This is part five in a series. For the full series, go here.
In a sign of the times, during his earliest days in office in November this year, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet acknowledged that there aren’t enough women in the Liberal Party and promised to promote more women in a reshuffle over summer and to encourage more women to run for pre-selection.
Around the same time, NSW Treasurer Matt Kean highlighted the number of women in the workforce as critical to the state’s economic recovery from COVID’s ongoing fallout, saying: “For us to succeed as a state, we need to make sure that we have as many of our best and brightest people participating fully in our economy. That’s why we need to increase the participation rate for women in the workforce.”
They were promising statements from our newly-minted premier and treasurer, and hot on their heels was the report from sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins confirming what we already know to be true: Australia is ready for more women of all backgrounds in office.
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Perrottet has now increased the number of women in cabinet (seven, up from six under Gladys Berejiklian), but there is still much work to do.
To be clear, this issue does not affect the Liberal Party alone. Currently, women across all parties are under-represented at each level of government in Australia: they make up 37% of state and territory assemblies, 37% of federal Parliament, and 35% of local councils.
It’s not an abstract concept — when a seat becomes vacant, we need to have highly-qualified female politicians from diverse backgrounds available to run for it, and to vote for them when they do. Every single election matters, from local councillors to the federal seats.
Why do we need more women and diversity in office? In a nutshell: increased bipartisanship, more investment in essential public infrastructure, the myriad benefits of intersectionality, different styles of leadership throughout crises, value demonstrated over and over again.
I’ve spent a lot of time working with women in regional and rural Australia in recent times. It is clear to me that women’s leadership, care and organisational skills hold those communities together — especially through times of crisis. We saw it during the bushfires, during droughts and then floods, and during the pandemic.
It might be Meals on Wheels, running the local life-saving club, leading business chambers, carrying the tin around to get drought relief.
Those skills — those volunteer jobs that they’re already doing — replicate nine-tenths of what a good political representative exhibits. These women are out in the community. They see what needs to be done. And they do it.
As we see every day at Women for Election (WFE), change is afoot. We’ve had 1900 women register for our non-partisan events in the past 12 months, up from 200 in 2019. A new era of leadership is on the rise. It’s been bubbling away in our communities for a long time and it’s time to welcome a new type of power.
Having worked with many women leaders over the years, I know countless aspiring female politicians have these qualities in spades. They can help change the face of power in Australia for the better, across all levels of government and across the political spectrum.
Gender parity and diversity in office isn’t about an abstract concept of fairness; it’s about whether Australia wants a future as an economic and social powerhouse.
That future will be shaped by decisions made today; we all know that decisions are made by those who show up, so now we need more women showing up for office at all levels of government, and for voters to support them. The lived experience of women — more than half our population — must be part of the problem-solving and decision-making at the highest levels to ensure better societal outcomes for all Australians.
Every strong democracy has strong leadership — and great strength and power comes from diversity. We have an opportunity to create more balanced and diverse parliaments and council chambers to reflect the flourishing democracy we enjoy. It’s time to take a huge leap forward and change the face of power in Australia.