Meet Louise Stewart, an Independent vying for Julie Bishop's former seat

Meet Louise Stewart, an Independent vying for Julie Bishop’s former seat

Louise Stewart was deeply disappointed when she watched the Liberal party seemingly ‘throw away’ the former foreign minister and her local Federal member in the WA seat of Curtin, Julie Bishop.

“She was a formidable and proven politician,” Stewart says. “Like many Australians I was so disappointed to see how she was treated.”

The final straw was when the Liberals pre-selected a candidate Louise describes as ‘anti-feminist’ to replace Bishop. “I had always thought if Julie Bishop resigned I’d consider contesting the seat and when they picked someone with no interest in championing equality I thought ‘Enough’,” Stewart says.

Taking a leaf out of the same book as Zali Steggall and Dr Kerryn Phelps, she decided to run as an independent candidate in the blue ribbon seat.

“I’m putting myself out there – and I know it’s ugly – but without real life people willing to withstand the ugliness it won’t change, and we desperately need change,” Stewart told Women’s Agenda.

In recent days Stewart has been embroiled in a fake polling scandal, the provenance of poll results released by her last week, published by The West Australian, that indicated she would secure 23.9% of the primary vote has been called into question.

The poll was purportedly carried out by UComms and ReachTEl, but ReachTEL founder and UComms co-owner James Stewart said they had not conducted polling in the seat of Curtin.

Senator Mathias Cormann has called on Stewart to pull out of the race because of it.

Stewart denies any wrongdoing and maintains the poll was passed on to her by a third-party.

On Tuesday Stewart released a new statement suggesting that senior Liberal sources were behind the fake polling email.

“If it is indeed the case that another political party has sought to sabotage my campaign in this way it would be a damning indictment on them,” Stewart said.

Historically Stewart has supported the Liberal party but watching the past few years has caused her to lose faith.

“The Liberal party is full of extreme conservatives at the moment. It has been hijacked by individuals who are actually blocking women from getting in and progressing,” she says. “For the Liberal party at least the representation of women is going backwards. We need to be brave enough to put ourselves forward or nothing will change.”

She wants the conservatives out and running as an independent was the only viable option.

“I have always walked to the beat of my own drum,” she says.

As a former IT executive, a successful entrepreneur and former chair of Subcontractors WA, Stewart is familiar with male dominated industries. She says her track record, particularly in securing protections for subcontractors’ pay in WA,  is proof she can be effective in fragmented, ‘unruly’ sectors dominated by men.

But she’s unwilling to accept that politics and parliament need to be as male-dominated as they are.

“If we get more diversity in Parliament I do believe some of the problems will be solved,” she says. “I’ve been frustrated with what’s been going on for women in Australia for a long time. I spent time working in the UK and over there they don’t have the same issues that we do and it’s not getting better.”

Stewart has a son and a daughter and describes her marriage and family life as ‘unconventional’ in WA.

“My husband was a tradie who ran his own business but has stepped away from that to to support me. He is the stay at home parent and my domestic goddess which is quite unusual,” she says. “We have worked hard to overcome unconscious bias to have a completely equal relationship.”

A few years ago when Stewart sold her technology business to a large Canadian organisation many of their family friends congratulated her husband on his success.

“It’s still not readily acknowledged that it could be the woman who is the breadwinner or wealth creator,” she says.

Stewart is an alumni of the Springboard Accelerator program for entrepreneurs and she says some of what she learned there has formed her determination to change the landscape for women in politics and business in Australia.

“Part of what they teach is to have the courage to stand your ground, to believe in what you’re saying and fight for it,” she says. “I’m an introvert so this isn’t a natural step but the position for women in politics in 2019 is frightening and needs changing.”

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