Originally published on Women’s Agenda on Tuesday 25 May 2021

 

High on the first page of the Federal Women’s Budget, a crucial statement reads: “Women in visible positions of leadership are vital as role models to bring about cultural change, and to ensure respect for women in the workplace.” After three weeks touring regional NSW to inspire and equip women across the state to run in the September local government elections, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, it’s never been more vital for women to be in positions of leadership; be that in Canberra or in our Council chambers.

Sadly, NSW is the worst state in the country when it comes to the number of female representatives on Council and that’s particularly evident in the regions. That’s why the NSW Government partnered with Women for Election Australia to fund EQUIP training workshops across the state.

The response was greater than we anticipated and we had to lift capacity at four venues. Women of all lived experience and backgrounds, from the Snowy Monero to the Northern Rivers, from Bourke to Botany Bay, attended through April and May. We had women representing Indigenous communities, the queer community and the differently-abled community – all driven by their lived experience and how they could improve the status quo for their community. The realisation that they could have a greater positive impact by sitting at the political leadership table was palpable.

Our attendees also represented the full political spectrum (which always delights us!). Yet, despite different views on policy, they were united in their desire to represent their community and improve the culture and performance of their local Council.

And that’s why we want greater diversity in our Parliamentary chambers. As the 2020 report conducted by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London found, having more women in politics leads to greater equality, less corruption & better represented constituents.

Both the Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock MP and the Minister for Women, Bronnie Taylor MLC, were able to join us in our workshops.

In exciting news, this week Minister Hancock successfully passed a Bill in NSW Parliament to reduce the barriers to entry of women running for local government. The Minister continues to be a vocal and active champion for the need to have more women in NSW council chambers.

The experience of our regional roadshow was made even better by WFEAs amazing training partner, Ruth McGowan. Author of Get Elected, the Australian guide on how to campaign for public office, Ruth also ran for public office when she was frustrated by her local all-male Council and its unrepresentative approach to her community. Not only did she win, she eventually became Mayor and helped other women onto Baw Baw Council.

Ruth McGowan and Licia Heath

Ruth says ‘Women from many different backgrounds are stepping up to run for local council. Students, mothers, leaders and activists – they’re fired up and ready to run and be the change they want to see’.

“The reputation of local government in NSW has too often been blackened by financial and governance failures and infighting, leaving many people frustrated about what it will take to change things,” said Ruth. “My message to women is ‘stop waiting for Councillors to act; become one!’’

Ruth and I agree: when less than one third of Councillors in NSW are women, there is an unprecedented opportunity for women to stand for council this year and get elected. Voters are looking for new leaders and the opportunity to make an extraordinary contribution for your community is upon us.

There are two mantras we repeat in all our WFEA training events:

“You’ll never feel ready. Step forward anyway” and “Timing is everything”.

Don’t wake up on Sept 5th and regret not running or supporting a competent woman to stand. Victoria achieved record female representation in local government in their October 2020 elections. In 2021, it’s NSW’s turn.

If you want to learn more about how to run for public office and build a winning campaign, attend a WFEA training event. Or get on a team and support a local woman to run. And of course, come this September #VoteForHer.