Speech at "Powerful women and their role in Australian politics" breakfast | with special guest Prime Minister Julia Gillard | hosted by Jane Caro

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"We should never forget that women are and have always been significant contributors in politics. Even before they were allowed in Parliaments, women were the organisers, the campaigners, the supreme networkers. And whilst it took a while to get into the parliaments of this country there is no stopping us now."

Prime Minister

Jane Caro

Jenny Macklin, Kate Lundy, Andrew Leigh, Gai Brotmann

My colleagues – Andrew Barr, Simon Corbell, Joy Burch, Chris Bourke, Mary Porter

Candidates

Ladies and gentlemen

I acknowledge we meet on the land of the Ngunnawal people; the traditional owners and I extend my respect to their elders and acknowledge the continuing contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.

Prime Minister, can I begin by thanking you for joining me this morning. It’s just 11 days until the ACT election and it’s really wonderful to have you lending your support to the local ACT Labor team.

This morning is not about campaign addresses (I can hear your sighs of relief now) – This morning we join together to celebrate the contribution and achievement of women in Australian politics. I grew up in a time where I knew I could be anything I wanted to be, a time where my life choices were not limited by my income, my cultural background or importantly by my gender.

As a young girl I took this all for granted of course, completely unaware of the campaigns of my mother and her mothers generations to make sure girls like me could be anything we dreamed of.

Now i do confess that my childhood dreams didn’t include becoming a politician – I dreamt of owning a lolly shop (interestingly an occupational dream now shared by my youngest child), an astronaut (that was short lived once I became aware of my intense fear of flying), a lawyer was up there as was a bike mechanic. Put simply my choices were endless.

Any quick look back through Australian political history will show that those endless choices which were available to me were actually delivered by women who had had to fight every step of the way to be involved equally in community life.

The right to vote

the right to stand as candidates

the right to continue work after marriage

the right to education

the right to equality before the law

the right to childcare

the right for access to healthcare

the right to equal pay

The right to be treated safely

None of these rights came easily or without sustained campaigns often over many many years.

All of these battles for equality were led and championed by brave women, community & political leaders who recognised that they must organise grass root support to bring about important social change. As a politician who happens to be a woman I stand before you as a major beneficiary of many, if not all of those successful campaigns.

I have had opportunities throughout my career in politics that the early suffragettes must have dreamt about but most wouldn’t have lived to see. And whilst there are plenty of downsides to being a politician – and I’m happy to list those later if anyone’s interested – there are times when it’s simply the best job in the world.

It’s a job where you get to lead important community debates and where what you do – can change people’s lives for the better.

It’s a job where you can introduce laws that help create a better place to live for all our citizens

It’s a job where you can be part of decisions that lead our country into new directions.

It’s a job where you can help shape the future of the city that we live in.

The job is a privilege and one that should never be taken for granted

Thankfully for me as a female political leader in Australia’s most progressive city, most of the time my gender is simply a non-issue. But when it has been I find there’s nothing that a good sense of humour and a thick skin can’t deal with – like the time I was mistaken for the catering staff when I was the actually the acting chief minster or when my hairstyle was declared the winner on election night or even the hilarious caller to talk back radio that said I should head back to the kitchen to cook a casserole and to knit a jumper for my children.

Luckily for my children’s wardrobe and for their diet I didn’t take the advice as they could have ended up with a very poorly knitted chicken stew.

There’s only been a couple of times in my political career when I’ve decided enough is enough and I’ve  put my foot down about unreasonable gender related attacks  - one being when I returned to work with my 6 week old baby and I was criticised for being a full time mother but a  “part time” minister. It was tough enough being back at work, breaking down every single remaining breast feeding no go zone without having to deal with remarks like that.

We should never forget that women are and have always been significant contributors in politics. Even before they were allowed in Parliaments, women were the organisers, the campaigners, the supreme networkers. And whilst it took a while to get into the parliaments of this country there is no stopping us now.

Because there is so much more to do with plenty of current and future campaigns which need women to see them through.

And while progress continues to be made we must remain vigilant.

We cannot let our guard down and assume that everything women have worked hard for, everything we have gained cannot be undermined or challenged.

As women we simply cannot let the next generation of female political leaders think for a single moment that women are not as good as men for particular jobs or that misogynist attacks are a legitimate or acceptable standard for public debates.

Instead we must work hard to ensure that we maintain those childhood dreams so that all children continue to believe that they can be anything they want to be.

And hopefully just some of those girls who might be watching our Prime Minister today or even myself might just choose to dream that they want to be a Prime Minister or a Chief Minister and I know that when they do Julia Gillard, Jane Caro and I and all of you here will be there loudly cheering them on.

That you for coming this morning and thank you for your support.