Former Liberal shadow minister Sophie Mirabella has called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to boost the number of women in federal parliament, and has launched a cross-party campaign and petition to reinforce the message.

Mrs Mirabella, now a fellow in public policy at the University of Melbourne, has drawn up a paper entitled ‘the Melbourne Declaration’, along with former Labor advisor, Nick Reece, to promote the idea.

The declaration calls for new targets to ensure women make up at least 40 per cent of party officials, parliamentarians, ministers and shadow ministers, across all major parties and tiers of government.

Mrs Mirabella said the goal is not a call for mandatory quotas, as operated by the ALP, which introduced a 35 per cent quota in 1994 and increased it to 40 per cent in 2002 for party and public office positions.

The former Liberal MP told Neos Kosmos that debate about the Abbott cabinet’s level of female representation, along with pre-selection procedures in the Victorian election had both been catalysts for the initiative.

“It got me thinking I could do something about this issue,” she said.

“The Liberal Party is an aspirational party, and this is an aspiration; that within the next two preselection cycles, we aim for 40 per cent female representation”.

Mrs Mirabella said it was unfair that women seeking preselection were asked about how they planned to manage a family, while men were not asked the same question.

“Often women get asked ‘Who’s going to look after the children?’. A young male politician gets applauded for having a family, yet for an aspiring female politician it can be looked at as something of a challenge to be overcome,” she said.

Mrs Mirabella has urged MPs, including the PM, to sign the petition, saying the lack of women in cabinet had become a “mainstream issue” and female participation in policy-making is an “electoral imperative”.

Reflecting on her exit from parliament at the 2013 federal election, when she was defeated in the Victorian seat of Indi by independent Cathy McGowan, Mrs Mirabella said she would continue to offer her input to the Liberal Party.

Asked if a return to parliamentary politics was a possibility, Mrs Mirabella said she had no such plans, and was enjoying spending more time parenting her two daughters.

“Any female politician effectively leaves their spouse to be a single parent most of the time, and it’s been a blessing to have more time with my family.

“I’m in a good, happy space, but I’ll continue to contribute to the party I’ve been a member of since I was 18 – in terms of reforms and policy development.”

Reflecting on the Abbott government’s record in 2014 the former lawyer said that the Coalition “had succeeded in making good, significant election promises, but that it was always a challenge to communicate your agenda to the Australian population”.