Image of Senator Katy Gallagher

Senator The Hon Katy Gallagher ‘In Conversation’

Article by Kali Goldstone

Women for Election were thrilled to have an incredibly insightful and engaging conversation with Australia’s Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, Minister for the Public Service, Senator the Honourable Katy Gallagher, on 26 July.

Minister Gallagher  previously served as Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory from 2011 to 2014. She has been a Senator for the Australian Capital Territory since the 2019 federal election, representing the Australian Labor Party (ALP). She previously served in the Senate from 2015 to 2018.

Interestingly, like many women we speak to, the Minister said she never “expected or thought of myself as the sort of person who would get into politics.”

While Minister Gallagher explained that she was “active in [her] community, I was on the child care centre board, had been on the youth centre board . . . .so I was always connected to my community.” She was also an advocate for people with a disability as a social worker and she became a union organiser at the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).

However, she still didn’t see herself as “politically active in the sense that I was a member of the Labor Party but I had never spoken at a branch meeting.”

The Minister emphasises that:

“Politics should attract people who are driven by purpose, wanting to make change, connected to community.”

She recollected that “all the ingredients were there for me but I just never recognised it or thought that I would be a good politician, or someone that would end up with their name on the ballot paper.”

At Women for Election, we acknowledge that the life and work skills many women already possess, coupled with their involvement in their own communities, makes them perfect political candidates. As the Minister says: “You’ve got to put your hand up no matter how terrifying that is.”

Conflict within Parliament always gets elevated in the media, but as Minister Gallagher shared; “probably 90% of the work that goes through the parliament is done collegiately,” and she has extremely positive relationships will all senators, regardless of their party allegiance. 

Proving that lived experience directly contributes to more inclusive policies, the Minister was a single mum during her time in the ACT Legislative Assembly, which saw her lobby to get changes made “to make preschool easier and more accessible for working parents.”

She believes that:

“It’s really important having more women representing the parliament as it brings not only a different life experience . . . it also reflects the community as a whole. The more women you get allows for some of the issues that haven’t been given priority to be given more attention and that’s certainly something I’ve witnessed.”

In addition, the Minister noted that the current government is “reflecting the community” with “a lot more diversity in terms of cultural backgrounds of people elected at the last election, so there was a very significant change in how the parliament looked and felt and feels now.”

In Minister Gallagher’s view, contemporary forces have held Australian women back in recent decades. In part due to the policies and missteps of the previous government, but exacerbated by the burden of the pandemic which saw women “drop out of the workforce in droves”, leave their careers, remain at home to oversee their children’s schooling, and stereotypical gender roles that “were reinforced with all sorts of policy levers that favoured men”.

When the Minister was simultaneously appointed as Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, and Minister for the Public Service,  it was not an accident or a random collection of portfolios.

Rather, “It was a deliberate decision on the part of the Prime Minister to bring women right into the heart of our economic team and the decisions we make at the highest levels of government. Gender is not an add-on, but central to our thinking.”

“Gender-responsive budgeting has since been recognised internationally as essential both for gender justice and for fiscal justice,” Minister Gallagher said.

As the Minister pointed out, 53% of the Labor Caucus is women, “the first majority women government in the country in history in Australia.” At a national level, 10 out of 23 cabinet ministers are women. In the Labor party, “gender equality is important, we don’t have to argue for that, that fight’s been won.”

Women for Election would like to thank Minister Gallagher for so generously sharing her time and insights with us. Weren’t able to join us for the event? You can now watch it live on our YouTube channel.