Blog

August 13, 2010Guest blog by Anne Summers, writer, journalist and author in Sydney

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Australia’s reputation for being a “blokey,” male-dominated, female-unfriendly country is being mugged by the reality that women now occupy a significant number of the nation’s highest positions.

The Prime Minister, the Governor-General (Australia’s head of state), the deputy leader of the Opposition, 20% of the federal cabinet, 35% of the Senate, 27% of the House of Representatives and three of the seven members of the highest court are women.

In New South Wales, the most populous state, a female triumvirate reigns supreme: the state’s governor, the premier, and the mayor of its capital city, Sydney, are all women—as are 28% of its parliamentarians. Oh, and the deputy Premier is female. A woman also heads Queensland—a state that in the past was often referred to as the “Deep North” for its aggressively masculine and, often, racist culture.

When the politically powerful get together, the photographs sometimes suggest that men are now the minority when it comes to running the country.

Yet even Australians are surprised when presented with these facts. It’s as if we had not noticed these incremental improvements until just seven weeks ago when Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister. It took all the publicity that accompanied Gillard taking over the highest job in the land to reveal the welcome news that with so many other women in important positions, maybe Australia was not such a chauvinist backwater after all.

Suddenly, as we looked around, and counted up the women, we could hold our heads high. Even if the picture is not so rosy when it comes to business, when it comes to political leadership Australian women are finally at the podium, the table, the bench, everywhere it counts.

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Anne Summers is a Sydney-based writer, journalist and author, whose latest books are The Lost Mother and On Luck. She writes opinion columns for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Sunday Age. Anne helped organize and facilitate the annual Serious Women’s Business conference, Australia’s pre-eminent conference for women aspiring to leadership, from 2001-2009. Her book The End of Equality was published in 2003 and her autobiography Ducks on the Pond came out in 1999.