Rebekha Sharkie: For all communities

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.

Rebekha Sharkie is the Federal Member for Mayo, a seat in South Australia.

Rebekha Sharkie (source)

First elected in 2016, she was caught up in the dual citizenship crisis, having been born in England, and defended her seat at a by-election in 2018 and then winning at the general election in 2019.

A minor-party MP, Rebekha forms part of the cross-bench in the House of Representatives. She has taken a keen interest in intergenerational issues, employment for young people and education outcomes in the parliament.

As she says below, she sees a role for Australia to play in supporting women in the South Pacific region.

Other interviews can be accessed here

What does gender equality mean to you?

Gender equity means diversity of ideas and better decision making.

I believe we need to pay tribute to the trail-blazing women in politics who paved the way for greater gender equity in parliament. Therefore, I feel it is incumbent on Australian female parliamentarians to support other women in our region of the world, particularly in the South Pacific, to strive for equal representation.

Which female politicians have inspired or encouraged you?

Janine Haines, the former Australian Democrats Senator for South Australia.

Politics was a new subject when I was in Year 12 and I decided to do my major project on Janine Haines who was leaving her Senate position to run for the Lower House in Kingston. I wrote to Ms Haines and I received a comprehensive handwritten letter in reply.

I was so touched that this important person had gone to the trouble of answering my questions. It was really inspiring.

Isobel Redmond, former Leader of the South Australian Liberal Opposition.

I worked for Isobel as a policy adviser and she has been a valued mentor in my political career. Isobel makes decisions based on evidence. I consider her to be a woman of great political courage.

Julie Bishop, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Australia’s first female foreign minister.

Julie Bishop grew up in the Adelaide Hills in my electorate (always a plus) in a family committed to public service. Julie’s mother Isabel Bishop was the local Mayor. Julie was the only woman in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s first cabinet in 2013. She was a woman of great poise and intelligence and represented Australia with distinction.

Dame Enid Lyons, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives.

Dame Enid was forging a career in politics at a time when roles in politics were not considered the domain of women, and she pursued her career from her home base in Tasmania while being the mother of 12 children. Dame Enid was a pioneer for Australian women in politics.

What inspired/s you to serve your community?

Rebekha Sharkie with other candidates for Mayo (source)

I put my hand up to stand in the 2016 Election because I was tired of seeing our region being taken for granted as a ‘safe blue-ribbon seat’ and I decided to be the change I wanted to see in our community.

Mayo took a chance and I became the first woman to represent our region since Federation.

Mayo has changed, but I didn’t make that happen on my own. Mayo voted me back in at a by-election and a general election and for the past four years our community has worked together to make Mayo matter.

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

I have been Mayo’s independent voice on the issues that matter to our community, including protecting the Great Australian Bight, phasing out long-haul live sheep exports, removing children from off-shore detention centres and calling for staffing ratios and better oversight in aged care and disability services.

I have taken the lead for Centre Alliance on major legislation relating to education and welfare reform.

What is next for gender equality in politics?

Australian women in politics need to broaden our horizons and play a supporting role with our nearest neighbours in the South Pacific and PNG to foster gender equity.

In Her Seat interviews can be accessed here

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