Josh Frydenberg concedes Liberal party ‘has got to do more’ to recruit women

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has conceded the Liberal party has “got to do more” to recruit women as he signalled the government would take action against sexual harassment in parliament before the end of the year.

The deputy Liberal leader made the comments on ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday where he also raised the prospect of the Coalition in opposition blocking Labor’s 43% emissions reduction target for 2030.

Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, on Tuesday recommended a significant overhaul of federal parliament’s toxic workplace culture after handing down her landmark report that found one in three staffers interviewed had been sexually harassed.

The report also focused attention on the Liberal party’s failure to achieve equal representation of women in parliament without quotas, despite adopting targets of 50% in some states including New South Wales.

Related: The Jenkins report and Scott Morrison’s responsibility to lead change

On Sunday, Frydenberg said 38% of MPs and senators in federal parliament were women. In the Liberal party, although representation in the lower house is closer to a quarter, half of the party’s senators are women.

“There’s been progress – 25 years ago, about 20% of the parliamentarians were women. Ten years ago it was 30%,” he said. “Today we’re approaching 40%. We’ve made progress … we’ve got to do more.”

Frydenberg said it was “not right” the Victorian Liberal party continued to preselect men in winnable seats such as Casey and Menzies, where Liberal incumbents Tony Smith and Kevin Andrews are resigning.

He cited the fact senator Sarah Henderson is top of the Victorian Liberal ticket, and the party has preselected women to contest the marginal Labor seats of Dunkley and Corangamite.

Asked if the harassment detailed by Jenkins was familiar to him, Frydenberg replied “not to that extent”, saying that beyond several “very concerning allegations” what Jenkins found was a “normalised culture of misconduct”.

“That is completely unacceptable. In any workplace, let alone the nation’s workplace.

“The Australian people have a right to expect that we are leaders and that we hold ourselves to the highest of standards. And the best practice. So we have to get on with acting on this Kate Jenkins report.”

Frydenberg said the prime minister, Scott Morrison, had already acted by seeking advice from his department, revealing that cabinet would consider a response “before the year-end”.

“We’ll be taking action on all the recommendations,” the treasurer said.

Related: Former parliament staff warn Scott Morrison to act on Jenkins review or face backlash from women

“We’re absolutely leaning into this. This is a multiparty process. This is our chance to draw a line in the sand and say to the Australian people, we will be better than we have been.”

Earlier, Frydenberg raised the alarm about Labor’s 2030 climate target despite the fact a 43% emissions reduction is less ambitious than the target of several Liberal-National state governments and many business groups.

Frydenberg said Labor was looking to legislate its target, which they would do “in partnership with the Greens”, meaning 43% was just a “first bid” that could be increased after the election.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got our target, 26-28% by 2030, but we’re on track for a 35% reduction,” he said.

Asked if the Coalition would block Labor’s target if it were in opposition, Frydenberg replied: “We’re not about to support Labor’s policy. We’ve got our own policy and that’s what we’re looking to implement.”

Frydenberg faces a difficult election campaign to hold his inner-Melbourne seat of Kooyong where action against climate change is popular, while also seeking to keep Labor in opposition by winning votes in regional areas that fear the impact of more stringent emissions cuts.

Frydenberg attacked Labor’s policy for utilising the safeguards mechanism – a cap on emissions of the biggest polluters that was implemented by the Abbott Coalition government.

He said it was intended to prevent emissions growing but “wasn’t meant to be this stick to mandate, to push these industrial players to force them to reduce their emissions by a certain amount”.

This would “punish” large industrial companies “regardless of their growth, regardless of their plans for expanding their presence”, he claimed.

Frydenberg said the mid-year economic update would forecast growth in Australia, citing estimates of up to 5.5% growth in 2022.

“We’re starting to see workforce shortages which will have some positive impact on wages,” he said.

Related: Josh Frydenberg admits climate change a major preoccupation in global markets

Earlier, the deputy Labor leader, Richard Marles, told Sky News that Labor had proposed “a sensible proposition” that would reduce electricity prices, create jobs and reduce emissions.

Marles said the 43% emissions reduction figure had been selected after looking for “practical measures we could take that we knew Australia would be willing to support” then determining “where that took the numbers”.

Marles noted the safeguard mechanism was “their [the Coalition’s] creation”, and all Labor had done was adopt the Business Council of Australia’s recommendation to lower the baseline of emissions over time.

Marles rejected the proposition the policy could cost Labor the election, or that it faced a tradeoff between inner-city environmentally conscious voters and regional voters more concerned about job security.

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