Australia’s female political leaders: a quick guide

24 June 2014 

PDF version [410KB]

Dr Joy McCann
Politics and Public Administration

 

Introduction

This Quick Guide draws together information about women who have held leadership positions in Australia from Federation to May 2014. It includes vice-regal appointments, presiding officers, government, opposition and parliamentary party leaders, and parliamentary party presidents.

This Quick Guide includes dates in office, positions held and significant firsts. It also includes women who have served as deputy leaders in the Commonwealth Parliament. The final table presents women who have held executive (non-parliamentary) leadership positions in the parliamentary parties.

This information has been compiled from a range of sources including the Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbook, the Australian Electoral Commission, vice-regal, parliamentary and political party websites, biographies and archives relating to women in politics, and media articles relating to individual appointments.

A hyperlink to individual biographies is included where available, together with selected online sources for further reading. Using the arrows that appear in the header, the information may be ordered by name, party, jurisdiction, chamber and year of election/appointment.

The Parliamentary Library would appreciate receiving additional information or corrections that may assist in compiling future updates.

Selected facts

  • Dame Quentin Bryce (Governor-General of Australia, 2008 ̶ 14) is the only woman to have been appointed to the role of Governor-General of Australia. She previously served as Governor of Queensland (2003–8).
  • Dame Roma Mitchell (Governor of South Australia, 1991–96) was the first woman to be appointed to a vice-regal role in Australia. No woman has yet been appointed to a vice-regal role in Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, the Territory of Norfolk Island, or the Australian Indian Ocean Territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The Australian Capital Territory does not have an Administrator.
  • Anne Levy (President of the South Australia Legislative Council, 1986–89) was the first woman to be elected as Presiding Officer in any Australian parliament. Joan Child (Speaker of the House of Representatives, 1986–89) was the first woman to be elected as Presiding Officer in the Commonwealth Parliament. Since then all Australian parliaments except Western Australia have had at least one female Presiding Officer.
  • Julia Gillard (27th Prime Minister, 2010–13) is the first female Prime Minister of Australia. No woman has yet served as Leader of the Opposition in the Commonwealth Parliament.
  • All states and territories except South Australia have had a female head of government (premier or chief minister). All states and territories have had a female opposition leader.
  • Rosemary Follett (Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, 1989 and 1991–95) was the first woman to lead an Australian government.
  • Dr Carmen Lawrence (Premier of Western Australia, 1990–93) was Australia’s first female state premier. Anna Bligh was the first women to be elected as state premier (Premier of Queensland, 2007–12).
  • Shirley McKerrow was the first woman to serve as the state president of a parliamentary party in Australia (State President of the Victorian branch of the National Country Party of Australia, 1976). She subsequently became the first female federal president of a parliamentary party in Australia.[1]

Abbreviations

LA: Legislative Assembly
LC: Legislative Council
HA: House of Assembly
Reps: House of Representatives
AD: Australian Democrats
AG: Australian Greens or the Greens
ALP: Australian Labor Party
CLP: Country Liberal Party
LNP: Liberal National Party
LIB: Liberal Party of Australia
NAT: The Nationals
PHON: Pauline Hanson’s One Nation

Key

*First woman to hold position in jurisdiction or party
†First woman to hold position in Australia

Vice-regal appointments

Name Jurisdiction Government making
appointment
Position held *First woman
to hold
position
Year Date from Date to
Bashir, Marie NSW ALP Governor of New South Wales * 2001 01.03.2001 Current
Bryce, Quentin Federal ALP Governor-General of Australia * 2008 05.09.2008 28.03.2014
Bryce, Quentin Qld ALP Governor of Queensland   2003 29.07.2003 29.07.2008
Forde, Leneen Qld ALP Governor of Queensland * 1992 29.07.1992 29.07.1997
Jackson-Nelson, Marjorie SA LIB Governor of South Australia   2001 03.11.2001 08.08.2007
Mitchell, Dame Roma SA ALP Governor of South Australia
†First woman to be appointed to a vice-regal role in Australia
* 1991 06.02.1991 21.07.1996
Thomas, Sally NT ALP Administrator of the Northern Territory * 2011 31.10.2011 Current
Wensley, Penelope Qld ALP Governor of Queensland   2008 29.07.2008 Current

