Hero: To mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, this week both hero and villain are women and both drawn from the world of politics. My hero for the week is Joan Kirner, former Premier of Victoria and founder of Emily’s List Australia. Emily’s List (Emily is an acronym: Early Money is Like Yeast) originated in the USA as an organisation operating from outside the Democratic Party but working with Democrat women to raise numbers of women standing for, and winning, political office. In 1994, Joan Kirner took up the baton for Emily’s List in Australia, working outside the ALP for the preselection and election of more Labor women. Kirner’s work in mentoring and encouraging women, particularly young women, in taking up political roles is unmatched and the work of Emily’s List in raising money for women to stand for election as well as providing them with practical support has seen not just the numbers of women in Australian parliaments rise, but also a greater diversity of women able to take on political roles. Former Emily’s List candidates include the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Federal Ministers, Jenny Macklin, Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek as well as women in every state and territory legislature in the country. Would Emily’s List have happened without Joan Kirner? Possibly, but the influence of Kirner in ensuring affirmative action within the boys’ club of the ALP is formidable and will be long-lasting and for this reason she is my IWD-inspired hero of the week.
Villain: If Joan Kirner’s influence on politics has given women a greater voice and greater respect in politics, then the antithesis has to be Pauline Hanson. Since winning the Queensland seat of Oxley as an independent candidate in 1996, after the Liberal Party disendorsed her for racist comments, Hanson has stood unsuccessfully for election a total of six times. She lost her seat of Oxley after a Liberal-Labor preference swap saw her squeezed out in 1998, and has subsequently stood twice for a Queensland senate, once for the NSW Upper House and once for a Queensland state seat, netting hundreds of thousands of dollars in public electoral funding along the way. When she announced her second tilt at the NSW Upper House this week the media went into a predictable flap. Pauline Hanson is racist, manipulative, anti-feminist, anti-multicultural and anti-intellectual. After announcing last year that she was emigrating to Britain she reneged – presumably having discovered that Britain is not as, well, white, as she thought. She has since moved from Queensland to NSW and taken up residence on the Central Coast. Last time she stood for the NSW Upper House she bought a house in Sylvania Waters and I remember the media coverage of her, surrounded by supporters and gushing over her wonderful new home and friends: “Win or lose,” she said at the time, “I’ll be staying here. This is my home.” She hot-footed it straight back to Queensland after the election with her NSW electoral funding in her pocket. Which is precisely what she’ll do this time. In her 15 years in the public spotlight, Hanson has said nothing new. Her influence over immigration policies during the Howard years, and still continuing to an extent, is something from which our international reputation may never recover and her legacy is a country that, rather than embracing the multicultural ideals we held in the 1970s and 80s, is suspicious of them. She needs to win 160,000 votes to receive public funding in 2011. A rejection of her by NSW voters might, just might, put an end to this woman’s cynical use of our political system for her own gain.