Last week the ACT Legislative Assembly voted unanimously to increase the Assembly from 17 to 25 Members at the 2016 ACT Election. This was a historic moment in time where politicians united to ensure good governance remains the focus of the ACT's local parliament.
With the legislation now having passed the Chamber the time for the arguments for or against an expansion have passed and the focus shifts to implementing the decision including encouraging potential candidates to start thinking about standing for election in 2016.
For the first time since 1989 there is a unique opportunity for new candidates to win eight seats in the local parliament without having to defeat a sitting member. This will hopefully entice a new field of candidates who may have not been interested previously to reconsider that decision.
The expansion also creates a great opportunity for Canberra women to think seriously about a career in the Assembly. While women have held the most senior roles in the ACT Assembly – three Chief Ministers and two Speakers - it’s been a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to ensuring the overall number of women represented in our local parliament is as strong. It's been as low as two women out of the seventeen members or 11.7% and has peaked at seven out of seventeen 41% where it remains today.
There is absolutely no reason why as a community we shouldn’t be aspiring for female representation to rise to 50% or more in 2016. But in order to get even close to that figure women will need to step up to the challenge and put their hand up as candidates.
The low number of women in the Assembly was the determining factor for me when I decided to stand as candidate in the 2001 election. At that time there was only two women in the Assembly and none in the ACT Parliamentary Labor Party. The faceless women of the ALP agreed that in order to change this result we needed more women to put their hands up which is exactly what happened and two ALP women (myself and Ms Karin MacDonald) were elected in October of that year.
Hare-Clark is an unforgiving electoral system for any candidate and having participated in the last 4 elections I know firsthand how challenging it can be for women candidates. The campaign goes forever, it’s an aggressive system to campaign in and traditionally women have found it harder to get elected.
However unlike previous elections the increase to 25 members in 2016 gives new candidates the opportunity to be elected without knocking off a sitting member and this should hopefully encourage more women to consider the possibilities that a career in the Assembly could offer.
One of the strengths of the city-state we live in is the unique opportunity that it presents for MLA’s to get involved in a wide range of interest areas whether it be the top three – health, education or the economy - or other important areas like public transport, planning, environment, community services, municipal services. You name it, if you’re interested in any of these issues chances are you will have the opportunity to get involved in them through work as an MLA. I know from my own work how involved Canberra women are in all of these areas so I am hopeful that, with the right encouragement and support these women will seriously consider how they can use their skills and experience to benefit of good governance in the ACT.
Despite the odour that dogs politicians I can assure potential candidates that politics can and should be an honourable profession. Demonstrating this to the public at large however does rely heavily on quality candidates being selected to run in election campaigns. Political organisations large and small are already looking to secure quality candidates from within and from outside their organisations. This is sensible considering there will be an additional eight seats in the Chamber to fill and I will be doing what I can to ensure more women candidates are supported through the ALP’s pre-selection process. I hope that other political parties and other groups do the same.
Canberrans are deeply interested in their local politics. In 2016 they will be seeking more than just ticket fillers - they want quality candidates and will elect people who are connected in their local communities, who have an interest in local issues and who genuinely have something positive to offer governance in the ACT.
Whilst the 8th Assembly has exercised its power to increase the numbers of MLA’s it will be down to the people prepared to put themselves forward and seek election that will be the determining factor of whether governance in the ACT is stronger for it and I hope that Canberra’s women embrace this opportunity with confidence and enthusiasm and give it a shot.