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2013 ALGWA State Conference: address by Cr Margaret de Wit

State ALGWA Conference

LGAQ President Margaret de Wit Address 

Whitsundays 24 July 2013

 
'Getting Back to Business'
 
Good morning and thank-you for inviting me to officially launch the 2013 Australian Local Government Women's Association Conference.
 
I would first like to acknowledge  the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting – elders past and present - State President of ALGWA, Cr Jan Clifford, National President Kathy Benstead, our host Mayor Jenny Whitney of Whitsunday Council, Deputy Mayor Andrew Wilcox sponsors and delegates.
 
I am pleased and very proud to be standing here today addressing you as the first female President in the 117 year history of the Local Government Association of Queensland .
 
The LGAQ has always enjoyed a strong and long term relationship with the Queensland Branch of the Australian Local Government Women's Association. Our partnership has been built and sustained over many years, with quarterly meetings held at Queensland Local Government House.
 
Our Chief Executive Greg Hallam personally attends these meetings wherever possible to update members on local government matters – I know this has always been greatly appreciated by the Association.
 
I am delighted to be leading LGAQ at a time when we are actively working towards a future which will see a 50-50 split of male and female representation in the Australian local government sector.
 
Thanks to the 50-50 Vision, a gender equity program which has recently come under the project management of the LGAQ, this has become – as it should be - an achievable reality rather than an aspirational vision.
 
An Australian Government and Australian Local Government Women's Association initiative which was contracted to LGAQ for a period of three years in December 2012, the 50-50vision seeks to encourage councils across Australia to address gender equity issues within their organizations and among their elected members via an awards program.
 
It's a project which we as an organization have taken very seriously, redesigning the process and website and distributing information booklets to every one of the 640 local government councils in Australia. 
 
A National 50-50 Vision Conference is scheduled for 18-20 September at The Hilton Hotel in Brisbane to which of course, you are warmly invited.
 
In short, we're working hard to ensure long term investment from councils to achieve the 50-50Vision and to ensure the long term investment in these awards. 
Encouraging proactive engagement by councils to review current practices and procedures related to gender equity is an essential part of attracting and retaining more women in local government.
 
Targeted programs aimed at pragmatically developing the careers of women in leadership are an important next step and Queensland councils are making significant inroads in this respect.
 
With the aim of increasing the representation of women in the senior leadership pool in the male-dominated Brisbane Infrastructure Division, Brisbane City Council last year introduced a program which mentored 12 women viewed as either current or potential leaders in the field.  Participants were provided with individually tailored development programs, feedback, coaching and learning workshops.
 
Participants showed increased confidence and level of engagement in developing their careers in leadership, with a number of the participants moving on to different positions with Brisbane Infrastructure or higher level managerial positions.  Based on its success Brisbane City Council will offer the program to 8 women in both 2013 and 2014.
 
Presently, representation of women in elected positions in local government is around 27 per cent – around one quarter of Councillors and one fifth of Mayors are females. Only around 5 per cent of chief executive officer positions are occupied by women.
 
But these are statistics you have all heard before, aren't they? They are not new. In fact, they have remained fairly stagnant for around 20 years.
 
It is an interesting and important time to be discussing the role of women in Australian politics. Three years ago, we saw the nation's first female Governor-General swear in the nation's first female Prime Minister.  Regardless of the political circumstances surrounding that (formerly historic) leadership coup, it was an indisputably historic day for Australian politics and proof that women can make it to the top.   
 
In Queensland, we are seeing a number of female Mayors lead their communities into new and exciting territories.  Last night we heard Mayor Jenny Whitney announce the formation of the Whitsunday, Isaac, Mackay ROC – councils all led by women mayors. 
 
Only in the second year of her first term in office, Redlands Mayor Karen Williams has achieved the lowest rate increase in South-East Queensland and has pledged to put Redlands on the international map as an undiscovered paradise.
 
Logan Mayor Pam Parker has guided her council through a difficult period of racial tension and into a City of Choice Summit which united key stakeholders from the community, business and government to identify key priorities and opportunities across key themes for the city's future growth.
 
Whitsunday Mayor Cr Jennifer Whitney, who will be next at the podium to address you, has most recently launched a communications initiative to ensure that the Whitsundays' community is fully a part of its new culture of enhanced fiscal responsibility, accountability and governance.
 
I recently attended the 2013 National General Assembly of Local Government in Canberra where ALGA President Felicity-ann Lewis launched the national referendum ‘Yes' campaign to recognize local government in the constitution.
 
These are women in local government who are certainly getting down to the business of leading.  And there is no shortage of examples. 
 
Next week I'm travelling to Longreach for the LGAQ's inaugural Bush Councils Convention. Even in traditionally male dominated rural and remote areas of the State, there are women leading by example.
 
