Designed by women, for women, the Masterclass offers participants an opportunity to engage with and influence public discourse.

You will:

  • Hear first-hand stories about the challenges and opportunities in becoming an elected member of Parliament from women from all parts of political life and;
  • Learn how the electoral process works, how to get started and how participants stay resilient.
  • Gain skills on how to manage the media, communications and their personal brand.
  • Be inspired by the real life stories of women’s leadership and their determination to follow a career path where women’s participation has been a roller coaster of success and achievement and of condemnation and destruction.
  • Come away better informed and equipped to make decisions about influencing in public life and/or a career in politics.
  • Become part of a network of strong, like-minded women wanting to make a difference.

Master of Ceremonies: Narelle Hooper

Narelle Hooper is incoming Editor-in-Chief of Company Director Magazine and a corporate adviser and non-executive director of The Ethics Centre, Documentary Australia Foundation and the women’s entrepreneurship accelerator, SBE Australia. She was founding co-chair of Fairfax Media’s Australian Financial Review – Westpac Women of Influence Awards and former editor of the Financial Review’s award winning BOSS Magazine.

Narelle has reported for Australia’s leading media groups, including ABC Radio National, national current affairs programs AM and PM, The Australian Financial Review, BRW Magazine and SBS TV, including a stint in the Parliamentary press gallery in Canberra. Narelle grew up in country NSW, studied journalism at Canberra University and has a Masters of Management (Financial Management) from MGSM.

8.45am: Keynote speaker – Kristina KeneallyMy journey through Politics

Kristina Keneally is a former premier of NSW and the first woman in NSW to be appointed to this office.

In doing so, Kristina joined a list of alumni including Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner, Anna Bligh, Lara Giddings and Julia Gillard as Prime Minister.  Our current Premier, Gladys Berejiklian joins the small but highly specialised and celebrated group of Australian women.

Kristina is the host of To the Point on Sky News and the Director of Gender Inclusion at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management. She serves as patron of the Stillbirth Foundation Australia, Director of Souths Cares, and an Ambassador for Opportunity International Australia.

As a woman who has successfully fought to hold one of the highest offices in the country Kristina will share her story of resilience and success. A Q & A will follow.

9.20am: Where are we now? Jenny Morris 

Jenny will provide insights into the barriers and challenges to women’s representation, summarized from WFEA’s focus groups of women MPs councilors, sitting and aspiring members. She will report on the ground-breaking research WFEA is conducting, in conjunction with the Parliament House, on the attitudes and motivation of Year 11 girls to consider a career in politics.

9.40am: In Conversation with MP’s: You Can’t Ask Me That!

Engage in direct open, and honest conversation with fabulous women MP’s from all parties in World Café format.


Jenny Aitchison MLA – Maitland, Jodie Harrison MLA – Charlestown, Jenny Leong MLA – Newtown, Tamara Smith MLA – Ballina, Kate Washington MLA – Port Stephens, The Hon Natasha Maclaren Jones MLC, The Hon Sarah Mitchell, Penny Sharpe MLC, The Hon Bronnie Taylor MLC, Ms Dawn Walker MLC, Michelle Blicavs Councillor – Wollongong Council.

11.20am: Playing the Game – Heather Forton

Heather will explore women’s own unconscious biases and attitudes to ‘playing the game’.  While many of the barriers are systemic and cultural and, in the short-term, out of our control, there are areas where women can take control – i.e. in their personal responses and leadership style. Heather will provide a practical framework for women to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviours and create a dashboard for moving forward.

11.50am: Living in the Limelight – Virginia Haussegger AM

Brand, Communications and Media Management – Be Seen, Heard and Remembered

This session will allow for interaction and engagement from participants, with a focus on key themes related to brand creation and media management and the complexities of communication.  ‘Tips and tricks’ will be shared and participants will learn from the lived experience.

Virginia Haussegger is a passionate women’s advocate and communication specialist. She is also an award-winning television journalist, writer and commentator, whose extensive media career spans more than 25 years.

