As the youngest woman in this Australian parliament, I would like to extend my support for the Girls Takeover Parliament program, an organisation that aims to encourage young women to become more politically engaged and to provide a pathway for them to pursue a career in politics. The Takeover enables young women to make political networks and provides them training for working in parliament as well as mentorship for those seeking leadership positions in politics. Girls Takeover Parliament is a great initiative, and I’m very pleased to have a fantastic participant, Alex Robson, in my office today, experiencing what it’s like to work in the Senate.
One of the main concerns for many of the young women participating in this program is the disproportionate underrepresentation of women in politics. Indeed, this is an issue that I myself have engaged with closely prior to being elected to the Senate, through various roles within the Young Liberals and also in the senior Liberal Party. By having capable women demonstrating strong leadership skills in government, we encourage the greater participation of other young women in politics. As my female colleagues often say, you can’t be what you can’t see. Programs like Girls Takeover Parliament not only provide young women with the confidence that they have the ability to pursue political careers based on their own skills and merit but also shine a light on the achievements of women more broadly in our parliament. It is important to recognise that change is happening in terms of female representation within the parliament. Indeed the Liberal Party has made significant inroads in recent times. Just recently my colleague Senator Sarah Henderson was sworn into the Senate, which means that half of the Senate is now represented by women. There are now seven women in the Prime Minister’s cabinet, which is the highest it has ever been. In my own state the election of myself and Senator Wendy Askew to the Senate, as well as Bridget Archer to the other place, has doubled the number of women the Tasmanian Liberal Party has ever sent to Canberra, in the space of just a few months. I know that many more will follow us here.
Fundamentally it is reassuring to know that this has been achieved not through quotas but through the hard work and the merit of the women in question. Inevitably, debate on how we can increase the number of women in parliament often turns to the use of quotas as a way of achieving gender equality. However, in my experience, for many women the notion of quotas is offensive or even embarrassing. I know that, in my time in the Liberal Party and in the Young Liberal movement, the women I have worked and volunteered with who have an ambition to run for politics want to know that, when they put their hand up to be considered for these positions, they are competing and winning these positions entirely on merit and not on the basis of gender. We don’t want to be given a position in federal politics under a scheme of quotas; we want to get here through our own hard work, because we are skilled and capable and because we’ve been democratically elected as the right person for the job. To me, and to many of the girls and women that I have spoken to, that is true gender equality. Fundamentally, quotas are a quick fix. They are a shallow way of addressing the real issues that cause women to be underrepresented in parliament. If we truly want gender equality, we need to be taking actions that effectively address these issues and not just using quotas to patch over them to get more women into parliament as quickly as possible. This is neither sustainable nor truly within my definition of what gender equality is. Once again I reinforce my support for Girls Takeover Parliament for its work in empowering young women to take part in our parliamentary processes, and I congratulate the other participants here today. Well done and thank you, and I look forward to, hopefully at some point in the future, welcoming some of you to this place as colleagues.