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Celebrating 100 years of women in local government

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2020 marked 100 years since the first woman was elected to local government – Elizabeth Clapham for the Town of Cottesloe. The Shires in the Northern Valleys region have strong representation of females among their councillors, with most hovering around or exceeding 50%, including several in the senior roles of President and Deputy President.

Now, I am the first to admit that I have grown weary of gender comparison articles – I don’t think pitching the genders against each other is going to help progress society. But I am a strong advocate for equal representation of genders anywhere there are decisions being made – to paraphrase Ruth Bader Ginsberg – and to see our local shires doing this so well, not just in terms of numbers, but in the strong support each of the councillors have felt from peers and communities is heartening. Compared to their Federal counterparts, where only three in ten federal parliamentarians in the House of Representatives are women, we are light years ahead in terms of progress!

Pauline Carr, President, Shire of Victoria Plains

Pauline Carr, President, Shire of Victoria Plains

What encouraged you to ‘step up’ and become a councillor?

After meeting my husband and making the move to regional WA, I soon learnt volunteering is the best way to become involved in a new community.

My involvement with the Mogumber Outback Club Inc introduced me to the local government sector. Our community presented a number of deputations to the Victoria Plains Shire Council and I became interested in the process Council undertakes during decision making. I was encouraged to nominate for the West Ward election in 2015 and have enjoyed learning about Local Government each and every week since.

What are some challenges you have faced, and are there any that have specifically arisen due to you gender?

Juggling full time work, volunteer positions, farming accounts and the commitment of a Councillor is challenging. I often feel like I’m working through a never ending to do list!

I can honestly say I’ve never had issues arise due to my gender; I’ve always felt I had the same opportunities as men. However, I do understand not all female leaders feel the same and that saddens me. My family history includes many strong women and I’m thankful I’ve been surrounded by wonderful male role models over the years.

Is there a particular achievement that you are particularly proud of, or what are you working to achieve in the future?

I guess I am proud to be the first female President at the Shire of Victoria Plains. It’s only through writing this article that I realise that’s a significant milestone in the 150-year history of our Local Government.

I’m proud of lobbying for project funding and backing the Wheatbelt Secondary Freight Network Project. Seeing the Shire lay bitumen on the first section of the pilot project has been gratifying.

I continue to work towards viable communities. I firmly believe small regional shires need to be strategically minded in planning their future. Unfortunately, the aspirations of the community normally outweigh the yearly funding ability, but the situation will only get worse if calculated strategic planning isn’t implemented now.

Tracy Lefroy, President, Shire of Moora

Tracy Lefroy, President, Shire of Moora

What encouraged you to ‘step up’ and become a councillor?

I’ve always been a big believer in helping create the change you want to see in your community. Moora is a fantastic region, but I felt there were some gaps in the services available to our community, I figured that the best place to help influence how those gaps were filled was on local Shire.

What are some challenges you have faced, and are there any that have specifically arisen due to you gender?

I am still in my first term on Council but there have been many challenges faced by our community, particularly with regard to the provision of excellent education and, of course, allocating limited resources in a manner which best reflects the needs of ratepayers.

On a more personal level, there has been the age-old challenge of finding more hours in the day, trying to be in two (or more!) places at once and stretching myself a little thin.

Is there a particular achievement that you are particularly proud of, or what are you working to achieve in the future?

An ongoing goal for the Shire of Moora council is to be more strategic in the way we tackle planning for the future of our community. Ensuring that what we do today is with an eye to the future and will enhance projects that are still to come on-stream is critical.

Our community is very proud that we managed to save our Residential College and feel vindicated in our fight for this facility with the College being almost at capacity for the 2021 school year. Into the future, we are in the process of creating an incredible regional resource in our Early Childhood Development Centre, and our Sport and Recreation Strategic Plan is looking great following extensive community consultation and we are actively seeking funding opportunities to bring this to fruition.

Linda Balcombe, Councillor, Shire of Gingin

What encouraged you to ‘step up’ and become a councillor?

Whilst I have always been involved in our community either being a volunteer on local committees or working as the Community Officer of the Gingin Community Bank, I felt when asked if I would be interested in running that I could offer more to our great Shire.

My passion is to ensure that our youth are always in our mindset whether it is education, employment or even their health

physically or mentally and trying to ensure there is an availability of more senior living accommodation in our towns. I also believe we need to look at the entirety of our Shire and not just individual towns.

What are some challenges you have faced?

Possibly the biggest challenge I have felt is sometimes knowing all the facts about certain issues and hearing incorrect information or conjecture being voiced by the public, especially on social media. Not being able to share the whole story due to confidentiality issues can be very frustrating even though it’s important that these issues remain confidential due to legality reasons.

I am a wife, mother and Nanna and being able to balance work, volunteer work, Council duties and most importantly family time would be the biggest challenge for me personally. I am lucky I have an amazing family that support me and know this is who I am.

