Moves to address gender imbalance

MEANS testing allowances for councillors has been mooted as a way to attract more women candidates when Bathurst voters return to the polls in 2016.

As counting continues following the Bathurst Regional Council election on Saturday, it remains likely that the chambers will be a women-free zone for the next four years.

Incumbent councillor Monica Morse is the only female candidate with a hope of breaking the all-male stronghold, but she would need an extraordinary flow of preferences to win the ninth and final seat on council.

But before the make-up of the new council has even been finalised, thoughts are turning to new ways to address the gender imbalance.

New councillor Dr Jess Jennings, who headed a five-member ticket at Saturday’s election, said he was disappointed there might be no women joining him on council.

Two women – Katherine Conolan and Kate Smith – ran on his ticket, but they were placed number three and four, respectively, giving them next to no chance of being elected.

The other two tickets, headed by incumbents Warren Aubin and Greg Westman, also had two women but, again, neither had a woman placed higher than position three. However, Dr Jennings rejected suggestions the tickets must take some of the blame for no women being elected.

“I approached several women to go number two on my ticket and they all would have been excellent candidates,” he said.

“In the end, though, council just didn’t appeal to them or suit their circumstances. But to not have a single woman on council is bloody ridiculous and a real shame.”

Dr Jennings said more should be done to attract women to council, and suggested council look at means-testing the allowance each councillor receives.

“So if a councillor comes from a poorer background they might get $20,000 while if the councillor is on $100-150,000 they might get the base rate,” he said.

“The means-testing would have to apply to men and women but might help address the shortage of women a bit.

“It might also be interesting to see an all-women ticket run next time.”

Former councillor Paul Haysom, who ran as number two on Dr Jennings’ ticket, called for a return to the days when incumbent councillors actively sought out quality women candidates to run with them for council.

“That really brought some quality women onto council, including Kath Knowles,” he said.

Cr Aubin was at a loss to explain why there were not more women featuring prominently in civic life.

“If a group wanted to run a ticket of all women next time then they could very well have two women elected, but possibly it’s just a little bit of apathy,” he said.

“I know Monica [Morse] asked a lot of women to run in this election but they didn’t want to do it.”

Bathurst Regional Council Chambers.

Bathurst Regional Council Chambers.