TRANSCRIPT - Women in Politics, ABC Newcastle



TOPIC: Women in politics

PAUL TURTON, PRESENTER: Well, two women on opposite sides of the world have resigned from politics recently. The first was Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, that impressive woman that Alan Jones wanted to strangle, you remember her? And the second was Nicola Sturgeon, who was the First Minister for Scotland. They had very similar resignation speeches, both talked about the personal toll of leadership, the long hours, the lack of privacy, time away from family, and of course, the human cost of doing that job. Now obviously things have improved for women in politics or at least we hope they have - we'll find out in just a moment - but well, it does seem like there's still a lot of work to be done. Sharon Claydon is the federal member for Newcastle. She was elected in 2013. Prior to that, she was a local councillor between 2008 and 2012. She's been in the game for quite a while and she's been good enough to come in and reflect on that journey and experience. Sharon Claydon, good morning.

SHARON CLAYDON, MEMBER FOR NEWCASTLE: Morning, Paul, and happy Monday to all your listeners. 

TURTON: Deputy Speaker of the House, you run the show in the Federation Chamber and step up around Question Time when you're required to do so. That was part of the appointment of the Albanese Government of course, that you were elevated to that position. Can you tell us, firstly, how you've found that? 

CLAYDON: I love it. I have to thank the Prime Minister actually for he encouraged me, probably eight years ago now, to put my name forward to join the speaker's panel when I was in Opposition, and I found it really invaluable. It's learning the craft of being a parliamentarian, as opposed to a politician, and I think learning rules and processes and procedures enables you to be a much better politician. And trying to enforce those rules is part of the challenge. 

TURTON: I'll try and be on my best behaviour. I don't want to get ejected from this studio in the next 10 minutes. What's it like being a woman in politics? Is it harder than being a man do you think?

CLAYDON: I've never been a man of course, but I do think that there are specific challenges for women in politics and I think your reference to the two, quite extraordinary speeches we heard from Jacinda Ardern and Nicola Sturgeon recently highlight some of those very unique challenges for women and it's not that there isn't levels of pressure that exist on anyone in sort of public office, that of course happens, but we know when it comes to things like the level of abuse being experienced that for women in politics and public life, it is, there's a level of intensity that increases and it's often sexualised in its nature. And so that makes it ---

TURTON: This is stuff in the corridors, it’s not necessarily--

CLAYDON: It's online, it's in the corridors, it's in public spaces, it's in a lot of surprising places to be honest. People find -- thankfully, I think they’re a minority of people, but people feel the need to tell you some extraordinary things from time to time and everybody in public life has a level of thick skin, I've got no doubt about that, but I think having women in leadership positions is showing us, a different style of leadership that's possible as well. 

TURTON: Because there's a lot at stake here, right? Because the notion of eliminating – you know, putting the Battle of the Sexes aside for a moment – eliminating 50% of your of your population means that you're drawing on a smaller pool of great candidates. I mean, it's just silly. 

CLAYDON: It's like every workplace, you want to have the best people there, but for a parliament, you also want it to reflect your community and the idea of, you know, not having 50% of your community represented in a parliament is just a nonsense.

TURTON: Is this structural? I mean, are there stuff that you look at and you'd say if you got rid of that, that and that, then the interest of female politicians would rise exponentially?

CLAYDON: Absolutely. So, each of the political parties have a role to play in the way that they pre-select candidates. The Australian Labor Party, which I belong to, 30 years ago, started that journey. So, I am really proud to be in the first female majority government ever in Australia. We are 52 percent of the Australian Labor party caucus room. You know, so other parties need to have a look at that. And think about, you know, what works within their structures to enable a proper representation of women. But also now diversity within those ranks as well. And that's really the challenge that we've confronted making sure we've got good First Nations representation, people of all faiths and, you know, women of colour. So that's been-- because that's what our community looks like. I’d never forget---

TURTON: So why is it -- because when you into Council 15 years ago, you weren't a novelty. I mean, why is there distinction between---? 

