Libs accused of failing to support women

Liberal Senator Jane Hume is considering standing for preselection in Higgins.
Liberal Senator Jane Hume is considering standing for preselection in Higgins.

Labor has accused the Liberal Party of failing to properly support women in its ranks following the shock resignation of Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O'Dwyer.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed the "churlish" suggestions and accused the opposition of rank hypocrisy.

Ms O'Dwyer has announced she will quit politics at the next election to spend more time with her family and try for a third child.

Her resignation is a major blow to the Liberal Party as it struggles with low levels of female representation in federal parliament.

Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, who has raised three children while in parliament, said she understood the pressure Ms O'Dwyer was under.

But Ms Plibersek said the Liberals had failed to make juggling motherhood and ministerial duties any easier.

"One of the differences the Liberal Party could make to make it easier to retain people like Kelly O'Dwyer on the front bench is increase the number of women in their parliamentary party," she told reporters on Sunday.

"Because when you get a critical mass, it does change the culture."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison flatly rejected that argument.

"If it's okay for a Labor bloke from Western Australia (Tim Hammond) to say that he's not going to contest the next election because of family reasons, it should be alright for Kelly O'Dwyer," Mr Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

He said Ms O'Dwyer had never complained about the level of support provided.

"She's made her choice and I was pleased to be standing with her in that choice."

The prime minister said all politicians, particularly ministers, spent a great deal of time away from their families.

"That is one of the things that sadly goes with the job but that, frankly, is not uncommon."

The Liberal Party is searching for another woman to replace Ms O'Dwyer in her blue-ribbon Melbourne seat of Higgins, which she holds by eight per cent.

"I'm very confident about a very strong female field," Mr Morrison said.

Ms O'Dwyer, who is also the minister for women, is one of the most senior women in the coalition government.

A handful of women have emerged as potential candidates for the Liberals in the inner-eastern electorate, including Victorian Senator Jane Hume, who is keen to switch to the lower house.

If Ms O'Dwyer's successor fails to win at the next federal poll, the Liberals could be left without any Victorian women in the House of Representatives.

"It's not her going which is the issue - that's her business - it's the fact that once she goes, what other women are they going to put on the front bench?" Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said.

Federal government frontbencher Darren Chester defended her decision to leave, arguing it emphasised the need to encourage more young women into politics and support them once they entered parliament.

Australian Associated Press