Where are they now?

 

Since our patron, Elizabeth Reid, became the first Women’s Adviser ever appointed by a Prime Minister in 1973, there have been literally thousands of women employed as staffers of ALP parliamentarians and party offices.

 

In our ‘Where are they now?’ series, now you can learn what some of these fabulous women have gone on to do in their professional (and personal) lives.

Chris Black

When did you first work for the ALP and what was your role?

 

I answered an ad in the paper (when papers still did such things!) to work for Shadow Minister Nicola Roxon in 2001 - I became her adviser on early childhood education and care and women’s affairs. With multiple portfolio changes this became adviser on Immigration and Population (briefly), then legal issues when she became Shadow Attorney-General.

 

What did you go onto do after that?

After the 2004 election I went to work for Victorian Minister Mary Delahunty as her women’s affairs adviser - filling the very impressive and sparkly shoes left by previous adviser Hutch Hussein.  This was an exciting role as it coincided with implementing a whole lot of new initiatives in the family violence and gender equity space.  This role didn’t last long (for personal reasons) and I then went on to set up my own social policy consulting business (focused on projects in the homelessness, affordable housing, and various other sectors) which ran very successfully for over a decade. Many of my contacts from adviser years were helpful in getting consulting work, as well as networks from my earlier years working in the NGO sector. 

What did you find most rewarding career-wise about working for the ALP?

 

So many opportunities were presented to meet incredibly smart and committed people - both within the party and the wider community. Nicola was an absolute powerhouse in the policy space and I learnt so much from her intellectually and personally.  I’ll never forget our meeting with the legendary Gough Whitlam after she became Shadow Attorney-General - he was incredibly generous with his time and advice and more than 30 years after leaving government he was still really switched on about what he thought was needed to implement a progressive legal (and broader) agenda.

What is a highlight of your time as a staffer?

 

Helping to develop a Private Member’s Bill establishing the first ever National Children’s Commissioner was a real highlight, including the intricacies of legislative process. While we were doing this from Opposition rather than in Government, it ended up becoming a reality many years later when Labor came to government. Before I even had a kid of my own, I could tell how crucial this could be to generations of future children. It also showed that with many initiatives, you need to have lots of patience and see things come to life over many years, not just weeks or months.

Also preparing the annual Women’s Budget Statement was a great way to connect with colleagues across all portfolios and challenge them to bring a gendered lens to their policy work and analysis.

What are you doing now?

Working with Annie and the team at 89 Degrees East - it’s a brilliant outfit that has grown massively over the last few years under Annie’s leadership. I am the Director of Policy and Stakeholder Engagement which is probably a fancy title for getting to work on a whole range of different strategic communication projects, talking to lots of smart people and helping shape ideas into practical outcomes.  

I’m also on the Board of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation which is trying to reduce the harm of gambling across the community - something that was much easier during COVID when all pokies and gambling venues across Victoria were closed down, but an ongoing challenge. I really enjoy Chairing the Lived Experience Committee made up of people who have first hand experience of gambling harm - and are super passionate and insightful about helping others facing the same challenges.

What advice would you give to ALP women staffers?

  • Take every opportunity to meet and talk with the best and brightest, both amongst your ALP colleagues and across the community. 

  • Put yourself forward for new roles and promotions - not all of them are advertised so you need to be a furious networker to find out what opportunities are coming up.

  • Make sure your voice is heard in every forum - while the blokes often seem louder and more confident, in my humble opinion women staffers often have even better ideas!

  • Ask what professional development opportunities are on offer and take them - and don’t forget that the ERN’s Bridget Whelan Scholarship is a great way to take on the world, literally (hint, hint - the 2021 application process will be opening soon).

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