Alison Xamon: On the same terms as any male MP

“We can create a better world and I am not content to just leave it to others to do the work.”

Almost 100 years ago, Edith Cowan became the first woman elected to an Australian parliament, in March 1921.

In Her Seat is asking as many currently serving female politicians as we can how they view gender equality, politics and their impact.

This is a non-partisan project that is soliciting contributions from women in all parties, or none at all, in every parliament.

Alison Xamon is the Leader of the Greens in WA.

Alison was born in the Perth hills, and studied law at Murdoch University. Initially, she worked in the union movement, including for the Australian Nurses Federation and the State School Teachers’ Union of Western Australia.

She then went on to work as a public interest lawyer.

Alison was first elected to the WA upper house in 2008. Between her election and 2013, she worked on issues ranging from fracking, water, uranium safety, mental health and disability.

She was defeated at the 2013 election, and following this she was appointed to the WA Ministerial Council for Suicide Prevention and as the inaugural Co-Lead of the Department of Health Statewide Mental Health Network.

In 2017, she returned to Parliament and has continued to work on those issues, and others including palliative care and voluntary assisted dying.

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What does gender equality mean to you?

Gender equality clearly means the opportunity to pursue your dreams, to reach your potential, to have opportunities, regardless of your gender.

For me as a Member of Parliament, it means that I am able to undertake my parliamentary role, whilst being a mother, on the same terms as any male MP who is a parent.

The hours at the moment are not family-friendly, and it has only been in the last couple of years that women have even been able to breastfeed their infants in the chamber.

As a result far too often women either rule themselves out to run for parliament, or are subject to subtle or even overt discouragement from running.

Unfortunately, it was only this year that for the first time I was the recipient of sexist slurs in parliament, and obviously gender equality means not having to put up with that sort of appalling conduct.

Which female politicians have inspired or encouraged you?

I have been inspired and supported by a number of female politicians, in particular former Senator Jo Vallentine inspired me to think about how parliamentary democracy could be used as a site for change.

My former parliamentary colleague Hon Giz Watson taught me how to “do parliament” and how to make the most use of the parliamentary platform.

And Senator Rachel Siewert has remained a firm friend and colleague who I work closely with.

What inspires you to serve your community?

I joined the Greens three decades ago, an idealistic young woman who was already involved as an activist in a number of environmental and social justice campaigns.

Since then I have continued in multiple campaigns and movements and was also heavily influenced by the work I undertook as a union official.

Of course, being a mother to three I have become increasingly concerned about the future I am leaving for my children.

We can create a better world and I am not content to just leave it to others to do the work.

What are the most important contributions you are making in Parliament?

As a lawyer I have always taken a very keen interest in the crafting of the legislation which governs our lives.

Paying close attention to the work in the Chamber is a big focus for me. But I also value the role I play with likeminded organisations and campaigners for whom I can act as a conduit to the parliament.

From asking questions, to giving speeches in the parliament, to supporting campaigns, I value being able to facilitate access to the parliamentary process.

What is next for gender equality in politics?

The next step for gender equality in politics is to make it easier for women of childbearing age to both put their hands up for parliament and then to do the job!

Work-life-balance is something that everyone should strive for, everyone benefits.

But women are disproportionately left to carry the double burden of work and family.

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