Get your hand up for an opportunity – just be ready for the added scrutiny - Women's Agenda

Get your hand up for an opportunity – just be ready for the added scrutiny

Labor’s new deputy leader in the senate, Senator Jacinta Collins, is an example of a woman who knows an opportunity when she sees one and the need to put her hand up to grab it.

We haven’t heard that much from her until this week — interesting, given she holds some controversial views. But she’s now in a high-profile senate role, our new Minister for Mental Health and Aged Care, and part of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s inner circle.

Why? Because, as she told the Australian Financial Review Thursday, when the chairman didn’t see her putting her hand up to nominate for the deputy leader position from the back of the caucus room last week, she stood up instead to make herself known. Collins won 66 out of 102 votes to take the position, beating the better known Senator Kim Carr in the process. On Monday, Rudd’s cabinet reshuffle saw her awarded the mental health portfolio from Mark Butler, who moves over to climate change and the environment.

“In the caucus room, I was sitting at the back in one of those uncomfortable chairs and I stuck my hand up but the chairman didn’t see me, so then I had to stand up so it was obvious,” she told the AFR.

Granted, a few circumstances led to that opportunity including Collins’ party loyalties, the mass resignation of Labor ministers and the leadership spill in the first place. But the point is that Collins saw an opportunity to extend her political profile and didn’t miss a beat.

And now, out there in the open, grabbing such opportunities will require Collins – like all of us when we step up to something new – to accept the added scrutiny that comes with such a position.

Collins may contribute to Rudd boasting a record number of women in his broader ministry, but not all women will see Collins as a champion of feminism.

She’s socially conservative, anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage — which should make for some interesting conversations with her boss in the Senate, Senator Penny Wong, and has led to questions on whether someone with such views should oversee the mental health portfolio.

Collins has also campaigned against stem-cell research and opposed legislation back in 2000 allowing lesbians and single women to access IVF. Last year on the same-sex marriage bill she said that “stable, biological parenting” should be the “social norm”, and the Christian Values Institute awarded her the “Christian Values” award. She’s served as a director of the Caroline Chisholm Society – an organisation expectant mothers can go to for “confidential information and advice” on abortion, and worked with the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association for 15 years.

As Bernard Keane wrote this week for our sister publication Crikey, it will be difficult to see how Collins will engage with major stakeholders relevant to the mental health portfolio while still promoting, and having promoted, such views on same-sex marriage, parenting and abortion. It’s noted that her predecessor, Mark Butler, worked on a number of programs expanding funding to support the LGBTI community, including the National LGBTI Health Alliance which offers suicide prevention and mental health support.

Good on Collins for putting her hand up for a promotion. But with stepping up comes scrutiny and we’ll all be watching.

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