Shorten puts the gender gap on Labor conference’s agenda

Bill Shorten wants addressing the gender gap “to be a cause that all of us share”. AAP/Lukas Coch

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has moved to make the gender gap an issue for the ALP’s July national conference and for Labor more widely.

Addressing the party faithful at the Gough Whitlam tribute dinner in Melbourne, Shorten recalled Whitlam’s commitment to making the ALP more equal for women. Shorten said he was committed to affirmative action and “I want this to be a cause that all of us share”.

Labor’s current affirmative action rules had been adopted in 1994, Shorten said. “I think it is time for national conference to consider: are we doing enough to encourage Australian women to participate in all levels of politics?”

This responsibility reached beyond the party, Shorten said.

“We must close the gender gap: in pay and in superannuation, in leadership and in opportunity.

"Helping working women balance their family responsibilities and their career, by supporting paid parental leave and supporting better childcare. Not demonising new mothers as "double dippers”, or lowering a new glass ceiling into every workplace by attacking pay and conditions.“

Boosting the number of women in work by 25% in the next ten years would represent 300,000 new jobs in the economy.

"And the equal treatment of women demands we accept nothing less than the complete elimination of family violence from our national life,” Shorten said.

On the issue of reforming the Labor Party, Shorten trod a fine line between saying he was committed to change but warning that it required time and compromise on all sides. The national conference provided a historic chance to rebuild the party but “everyone, on every side, will have to give some ground”, he said. “Changing our rules and structures is a slow and complex exercise.”

Shorten said Labor’s membership was higher than since the early 1990s, but he wanted it to be even higher and more diverse.

In 2010 federal Labor had an online network of 30,000, almost all of them party members, and they contributed A$70,000 to the election campaign that year. By 2013, the network was 250,000, and contributed $1 million – the single biggest contribution to Labor’s campaign. Today its network numbered 450,000. “I want more of these contributors to join us as members,” Shorten said.

“I believe Labor should encourage more union members to join the party directly,” he said. At the same time “it should no longer be compulsory for Labor members to be a member of a union”.

The ALP could “make it plain that modern Labor is not the political arm of anything but the Australian people”.