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.
When did you first work for the ALP and what was your role?
In 2001, I began working as a Ministerial Adviser to Mary Delahunty in the Bracks Government. I began as her Education Adviser and post a reshuffle as her Women's Affairs Adviser. During my three and a half years in the role, the key highlights were establishing the first whole-of-government Women’s Safety Strategy in 17 years, resulting in $35m of funding, which was big back then, developing policies to foster greater incentives for organisations to foster greater work and family balance and establishing things like the Annual Premier’s Women’s Summit and “Bring your Daughter/Niece to Work Day” for IWD.
What did you go onto do after that?
Post that role, I went back to the NGO sector where I’d worked prior as a social worker with young people, women in DV and refugee communities, to a management role at a migrant and refugee service and then post that I went into refugee policy advocacy.
What did you find most rewarding career-wise about working for the ALP?
It was great to be involved in social reform within these portfolios, get exposure to how government works from the inside, develop excellent networks I still tap into today and friendships across the labour movement. All priceless assets that have helped me in subsequent roles. Some skills that you take for granted knowing – from how to address ministers in letters to how to write a press release. The migrant and refugee service I moved to had only put out one press release in the 20 years prior to my arrival and I began putting one out weekly. I recall the local Federal MP, Martin Ferguson, complaining that we were getting more publicity than him! Little did I know that not everyone knew how to write a media release and what an asset it would be.
In a volunteer capacity for three years between November 2016-2019, I was also State President of the Victorian ALP. The most rewarding part of that role was establishing a Gender Equality Working group of cross-factional colleagues (and some former women staffers like Dimity Paul, Julijana Todorovic) to develop a
1. Values Statement to be read out at Party forums as one step towards a more inclusive culture
2. A Code of Conduct in our Party’s rules around expected behaviour and
3. Even more importantly to enforce the Code and ensure membership consequences if necessary, a Sexual Harassment, Bullying, Discrimination and Misconduct Complaints Handling Policy and Procedure.
When I first became President 2.5 years prior, two brave young women came to tell me about their experiences and that of three of their Young Labor colleagues who’d been assaulted by other members. They showed great courage. They experienced hopelessness and despair when there weren’t avenues for them to seek action. They could have walked away from the Party but I’m so glad they didn’t. They turned that despair into determination, determination to make things better for the people that came after them. Many women subsequently came forward and I dealt with 15 complainants during my term and the outcomes have ranged from written apologies, suspensions of membership and one perpetrator no longer having the privilege of being in our Party. I was humbled by the strength, courage and vulnerability of each of them. More details about its implementation are captured in this video and its transcript at my last Conference address.
Other highlights were encouraging proxy banks for the Administrative Committee so that more women could get insights into the governance of our Party, chairing the 2018 Campaign Committee that oversaw the Danslide election, introducing new Monthly Campaign Pitstops for Candidates, that provided peer support, with my Senior Vice President Carina Garland and initiating a Member Equality Survey to find out what else we could do to be a more inclusive Party, which over 600 members participated in.
What is a highlight of your time as a staffer?
Apart from having Chris Black succeed me in the role, definitely being part of the first whole-of-government Women’s Safety Strategy in 17 years, resulting in $35m of funding, and which represented the start of Victoria Police, under Christine Nixon’s leadership, moving from seeing family violence as “just a domestic”.
1. Organising a “Women Ministerial Staffers Lunch” on a monthly basis to foster peer support and networking – however the response I got from a senior female staffer to the first invitation really highlighted to me how far we had to come. Via a reply all response, she asked, “How would we feel if the blokes organised a blokes-only lunch”, to which I responded, “They already do!” I and many others were gobsmacked at her naivety and lack of sisterhood. Suffice to say, she didn’t turn up.
2. Writing up a “Being an Adviser 101” Manual for new staffers to ensure that the women that followed me had some of the “unwritten rules” written! I’m pleased that an ERN Committee have utilised this as a platform for federal staffers.
What are you doing now?
I’m currently working in a Government Engagement role for the Brotherhood of St Laurence, undertaking a policy and government funding advocacy role. I tap into contacts and networks from my Ministerial Adviser as well as President days. For the past 8 months I’ve been advocating for disadvantaged communities affected by COVID. In between all my roles, I’ve become a mother to two boys – a 9 year old and 5 year old who are lifelong fans of the “red team” and sometimes embarrassingly grill our guests about which “political team” they go for before they decide if they can be friends with them!
What advice would you give to staffers today?
Enjoy all the opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives and use it to help you work out what lights you up for your post staffer career.
Get a mentor to keep your post-staffer career on track.
Whilst having a network of women staffers and others is important, also maintain friendships outside of politics and some semblance of wellbeing to keep you grounded and sane. Don’t take your family or friends for granted and regularly appreciate them.
Take up opportunities to develop yourself and leadership skills – working in my Minister’s electorate office during the campaign gave me great insight into running a grassroots campaign.
Never underestimate the transferability of your skills nor be afraid of venturing beyond your comfort zone of staffer life.