Gender balance in Cabinet

I think that most people would agree that having about half of MPs women and about half of Cabinet Ministers women would be a good aspiration, but I also think most people, including most women, would put ability and competence ahead of exactly equal numbers of each sex.

John Key was asked about gender balance in Cabinet on The Nation in the weekend.

Key told Nation host Lisa Owen “it would be stupid” to promise a gender-balanced Cabinet.

“I think if you went to our female ministers, of which we’ve got a tremendous group of talent – from Paula to Amy to Judith, you name them, Hekia, Anne Tolley, there’s just a bunch of very talented women in there – they are there because they’re immensely talented. Yes, it’s great that they’re women, and I think there should be balance,” he said.

Of the current Cabinet there are 7 women and 13 men. Of Ministers outside Cabinet there are 3 women and 2 men.

In total out of 25 there are 10 women and 15 men.

Labour aspires to MP gender balance but failed to achieve it’s goals due to winning less than expected seats. It gets tricky when most MPs are electorate MPs, ultimately the voters choose individual MPs and the gender balance is whatever it all adds up to.

Greens, the champions of balance, are more staunch on Cabinet ideals. They have male and female co-leaders, and their list is arranged so there is approximately the same number of female and male MPs – it’s much easier to achieve when all are list-only MPs.

Greens have a policy on gender balance in Cabinet, but it’s not clear exactly what they are going for. James Shaw put out this press release in July 2015:

Greens will ensure gender balance in Cabinet

How will the ensure that a Cabinet of Labour, Green and probably NZ First MPs will be 50/50 male/female?

The Green Party is today announcing that, in Government, it will ensure half of all Green Cabinet Ministers are women, and will call on other members of any coalition Government it is involved in to do the same.

“Our hope is that by leading by example, and ensuring gender equality at the Cabinet table, the Green Party can stimulate and support a wave of gender equity reforms for women who work,” Mr Shaw said.

That’s not ensuring Cabinet is balanced, it is ensuring the Green MPs in Cabinet are gender balanced (as long as there’s an even number of them) and a hope that the other parties in the coalition will do likewise.

“The idea that people are paid on merit, or appointed to senior roles like Government Ministers based on their abilities, doesn’t stack up. Women are paid less largely because they’re working in professions that are dominated by women, and they’re often not appointed to senior positions because of barriers that have nothing to do with ability.  It’s time to drop the idea that women are worth less once and for all.

Shaw leaps from an unsubstantiated claim that Ministers aren’t appointed on merit to a general spiel on inequality.

Women MPs are paid the same as males in equal positions, and Cabinet Ministers are also paid equally.

“Around the world countries are realising that gender inequality is holding them back and they’re committing to greater representation by women in many positions of power in business and politics.”

While more women in positions of power is a good thing if they are up to the task I would be interested to see evidence that less than half of MPs and Cabinet Ministers is holding New Zealand back in some way.

“By committing to a gender balance in Cabinet, the Green Party won’t immediately fix the inequalities women are forced to deal with at work every day, but it will show that we are committed to gender equality everywhere, starting with where we work ourselves,” Mr Shaw said.

Shaw finishes back where he started – committing to a gender balance in Cabinet.

But how would Greens achieve that? They can hardly force other parties to have gender balance in the MPs they have in Cabinet.

On current polling and using proportionality if Greens had four Cabinet Ministers then NZ First would also have four and Labour would have twelve.

In Labour’s top twelve MPs there are 5 women.

NZ First doesn’t seem to rank their MPs but they have 8 males and 3 females. Based on their 2014 list there was one woman in their top four.

If Labour put  5 women into Cabinet and NZ First 1 that’s 6, so would Greens agree to have all four of their MPs in Cabinet in women to ensure it was gender balanced?

Or would they refuse to go into coalition unless Labour and NZ First had a 50/50m gender split with their Cabinet MPs?

Or would they just hope their ideal is agreed to by the other parties?

It would be a good ideal to achieve, approximately, but with a multi party coalition it may not be easy.

And – do most women care? How many would prioritise gender balance over merit and competence?

Leave a comment


  1. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  28th November 2016

    Oh no,…. a Parliament with only males and females….
    what about the other genders?

    • I did actually think of them but that makes things very complicated. However other genders are such a small proportion of the population it is hard to have them represented proportionally, especially in every party.

