HER Story – A history of EMILY's List
"A woman candidate, to be satisfactory, must be a 'feminist' in the best sense of the word....she should believe absolutely in the necessity for the equality of status, liberty and opportunity between men and women. A woman candidate that is shaky on this matter, or not sufficiently imbued with its importance to be able to speak convincingly on the matter, will do the movement towards establishing women in the Parliament far more harm than good"
EMILY's List Australia is a financial, political and personal support network for the election of progressive Labor women candidates. It is the only network of its kind in Australian politics. EMILY's List Australia was established 1996 by a passionate and committed group of women, many of whom are current and past leaders in Australia.
The EMILY's List journey began in 1994, when the ALP National Conference passed an Affirmative Action Rule requiring women be preselected in 35 per cent of winnable seats at all elections by 2002. Among the progressive women who drove this change were former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, former Premiers Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence along with Helen Creed, Candy Broad MP, Kay Setches, Leonie Morgan, Judy Spence, Meredith Burgmann, Jan Burnswoods, Carolyn Pickles, Sue Mackay and Fran Bladel.
Despite this landmark achievement, in 1995 Federal Labor pre-selections saw the number of women pre-selected in safe and winnable seats decline. Furthermore, the 1996 election saw the election of 16 new Conservative women to Federal Parliament. It was obvious something more had to be done for and by Labor women.
Labor women clearly needed a political and personal support network to assist their campaigns. The question was: what type of network would work best to support women to win elections?
EMILY's List USA
Several Labor women, particularly Leonie Morgan in Victoria, had witnessed the excellent work of EMILY's List in the USA. They observed that EMILY's List was an organisation which functioned, and continues to function, outside the Democratic Party to assist pro-choice Democratic women to be elected to Congress, the Senate and Governorships around the country. EMILY is an acronym and stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast – it helps to raise the dough (for campaigns).
EMILY's List USA is a mass-membership-based national network of women. Their advocacy has resulted in a record number of women currently serving in the United States Congress, and they are currently campaigning to see America elect its first woman President in 2016 (we got their first with a woman leader!). EMILY's List is so ingrained into American political culture, that even CJ Cregg, Jed Bartlet's indomitable Press Secretary on TV's The West Wing, once worked there!
EMILY's List in Australia
In 1996, a core group of Labor women decided to adapt the US model to Australia to assist progressive Labor women in their campaigns. Initially, the idea was presented to the Labor National Executive, who insisted that, if the organisation was to exist within the ALP, the Executive would nominate the board and control the distribution of funds to candidates.
Put plainly, this was unacceptable to the founders of EMILY's List, who valued the feminist and community organising principle that women should control their own finances and their organisations.
EMILY's List Australia was launched at Parliament House in Canberra on 11 November 1996, 21 years after the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor Government.
In those early days, EMILY's List Australia acted as a watchdog over the ALP's implementation of the Affirmative Action Rule, ensuring the Party was reaching its target of 35% women by 2002. During this time, EMILY's List Australia continued to champion the belief that democracy, and the ALP would be best served when there was equal representation of women and men. This led to the launch of the Lift the Target campaign, promoting a rule change to 50/50 representation of women and men. Although EMILY's List Australia did not get its aim, the targeted was lifted and the 40/40/20 rule by 2012 was enshrined as ALP policy.
"Affirmative Action targets made the Labor Party look around and canvass for women candidates."
In 1997-1998, EMILY's List Australia supported its first candidates in the State and Territory elections in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. Eight women were supported and all of them were elected. Buoyed on by this success, the organisation raised $63,000 over the next two years, leading to the opening of its National Office.
In 1998, EMILY's List Australia undertook Gender Gap Research for the first time. Jenny Macklin observed that "the quality of Gender Gap Research commissioned by EMILY's List was invaluable in helping shape Labor's campaigns to meet the needs of women".
By 2004, EMILY's List Australia had raised over $500,000 and helped elect 123 Labor women to Parliaments across the country. This number continues to grow with each passing State, Territory and Federal election.
In the 2012 Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory elections, every woman candidate endorsed by the Labor Party was also an endorsed member of EMILY's List. In both Territories the Labor Party is now led by an EMILY's List woman - Katy Gallagher as Chief Minister in the ACT, and Delia Lawrie as Opposition Leader in the Northern Territory.
Other women leaders who EMILY's List has supported include Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings, New South Wales Deputy Opposition Leader Linda Burney, former Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin and former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. Former Western Australian Premier Carmen Lawrence, and of course, former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner AC, are also members of EMILY's List Australia.
Of the record number of women who were in Cabinet in 2012, four out of five of those women were (and continue to be) members of EMILY's List Australia - former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek and Shadow Ministers Jenny Macklin and Penny Wong.
Management of EMLY's List
For the first nine years of EMILY's List Australia's operation, Joan Kirner and Cheryl Davenport were the National Co-Convenors, with Joan acting as CEO on a pro bono basis.
Joan and Cheryl retired in 2004 and 2005, passing the baton on to a new generation of progressive Labor women. Since then, many talented women have come and gone through the learning ground of EMILY's List Australia preparing themselves for public office and/or taking on leading roles in the labour movement, as well as the private and community sectors.
Passionate, Professional and Progressive
EMILY's List members, candidates and MPs have worked tirelessly alongside women in the YWCA, WEL, ACTU and Trades and Labour Councils to raise awareness on specific issues important to women, including Abortion Law Reform, IVF for single and lesbian women, women's health policies, abolition of Workchoices, family violence protection strategies, Paid Maternity Leave and Pay Equity.
EMILY's List Australia is proud of the long term relationships it fosters between progressive women and causes. From the outset, it was important to the Founders of EMILY's List that the organisation remain non-factional and open to any woman who shared the values of equity, diversity, choice, equal pay and childcare. This means that EMILY's List Australia is not involved in ALP pre-selections and instead offers support to women only once they have been formally endorsed by the Party. This hasn't stopped supporters and critics alike marveling at the influence of the organisation with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott saying in 2008 "EMILY's List is arguably the ALP's biggest faction".