EXCLUSIVE: Australia’s most powerful women, from Nicola Forrest to Wendy McCarthy, join forces with a vision for change

A powerful coalition of women is making equality a talking point in the lead-up to the next federal election.
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They’ve come together as many voices, but with a united call to arms: women are the key to unlocking Australia’s vast potential at the 2022 federal election.

Today, chatting and laughing with The Weekly at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden, the Women for Progress are, like the flora around them, reaching for the sky. One of Australia’s greatest philanthropists, Nicola Forrest, has brought them together. Iconic feminist Wendy McCarthy, a sprightly 80, has convened their meetings.

They are women of all ages, creeds and beliefs. Yet, they say, they represent all women.

Philanthropist Nicola Forrest and Wendy McCarthy.

(Photo: Phillip Castleton)

This think tank has met secretly for months, but is now going public with a vision for a nation where children and their parents are genuinely supported, where women have greater choice in participating in the workforce, where those who work in our care economy are appropriately valued, where women can live safe from violence, and where diverse female leadership is supported.

These women are not running for parliament, but their message is for politicians of all persuasions.

“Women have a right to be angry, but they also have to come up with solutions,” says Nicola. “My message to Australian women is: we must hold our representatives accountable. If you want to take our nation into a brighter future, make sure the issues that are important to you are being listened to.”

Jacqui Emery, CEO of Royal Far West, a tireless campaigner for the mental health of rural mums and kids, says: “We’re seeing a flatlining of women in leadership roles, a widening of the gender pay gap, an escalation in violence against women. Yet it’s vital that Australia’s mums and carers be as healthy and happy as possible to give the greatest support and protection to our kids, particularly women suffering isolation and economic disadvantage. That’s why we’ve all joined together … to try to give voice to the voiceless.”

June Oscar, proud Bunuba woman and Social Justice Commissioner, adds: “The pandemic has deepened the inequalities and challenges women face, especially First Nations, LGBTQIA+ and disabled women. We must act now and align as one mob to reverse this decline and enable Australia to recover. Let’s protect each other to make all women the best they can be.”

Former deputy PM and foreign minister Julie Bishop says: “No nation can reach its potential until it harnesses the voices and talents of its women. That’s why the Women for Progress have united to set a pathway and get all ends of the political spectrum to join us. Women’s issues are at the heart of this election campaign and the drivers of future economic and social growth.”

Back row: Sam Mostyn, Jacqui Emery, Natalie Walker, Carol Schwartz, Georgie Dent and Marina Go. Front row: Ming Long, Nicola Forrest, Wendy McCarthy and Lucy Turnbull.

(Photo: Phillip Castleton)

Standing straight as a pine is Wendy McCarthy, an icon of the women’s movement in Australia.

“I was there in ’75 when [Gough] Whitlam declared ‘It’s time’ on female representation, family planning reform, contraception and equal opportunity for women,” she says. “And this coming together of the Women for Progress feels very much like that. Then as now, we expect better of our leaders. We need better early childhood learning and workplace equity. We demand respect and are serious about getting it.”

Some of the other women involved include political figures Lucy Turnbull, Jenny Macklin, Kate Ellis, Kate Carnell and Natasha Stott Despoja; business executives Carol Schwartz, Ming Long and Sam Mostyn; actress Natalie Walker and broadcaster Georgie Dent; publisher and author Marina Go; ACTU President Michele O’Neil; and our very own Women of the Future patron, Elizabeth Broderick.

The Women for Progress are lobbying all political parties in the lead-up to the federal election to lift their game on gender equality to benefit women, children and men, and boost the economy.

To learn more about the group’s work or sign their petition, visit:

Read this story and many others in the March issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly – on sale now.

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