I am very happy, and maybe a little surprised, with the way the women on the Gingin Council and working for our administration are treated as equals and appreciated for what we do for our community. For existing male Councillors to say it’s great to have more women on Council was definitely welcome and appreciated.

Is there a particular achievement that you are particularly proud of, or what are you working to achieve in the future?

I am particularly proud of the Gingin Outdoor Activity Space group that I was originally on before joining Council. To see a great group of local community members, most of whom had not really been on a committee before, working together with Council to bring a dream they had to improve our outdoor activity space in the park to reality was great.

My aim for the future is to ensure we look after our senior community with services and accommodation and to ensure that when I leave Council I have helped to leave a sustainable Shire for our youth and future leaders.

Leslee Holmes, President, Shire of Dandaragan

Leslee Holmes, President, Shire of Dandaragan

What encouraged you to ‘step up’ and become a councillor?

I became a councillor because I wanted to be able to assist my community in growing and prospering for the future. I don’t believe anyone should join council on a single issue and if that was the case you would be more successful lobbying from the outside.

I was aware of the gender gap on council and felt that I had something to offer as a female.

What are some challenges you have faced, and are there any that have specifically arisen due to you gender?

I have never at any time in my career, both private business and local government had a problem with gender.

I have been able to take on the role of Shire President with great support from my colleagues and community. In private enterprise I found the same and have received great support from all the men I have been associated with. I think the problem is when a female is in a high position they face the dilemma of feeling they have to act like a male.

Is there a particular achievement that you are particularly proud of, or what are you working to achieve in the future?

I am very proud to have been elected for another term as Shire President. It is humbling to think that later in life you are valued and I love what I do and what I learn every day. Leadership is not always easy and you have to have emotional intelligence to do it well.

I am also the Vice Chair of Wheatbelt Development which is a great honour and being able to influence decisions in such a large area is very challenging but ultimately rewarding.

Due to Coronavirus our Shire has been bringing forward lots of infrastructure projects to keep people employed and that keeps us so busy that I am unable to really plan too far ahead.
When I have finished my term on council I will have done 12 years and I then want to join my family and live in Mallorca Espana for 12 months which I have always wanted to do.

Kylie Hughes, President, Shire of Chittering

Kylie Hughes, President, Shire of Chittering

What encouraged you to ‘step up’ and become a councillor?

I think it was the culmination of a number of issues that had arisen over the past several years rather than one big issue. I have lived in the Muchea area for almost 20 years and having come from a regional background, I was quite community minded. I immersed myself into country life, such as taking part in community strategic planning workshops and volunteering in various community groups, sporting clubs and events so this was a natural progression.

Having worked in a number of industries over that time in the roles of operations, QA, purchasing and facility management my existing skillset aligned well with the business overseer aspects of being a Councillor too.

What are some challenges you have faced, and are there any that have specifically arisen due to you gender?

I’m pleased to say that I haven’t experienced anywhere near the degree of challenges arising due to my gender in local government than those I experienced in the building industry!

The majority of challenges I’ve experienced in local government have been more centred around resistance to change from the way things were done in the past, to taking a broader view of what must be considered going forward — much of which has been unprecedented change in response to COVID-19. This, following on from the Local Government Act review, certainly presented some significant challenges in bridging the divide between what worked in the past and modernising quickly enough to get on with the job at hand under the new regulations.

Is there a particular achievement that you are particularly proud of, or what are you working to achieve in the future?

I’ve been working towards improving community engagement and consultation between the Shire, Councillors and the community — both as a whole and in each of our localities, because there is quite a diversity between them.

I’m a firm believer in being part of the solution to drive positive change in this regard and invite community members to become more proactive in shaping the world around them.

Carmel Ross, Deputy President, Shire of Chittering

Carmel Ross, Deputy President, Shire of Chittering

What encouraged you to ‘step up’ and become a councillor?

Chittering has been a rapidly growing Shire for some years and this is likely to continue for some time. This brings many pressures and has led to a diverse population profile in the different localities of the Shire.

One of my main interests is to ensure there is equitable provision of services and infrastructure across the Shire, so that what is provided is located where people live and is relevant to their interests.

What are some challenges you have faced, and are there any that have specifically arisen due to your gender?

Ironically, the diversity of the population and the spread across the different localities can lead to people focusing on their own area, without realising the needs and aspirations of other localities in the Shire. It can be difficult to gain support for initiatives when there are competing ideas about what should be done and, of course, the Shire has limited resources and must manage its budget responsibly.

I don’t believe I have ever encountered any difficulty through my gender. Fortunately in local government across WA there are now many women on Councils and many in the roles of Deputy President and President.

Is there a particular achievement that you are particularly proud of, or what are you working to achieve in the future?

My focus remains on working out what infrastructure and services will best serve the needs and aspirations of each of our localities, engaging community interest in working towards those, and working to get the relevant motions through Council successfully. Chittering is a Shire with wonderful potential and we need to use our diversity of people and localities to make it a great place to live for all.