House debates

Wednesday, 9 November 2016


United States Elections

7:30 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am incredibly pleased to rise tonight after listening to the member for Griffith, and in the company of the member for Greenway and the member for Gorton—all great feminists. Tonight I want to speak to the many women in the electorate of Lalor and around the country who might be going to bed disappointed with the result of the US election. It may seem strange that I am speaking about the American election in this place. I am not commenting on the result or on the quality of the Republican candidate. Having said that, the result is not as strong for Hillary Clinton as was hoped for by many women around the world and by many women and colleagues who share this chamber with me. Many of us were hoping to see the first female leader of the free world win convincingly.

There is a young man in my office who sent me his resume only because Obama became President in 2008. I am worried that there are dozens of capable, insightful and talented women who will not think to send me their resumes in the future. If a former Secretary of State, senator, First Lady, leader of an international charity, and stateswoman who negotiated trade deals, negotiated peace with Iran and gave the right advice on Osama Bin Laden cannot be elected Commander-in-Chief without hesitation or drama, I can imagine why some women around the country—and, indeed, the world—are shattered tonight.

I have spent my lifetime in schools watching young female teachers wait until they have put in twice the work of their male counterparts before putting their hands up for promotions. They think they will embarrass themselves, that people will be critical of them if they are not perfect. I have always told them that they needed to get that out of their heads, but it is not in their heads. It is real, and we have to take action now. Tonight proves that.

When public debate becomes a screaming match, as it too often does, people vote based on gut feeling. We have to confront the harsh reality that for too many people—women and men—the initial response to the idea of female leadership is to be sceptical. This is not just an American issue; we have had our fair share of average male political leaders who were given numerous chances to prove themselves and time to find their feet. They were given time to grow into the role. None of that is afforded to women, and it is the case in most businesses and industries, and, unfortunately, in government. As it stands, women who have made it to the heights of politics are anything but average; they are over-qualified, incredibly talented and brilliant.

However, they are made to run a gauntlet that men never are. Julia Gillard said of her prime ministership that gender explains some things, but it does not explain everything. I agree with what she said, but gender should not explain anything in politics—or anywhere else, for that matter. A culture that is sceptical of women in leadership can only be described as toxic. It is only going to be change, though, if women take this experience and use it to become stronger. It is not good enough that the Australian government in 2016 is 80 per cent male. I am proud that Labor has committed to equality with our fifty-fifty target, but we can do more to change the culture.

Young women interested in government and interested in politics, whether they be Greens, Labor, Liberal or any other party, should not give up on politics. Do not let tonight dissuade you; use it as fuel. It is time for women to call out sexism, where they see it, and refuse to be silenced. Women need to organise and come together on every level of government and business to make change happen. We cannot afford to wait for it. That is how we will change the culture that makes it so hard for our best and brightest to succeed. Women need to be in the room when decisions are made. They need to be seen discussing important issues. They cannot, and should not, wait for men to get them there. The light may be on a steep hill, but we cannot afford not to climb it. The glass ceiling must be damned, and women tonight should commit to support one another to make sure that the representation of women in this parliament and every parliament around the world means we have women leaders.