By Paula Matthewson
It went largely unreported, but on the weekend one of the Federal Government’s most prominent women challenged the Liberal Party to do something about its woman problem.
Apparently redefining what it means to keep a low profile, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Peta Credlin spoke from the audience of a Liberal Party forum on gender and politics, reportedly taking a shot at the gendered put-downs levelled at powerful women, and describing politics as “the toughest, most masculine, most exclusionary place”.
Credlin’s strongest criticism however was aimed at the Liberal Party itself, for entrenching inequality by neglecting to pre-select women candidates for safe seats. Echoing the PM’s justification for initially putting only one woman in cabinet, Credlin argued that without female MPs in safe seats, there is no “pipeline of women” gaining experience and credentials over time that would qualify them for cabinet:
Our women are not in the safe seats, so when we lose government, we lose our pipeline. So it was really hard to put a ministry together in 2010 when … we didn’t have a pipeline of women.
Of course, this argument doesn’t quite stack up when it comes to the well-credentialed Minister for Human Services, Marise Payne, who is a Liberal moderate and still not in cabinet despite having been in Parliament for 18 years.
Nevertheless, Credlin appears to be belatedly acknowledging that more women are needed in the Government’s top decision-making circles, and that more women are needed in the Liberal Party to make this happen. She reportedly told the forum:
Unless you have women in places where decisions are made, either on committees who are making pre-selection decisions, at state divisions as presidents and as leaders … you’re not going to get women (to) run for seats.
If you don’t get women (to) run for seats, you’re not going to get female ministers, and if you don’t get women ministers … you’re not designing popular policy for half the population. We would never get elected if we pissed off and marginalised half the electorate. We are half the electorate.
Credlin’s comments are not her first on the broader need to support Liberal women.
It’s nearly a year ago that news first began to emerge that Credlin was actively seeking ways to help women progress through the ranks of the Liberal Party.
A well-placed leak to the media in July 2014 reported that Credlin had told a private gathering of female Coalition staffers she was determined to make a difference for women in conservative politics while serving as chief of staff to the Prime Minister, and asked for their ideas about how to do so.