Labor Women's Conference 2019

19 October 2019

Labor women are making a difference

Speech to the Labor Women’s Conference, 19 October 2019, Toowoomba

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Traditional Owners

The Honourable Di Farmer MP, Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence

Julieanne Gilbert MP, Assistant Minister for State Development

Hon Linda Burney MP, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, Member for Barton, who will be joining the conference later

Former Senator for Queensland Claire Moore

Former Member for Herbert Cathy O’Toole MP, who will be joining us later via zoom.  

Julie-Anne Campbell, Queensland Labor State Secretary

Queensland Labor Women’s Network Executive, Emily Brogan (President), Sarah Mawhinney (Secretary) and Emma Gambin (Member of the Executive)

Other speakers, including:

Dr Linda Colley (Affirmative Action Committee);

Young Women’s panellists (Georgia Milroy, Bisma Asif, Steph Naunton, Georgia Soutar, Ella Craig); 

Bronwyn Taha (Regional Women’s Panel); and

Kim Richards, Jo Briskey, Ali King, Belinda Hassan (Policy development workshops).        

I am pleased to be in Toowoomba today for this conference for two reasons.

Firstly, the celebration of the Carnival of Flowers makes Toowoomba an especially beautiful place to be at this time of year. Though, I do want to acknowledge the mixed feelings from locals, who are currently experiencing one of the worst droughts on record. For them, this year’s dusty and dry conditions are unprecedented, and a reminder for us of just how tough it is for regional Queenslanders, as we see worsening climatic conditions.

Secondly, it is significant for our party that the conference is being held here in regional Australia. Toowoomba acts as a gateway to Western Queensland, and therefore plays host to a range of important female voices and perspectives, many not found in our major cities.

Inclusiveness and genuine representation has been at the heart of Labor women’s organising. 

Federal political update

As Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water, I am proud to report to you here today that Federal Labor is a strong and united team.

I am proud to be in a party with Anthony Albanese at the helm. I have every confidence in his ability as leader to ensure that our team is in the best possible shape to win the 2022 election.

The specific policies we take to the next federal election are yet to be decided, and we will work through these over the next two and a half years.

I especially look forward to working with the community, stakeholders and experts, in identifying and responding to the multitude of issues in the environment and water portfolios. The mismanagement of both our environment and water, are proving to be some of the most salient issues of our time.

All of our election policies are under review, as is the 2019 federal election outcome. A whole range of views are being expressed as part of this review and I am sure many of you have your own assessments. We in the federal caucus acknowledge that this was a disheartening result, being our third consecutive federal election loss.

But I do not want to indulge in too much reflection on this outcome, because our primary focus has to be, as ever, on the people of Australia. And that includes working to hold this tired third-term government, now in their seventh year of power, to account.

This is a government that has no plan for our country.

A government that has no plan to deal with low wages and rising prices. The cost of essentials is skyrocketing, electricity prices are increasing and child care has become unaffordable under the Liberals. They need to wake up and produce a genuine plan to get the economy moving again. Australians are worried about the economy but Scott Morrison and the Liberals are pretending there is no problem.

Just like they are pretending that the environment is not under serious threat. But it’s the environment that was one of the biggest losers at the last election, as consecutive Liberal governments continuously seek to weaken protections, privatise responsibility for our most important national treasures, and cut funding.  

There is perhaps no greater symbol of this Government’s attitude to the bush and the environment than thousands of dead fish floating on the surface of an almost dry river system.

Under this Government:

We are facing an extinction crisis, with Australia having one of the highest rates of extinction in the world.

The condition of the Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’.

In the summer of 2018-19, around one million fish died in the Darling River, which an independent scientific study found was largely caused by management of water flows.

The Government handed a $444 million grant to the small private Great Barrier Reef Foundation rather than properly fund public agencies such as the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the CSIRO to help the Great Barrier Reef recover.

And the Government cut more than $1 billion out of the Environment portfolio.

Many here today would be acutely aware of the impact this Morrison Government has had on our environment and our water.

Regional communities are doing it tougher than ever.  

In addition to the rising cost of living, slow internet speeds, and stagnant wages, we are seeing dry conditions and no water.

I was in Stanthorpe the other week, and had the opportunity to speak with locals there. This is a community that has run out of water, and is currently relying on truck loads each day to supply the town. 

And they are not the only ones.

