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Women in Local Government Matters

By Dr Marjorie O'Neill, Member for Coogee on December 15, 2021 in Other

Strong female leadership. Photo: Isabelle Romee

For far too long we have witnessed the consequences of too few women elected to represent the community in Australian politics. In recent times there have been many serious allegations of sexual assault, harassment and bullying in the context of a toxic misogynistic parliamentary workplace culture. It is apparent that none of this is new, and we should be grateful to the brave women who have brought these issues to the public attention. The implications of gender inequality in our elected representatives impact not just upon the culture of government institutions but also upon the values directing policies and the allocation of resources.
Government at all levels should reflect the communities they represent. The 2020 Australian Census found women continue to perform the bulk of domestic tasks and provide the bulk of personal care, that women’s full time adult average weekly ordinary time earnings were 86 per cent of that of men and that the number of recorded incidents of female victims of sexual assault was more than five times higher than that for males.
Like it or not, women’s life experiences are often different from their male counterparts, and it is important for the good of everyone that these experiences and underpinning values help to shape public policy and the allocation of scarce resources. Nowhere is this more important than in our local governments which exercise control over so many services and public facilities impacting our daily lives.
Despite the varied and critical roles performed by women in our homes, business, education, health and in community organisations, they continue to be under-represented in local government, with just 30 per cent of councillors in NSW being women. Sadly, NSW lags well behind every other state in Australia, and in recent elections the number of women nominated for local government actually declined. I am proud that the quota rules in the ALP mean that 50 per cent of winnable spots in any election must be filled by women, resulting in equal representation of women and men on both Randwick and Waverley Councils – a positive result that no other party or independent ticket has achieved.
Happily for our community, with NSW local government elections to be held on December 4, there are some remarkable Labor women re-nominating and some new faces as well, bringing with them a diverse range of experiences and achievements directly relevant to the role of local government councillor.
Both Randwick and Waverley councils have been home to female mayors, Paula Masselos and Kathy Neilson, both of whom are re-nominating. In their capacities as mayors, both have fulfilled their commitments to stopping unsustainable overdevelopment, fighting against the Liberal government’s stripping of their councils’ planning and approval powers, and protecting our heritage buildings and sites. Alex Luxford of Randwick’s West Ward has been a strong voice for her community on Randwick Council, voting against the Kensington and Kingsford Town Centres Planning Proposal (K2K), demonstrating her opposition to overdevelopment. Councillors Masselos and Luxford also worked to promote cultural diversity, particularly respecting the rich Greek history of our area, by bringing the Evzones (Greek elite national guard) to Bondi Beach in 2018 and by having the Greek flag flown across Randwick City to mark 200 years of Greek independence.
Several very accomplished women have nominated for the first time. Marea Wilson in Randwick’s East Ward is a barrister specialising in industrial law, a volunteer at the Kingsford Legal Service and a person particularly committed to sustainability, community planning and controlling undesirable development as well as improving council services for sport, leisure and entertainment. Michelle Gray, running in Waverley’s Bondi Ward, has been an accomplished corporate lawyer for 15 years and is a young mother with a deep commitment to ensuring we leave our community a better place for future generations.
Your vote can get these women elected and ensure that, at least in local government, there is some equality among the voices representing us. Give a girl a go!