Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Speech to Local Government Managers Australia’s National Forum on Women in Local Government Management

Location: Rydges Lakeside Hotel, Canberra

– Check on delivery –


  • – Judith Troeth, Senator for Victoria
  • – Ray Pincombe, National President, LGMA
  • – John Ravlic, Chief Executive LGMA
  • – Kaele Way, National President, Australian Local Government Women’s Association
  • – Penny Holloway, Chair LGMA Women in Local Government Management Working Party and General Manager North Sydney City Council
  • – Ladies and Gentlemen


  • Thank you, Ray (Pincombe, National President LGMA) for your introduction, and congratulations on your appointment.
  • I am pleased to be here today.
  • Australia has a long history of amazing women, including in local government.
  • Women have engaged in local government since the first female Alderman was elected in 1919.
  • One of the early pioneers for women in my own electorate was Lillian Fowler – elected to Newtown Municipal Council in 1929 and then became the first female Mayor in Australia in 1938.
  • Lillian was very active in her local community, giving effective representation to her local constituency, particularly to women and the under privileged.
  • She was a formidable woman who fought on many issues including:
    • Establishing playgrounds in the local municipality;
    • Assistance for the unemployed;
    • Extending the 40 hour working week to all council employees; and
    • Pressuring the then Lang Labor Government to give pensions to widows
  • Lillian Fowler was also elected to the NSW Parliament as the Member for Newtown in 1944 until 1950. The federal seat of Fowler is named after her.

Women in leadership

  • There is definitely no lack of talented women in Australia.
  • Unfortunately this is still not reflected in the number of women in decision-making roles and leadership positions.
  • I am very proud to be serving in a Government which boasts more women in senior parliamentary positions than any other Australian Government, including the first female Deputy Prime Minister.
  • There is now also a record number of Labor women in the Senate, with 14 of 32 ALP senators being women.
  • But we still a long way to go.
  • Currently, women make up around 34 per cent of Australian Government boards and decision making forums.
  • And while this seems low, it is considerably better than the private sector, where women hold less than nine per cent of board positions, particularly in Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) top 200 companies.
  • In fact, over half the companies in the ASX top 200 have no women on their boards at all.
  • And there is no good reason for it.
  • Studies from the US have shown companies with higher numbers of women on their board perform significantly better financially.
  • This has proven to be true across a number of different performance indicators and a wide range of industries.
  • And the under representation of women in leadership roles is not confined to the political and business worlds.
  • In general, significantly fewer women than men are recognised through Australian honours and awards for their achievements and contributions to our community.
  • For example, since the Australian of the Year award was founded in 1960, only 20 per cent of people recognised have been female.

The Government

  • The reasons for ensuring women are in leadership and management positions are more than just financial.
  • Women can bring a greater depth of experience, fresh ideas and perspectives, and more contacts – which all makes good business sense.
  • Organisations with women and people from diverse backgrounds better represent and understand their full range of stakeholders, leading to improved outcomes.
  • The Australian Government is focused on strengthening the voice of Australian women through increasing women’s leadership in Parliament and senior levels in both the public and private sectors.
  • Despite all the achievements women have made, women still face barriers in getting adequate recognition for their work.
  • I recently received a letter from a woman who was very successful in her field, both in Australia and overseas.
  • She said that despite her successes she found it very difficult to get any publicity or acknowledgement for her businesses.
  • She said she initially thought she was imagining this invisible wall around her, but now she was convinced of a real prejudice against women in business.
  • It is these types of situations we need to change.
  • Women should not be left wondering whether they are imagining invisible walls and there should definitely not be any prejudice against women in business.
  • The Government runs and assists several programs which build women’s leadership abilities and ensure national communication and consultation with women.
  • One example is the AppointWomen database (over 1000 CVs), which helps to get more women appointed to Government boards and decision making bodies.
  • Meanwhile, Ms Entrepreneur uses multimedia to inspire women in business by detailing the stories of successful Australian women and their lessons on leadership, innovation, money management and much more.
  • The advantages of encouraging women into management positions not only benefits the women concerned, it also assists the organisations and the broader community.

