Liberal Party sends ‘terrible message’ by dumping another senior woman from Parliament

Another senior woman in Peter Dutton's Liberal Party, Senator Hollie Hughes, has been dumped from the No.1 position on a Senate ticket.

Another senior woman in Peter Dutton's Liberal Party, Senator Hollie Hughes, has been dumped from the No.1 position on a Senate ticket. Photo: Getty/TND

New South Wales Senator Hollie Hughes is the latest high-profile woman in the Liberal Party to be either forced out of Parliament or into retirement, as the party continues to grapple with women’s representation.

A tight preselection process resulted in Andrew Bragg, the opposition’s new assistant housing spokesperson, dumping Hughes from the top spot on the Senate ticket on the weekend.

Hughes lost the second position to newcomer Jessica Collins, condemning her to the unwinnable third spot despite holding several shadow portfolios for the Coalition.

Intifar Chowdhury, a lecturer in government at Flinders University, said that senior women within the party being replaced at the top of the Senate ticket with men sends “a terrible message”.

“The biggest movers at the last federal election were young people and women,” she said.

“The Liberal Party has always had a women problem. We all know that, but you would have thought they would have learned their lesson after the 2022 election.”

Anne Ruston, another senior Liberal woman, was also forced down the ballot on the South Australian Senate ticket earlier this year in favour of controversial senator Alex Antic.

The party has also had Karen Andrews and Senator Linda Reynolds announce their retirements from politics, with the Liberal Party preselecting a man in Andrews’ safe seat of McPherson.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s shadow cabinet is made up of 14 men and nine women.

Hughes holds the shadow assistant minister positions for the NDIS and mental health and suicide prevention, and is now unlikely to win a Senate seat.

Barriers to entry

Dr Zareh Ghazarian, a political scientist at Monash University, said there are serious barriers that women face in politics.

“It’s also the machinery of the parties that is having a serious impact on who they are selecting,” he said.

“For the Liberal Party, they’ve continually had a battle about having a quota system or not, but the numbers and representation suggest there’s a difference in the men and women running for Parliament.”

simon kennedy cook

Men have consistently won preselection in Liberal strongholds, like Scott Morrison’s former seat of Cook. Photo: AAP

Ghazarian said other factors can also affect the ability of women to enter politics, according to his research.

“The women we spoke with us told us that they are seeing Parliament as a toxic workplace,” he said.

“Young women told us that they have less confidence in their capacity to run for public office than men and I think that’s been a really important part of our findings.”

The Liberal Party has a lower representation of women in federal Parliament now than it did when it set a 50-50 target of men and women in 2015.

More representation

The Labor Party, which has a more centralised process for selecting candidates, achieved its goal of a 50 per cent representation of women in 2023.

In comparison, only 31 per cent of the 288 Liberal parliamentarians across federal and state politics are women.

Chowdhury said women have consistently been less interested in politics than men across all generations, however, the divide is becoming larger with young Australians.

“When Julia Gillard was Prime Minister, the gender gap actually reduced, so women were actually going out seeking more political information and hence being more politically sophisticated,” she said.

“There is a widening gap between Gen Z females and Gen Z males when it comes to political interest, but this does not translate to political competence.”

She said it is important that the success of women in politics, not just the negative aspects that are often portrayed in the media, are presented to the public.

“We count a lot of bad things that are discouraging, which are true and I’m not sure we shouldn’t do that, but there are good things about women’s representation,” Chowdhury said.

“Quotas may be a good start, but it’s our national psyche as well to tell women, even when they want to run for office, that they’re crazy to do it.”

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