There could have been more Labor women winners had the party been alert to the rise of women professionals as a critically important new force in Australian politics.
The opportunity for Labor to have a teal-style high-achieving woman run in the Brisbane seat of Ryan, for example, was passed over. Instead, the previous election’s losing male candidate got another run. The result was that female Greens candidate, architect Elizabeth Watson-Brown, won Ryan with an estimated 10.5 percent swing away from sitting Liberal Julian Simmonds.
There was an element of gender karma in Simmonds’ defeat. He wrested Ryan from sitting coalition MP Jane Prentice four years ago in an unnecessary and unattractive preselection challenge, and only lasted one term office.
Heavy-handed support for self-entitled men inside and outside the coalition’s ranks turned women voters against the Morrison government. The mobilisation of women, on the streets and now into parliament, is the result.
Labor has long had quotas for women in winnable seats with the result that they make up half the party’s parliamentarians, normalising their presence in Labor politics. Equal numbers of Labor men and women in federal parliament has significantly cut the prevalence of gendered behaviour problems evident in the past.
The Liberal and National parties have resisted quotas with the result that only a quarter of their combined federal parliamentary representatives are women – fertile ground for a toxic culture of fear, bullying and worse to take hold.
The disclosures of former Liberal and later independent MP Julia Banks, and former Liberal staffers Brittany Higgins and Rachelle Millar, among others, have been influential in turning many traditional coalition voters towards better alternatives this election.
Banks characterised Morrison as being like “menacing wallpaper” in her memoir Power Play, which detailed the internal coalition thuggery central in former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s displacement by a cunning Morrison.
Banks’ account also detailed the willingness of some female coalition MPs to be “wallpaper women”, aiding and abetting the male bullying which became the default mode for an increasingly crude government.
Coalition frontbenchers like Jane Hume, who thrived in this culture, may try now to tack back to the centre given the teals, with active support from people like Banks, have laid waste to the coalition’s core vote in Melbourne and Sydney.
The 2022 election result is a reckoning for this culture – one unlikely to change until the coalition parties embrace quotas and replicate Labor’s gender democratisation of its party room.
There are lessons for both parties in this result though.
The teal campaigns, like the successful independent campaigns in Indi (Victoria) and Warringah (NSW) before them, succeeded because of deep community engagement where people are welcomed, included and have purposeful fun together.
With the primary vote of the major parties in cellar-dwelling territory, they are going to have to rediscover true community campaigning and engagement to keep their lock on government.
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