Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

Menzies Research Centre:  Gender and Modern Politics: A Discussion

26 June 2015


Thank you to the Menzies Research Centre for the invitation to be here today to help answer the question 'gender in politics; does it matter?'

The answer is a definite yes, it certainly does. 

And what matters most is gender equity; an equal representation of women participating in politics, and in government.

For a start, equal opportunity is a cornerstone of Liberal philosophy. It is central to what we believe in.

Sir Robert Menzies, the founder of the Liberal Party, said right back in the 1940's that the "women of Australia have established an unanswerable claim to economic, legal, industrial and political equality" 

And he said that he looked forward to a day "when we can say truthfully that there is no sex discrimination in public or private office, in political or industrial opportunity.”

Well, we are still some way away from that day.

But why is gender equality in politics important? 

Research affirms that corporate governance and performance is improved  by more balanced gender representation in leadership  roles. 

It leads to more informed decision-making, greater productivity.

I have benefitted greatly from reading the highly instructive recent report of the Victorian Liberal Party on increasing the participation of women in politics, and I see one of its authors, Caroline Elliott, here today.

It opens with the observation of the OECD that gender equality in decision making contributes to improved trust and confidence in public institutions. And we can always do with more of that. A lot more.

It incorporates more inclusive and more balanced perspectives into decision making.

It contributes to better governance, and government.

Gender in politics, and more women in leadership positions, provides strong and positive role models for younger women.

And very importantly, and as the leader of a government that is substantially increasing our efforts to respond to the appalling incidence of family violence, gender equality is critical to changing negative community attitudes that are so often the cause of domestic violence.

Gender equity in positions of leadership will help to change those sadly well entrenched, negative cultural perceptions and attitudes held by some, and assist us to make our communities safer for women and children in the future.

Gender equality in politics matters, it matters a lot.

So it is concerning to see today that in our Party, things are not improving as they should.

We must address the obvious question; if we are to be a Party to truly represent the majority of Australians, how can we do that with so few women in Parliament?

How can we be a party that best reflects female perspectives, priorities and aspirations without having greater female participation in our Party?

Though I am pleased to say that in Tasmania, there has been some positive progress.

Significantly, Tasmania now has its first female Speaker, and first female Governor. 

Two "captain's calls", if you will, that I had the rare privilege to make on becoming Premier, and both of which were based entirely on merit.

But they were groundbreaking appointments made under a Liberal Government.

Tasmania's Parliament now has the highest level of female political representation of all States, at 40%.

And the Liberal Party in Tasmania does have a proud history of political 'firsts' for women.

Dame Enid Lyons was the first woman to sit in the Federal Parliament in 1943, and the first woman to become a Federal Cabinet Minister

Sue Napier was the first woman to be appointed as a Tasmanian Cabinet Minister in 1995, and the first female Deputy Premier in 1996, and the first woman to lead the Liberal Party in 1999. 

I have appointed a designated Minister for Women in my Cabinet, the first in Tasmania since 2006.

We have published Tasmania's first Women and Girls in Tasmania Report which provides the baseline data from which we can track progress and address gender-based inequalities at all levels in our community.

And we have a five year government strategy to tackle these inequalities.

Next week we will launch a new strategy to increase the number of women in leadership positions in government, which features a target of 50%.

Without a clear, deliberate target that aims at no less than true gender equality, and by which we will be held to account, we are destined to fail.

In light of the concerning statistics we have seen presented here today, the Liberal Party does have more to do.

But we are making progress, and an honest, open discussion like we're having today, will go a long way to helping us make the positive change that is needed, and to realise the dream of our Party's founder.