Prime Minister Scott Morrison has admitted the Liberal Party’s pre-selection processes may need to change to boost the number of women in its federal parliamentary ranks.
As Mr Morrison grapples with the shock resignation of Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer, he is facing fresh questions about whether the Liberals are doing enough to promote women and their interests.
The prime minister has denied suggestions the Liberals have a poor reputation for recruiting women and promoting them to senior roles.
“I would say that the selection process for this year’s election still has a little way to go, but those processes were set in process by my predecessors and the party, and they’re run by the party,” he said on Sunday.
“But those matters are ones that I would intend to return to as leader of the party after the next election and to deal with that and put in place long-term plans to make sure we meet the commitments that we’ve set out.”
Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, who has raised three children while in parliament, said she understood the pressure Ms O’Dwyer was under.
But Ms Plibersek said the Liberals had failed to make juggling motherhood and ministerial duties any easier.
“One of the differences the Liberal Party could make to make it easier to retain people like Kelly O’Dwyer on the front bench is increase the number of women in their parliamentary party,” she told reporters.
“Because when you get a critical mass, it does change the culture.”
The Liberals have long resisted calls to follow Labor by introducing gender quotas, arguing their candidates should be chosen on merit alone.
Ms O’Dwyer is quitting politics at the next election to spend more time with her family and try for a third child.
Mr Morrison said he was “very confident” of finding a woman to replace her in the blue-ribbon Melbourne seat of Higgins, which she holds by eight per cent.
A handful of women have emerged as potential candidates for the Liberals in the inner-eastern electorate, including Victorian Senator Jane Hume, who is keen to switch to the lower house.
As the unofficial federal election campaign continued on Sunday, Mr Morrison pledged $96 million to ensure lung cancer medicine was more affordable, saving hundreds of families close to $90,000 each year.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten promised $46 million to ensure all Australian primary school children received swimming and water safety lessons, in response to a spate of summer drownings.
The leaders of both major parties are expected in Queensland on Monday, with the prime minister to promise more new funding for health, and the Labor leader set to announce a policy aimed at boosting local jobs.