Liberals’ election review to back pipeline, not quotas, to attract women to party

A secret review into the Liberals’ disastrous election loss in May has ruled out formal quotas for the number of women MPs in federal parliament and instead recommends a British-style recruitment drive to improve the party’s gender balance.

Former party director Brian Loughnane and Liberal Party finance spokeswoman Jane Hume have been leading the review, which began soon after the last federal election, and the pair briefed the federal executive on the almost-finalised review on Monday.

Liberal senator Jane Hume are undertaking the review with party elder Brian Loughnane.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen/Louise Kennerley

Currently just under one in five Liberal MPs in the House – 9 out of 48 – is female and 40 per cent of the party’s Senators – 11 out of 27 – are women.

A person familiar with the election review briefing, who asked not to be named so they could speak freely, told this masthead the review would stress the need for a “Liberal approach to improve the number of women in our ranks”.

“It’s recommending targets, not quotas.”

While Labor introduced quotas for female parliamentarians in the mid-1990s, the concept remains an anathema in the Liberal party, which has resisted the practice at state and federal levels.

The review of the 2022 election, announced in the days after the Coalition’s resounding May election defeat, was tasked with finding ways to bring women back into the party fold after the Liberals lost a raft of blue ribbon seats to Teal independents, all of whom were professional women and two of whom were close family of former Liberal ministers.

Key details of how the Liberals could recruit women without quotas – for example, how to reach a new generation of female supporters – have not been finalised.

The source compared the approach to a system introduced by the Conservative Party in the UK under the leadership of former British prime minister David Cameron, which has been backed by opposition frontbenchers Andrew Hastie and Simon Birmingham.

Cameron created an A-list of diverse candidates when he became leader in 2005, when just 17 of the party’s MPs were female and only two were from backgrounds other than European. The party last month chose Rishi Sunak as prime minister, following Liz Truss’s brief stint as the country’s third female prime minister.

The need to attract more ethnically diverse candidates and younger people to the party – something Hume advocated for publicly to this masthead in the wake of Saturday’s disastrous Victorian election loss – was also discussed.

A second person familiar with the federal executive briefing said Hume had advocated a “talent pipeline” be created so that the party did more work to recruit women, placed them in leadership roles and ultimately had more potential candidates for political office.

A third person familiar with the briefing said Loughnane had raised the need to target new seats whose voters were more likely to vote Liberal, particularly in the outer suburbs of major cities, but he warned the party not to abandon heartland seats lost to the teal independents in May.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has said he does not plan to abandon any seats, but he does think the teal seats that were the party’s past are not the party’s future.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton.Credit:James Brickwood

Loughnane told the meeting that voters in both outer and inner urban seats shared concerns about the need for a strong economy.

That third person said Loughnane had told the meeting “we are most successful when we bind these spectrums together with an economic narrative. That’s when we win majorities”.

The post-election report has not yet been finalised and the federal executive, which includes the federal director, federal parliamentary leadership group and state presidents, will meet again before the end of the year to discuss the report.

The executive summary and key recommendations will likely be made public before the end of the year.

Loughnane and Hume received more than 600 submissions and interviewed more than 50 people including former prime minister Scott Morrison.

A spokesperson for the Federal Executive confirmed it was “provided with a verbal update from Senator Hume and Brian Loughnane on the interim findings and recommendations of their review into the 2022 federal election. The review is due to be finalised before the end of the year”.

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