Emma and Briony: Thank you for meeting with us Katy. First up, we’re interested in knowing how you got to where you are today, and whether there were any barriers along the way?
Katy Gallagher: I did an arts degree at ANU in political science and sociology, and I think I ended up doing every political science subject I could! I didn’t actually join the Labor Party itself until I was in my early 20s. I got involved at that point because I could see that if you wanted a say in political dialogue, if you actually wanted to have your voice contribute to a policy, then you had to be involved in a political organisation.
In terms of taking the next step though … I think that’s critical for women.
We can all sign up to organisations – and many women do – and do all the leg-work, but taking the next step into actually elected positions is harder for women in politics. I never saw myself as a politician. The fact that there were no women in the [ACT Legislative] Assembly, that was what made the change for me. A group of us within the party thought: If we want women elected, then we’re going to have to stand.
So, I wouldn’t say I made a conscious decision to get into politics as an individual. I got there as a part of a broader movement which was trying to get a women’s vote happening and to harness that women’s vote into actually electing women into the parliament. Which we did. I just happened to be one of them. It all took off from there!
E and B: Who were your role models growing up and do you still have role models today?
K: The people that have influenced me the most… This would be the same for most young women: it’s the women around you.
For me, people like my mother. [She was] someone who managed to bring up kids and work at a time when there wasn’t a lot of support available for women doing those things. She showed me every day that it is important that you live your own life, that you’re independent, that you don’t rely on people – on men in particular – for your livelihood and the choices that you make.
In terms of whether I have role models now, I certainly have mentors now – people that I rely on when I want to talk, when you have those moments when you need to test your ideas, your thinking, or your judgment.
E and B: Tell us about the current state of women’s representation in politics.
K: There has been positive change. I don’t want to say it’s all doom and gloom, because it’s not.
Women make excellent politicians – I would argue they make the best politicians!
We’ve seen more women stand for political office. I think some of that’s been helped by structural changes to the political organisation, certainly in the Labor party with quota and targets. It’s just an automatic process now. It’s no longer ‘shall we give that to a woman’, it’s ‘this seat must go to a woman’.
[In relation to quotas:] This whole merit line gets run. I think if you apply the merit argument to a lot of people sitting in parliament you’d get a different outcome. Merit is always used to deny a good, and proper, and fair process. And its also very clear that when women do get preselected they tend to have a just slightly higher chance of winning. The community responds to women when they are given women as candidates, so I think that’s been very positive.
E and B: What advice would you give to young women aspiring to be politicians at the ANU?
K: I don’t want to sound trite, but I think the best thing is to always believe in yourself and to stay true to yourself. The best politicians are authentic politicians. That’s what makes a political party – but also a parliament – representative of the community. You don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, you don’t need to be the fastest. You are there because of the person that you are, the skills that you have, and the fact that people have elected you into that job.
I could write a whole book, but that would be the first thing! I think that if you stay true to that then you’re in such good shape really. Accept every opportunity that you come across, even if you don’t know where it’s going to go. Because I think, again, women aren’t that good at that. We tend to over think things. If an opportunity comes, just give it a crack! You’ll be surprised at what you find your skills are and what you’re capable of.
The last thing is: Never get told that you can’t do something, because, again, women take that a lot more seriously than men.
It was an absolute pleasure to interview Katy Gallagher, and we hope we didn’t seem too awestruck. We’d like to thank Katy for her time, and for her work in ensuring that politics is becoming a more accessible field for women. As a role model for young women striving to enter politics we, and many others, are indebted to her influence.