Virginia has reported from around the globe for leading current affair programs on Channel 9, the Seven Network and the ABC. For the past 15 years she has anchored the ABC’s flagship TV News in Canberra.

In late 2016 Virginia was appointed to head a new gender equality initiative, the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA), where she is an Adjunct Professor. With a singular focus on improving the representation of women in leadership and key decision making roles across all levels of government and public administration, the Foundation is the first of its kind in Australia.

In 2014 Virginia was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to the community, as an advocate for women’s rights and gender equity, and to the media.

Virginia has served on a number of boards and committees including; UN Women National Committee Australia; the Snowy Hydro SouthCare Trust, and the Australia Forum Steering Committee. She currently sits on the Board of the ACT Government’s Cultural Facilities Corporation; Women in Media Canberra; and is Patron of the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre.

1.15pm: Networking lunch with guest speaker (TBD)

2.15pm: ‘Campaign Management 101’.  Insiders’ Tales of Excellence. 

The format is designed to allow for questions and contributions from participants, with a focus on key themes related to the challenges and opportunities faced during campaigns.

Themes include: understanding the electoral process, getting started, managing expectations, being available 24/7, remaining authentic, managing a head office instruction at a local level, risk management, strategy. Participants will hear stories from the field and get practical advice to help them get started.


Dee Madigan.  Dee has over 20 years experience in the advertising industry. With experience in running the creative side of 10 election campaigns is a sought after politics commentator.  Her TV appearances include the Drum, Gruen and Sky TV.  Dee is the managing director of Campaign Edge, specialising in strategic development, branding, and production and uses social and traditional media.

Michael Morgan.  Michael is the managing director of Momentum Strategic Communication Services.  Formerly Managing Partner of Kreab Australia, Michael has a number of strategic campaign successes to his name, including Kevin07.

Dai Le.

Named one of AFR-Westpac’s Top 100 Influential Women in Australia in 2014, Dai has over two decades of storytelling skills and change making experience. Dai’s mission is to help build an inclusive society where mainstreams institutions and organisations truly reflect the diverse society we live in.

Dai was a former award-winning journalist, film-maker and broadcaster with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). In 2008, with no background in politics she stepped into the political arena and contested the State seat of Cabramatta at the October By-Election. She caused a historic swing of 23 per cent for the NSW Liberals. Dai did not contest the 2015 election as she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Dai went on to form DAWN, an NFP organisation championing and advocating for diverse and inclusive leadership.

Moderator: Joanne Yates.  Joanne has a background in public policy and politics.  She has been a senior advisor for Senator Vicki Bourne of the Australian Democrats and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek.  She has broad cross sectoral experience having spent time with the NSW public sector, industry associations, and the NGO sector, culminating in her role a the C20 Sherpa, managing the civil society dialogue to the 2014 G20.  Joanne currently works in stakeholder and government engagement at Macquarie University

3.30pm: Setting yourself up for success – Narelle Hooper

Next steps. Narelle will chair this session which will allow meaningful conversation with your peers to reflect on the learnings and start building a personal and career plan.

4.30pm: Wrap-up




Be inspired: Join us in conversation with Kristina Keneally and other successful women MP’s

The Women Breaking Through the Barriers Masterclass provides you with an opportunity to hear stories about the challenges and victories of becoming an elected member of Parliament. A chance to be inspired, to hear some of the real life stories of leadership and determination to follow a career path where women’s participation has been a roller coaster of success and achievement and of condemnation and destruction.

The Government has been rightly criticised for the small number of women in Cabinet, but the representation of women in Parliament remains an issue for all parties.

The number of women politicians in the House of Representatives stands at 43 of the 150 seats. In percentage terms, 72 percent of the House of Representatives are men.

However, the number of candidates put forward by the major parties has generally been increasing over the last decade. Cause for celebration, surely?

Well, it might be, but in real terms the number remains low. Australian women were better represented in the 2016 lower house election when, for the first time in Australian political history, the percentage of candidates who are women in the House of Representatives, or lower house, was (just) above 30 per cent. For more than two decades previously women have made up about 27 per cent of the candidates for the lower house.