Sources: Vice-regal websites for each jurisdiction

Presiding Officers

Name Party Jurisdiction Chamber Position held *First woman
to hold
position
Year Date from Date to
Aagaard, Jane ALP NT LA Speaker of the NT Legislative Assembly   2005 29.06.2005 22.10.2012
Bishop, Bronwyn LIB Federal Reps Speaker of the House of Representatives   2013 12.11.2013 Current
Braham, Loraine CLP NT LA Speaker of the NT Legislative Assembly * 1997 25.11.1997 15.02.1999
Braham, Loraine IND NT LA Speaker of the NT Legislative Assembly   2001 16.10.2001 28.06.2005
Breuer, Lynette ALP SA HA Speaker of the SA House of Assembly * 2010 06.05.2010 05.02.2013
Burgmann, Dr Meredith ALP NSW LC President of the NSW Legislative Council   1999 11.05.1999 02.03.2007
Burke, Anna ALP Federal Reps Speaker of the House of Representatives   2012 09.10.2012 05.08.2013
Chadwick, Virginia LIB NSW LC President of the NSW Legislative Council * 1998 29.06.1998 05.03.1999
Child, Joan ALP Federal Reps Speaker of the House of Representatives * 1986 11.02.1986 28.08.1989
Dunne, Vicki LIB ACT LA Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly   2012 06.11.2012 Current
Archer, Elise LIB Tas. HA Speaker of the Tasmanian House of Assembly * 2014 06.05.2014 Current
Fazio, Amanda ALP NSW LC President of the NSW Legislative Council   2009 24.11.2009 03.05.2011
Fyffe, Christine LIB Vic. LA Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Assembly   2014 04.02.2014 Current
Gould, Monica ALP Vic. LC President, Victorian Legislative Council * 2003 25.02.2003 18.12.2006
Hancock, Shelley LIB NSW LA Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly * 2011 03.05.2011 Current
Levy, Anne ALP SA LC President of the SA Legislative Council *
†First woman to be appointed as Presiding Officer in an Australian parliament[2]
1986 11.02.1986 13.04.1989
Lindell, Jenny ALP Vic. LA Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Assembly   2006 19.12.2006 21.12.2010
Maddigan, Judith (Judy) ALP Vic. LA Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Assembly * 2003 25.02.2003 20.12.2006
McRae, Roberta ALP ACT LA Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly * 1992 27.03.1992 09.03.1995
Purick, Kezia CLP NT LA Speaker of the NT Legislative Assembly   2012 23.10.2012 Current
Reid, Margaret LIB Federal Senate President of the Senate
†First female presiding officer in an upper house in an Australian parliament
* 1996 20.08.1996 30.06.2002
Simpson, Fiona LNP Qld LA Speaker of the Queensland Legislative Assembly * 2012 15.05.2012 Current
Smith, Sue IND Tas. LC President of the Tasmanian Legislative Council * 2008 10.06.2008 21.05.2013

