Australia

Australia's first gay female Liberal MP joins the House of Representatives

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Queenslander Angie Bell is the first openly gay woman to represent a major party in the Lower House - but she wants to be remembered for much more.

As a businesswoman, author and musician, Angie Bell has already led a career of firsts.

From humble beginnings in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, Ms Bell broke the mould of her factory-working family to be the first to attend university on a Rotary scholarship.

Now she adds another, becoming the first gay woman to represent a major party in the House of Representatives.

But the new Liberal MP wants people to remember her for much more.

“For me being openly gay is not the defining thing, there's a lot more to me personally than just my sexuality,” she told SBS News.

“But I can see the significance of that and it is important to celebrate.”

Angie Bell
Angie Bell in her office.
SBS News

Ms Bell follows openly gay female Labor senators Penny Wong and Louise Pratt, Greens Senator Janet Rice, and Independent Kerryn Phelps in joining federal parliament.

Openly gay male politicians include Liberal chief whip in the Senate, Dean Smith, as well as Liberal MPs Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans and Tim Wilson.

The 51-year-old Ms Bell replaces the long-serving Steve Ciobo in the Queensland seat of Moncrieff following his retirement at the federal election.

The first-time parliamentarian won more than 65 per cent of the vote in the blue ribbon seat, gaining a swing of 0.75 per cent on a two-party preferred basis.

“Coming in as a backbencher at this time is a really great thing for the electorate because Minister Ciobo was of course abroad a lot in this role as a minister and he served for a very long time,” she said.

“I think it’s a really, really good thing for the electorate to have a backbencher who is on the ground and out in the community that's what I do when I’m in the electorate.”

Angie Bell
Ms Bell with her family.
SBS News

Ms Bell is no stranger to public office, serving as president of LNP Women – an organisation that pushes for more female presentation in the parliament.

“I don’t believe the Liberal Party has a problem with women I've never had a problem in the Liberal Party because I'm a woman ever,” she said.

“I would also say that we have improved the percentage of women.”

The LNP now has 28 women across the new parliament with 14 in the House of Representatives and 14 in the Senate, an increase of seven female representatives from the previous term.

But it’s much less than Labor’s 46 female representatives, who now boast 28 MPs and 18 senators, an increase of four women from the previous term.  

'Being a woman is not a barrier'

The Labor Party is close to making its quota of 50 per cent women by 2025.

But it’s a pledge that many in the Liberal Party don’t believe in, including Ms Bell, despite seeing an exodus of women leave the previous parliament because of intimidation and bullying.

“We essentially believe as a party in reward for effort and that’s why I'm in the Liberal party,” she said.

“Quotas do not quite work with us … being a woman is not a barrier in the Liberal Party.”

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But for new Labor MP Fiona Phillips, it has been a motivator.  

“The Labor party has done a lot of work creating a culture, we have more females and I'm just so lucky what wonderful role models I have Tanya Plibersek, Linda Burney, Penny Wong,” she told SBS News.

Fiona Phillips
Fiona Phillips with former Labor leader Bill Shorten on the 2019 election campaign.
AAP

Ms Phillips beat the prime minister’s pick Warren Mundine in the highly contested seat of Gilmore on the New South Wales south coast, at the May election.

Mr Mundine’s candidacy in the ultra-marginal seat caused angst among many in the electorate.

“The community obviously made up their mind, I think the community can tell what’s real or not, and I think that’s what happened,” she said.

The former TAFE teacher and mother-of-four is deeply grounded within her community, where she represents one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the country.

“We've got so much disadvantage here we've got very low income, I will be keeping that foremost in my mind obviously in voting and things like that,” she said.

Newly elected MPs
Fiona Phillips and Angie Bell with newly-elected MPs.
AAP

And as a descendant of dairy farmers, she said she would be using Labor’s loss to hold the government to account on the embattled industry.

“We had a really great policy of bringing in fairer farmgate milk price [the price farmers receive from processors for the milk they produce], obviously we didn’t win the election but I’m going to be strongly pursuing that,” she said.

“I'm in a position to help dairy farmers. I've got a real passion there to help [them] and to help people in our community.”

Both Ms Phillips and Ms Bell join a record number of women in the 46th parliament, who now make up a third of all federal MPs.

And they both want to see more diversity.

"I think we need to represent the diversity in our community," Ms Phillips said.

Ms Bell agrees: “It's not just about gender, it's about representing our community well so that's a very important thing for the future of our country.”

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