Australia’s Senate has traditionally been a more attractive option for women seeking election. In the 2016 election women made up 36.2 per cent of all upper house candidates, which is roughly the same level as in the 2007 and 2010 elections.

The gender mix for candidates in the 2016 election has moved closer to parity in the Australian Greens, the Australian Labor Party at about 40% and the Liberal Party at about 27%. The Greens remain the most gender diverse of those three.

In NSW, the picture looks like this: In the Legislative Council, there are 9 women of the 42 Members (or 21.4 percent). Of the 9, there are three women from the ALP, 2 Liberal Party representatives, 2 National Party and 2 Greens representatives.

In the Legislative Assembly, there are 27 women MPs in a House of 93 Members (or 29 percent). Of these, 14 are within the Australian Labor Party, 8 represent the Liberal Party, there are 3 National Party representatives and 2 Greens.

Join us at the Women Breaking Through the Barriers Masterclass, 11 August 2017, Parliament House, Sydney





John Hewson (Canberra Times, February 24th 2017) is absolutely right: the public is disaffected with our political class. However, the question about the system through which they are drawn is just one part of the equation.

In 2015, Women for Election Australia researched the career aspirations and support for women parliamentarians and discovered some surprising and frankly, some depressing factors that underpin their poor levels of political engagement. Australia still lags significantly behind other nations in the proportion of women in parliament and this acts as a barrier to attracting more women into the field. We still have meagre and inconsistent funding and policy support for childcare and paid parental leave. The media treatment of women in power is woeful and acts as a huge disincentive to women entering parliament. That’s even before their participation within the (male) battlefield of their own party institutions. Culture change is urgently required.

Diversity is the key to reforming politics in this country. It starts with increasing the representation of women and must include those with life experiences had outside student politics, or the union or employer-based organisations or serving a staffer-apprenticeship.

One step forward for women

Monday 23 January 2017 marks a new achievement for women in parliaments across the globe, with the announcement of NSW’s second only women Premier. What’s more, Gladys Berejiklian was declared unopposed to the position – surely something that ought to be greeted with celebration in the rough-and-tumble and darkly mysterious world of politics. This gives Berejilian a clear mandate to run the highest office in NSW in the manner and style in which she chooses.

Having achieved this most prestigious of all career highs, Women for Election Australia suspects that Berejiklian will not have the easiest time ahead. Sadly, her detractors have sounded out already, declaring that she’s a factional stooge (is that really a criticism, when all key appointments, in all parties, are the result of negotiation and territory claim). Put that aside, it’s the quiet misogyny that has accompanied her ascendency and about which Berejiklian will need to fortify herself. This is assuming of course that her Parliamentary time has not already resulted in her developing a pretty tough hide! WFEA thinks that Berejiklian, having spent 13 years in Parliament and having held senior roles in shadow portfolios and importantly in cabinet, including as Treasurer, finds her absolutely suited to being Premier. This, through, from the same commentator who opined that our first woman Prime Minister be drowned at sea after being discarded in a chaff bag.

Berejiklian’s unopposed elevation gives her a clear mandate to put her own touches and perspective on to a highly complex and contested policy environment. Given her track record of supporting and advancing women in politics, there is a high expectation that numbers of women in cabinet will increase, as they ought across the parliament’s committee system. And come the 2019 election, increased numbers of women ought to be preselected, despite her party’s stand against quotas.

Over the weekend, women across Australia marched in our thousands to remind us all of the importance of an inclusive political agenda. The elevation of a woman into the Premier’s office in NSW is a step in the right direction. And judgment of her needs to be on policy grounds, and nothing less.


AFL 1, Parliament 0

The announcement by Senator Nova Peris of her retirement from Parliament after serving just one term – three short years – should be greeted with universal sadness and regret.

