International Women's Day ABC, Long Story Short

Release Date: 
8 March 2019
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My parents gave me a great gift as a young girl. They instilled in me a belief that that there was no limit on what I could aspire to, and no limit on what I could achieve with hard work, determination, courage and resilience.

This, however, is not the view of every little girl growing up in Australia.

And for many girls embarking on life’s journey they are culturally conditioned to doubt themselves more, to always play the team game and put others first, and to expect less than the boys and men around them.

It isn’t right.  And frankly it isn’t fair.

Girls and women deserve an equal stake in our society and our economy.

And it is up to each one of us to play our part.

I’ll cut the story of how I came to be the youngest female Cabinet Minister and the first women to hold a Treasury portfolio in Cabinet, short.

I could not have achieved this without the support of a great many people – but I particularly want to acknowledge the role played by powerful, confident and self-assured men.

Men who challenged assumptions; created opportunities; shared power, networks and advice; and were resolute in their support during challenging times.

I’ll never forget an occasion early on when I worked for Peter Costello as his senior legal advisor and we were at a function with lawyers, barristers and QCs.  I was one of three women in a room of around 200 men. A barrister remarked to Peter “Oh how NICE that you bring your secretary here”. 

And Peter very quickly replied, “I’m pleased you have just met Kelly.  She is my senior Legal advisor and she probably knows more about corporate law than you do”. The guy almost choked on his shiraz. I remember having such a profound feeling of respect and gratitude that Peter was prepared to challenge his assumption rather than letting it slide.  He wasn’t a bystander as so many are.

And neither are men like Peter Bartels, Mark Stretton and Richard Murray who used their own business networks to solve problems and provide a bridge to establish new relationships.

I think that most people are aware that politics can be at times a pretty bruising business.  There are some men who don’t want to share power.   

And there are some who view the role of women in politics as an adornment to the careers of men.  Early in my parliamentary career I remember doing a double take when a self-professed powerbroker told me that my role in parliament was to help his bloke become PM. 

I told him very clearly “well I’ve got a few things that I’d quite like to do myself.  I’m perfectly happy to support good people to get ahead but I am not just there to scatter rose petals for other people.” 

Needless to say, it wasn’t a close relationship.

Now, people often ask me whether a career in politics is conducive to a full and ‘present’ motherhood.

You have to look at this from two perspectives – both the mother and the child.

From the mother’s perspective, clearly any career involves sacrificing time spent together with children.  But from the child’s, I think it’s the wrong question - having present parents is what I think is important – men and women. And respecting their choices.

The biggest game changing thing we can do – particularly in the work place – is to ensure more men can take advantage of part time and flexible work – so they can take on more caring responsibilities.

Many of them want to. And why wouldn’t they? They love their kids and their kids love them. When more men do that - and when the implications of doing that are there for men – we will see a shift in attitudes towards other things like promotions and pay – and that, of course, benefits women.

My brilliant husband, Jon, took extended paternity leave on two separate occasions for both Olivia and Edward so I could continue in my Cabinet and Expenditure Review Committee roles, and also breastfeed our children.

And while breastfeeding is wonderful, it is also hard. You have to magic more hours out of the day and make every minute count.  If I thought I was a good multitasker before, I learned how much better I could be. 

I am very grateful to the cabin crew of so many flights who helped me secure uninterrupted time in plane toilets to express; and to all those people who put up with a terrible whirring noise on the telephone line during many meetings which I blamed on a bad phone connection.

No Cabinet Minister had ever given birth before, so I am deeply grateful for the support of Malcolm Turnbull in making sure that I was set up for success and in supporting my choices.

I know that some men worry about being belittled for making choices that put their family ahead of their careers at different points in their life. For what it’s worth, Jon hasn’t felt that.  His experience has been hundreds of conversations with other men saying they wish they could do what he has done.

As a country and society we need to focus more on why men feel they can’t make that choice – and that when the option is there - why so many don’t take it up.

We want real choices for men and women so that they can live the lives that they aspire to.

We need men and women to use their talents and their voices.

It will make for a happier and healthier Australia.

But it can only be done together.