Having her voice heard

By Jane Garcia

An involvement in community action lead Judy Maddigan into a career in local then state government and to her present role as the first woman Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in Victoria.

Ms Maddigan says unlike most women trying to seek state or federal pre-selection, she was very lucky to have been asked by the Labor Party to stand for the seat of Essendon, following her involvement as an Essendon councillor from 1985 to 1991.

She became the Member for Essendon in the Legislative Assembly in 1996 and took on the role of Speaker since 2003.

“As speaker I am removed from the political process; I don’t attend Labor Party meetings and when I’m in parliament I have to try and be as even-handed as I can in the running of Question Time particularly,” Ms Maddigan says.

“In some ways the role of speaker is seen always as a person trying to keep the house under control during vigorous debating periods. But most of my time is actually taken with the oversight of the administration of parliament. We have over 400 staff working for parliament who support the members as well as the electorate offices so it’s quite a large establishment that we do run now.”

She sees it as significant that the Victorian Legislative Assembly has its first woman speaker.

“It took us 147 years to elect a woman as speaker. Most of the other barriers have been broken in parliament, like we’ve had women ministers for a long time and a woman premier, but the presiding officers have always been the domain of men,” Ms Maddigan says.

Loyalty, strong support from both parliamentary colleagues and staff at parliament, hard work, trying to be fair and treating everyone with respect and dignity are all elements she credits as having contributed to her political career success. In her experience, the ‘boys club’ mentality of political parties and the Victorian Parliament is a thing of the past, and the parliament has a very high percentage of women.

Ms Maddigan encourages people to consider a career in politics, saying that for all the moments of stress, there are also many rewards, opportunity and satisfaction to be had from helping members of her community.

“My message to people is that I never thought I’d be Speaker in a thousand years when I was younger and at work,” she says.

“It is for people to dare to challenge areas where women haven’t been before. Don’t be put off because it’s something no one has done before. If you have a strong motivation and you work hard enough then you will get there.”

Ms Maddigan will be one of the women sharing their experiences in political or public sector leadership at the Going Public conference in Melbourne on October 4 to 6. For more information see www.goingpublic.com.au


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