Only 44% of federal representatives, 37% of state representatives, and 38% of municipal representatives in Australia are female. This percentage is even lower at the state and local levels. Even fewer female from a variety of cultural backgrounds are currently serving in parliament.
According to Licia Heath, almost every council in Australia has what she calls a “gallery of dead men.” The gallery of former mayors of the Cairns regional council can be seen in the civic reception room. The mayors included in the gallery are almost entirely white and male.
A shift is occurring below their observation, unseen by them. Indigenous female as well as women from other culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are getting together for the purpose of learning how to start their very own political campaign.
This event is part of a larger initiative to cultivate young political talent and is one of a series of seminars that are being hosted across the country. The training that started on Thursday in Cairns, which is located in the far north of Queensland, will be continued for another two days in the Torres Strait.
Heath, who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Women for Election, was successful in obtaining $5 million in federal financing for the workshops that were co-hosted by Politics in Color.
Kat Henaway, the founder of Politics in Colour and a facilitator of this week’s “leadership incubator” program, emphasized the importance of “authentic representation” in her remarks.
“I think that’s what women need to understand – they’re voting for you, because you’re turning up with all of your authenticity,” Henaway adds. “I think that’s what women need to understand.”
The defeat of the voice to parliament referendum, according to Michelle Deshong, a former CEO of the Australian Indigenous Governance Institute and a co-facilitator of the workshop, was a turning point for many Indigenous women when determining whether or not to run for public office.
She believes that right now one of the most critical things that we as Indigenous people, and more specifically Indigenous women, need to ask ourselves is where we should direct our attention. “The result of the referendum presents us with a unique opportunity to deliberate over how we want to proceed in our pursuit of positions of authority,”
Natasha Lane, an Indigenous woman who lives on Wulgurukaba property, went to the Cairns workshop because she is contemplating running for the state election in Queensland in the district of Thuringowa in 2024.
“After the referendum, I just got a passion for it,” says Lane, “and I thought how can I use my voice to make a difference in my community and speak up for the community.”
She is presently the managing director of the Indigenous not-for-profit business Queensland adolescent Connections, and she is considering running for office on a platform that would focus on the reform of adolescent criminal justice. “It’s time for politics to be authentic and actually answer to its communities,” adds Lane. “[T]he time has come.”
Another participant, Stacee Ketchell, who is of Waikaid and Meuram descent and is the founder of the local organization Deadly Inspiring Youth Doing Good (DIYDG), has stated that she is interested in gaining a deeper comprehension of how Indigenous people may function effectively within non-Indigenous governmental structures.
According to Ketchell, “there are layers of complexities for women, particularly women of color, in politics,” which is a system that is not reflective of our people nor was it intended for our people. “We all call this place home, we are all interconnected, we have so much to share and offer, and everyone in this country has a responsibility to this country, to make it better for the next generation.”