After Jane Prentice’s dumping at preselection to make way for a male candidate, Kelly O’Dwyer has committed $50,000 to a fund aimed at increasing the number of women in the Liberal party, and has called on her cabinet colleagues to follow suit.
The minister for women established the Enid Lyons Fighting Fund this year, with the aim of providing financial assistance to the campaigns of established female MPs within the Coalition, as well as for those preselected in winnable seats.
Named for the first woman elected to the lower house and included within the federal cabinet, the O’Dwyer-led fund has been set up by the federal secretariat and will soon become open for donations.
“When women put their hands up for preselection in the Liberal party, they need to know that they will have the financial firepower behind them to run effective campaigns,” O’Dwyer told Guardian Australia.
“I have committed $50,000 to the fund and I have written to all members of the cabinet to encourage them to do that same. I know that all my cabinet colleagues are committed to supporting upcoming female candidates in the Liberal party.
“It is extraordinary that since federation there have been only 24 female cabinet ministers from either party, 13 Coalition and 11 ALP, out of a total of 385. All parties need to find proactive and practical ways of doing better.”
A key priority for the fund is helping women win safe seats after years of criticism that women within the Liberal party are often left to fight for marginal seats, which leads to their being overlooked for Liberal cabinet positions.
The fighting fund will accept donations from individuals as well as Liberal divisions and branches, with specific fundraising events being planned to boost its coffers.
Those involved with pushing for its creation hope it will give women interested in running for the Liberal party “greater support and more options”.
After the Ryan branch members voted to dump Prentice, an assistant minister, in favour of her former campaign manager Julian Simmonds at the weekend, the Coalition has found itself embroiled in yet another debate about how it treats and encourages its female members.
Despite fellow Queensland Liberal National party colleagues – including Warren Entsch, Michelle Landy and the state opposition leader, Deb Frecklington –expressing support for Prentice, Malcolm Turnbull ruled out intervening in the decision, arguing that it was a decision for grassroots branch members.
While on maternity leave last year, O’Dwyer herself was forced to fight back against a group of millionaire Liberal party members who were making moves to replace her at her next preselection.
Rumblings within Higgins to have O’Dwyer removed have continued, despite the almost instantaneous backlash against the move.
The Liberal party has consistently turned away from any discussion of quotas, arguing that representatives should only be selected on “merit”.That has resulted in women making up 20% of the Liberal party representation, while its Coalition partners, the Nationals, can claim 14%.
Of the 24-seat cabinet in the Turnbull government, just five spots are held by women. Just one of the six positions within the outer ministry is held by a woman, while women hold four of the 12 assistant minister spots. Labor, which has had gender quotas in place since 1994, has almost reached gender parity.
A spokesman for the federal Liberal party said encouraging women to run for the party remained a priority.
“While the party’s divisions have now begun the process of preselecting candidates for next year’s election, it is worth noting that Senator Amanda Stoker was recently chosen by the LNP to replace George Brandis in the Senate,” he said.
“Senator Lucy Gichuhi joined the Liberal party room in February this year and the Country Liberal party has preselected women to run in both lower house seats in the Northern Territory.”
Source: The Guardian