Sources: Commonwealth, state and territory parliament websites

Government, opposition and parliamentary party leaders

Name Party Jurisdiction Chamber Position held *First woman
to hold
position
Year Date from Date to
Allison, Lyn AD Federal Senate Federal party leader   2004 13.12.2004 30.06.2008
Bishop, Julie LIB Federal Reps Deputy leader of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party * 2007 29.11.2007 Current
Bishop, Julie LIB Federal Reps Deputy Leader of the Opposition   2007 3.12.2007 18.9.2013
Bligh, Anna ALP Qld HA Premier of Queensland and state party leader (Qld) *
†First female elected state premier in Australia
2007 13.09.2007 26.03.2012
Carnell, Kate LIB ACT LA Chief Minister of the ACT and territory party leader (ACT)   1995 02.03.1995 18.10.2000
Carnell, Kate LIB ACT LA Leader of the ACT Opposition   1993 21.04.1993 17.02.1995
Carney, Jodeen CLP NT - Leader of the NT Opposition and territory party (NT)   2005 27.06.2005 29.01.2008
Chikarovski, Kerry LIB NSW LA Leader of the NSW Opposition * 1999 31.03.1999 28.03.2002
Chikarovski, Kerry LIB NSW LA State party leader (NSW)   1998 07.12.1998 28.03.2002
Martin, Clare ALP NT LA Chief Minister of the NT and territory party leader (NT) * 2001 18.08.2001 26.11.2007
Follett, Rosemary ALP ACT LA Chief Minister of the ACT and territory party leader (ACT) *
†First female head of government in Australia
1989
1991
11.05.1989
06.06.1991
05.12.1989
02.03.1995
Follett, Rosemary ALP ACT LA Leader of the ACT Opposition and territory party leader * 1989
1995
05.12.1989
09.03.1995
06.06.1991
05.03.1996
Gallagher, Katy ALP ACT LA Chief Minister of the ACT and territory party leader (ACT)   2011 16.05.2011 Current
Giddings, Lara ALP Tas. HA Premier of Tasmania and state party leader (Tas.) * 2011 24.01.2011 31.03.2014
Gillard, Julia ALP Federal Reps 27th Prime Minister of Australia and leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party * 2010 24.06.2010 27.06.2013
Gillard, Julia ALP Federal Reps Deputy Leader of the Opposition   2006 04.12.2006 03.12.2007
Gillard, Julia ALP Federal Reps Deputy Prime Minister and deputy leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party * 2007 03.12.2007 24.06.2010
Haines, Janine AD Federal Senate Federal parliamentary party leader *
†First female leader of a federal parliamentary party in Australia
1986 18.08.1986 24.03.1990
Hanson, Pauline PHON Federal Reps Federal party leader * 1997 11.4.1997 2003
Hickey, Margaret ALP NT LA Leader of the NT Opposition and territory party leader (NT) * 1996 23.04.1996 02.02.1999
Jakobsen, Carolyn ALP Federal Reps Chair, Federal Parliamentary Labor Party * 1990 1990 1993?
Kanck, Sandra AD SA LC State party leader (SA)   2004 2004 2009
Keneally, Kristina ALP NSW LA Premier of NSW and state party leader (NSW) * 2009 04.12.2009 28.03.2011
Kernot, Cheryl AD Federal Senate Federal party leader   1993 29.04.1993 15.10.1997
Kirner, Joan ALP Vic. LA Leader of the Victorian Opposition * 1992 06.10.1992 22.03.1993
Kirner, Joan ALP Vic. LA Premier of Victoria and state party leader (Vic.) * 1990 10.08.1990 06.10.1992
Kirner, Joan ALP Vic. LA State party leader (Vic.)   1994 1994 1995
Lawrence, Dr Carmen ALP WA LA Leader of the WA Opposition * 1993 16.02.1993 07.02.1994
Lawrence, Dr Carmen ALP WA LA Premier of WA *
†First female state premier in Australia
1990 12.02.1990 16.02.1993
Lawrence, Dr Carmen ALP WA LA State party leader (WA)   1990 12.02.1990 07.02.1994
Lawrie, Delia ALP NT LA Leader of the NT Opposition[3]   2012 29.8.2012 Current
Lees, Meg AD Federal Senate Federal party leader   1997 15.10.1997
05.12.1997
05.12.1997
06.04.2001
Macklin, Jenny ALP Federal Reps Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party * 2001 22.11.2001 04.12.2006
Martin, Clare ALP NT LA Leader of the NT Opposition   1999 03.02.1999 18.08.2001
Milne, Christine AG Federal Senate Federal party leader * 2012 13.04.2012 Current
Milne, Christine AG Tas. HA State party leader (Tas.) * 1993 1993 1998
Napier, Suzanne LIB Tas. HA Leader of the Tasmanian Opposition
State party leader (Tas.)
* 1999 02.07.1999 20.08.2001
Palaszczuk, Annastacia ALP Qld HA Leader of the Queensland Opposition and state party leader (Qld) *

2012 10.3.2012 Current
Plibersek, Tanya ALP Federal Reps Deputy Leader of the Opposition and deputy leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party   2013 14.10.2013 Current
Powell, Janet AD Federal Senate Federal party leader   1990 01.07.1990 19.08.1991
Powell, Janet AD Vic. - State party leader (Vic.) * 1983 1983 1985
Redmond, Isobel LIB SA HA Leader of the SA Opposition
State party leader (SA)
*
*
2009 08.07.2009 04.02.2013
Stott Despoja, Natasha AD Federal Senate Federal party leader   2001 06.04.2001 21.08.2002

Source: Compiled by Parliamentary Library from Parliamentary Handbook, government and political party websites in each jurisdiction

