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Women in Aussie politics: "It's a tough slog".

As a young woman going into politics, I often get asked if there are different expectations for women. Or, more bluntly, is it harder for women. And the answer to that is, honestly, yes.

All the logistics aside (for example: how you manage to balance having kids with a career – something I haven’t even tried yet), the thing that frustrates me the most is how I’m taken less seriously by people because I’m a young woman, even though I’m a practicing lawyer.

At a local health cuts rally last year, a former senior politician was talking to me and the other local candidates (who were all blokes) and while he asked the blokes what they thought about various different policy positions, he then turned to me, told me I looked great, and asked me whether I had changed my hair?

I also happen to have a fairly high-pitched voice. Many people I trust in politics have advised me to work on lowering my voice. This means that when I’m addressing a crowd at a community meeting, introducing myself at a school P&C or doing a radio interview, not only am I trying to remember policy detail and key messages – I’m also trying to remember to breathe correctly and lower the tone of my voice.

Because god forbid I sound like a woman who is passionate about my community.

Shannon Fentiman. Labor Candidate for Waterford.

Unsurprisingly, the questions about whether or not I am planning to have children come up often, and I’m absolutely sure none of the male candidates get asked the same.

The other issue that differentiates female and male politicians is personal grooming. Women are judged far more on how they look than blokes are. They shouldn’t be, but they are. So the reality is, you have to spend time making sure you look okay. My campaign team of mostly men giggle about me having to book out time in my campaign diary to get my hair done.

Do we need more women in politics? The finance minister doesn’t think so.

The Courier Mail recently stated Annastasia Palaszczuk, our leader, needs to be “well-grommed” – I don’t remember reading the same advice for Campbell Newman. Trying to meet this beauty standard requires a considerable amount of time away from talking to voters and persuading them to vote for me. But if you don’t do it, it becomes a story. It is absolutely easier for blokes – blue suit or blue suit, or blue suit?!

“It is absolutely easier for blokes- blue suit or blue suit, or blue suit?!”

And that’s just the stuff on the surface. As any woman knows, sexism in the workplace is often far subtler. But I’m lucky in QLD to have had strong woman as mentors within my party. It helped that we had a female leader in Anna Bligh, and now we have Annastacia Palaszczuk. And of the nine current MPs, five are women. While I have been long aware of the pressures women face in politics, it was never enough to put me off. So when I had the chance to stand for preselection for Waterford I didn’t hesitate.

And here we are, days from the election, and I think I have shaken so many hands and talked to so many people that often my voice isn’t so much high pitched, as generally hoarse.

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Election campaigns from the opposition are tough even when you have a decent number of MPs, but when you only have nine MPs in a parliament of 89 seats, it makes David and Goliath seem like an easy battle.

“I have shaken so many hands and talked to so many people that often my voice isn’t so much high pitched, as generally hoarse.”

After the 2012 election, QLD Labor was left with just seven MPs. As pundits took much glee at pointing out, that was the same number as a netball team. Those same commentators said the party would be in opposition for at least a decade. But here, less than a week out from the election, the polls show that while the LNP is expected to win, Labor is set to pick up a swag of seats.

How did this happen in just three short years?

It helped that the Newman government became deeply unpopular very quickly. For a whole lot of reasons. But while dislike of Campbell Newman was enough to encourage a protest vote, getting people to consider Labor as a viable alternative required something more.

It required leadership. And, under that leadership, a rebuild from the ground up.

When those seven MPs sat around the table in 2012, knowing what the task was in front of them, it was Annastacia Palaszczuk who put up her hand.

Campbell Newman: current Queensland Premier.

A highly popular local member for her electorate, Annastacia was born and bred Labor.

She was a popular MP of the previous Government’s cabinet, and was highly regarded by her colleagues for being both smart (she has a law degree and the won the prestigious Chevening Scholarship to study in London) and also nice. Nice is a word that often doesn’t mean much but in politics it is sometimes a little too rare.

Her task was not to just keep the seven MPs united, but also to develop policies that went to the core of what Labor stood for, and to start reconnecting with those who felt Labor had lost its way. And that took sheer hard work. Not just from Annastacia but from those seven MPs.

Number of women in the cabinet drop to 1975 levels

The amount of detail that each Labor MP had to be across was huge by any standards.

But they did it.

Labor went from a primary vote in 2012 of 26.6 per cent (the lowest in Labor’s history) to a high of 36 per cent just two years later. And in the past three years membership of the Queensland Labor party doubled.

We need women’s voices in Australian politics.

The reality is that we are going into this election with nine seats vs the LNP’s 73. The swing needed to win on Saturday is over 12 per cent. The commentators say a win is unlikely. But to be even competitive at this point is testament to an extraordinary effort by an extraordinary team with some damn fine women in it.

Having women’s voices in parliament is the only way we will make sure that issues that matter to us are heard and, most importantly, acted upon.

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