      And while the Greens pride themselves on their so-called gender equality (is Turei’s dominance equal to Shaw’s?) They have big omissions in their ethnic representation.

      When you have 15 MPs you can’t be representative of everyone and every thing, and you can’t force ‘balance’ on the whole of Parliament – unless voters are taken out of the selection process.

  2. Missy

     /  29th November 2016

    “And – do most women care? How many would prioritise gender balance over merit and competence?”

    I can’t speak for other women, but as for myself, I don’t care, I prefer a competent cabinet there on merit than an incompetent one there because of gender – and that goes for all jobs!

  3. PDB

     /  29th November 2016

    Surely the fact that males are more likely to want to become MP’s means that there will be a bigger pool of men to chose from and this is then reflected in a parliament that is male leaning.

    The common sense approach is to work from the bottom up in encouraging more females to get into politics thus improving their selection pool, not artificially creating gender equality by possibly rejecting good male prospects purely because they were born with a penis.

    • Blazer

       /  29th November 2016

      ‘Surely the fact that males are more likely to want to become MP’s ‘…..and what evidence can you present to support this statement….none…as usual!

      • PDB

         /  29th November 2016

        It’s called research, common sense & first hand knowledge – no doubt you won’t understand as you lack all three?

        • Blazer

           /  30th November 2016

          Its none of those things ,and definately has no factual basis,and your clumsy side step reinforces that.

  4. “a Cabinet of Labour, Green and probably NZ First MPs will be 50/50 male/female”. Every other blog I read says Winston will never run with the Greens. Next year should be interesting 🙂

    • PDB

       /  29th November 2016

      Winston needs to swallow a very large rat either way – get revenge on Key by joining the Greens/Labour in the unholy trinity of ineptness, or keeping Key as PM. At least going with National he can sideline the Maori party which is also on his agenda.

  5. Zedd

     /  29th November 2016

    methinks that a gender balance is definitley aspirational, BUT its shouldn’t be the joke that Nat MPs tell at the ‘old boys club; on saturday night ! 😦

    • Missy

       /  30th November 2016

      “methinks that a gender balance is definitley aspirational,”

      Why? Shouldn’t the aspiration to get the best qualified and most competent people without focus on their gender? Talking about needing a gender balance is just patronising by implying women can’t make it without an aspirational ‘gender balance’.

      “BUT its shouldn’t be the joke that Nat MPs tell at the ‘old boys club; on saturday night ! ”

      And it shouldn’t be the patronising quota system that the Greens have – or Labour wish to have – because they don’t believe women are competent and can succeed without men giving them their success. 😦

      • Nicely put Missy. I suspect the current Green (PC?) view is that we have to be unfair now to right the unfairness of the past where women were kept in their downtrodden place. PC is more about doing what’s currently correct than doing what’s right. I acknowledge that even that in itself is a moving target, an illustrious goal.

      • Blazer

         /  30th November 2016

        ‘Why? Shouldn’t the aspiration to get the best qualified and most competent people without focus on their gender? Talking about needing a gender balance is just patronising by implying women can’t make it without an aspirational ‘gender balance’….best thing I’ve ever seen you post.

  6. Alan Wilkinson

     /  29th November 2016

    Ray Columbus has died. That’s a big name from the past. A few years ago passing through Taipa I saw he was still active up there in the very far north.

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  29th November 2016

    This is the kind of case where irrespective of gender I don’t have much sympathy for the “victim”. He boasts to his friends and then complains he is afraid of people talking about it. He indulges in the behaviour that he complains made him a victim. Had he been a year older even the law would have said he was responsible for his own decisions. Grow up and sort yourself out is my response and would have been had he been my child.

  8. When contemplating which way Winston will move, always remember that his track record is wholly selfish, what’s in it for him is the inevitable question. His ego is enormous, and he is too old to be the Prime Minister as he does not have the energy to defend his position nor does he have the representatives in Parliament to exercise power. I guess his best formula is to agree to a deal for becoming the next Governor-General where he can indulge in his fantasies. I do not like him as all of you will know, because I do not believe he is capable of putting the national interest ahead of his personal desires for prestige. (I was going to say he lacks the breeding to be able to exercise real mana, but that would be naughty wouldn’t it?)


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