Australia is making stately (or, to put it another way, agonisingly slow) progress toward gender parity in our federal parliament. Yet most of our parliamentary iconoclasts are female. In the Senate there's Labor's unflappable Penny Wong, One Nation's endlessly controversial Pauline Hanson, Tasmanian populist Jacqui Lambie, and our first African-born parliamentarian in independent Lucy Gichuhi. And they're not alone. As part of our Women of the Future series, we profile four powerful females shaping the future of our nation in Canberra.
Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek shares several things with her Liberal party equivalent, Julie Bishop: both are considered future Prime Minister material, and both are consistently more popular with the electorate than the leader they serve. She's a politician of principle — she joined Labor when Hawke was PM, then quit it over the decision to sell uranium to France — but her pragmatism has rebuilt the party's factionally-splintered fortunes. Don't expect a leadership challenge any time soon either: as she told The Monthly, "where I am exceeds anything I'd ever planned. I have no sense of ambition unmet."
Like her Labor counterpart, Julie Bishop is one of her party's most popular frontbenchers, not least from her handling of the Foreign Affairs portfolio in challenging times. She's also been a force for stability in a party rocked by internal crises, serving as deputy to both Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. Notoriously, it was she that warned Abbott of the leadership challenge that was to come, and while she was drubbed for perceived disloyalty in more Abbott-friendly sections of the media, her track record led the Australian Financial Review to dub her "Australia's most successful female politician".
Sarah Hanson-Young became Greens senator for SA at 25, making her the youngest person elected to the senate. "I came from an activist background and realised if you want to change the world and have an impact, you've got to be involved in politics. That was cemented when I saw Bob Brown talking about refugees during the Tampa crisis: I called the local Greens office and asked how I could help." Since then she's been a consistent voice for justice for asylum seekers, frustrating the government to the point that she was tailed by government agents when examining treatment of detainees on Nauru.
Rebekha Sharkie is the sole lower house MP for SA-Best — formerly the Nick Xenophon Team — and after stints working for Australian Democrats leader Janine Haines and disgraced Liberal MP Jamie Briggs, she's now in a position of power herself. She's the first ever female MP to serve the southern Adelaide electorate now called Mayo. She describes SA-Best's approach as "politics not based on ideology, but based on evidence" and believes that a good parliament is diverse. "The Parliament should be about the contest of different ideas and representation should include diversity in gender, age, ethnicity and thought."