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Newcastle forum discusses gender parity in politics

Catherine Henry Lawyers
Catherine Henry Lawyers

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What: Women Lawyers in Politics Forum – The need for gender parity in parliaments

When: Tuesday August 2 from 5.30pm

Where: United Services Club, 55 Watt St, Newcastle

Cost: Members $35; Guests $45 (includes refreshments)

Bookings: womenlawyersnsw.org.au

The resounding victory for women at the recent Federal election and the need for gender parity in parliaments will be some of the topics canvassed at a public forum on women lawyers in politics in Newcastle on August 2.

A panel of female lawyers turned politicians, moderated by former NSW Minister and Member for Maitland Robyn Parker, will discuss their careers and how they have transferred their passions and skills to political platforms.

The panel [summary bios below]

  • The Honourable Robyn Parker, former NSW MP and Minister (panel moderator)
  • Sue Higginson, MLC, Member of the NSW Legislative Council, farmer and environmental lawyer.
  • Professor Catherine Renshaw, associate dean, research in the School of Law at Western Sydney University and a candidate for the seat of North Sydney in this years’ Federal election.
  • Sally Davies, partner at Newcastle based Jenkins Legal Services and an Independent candidate in the 2021 Newcastle local government elections.
  • Kate Washington MP, Member of the Australian Labour party Shadow Minister for Ageing and Disability Services, and Early Childhood Education.

The forum is being hosted by the Newcastle Chapter of the Women Lawyers’ Association of NSW as part of the organisation’s 70th anniversary celebrations.

Chapter convenor and principal at Catherine Henry Lawyers, Catherine Henry, said the impressive panel will bring first-hand experience to the discussion about how to build on the increase in Federal women MPs to achieve gender parity across Australian politics.

Ms Henry said lawyers were well represented in the increasing number of women entering or seeking to enter politics.

“This forum is an opportunity for local women and men, not just lawyers, to be inspired by the panel’s political activities and to discuss ways to enable more women to enter politics,” Ms Henry said.

She said the latest government gender equity statistics show women make up 47.4 per cent of the Australian workforce. In the new Federal Parliament’s House of Representatives 38.4 per cent are women. This is the highest proportion of women ever up from 29.8 per cent in the previous one. More than 50 per cent of the Senate are women which was the case last parliament. These new levels reverse Australia’s 20-year decline in the international ranking of women in national parliaments. It is now ranked 37, up from 57.

“Thanks in part to an increased number of female candidates (40 per cent) and the success of Teal Independents there has been some good progress, but off a low base. Some parties have better representation of women than others,” she said.

Percentage of Australian women MPs in Australian House of Representatives by party 

Election year Labor Liberal National Others Total
2019 41.2% 21.3% 12.5% 50.0% 29.8%
2022 46.8% 21.4% 12.5% 68.8% 38.4%

“There has only been one female Australian prime minister and one female NSW premier.

“As is the case across society, the only way we will achieve true equality faster is if men, particularly men in power, take up the advancement of women and the cause of equality. Another reason for more women in politics.

“With women making up half of the population, they should make up half of Australia’s politicians. More gender diversity – gender parity – will better serve the community.”

A survey by the Womens Electoral Lobby, prior to the Federal election, showed 90 per cent of women were deeply concerned about women’s underrepresentation in politics.

The event will be held at the United Services Club in Watt Street Newcastle, starting at 5.30. Bookings are essential. Tickets are available from womenlawyersnsw.org.au


Panel member bio summaries

The Honourable Robyn Parker served in the NSW Parliament for 12 years, as a Member of the Legislative Council followed by four years as the Member for Maitland. Ms Parker served as Minister for the Environment and Minister for Heritage for part of her political term. She has more than 30 years of public sector experience in child and family services, as a Tafe teacher and CEO of ageing and disability services. She is a non-executive director of a number of environment, education and for-purpose organisations and continues to advocate and support women in leadership roles.

Sue Higginson, MLC is a Greens’ Member of the NSW Legislative Council. Ms Higginson is an environmental law expert and has practiced as a public interest environmental lawyer. She was the principal solicitor and CEO of the Environmental Defenders Office and has run her own legal practice. Ms Higginson is also a farmer of dry land rice and other crops in the Northern Rivers, has lectured at several universities and sat on has sat on boards of not-for-profit environmental organisations.

Professor Catherine Renshaw is associate dean, research in the School of Law at Western Sydney University. A member of the Australian Labor Party, Ms Renshaw is a seasoned legal practitioner who has worked for major law firms in Sydney and Newcastle and for the Legal Aid Commission of New South Wales. She currently acts as an advisor to several human rights NGOs in the Asia Pacific. She has been a visiting scholar at the Regulatory Institutions Network, Centre for International Governance and Justice, Australian National University. The mum of three was the Labor candidate for the seat of North Sydney in the last Federal election.

Sally Davies is a partner at Jenkins Legal Services and a playwright. She was an Independent candidate in the Newcastle local government elections in 2021. Born and raised in Newcastle, she has more than 14 years’ experience in the law and in corporate governance in the not-for-profit sector. Working in her family’s Newcastle retail business has given Ms Davies has a strong understanding of the legal needs of small business owners. Her seven-year involvement in NSW Young Lawyers included being an executive councillor. An active member of the NSW Law Society, she is also a board member of Newcastle Law Society.

Kate Washington is a Member of the Australian Labour party. Prior to entering Parliament in 2015, Kate was a health lawyer standing up for people how had been injured by those they trusted. She was also well-known for her strong advocacy over many years for improved access to public education. As Port Stephen’s representative in the NSW Parliament, Kate continues to be an advocate for people with disability, victims of domestic violence, working men and women, and those struggling to get by. In January 2016, Kate was appointed to the Shadow Ministry as Shadow Minister for the Hunter, including Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, and is also current the Acting Shadow Minister for Ageing and Disability Services.

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