But people in regional communities are good communicators. They are good problem solvers. They feel issues as a community, and they come together to resolve those issues as one too.

I hope that today’s conference brings together another community, a community of proud and passionate Labor women, coming together to find solutions to the problems we face.

In coming together as women, I thought I would this morning also point to the Queensland women that have played a role in federal politics.

Queensland women are making progress in the federal Labor caucus

Cabinet and Ministry

One Queensland woman has served in the Cabinet, and she is not Labor:

  • Karen Andrews, Cabinet Minister from 28.8.2018, Coalition

In addition, four other Queensland women have served in the Outer Ministry:

  • Annabelle Rankin, Minister for Social Housing, 1966, Coalition
  • Margaret Reynolds, Minister for the Status of Women, 1987, Labor
  • De-Anne Kelly, Minister for Veterans' Affairs, 2004, Coalition
  • Jan McLucas, Minister for Human Services, in 2013, Labor.

There have been other examples of women serving as parliamentary secretaries in government, including now Qld state Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath, Jan McLucas from 2007, and former Labor Member for Forde Mary Crawford during the Keating government.

Shadow Cabinet and Shadow Ministry

Over the past two decades, Queensland Labor women Cheryl Kernot, Jan McLucas and Claire Moore have served as shadow ministers. I became a shadow minister in August last year.

In our periods of Opposition in the past two decades, different leaders have adopted different approaches, with some having both a shadow cabinet and outer shadow ministry, and others having only one body. Over that period, when there has been a separate shadow cabinet, no Queensland Labor woman has served in it, until my appointment a few months ago. I was honoured to be appointed and I intend to be the first Queensland Labor woman to sit in Cabinet when an Albanese Labor government is elected in 2022.


The Labor Caucus in this new term has been fortunate to be joined by two wonderful Queensland women; the Senator for Queensland, Nita Green and the Member for Lilley, Anika Wells MP.

They both fought hard at the last election. They both have a great deal to only offer their respective communities, as well as the parliament, its democratic practices, and parliamentary Labor team.

While we welcomed these new women to our caucus, we also lost two greats. It was upsetting to be back in parliament without Cathy O’Toole, former Member for Herbert, and Susan Lamb, former Member for Longman. Both made tremendous contributions to their respective communities, our party and our state. And while I am sure they continue to make a meaningful difference to our communities, they are sorely missed in the 46th parliament.

Federal Labor’s celebration equal representation of women and men in our democracy, stands in direct contrast to the opposing side, demonstrated no more clearly than by the federal government’s track record when it comes to women:

The UN slammed the Liberal’s lack of action on gender equality and condemned the Government’s complete “absence of a comprehensive national gender equality policy and targeted action plan.”

Equality for Australian women has fallen dramatically under the Liberals. Once the Liberals came into power, Australia slipped from 19th to 46th place in the Global Gender Gap Report. We’ve only just clawed our way back to 39th spot.

Tony Abbott, as the Minister for Women, cut the annual Women’s Budget Statement to hide the impact the Government’s policies have on women.

The government tried five times to slash paid parental leave, calling mothers “rorters” and “fraudsters.”

They cut $88 million in capital funding used for safe housing options for women and children fleeing family violence.

So we still find ourselves as women, in the position where activism is necessary.

Conferences like yours make a real difference

Labor Women’s conferences have a proud place in Labor’s history.

It is through conferences like this one that women like all of us agitated for women’s participation, affirmative action, and policies that benefit rather than ignore women.

Even International Women’s Day was founded in a similar setting to this; a social tradition and a meeting of women who want change. 

Labor Women’s and Young Labor are Queensland’s original party activist organisations, having been followed by many others since.

These activists groups have shaped our party into who we are today. A challenge for Labor Women’s is making sure that our feminism is inclusive and intersectional, and that we acknowledge that we need to stand side by side to work towards the liberation from oppression of all, through our Labor approach of building political participation, creating change through the parliamentary process as well as in the community, and seeking to persuade and earn the support of the majority of Australians. This is much harder than just obtaining the support of a minority of voices and throwing stones from a cross bench: our mission is to govern and to do so in the interests of all, and getting the opportunity to do that is a mammoth task. So we need to all stick together, work together, advocate for change, wear out our shoe leather and our voices, and persuade the people of Australia that there is a better way. I look forward to standing beside you as we continue that unending work.