This International Women’s Day, get to know just some of the women who are part of the Legislative Council, playing an important role in the making and passing of New South Wales legislation, and in holding the Government to account
Established by the UN, the theme for International Women’s Day 2021 (March 8) is Women in leadership. This aligns closely with this year’s session of the intergovernmental Commission on the Status of Women (March 15 to 26), which centres around women’s full and active participation and decision-making in public life.
And when it comes to public life in New South Wales? Holding a role within the Legislative Council – where legislative decisions are made and government activities are scrutinised – is a pretty important position to have.
WOMEN IN THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
In 1931, the first two women were appointed to NSW’s Legislative Council – Mrs Catherine Green and Mrs Ellen Webster. Since then, a further 57 women have been part of the Council.
In the current make-up of the Upper House, while women represent just under a third of members, they hold positions including Government Whip, Deputy Leader of the Government and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council. The Council’s female members are also very active across the Upper House committees, which are responsible for conducting inquiries into important issues. For example, five of the seven portfolio committees currently have women as their chair or deputy chair.
Outside of the parliamentary members, six out of the Legislative Council’s 11 managers and senior managers are women, including the Clerk Assistant – Procedure and the position of Usher of the Black Rod, which is the most senior protocol position within the Council.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
This International Women’s Day, here’s what some of the women who make up the Legislative Council have to say about leadership, equality and getting the job done.
THINKING ON WAYS TO CONTRIBUTE
“I begin every International Women’s Day reflecting on earlier feminists who started the changes which opened so many doors for us today. I wonder how can I contribute, and what is my role in continuing the momentum? Today’s leadership challenges concern complex cultural changes in organisations that feel threatened by women’s voices. So how to better work together, how to help men understand (because they don’t), and how to be the change I want to see are my International Women’s Day resolutions for the year ahead.” — The Hon. Catherine Cusack
MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH POLICY
“One of my proudest achievements so far has been securing ground-breaking new domestic and family violence reforms for victim-survivors and animals escaping violence. These reforms recognise the link between animal abuse and domestic violence, and that animals can be used as a form of intimidation in domestic violence. They also provide resources to overcome many of the barriers faced by survivors, and ensure animals are now explicitly listed on Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders. Critically, we also secured a grant to help fund refuge centres to upgrade so they can accommodate animals and keep family units together.” — The Hon. Emma Hurst
THERE’S MORE WORK TO BE DONE
“You can’t be what you can’t see. Women should be no less represented in places like the Legislative Council than they are in society. It’s vital that women have a real presence in these institutions. One huge challenge for us now is diversifying the representation of women in politics – there are quite a lot of straight, white women, but where are the Indigenous women? The women with a disability? The LGBTI+ women? The women from immigrant backgrounds, and working class backgrounds? We need to continually work to break down these barriers and allow all women to participate in politics.” — The Hon. Rose Jackson
LEADING THE WAY
“International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us to remind young women they must set and pursue their goals and aspirations. For a rather small nation, Australia has been a pioneer in the advancement of women in society, leading the way in giving women the right to vote and to run for Parliament, and developing policy initiatives to assist women. Whilst some might say it is hard for women to assume leadership positions, it must be said that all people in leadership positions must be there on the basis of merit, and not because of one’s gender. Here in NSW, we lead the way with both a female Premier and Leader of the Opposition, and we have had many firsts for women including Virginia Chadwick as the first female President and Shelley Hancock as the first female Speaker.” — The Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones, Government Whip in the Legislative Council
FULFILLING YOUR AMBITIONS
“I’m so proud to be a member of the Legislative Council, and to be the first female Leader of The Nationals in the Legislative Council in our party’s hundred-year history. As a member who lives in the regions, I feel a responsibility to be a voice for all regional women. Since being elected to Parliament 10 years ago, my husband and I have started a family and I continue to raise my two young daughters while working in one of the highest positions in the NSW Government. It’s so important for women to fulfil their ambitions and to stand for public office. Our society is a much better place when women participate at all levels of decision making.” — The Hon. Sarah Mitchell, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council
A CALL TO ACTION
“The decisions we make in our Parliament impact the lives of all women across state. It is therefore critical that women’s voices are a real part of our decision making process. I am humbled that as a Member of the Legislative Council I can contribute to the diverse voices of women in the Council, but I am just one of 12 women that sit in this Chamber. If we want better outcomes for women, we do need more women in decision making positions. To young women aspiring to be part of the decision making process – we see you, we hear you and we need you.” — The Hon. Tara Moriarty
TO ALL THE WOMEN WHO’VE COME BEFORE…
“Our Parliaments should look like our people. With women only making up 12 of our 42 members, the NSW Legislative Council has a long way to go to ensure equal participation and inclusion of women in decision making. On International Women’s Day, I pay tribute to all the women who have gone before. I have learned from you, I have been inspired by you and my work is stronger as a result of what you have done. The experience, status and wellbeing of women and girls in NSW has improved as a result of your efforts.” — The Hon. Penny Sharpe, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council
STAND UP AND BE PROUD
“I urge all women and girls to stand up and be proud of what they have achieved, whether it’s in the paddock, the boardroom, the building site or family home. We’ve seen great strides made towards women’s equality and I am committed to further supporting the pathways for women to excel in all aspects of life and work. I entered Parliament because I wanted to be on the inside making decisions for rural and regional communities. We need more women in Parliament to represent the voices of our communities, so on this day I encourage all women and girls to #ChooseToChallenge!” — The Hon. Bronnie Taylor
SOME FURTHER READING
Our Parliamentary Research Service prepares papers on major issues of interest. For some scholarly reading this International Women’s Day, check out:
- Women in Parliament: NSW Legislative Council, a 2019 paper examining the number and proportion of women in the Legislative Council
- Women in Parliament, a 2018 paper looking at the situation for women across Australia’s parliaments