Women In Local Government

11 Sep 2008 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for State/Local Government Relations a question about female representation in local government

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Many honourable members would be aware of an article in the weekend paper which castigated the State Strategic Plan's shifting of targets and its ineffectualness. Under key measure 5.3, which is a target of increasing the number of women in parliament, there is a supplementary measure which refers to the percentage of women elected to local government standing at less than the percentage of women in state parliament, which is 26 per cent and has remained static for some time. My question to the minister is: is she concerned about this level of representation, and what are her proposals to improve on it?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy) (14:39): I thank the honourable member for her question. Indeed, these are incredible heights of hypocrisy that I have not seen before, but nevertheless—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Hon. Mr Wortley does not need to assist the minister.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Thank you, Mr President, for your protection. The joint state/local government Women in Local Government working group, chaired by the Local Government Association, has been established to examine issues and identify strategies to improve women's participation in local government, and this is something that I very much support. It is indeed a very difficult issue to overcome in terms of the attitude of the general population to women on boards and committees, in senior positions, and at work. Some of our attitudes are very deep and it has taken a protracted effort to change some of these practices.

The Office for State/Local Government Relations is involved in a leading practice project focused on women officers in SA councils. The project, managed by Local Government Managers Australia (SA Division), will result in a guide to assist councils to explore workforce management practices that encourage women in leadership positions. The Office for State/Local Government Relations is on the steering committee for women in local government which provides leadership for the implementation of the national framework for women in local government and which enables monitoring of progress right throughout Australia. The Australian Local Government Women's Association convenes that committee.

We know that, unfortunately, women continue to be under-represented in local government both as elected members and more starkly in executive positions in councils. Along with being representative of the population as a whole, the relatively low number of women in leadership in local government is particularly relevant given the current skills shortages that are being faced across the board. Increasingly, difficulties are being experienced in attracting and retaining skilled senior staff, particularly in those smaller rural council areas. In South Australia approximately only 16 per cent of senior managers in councils are women, and only two councils (Kangaroo Island and Walkerville) from 68 have a female chief executive officer.

At South Australia's November 2006 local government elections women held only 26.6 per cent of positions, including women in mayoral positions. In the past, the state government has undertaken a range of actions with the Local Government Association to improve women's representation and participation in local government, for example, the production of a resource kit titled 'Local Government Works' to encourage interest among women in local government as a career of their choice. Indeed, we have a long way to go. The challenges are still before us. There have been some improvements in some areas; however, we still have a long way to go.

That does not stop the state government from setting aspirational targets to try to bring focus to a very important policy area and to focus attention on the need for us to continue toharness energy and effort to try to bring about the change that is necessary to have a truly representative local government.