Motion: International Women's Day

08 March 2023

It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on this motion today in regard to International Women’s Day. In speaking to this motion I do want to note the motion’s objective really is to mark that (1) this year is a hundred years since women had the right to stand for election to the Victorian Parliament and (2) for many years First Nations women did not have the same political rights as other Victorians. Globally, National Women’s Day was celebrated in the USA in 1909 to honour women who had protested against working conditions in the garment industry, and they marched for better working conditions and the right to vote. From this workers movement International Women’s Day has grown to become a bit of a rallying point around the world to fight for women’s equality, and over the years International Women’s Day has meant different things for different people.

It is an important marker in gender equity awareness and change, but the pursuit of gender equality does go far beyond one day of the year. It is a time to reflect, a time to celebrate how far we have come but also an opportunity to remind us all of how far we have to go, and I thank all those women and their male supporters, who have secured tremendous advancements over the past century.

As I mentioned, it is now 100 years since women could stand for election to the Victorian Parliament. Lady Millie Peacock was the first woman elected to Parliament. Although women had won the right to stand, she was not successful until 1933, when she made history. However, for every successful woman that has been elected to Parliament since, there have been many who have not been rewarded with that opportunity. Women have stood, fighting for equality and fighting for their communities, and their stories are remarkable. Their efforts and achievements are no less admirable than those of their victorious sisters. They came to politics driven by their values and the importance of community involvement in that political process.

When I was doing a little bit of research I did learn that Alicia Katz, the first woman to actually stand at a state election, in 1924 in the seat of Barwon, reportedly said to audiences and her voters that she would like to do something besides playing the part of a wife and a mother. That was something that resonated with me. And of course over the years we have seen more women stand. I think that those who have run before or considered politics would agree that we need strong democracies around the world, but it has never been more important to have our own Parliament be an exemplar. Here in Victoria the Andrews Labor government has led on equality. Decades of action, including affirmative action and quotas, have meant that we have walked the talk. As statistics that have been shared today show, 54 per cent of our Labor Party members in Parliament are women, and in the Andrews Labor government cabinet 64 per cent of ministers are women. All are the result of women so powerful and dedicated to the cause. With previous generations of women fighting for the right to vote and to run in Parliament, today here we stand on the shoulders of these giants, and I know that the opportunity that I have had to stand here today is because of the women who have come before me.

It is important here to note, though, that for many years First Nations women did not have the same political rights as other Victorians. While white Australian women were given the vote nationally in 1902, Indigenous women had to wait until 1962 for the same right, although it was not compulsory. That unusual situation of it being optional really remained in effect until 1984, when voting was made compulsory for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in line with the rest of the nation. I would like to take this opportunity, though, to acknowledge two First Nations women who are leading in our region, the Bellarine and Geelong community, Corrina Eccles and Danae Coots, who I am in a very fortunate position to learn so much from.

The Andrews Labor government has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to improving gender equality here in Victoria and to improving outcomes for women at all stages of their lives. It is not just words, but it is being guided by the work in the gender equality strategy. As this government has worked on those reforms from the gender equality strategy the investment and the outcomes have followed. We have supported women in leadership through the funding of numerous leadership programs such as the Joan Kirner Emerging Leaders Program and the Women of Colour Executive Leadership Program, and one that I was really pleased to be involved in was the re-establishment of the Rural Women’s Network. We invested $3.7 billion in helping implement every recommendation by the Royal Commission into Family Violence. There is investment of approximately $940 million in the 2022–23 state budget initiatives primarily aimed at improving all outcomes for women. I spoke about this today – delivering an ambitious once-in-a-lifetime generational reform in early childhood education with free kinder. These are only some examples, and the list is very long and exhaustive.

I will take this opportunity to acknowledge some women from the Bellarine who have made some significant contributions. There are many women who are doing extraordinary things on the Bellarine and I wish I could list them all. I do not have time to do that, but I would like to highlight a few women and organisations that have impacted the Bellarine community. Firstly, I must acknowledge the former member for Bellarine, Lisa Neville, a formidable minister and a hardworking local member. When I drive around the Bellarine I literally can point out the investments that she has made across the Bellarine. She was the first female police minister and the state’s first Minister for Mental Health. She has paved the way for many in politics, and her support and mentorship have been very much appreciated.

Secondly, as I was exploring politics before coming to this place and my desire to get more involved, I found a group called WILD. It stands for Women in Local Democracy, and yes, they are wild women. But what they are very wild about is gender equality and the fact that we still do not yet have parity at a local government level. WILD plays a really important part in the Geelong community in mentoring and training women who are considering getting involved in politics at a local government level and may like to consider running as a candidate. This sort of leadership by women for women does lead to greater outcomes. Jenny Wills is one of those women who has continued to provide support for many others, and she should be congratulated for her tireless work for the benefit of our community.

Another group that I would like to mention is the Bellarine Women’s Workshop group. This group started with a Facebook post during COVID, where a woman asked whether there were any women’s groups like a men’s shed for women on the Bellarine. When it was discovered that there was a bit of a gap in that service, as wonderful women do, they sprang into action and created their own group. They gather weekly and they do all sorts of activities like a men’s shed would do. It is a wonderful organisation. One of the women quoted: ‘We needed a village, so we created one.’ I had Mel Rogers and Jules Merrifield here as guests today for International Women’s Day. They have created a positive workshop and space for women to go to, and it is improving their wellbeing and their connection to community. I cannot wait to see what is next for this group, and I will do all that I can to support their goals going forward.

If the house will indulge me for just a moment, I would like to shout out to my mothers group. Wow, what an eclectic group of women. I have so much to thank them for – their support and the support they give to each other as we navigate motherhood. I know many women enjoy having the company of their mothers group, but it gets us through some very tireless and sleepless nights.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge Lorraine Stokes OAM. She is a local historian and a wonderful woman who has just published a book. She tells the names and stories of the 100 women that were on the Bellarine when they signed the 1891 suffrage petition – very significant. She has captured all their stories. There were many very brave women who played an important role in giving us all a better future on the Bellarine. We must not forget that, and we must continue with their legacy. On that note, I do support this motion, and I will end with saying happy International Women’s Day to everyone.