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‘Legislation can only do so much’: Julia Banks on gender equality in Parliament

The former Liberal Party turned independent federal MP has reiterated calls for quotas in the Federal Parliament to achieve equal gender representation ahead of the Women in Law Forum 2022.

user iconMalavika Santhebennur 10 October 2022 Big Law
‘Legislation can only do so much’: Julia Banks on gender equality in Parliament
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Julia Banks — who spent over two decades working in senior corporate counsel and executive director roles and as chair and director of various boards of global blue-chip companies — will share her personal stories about the unequal opportunities, casual sexism, systemic misogyny, and the consequences of speaking out at the upcoming Women in Law Forum in November.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly ahead of the forum, Ms Banks said that while legislation would improve workplace culture for women, it was a different story in politics.

“I think within the Federal Parliament, legislation can only do so much,” Ms Banks said.


“I think the key is to mandate equal gender representation in the Federal Parliament across all the major parties. Successful parliaments in Nordic countries, for example, have mandatory quotas for the number of men and women in Parliament.

“That would be ideal because that would put the burden on the parties.”

According to figures from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) — which has published international rankings of women in national parliaments since 1997 based on the representation of women in the lower houses only — Australia’s ranking for women in national Parliament was 57th in 2022, after placing 27th in 1997, and rising to 15th in 1999.

While the proportion of women in Australia’s House of Representatives had risen since 1997, when it was at 15.5 per cent, it is still only 31.1 per cent in 2022.

“If we look at our Parliament’s history, we’ve only had 132 women elected to the House of Representatives since Federation, and I’m proud to have been one of them,” Ms Banks said.

The election of six female independent teal MPs at this year’s elections has increased the number of women in Parliament, she added.

The Australian Labor Party introduced voluntary party quotas in 1994, with the party currently having a target of 50 per cent female representation by 2025.

While stating that the ALP had done a “much better job” at striving for equal gender representation in Parliament, Ms Banks said: “I doubt that ideologically, the Liberal Party will ever move to a quota system despite their problems”.

Ms Banks said that while some have argued for a mandatory and specific target of a 40:40:20 split (a representation of 40 per cent women, 40 per cent men, and 20 per cent open to either) to provide some flexibility, a quota system based on sound research would be more beneficial in Federal Parliament.

“I think targets would work more in other workplaces, and I saw it work in my corporate life,” she said.

“The reason they work at senior levels is because you can incentivise leaders to meet their diversity targets. But of course, you can’t do that in Parliament because you can’t incentivise elected representatives in the same way.

“That’s why self-imposed quotas within the major parties would be the best system in Federal Parliament.”

When asked how she would respond to those who argue for a merit-based rather than a quota system, Ms Banks argued that it has repeatedly been proven that the “merit myth doesn’t work”.

Instead, she stressed that discrimination, “covert” and unconscious bias, and stereotypes impede women’s progression in all workplaces.

“There’s an equal number of women that have merit as men in any profession,” she asserted.

“It’s about breaking through those stereotypes and that unconscious bias. We’ve come a long way, generally as a society in Australia, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Ms Banks was elected to the House of Representatives as a member for Chisholm in Melbourne in the 2016 federal election.

In August 2018, following the Liberal Party leadership crisis, which resulted in former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull being replaced by former prime minister Scott Morrison, Ms Banks announced that she would not contest the seat of Chisolm at the next election.

In a statement announcing her decision, she called out the continuing “scourge of culture, gender bias, bullying, and intimidation” against women in politics.

Following her announcement that she would not recontest the seat of Chisolm at the 2019 election, Ms Banks delivered a resignation speech in Parliament, where she said equal representation of men and women in Parliament is an “urgent imperative”, which could herald cultural change.

“There’s the blinkered rejection of quotas and support of the merit myth. But this is more than a numbers game. Across both major parties, the level of regard and respect for women in politics is years behind the business world,” she said.

Ms Banks’ career was always in the legal and corporate sector, having only first entered politics in 2015, just prior to her election.

While she contested the seat of Flinders as an independent in the 2019 election, she was not re-elected to Parliament.

Ms Banks recounted her experiences in Federal Parliament and the legal corporate sector in her book, Power Play: Breaking Through Bias, Barriers and Boys’ Clubs, released in 2021.

To hear more from Julia Banks about her experiences in federal politics and the corporate world, and how she navigated bias, barriers, and the boys’ club to take on leadership roles, come along to the Women in Law Forum 2022.

It will be held on 24 November 2022 at Grand Hyatt Melbourne.

Click here to book your tickets and make sure you don’t miss out!

For more information, including agenda and speakers, click here.

Julia Banks appears by arrangement with Saxton Speakers Bureau.