Senate debates

Monday, 14 October 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Girls Takeover Parliament

3:53 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Equal representation of women in leadership roles across the corporate sector and in public life is a matter of public importance and one that is very important to me. I'm glad to be standing in this place to speak on this topic today. This is an issue affecting young women and girls, because our parliament should be directly reflective of the wider Australian society. Today I welcomed a young woman, Lucinka Fernandes, into my office as part of Jasiri Australia's Girls Takeover Parliament. This is an innovative program that pairs young women with politicians, with the hope of inspiring them to enter politics. It's programs like these that create real opportunities for young women and girls to see themselves working in a place like Parliament House.

She and I worked on this speech together. She reminded me of the old saying that goes, 'You can't be what you can't see.' As I said in my maiden speech, I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by remarkable women, including my partner, Nerilee. She's one of Australia's most talented corporate women, and I admire how she's never let gender get in the way of her success, even whilst working in a male-dominated industry. Nerilee and all women like her are exceptional role models for our country's young women.

The total percentage of women in parliament today is just 32 per cent. However, it is very refreshing to note that, since the appointment of my Victorian colleague Senator the Hon. Sarah Henderson, half of the Senate is now women. I note that this is certainly not because of a quota but entirely based on merit. All quotas do is leave a question mark hanging over the rise of successful women. While they likely got there on merit, where a quota exists, their ascent will always be open to conjecture. I acknowledge that there may well be a role for quotas in countries where there is a cultural bias against women, but that does not exist here in Australia like it does in a small handful of other countries. I believe merit-based appointments ensure that capability and talent are genuinely recognised.

I acknowledge that across our federal parliament and corporate Australia we can do better and we must do better. It should be our priority to ensure that young women are nurtured early on in their careers to strengthen workforce participation. We need to continue to change the culture so that women feel supported in both their careers and their family life. It does not have to be one or the other. This is crucial in supporting women for leadership positions. We are committed to increasing the number of women in public and private sectors, and this will inspire a future generation of young women to change the representative landscape of Australia as we know it.

The dream gap report, which surveyed more than 2,000 girls and young women aged 10 to 25, revealed that girls and young women in Australia are reluctant to pursue a career in politics because they worry about being treated unfairly. We cannot afford to raise a generation of girls who have these stereotypes ingrained in them. So I say to all young Australian women: no matter your ethnic background, your religious belief or the colour of your skin, you have the right to aspire to a leadership position. We cannot allow young girls to feel defeated before they have a go. (Time expired)


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