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Greek Australian politicians on why SA Parliament has the worst female MP representation in Australia

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The recently handed down federal budget has been criticised as one that ‘failed women’ and many have expressed their concerns on its lack of support to women’s economic recovery. 

The budget does include $240 million over five years towards enhancing women’s financial security and contribution to paid work but, at a best estimate, this accounts for 0.04% of the entire federal budget.

How can a budget shaped by male leaders deliver for women, who have been hit hard from the economic recession and where are the female political leaders to reflect the different experiences men and women have in this country?

Definitely not in the Cabinet.

Recently, a report by the South Australian Electoral Commission found that SA’s Parliament has the worst female representation in Australia. The state also has the second lowest proportion of female Cabinet ministers, behind New South Wales. 

Why is this happening and what needs to be done to address the issue?

In an effort to find answers, we caught up with SA Labor politician Irene Pnevmatikos MLC (Member of the Legislative Council) and SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros.

‘The Electoral Commission findings are sad’:

MP Irene Pnevmatikos: “The findings are sad but a true reflection of women’s representation in SA Parliament. The Labor party’s record is much better in terms of women’s representation with a 50-50 shadow cabinet and our policy on affirmative action to have a gender balanced party.

“However, what is more important is the absence of discussion and consideration of the impact of a woman’s perspective in relation to policy and legislation on jobs, the economy, the environment and so on. All members of parliament have a duty and obligation to 50% of the population who are women to ensure that issues and concerns of women are reflected in any deliberations.”

MP Connie Bonaros: “Every Member of the SA Parliament should hang their head in shame with this dubious title. I certainly do. Both major parties make loud noises about attempting to address this critical issue, but nothing rarely eventuates.

“The latest Electoral Commission of South Australia report shines an appalling light on our Parliament – and maybe, just maybe will motivate the major parties to give this issue the attention it deserves. The fact that we have so few women representing us in Parliament today goes against everything our foremothers fought so hard for; it goes against every fibre of our otherwise rich and advanced history.”

Issues with female representation ‘deep-rooted and systemic’:

MP Irene Pnevmatikos: “There are deep-rooted and systemic issues both within parliamentary processes, party processes and social norms outside of politics that inhibit women from participating. 

“Meeting times, access to participation in decision making and balancing roles are just some of the considerations that need to change. Change is gradual and breaking down stereotypes takes time.”

MP Connie Bonaros: “There are many reasons for the SA Parliament having the worst female representation in the country some of which I have outlined in detail in previous speeches in Parliament – harassment, intimidation and bullying being part of the problem. Community expectations are that all workplaces should be free of harassment and bullying behaviour, and sadly, the SA Parliament is not.

“At the moment, it is seen very much as a boy’s club. By the very way the Parliament deals with reports of intimidation and harassment, it could be accused of condoning such behaviour. More also needs to be done to ensure there is a clear and attractive professional pathway for women who aspire to enter politics.”

“A woman’s place is in the House – and in the Legislative Council!”:

Asking them to give their advice to candidates who want to enter politics, Pnevmatikos and Bonaros agree that female candidates should not “succumb to fit in the ‘female politician’ mould”.

“We need women in parliament who speak on all issues on their own terms and who also reflect their communities,” said Pnevmatikos.

“Be prepared to work; be open, honest, and transparent; have a strong sense of social justice, and be sympathetic and understanding to your constituency. Fight for the things you believe in. Use your position to create good,” Bonaros said.

Bonaros to introduce gender equality Bill across SA public sector:

To address the issue of gender equality on a broader scale, SA MP Connie Bonaros is planning on introducing a Private Member’s Bill which aims to improve workplace gender equality across the entire SA public sector – the state’s largest employer with more than 100,000 employees.

“All South Australian public sector departments and organisations – including SA Health, SAPOL and the Education Department, universities and local councils – will be required to prove they are “actively pursuing” gender equality targets under new laws being proposed by SA-BEST.

“I hope the proposed new laws will also lead to better results for the broader South Australian community through improved policies, programs and services,” Bonaros said.

If successful, South Australia will become only the fifth jurisdiction in the world with similar laws, joining the United Kingdom, France, Iceland and Victoria, which only introduced laws this year.

“For far too long, the workplace has been a man’s domain, which 40-50 years ago might have been ok when the wife/mother traditionally stayed home to raise the family. That time period has long sailed off, and women have generally worked in the shadows of their male counterparts ever since.

“If we are genuine in our attempts to encourage and motivate women across all sections of the workforce, gender equality is paramount.” 

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