Jenna Price -February 2, 2015
She’s the first Aboriginal member of parliament in Queensland. She’s also the latest product of an awesome Assembly line which churns out one woman member of parliament after another.
Leeanne Enoch, 46, spent Saturday working. All day. She was there when the booths opened at 8am and when they closed at 6pm. Enoch visited every single booth where her analysts had located the swinging voters.
It was only on the way to campaign headquarters at 6.30pm she realised she was part of the biggest political shock in Australian electoral history – the backlash against Premier Campbell Newman’s coalition in Queensland. It was the election which pundits said would be unwinnable for Labor but now it looks as if Annastacia Palaszczuk has taken her party’s leftovers and turned them into a feast.
If the votes go Labor’s way, Palaszczuk will be the only woman premier in Australia and Enoch will be part of the team.
But none of this could have happened without EMILY’s List, a financial and political support network for progressive Labor women candidates which was founded in the US in 1985 to raise money to support prochoice Democrat women. Joan Kirner, the former Victorian premier, started it in 1996 in Australia.
Tanja Kovac, the national co-convenor of Emily’s List, was delighted at the success of the candidates – so far, seven from 14 look certain for the Queensland Assembly and there may be more to come. That’s on top of the 22 women elected in Victoria last year.
Kovac said on Sunday: “We had a number of women who were standing in incredibly difficult seats.”
Her view is that most male candidates would have thought those seats were unwinnable. “They would have though, ‘it’s all too hard, let’s leave that to the women in the party’.”
But EMILY’s Listers persevered.
Why is it only the Labor Party?
Feminist stateswoman Anne Summers said this on her Facebook page yesterday: “Aaaah Queensland. Returns a female premier, the only woman to lead a government anywhere in Australia at present. Significantly improves women’s representation in parliament . It’s now 30 per cent but that’s still not as good as it was under Anna Bligh’s government when it was Australia’s highest at 36 per cent. But such a clear lesson: Labor elects women; LNP gets rid of them. When will they address this clear injustice to women in their own ranks?”
Claire Moore, a Queensland senator and one of the founders of Emily’s List in Australia, says that the success of projects should stir all parties into action to achieve gender equity in political representation.
Does it shock her that the Liberal Party doesn’t act?
“I think it shocks Liberal women,” she said on Sunday night.
As she says, you can’t have parties pretending to be committed to gender equity if they can’t get it right in their own parties.
Last year, Victorian Liberal backbencher Sharman Stone said her party should introduce mandatory quotas to help boost the number of women in parliament. That was the same year that outgoing Liberal president Alan Stockdale said the party needed to boost its membership and increase the number of women in senior roles.
“The party needs to attract and retain more women as office bearers, as candidates and as MPs. This should be seen as a key priority for the party as a whole,” Stockdale said.
Sophie Mirabella is on the record saying something has to change in the party. Former Senator Sue Boyce even volunteered to set up something similar to Emily’s List.
Yet the party which hosts the first ever male Minister for Women is paralysed.
But as Senator Moore says: “If Rwanda can do it, we can all do it.”
Moore was Leeanne Enoch’s Emily’s List mentor over the past few years and she is delighted her protégée won her seat after a defeat two elections ago.
Says Moore: “It took a lot of strength for her to come back . . .she has won a very important seat and is a real inspiration for other women.”
Enoch was one of the Indigenous people targeted by conservative columnist Andrew Bolt in a column questioning her Aboriginality.
It devastated her. “He never interviewed me once, I never got the chance to tell my side of the story.”
But she bounced back. “It taught me a lot,” she said. In particular, it taught her to be able to separate the personal from her political life.
Now she is waiting to hear what happens next. She says she has a lot to learn and has already benefitted from the mentoring of former premier Anna Bligh, Moore and Palaszczuk, who came to support Enoch at one of those marginal booths.
“Now we just have to maintain the steady approach which got us here.”