The 2019 Federal Election is now less than two weeks away and there are a number of female candidates to watch come 18th May. There is no question that, globally, the representation of women in politics is having a (long overdue) moment. In the US, since the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016, a record number of women have registered their disinterest in the marginalisation of women in politics by running for office. Here in Australia, in the wake of a government with the lowest level of female representation since 1996, we have seen an emergence of strong female candidates running as Independents. With women comprising a little over 20% of its representatives in Canberra, the Liberal party’s so-called ‘women problem’ has been evident. The loss of former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, assistant treasurer and minister for women Kelly O’Dwyer and Julia Banks serves to compound the problem.
Here are some women you need to know about when you head out to exercise your democratic right (with obligatory sausage in hand) later this month.
Zali Steggall. Warringah, NSW. Independent.
The former Olympic skiier and barrister is challenging the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the Sydney seat of Warringah, a position he has held for over two decades. Steggall describes herself as socially progressive and economically conservative and says the people of Warringah want change. Action on climate is a key pillar of her grassroots local campaign. Since announcing her decision to run in January this year, after becoming increasingly worried about the representation of women in politics in Australia, her campaign has been in full swing. Polls indicate she is on track to unseat the incumbent.
STANDS FOR: Leadership on climate change, a return of integrity to politics, better representation of women and change.
Julia Banks. Flinders, Victoria. Independent.
In 2016 former corporate lawyer Julia Banks was the only Liberal candidate who won a seat off Labor, in Melbourne’s seat of Chisholm, which had previously been held by Labor’s Anna Burke. Her victory was critical in allowing the Coalition to create government because it secured them a one seat majority after suffering a considerable swing against it. But after the party dumped Malcolm Turnbull as leader in August last year, Banks announced her intention to leave parliament and not contest the 2019 election, citing bullying and what she described as ‘appalling’ treatment of women. In November 2018 she quit the party to become an independent MP and sit on the crossbench. She then announced she would contest the seat of Flinders at the 2019 election, going up against her former colleague, the Health minister Greg Hunt.
STANDS FOR: Economic responsibility, genuine action on climate, equality, supporting local businesses and social justice.
Dr Kerryn Phelps. Wentworth, NSW. Independent.
Dr Kerryn Phelps is a GP with a long history in local politics and the AMA and is the current member for Wentworth. When Malcolm Turnbull resigned from the seat after losing the leadership of the Liberal party in August of 2018, it triggered a by-election in the blue ribbon electorate in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Dr Phelps decided to run as an Independent and after a hard fought short campaign she emerged victorious.
In her brief stint in parliament before the Federal election campaign got underway she successfully introduced a bill aimed at getting sick refugees off Nauru and Manus Island for necessary medical treatment.
STANDS FOR: Sensible economic policy, social justice, in particular the humane treatment of asylum seekers, better aged care and genuine action on climate.
Mehreen Faruqi. Senate seat for NSW. The Greens.
Engineer, academic, feminist, migrant and NSW senator Mehreen Faruqi was appointed to fill the Senate seat representing the Greens in NSW vacated by the Senator Lee Rhiannon in August 2018. She had previously been a member of the NSW Legislative Council. Upon being sworn in Mehreen became the first female Muslim senator in Australian history. Come 18 May she is hoping to be elected and is determined to use the platform to tackle climate change, inequality and divisive politics.
STANDS FOR: Ending live exports, protecting renters’ rights, action on climate, eradicating racism.
Louise Stewart. Curtin, Western Australia. Independent.
Former IT executive and Perth-based entrepreneur Louise Stewart has voted for the Liberal party her whole life but after seeing the treatment of Julie Bishop after Malcolm Turnbull was dumped, as well as the rise of the ‘extreme conservative right wing’ faction within the party and the poor treatment of women generally the shine came off. When Julie Bishop announced she would leave politics Louise decided to run in the blue-ribbon seat of Curtin as an Independent. She lives in the area and is desperate for change in Canberra.
“I know it’s ugly – but without real life people willing to withstand the ugliness it won’t change, and we desperately need change,” she said.
STANDS FOR: Better representation of women in parliament, a sustainable economy and responsible environmental policy.
Dr Katie Allen. Higgins, Victoria. Liberal party.
Dr Katie Allen is a paediatric gastroenterologist and allergist who was pre-selected from a field of eight candidate, to run for the Liberal party in the Melbourne seat of Higgins. The seat, which the Libs have held since 1949 when the seat was first created, was previously held by the outgoing federal MP Kelly O'Dwyer, who is leaving politics for family reasons. In Victoria’s election in November last year Dr Allen ran in the seat of Prahran but was unsuccessful. The Greens are considered a significant threat to the Liberals in this area.
STANDS FOR: A cleaner & greener future and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to access excellent education, healthcare and infrastructure.
Ok technically she isn’t a politician but as the wife of the Opposition leader and aspiring PM, Bill Shorten, Chloe Shorten will potentially be very influential if Labor wins. The corporate affairs specialist, author and mum of three is passionate about equal opportunity and ending family violence. She has been an Ambassador for the Victorian Government's Victoria Against Violence campaign and is a Patron of Our Watch, the national body charged with ending violence against women and children. She is also more accustomed to public life than most. Her mum is the former Governor General, Quentin Bryce.
STANDS FOR: Equality opportunity, improving the lives of women, eradicating domestic and family violence.