CLAYDON: Well, I was a bit. There was only two women on Council when I was elected, and it's the current Lord Mayor and myself. That was it, out of 13. And one of the first acts that that Council tried to do was to remove the assistance on child care that was provided to enable counsellors to attend evening meetings. So I've reflected often on that and that's part of the reason why you've got to have women sitting at the table in every decision-making process, whether it's local government, state, or federal. And there are changes. You, you're right, I mean, part of my job as Deputy Speaker, I've taken on responsibility for the implementation of Kate Jenkins' recommendations in helping shape what that looks like in practice for the parliament. So, just last week, the parliament has endorsed the Codes of Conduct that I drafted as chair of a committee, which sets out standards of behaviour, what we would expect from our politicians, from everyone who works in a Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplace.

TURTON: It's a bit of a running joke in politics, isn't it? You know, it's like, if someone gets on the turps, they're described as being emotional, tired and emotional, and then of course, once the game is up and you've got to move on, it's to spend more time with the family. Ironically, if you're able to spend more time with the family earlier, wouldn't politics be a better place, but in encouraging women, it's not a simplistic as putting a creche into Parliament House, is it? 

CLAYDON: No. And we do have a childcare centre. We replaced the bar with a childcare centre, a great repurposing-- 

TURTON: So no one get tired and emotional anymore! 

CLAYDON: A great repurposing of Commonwealth assets, and that was a really important step for the, for the parliament. Look, I think what women leaders around the world have showed us, and there is diversity amongst them and they come from all kinds of, all parts of the political spectrum, is that there are ways--- I think, rather than seeing it as a vulnerability, but understanding that, you know, empathy, I think, Jacinda Arden showed us how an empathetic kind of leadership can be not only effective, but something that people relate very strongly to, and I don't think there's a person in Australia that wouldn't recall that moment following the atrocious massacre at the mosque in Christchurch, her role and how she led the nation and the world I think in responding to a terrorist attack. It was a very different kind of way to respond, but super effective and really, really powerful. So, you know, Parliament, when I'm chairing Parliament, it's a very loud, boisterous, chest-beating, masculine environment, and you know, that can often escalate the sorts of behaviours that you actually don't want. And it's what most Australian people complain to me about, to be honest, is just, you know, why are people so badly behaved in Question Time?

TURTON: But some of the women give as good as they get in that environment, don't they? 

CLAYDON: And because they're, you know, we were all growing up and learning bad behaviours from that environment we’re in. But there are like, I'm working with the Speaker and the President in the Senate looking at sort of ways that we reform our standing orders which are the rules of the parliament, because these codes of practice and the standards of behaviour that we're trying to change as a result of some pretty horrific behaviours in Parliament, that were made abundantly clear by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, in her report. We've got to, you know, there is a real appetite and need for change now. We're making the structural change, but you need to embed that in people's everyday practice. And that's the long, hard work. I'm doing the law reform aspects of it now, but really I know that the hard work is changing the culture and you need more and more women into that Parliament for that to happen. 

TURTON: Sharon Claydon, can you say or could you say hand-on-heart to the young woman in your life that this is a great job and I'd love to see you do it? 

CLAYDON: Absolutely. I see young women all the time that are playing fantastic roles in our community that I really want to encourage to sort of step up. There are, you know, I now as I said, I belong to a party room with 52 percent women. The profound changes that has made gives me great confidence to encourage others to come through and I think that no community can afford to chop out 50% of its population because you don't deliver the very best from your, you know, elected body if you've only got a portion of the community represented in there and I just think that there are lots of women who've got a lot to offer. What we need to ensure is that we have safe and respectful workplaces for them wherever that might be. That's what I'm trying to ensure happens in the Commonwealth Parliament. You know, if nothing else I want my legacy to be establishing very clear guidelines to deliver safe, respectful workplaces in every Commonwealth workplace in Australia. 

TURTON: We're lucky to catch you on a day when Parliament isn't sitting, so you're back in the electorate office. What's the day in the life when you're in the office? 

CLAYDON: Well I've just had the most fantastic weekend, which was not, my office is out in the community so to speak. There were lots of great events. We, you know, celebrated local manufacturing with the Independent Brewers in King Edward Park. There was the brilliant World Pride dinner, the Pink Salt dinner, on Saturday night that even though the rain pelted down and washed out the desert, I really felt for our local Master Chef, Reese who didn't get to get up on stage and talk about the, you know, his role I guess in our community. And, and what he wanted to see change but---

TURTON: Yeah it was terrible, the teles are ruined too apparently. Sharon Claydon, thank you. 

CLAYDON: Thank you

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