Yesterday, the woman who should be deputy leader of the Canberra Liberals was up for a national award for leadership in government and public service.
Whether she won or not is neither here nor there for the purposes of this opinion piece, but for the record, ACT Shadow Minister for Women, Mental Health, Multicultural Affairs and Emergency Services Giulia Jones was beaten to the podium by a Federation University of Australia deputy vice chancellor Marcia Devlin.
Why do I think Mrs Jones should be Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson’s deputy? There are a couple of reasons, neither of which relate to incumbent Alistair Coe’s performance in the role. Mr Coe is doing a fine job. But he’s a bloke like his boss, and the Liberals need to appeal to the many powerful women in this town as well as the powerful men if they want to get elected. They must appeal to more women in general. They should be providing role models and pathways for up and coming women politicians and for young women and girls who may one day follow in their footsteps.
The Canberra Liberals are on the right track on this front having attracted a field of impressive women candidates such as Elizabeth Lee (below), Amanda Lynch, Annette Fazey-Southwell and Jessica Adelan-Langford, above with Mr Hanson, who has commented on more than one occasion that this is an issue of great importance to him personally.
But the Libs’ campaign launch on Tuesday evening was a shocker on the gender equity front, though lively and engaging otherwise. Every one of the speakers was a man, from campaign director Daniel Clode who warmed the crowd up before official proceedings got under way, to president Arthur Potter, Mr Coe, Mr Hanson and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The only time a woman was called up on to the stage was towards the end, when Mr Hanson’s wife Fleur was asked to do barrel girl duties, drawing the raffle.
It was a stark contrast to Labor’s launch, which featured stirring speeches from former Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and current Deputy Federal Leader Tanya Plibersek as well as Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
From a marketing perspective, the male leader, female deputy combination is a winning one on both sides of politics. At recent ACT elections, we have seen Ms Gallagher with Mr Barr and Jon Stanhope with Ms Gallagher. Federally, the conservatives have the gender balance right. Julie Bishop and Mr Turnbull, Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce. So too the progressives, with Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek for Labor, and Richard Di Natale plus co-deputies Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam for the Greens.
ACT Labor have been in a bit of a fix themselves on this front since Ms Gallagher left the Assembly mid-term. The steady hand of Simon Corbell was useful at a time when the two most promising future women leaders, Yvette Berry (below left) and Meegan Fitzharris (below right), were too green to step up.
Mr Barr and Mr Corbell have worked hard on succession planning since. Ms Fitzharris seems set to take on the senior portfolios of education and health after the election whether in government or as a shadow minister, having understudied to the departing Mr Corbell in health and transport in recent months. It is clear she is being groomed as a future leader. Ms Berry is considered the most likely choice for party deputy given she is of the Left and Mr Barr is from the Right faction. This does not necessarily mean she will be deputy chief minister if Labor wins office. If Labor requires the support of the Greens to govern, it’s possible the minor party could demand that role for Shane Rattenbury. Yes, unlikely, I know, but it’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?
If Labor govern in their own right, caucus will decide who is deputy. Could they be considering appointing Ms Fitzharris and Ms Berry as co-deputy chief ministers if re-elected given the size of the expanded Assembly?
But back to the Liberals. Leaving gender aside for a moment, it seems pretty clear that the best deputies are those who, like Federal Liberal deputy Ms Bishop, have no designs on their boss’s job. My sources assure me Mr Coe does not fit into this category, though one would assume that Mr Hanson’s job will be safe for at least one term if he does what no other Liberal leader has been able to do this past 15 years and ousts his rivals.
So, if I were Mr Coe, I’d have stepped aside to allow Mrs Jones to step up some months ago in a bid to boost the party’s chances of winning government next week. Doing so would also have allowed him to focus on the challenges he will face as a first-time treasurer and chief light rail contract ripper-upper if the Liberals win government. It would have allowed him to spend more time with his young family, too (why is it that women politicians are always expected to spend more time with their young families but the men are not?).
Now, back to that leadership award. Mrs Jones made the final four in the emerging female leader in the government/public sector category of the Women’s Agenda awards in recognition of her efforts to provide more inclusive facilities and practices for parents working at the ACT Legislative Assembly. The winner would be “the emerging leader in the public sector who can best demonstrate growth, disruption and inclusivity in her field during the 12 months from July 1, 2015”. The judges selected university administrator Marcia Devlin, as mentioned earlier.
I applaud Mrs Jones on reaching the final four, and on her achievements for women in the Assembly to date. Here she is talking about one of them during the last sitting period in August: