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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1156

Senator FOREMAN —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present a report entitled Women, elections and parliament. I seek leave to move a motion relating to the report.

  Leave granted.

Senator FOREMAN —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the report.

The report that I have just tabled, Women, elections and parliament, relates to a reference from the Senate proposing that the committee conduct an inquiry to discover the reasons for the gender imbalance in Australian parliaments, develop strategies for reducing the imbalance and identify the aspects of parliamentary procedures and practices which impede the full participation of Australian women in Australian political life.

  The report itself is short. It reflects the committee's conclusion that a conventional parliamentary committee inquiry would not be the best way for this committee to participate in the debate about ways to improve the representation of women in parliaments in Australia. The committee was assisted in reaching this conclusion by a paper prepared for it by Ms Consie Larmour of the social policy research group of the legislative research service of the parliamentary library. Ms Larmour's paper has been included as part of our report as the appendix. The committee regards this paper as accurately stating the present situation with regard to the matters raised by the terms of reference for the inquiry. It is the intention of the committee to make the paper widely available and invite comments on it from the community. This will assist the monitoring process which the committee recommends for itself in the report.

  As regards the first of the proposed terms of reference—namely, the reasons for the gender imbalance—it was apparent to the committee from Ms Larmour's paper that the existing research had already established many of the reasons for the imbalance of men and women in Australian parliaments. It was the same with the second proposed term of reference, which asked the committee to consider strategies for increasing the number and effectiveness of women in political and electoral processes.

  The goal of achieving parity in representation had been accepted not only by Australian parliamentarians and political parties but by the international parliamentary community as represented by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The report and appendix describe current ideas and strategies for achieving this aim. The committee felt that matters had moved beyond the point of proposing strategies. These had already been identified and were now being implemented as actual programs.

  Within my own party there has been a recognition over the years that women are under-represented in the political process at all levels. We have accepted that something must be done. At the recent seventh National Labor Women's Conference, women within the ALP enunciated their strategies for achieving just representation. These strategies have been developed over a period and are based on the goal of 50 per cent by 2000. The increased participation of women within the ALP at all levels, particularly in parliament, has the support of the massive majority of ALP members, voters and the community. I fully support affirmative action becoming a part of our preselection process.

Senator Ian Macdonald —There are not many on your front bench.

Senator FOREMAN —Those opposite do not have too many on their benches. The committee has concluded that the most valuable role it can perform in light of this ongoing activity is to monitor developments on behalf of the parliament so far as they relate to the electoral process. Accordingly, it recommends in the report that the Minister for Administrative Services authorise the committee under paragraph (1) of its resolution of appointment to monitor developments in the area of the participation by women in the electoral process and to report on this matter from time to time.

  This monitoring role is important because it will enable the committee to continue its involvement with this issue. I hope that all participants in the political process will assist the committee in carrying out this function. Indeed, the debate and interest that will follow this report will enable us to see whether the parties are succeeding in any programs to support the increased participation of women.

  The committee did not consider that it was authorised to conduct an inquiry on the third of the terms of reference, namely, the effect of parliamentary procedures on women's participation. The report notes recent developments involving the introduction of new sitting hours for the Senate and the House that are more conducive to family life than the traditional hours. However, matters of parliamentary procedure and practice are outside the scope of the authority conferred on the committee by the parliament and should be undertaken by the respective procedure committees of the Senate and the House.

  It is the intention of the committee to distribute the parliamentary research service paper among community groups, inviting comments and responses from within these communities. To this end the research service paper has been printed as part of the report that I have just tabled. I welcome the debate that will follow the tabling of this report and encourage all interested people to tell the committee what they think about the issues and the findings of the report. I also welcome the ongoing monitoring role that the committee has committed itself to.

  Finally, I would like to thank Consie Larmour, Margaret Healy and Shelley McInnis for their significant contributions to the report by way of research papers. I commend the report to the Senate.