Saturday, June 15, 2024

These two women are running for federal parliament as a single candidate

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Mum of three Bronwen Bock had never considered entering politics until a longtime friend came to her with an interesting proposition. 

Would she like to run for parliament together as a single candidate? 

That was late 2022, and on Saturday, Ms Bock and Lucy Bradlow began their campaign to be Australia’s first political job-share candidates. 

Running on a platform of action on climate change, integrity in politics and reducing cost-of-living pressures, they hope to be elected as independents in the Melbourne seat of Higgins at the next federal election. 

They’re aware sceptics will have questions.

How would voting work? What happens if there’s a policy disagreement? And is this even legal? 

One member of parliament has already called the proposal “completely unworkable”.

Bronwen Bock and Lucy Bradlow launched their campaign on Saturday.(ABC News: Rhiannon Hobbins)

But Ms Bradlow and Ms Bock are determined to prove that politics can be done differently.

“Parliament has become an increasingly exclusive arena reserved for those with the pedigree, finances and support systems that allow them to be full time, always on and available,” Ms Bradlow said. 

“It’s time that changes.” 

‘Opening up parliament’ 

When Ms Bock returned to work as an investment banker after maternity leave seven years ago, she regularly came up against the challenge of combining part-time work with leadership roles. 

Watching her peers and friends come up against the same struggle inspired her to fight to make it possible to job share at one of the country’s highest levels of leadership — federal parliament.

“Right now, if you’re not willing to work full time, 70 hours a week, 22 weeks a year in Canberra, you can’t participate,” she said. 

An overhead shot of a mother at a kitchen bench with three children

Bronwen Bock is a mother to three young kids.(ABC News: Rhiannon Hobbins)

“Parliament should be like any other workplace, where it’s possible to work flexibly, job share, and therefore have different faces of leadership.”

Ms Bradlow, a political communications specialist and former lawyer, said job sharing won’t just open doors for working parents. 

She said it could boost political opportunities for people from many different backgrounds and walks of life — such as women, people with disability and carers — to “have a say on the policies that actually impact their lives”.

While the current parliament has been hailed as the most diverse in history — it still has a long way to go to truly reflect modern Australia.

“This is about opening up parliament to a much broader group of people … who aren’t willing or able to work in a 24/7 role,” Ms Bradlow said.

A powerful precedent? 

A proposal for two women in the UK to job share as an MP was rejected by the English courts in 2015, but the concept stuck with Australian constitutional and citizenship lawyer, Kim Rubenstein.  

She’s been lobbying Australian politicians to support job sharing for parliamentarians. 

“I think we have very strong legal foundations for this to be both constitutional and legally positive,” she said.  

Ms Bock and Ms Bradlow need to clear a few legal hurdles before voters are given their chance to have their say on the idea at the ballot box.

Professor Rubenstein said ideally the Electoral Act would be amended to allow more than one person’s name to be on the nomination form. 

A middle aged woman with short curly hair and glasses standing out the front of Parliament House in Canberra

Kim Rubenstein has been lobbying parliamentarians on the issue.(ABC News: Michael Barnett)

Even if that doesn’t happen, the professor said it was still possible for two people to cram their names onto the form, leaving it up to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to decide whether a double act was lawful. 

The pair have vowed to fight the AEC in the Federal Court if their nomination is rejected.

Professor Rubenstein said if job sharing could be done in parliament, it could be done anywhere.  

“If we have parliament modelling job sharing, then it’s not only inspirational for what it says about power [but] it would be very difficult for other industries to resist it,” she said. 

How would it work? 

Ms Bock and Ms Bradlow have been hosting a series of kitchen table conversations with members of the Higgins electorate to answer that exact question. 

They’d work one week on and one week off with a handover at the end of each week. 

There’d be one email address, one vote in parliament and one person working at all times. 

Who you’d be dealing with as a constituent would depend on whose week it is. Wages and entitlements would be split. 

Three adults sit around a restaurant table talking

The women have been hosting roundtables with members of the electorate.(ABC News: Andy Altree-Williams)

As for disagreements, the lifelong friends say they fundamentally have the same views, but a pre-written conflict resolution strategy will help them navigate any issues. 

“We’ll have an organised system in place, organised conversations and mechanisms to work through [like] you would in any other corporate environment,” Ms Bock said. 

They expect challenges but are confident they can manage them because they’re doing it together. 

“When I think of people slinging mud at us, I think it’s not just me … they’re slinging mud at both of us,” Ms Bradlow said. 

“I feel very comforted by the fact I have someone to back me, someone to talk to and probably to cry with.” 

‘Completely unworkable’ 

But not everyone is supportive. 

Nationals MP Darren Chester said job-sharing as MPs would be “completely unworkable” and it “fails at the first test”. 

Mr Chester is on a parliamentary committee that does a review after each election to ensure our political system is up to scratch. 

“What would happen if the two members decided on a different position on a conscience vote, for example? Who gets to vote?” he said. 

Mr Chester didn’t believe voters would warm to the idea, either. 

“If I was a candidate in an election and my opponent were two people looking to job share, I would find that campaign very easy to win,” he said. 

Darren Chester in a suit standing in front of microphones during a press conference

Darren Chester isn’t convinced the proposal would work.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

“I would just have to demonstrate that I’m 100 per cent committed to the job and they’re only going to work half-time.” 

“If you’re not able to commit 100 per cent to being a federal member of parliament, it’s probably not the right time for you to run.” 

In a statement, a federal government spokesperson said it was not considering a proposal for job-sharing parliamentarians.  

“The Albanese Labor government has placed a priority on improving the Commonwealth parliamentary workplace, including ensuring that those from different backgrounds and walks of life can represent their communities, and be sufficiently supported to do so.” 

‘Ready to challenge status quo’ 

But back in Melbourne, Ms Bock and Ms Bradlow remain focused and confident. 

Ms Bock said it should be up to the electorate, not the courts or bureaucrats, to decide if two people can represent them in Canberra.  

“If a job-sharing proposal was rejected in another workplace, it would actually be discriminatory,” Ms Bock said. 

“We are bringing two sets of skills, experience and minds to debate and come up with good decisions.”  

Two white women wearing white political campaign t shirts sit by the side of a road

Bronwen Bock and Lucy Bradlow are determined to prove that politics can be done differently. (ABC News: Andy Altree-Williams)

Ms Bradlow said dismissing the idea was “an old-fashioned way of looking at power”.

“I think the world is changing, and if you can’t adapt you’re going to end up with the same group of people taking up leadership positions,” she said. 

“We see people successfully job sharing in private and public sectors at leadership levels. Why can’t it work in parliament?

“Australians are ready to challenge the status quo and this is the next step in that journey.”  

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