So many firsts that we can’t stop smiling.
It’s a historic day for politics and women in Australia – and even more remarkable for one woman minister – who is also Queensland’s first ever Indigenous woman MP.
In an Australian first, the new Queensland government has two female leaders: Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her deputy, Jackie Trad. Palaszczuk’s cabinet marks another Australian first, with a majority of women ministers: eight women (including the premier, who is also arts minister) and six men.
One of the new faces in that historic cabinet is Leeanne Enoch, a proud Nunukul/Nughi woman, who is minister for housing and public works, as well as minister for science and innovation.
Enoch was elected at the January 31 election as the member for Algester, representing outer south-western suburbs of Brisbane and part of Logan city.
While it wasn’t a quick or easy decision for her to become a politician, Enoch’s story is a textbook case for others – particularly women – to learn from about the power of networking and mentoring. It’s also a textbook case of how people with initiative can create their own success.
A fateful meeting and a bag of money
About a decade ago, I recall a confident woman introducing herself to me at meeting with a few blunt questions.
“I think I might be interested in this politics thing: what do I do? Can you help me?”
At the time, I was the Labor member for Algester in the Beattie state government. I had just spoken at an EMILY’s List meeting, aimed at electing more Labor women. And that was my introduction to Leeanne Enoch.
Her timing was spot on. I’d recently chaired a state parliamentary committee aimed at increasing the parliamentary representation of Indigenous people in Queensland. But our 2002 report, Hands on Parliament, and the recommended actions in it, were going nowhere.
As we talked, I discovered that Enoch had had a successful career as a secondary teacher in Queensland and overseas, and was by then in a policy role in government.
She would go on to work as a state and national executive for the Australian Red Cross. More recently, Enoch had been working with the Queensland Council of Unions, seeking justice for generations of Indigenous Queenslanders who were underpaid or not paid at all by successive state governments.
In the week before the election, an Indigenous female elder who was part of that wage justice campaign handed over a small bag of money to support Enoch’s election. It contained A$8.25.
This exchange – a gift from the heart and all the elder could afford – represented her desire for a new era in which the voices of Indigenous women would be heard in Parliament.