ACT News

Political parties 'benefit older men' and ACT Labor won't ramp up affirmative action

Australian political parties operate within a framework that encourages older men to dominate their membership, ACT Labor Party secretary Matt Byrne says.

He believes his party is doing enough to boost women in leadership positions, but that parties in general can do more.

There is a "lot of more work to be done" to achieve gender equality in politics.
There is a "lot of more work to be done" to achieve gender equality in politics. Photo: Rob Homer

"Fundamentally though political parties are still structured in such a way that benefits people who are time-rich, and that is usually older men," Mr Byrne said.

"I think that affirmative action has worked well and the endeavour to expand these principles throughout the ALP should be supported."

Neighbouring NSW Labor is embarking on one of the most ambitious affirmative action programs in its history, with the aim of transforming the organisation.

From July 1, at least 40 per cent of those elected must be women, increasing to 45 per cent in 2022 and 50 per cent in 2027.

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Mr Byrne said that while affirmative action principles should be expanded throughout the ALP, the ACT already has "comprehensive rules" that guarantee a minimum of 40 per cent of elected positions are held by women.

The rules ensure women can be elected into positions of authority where men make up a majority of the members.

He said Labor has a lot of work to do to modernise the party and make it accessible to people who can't attend meetings late at night or on weekends.

NSW Labor's program, to be put to party members at February's state conference, is in response to the cultural problems highlighted by a landmark report by Jane Needham, SC, into the status of women inside the NSW division.

The report was commissioned in the wake of the sexual harassment saga that led to Jamie Clements resigning as NSW Labor general-secretary last week.

ACT Greens candidate for Yerrabi, Veronica Wensing​, said this incident as well as the recent Jamie Briggs saga show that "there is a lot more work to be done" in promoting gender equality in politics.

But she believes her party is leading the pack.

"The ACT Greens have been led by women in the assembly for most of our history," she said.

"We'll continue to campaign against sexism in the community and for women to have equal representation at all levels of government."

Minister for Territory and Municipal Services and Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury​ said it was a "shame" there were no female Greens MLA in this term, but he'd always felt he could represent the concerns of women.

His party's six previous MLAs were female.

To the question of whether affirmative action was important, a spokesperson for the Canberra Liberals said they "value the importance of allowing each member the freedom to select the candidate that they believe will best represent them and their community".

"We also believe the results of this approach speak for themselves," they said.