You are here

Women in Politics

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Tags: Women

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I wanted to make a brief contribution this evening on the subject of women in politics and I am sure it is a subject you take great interest in given that you now preside over a parliament which has gender balance.

Madam SPEAKER - I do.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am not going to put words into your mouth, Madam Speaker, but I believe the federal leadership chaos of the past week, not only paints senators Abetz, Duniam and Bushby in the worst possible, most self-serving light but again reveals what a problem the conservative parties in Australia have with women in politics.  I go to an article that was written by Lisa Wilkinson who is Ten Daily's executive editor and host of The Project and the headline is 'If Julie Bishop was one of the boys, she'd be Prime Minister'.  I will just read a bit from the article:

Imagine if a woman had done as Peter Dutton did. 

Julie Bishop, what? 

She served a decade as the loyal deputy for three Liberal leaders across four stints.  She was the high profile, committed and friendly face of her party in a sea of males.  She was a highly regarded foreign minister and was polling in the high 60s as the preferred leader to replace Malcolm Turnbull

And she got how many votes in the first round amongst her peers


Madam Speaker the article goes on:

And the man - I use the word advisedly - elected in her place was polling in the single digits among the public


There was a story on ABC's Insiders on Sunday where Barrie Cassidy had gotten hold of a sequence of WhatsApp messages between members of the Liberal caucus and one of the messages when they were colluding to shaft Julie Bishop said, 'We need to vote with our heads, not our hearts'.  Now if there was an objective vote and the men in the Liberal caucus were genuinely voting with their heads, as well as their hearts - because it is really important that we marry those two when we make decisions - then they would have voted for Julie Bishop. 

It does again point to a problem that we have in Australian politics with women in leadership.  I am not just going to say it is any one particular party, though mind you the Liberals have a special history here.  Julia Gillard, who can forget, was shafted as prime minister because she was a woman and one of the better prime ministers that we have had.  She managed to work her way through a very complicated balance of power parliament and deliver such things as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the list goes on. 

Only a few weeks ago we had Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young having to sit there in the Senate listening to the vilest slur from Senator Leyonhjelm in relation to her sexuality or her sex life.  You cannot imagine these sorts of conversations being directed at men in the Senate.  Sarah Hanson-Young is taking defamation action and if there are any potential damages from the action, some of that money will go to Plan International Australia. 

Late last year, Plan International surveyed more than 2000 Australian girls and young women aged between 10 and 25 years about their aspirations for the future.  Ladies of the Tasmanian parliament, these statistics will break your heart.  New data from that survey released today shows that only 2 per cent of girls aged 10 to 14 listed politics as a future career option, rising to 5 per cent for girls between the ages of 15 to 17 and then dropping to zero per cent of young women aged 18 to 25.  The director of advocacy at Plan International Australia, Hayley Cull says the revelation that girls initially show some interest in politics, and then give up on it entirely as they enter adulthood was extremely concerning but not at all surprising. 

She says when you consider how female politicians are still treated in parliament and the media in this country, is it any wonder that the next generation has no desire to expose themselves to this world?  There is a saying that you can only be what you can see.  Unfortunately in Australia girls grow up seeing strong, smart, capable female politicians constantly reduced to what they are wearing, comments about their sexuality and snipes about their gender.  What they do not see is a consistent level of respect that should be afforded to all people no matter what their gender or occupation. 

Madam Speaker, this is a wakeup call to us all, to all elected representatives in the Tasmanian parliament that the way we conduct ourselves has an impact in the wider community.  To know that the bright young women of Australia are so repelled by how they see women being treated in national and state politics is extremely concerning because, as we know, Madam Speaker, when you have women involved in debates - whether it be political debates or debates at the boardroom table - you will have a better quality of debate and you will have better decisions being made.  This is demonstrated by the ASX200 companies that have women or gender balance on their boards.  Invariably they have higher productivity, better governance and happier workplaces.  We have a responsibility in this place to make sure we encourage women and girls to take up public life, and parliamentary life.  None of that will work unless parliaments as a whole practice what we often preach in debates.  It is a salutary lesson for the Liberal Party of Australia because what happened to Julie Bishop last week was a disgrace.  I am no great fan of Julie Bishop but I thought as foreign minister she was competent and was probably the most capable person in the Turnbull ministry.  There were times when Julie Bishop was on the global stage talking about a matter of geopolitical significance, I found myself cheering her on because she is courageous -

Mr Rockliff - Hear, hear.

Ms O'CONNOR - She has not always made the right decisions in her life.  Defending James Hardy in the asbestos case was a bad decision that I think tainted her to this day.  Nonetheless, as a result of the self-serving behaviour of men, in the Liberal Caucus in Canberra, Australia has lost a very capable foreign minister and we are now being led by a person who only came into the job as prime minister because he was not Peter Dutton and he was not a woman. 

That is the equation we are dealing with here and it is a sad day for governance in Australia because we need to be doing everything we can to get bright young women to aspire to public life and a role in parliament representing their communities.  No matter what political party we come from, we are capable of being very effective performers for the public good.