The Liberal party is looking to secure the preselection of female candidates in two federal seats due to be vacated by retiring ministers.
According to a report from The Australian Financial Review today, the party is pushing for the preselection of former Workplace Gender Equality Agency director Libby Lyons in Christian Porter’s seat of Pearce. City councillor Nicole Robins is also said to be a leading candidate for preselection in the seat.
Meanwhile, in his farewell speech to parliament this week, Health Minister Greg Hunt, who will be leaving politics at the election, said it was time for a “strong and brilliant” woman to be the Liberal candidate in his seat of Flinders.
The news that the Liberal party might be looking to preselect women in these seats comes just one day after former Liberal staffer Rachelle Miller brought forward new claims that Education Minister Alan Tudge had allegedly been abusive towards her during their relationship in 2017. Miller was Tudge’s media advisor at the time, and says their relationship was defined by a “significant power imbalance”.
Tudge denies these new allegations, but has stood aside from his portfolio while an investigation is carried out. Speaking to the media on Thursday, Rachelle Miller said “The liberal party doesn’t have a women problem, it has a men problem”.
Meanwhile, former Liberal turned independent candidate Natalie Baini has claimed she was ignored for preselection in the seat of Reid after ending an affair she had with incumbent MP Craig Laudy (who retired in 2019). According to The Guardian, she has accused the Morrison government of playing “lip service” to the concerns of women.
That the federal Liberal party is making headlines for its reported push to preselect women, including someone of the calibre of Libby Lyons, is of course welcome news. But it’s more important that we see structural reform within the party, and within parliament more broadly, to really improve outcomes for women.
The need for structural reform surrounding the workplace culture in parliament, especially in light of Kate Jenkins’ Set the Standard report, is something that Brittany Higgins spoke about in an interview with Fran Kelly on ABC radio on Thursday.
Higgins said we are still yet to see any firm commitment or action from the Prime Minister that his government is committed to changing things in the wake of her own allegations of sexual assault. She said she has not seen any reforms introduced by the government that would help another woman in her position.
“I don’t think fundamentally anything has changed internally within the building, policy wise that would stop this from happening to another woman. But I think there would be more sensitivity afforded to another victim going forward,” she said.
Higgins said she raised some of these structural reforms ideas to the Prime Minister in April, and felt she was shut down.
“He sort of rebuffed it with the, you know, ‘It’s your right to ask, it’s my right to consider,’” she said.
“And at the moment, the Prime Minister’s word is a little wobbly.
“We don’t know when he gives an indication that he’s supportive of policy that he is actually going to commit to it.”
Speaking in the same interview, Grace Tame said the information in the Jenkins’ report is not new, and “yet nothing has really changed” over the course of this year.