The Victorian Liberal leadership contender John Pesutto will push to boost the party’s number of female MPs, vowing to enact reform.
The race to lead the party narrowed to two contenders on Thursday after the Polwarth MP Richard Riordan pulled out, saying he would support Brad Battin from the party’s conservative wing, who is contesting alongside the moderate Pesutto. It followed the opposition leader, Matthew Guy, confirming he would step down after the party’s disastrous election loss on the weekend.
Pesutto told Guardian Australia the party needed to increase diversity.
“We have to get more diversity into parliament. I want to see more of that happen, particularly more women,” he said.
“There are things that the administrative committee can do when it advertises for preselection to determine the conditions of preselections or when vacancies emerge. There are things that the committee can do which will help try and get more women in parliament as those vacancies emerge.”
Pesutto said one possibility would be the committee creating a rule that a female candidate must replace a female MP. He said quotas were one option but unlikely to be backed by the membership of the party.
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In 2016, the then opposition leader, Guy, said he wanted almost 50% of Liberal MPs to be women by 2022. However, just eight out of 30 Liberals in parliament this past term were women.
The Victorian senator Jane Hume – who is conducting a review of the party’s election loss in May – said there was no doubt fewer women were voting for the party and stressed it was something to be addressed.
One Victorian Liberal MP, who requested to remain anonymous, said one option included the UK’s model of candidate lists to boost the number of women in the party.
Pesutto, who reclaimed at the weekend election the inner-city Melbourne seat of Hawthorn that he lost in 2018, is basing his leadership pitch on ensuring the party has “broad appeal”.
He said a broad-based appeal was key to ensure the party could retain inner-city seats such as Hawthorn – that came under threat by independent “teal” candidates at this election – and gain ground in outer suburban areas where the party recorded double-digit swings in Labor-held seats including Broadmeadows, Greenvale, Mill Park, St Albans and Yan Yean.
Pesutto said he would not move a motion regarding whether the upper house MP Renee Heath would sit in the Liberal party room if he was leader.
During the election campaign, Guy said Heath would be excluded after claims were made that she was a lifelong member of the City Builders church. The church, which is led by Heath’s parents, is reportedly opposed to gay, transgender and reproductive rights.
Heath has denied having the same views as her parents.
After emerging as leadership contenders, Riordan and Ryan Smith this week said they would withdraw their candidacy bids and throw their support behind Battin.
Riordan said Battin was an “experienced growth area campaigner”, while Smith said he shared a similar vision for the future direction of the party with Battin.
Battin, who unsuccessfully challenged Michael O’Brien for the leadership in 2021, has argued the party should focus its efforts on new growth corridors and engaging with multicultural groups.