Nova Peris, photo via SBS

Nova Peris, photo via SBS

An outstanding candidate.  A high achiever in her own right as an Olympic Gold Medalist and an OAM,  Peris’s entrance into parliament was not through the traditional pathway of service to the party machinery, or through service as an advisor.  She entered as a ‘captain’s pick’ – unprepared and without training.  Entirely the opposite to her career as an elite athlete.  However, once elected, Peris committed herself to the tough and grueling task of being a people’s representative, honestly, in good faith and with unwavering commitment, as so many do, promising, in her first speech, to ‘work hard and make a real difference’.

Peris was the first Indigenous woman to become a senator in our Commonwealth Parliament, a feat which took 112 years.  But once getting there, Peris was confronted with the challenges of a workplace unlike all others.

Unfortunately, we know all too well that her story is not unusual.  As an organisation that was formed specifically to support women such as Peris, Women for Election Australia (WFEA)  interviewed current and former female MP’s, premiers and  ‘would-be’ candidates. We wanted to better understand the barriers to women’s participation as elected representatives and to tailor our training programs to meet their unique needs.

The subsequent report “Future Proofing Australia: Gender Diversity in Politics. June 2015”, revealed that women found both the reality and the idea of a political career challenging in many ways.  Their salary was often cut and their career progression stalled.  The process of candidate selection was personally tough and alienating.  The overall political culture was male-dominated and often abusive. The long hours, and the impact on childcare and family responsibilities of being away from home for extended periods of time was unappealing.  And finally, the values conflicts and compromises needed in order to be successful.

Back to Peris.  Her experiences replicated these findings. While she, as other MP’s, had to withstand the time away from family, the long and arduous hours, the heat of debate, she, as an Indigenous woman,  faced additional personal abuse. Systemic and institutionalised racism and sexism seem, regrettably, to come so easily to some sections of our media and community.

Peris decided to walk. No one blames her, but the question must be asked – what type of workplace support exists for novice parliamentarians as they make their way, as they learn to respond to public policy questions, to political challenges, to media intrusion, and to the general challenges of public life.  And importantly, how to manage the cruel and negative public backlash that arises when someone like Peris challenges the status quo.

Equal representation is critical to changing Peris’ regrettable and unfortunate decision.  It’s long overdue but sadly, the numbers are unlikely to change anytime soon.  In the meantime, until there is adequate support for women entering our Commonwealth Parliament – surely one of our highest honours – we do ourselves a collective disservice if ongoing support for women, and for Indigenous women in particular, is simply not made available.

WFEA congratulates the AFL for its ability to attract a truly remarkable Australian into a critical area of policy concern.  Let’s hope they support her appropriately.

And let’s hope we don’t get this wrong if the next Indigenous candidate, Linda Burney succeeds in her bid to enter the Federal parliament.

The year is 2015

“I have been reflecting on the universal applause of the doubling of the number of women in our federal parliament recently.  This came, of course, with the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull to the Prime Ministership.  And while I think that any advancement in the number of women holding the most senior positions in our public offices is truly worthy of celebration (given it seems do damned hard to get there), is it really worth celebrating without just a little deeper reflection?

There are now four women in the Cabinet – yes, just four.  Doubling seems a significant rise, but doubling saw the number increase from just two to four.  Two was itself was a recent doubling from one, where our Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop had the unenviable task of (possibly) representing the aspirations of women everywhere.  We were told at the time that there were good and talented women ‘knocking on cabinet’s door’ to which the obvious retort must surely have been then OPEN IT! It seems that the door has been opened just ajar; just sufficiently enough to think there is hope for some future change.  But as our representation remains below 30 percent, urgent action is required not only to attract and retain women in Parliament, but in Cabinet.

As the Canadian Prime Minister stated upon appointing an equal number of women and men in his ministry he simply stated that it made sense because ‘it’s 2015’.  Hooray!  The suffragettes, who were arguing for equal rights and female emancipation at the beginning of the century before last, must surely be rolling in their graves, thinking that their struggles would have seen these battles well and truly won.

Sadly, it seems not, and much work remains to be done.  Women for Election Australia recently addressed two important women leadership conferences – one involving members of parliament and the aspiring, the other a group of senior and experienced women from the public and business sectors.   MPs and business women alike continue to express an ongoing frustration that there are too few women present in the upper echelons of decision-making – in cabinets and in boardrooms so necessary to bring about the social and structural change required to support real equality.

