Sunday 4 April 2021

SUBJECTS:  Changing the culture in Parliament House, women in leadership, gender quotas.

REBECCA MADDERN, CO-HOST:  Welcome back, and good morning! Well we need more women in politics, but amid allegations of sexual assault, reports of harassment, sexist insults directed towards women – why would anyone want to subject themselves to a workplace like that?

RICHARD WILKINS, CO-HOST:  To discuss this morning we’re joined by Anika Wells, the first MP in the southern hemisphere to have twins in office, and Licia Heath, the CEO of Women for Election Australia.  Thank you both for coming on the program. Anika, you’re fresh out of maternity leave, you’re juggling twins, you’ve got a four year old and a highly demanding job – what’s your advice to women considering a career in politics, of all things?

ANIKA WELLS MP, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Well I think you’ve just got to show up, know your stuff, and don’t back down.  There’s a lot of terrible, terrible news coming out of Canberra at the moment, I know that and we’ve got to fix it, but that is 100 nights a year for me, and the other 265 nights a year is just serving the community that I love.  That’s really addictive, getting those local wins on the ground, when you can get someone a whole years back pay from Centrelink, or an older lady has been having problems with the NBN, and you can call up the NBN and say ‘I will meet you in Shirley’s front yard tomorrow’ and get it sorted. So, I think what I would say to women is it’s not all bed, [some of it is] very, very good!

WILKINS: It can be rewarding.

MADDERN: It certainly can be! Anika, I’ve just got to say I’ve tried many times to bring my baby on television, and that’s just one baby and they don’t behave like that. How on earth are you doing this with twins, and they’re happy and content? What’s your secret, and in Parliament as well!?

WELLS: Ha! Well let’s wait to the end of this segment and see how we go. Well, this is just our life, this is what life looks like every hour for us, you know not just divisions in Parliament. I will say though, I had them with me in the pram, one was asleep and we got caught in the lift when a division was called, and I knew that someone had gotten named, which means kicked out of Parliament for 24 hours for bringing a coffee in to the chamber several years earlier, and I had an entire double pram, so I was just having absolute kittens about bringing it onto the floor of the house for a vote. But, my colleagues surrounded me, walked me in, we immediately discovered that it’s not very pram-friendly because there’s steps down to the seats in the House, and it was fine! They loved it, everyone was happy to see them, everyone was so supportive, and if us doing that prompts some conversations about how else we can make Parliament a bit more friendly, then that’s a good thing.

MADDERN: I think that was such a powerful image. Did you feel empowered at that moment as well?

WELLS: I knew it was an important moment, because I have so many mums get in touch with me about the fact that I’ve had the twins in office, and that I’m doing it and they feel like one of them is in there.  So I knew it was going to be important for everyone else, but like I said I was having kittens about it. But the moment that my colleagues showed me some support and some love, and one of my colleagues said to me ‘you are caring for your babies, you have every right to do that in your place of work’ sort of got me through the door and actually made me well up a little bit. I think that’s probably the experience that women don’t see so much when they see people shouting at each other at the 6 o’clock news in Question Time. They don’t see all of the comradery and support that parliamentarians offer one another.

WILKINS: They’re beautiful children, I’ve got to say. Do you reckon the issues that we are seeing unfold in Parliament would be mitigated by some degree at least if there were more women in the ranks?

WELLS: Yes, and I think even more specifically we need more caregivers in the ranks, because the people we most need to hear from in Parliament at the moment they are the people who find it hardest to get there.  100 nights a year in Canberra is not an ask that many families could do if you’ve got little children, if you’re caring for your elderly neighbour or you’ve got other commitments, so I think we need to make Parliament more flexible so we can get those caregivers in, because when you hear that the Minister might be completely reforming the NDIS, we need people who actually use the NDIS every day to tell us how to make that policy better. I think the other point is that when you are caring for little children, or other commitments like ageing parents, you don’t have the time or the energy to be cavorting about on desks or any of this other debaucherous behaviour that you hear about going on in Parliament. None of my friends who are working parents have the time or energy for that kind of thing, so I think that would help the culture as well.

MADDERN: Yeah, good point. Licia, good morning to you. Now there are recent calls for the Liberal Party to adopt gender quotas, I want to get your view on that idea.

LICIA HEATH, CEO OF WOMEN FOR ELECTION AUSTRALIA: Good morning.  I have a couple of views on this. The short answer is – yes. I think quotas have been proven to work, not just here but overseas. There’s a lot of research that shows how…whether it’s from here, or the UK or Canada, about targets not working to bring up gender or culture parity in our Parliament. So, the short answer is – yes. The longer answer is we don’t have 25 years to necessarily make it work, and gender quotas take time to feed through. Think about all of the MPs in Canberra right now. You can only lift the number of women in Parliament House if a man steps down, retires from a seat, then a woman can come up, and through time you can increase the number of women closer to gender parity. In terms of quotas being the solution to what’s happened in the last couple of months in Parliament, I think yes to quotas in the long term, but a lot more is needed in the short term to improve what we’ve seen in recent months.

WILKINS: Licia, just a quick one for you. Many women, quotas aside, are scared or turned off a career in Parliament. What’s your message to them?

HEATH: It’s been very easy to be repulsed in the last few weeks, I totally get that. But I do want to balance that out with the experience that’s happening for Women for Election Australia at the moment, which is we have never had a greater increase in traffic to our website, to our social media, I can’t launch a training event without it being sold out. We have a waiting list for our training courses that we’re having trouble serving. So, while I get that a lot of commentary is ‘well surely women are being turned off at a higher rate then ever?’ That is not our experience, in fact it’s the opposite. I think what’s happened is we’ve hit some, do I hesitate to say, tipping point, where women have gone ‘okay, I understand now, it is not going to get better unless I get involved.’ And it doesn’t just have to be in Canberra, it could be at state or it could be at local council as well. There’s many roles for public service, to get into public office, and we encourage through our training all of the knowledge that you need to step forward into those roles in what is currently a very opaque process, more transparent.

MADDERN: Well, Licia, you warm my heart with that news, I’m so glad. Women for Elections Australia if you want to jump on board, go to the website, have a look if you want to get involved. And Anika Wells, hats off you to. You are an incredible woman, and enjoy those beautiful twins of yours. Thank you for joining us.

WILKINS: Thank you both!

WELLS: Thank you!

MADDERN: I know it’s a stress juggling twins and doing TV at the same time. I know it’s a stretch, I couldn’t even juggle one baby and doing TV at the same time. I don’t know how you do twins. Anyway, well done!