President’s column: 8 March 2019

We are living through an exciting time in history where gender equality has become an expectation, rather than a far-fetched ambition. The community is increasingly questioning its absence at the same time celebrating a whole new era of heroes (or heroines if you prefer).

The tenacious campaigns during the early 20th century by the suffragettes, who fought for the right to vote and equal pay for equal work, laid the path decades later for remarkable achievements and innovations by women at every level around the world and in Australia, be it sports (the awesome Matilda’s, and beyond), politics (PM, leaders, deputy leaders), business (richest Australian), media (Ita), local government, or even within our own ALGA Board.

Yet, there’s still more to be achieved, much more. Women are still under-represented in many industries and sectors and at senior levels within them. More change and action is still needed. International Women’s Day today, under the theme Think equal, build smart, innovate for change, is a call to action to drive gender equality across Australia and the world, through innovation, addressing exclusion issues and resolving barriers to opportunities for women and girls.

However, this theme also means, at least for me, how we could innovate and build a smarter world if we involved both women and men in our thinking, decision making and implementation. 

As the level of government closest to the people, this should be easy, right? The local government sector, when compared to state and federal government, has similar, if not better, rates of female representation among elected members, albeit we still have a long way to go to have balance around the table, or across our leadership roles.

The most recent figures from state/territory local government associations show that:

  • Combined, women in QLD councils represent 22% of mayors and 32% of councillors.
  • In SA, 245 women were elected to councils in the 2018 council elections. This represented 35% of all members elected, an increase from 29% at the last council elections in 2014.
  • 41% of VIC mayors are women and 37% of councillors are women. The Municipal Association of Victoria also has a female CEO and President.
  • A little more than a quarter of NSW mayors (27.6%) and less than a third of councillors (30.1%) are women.
  • Currently, of the 154 councillors in the NT, 55 are women.
  • Following last year’s Tasmanian council elections, 40% of elected councillors were women (an increase from 32% in 2014), and 36% of elected mayors were women (up from 31% in 2014).

Victoria remains in the lead, due to a huge joint state and local campaign in the years leading up to their most recent elections. Innovative campaigns are also being undertaken, and have been for several years now, by a number of other state and territory associations to promote gender balance in the local government workforce, particularly in senior management roles.

It’s true the gender balance rates across local government are increasing and I’m encouraged that our sector is actively involved in encouraging and supporting women’s participation in councils.

However, this is about more than just achieving gender balance. At a fundamental level it is about making sure our council decision making reflects more directly the people who currently make up majority of our population. Yet it is also a huge opportunity to bring fresh, relevant thinking to our decisions, and to challenge and improve the processes we use to make those decisions.

Yes, we’ve come a long way since the days of Susan Grace Benny – Australia’s first elected female politician who became a member of the Brighton Council in South Australia in late 1919. But, 100 years later, we are still only at around one third female representation instead of one half. At our current rate of change, how many more decades will it take? Are you okay with that?

I challenge you to think about what you and your council can do to build upon the groundswell of change that we’re seeing around us. How will you help create a world that thinks smarter and more innovatively, not just about gender equality but about everything we decide to do, and who we decide to include in our decision making?

Happy International Women’s Day!

Mayor David O’Loughlin  
ALGA President