THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER
SPEECH TO THE EMILY’S LIST UNLADYLIKE BALL
THURSDAY 12 OCTOBER 2023
Thank you for that lovely Tasmanian welcome.
I know there’s been a lot happening down here recently.
And I won’t delve into Tasmanian politics too deeply this evening.
I only make one request: this isn’t state parliament, so please don’t call a no confidence motion in me as speaker tonight.
Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this state, the Tasmanian Aboriginal people.
This week, of all weeks, we recognise their resilience, we recognise their history, and we recognise their remarkable feat of survival.
The Indigenous people of Australia have faced every challenge, every conceivable hurdle.
And yet they continue to maintain their hope in a better future.
Not to give up, when they had every right to give up, but to offer us way forward.
And that fight has been led by women at every step along the way.
Strong Aboriginal women, like Linda Burney, Malarndirri McCarthy, Marcia Langton, Pat Anderson, Megan Davis.
And this Saturday, we have a chance to stand with them.
To vote yes to recognition.
Yes to reconciliation.
Yes to listening. Yes to justice.
And yes to better results and better lives for our first people.
Thank you, everybody, for coming out this evening.
It’s lovely to be in a room with so many friends and likeminded people.
I acknowledge all the feminists here tonight, all the true believers, all the activists, all the women who believe in our duty to lift each other up.
And I want to pay a special tribute to one of those feminists, one of those true believers, my dear friend Michelle O’Byrne.
She asked me to come tonight, and after all these years, I still can't say no to Michelle.
We were elected together back in 1998.
And we had our babies at the same time, as working Members of Parliament.
It wasn’t easy, being away from home, juggling work and family, wading through that fog of exhaustion that surrounds all young parents.
Sharing those experiences together, facing those same challenges, it created a bond between us, which has lasted ever since.
I’ve always had the greatest respect for Michelle.
As an outstanding politician, who won and held the federal seat of Bass against the odds.
And as a true Tasmanian, who then moved to state parliament, and led the only ticket in 2006 that swung towards Labor.
Which speaks I think to her integrity, her intelligence, her popularity, and her record in public life.
And when you look at it, over twenty five years, it’s a remarkable record.
As the Health Minister who finally decriminalised abortion in Tasmania.
As the national convenor of EMILY’s LIST, supporting women, believing in women, electing women to parliament.
And as a chair of the Commonwealth Women’s Parliamentary Group, promoting the cause of women around the world.
Michelle embodies the spirit of EMILY’s LIST, she lives it every day, and our party is very lucky to have her.
Friends, it’s great to be here tonight.
A night where we celebrate every woman who has challenged the status quo, who has lived outside the box, who has refused to play the role that society has expected of them.
I could speak about any number of brilliant women this evening.
High profile women, like Hillary Clinton or Julia Gillard.
But the history of feminism is written as much by ordinary women as those with household names.
And here in Tasmania, at the Unladylike Ball, I want to offer a slightly lesser known story.
The story of the first non-Aboriginal woman to ever visit this island, back in 1792.
That title goes to a Frenchwoman, named Marie-Louise Girardin.
Marie-Louise grew up in Versailles, before the revolution, as the daughter of a royal gardener.
It must have been a lovely childhood, playing among the flowers that decorated the court of Louis the Fifteenth.
But all that ended one day, when she gave birth to an illegitimate child, which was obviously frowned upon in eighteenth century France.
But Marie-Louise wasn’t one to give up.
She had an escape plan: to join her brother on a naval expedition, which was sailing for the Pacific.
The only problem was – women weren’t allowed on French ships.
But something as petty as the law wasn’t going to stop Marie-Louise.
Her answer was as simple as it was ingenious: if they wouldn’t let her on as woman, she was going on disguised as a man.
Not as Marie-Louise, but as Louis.
And she was so determined, so confident, so full of resources, that it worked.
She pulled it off.
When another sailor questioned her identity, she challenged him to a duel, and lived to tell the tale.
Of all the words you could attach to Marie Louise, ladylike wasn’t one of them.
And I’m sure she would have hated that word.
It was always faint praise, fake praise.
One of those words that looks like a compliment, but is really there to limit women, to police us.
Friends, EMILY’s List has proved, beyond all doubt, that we will not be limited.
I was there, at the 1994 conference, when Labor decided to apply affirmative action rules to winnable seats.
Like all great victories, it can seem inevitable in hindsight.
But it wasn’t the tides of history that got Labor women into parliament, it was Labor activists.
I can tell you – affirmative action targets were not universally popular in 1994.
Your Liberal Premier Michael Hodgman told the media afterwards:
‘The mad-as-March-hare feminists have got the Labor Party firmly by the testicles … The extreme lesbian elements which have infiltrated the ALP are delighted with their success’.
Which wasn’t the language I would have used.
But I will admit, he got one thing right: we were delighted.
At the time, 14 per cent of our party room were women – so one in seven.
When Michelle and I entered parliament, it was one in four.
And look at us now.
More than half.
The first federal government in Australian history with a female majority.
The first time a woman can look around a major party room and see the country reflected back at them.
When Jeanette McHugh was elected to parliament in 1983, the first women to represent New South Wales in the state’s history, there were no female toilets in the Old Parliament House members area.
Now there’s a childcare centre on the site of the old parliamentary bar.
That’s what cultural change looks like.
You can see it in the renovation of parliament.
And you can see it in the composition of cabinet.
We now have a woman look after our national finances.
A woman responsible for foreign affairs and diplomacy.
We have women in charge of communications, aged care, Indigenous Affairs, childcare, home affairs and immigration, welfare, infrastructure, resources, water and the environment.
As our cabinet shows, there’s no one way to be a woman in politics.
Watching this evolution, participating in the fight, it’s been satisfying.
And not because it’s helped the careers of female politicians like me.
But because of what it means for policy and political decisions and the lives of Australian women.
When women are at the table, when we’re part of the conversation, the agenda changes entirely.
Without EMILY’s List, would we have cheaper childcare in this country?
Would we have 10 days family violence leave for women escaping danger?
Would we have national paid parental leave?
And would we be expanding it?
Would we be spending $11 billion to increase pay for aged care workers?
Would state governments have decriminalised abortion?
Would the cervical cancer vaccine be available to young girls and young boys?
Would women’s safety be a national priority for government?
Friends, that is why we fight so hard.
Not for the promotion of any individual.
But for every woman we can make more secure and more free and more safe.
For every life we can change and every dream we can make possible.
And that fight will never end.
At an event like this, we remember all we’ve achieved, how far we’ve come.
But EMILY’s list is not a library of past achievements.
This is not a history society.
This is a vehicle for the future.
And that future is here in Tasmania.
Tasmania is a great Labor state, the most successful in our history.
It’s a state of working people, who believe in the fair go.
And once again, you’ve got the Liberals on the run.
With the team you’ve assembled, with the policies you’ve put together, you’re ready to kick the door down and make Tasmanian Labor again.
And when you do, it will be a majority female Labor government.
A government led by Rebecca White.
Rebecca is one of the most impressive political leaders I've ever seen.
She has so much to give, so much to contribute, and I believe my heart of hearts that her time is coming.
I can’t wait to see her as Premier of Tasmania.
So thank you to EMILY’s List for tonight.
And thank you to all the Labor activists, all the true believers, who are the heart and soul of our party.
Enjoy the night.