For the last couple of weeks we’ve been introducing you to some of the better known women who read Mamamia. We like to refer to them as the women sitting next to you at the dinner party.
This week, we’re sitting down with Senator Penny Wong, Minister for Finance and Deregulation.
MM. You’ve been asked time and time again about how your own views on gay marriage contradict the position of your party. That must get tiring after a while. How do you deal with that? Do you regularly lobby your colleagues around the issue?
PW: I made a choice when I stood for Parliament as a Labor Party member that I would argue my opinions internally, rather than publicly, as part of the Caucus process, and I have done so. The Labor Party adopted a new platform last year with regards to marriage equality – we support marriage equality – and the PM has enabled a conscience vote on this legislation in the Parliament. I am very pleased to have progressed this important issue with my Labor colleagues and Rainbow Labor.
MM. You’re Australia’s finance minister but traditionally it has been unusual for women in politics to hold money-related portfolios. Did you find that your gender impacted the way people viewed your appointment to or performance in that role?
PW: Overall, most people deal with me on my merits. I do notice the extent to which some men in parliamentary debate react to and treat women differently.
MM. You and your partner recently had a baby (congratulations!) Were you surprised by the media’s reaction to her birth?
PW: I suppose I wasn’t surprised by the fact that there was a lot of interest in Alexandra’s birth, but I was very moved by the warmth of the response. We’ve received many kind messages and gifts from people around Australia and even overseas. It’s been very touching.
MM. Who are the Australian women you would want your daughter to aspire to be like?
PW: I want my daughter to be herself – to be the best of who she can be.
MM. How would you define your kind of feminism?
PW: For me, feminism is about choice; the freedom to be who you want to be.
MM. They say that “You cannot be what you cannot see”. Who do you admire? Who did you look to when growing up?
PW: Growing up, and still today, I admire my mum and her four sisters. They are strong, caring and independent women who were, in many ways, ahead of their time.
My grandmother was very important to me – she was the strongest person I have ever known. Most of her family died during the war and she was left alone to care for my father and his siblings in unspeakable circumstances.In the political context, I think we all admire Nelson Mandela. For me, this is not only for his political achievements, but also the generosity of spirit he showed personally, and the reconciliation he was able to inspire in a nation.