The new series is being touted as a “raw and honest account of politics from the female perspective”and marks 100 years after Australia voted in its very first female parliamentarian - Edith Cowan’s historic election in 1921.
The four-part series will premiere on Tuesday 13 July at 8pm on ABC TV, with all episodes available to binge on ABC iview. Accompanying the series is a companion podcast hosted by Annabel Steph with all six episodes available in the ABC listen app on Tuesday 13 July.
Powered by intense interviews with a cast of female “firsts”, Annabel investigates the experience of women in Parliament, from early struggles for the most basic of facilities to the persistent problems of harassment that plague the system to this day.
“Australia was the first independent nation in the world where women could both vote and run for Parliament,” she said.
“But it took us a long time to actually elect any women, and when we did, we expected them to fit into the system that was already there. The struggle of female parliamentarians to be heard, to be respected, and to prosper in our federal Parliament is a thrilling and inspiring one, full of extraordinary stories that our cast tell with grace, humour and the deep authority of experience.”
“This is not ancient history. Many women who are “firsts” in politics are still actually in parliament. The first Indigenous woman in the House of Representatives was born into a country where her father’s people still could not enrol to vote. The story of women in parliament is a living, changing thing. In Ms Represented, we’ve captured a draft of it.”
Structured around themes rather than chronology, Ms Represented ranges across four episodes visiting key events, like the 1894 South Australian parliamentary vote in which a strategic blunder gave SA women not only the right to vote, but the right to stand for parliament too – a world first.
Or the secret deal cut by male legislators in 1996 that barred women from accessing the abortion drug RU486 for nearly a decade, before it was undone by an unprecedented cross-party grouping of women. Or the tense battle behind the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984.
In it there are many stories: the women who were told by party officials to change their names, or stop wearing short skirts. The candidate who faked up a campaign cookbook so as to seem more “womanly”. The woman who – desperate for campaign childcare – engaged Germaine Greer as a babysitter. The women who stood up against their own parties. The women who endured drunken gropes and abuse even within the walls of the parliament. The women who were elected to the parliament and found that there weren’t toilets for them to use.
But the heart of the series is the women themselves. Proud, angry, determined, sad, hilarious; they speak about their lives in politics with rare candour.
The podcast features interviews with trailblazers like Cheryl Kernot and Kate Sullivan to current figures like Anne Aly and Penny Wong, steering from the shocking to the inspirational, using humour to help Australians to engage with a part of our history that deserves more attention.