Local Government

  • As the Commonwealth Government, we rely on good local government to provide services directly to our communities.
  • Diversity in local government representation and management is not just good for women, but it is good for the whole community.
  • Women in local government provide a unique perspective and capture issues that may ordinarily go unnoticed in local government planning.
  • Often it is those at the local government level, as opposed to state or federal, who have the most significant impact on the reality of women’s lives.
  • In an observation on local government in the mid-1970s (and still relevant today), Mrs Margaret Bowman B.E, a Senior Lecturer in Political Sociology at Monash University said, “Women are typically more concerned to enhance the quality of life than to build monuments to their activity.”
  • Women in local government provide the connection between the business of community planning and the women in the community.
  • This connection provides for essential local services which may have otherwise been overlooked.
  • These include things such as making footpaths and public toilets big enough to accommodate a stroller, or ensuring practical opening hours for community health centres.
  • Maureen Oliver, a mother of eight (8) and councillor on South Sydney Council, championed access to footpaths in inner-city Sydney for prams and wheelchairs.
  • It was because of her persistence and actions on council that pram ramps have become a standard feature on footpaths in Sydney. Thanks to Maureen prams and wheelchairs can move freely through our streets.
  • The National Framework for Women in Local Government highlighted issues (which all of you here today are well aware of) relevant to women’s participation in local government representation and management.
  • My Office for Women assisted the Australian Local Government Women’s Association to develop and review this Framework.
  • The LGMA is to be commended for taking these issues seriously and for establishing a Women in Local Government Strategy that includes development programs, projects to establish greater workplace flexibility and sessions to raise awareness among men of the benefits of attracting more women into leadership roles.
  • Other professional associations and employer groups would do well to follow the leadership of groups like the LGMA.

Women in the workforce

  • Issues relating to women’s leadership in management are not just isolated to local government.
  • We need to remove the barriers to women’s participation in management positions across all sectors.
  • It’s something women struggle with throughout their lives, and something that has a disproportionate impact on women’s capacity to participate in all aspects of life.
  • The Government is committed to examining the key issues which determine equality and opportunity and that are fundamental in our lives.
  • These include workplace relations, child care, economic security, education, housing, and the ability to participate in work and community life.
  • These are all issues that local government can have an impact on.
  • In order to help remove the barriers women face in the workforce the Government has asked the Productivity Commission to examine ways to improve support to parents with newborn children through a paid maternity, paternity and parental leave inquiry.
  • This Government wants to make it as easy as possible for working mothers to balance their employment with the important job of raising their young children.
  • Of course, juggling work and life demands goes beyond the period immediately following childbirth.
  • The Government is already implementing its election commitment to replace Work Choices with a more balanced industrial relations system.
  • The Government’s new workplace relations system will give women, and families, the opportunity to make their work arrangements more family friendly.
  • Initiatives such as giving both parents the right to separate periods of up to 12 months of unpaid leave and the right to request flexible work arrangements until their child reaches school age, will greatly assist parents to maintain productive lives, both at home and at work.


  • I understand that there has been lots of activity over the last couple of years leading to the formation of this forum today.
  • It’s great to see such a wide range of people coming together about such an important issue and I would like to congratulate the women and men who made it happen.
  • Changing the face of leadership is about more than just getting more women into leadership roles, it is about women being able to make a difference when they are there.
  • Women in leadership need to support other women and they need to make it easier for those who come after them.
  • I hope that those who have come together today will continue to work together to increase the participation of women in leadership.
  • We all need to appreciate and encourage the difference that women’s leadership can make.
  • Writer Anne Frank, once said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world”.
  • We certainly don’t have to wait to have more women in leadership and management roles.
  • Thank you.