The incoming Victorian State government sure has a lot of women of calibre

Danielle Green, reelected as the member for Yan Yean.

Danielle Green, reelected as the member for Yan Yean.

So so hard.

So hard to find women of calibre. Or women with merit.

So so hard to elect women to Parliament.

Except in Victoria where the incoming state government has a record 22 women – and now nine in cabinet. Sky yet to fall in.


But that thing about it being hard to find decent women? That's what we learn if we take our lessons from the Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Remember when he said he was "disappointed that there are not at least two women in the Cabinet".

And then he said:

"Nevertheless, there are some very good and talented women knocking on the door of the Cabinet and there are lots of good and talented women knocking on the door of the ministry."

And then he said this: "So I think you can expect to see, as time goes by, more women in both the Cabinet and the ministry."

Well, we could all die waiting for the Federal Government to do anything about gender equity in the easiest place it can – the composition of the ministry and cabinet.

So, Prime Minister, might I suggest you take take lessons from people who make change? Here's how women in the new Victorian government went about gaining power.

There are 22 women in the Victorian government whose rise can be attributed to yeast. Early  Money Is Like Yeast. It raises dough.

And the acronym for that is EMILY. EMILY's List Australia is a financial and political support network for progressive Labor women candidates, providing financial support, training, mentoring and gender gap research. It didn't begin as an Australian thing but in the US in 1985, founded by Emily Malcolm to raise money to support prochoice Democrat women in the struggle to get elected. In 1996, it took off in Australia, founded by Joan Kirner, the former Victorian premier who knew precisely how hard it was to get support as a woman with political ambitions.

Tanja Kovac, the national co-convenor of Emily's List, said:  "We are very proud that 18 of the lower house candidates endorsed by EMILY's List and up to four of our upper house candidates have been, or are likely, to take their places in the new Victorian Government. This is a record for EMILY's List and will mean that women make up at least 47% of Caucus."

Close. So close. Closer than any other State or Federal party has ever been able to achieve. And some don't even want to make an attempt. 

Kovac says that other political parties refuse to copy  the success of Labor's affirmative action strategy and EMILY's List because they don't want to acknowledge that Labor got it right on addressing gender.

"For the Coalition, affirmative action strategies of any kind are seen as progressive and left-wing . . .  to admit that they work would open the door to admitting other strategies to tackle disadvantage might work. "

As Kovac says, it's a real shame because attitudes among conservative women are changing considerably. Even economic conservatives, women like Christine Lagarde at the IMF, are now prepared to talk quotas.

Last year, shortly after the Prime Minister announced his testosterone-fuelled Cabinet, Queensland Senator Sue Boyce attacked the Liberal Party's ability to recruit and promote women.

Senator Boyce, who retired from the Senate in July, claimed that the Liberal Party does not support women through the parliamentary process. She also said that the Party must act to develop a plan, just as the Labor Party did in 1996.

 "I'm shocked and embarrassed by the Liberal Party – and it's had so damn long to fix the problem," she said at the time.

In October this year, the Prime Minister's chief of staff Peta Credlin announced the formation of a network of female staffers within the government for support and leadership mentoring – and although there are a number of forums for Liberal party women, they are informal.

But EMILY's List is not just about making sure that women get the chance to be elected – it also forms the basis of support when the heat comes on, in and out of parliament. The network provided behind the scenes support for Nova Peris during the recent attacks on her character.  When EMILY's List women are ill or facing hardship of some kind, the network of women kicks in.

"Kindness, collaboration and compassion are important in our work . . . life after politics can be quite a transition [but] staying connected to political life through EMILY's List is great for many candidates. It's how they give back."

Danielle Green, reelected as the member for Yan Yean, was the Shadow Minister for Prevention of Family Violence; the Shadow Minister for Health Promotion  and the Shadow Minister for Women when in Opposition. She says while she always benefitted from the support she received from EMILY's List it became more important this year  because her seat, Yan Yean, became notionally Liberal after a redistribution.

ALP resources were primarily targeted at picking up non-held seats so the support she received from EMILY's List was crucial – including EMILY's List Gender Gap Research – private polling of swinging women voters – which revealed issues important to women in her electorate.

"Being so involved in my community, I was aware of most of the local issues, but understanding the views of women helped me target my message better," she said.

As well, many women from the EMILY's List network also made telephone calls for her to undecided voters.

Green's a mentor to other women on the List and has been mentored  by many including Heather MacTaggart who also ran in marginal seats.

"She taught me the importance of deep connections with community. It's been invaluable advice."

Kovac says that EMILY's List has become a victim of its own success. The core of its business is to support and nurture women but that requires money and time.

 "So many women want our support now it is hard to keep up financially . . . many women come to us for support and nurturing because the culture of the party can be quite tough at times."

The next battle will be ensuring those nine women in cabinet have senior portfolios.

Close. So close. Closer than any other STATE OR FEDERAL party has ever been able to achieve. And some don't even want to make an attempt.

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