A very dim light, a very steep hill: women in the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party

O'Flaherty, Veronica Ann (2005) A very dim light, a very steep hill: women in the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This thesis presents a contemporary approach to the problem of the lack of recognition of women in Australian society and politics using the Australian Labor Party (ALP) as background and the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party as a test case. It examines the paradox that women have had the vote in Australia for over a hundred years yet, in the largest political party officially dedicated to social equality, they still fail to hold leadership positions with the exception of Jenny Macklin who is Deputy Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party (FPLP). Several writers have drawn attention to this puzzle of the lack of effective participation in general by women in Australian political life. Authors such as Joy Damousi, Anne Henderson, Marian Sawer and Marian Simms among others have begun the process of theoretical and historical analysis of women in politics in this country. Sawer and Simms are both prominent female academics in the field of Political Science. Their book, A Woman’s Place: Women and Politics in Australia (1993), is a good example of an emerging genre. Given my own particular academic interests, the thesis is based in the discipline of Political Science. It is not located primarily in the area of Women’s Studies, but feminist theories and ideas are applied, as are historical surveys and sociological perspectives to support my arguments and buttress conclusions. The aim of the work is to examine the Victorian Branch of the ALP between 1946 and 2005 and tests the hypothesis that a combination of societal and structural factors has been responsible for the exclusion of women for the most part from leadership positions in the Party. The Victorian Branch was chosen partly for reasons of access and manageable size, but also because it is representative of general trends in Australian politics. Essentially, this thesis is about the role of women in a major political party committed to the cause of working-class people. It does not deal with policy formulation or the dynamics of the parliamentary arena. Rather, it concentrates on the party’s culture and the structural and organisational factors which affect the participation rates and levels of influence of women. This thesis will contribute to knowledge by analysing the reasons for the exclusion of women from positions of power in the Victorian Branch of the ALP; it also draws lessons about the nature of politics in Australia. Indeed, it constitutes the first major study of the role of women in Victorian ALP politics—no such study currently exists. My own personal case studies will determine how and why and if male-dominated ‘traditions’ (patriarchy) are restricting the progress of women in the public sphere in this country. The research material from interviews with past and present female MPs (including former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner) and State Executive members will provide a great deal of invaluable information and opinion for other students of party politics. The thesis will give an opportunity for female ALP views to be expressed. A further contribution to knowledge will be to establish why injustices, inequalities and constraints have been placed on women which hinder their rise to power in the ALP and the Victorian Branch. It is significant to state that throughout Australia’s largely patriarchal history the nonrecognition, or misrecognition, of Australian women has been a form of exclusion resulting in their under- representation in leadership roles in the ALP and its Victorian Branch. Therefore, by studying the particular processes of how gender diversities are formed within a historical and ideological context, we can start to hypothesis on how and why women have been marginalised with the male-dominated ALP and the Victorian Branch. This thesis will examine why women in the Victorian Branch of the ALP have been largely excluded from decision-making positions. Has a combination of cultural, historical, sociological and structural reasons contributed to their exclusion until some thirty years ago when things began to appear to change? Are attempts to make the Branch more inclusive real or are they simply a form of Marcusian repressive tolerance? Therefore, in order to clarify specific aims of the project, one should ascertain why, despite the attainment of legal, political and social rights, there exists a significant inequality between the genders when it comes to achieving and exercising power and influence in the Federal ALP and the Victorian Branch. By researching those factors that create inequality, I hope to ascertain why women have been excluded from decision-making positions in the ALP and the Victorian Branch and document what changes have occurred and suggest future directional aims.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/1481
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 360000 Policy and Political Science
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Historical > RFCD Classification > 370000 Studies in Human Society
Keywords Australian Labor Party, Victorian Branch, women, participation, equality, leadership
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