Parliamentary party presidents

Name Party Jurisdiction Position held **First woman
to hold position
in party
Year Date from Date to
Abbott, Dr Jacky NAT SA State president of The Nationals (SA)   2009 2009 2011
Bishop, Bronwyn LIB NSW State president of Liberal Party (NSW) ** 1985 1985 1987
Bligh, Anna ALP Federal Federal president of ALP   2010 2010 2011
Burridge, Nina AD Federal Federal president of Australian Democrats[4]   2004 2004 2006
Dickie, Helen NAT Federal Federal president of The Nationals[5]   1999 1999 2005
Dickie, Helen NAT NSW State president of The Nationals (NSW) ** 1997 1997 2002
Duncan, Wendy NAT WA State president of The Nationals (WA) ** 2004 2004 2008
Ferguson, Christine NAT Federal Federal president of The Nationals[6]   2012 2012 2012
Ferguson, Christine NAT NSW State president of The Nationals (NSW)   2007 2007 2012
Howley, Joy LIB Vic. State president of Liberal Party (Vic.)   1997 1997 2000
Jeffcoat, Heather AD Federal Federal president of Australian Democrats   2006 2006 2007
Kroger, Helen LIB Vic. State president of Liberal Party (Vic.)   2003 2003 2006
Lawrence, Dr Carmen ALP WA Federal president of ALP ** 2003 13.11.2003 Dec 2004?
McAllister, Jenny ALP Federal Federal president of ALP[7]   2011 01.07.2011 Current
McDiven, Christine LIB Federal Federal president of Liberal Party[8] ** 2005 2005 2008
McDiven, Christine LIB NSW State president of Liberal Party (NSW)[9]   2000 2000 2005
McEwen, Anne ALP SA State president of ALP (SA)   2005 2005  
McKerrow, Shirley NAT Federal Federal president of The Nationals **
†First female federal president of a parliamentary party in Australia[10]
1981 1981 1987
McKerrow, Shirley NAT Vic. State president of The Nationals (Vic.) **
†First female state president of an Australian parliamentary party
1975 1975 1980
Mein, Joy LIB Vic. State president of Liberal Party (Vic.)[11] ** 1976 1976 1979
Melland, Julia AD Federal Federal president of Australian Democrats[12]   2008 2008
2009
2009
2011
Oss-Emer, Liz AD Federal Federal president of Australian Democrats   2002 2002 2003
Ritchie, Eda LIB Vic. State president of Liberal Party (Vic.)   1984 1984 1987
Southcott, Heather AD Federal Federal president of Australian Democrats ** 1984 1984
1988
1987
1994
Wiese, Barbara ALP SA State president of ALP (SA) ** 1980 1980 1981
Sources: Political party websites in each jurisdiction[13]

Selected online sources for further reading

Australian Electoral Commission, Electoral milestones for women, Canberra, 26 September 2013 Australian Women’s Archives Project, The Australian women’s register, National Foundation for Australian Women and The University of Melbourne Australian Women’s Archives Project, The encyclopedia of women & leadership in twentieth-century Australia, 2 May 2014 Australian Women’s History Forum, Timeline

EMILY’s List, Current members of parliament, EMILY’s List Australia website

Francis, R, P Grimshaw and A Standish, eds, Seizing the initiative: Australian women leaders in politics, workplaces and communities, Australian Women’s Archives Project, 2012

McCann, J, Women in parliament and politics: a quick guide to key internet links, Research papers 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, 6 December 2013

McCann, J and J Wilson, Representation of women in Australian parliaments, Research paper 2011–12, Parliamentary Library, 7 March 2012

National Centre of Biography, Australian dictionary of biography, Australian National University, Canberra

Sawer, M, ‘Australian political parties’, The encyclopedia of women & leadership in twentieth-century Australia, Australian Women’s Archives Project, 2 May 2014

Wilson, J and D Black, Women parliamentarians in Australia 1921–2013, Research papers 2013–14, Parliamentary Library, updated 14 February 2014



[1].     Subsequently renamed as the National Party of Australia in 1982 and The Nationals since 2003. Judy Mundey was national president of the Communist Party of Australia, a non-parliamentary party, between 1979 and 1982.

[2].     She was elected on the same day and a few hours before Joan Child became the first Speaker of the House of Representatives.

[3].     ‘Delia Lawrie new NT opposition leader’, Tracker, 28 August 2012, accessed 30 April 2014.

[4].     Australian Democrats honour roll, accessed 30 April 2014.

[5].     ‘Distinguished women in The Nationals’, The Nationals website, accessed 29 May 2014.

[6].     ‘Distinguished women in The Nationals’, The Nationals website, accessed 29 May 2014.

[7].     P Osborne, ‘Left wing reformer elected ALP president’, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November 2011, accessed 29 October 2013.

[8].     ‘Party people’, Liberal Party of Australia website; L Yaxley, ‘Liberal Party elects first female President’, ABC, 25 June 2005, all accessed 29 May 2014.

[9].     I Hancock, The Liberals: the NSW Division 1945–2000, Federation Press, Annandale, NSW, 2007.

[10].    ‘Distinguished women in The Nationals’, The Nationals website; see also M Pavey, ‘Women, at last, get a fair go’, The Sun-Herald, 30 August 2009, all accessed 29 May 2014.

[11].    ‘Liberal Women’s Council history’, Liberal Victoria; State presidents, Liberal Victoria, all accessed 29 May 2014.

[12].    Co-president with Aron Paul.

[13].    This list has been compiled from information currently available online but may not be complete.

 

 

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