May 18th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: U.S. Farm Bill ends free trade illusion

EDITORIAL: Paid maternity leave: who benefits?

Languishing Labor fills its quota

East Timor becomes independent on May 20

Straws in the Wind: Le System / Apocrypha: Dave's lost column / Ides of March / Sin

LAW: US repudiates International Criminal Court

MEDIA: Jonestown

Refugee response (letter)

Middle East (letter)

Swift solution (letter)

Neighbourly aid (letter)

Quarantine: NZ suspends California grape imports

HEALTH: The politics of AIDS in South Africa

OPINION: Media diversity: should the market decide?

TRADE: Oxfam report shows rigged rules of world trade

ASIA: Taiwan comes in from the cold

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Languishing Labor fills its quota

by News Weekly

News Weekly, May 18, 2002

Federal Labor's progress in moving on after its third successive defeat is increasingly a case of a platoon marching one step forward and two steps back.

While only the most optimistic Labor stalwarts were expecting a significant "bounce" from trading in Kim Beazley for Simon Crean, the Opposition has simply been drifting and clearly would have lost another election had it been held this month.

Howard's victory in the November election was no aberration, and senior Labor figures who tried on the ruse that the nation only swung behind Howard because of the events surrounding September 11 and the state of fear that engulfed the world at that time, are being exposed as time passes.

Easy options

If anything, the Labor Party under Crean looks further away from regaining government than at any time since 1996. Like his newly capped teeth, policy changes so far have been cosmetic and painless.

The much-vaunted young and dynamic frontbench cannot raise a spark between them, apart, that is, from Sydney bruiser Mark Latham who is at least prepared to "have a go" at Peter Costello and Tony Abbott, even though having a go sometimes goes too far.

A corrosive rift has developed between the political and industrial wings of the party over the 60/40 rule, and some left-wing unions are close to disaffiliating from the party because they are getting fed up with Labor's lack of interest in local industry and jobs.

To add to Crean's problems in the Parliamentary party, most of the so-called enlightened left wing MPs blindly refuse to accept the peoples' verdict on border protection and the need for strong controls against illegal immigrants.

No wonder John Howard is having second thoughts about staying on for one final tilt at history. Even when Crean makes a small positive tactical move to junk a bad policy or step away from the Keating-Beazley eras of political correctness and timidity, another act of stupidity erases it.

The recent push by Labor women for 50 per cent of all safe Labor seats is a case in point.

Few things say more about our major political parties, which are so similar in so many of their policies, than the fact that the Liberal Party pre-selects women on talent and ability, while the Labor Party pre-selects on the basis of filling a quota.

The ALP quota currently demands that 35 per cent of all safe seats be given to women, and is a throwback to the Keating Prime Ministership. Keating liked to think of himself as a champion of women's causes, in the same way that he thought of himself as a Medici-like patron of the arts in the Antipodes.

In fact, women were certainly attracted to Keating. He had a certain sex appeal, rakishness and utter confidence that mesmerised many women. But his women's policies were narrow and predictable, and under the direction of his sour women's adviser, Anne Summers, Labor funnelled money into programs which helped middle class professional educated women - the kind of women who don't need that much help in the first place.


One of the most memorable images of that era was the night Keating was captured on film surrounded by a bevy of not-so-beautiful Labor women joyously celebrating their "victory" in securing the 35 per cent quota of safe seats. But that 35 per cent quota rule typified the very worst aspects of political correctness because it was so arbitrary, illogical and open to ridicule.

The quota was backed by one of the more absurd political pressure groups in the country - Joan Kirner's Emily's List. This supposedly "non-political" organisation is aimed at getting "progressive women" into Parliament. It does this by providing aspiring candidates financial support and mentoring.

Progressive, of course, is code for pro-abortion, and if you are a woman who does not support a woman's "right to choose" you don't get a cracker, and you don't get on the list.

Despite the crowing about its success in getting more women into Parliament Labor's quota still makes little sense.

Surely it is the calibre of women pre-selected that is important and the true measure of their ability to contribute to the nation, not simply their sex.

On the other hand if it is true that women are superior at running things and their presence improves the quality of Parliament, as many prominent women argue, why not just elect women and get rid of men altogether? And why stop at quotas for women, why not migrants, homosexuals, Aborigines, Moslems, the handicapped?

There are serious practical problems as well. What happens if Labor discovers a star candidate such as a top-flight male businessman or public servant who wants to do his bit to contribute to the national stage? What happens if Peter Beattie, Bob Carr, Steve Bracks, or all three, wanted to go into Federal Parliament?

The answer is that they would have to give way to some second rate female staffer with no experience outside an MP's office, but who is pre-selected entirely on the basis of her gender.

Despite the fact that men dominate Labor branches and Labor unions, and that there are numerically far fewer talented women in the party, and that there are far fewer women even interested in getting into politics in the first place, Labor has persisted carrying the 35 per cent albatross into every Parliament in the country.

The result is acrimony and frustration in the Labor Party ranks as women with dubious claims to representation swan into safe Parliamentary seats. The worst aspect of the quota system is that it undermines the credentials of the genuinely talented Labor women who make it into Parliament, having won their seats on their own merits.

The quota should be trashed, and would send a signal to the community that the days of political correctness are behind Labor. But, realistically, Crean would have to take on the powerful sisterhood in the party and the resultant scratches probably would not be worth it.

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