I’ve been watching proceedings in the Australian parliament keenly these past few weeks, tuning into more than a few of the maiden speeches. Why am I putting myself through an experience most non-political types would consider akin to torture? Well, the first speech of a fresh-faced politician tells you a lot about how they’ll approach the role. It gives an insight into the experiences that made them, what drives their agenda and sparks their passions.
There are a bunch of women MPs and Senators who are newcomers to parliamentary life. I’d like to take a moment to introduce them to you. If politics were a game of professional basketball, these women would be some of the players to watch. Whether you agree with their politics or not, they will likely be contenders for power and influence in the years to follow.
Helen Haines is an independent member for the seat of Indi. Despite holding a traditionally conservative electorate she says climate change is a key priority of hers. She told Katherine Murphy on the Guardian Australia podcast that her electorate is proof conservative voters want action on climate change. “I don’t accept for one moment that the debate on climate is over” she says of the prospect this parliament could take meaningful action to reduce emissions.
Dr Katie Allen is the new Liberal member for the seat of Higgins and widely tipped to play a senior policy role in a future government. She takes over from Kelly O’Dwyer, who was one of the Liberal Party’s most senior women. Allen is a former paediatric doctor at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, and mother of four, who has named health, education and infrastructure as priorities.
Newly elected Labor MP Peta Murphy has used her first speech to implore colleagues for more investment in healthcare. Having beaten breast cancer once before, Murphy has only recently learned that the disease has returned. That will not stop her, however, from taking her rightful place in the House of Representatives. She says Australia is at risk of losing its ‘best in the world’ healthcare status, and the parliament must fight to maintain the system’s access and excellence.
Angie Bell is the first openly LGBTQI+ woman to serve as a Liberal member of the federal parliament. She has taken up the seat of Moncrieff and insists she doesn’t want the ‘narrow lens’ of sexuality to define her role in public life. She used her first speech to highlight the importance of tourism to the local economy of her Gold Coast seat. Bell also explained how a background in small business will drive her approach to policy.
Senator Larissa Waters returns to the parliament after being forced to resign during the citizenship saga of last year, which ended the political careers of many. Her determination to return shows a passion and enthusiasm for the work she considers most important. Waters, the first woman to breastfeed her child in the Senate Chamber, is committed to action on climate change and gender equality.
There was one parliamentary moment that really struck me in the feels. My dear friend and former housemate Anika Wells won the seat of Liley in Queensland and delivered her first speech in July. You might have seen photos of her, dressed in suffragette white, carrying her daughter’s pram in one arm, and holding Celeste’s tiny hand with the other. She used time to deliver an impassioned call to arms on climate change, opportunities for young people and the advancement of women.
If this is the start, I’m looking forward to hearing more from each of these women….
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