a bit confused.

LEIGH:

Patricia we just want to see this done. Britain, the United States, Ireland, New Zealand have all legislated same sex marriage or have had it done by the courts since the Australian Parliament last debated it. In half those countries, it happened over conservative leadership. If it were able to do this with a conscience vote then that’s what Labor will support and that’s why we’ve got the remainder of this term and the next where Labor will allow the conscience vote. If Bill Shorten’s elected at the next election then he will bring that Bill to the floor of Parliament within 100 days. As Tony Abbott has in the past said that he will do. But if that doesn’t work then in the Parliament after next, Labor would remove the conscience vote and to the binding system. It’s just practically about how we ensure that anyone can get married according to who they love, whether or not they are same sex attracted.

KARVELAS:

Well that’s all we have time for. Thanks to both of you. To Kelly O’Dwyer, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, thanks Kelly.

O’DWYER:

Thanks Patricia.

KARVELAS:

And in our Parliament House studio, Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh. Sorry for you missing dinner with your kids but you said never apologise about anything, so we’re not going to apologise. Thank you to both of you.