Our first female attorney-general Nicola Roxon delivered her valedictorian speech to Parliament on Tuesday, thanking those who’ve helped her manage her political career, particularly when she was a new mother, and cautioning against sexism and the degrading treatment of women at work.
Roxon is leaving parliament after 15 years, including time spent as health minister and attorney-general. She announced her decision to resign earlier this year, citing a desire to spend more time with her family.
She thanked families, friends and staff members for helping her manage her career, including her mother who travelled with her while she was breastfeeding her daughter. Roxon said her mother even marched up to a newly sworn in as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd back in 2007, demanding he give her daughter time off to get married. “I think it’s probably the only time I’ve seen Kevin stuck for words.”
Roxon noted a number of significant achievements for women in recent years, including equal pay for some of our most lowly paid workers, paid parental leave, and our first female governor general and prime minister.
However, she warned that the treatment of our prime minister, as well as more recent examples of demeaning treatment of women in the workforce, shows the feminist cause is as urgent as ever and that there is a “dangerous underbelly still compromising women in Australia”.
“We have a capable, tough, smart, determined women as our prime minister, yet she has been subjected to some of the most crass, silly, sexist and just plain rude behaviour for years,” said Roxon.
“At the same time we have the Defence Force grappling with the degrading, demeaning and plain awful treatment of women in and out of the workforce. The proper treatment of women has long been a priority for me. In the law, before I came here, I acted for too many women young and old who’d been treated appallingly in their workplaces.”
It’s time people better understand the corrosive nature of sexism, said Roxon.
“To acknowledge that it deliberately sets out to diminish authority and sideline the real issues, how constantly sexualizing women disempowers them and how extreme and violent language can turn into violent and dangerous behaviour.”