Gender quotas in Australia (and the world) explained

Since the 1990s, over 100 countries have implemented gender quotas in their parliaments. Rwanda leads the way with the highest percentage in the world of women (61.3%) in the lower (or single) house as of 1 January 2021. 

The three main types of political gender quotas: 

  • Reserved seats: legal quotas are put in place through the constitution or legislation that outlines percentages or number of seats required to be held by women. There can be (in some instances) repercussions if the quotas are not met. These types of quotas have been adopted by Rwanda and the UAE. 
  • Legal candidate quotas: political parties preselecting or nominating a certain proportion of women as candidates, however, it is up to the voters to vote those candidates into power. This means it is not guaranteed the proportion of women who are preselected will actually get into power. Mexico and Bolivia are two countries that have adopted this system. 
  • Party quotas: adopted by political parties voluntarily. This means that it is up to the party to decide and implement quotas if the party wants to do so. They are not legally required, however, to put quotas in place.  

What about Australia? 
In Australia’s parliamentary system, there is no legal requirement to have any gender quotas at all. In Federal Parliament, women make up 31% of the 151-member House of Representatives, and 51.3% of the 76-member Senate.  

Out of the major parties, the Labor Party is the only one to implement gender quotas. In 1994, a 35% preselection quota was put in place for there to be women in winnable seats at all elections by 2002. This quota then changed in 2012 to a system known as ‘40:40:20’. This system ensured at least 40% of seats held by Labor are to be filled by women and at least 40% held by men. The remaining 20% of seats held by Labor can be filled by any gender. The party has additionally set future quotas goals that would see 50% of the party represented by women in 2025. In the current House of Representatives, 42.6% of Labor seats are held by women.

The Coalition (the Liberals and Nationals) do not have any gender quotas in place for their preselections. In the current House of Representatives, 21.7% of Liberal seats are held by women and 12.5% of Nationals seats are held by women.

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