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Meet the women putting up a fight in NSW council elections today and the group supporting them

A third of council positions in New South Wales are filled by women, but a group is determined to change that and is starting by equipping women with the skills they need to run for politics in the first place.

Australian politics isn't known for being particularly representative when it comes to reflecting the community.

Key points:
  • NSW local elections are taking place across the state today
  • Women occupy less than a third of local government positions in NSW
  • Women for Election Australia are trying to even up gender balance in politics

From federal parliament to local government, there's a reason politics is often referred to as pale, male and stale.

The problem is particularly stark on councils in New South Wales, with less than a third of positions belonging to women.

Now, a group equipping women with the skills to run for politics wants to see that change.

Making the decision to run

For Minyungbal woman Letitia Kelly, choosing to run for Tweed Shire Council felt right.

"This is the first time I've run as a candidate, however, I've been pretty much involved my whole life," she said.

First Nations woman Letitia Kelly smiling at the camera wearing black glasses and an orange shirtFirst Nations woman Letitia Kelly smiling at the camera wearing black glasses and an orange shirt
Letitia Kelly is running on a ticket of independents whose key priorities are housing and the environment.(Supplied)

"I've been involved with your land councils, I've been involved in the social justice issues, I've been involved with advocating and being able to put my voice out there in community and bringing my experiences forward for pretty much my whole life."

Letitia is running on a ticket of independents under the banner "Women Who Lead"; their key priorities are housing and environment.

"You've got people that are having to pay over $800 per week in rent, and their wage could be at $650, $700 so it's just not realistic," she said.

"We live in a beautiful area surrounded by beaches, the river, the coast, the mountains, and we believe that we'd be able to bring an Aboriginal science system to the environmental issues.

"We really want to see First Nations people lead in that space and for mainstream [politics] such as Tweed Shire Council to collaborate with First Nations people when it comes to environmental issues."  

Ellie Robertson in her wheelchair in between two signs saying vote for her in the liverpool city councilEllie Robertson in her wheelchair in between two signs saying vote for her in the liverpool city council
Ellie Robertson is running for council for the second time.(Supplied)

Hundreds of kilometres south of Tweed, in Liverpool, independent candidate Ellie Robertson wants to see the council take on issues like congestion, environment and improvement of facilities and awareness for people with disabilities.

It's her second time trying to get on the council after running with the Animal Justice Party in 2016.

"I care that we can hold our heads high when we tell people where we live, and the feedback that I get from our community is that the concerns aren't listened to and not taken seriously," she said.

"And the community belongs to everyone and everyone should have a say and an input in the decision making.

"I also want to be an example for people living with disabilities that are entering the political arena and that it can be a very real option for them. Their lived experiences would be a very rich asset in all forms of government, actually."

Businesswoman Elle Prevost is running for the council in North Sydney and said it was the natural next step in her involvement with her community.

"I've been involved in the community for a long time now, specifically through the online Facebook communities," she said.

"I thought this was a really good opportunity for me to get out from behind my keyboard and start doing something in real life."

Running a campaign while bringing up two kids, including a three-month-old baby, Elle wants to put environment and infrastructure policies on the council's agenda if elected.

Along with a view to installing a pollinator corridor in the area, Elle also wants to see a linear ramp for the Harbour Bridge.

"We've got the Sydney Harbour Bridge within our local government area (LGA) and a big hot button for cyclists and residents is having a ramp that comes from the Harbour bridge and allows cyclists to continue on their way," she said.

Elle Provost wearing a blue shirt with a campaign staffer in front of a marqueeElle Provost wearing a blue shirt with a campaign staffer in front of a marquee
Elle Provost during her campaign for local council.(Supplied)
Bringing together a community

Ellie, Letitia and Elle are all running in very different LGAs but they do have something in common.

Each has been involved in workshops run by Women for Election Australia, an organisation equipping women with the skills and knowledge to run at all levels of government. 

Its chief executive officer, Licia Heath, wants to see more women elected to Australian parliaments and councils across the board.

"We're a non-partisan, not-for-profit with a mission to inspire more women to consider running for public office, but also to give them the tangible skills to equip them to run," she said.

"Let's go back 25 years and think about how somebody who might want to run one day would find out about how to run?

"You'd often join a party, you'd attend a local branch meeting, you'd get involved via that avenue. Now we know that party membership is down, less and less people are attending branch meetings, but that doesn't mean they're not interested in running."

She's proud of how much the group has been able to achieve during this NSW local election season.

"All the hard work we've put in in the last 12 months, thanks to funding from the NSW government, has paid off," she said.

"We have the highest percentage of female candidates ever running in these NSW local government elections.

"And through the efforts of our partner organisation, Politics in Colour, this election also sees the highest number of First Nations candidates."

For Ellie Robertson, participating in the workshops helped demystify the process of running.

"I didn't know where to go now or who would be able to help me but the women for election courses and masterclasses have been so helpful in filling in all the gaps of areas I wasn't sure how to approach like fundraising or preference flows," she said.

"There just aren't enough women on councils, it's getting better but there's a long way to go and I want to be at the heart of that." 

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People under 30 are the most under-represented in New South Wales local government, but young candidates running in the December 4 election are determined to address that.

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Elle Prevost thought a great part of the program was the community formed by all the women involved.

"We've got a private group where we're still checking in with each other," she said.

"Everyone's been so supportive of each other in that group as well, so that's been hugely beneficial."

Letitia Kelly, who had already decided to run before taking part in the program, said the community aspect had been great.

"We've all got the same goal ... we're feeling that our voices are not heard, so I think it's extremely important that women at that space and at that table, speaking to other women ... even if they're from different political parties, they've all got the same agenda, which is wanting to be heard," she said.

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