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Joan Kirner discusses the campaign for fifty per cent representation of women in politics by the year 2000

PRU GOWARD: The weekend call by senior women in the Labor movement for fifty-fifty representation by the year 2000, has so far been ignored in Victoria where John Brumby's lost his bid to have more women preselected, and at a Federal level, Labor's National Secretary, Gary Gray, says it's just not practicable in the time frame. Gary Gray's comments on Daybreak yesterday provoked a strong response from a number of prominent Labor women, amongst them former Victorian Premier, Joan Kirner, who joins me now.

Joan Kirner, you've said this call for fifty-fifty by the year 2000 is the beginning of a campaign but Gary Gray says it's just not practical in the time frame - your response?

JOAN KIRNER: Well, it was unfortunate that the discussion wasn't about the resolution. Unfortunately Gary hadn't seen the resolution when he made his comments and in fact being very practical people, we women, we allowed half by 2000 or .... the election immediately afterwards. Because quite clearly some States - because they might only have one election between now and 2000 - couldn't make it by that time. But it is quite clear that every State and certainly the Federal Government, can make it by either the year 2000 or just afterwards. So it does pay, I think, to read the resolution before one makes a comment. And we were particularly disappointed because Gary Gray has been very strongly supportive of affirmative action and proper rule changes to in fact achieve that. So, I think it is important to correct just the actual contents of the resolution.

PRU GOWARD: But did you feel, though, that his lack of support for the motion went further than just the time frame? I mean, he pointed out that you would either have to have a slaughtering at the polls or you would have to throw out many existing male MPs with their power bases and that it would be a 'political problem'.

JOAN KIRNER: Well yes, I think it is a political challenge but it's not as greater a political challenge as our party - or indeed, the Liberal Party for that matter - not reflecting the 50 per cent of the community that women make up. I mean we see this as a matter both of justice - 50 per cent of the community deserves 50 per cent representation - and we see it as a matter of talent, because what's happening at the moment is that the full talent of the community is not being represented because women only make up up to 20 per cent of parliaments except for New South Wales Upper House.

PRU GOWARD: Is he right in saying, do you think, that the national conference just won't accept it?

JOAN KIRNER: No. He's wrong in saying that because one of the things that we said at the weekend was that this is not simply a set of resolutions. This is a campaign and people are really on notice that, just as the suffragettes fought for the vote and then women went on to fight for the right to be elected, this is the next stage - the right to be elected equally.

PRU GOWARD: So next year's national conference of the Labor Party, as far as you're concerned that the campaign is aimed at getting that conference to support this resolution?

JOAN KIRNER: Yes, and the first stage is to get the organisational review working party to agree to it and the national executive, because that would carry a lot of weight, but it will also go through State branches. Now what people, some of the male power brokers around the place, are tending to say is: 'Oh well, look, yes we'll go to that point. I mean we really do believe in it but we don't want any rule changes because, you know, that's all too difficult or it's not appropriate or it's not achievable or whatever. We will just set targets and we'll go to it by agreement and ....'

PRU GOWARD: Political will, he called it, yes.

JOAN KIRNER: Yes, well political will has to be a rule change. That's political will. The process of leaving it in the hands of very competent male power brokers is simply a maintenance of the patronage system and we are not going to accept that. Now, it's going to be a good discussion but let's have the discussion on the right bases, and that is of justice and talent.

PRU GOWARD: It's going to be a great fight, Joan Kirner. But just finally, in your own State, Victoria, where you're acting State President, why didn't you stay and argue the case, for example, for women candidates with John Brumby instead of actually going to Perth?

JOAN KIRNER: Actually, I had no idea, unfortunately Pru, that our leader was going to go to the Admin Committee, which is a bit of slip, I guess, but I think it's broader than that issue of John wanting a couple of women that he thinks are good in the preselection process - this is in the process actually, not necessarily guaranteed election. I think we can't have pickers and choosers if we're going to have justice and talent. What we have to have is a rule change. We could have got that rule change through in Victoria, I believe, at our last conference if we'd had full backing across the board from a lot of our male members but we didn't get it. We're now going to discuss it again in March. I believe John Brumby is absolutely right in his argument. It's just that in order to ensure that it's done as of right instead as of patronage we must have a rule change not just a rule change for a couple of women.

PRU GOWARD: Oh, Joan Kirner, it's going to be very interesting to watch. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.