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I am a woman in politics

Hand on heart, I can say that as a little kid growing up in rural Birkdale in the 1960’s, my answer to the often-asked question, “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” was never “I want to be a member of parliament.” I don’t actually remember what I dreamed of becoming, but my sisters assure me that my answer was always, “A princess”.

Maybe it’s not so surprising that I did end up in politics. I can see how my upbringing contributed to my desire to belong to and contribute to the life of a community.

Birkdale in the ‘60s was a small farming community. We kids had a ton of fun enjoying all that a farming community had to offer, lots of paddocks, creeks, animals - and freedom!

We knew all our neighbours, the local postmistress and the shop-keeper and got pails of fresh milk from the farmer across the road. My father caught the bus into ‘town’ where he worked for a union and my mother was an Avon Lady – which was hard-going in a rural community when she had neither a licence nor a car! There was little money for entertainment but it was a great childhood.

From my parents I learnt that even though we had little, there were others who had less. I saw Mum and Dad help people out, fight for the rights of others and show compassion to those in need. They also taught my sisters and I to stand up for what we believed in and to always, always ‘do the right thing’.

Respect, fairness, tolerance, taking responsibility and showing compassion were values I learnt at home and they are the foundation of who I became. Which wasn’t a princess. Obviously. But my path to becoming a member of parliament was anything but obvious.

I left school at fifteen. I can hear the gasps of horror! It almost sounds indecent, doesn’t it? But in those days, it wasn’t unusual. The boys took up apprenticeships in plumbing and construction and some of us girls became apprentice hairdressers. Or went straight into retail or an office job. My parents, who very much believed in education, weren’t happy about me leaving school and I had to agree to go on to Kangaroo Point Technical College where I spent a year learning shorthand and typing before I got a job in an accountant’s office.

Being an office junior was tough but a great education in the way of the world. I was smart, learnt quickly and happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was at the forefront as computers were introduced into businesses and workplaces and I developed skills that lead to opportunities throughout my working life.

I had great fun being part of the burgeoning computer industry in the 1980s. It was glamorous, lots of travel, big expense accounts and I really loved sharing my computer skills and knowledge with others.

Leaving the heady world of the computer industry behind, I became a wife and mother and settled into a different life that brought with it the ups and downs that we all share. Miscarriage, divorce, the loss of precious friends and beloved parents. I raised my family, studied, worked, volunteered at school and in the community, ran several businesses, supported my partner and my children through all their endeavours - and never stopped questioning the purpose of it all whilst trying to find a fulfilling pathway through this messy business called life.

I became involved with the local branch of the Labor Party, never thinking that it would lead to me becoming the endorsed candidate for Lytton, let alone eventually the elected Member for Lytton. But looking back, I can see how my upbringing and my life experiences shaped me and provided me with the skills and abilities to represent the constituents of Lytton.

I take my role in politics very seriously, knowing that I represent all the members of my community regardless of their political points of view, who they are or what they think of me. To this day, I still hear my parents expounding the virtue of ‘doing the right thing’ and that is what motivates me each day. Particularly on those days when it’s hard to get out of bed! When those inner-voices question my actions, my abilities and my right to have the responsibilities I do.

Like most women I suspect, I am often afflicted by these self-doubts. Despite all our experience, skills and knowledge, we women are often our own toughest critics and no one tests our self-confidence quite like our own inner voice!

Negative thoughts (“What am I doing here?”, “It’s only a matter of time before I get found out”) cause me to doubt myself, doubt my judgements and my capabilities. I over-think, over-prepare - and have many sleepless nights as a consequence! I am a victim of Imposter Syndrome, like many women of my generation, I’m sure.

Confronting these internal negative thoughts is often a challenge. And social media provides lots of opportunities for people to say what they really feel about politicians! The hateful speech is part of the politician’s lot these days but, at times, I do have to give myself a strong talking to before I can slap a smile on my face and get on with it!

Fortunately, my love for and desire to stand up for my community gives me the strength and courage to confront my naysayers. Including those negative inner voices! I have always been able to stand up for others, I’m working on being able to stand up for myself. It’s a work in progress.

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