Senate debates

Monday, 14 October 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Girls Takeover Parliament

4:31 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm also delighted to join with Senate colleagues in endorsing and talking about the Girls Takeover Parliament program and my involvement in it. Senator Keneally talked briefly about how we should be calling it 'young women take over parliament'. I'd like to say it should be 'girls take over parliament program still' or 'young women take over parliament more' because there's no doubt that as you walk around this parliamentary building you can not only see the presence of women but more importantly you can absolutely feel the power of their presence and the influence of their presence.

I'm delighted to have had Ella Parker joining me over the course of the busy day that the Chief Government Whip has, and she is joining me in the government advisers box. Ella, from Western Australia, was previously a student at Mercedes College and is now studying at the Australian National University. She has hopes of being a future foreign minister of our country—and, as Senator Sterle will know, Western Australia has delivered some very, very competent foreign ministers. The 14th foreign minister was Sir George Pearce, a Western Australian senator, followed by Sir Paul Hasluck, Gordon Freeth, Stephen Smith and, of course, none other than Julie Bishop, who was the 38th foreign minister.

I'd like to share with the Senate this afternoon some of the remarks Ella Parker has put to paper: 'Australia is a country which prides itself on wearing a liberal democratic identity, a country in which if you have a go you get a go. However, not everyone in Australia believes they can have a go or that when they do have a go they are respected. The issue I raise today is inspired by the Jasiri Australia young women's charter for democracy, which calls for actions such as facilitating opportunities for young women and minorities to be engaged in our democracy and to ensure all elected officials are bound to a statutory code of conduct. Women have been unrepresented in the political sphere for the history of its existence, and, while improvements have been made, the fact remains that generations of young women continue to look up to a government that is founded on representation, without seeing themselves represented. Yet they account for half of all Australians. As a result, young women are growing up in a culture that does not instil confidence in their ability to govern as well as their male counterparts. Rather, they watch as female politicians are subject to misogyny and disrespect that is not suffered by men. The answer isn't necessarily quotas'—which, I might add, speaks to the independent thinking and independent thought of Ella. She says: 'We don't need women to be ticked off as a type of prerequisite to ensure the legitimacy of a party. Rather we need to change our culture so that women can have the confidence to run in preselections, gaining public support and endorsement, giving people the opportunity to vote for female candidates in equal proportion to male candidates. This will allow Australia's women to be represented in a fundamental way from the ground up and change our country's democracy to one that reflects the true composition of our society.'

Ella believes 'Australia requires a grassroots movement to instil self-belief in Australia's young women, to assure them that their voices are valued and that, when the time comes for them to stand up and represent us, we'll not support a culture that tears them down because of factors such as their appearance or for making lifestyle choices that some view as making balancing a political career unjustifiable. While public criticism is an aspect of parliamentary careers and a mechanism to ensure accountability, female politicians should not be subject to unwarranted criticism or condemnation in domains not experienced by their male counterparts. In order to encourage female representation in politics, we need to reflect this urge in all spheres of society by encouraging a national gender egalitarian direction such as has been implemented in Sweden.'

I want to congratulate Ella on her great work, her stewardship. We wish you the very best of luck in all your ambitions for the future.


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