The state of Queensland has just accomplished something that had not previously been done in Australian history.
It’s 2015, so what could that thing possibly be? Invented flying cars? Found a cure for all disease? Blended the Big Pineapple into a Huge Juice?
Sadly no, it is none of these.
Instead, history was made on Sunday when newly elected Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the 14 members of her cabinet.
Why was it historical? It’s 2015. Was one of the members a Labrador that had been trained to talk and think critically about policy issues?
No, it was historical for the simple fact that for the first time in Australian history, a majority of the ministers named (eight out of the 14) are (gasp), women.
Along with this, Palaszczuk is the first female state opposition leader who has led her party to victory. Add this to the fact that her deputy is Jackie Trad (making them the first elected female leadership team in Australia), with Attorney-General Yvette D’ath, and you can see why this has made news. Women in power? What next?
Lifelong Queensland residents (of which I am one) don’t often get to feel like they are on the frontline of progress (as perfectly displayed with the déjà vu dread of seeing Pauline Hanson came so close to being elected).
But on Monday, while witnessing news coverage of a group of ministers standing on the steps of Government House, an unusual thing happened.
It was looking at this group of politicians and seeing more women than men. I was seeing Leeanne Enoch, Queensland’s first Indigenous female minister. I was thinking about the fact that Queensland’s list of ALP MPs also includes the Indigenous member for Cook Billy Gordon, and the member for Cairns, Rob Pyne; a wheelchair user. I was suddenly overcome with a warm, pleasant, and yet unfamiliar feeling. It was something that can only be described as … pride. I assume.
Of course, there is no way of knowing how the ministers will do, especially the ones new to parliament. Only time will tell, as it did with the politically inexperienced ministers in the previous government (Campbell Newman included).
However, no matter what happens, it is appalling that a cabinet containing a couple more women than men is making history in 2015. It is dreadful that the next best state after Queensland is Victoria’s, where women have nine out of 22 cabinet positions.
And it is shameful that equality gets worse from there across the country, with the worst being the federal government, where only two out of 19 cabinet members are women. And where federally, women account for less than one-third of parliamentarians.
It gets worse more broadly when you consider the amount of women before now who have become Premiers outside of elections by being handed a poison chalice of leadership after their male predecessor leaves an unwinnable mess behind.
When you consider that women are possibly held to different standards, garner more gendered criticism, and are pre-selected in more unwinnable seats, it is simply not good enough.
We should not be in the situation where we feel prideful and amazed that in a country like Australia, where the female population represents a majority, that it is reflected in one aspect of political representation like the Queensland cabinet. It should not be an event that has created history in 2015, like the invention of flying cars or a talking dog would.
The political system should provide opportunity for men and women equally, and it just doesn’t.
If your only argument against this involves the word ‘merit’, it is shaky at best. It is no coincidence that most of the people who have set what exactly defines merit, and those who have then gone on to benefit from the myth of a merit-based system, have been straight white men.
It is no coincidence that the idea of this system was implemented and sustained by straight white men. And therefore it is no coincidence that the people with the power have so far kept the power.
Men have always been given the chance to succeed or fail. Now in the Queensland Government, of all places, women are being given that chance as well.
Rebecca Shaw is a Brisbane-based writer and host of the fortnightly comedy podcast Bring a Plate.