Nova Peris’ nomination to the top of the ALP Northern Territory Senate ticket is a real highlight for Australian democracy and Indigenous women. Although she’s replacing the currently serving Trish Crossin at the top of the list, Peris’ elevation brings another diverse woman into the talent pool.
If elected, Peris will be the first Indigenous woman to be an Australian Senator. We’ve been attaining many ‘firsts’ in parliament recently, along with Julia Gillard as the first female PM, there’s Nicola Roxon as the first female Attorney-General, Penny Wong as the first Asian-Australian and lesbian cabinet minister and, when Julie Bishop was Shadow Treasurer, she was the first ever woman to hold a Treasury position.
Since the first women stood for federal parliament in 1903, Edith Cowan being elected in 1921 and Enid Lyons with Dorothy Tangney in 1943, there has been slow movement toward engaging more women in politics. This is coming from a nation that was a leader for the suffragettes and feminism at the turn of the century.
The upcoming federal election is likely to see more female candidates than the last, meaning there will be more powerful and strong female role-models at the forefront of the media being judged on policy issues. These women will be visible, showing young girls the very real potential of a career in politics.
The number of female candidates is also important given the future of public policy lies with women. With 61.4% of all law graduates and 57.5% of all Commonwealth Public Service staff female, women will soon be moving into more policy and leadership roles that will define government and our nation.
Currently, the Senate is leading the way for gender equity, with 38.2% of senators female in 2012, up from just 18% in 1986.
However, improvements have been made elsewhere too. In June 2010, the ABS recorded that 23% of federal ministers and parliamentary secretaries were female, while the opposition had 17% of women in the same roles. In 1986, a dismal 5% of members of the House of Representatives were female, which has risen to 24.7% in 2012.
If elected, Peris will play an important part in improving this record.