The “boys’ club” environment at Parliament House has been blown out of the water as the biggest contingency of female Labor Party politicians descend on the institution.
The new parliament is also set to boast the most women from all political persuasions to ever grace its musty halls, with counting to date indicating a tally of 30 women — beating the 2010 record of 29 women in both houses.
Labor’s landslide victory has landed the party 15 women in the Legislative Assembly and seven in the Legislative Council.
As one of seven new MLAs, Member for Bicton Lisa O’Malley, 48, said the “boys’ club image has been completely smashed”.
“There’s no room for some of the behaviour we’ve seen from male politicians in the past, we’ll put them into line,” Mrs O’Malley said.
The first woman to represent the seat of Murray-Wellington, Robyn Clarke, 52, said she had been told throughout her campaign: “It’s about time a woman stepped up in this electorate, we need someone to bring a little TLC.”
Self-described feminist Cassie Rowe, Belmont’s new MP, said she was looking forward to being a role model for her two daughters, aged 18 months and four years, and to be mentored by her sister, MLC Samantha Rowe.
“I think it’s great to be able to set that example for my girls as my mum did for me,” Mrs Rowe, 36, said.
But the path to power for women has not been so accessible in the past.
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One of Labor’s MPs who paved the way for new female politicians is Member for Midland Michelle Roberts, 57, who today marks 23 years in parliament — the longest stint for any WA female politician.
“There’s been a really significant change over the years I’ve been here,” Mrs Roberts said. “I was told by a male Liberal minister in 1994 to ‘stick to your knitting’ but no one has made that kind of remark for a long time.”
She said “locker-room talk” and “men behaving badly” in the past was disturbing, recalling antics of former Liberal minister Troy Buswell snapping bra straps and sniffing a chair.
“I think we have largely moved on and that mentality is much less acceptable,” the new Police Minister said.
But Mrs Roberts, whose third child was born in 1999 while she was an MP, said there was a “still a long way to go” until gender equality was reached, particularly within the Liberal Party.
University of Notre Dame Associate Professor Martin Drum said conservative parties needed to “lift their game” to give more opportunities to women.
Dr Drum said while Labor’s caucus was 38.6 per cent women, falling short of its 40 per cent target, the Liberal and National parties lagged “way behind”, even when taking into account the voter backlash.
There are just four Liberal women and two National women in State Parliament — 17 per cent for Liberals and 22 per cent for Nationals.
Alannah MacTiernan, 64, recalled how in 1993 she was expelled from the Legislative Council chambers for 24 hours after speaking up against a conservative member who made “vile” comments to her.
That year, women MLCs were also ordered not to wear slacks.
“Of course the next day we all wore pants, there were four of us against 28 men,” she said.
Member for West Swan, Rita Saffioti, 44, said her toughest time in politics was the controversy over breastfeeding her newborn daughter Grace in Parliament in 2010.
“Those sorts of issues always divide the community so people said some very harsh things,” the new Transport and Planning Minister, who also has five-year-old twins, said.
“It was not an enjoyable time, I was struggling with learning how to be a new mother and trying to carry my workload.”
As a senior member of the McGowan Government, Mrs Saffioti is not underestimating the huge task ahead of her in balancing her work and family life. “Grace had to use ‘schedule’ in a sentence at school and she wrote, ‘Mummy has a very busy schedule’, ” she said.