Reflections on a 50:50 male:female quota for Labour Members of Parliament
Posted by BE on November 5th, 2013
This post originally appeared on 13 December 1987 in the Dominion Sunday Times where I had a weekly column. For no good reason I can think of today the two people in the dialogue were named ‘Straight’ and ‘Narrow’ and the piece itself titled ‘Alas Straight and Narrow’.
The column was a spoof on the concept of quota-based, as distinct from merit-based candidate selection in the Public Service. It has relevance today to the Labour Party’s policy of an eventual 50:50 gender-based quota for its MPs by 2017. Such a policy is in my view undemocratic and unworkable other than in a party like the Greens which has no electorate MPs and can manipulate its party lists to ensure gender equality.
When Labour reaches its 50:50 gender split, every retiring or defeated MP will, in principle, have to be replaced by a member of the same sex. This will be highly problematic in electorates where the local party organisation strongly favours a candidate of ‘the wrong gender’. The retirement of a male list MP will also be problematic if the next person on the list is a woman who will have to be passed over to retain the strict 50:50 split. The only way to resolve this problem would seem to be to have separate male and female lists.
My view on all this is quite simple: the sole criterion for selection as a Parliamentary candidate should be merit. To favour women over men in candidate selection in order to ensure equality in numbers strikes me as paternalistic and demeaning to the sex.
Alas Straight and Narrow
I see, Straight, that the National Lesbian Consultative Committee has told the Royal Commission on Social Policy that there should be a 10 percent quota of lesbian employees for all government departments and state-funded agencies. Pretty silly, don’t you think?
No, I don’t think, Narrow, and neither apparently do you. Lesbians are a statistically significant socio-sexual group in New Zealand society – about five percent of the population, I believe – and as such are entitled to proportionate representation in the State’s workforce. To deprive them of such representation would be to deprive them of economic and political power. It would, in a word, be discriminatory and sexist.
That’s two words, Straight, but I do see your point. You are saying that the Public Service should contain a precisely representative cross-section of the population at large.
That is exactly what I am saying, Narrow, and I conclude that there should be a five percent quota of lesbians and a further five percent quota of male homosexuals, making 10 percent in all.
Can I conclude then, Straight, that there should also be a 10 percent quota of Maori, another statistically significant but nonetheless minority group?
Indeed you can, Narrow.
And no doubt there should be a further 10 percent quota of disabled persons for the same reasons?
There is no doubt about it, Narrow, and, as you say, for the same reasons.
And 17 percent Presbyterians?
And 19 percent atheists and agnostics?
And 25 percent cigarette smokers?
Yes. Even though cigarette smokers are disgusting and filthy creatures of limited intelligence, and even though the act of smoking is soon to be banned in all government departments, smokers do exist and they are statistically significant and what they do is not illegal and they have got rights. Yes, Straight, the cigarette smoking lobby is clearly entitled to proportionate representation in the Public Service. Anything less would be discrimination of the worst kind.
And no doubt the same could be said of pipe-smokers?
To be strictly correct, Narrow, yes. A further 0.25 percent.
I myself, Straight, am a member of a small but nonetheless statistically significant minority group. I am particularly fond of indigenous rock music. I was somewhat concerned that, if I ever were to join a government department, I might be forced at morning and afternoon tea times to listen to unrelieved Beethoven and Barry Manilow rather than the Kilbirnie Kneecappers. However, I assume from what you now tell me that fans of locally recorded rock music could expect a public service employment quota just like all these other groups?
That might depend, Narrow, on how many of you there are.
Well, there’s me and Karen Hay. And she has already started the ball rolling by demanding a 10 percent quota of local rock music on the radio.
Shall we say 11 percent indigenous rock music lovers then, Narrow?
We can’t, Straight. You see, with the lesbians, male homosexuals, Maori, disabled persons, Presbyterians, atheists, agnostics, cigarette smokers, pipe smokers and indigenous rock music lovers, we are already up to 102.25 percent. The Public Service is full!
The Public Service is not full, Narrow. What you are overlooking is the fact that many people belong to more than one of these statistically significant minority groups. Let me explain. If we have a 10 percent quota of homosexuals in the Public Service, we must, to be fair, also have a 90 percent quota of heterosexuals, since 90 percent of the population is heterosexual.
What about the bisexuals, Straight?
They, Narrow, are the least problematical group of all, since they can be included in either quota. Similarly, if we have a 25 percent quota of cigarette smokers, we must, to be fair, have a 75 percent quota of non-smokers. Now these smokers and non-smokers are not added to the homosexuals and heterosexuals. They are the same people.
I understand, Straight. So once a month the person who runs the Public Service will look at his staff compliment and see if he …
Or ‘she’, Narrow, or ‘she’ .
. . . or she has filled his or her quota of each of these statistically significant minority groups.
Exactly. And when a position falls vacant, Narrow, he or she will have to find exactly the right candidate to fill that position.
How do you mean?
Well, if the heterosexual, the Maori, the disabled, the Presbyterian, the atheist, the non-smoking and the Beethoven and Barry Manilow quotas are all full, the successful applicant will have to be a homosexual, European, able-bodied, any religion other than Presbyterian, cigarette-smoking fan of indigenous rock music.
And presumably the best person for the job, Straight?
I don’t believe there’s a quota for that, Narrow.