Nationals Leader David Littleproud says his party must overcome “emerging threats” if it wants to succeed in future federal elections.
Mr Littleproud outlined his vision for the Nationals to party faithful in Canberra on Saturday, saying rebuilding trust with women was a top priority.
But Mr Littleproud told the Nationals’ federal council conference that he rejected gender quotas.
“I don’t believe in quotas. I believe in creating the environment for women to come forward,” he said.
“We’ll be looking to identify female candidates in new seats and those seats that we will have retiring members in and we’ll start that process as part of this journey in being open and honest, but we want to be genuine about this.”
Female voters largely deserted the Coalition at the federal election in May, helping to hand victory to Labor and a swag of crossbench MPs.
The Nationals retained all their seats but in some electorates suffered swings against them including to independent candidates.
Labor has an affirmative action policy with quotas that have helped the party take significant steps towards gender parity for its MPs.
The Nationals and Liberals both oppose gender quotas.
Mr Littleproud said on Saturday his party had held on “against the tide” but it needed to acknowledge that it faced “emerging threats”.
“We have to acknowledge that we have to re-engage with cohorts within our communities to rebuild that trust, particularly with women,” he said.
He said he and his leadership team — deputy leader Perin Davey and the Nationals’ Senate leader Bridget McKenzie — were committed to this process.
“That engagement will be genuine at the grassroots level and that it won’t be predicated on symbolism or quotas. It will be predicated on real policy outcomes,” he said.
Mr Littleproud said he had accepted an invitation to the Albanese government’s national jobs summit next month in order to “prosecute our case”.
“It’s disappointing that regional Australia wasn’t even thought of. We were an afterthought and it’s important regional Australia has a voice there,” he said.
“The fact that regional Australia wasn’t even invited just goes to show that this stunt was all aimed at just sending the symbolic messages to the electorate.”
Mr Littleproud named a range of proposals the Nationals would take to the jobs summit.
These include paying the university fees of graduates filling skills shortages in rural and regional Australia, such as registered nurses and pharmacists.
The Nationals will also call for a regional visa that brings in not just agriculture but the skills that regional Australia needs.
“And we want a pathway to permanent residency,” Mr Littleproud said.
“We want a next generation of Australians who come here to drive regional Australia to be part of our community, not be transient, but to be part of our communities.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton turned down the invitation to the Liberals to participate in the summit, criticising the event for being a “stunt” that would do little to address Australia’s economic challenges.