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John Howard Says It's "Just A Fact" That There Will Never Be Gender Equality In Politics

"It is not a terrible thing to say, it just happens to be the truth."

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Former prime minister John Howard says it's unlikely parliament will ever see a 50-50 gender split because it's "just a fact of society" that women are too busy acting as primary care givers.

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

In the current federal parliament, less than one in five Coalition MPs are women.

When asked what he thinks about his party going backward in getting women into politics, Howard responded:

"Look, I don't believe in quotas, as you know, and I mean, you can talk about targets and aspirations and goals.

"I would like to see a natural process where by there are more women, but... I'm not sure you will ever have a 50-50 thing because it is a fact of society that the caring role, whatever people may say about it and whatever the causes are, there is still women playing a significantly greater part of fulfilling the caring role in our communities, which inevitably place some limits on their capacity.

"Now, that's - some people may say, 'What a terrible thing to say'.

"It is not a terrible thing to say, it just happens to be the truth, and occasionally you've just got to recognise that and say it. It shouldn't be sort of - the mainstream should not be too timid to say things occasionally."

Howard said that historically there haven't been an "enormous number" of female Cabinet ministers because that was a reflection of society at the time.

Despite prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's declaration that "women hold up half the sky", they don't hold up half of the 45th parliament. They barely represent one third - with 73 women and 153 men holding seats in Canberra.


The Coalition's female representation in the house of representatives has fallen from 18 to 13, compared to 63 men, and eight women to 22 men in the senate

That's right: there are just 21 women out of 85 Liberal/National MPs, meaning women make up 19.8% of the parliamentary party.

Labor has the most women in parliament with 42 to 53 men and the Greens have parity - five and five.

With less than one-third of parliament made up of women Australia is hovering very close to what the United Nations regards as the 30% "critical mass" - the minimum level necessary for females to influence decision making in parliament.

In April, the federal executive of the Liberal party agreed to set a target of 50% female MPs by 2025. Labor agreed to the same goal at its national conference last year.

But that doesn’t appear to have had any impact.

Seven Coalition women retired at the 2016 election and six of their seats were taken by men.

Liberal senator Linda Reynolds says the party won’t introduce quotas for female representation because they’re a “quick fix”.

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at

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