Depending on political affiliation (and Women for Election is not partisan), the amazing women we met differ slightly in their views, but there definitely a growing consensus that quotas are the only real way to advance this overdue outcome.  It matters in equity terms but importantly is also matters in economic terms.  Involving women in decision-making is a proven way to improve performance.  Regulation is often used as a ‘blunt instrument’ to change behaviour.  We believe it’s time not only to think about introducing quotas in our boardrooms, but for our elected representatives, too.  It’s time.  The year is 2015”

WFEA at the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Conference

The Honourable Gladys Berejiklian and The Honourable Linda Burney with board members Jenni Whelan, Jenny Morris (chairman) and Joanne Yates at the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Conference – bipartisan agreement that we need more women in politics.

Click here to find out more about Women for Election Australia
Visit the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Australia Website


Yale Women’s Campaign School: Video Presentation

Our President Jenny Morris recently attended Yale’s Women’s Campaign School, and presented on the current state of political life for Australian women, and Women for Election Australia.

We’ve now uploaded the video for you to enjoy, on our Facebook page. Please Like, Share, and Comment if the video resounds with you!


To download the Women for Australia Research Report mentioned in the video, click here.

Abbott government sixth worst in developed world for women’s ministerial representation

Women for Election was featured in the Sydney Morning Herald Editorial on Sunday 12 July. Editorial below, full article can be found here.

Dispatches from the world of women’s equality this week gave Australia reason to hang its head in shame. Despite doubling the number of women in the cabinet to a grand total of two last December, the Abbott government is the sixth worst in the developed world when it comes to women’s ministerial representation. Just 27 per cent of MPs in the federal lower house are women – below the 30 per cent level which the UN calculates is needed for women to have influence. And while the upper house scores relatively well, with women accounting for 38 per cent of senators, who needs reminding that 38 per cent is not 50 per cent?


While few Australians would be unaware of the Abbott government’s abysmal record on female ministerial representation – our first female foreign minister not withstanding – it is worth reflecting on the cost of this under-representation. Aside from the fact that, as 50.2 per cent of the population, women have a right to be equally represented at all levels of government, numerous studies show a positive relationship between women in leadership and business success. Having women in leadership roles is good for business and surely good for the business of government, too.

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff Peta Credlin has said a lack of women in the conservative MP pipeline made it difficult for Tony Abbott to put more women in the ministry. First-term MPs lack experience. While critics point out that experience didn’t help Marise Payne or Bronwyn Bishop enter cabinet, it’s undeniable the party has failed to nurture female talent. Women account for only 22.4 per cent of Liberals elected to state, territory and federal parliaments, compared with 43 per cent of Labor members and 48 per cent of Greens.

While the ALP adopted a quota system in 1994 which has seen the number of Labor women MPs increase by 190 per cent, the Liberal Party has shied away from such methods. Since it reached a high point in supporting women in the 1990s, its interest in equality has fizzled out. It has relied on “merit” but done little to challenge the cultural and institutional barriers preventing merit from being rewarded. Amazingly, a recent Victorian party report found women candidates for preselection were being asked such questions as “who would cook the meals” if they entered politics.

Nor can Labor rest on its laurels. A report from its Affirmative Action Working Group recently noted significant cultural and rules barriers continue to discourage women’s participation in the party and slammed the lack of women in its top decision-making forums.

Research from a new group, Women for Election Australia, released this week at the Commonwealth Women’s Parliamentary Conference, identified several factors that stop women becoming politicians or make it hard for them once they do. These include bruising preselection processes, a workplace culture that tolerates bullying behaviour illegal elsewhere, long working hours, long commutes and lack of childcare.

The non-partisan group aims to help women prepare for and thrive in political life, but voters must not absolve the major parties from their responsibility to improve the political culture and promote the equal participation of women; not as a favour to women but because balanced decision-making leads to better government.

Read the article on the Sydney Morning Herald website: