Stephanie Anderson's Bridget Whelan Scholarship acceptance speech
I’d like to pay tribute to the late Bridget Whelan, and thank her family and friends. It is a true privilege to receive this scholarship, named in her honour and previously awarded to people I hold in the highest esteem. Like them, I am very proud to be part of a party that takes gender equality seriously, and part of a government which has set the standard for women’s representation in cabinet, in the ministry and frontbench positions.
But women in positions of power – whether that’s as an elected official, a member of their staff or those reporting on their actions – have always been popular targets.
It’s not just the usual social media hate that many of us here have received. There is a growing amount of research stating that women in politics are disproportionately targeted by gendered disinformation campaigns, looking to undermine their ability to hold positions of power.
Misogyny and misinformation sadly go hand in hand far too often.
By cutting the impact of these mis- and disinformation campaigns, we could help curb the level to which they discourage women into entering politics.
But this issue goes beyond gender.
Reliable information is vital in helping the public make informed decisions in their best interest, whether at an election or during a crisis.
We’ve seen the damage mis- and disinformation can do, here in Australia and around the world. Misinformation can undermine a case for policy change or public health orders. It can spread fear and incite violence. It can lead to people losing their lives.
The spread of misinformation undermines the public’s trust in government and our vital institutions. This trust is essential. It’s what we need to succeed, not just as a political party or as a government, but as a country.
I want to help us build on the trust that the Australian people have in us, and help figure out how to cut down mis- and disinformation campaigns before they have a chance to truly take hold.
This scholarship will allow me to attend Cambridge University later this year, and discuss these issues with leading experts at their Disinformation Summit. It will also support me as I undertake further study at the University of Melbourne.
I hope to share what I learn from these experiences, as well as from discussions with my counterparts at other governments around the world, and create a guide for staff at every level of government so they can detect and counter these campaigns.
I would like to thank Minister Collins for her support, and Assistant Ministers Leigh and Gorman for so generously vouching for me. Thank you again to Bridget Whelan’s family and friends, to the Prime Minister, Maurice Blackburn, the Senators and Members who donated, and the team at the Elizabeth Reid Network.
As I said at the start of my remarks, its’s a true privilege.
Stephanie Anderson - winner of the 2022 scholarship