Cr Julie Groves is the Mayor of Barcoo Shire Council -  an area which covers an expanse of 61,974 square kilometres and whose primary industry is beef production.  Barcoo Shire offices are in Jundah which is closer to Alice Springs than Brisbane!
 
Cr Belinda Murphy is the Mayor of drought stricken McKinlay Shire as graziers in her region feel the impacts of a one in 20-year dry spell.  I have the greatest admiration for these women. 
 
Increasing the number of women in leadership positions within the local government sector is an imperative for Queensland and Australia.
 
I recently received a report from Ernst & Young - Untapped Opportunity – The role of women in unlocking Australia's productivity potential.
 
This is an interesting report written after quite a deal of research had been conducted.  They found that over the past decade Australia has made some gains in female workforce participation with the rate rising by just over 4% largely due to older women re-joining the workforce.  They also reported that new research suggests that women in flexible roles (part-time, contract or casual) appear to be the most productive members of our workforce. I read this in the media very recently also.
 
Flexibility is obviously the way to keep as many women as possible in the workforce and given the research I have just mentioned it is in every employer's best interests to implement flexible work practices for their staff.  If we can keep women in the workforce  we will have a better chance of getting more of them into leadership positions.
 
Just to change tack for a moment - as LGAQ President and as a Director of the Australian Local Government Association, I have been heavily involved in the 5 years of deliberation and research leading up to the Federal Government's decision to hold a referendum to financially recognize Local Government in the Australian constitution.  A ‘Yes' vote in the 2013 referendum is vital if we are to guarantee the ongoing direct Federal funding for our local communities and prevent challenges to this in the High Court of Australia.   
I sincerely thank the national ALGWA organization who have generously donated $5000 to the national campaign.  Because our funding is being matched $ for $ by the Federal Government that $5000 is really $10000!
 
We are most appreciative of your generosity and support of this all- important campaign.
 
Throughout the campaign, a key argument reiterated in favour of the referendum has been the need for the constitution to recognize the modern reality of the role of local government in Australian society – as the level of government closest to the people. 
 
To be worthy of this tag, we have a significant responsibility to represent, in the best way possible,  our constituents, so often alienated by the processes and squabbles of State and Federal politics.
 
This means women.  It means MORE women. It means an increased diversity of women.  It means working towards genuine representative democracy which will establish the local government sector as the most inclusive and progressive sphere of government in contemporary Australia. Why should we settle for anything less?
 
The positive qualities which women can bring to leadership roles – strength,  balance, and a willingness to listen and to partner with others – are (for the most part) widely known and appreciated.   What we need to do is to enlist as many people as possible to support our common cause keeping our eyes firmly on a representative vision which best reflects modern Australian society.
 
Speaking at a Women of the World Conference held earlier this year in New York, Hilary Clinton described the issue of women's leadership as the ‘unfinished business' of the 21st century.  She went on to say:
 
"Let's learn from the wisdom of every mother and father who teaches their daughters there is no limit to how big she can dream or how much she can achieve".
 
It is important to reflect on and learn from the achievements of women in leadership roles and to gain encouragement from what they are doing but it's no good just sitting here and talking about it.  If we are to make a difference we have to get out there and do it.
 
And so to the next few days.  I commend ALGWA for the theme of this year's conference – Getting Back to Business - focusing on the importance of local government partnering with business and industry to achieve good outcomes for their communities.
 
The reality for us in local government is that we have to do more with less.  We have to review our priorities to cut our cloth to meet our ever more difficult budgets.  We have to separate out the nice- to-haves from our core business and make some tough decisions.
We need to be talking to our local businesses and industries to find out what we could be doing to assist them – how might we work collaboratively with them to create the win-win situations and projects we all strive for.  We need to think outside the square because as sure as God made little apples we are not going to be getting more financial assistance from either the State or Federal Governments for many years to come – if ever!
 
At least we now have a state government which is determined to cut red tape, to reduce the administrative and bureaucratic workload both we and the business community face.  
 
Perhaps there are some local laws or regulations which can be reviewed to make it easier for people to do business.  Perhaps there are some joint community projects which can be initiated.  That old adage that "necessity is the mother of invention" is very relevant to the local government and business climate we are faced with today.
 
Finally, given my earlier reference to the referendum and our national ‘Yes' campaign I would like to put in a final plug for another ‘achievable goal' - volunteer support on Referendum Day (whenever it may be).  It is a fact that around 30% of voters won't make up their minds until voting day. We'll need to be a force to be reckoned with as this percentage goes to cast their vote.
 
I wish you a very successful and thought-provoking two days of discussion in such a beautiful and idyllic location.  I am here until tomorrow afternoon and I look forward to catching up with many of you while I am here.
 
It is without further ado that I have much pleasure in officially opening this State Australian Local Government Women's Association Conference for 2013.
 
Thank-you.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


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