Liberal Senator Sue Boyce: ''Women come to the Liberal Party, have a look at us and the processes are such that not a lot of them stay around.'' Photo: Andrew Meares
It doesn't explain everything … it explains some things. And there is quite a lot of explaining to do. It's 2013. Boards have targets for appointing women. But the new federal ministry can only manage one woman in cabinet and a further five in other roles.
That opening sentence came back to me on Monday as the incoming prime minister Tony Abbott announced that ministry. Which is strange, since the words belong to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
She was talking about sexism and misogyny and whether everything could be boiled down to gender. And there is one thing I'm even more confident about now - and that is the veracity of Gillard's words.
The catalysing effects of gender are the signposts of our working lives. Of all the candidates for the last election, just over 25 per cent were women. It's only as high as that because the Greens preselect more women than any other party. In almost all parties, women put their hands up for preselection - but men get preselected.
But don't just take it from me. Senator Sue Boyce is a Queenslander who has been in Parliament since 2007. As I was preparing to write this column, several people suggested I speak to her because she was so forthright about gender equity.
And she's a member of the Liberal Party, a company director, someone who has worked in small business. She says that she is embarrassed by the lack of progress the party has made on equal representation.
Senator Boyce, who retires from the Senate in July, is adamant the Liberal Party does not support women through the parliamentary process. She is also desperate for the party to develop a plan.
''I'm shocked and embarrassed by the Liberal Party - and it's had so damn long to fix the problem,'' she said. ''It's a systemic problem in the party - how embarrassing to be a government with only one woman at a senior level.''
What can be done?
Sue Boyce acknowledges the extraordinary work of Emily's List and thinks the Liberal Party needs its own. She finishes up next year, replaced by a man - and I suggested she could start up Sophie's List, a nod to the now departed former shadow minister Sophie Mirabella.
Boyce was quick to remind me that Emily's List is actually an acronym, Early Money Is Like Yeast. I lamely suggest Starting Our Philanthropy Is Excellent. OK, no jokes.
Boyce says if the Liberal Party is to confront the lack of gender equity, it needs to address the structural issues and that includes the way in which candidates are preselected - never mind getting women into the top spots.
''Women come to the Liberal Party, have a look at us and the processes are such that not a lot of them stay around.''
Boyce even has a possible name for the organisation, Foundation 51 (which references the percentage of women in the population), and that would function to develop and recruit candidates. The senator says that while women may be attracted to the party initially, they don't stay.
She wants the Liberal Party to do what we always expect in the business world. She wants a formal plan with targets - because she doesn't think the Liberal Party would accept quotas.
''We need a conscious development of a plan to ensure we increase the depth of women in the talent pool,'' she said. ''There are squillions of women of merit out there.''
Which is pretty much what Tanja Kovac found in her work as national co-convener of Emily's List. That project, started in response to the 1996 federal election, aims to get progressive women into parliament. It fund-raises, it educates, it supports. And just 15 years after its inception in Australia, it was able to count a prime minister as one of its alumna.
''What we did is to create structural reform inside [the Labor Party,'' she said.
There is still some distance from the goal of 50-50 but now women make up 36 per cent of the ALP caucus and that's a 4 per cent improvement on the last Parliament.
Kovac says that every single sitting Emily's List MP was returned - and that's an enormous achievement because women are preselected in marginal seats.
When Don Randall was asked by ABC reporter Lyndal Curtis earlier this year why there were fewer women on the Liberal frontbench, he replied: ''They get there by merit, they don't get there because of a quota.''
Which brings me to the real problem. Senior Liberal Party members keep talking about merit as a selection criterion. Can someone please explain to me what they mean?
How can you choose one party hack over another and say it's about merit?
As Boyce says - and I'm paraphrasing here - boys choose boys.
''People pick people like themselves,'' she says.
Randall's final comments on gender equity may trouble some of the Liberal women who have just arrived to Parliament: ''When those ladies come to the Parliament, we'll be making sure the talent rises to the top. We've got a marvellous lot of ladies on the backbench now.''
Men have been preselected and promoted on the basis of gender for a long time. That's got to stop in 2013. If companies can start to address the problem, so can the Liberal Party. One is not enough, people. It's just not enough.