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Female Board Appointments

Sarah Hanson-Young 24 Mar 2011

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia)

(3.33 pm)—I move: That the Senate—

(a) notes that:

(i) women make up only 25 per cent of board appointments in Australia, and

(ii) of that figure, only 10 per cent of the Australian Stock Exchange 200 companies have female directors, and only 8 per cent have female executives;

(b) recognises that:

(i) women in the workforce face many issues, including pay equity, the impact of unpaid work and family responsibilities on their careers and the disparity in retirement savings, and

(ii) improving the levels of female leadership in corporate Australia will help to drive change in all of these areas; and

(c) calls on cross-party support to take the lead and phase in meaningful quotas in boardrooms around Australia.

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (3.34 pm)—I seek leave to make a short statement on the motion.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator CASH—The coalition will not be supporting the Greens motion. The coalition is committed to fostering a culture within our nation where women are full and active participants in all spheres of public and private life across a wide range of decision-making positions. The coalition believes that the high-level appointments of women should recognise merit and excellence rather than be based on some unilateral quota which could be intended or interpreted to placate women rather than promote excellence and advance the cause of Australian women.

We hold the view that the appointment of women to boards for reasons other than merit or excellence could be counterproductive and work against the long-term interests of women. We believe that encouraging skilled and talented women to contribute to this country’s decision-making processes is a far more effective way of increasing women’s participation than relying on arbitrary quotas.

The coalition believes that there is no job women should not aspire to. However, a woman should never be appointed to a role in an attempt to justify or satisfy an arbitrary quota or some presumed politically correct position. Using women to justify or satisfy an arbitrary quota is demeaning to women and has the potential to hinder the aspirations of women and develop a second class of citizen.

We need to foster the opportunities that give women real choices in life and encourage female talent to make it to the top. The coalition prefers to see this done by giving women a fair go to demonstrate their special skills, aptitudes, capacities and abilities, not by having to rely on a mandated quota. Quotas can be a crude, blunt instrument that have the effect of failing to promote ability or excellence and can ultimately let firms off the hook.

Quotas can work against the interests of women rather than address problems and create policies and opportunities designed to help women balance work and family life. As the opposition shadow spokesperson for women’s interests, I hold the view that there should be no room for gender based discrimination in Australian workplaces, but I stress that the interests of women are not necessarily served by implementing arbitrary quotas. We must all strive to make a difference by encouraging skilled and talented women to aspire to higher profile and more challenging roles.

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (3.36 pm)—I seek leave to make a brief explanation.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator XENOPHON—I indicate that I do not support the motion in its current form but I do believe that it is important that the impact of quotas in jurisdictions where quotas have been imposed ought to be assessed.

There ought to be a thorough examination of the potential benefit of quotas and other mechanisms to remove the discrimination and barriers to women in board positions that this motion seeks to achieve. I think what the motion seeks has merit but I am concerned that there ought to be a thorough examination of the impact of quotas and other mechanisms in other jurisdictions in order to achieve the desired outcomes of this motion.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia)

(3.37 pm)—Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG—I appreciate the clarification from the coalition spokesperson on the status of women as to the coalition’s position on this, because we know that the shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, has indicated his support for this particular measure being put in place. I would hate to think that the comments that were made by the opposition spokesperson on the status of women mean that she is in some way saying that the women of Norway are demeaned because this type of system has been put in place there. I accept that Senator Xenophon is not totally dismissive of this idea and, if he would like to move for a Senate inquiry, I am sure we could get the facts and figures and the evidence on the table.

Question put.

The Senate divided. [3.42 pm]

(The Deputy President—Senator the Hon. AB Ferguson)

Ayes………… 5

Noes………… 33

Majority……… 28

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