Whilst gender quotas of different kinds are widely used internationally to increase women’s participation in national parliaments, they have been somewhat controversial in the Australian context. In 1981 the ALP Conference endorsed affirmative action principles whereby women were to hold 25 per cent of all internal party positions. In 1994 the ALP adopted a mandatory 35 per cent preselection quota for women in winnable seats at all elections by 2002. The proportion of female candidates preselected rose from 14.5 per cent in the 1994 election to 35.6 per cent in the 2010 election. As Hutch Hussein points out, these figures clearly demonstrate how the rule changes within the ALP have helped to achieve greater gender equality in Australia’s parliaments.  From 1 January 2012 a 40:40:20 quota system will apply ‘to produce an outcome where not less than 40% of seats held by Labor will be filled by women, and not less than 40% by men’. The remaining 20 per cent may be filled by candidates of either gender. There is pressure within the party to increase the quota to 50 per cent. The Coalition parties (Liberal Party and the Nationals) have not adopted affirmative action measures for their respective parties’ parliamentary wings on the basis that gender quotas contradict the principle of merit. The Liberal Party uses women’s networks within the party, and provides support and mentoring to encourage women who stand for preselection. According to the Liberals’ Federal Women’s Committee, ‘[w]hilst the Liberal Party does not support the ALP’s quota system, the Party is aware that women of merit can be overlooked in our preselections processes, often because they lack the support and mentoring system that is often behind successful candidates’.
It goes on...if you want to read it