They sit at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but Labor’s Tanya Plibersek and Liberal Sussan Ley agree on at least one thing: quotas.
The MPs called for a commitment to equal representation in parliament during Future Women’s inaugural HerVote event in Sydney tonight. As budget week came to a close, more than 150 women gathered in Darlinghurst to hear from emerging candidates and leading female politicians ahead of the Federal election.
“At the end of last year I spoke up for quotas. I don’t think it’s something we need in place for a long time but we need something to happen to change the numbers of women in parliament in the Liberal Party,” Ley, the Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories, told Future Women after the event, which was hosted by Nine’s Allison Langdon.
“What I said then and what I say now is I’m looking forward to taking a motion to the NSW State Liberal Party Conference the next time we have one… I want to engender broad support. This needs to come from the party.”
Plibersek, Labor’s Deputy Leader, said politicians make better decisions when they represent the community they are part of.
“It’s important for the policies that we focus on, that we argue for, that we win,” she told the audience.
“When it comes to things like equal pay … do I think that men of goodwill would have got around to it eventually? Maybe. It’s possible. I can tell you the fact the Labor Party, our Caucus in the Federal Parliament is 46 percent women makes it a lot easier to make that case. Because it’s our bread and butter. It’s our lived experience. It’s our everyday lives. It’s what our friends are telling us is important to them that are the policies we pursue.”
Plibersek and Ley headlined tonight’s HerVote town hall-style event, an initiative developed by Future Women in partnership with Twitter Australia to engage more women ahead of the Federal election.
“Women in parliament can work together in this cross-party way to change the culture for the better, together.”
They led a wide-ranging discussion on gender equality and life in Canberra alongside Zali Steggall, Hollie Hughes and Shireen Morris – three female candidates vying for a seat in Australia’s parliament at the Federal election.
Steggall, the Olympian-turned-barrister-turned independent candidate, said she was taking on Tony Abbott for the conservative seat of Warringah to serve her community.
“As a barrister, we represent the client’s views and facts to the court. It’s not about personal ambition. It’s not about personal opinions. I see that very much as the representative role in parliament. You’re representing your community,” she said.
“As far as the Warringah community goes, it has not felt represented by Mr Abbott for a while.”
Steggall said she was heartened by the groundswell of support for independent candidates in Australia, but also joined the other panellists in calling for women to stand up for the issues that mattered to them.
The panellists, however, acknowledged the abuse faced by prominent female politicians such as former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was a turn off for many women.
“My fear is that it coarsens our culture and makes women think that this is not the place for me. And that could not be further from the truth. That’s why we need to fix it,” Plibersek said.
“I think Julia [Gillard] was much the same. We talked about this quite a lot when some of the worst attacks were made on her. I used to feel enraged. She said, let’s just get on with the work and the rest would take care of itself. And I do have regrets that I did not call out misogyny earlier because it enabled it to become part of our culture too much… But calling it out for each other is really important.”
Shireen Morris, a lawyer of Fijian-Indian heritage, is running for Labor in the Melbourne seat of Deakin.
She said if we’re serious about encouraging women to pursue a career in politics, we need to have a conversation about parliamentary culture.
“Women in parliament can work together in this cross-party way to change the culture for the better, together. That’s what I think has started to happen post-#MeToo, we can do that so the next generation is not terrified and does come forward,” she said.
“But each and everyone us needs to take responsibility for changing this culture.”
“It’s really important now when you get somewhere that you leave the ladder down and you help other women onto the ladder. But it’s also about men, bringing the women up behind them.”
For Hollie Hughes, who clinched the NSW Liberal’s top spot on the Senate ticket, part of this change requires that both men and women step up.
“We have to leave the ladder down. So many women in the past, there was this mindset that there could only be one woman and when they got there, the ladder came straight up behind them,” Hughes said.
“It’s really important now when you get somewhere that you leave the ladder down and you help other women onto the ladder. But it’s also about men, bringing the women up behind them. And I’ve had amazing male mentors who are so supportive.”
Liberal Party vice-president Teena McQueen, whose appearance on ABC program Q&A last month made headlines, attended tonight’s discussion as a guest.
She said she was there to “support women” but declined to comment further.
Future Women editor Emily Brooks said the HerVote campaign was designed to elevate women’s voices ahead of the federal election.
“We may not have an election date yet, but after tonight it feels like women are getting excited,” Brooks said.
“This campaign isn’t about a particular party or candidate. It’s about getting women engaged in politics. We are sitting smack bang in the fourth wave of feminism and it feels like a lot of women do want to get involved and make change – whether that’s as a voter or a candidate.”
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