The Liberal Party is committed to the advancement of women in our Party, in Parliament and in our policy platform. The NSW Liberal Women’s Council supports this commitment by advocating, developing and inspiring women’s participation, leadership and debate. Our programs and events cater for all women, giving you access to members of Parliament, policy discussion and insights as well as the opportunity to build relationships and networks. Since the inception of the Liberal Party in 1944, Liberal Women’s Council has been the place where women can make a real contribution, share ideas, and receive support to stand for leadership roles and public office. Our programs and events include:
- Women in Leadership series – networking events
- Policy development – formulate and debate
- Liberal Women’s Forum – training programs
- Campaign Squads – support female MP’s and candidates
- Rural and regional forums
The Liberal Women’s Council is the peak body designed to support and advocate for women in the NSW Liberal Party. With a view to engaging women in the community, increasing the number of women in the Party, and nurturing current members, the Women’s Council is a powerful voice on issues of concern to women which are pivotal to the Liberal debate.
All women who join the Party are invited to attend monthly day time or evening meetings as well as networking events, and we encourage members to be involved with policy development and debate. The Women’s Council also runs important training programs to develop and augment personal skill sets.
Whether our members’ interests lie in obtaining internal organisational positions or standing for Parliament, supporting our sitting female MP’s and candidates on the campaign trail or talking to and hearing from our Members of Parliament, the Liberal Women’s Council offers members the opportunity to be involved in the Liberal cause across every level.
The Role of Women in the Formation of the Liberal Party of Australia
Women in the New South Wales Division have made an invaluable contribution to the Liberal Party of Australia since its formation in early 1945, after the amalgamation of the Liberal Democratic Party, the UAP and the Commonwealth Party. The newly consolidated party also incorporated the highly regarded Australian Women’s National League, which had existed in various forms since 1902. The group had traditionally been instrumental in the election of conservative and liberal women to parliaments and local councils across the nation. The League was committed to supporting candidates who advocated liberal and patriotic values, regardless of gender—these women were leaders of gender equality.
The Party was a progressive force, with 1949 campaign advertising making explicit reference to women and women’s issues. This was unusual for the time period, and the Liberal Party won national government convincingly. They were able to retain it for over two decades.
The inclusion of the Women’s National League also lent structure to the Liberal Party, with very specific requirements for female members to be included throughout the organisation. At the senior organisational level of the Party, women have had effective representation through the Women’s Council and Branches. However, there is also a provision in the Party's New South Wales Constitution for a female State Vice-President and for a minimum number of women delegates to Executive. Since 1995 selection panels for the Legislative Council and Senate have had two delegates from each State and Federal electorate respectively - one is to be female and one is to be male.Beginnings of the NSW Women’s Council and Prominent Members
The first President of the New South Wales Women’s Council (NSWWC) was Mrs Edith Shortland, with meetings in the mid 1940s being held in Sydney. Founding and early members also included Joy Faunce, Roberta Gallagher and Phyllis Little. Miss Gallagher also represented the Federal Women’s Committee at Federal Executive level in 1947 and 1948.
The second President was the Hon Eileen Furley MLC, who was also chairman of the Federal Women’s Committee in 1954 and 1959. In November 1962 Mrs Furley (a prominent member of the NSW Division since its formation) was the first woman in the post-war years to be elected to the Legislative Council.
Maureen Giddings chaired the Federal Women’s Committee from 1977-80 and Chris McDiven AM from 1994-97. Under new amendments to the Party's NSW Constitution passed by State Council in August 2008, Helen Wayland became the inaugural Female Vice President of NSW/President of Liberal Women’s Council (NSW).
Three Presidents of NSW Liberal Women’s Council have been subsequently elected to parliament. Judith Hopwood was a State Member for Hornsby from 2001-11. Robyn Parker was a member of the NSW Upper House from 2003-11, then Member for Maitland in the NSW Parliament from 2011-15, serving as Minister for the Environment and Heritage from 2011-14. Lucy Wicks was elected as the Federal Member for Robertson in 2013 and serves on a number of Parliamentary Committees.
There have been three female State Presidents of the NSW Division; making history as the first was Bronwyn Bishop from 1985-91, who was also the first female senator for NSW and the first woman to hold a defence portfolio; Chris McDiven from 2001–05 who was also elected Federal President of the Party between 2005-08; Natasha Maclaren-Jones from 2010-11.
The NSW Young Liberal Movement has had four female Presidents; Marise Payne, Catherine Cusack, Gladys Berejiklian and Natasha Maclaren-Jones. Marise Payne was also Federal President of the Young Liberal Movement from 1985-87. All four former female Presidents have gone into Parliament.
One of the highest ranking women in State Parliament in the 1980s was Rosemary Foot AO, Member for Vaucluse (1978-86), who held several Shadow Ministry portfolios and was Deputy Leader of the Opposition from 1983 to 1986. In the 1990s, Kerry Chikarovski was one of a growing number of women elected to the NSW Parliament becoming Australia’s first Minister for Industrial Relations in 1993, Deputy Opposition Leader in 1994, and later Leader of the Opposition until 2002. Bronwyn Bishop was the first NSW Liberal woman to be elected to the Senate in 1987 and then became the first woman elected to both Houses when she was elected to the House of Representatives in 1994.Development Programs for Women in the Liberal Party
In April 1993 Liberal women supported the formation of a training program for women seeking selection. This initiative is known as the NSW Liberal Women’s Forum, and was headed up by Chris McDiven. Since the launch in 1995, the number of women contesting selections, becoming candidates and holding senior positions in the Party have all steadily increased. Incidentally, at the same time as the Forum was formed, the Labor Party introduced quotas for women. The 1996 Federal election (the first election after the launch) saw a large number of women elected for the Liberal Party in part due to the efforts of the Liberal Women’s Forum.
A similar program was relaunched in 2009 under Helen Wayland and Natasha Maclaren-Jones as Chair, with the aim of identifying, promoting and supporting women seeking leadership and parliamentary positions. Rather than using quotas or affirmative action, the Liberal Women’s Forum provides women with an understanding of the rules and procedures and an opportunity to gain the skills and experience required to stand for selection and win in their own right based on merit.
The Liberal Women’s Council has published “Take Your Seats”, to serve as a guide for women seeking selection. It provides practical information regarding nomination, speech writing, public speaking and selection interviews.
At its inception, Liberal Women’s Council was deliberately designed to remain a separate body within the Division so it could advocate fearlessly and independently on behalf of women and on issues of importance to women across the Party. That remains a guiding principle.
Women in Parliament
Gladys was first elected to the NSW Parliament as Member for Willoughby on 22 March 2003. She was elected Leader of the Parliamentary Liberal Party on 23 January 2017 and sworn in as the 45th Premier of New South Wales.…
Gabrielle was born and raised in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. She was re-elected as Member for Vaucluse at the March 2015 NSW election, and on 2 April 2015, she was appointed as Attorney General. She previously held the position…
Pru Goward was elected to the NSW Parliament in March 2007 as the Member for Goulburn. She has served in the position of Shadow Minister for the Environment and Shadow Minister for Women, and from 2008 to March 2011, as…
Catherine lives at Lennox Head on the NSW Far North Coast. She grew up on a farm in rural NSW, obtained her economics degree from the University of Sydney and was elected the first ever female State President of the…
Serving and helping other people has been a theme of my life. Whether it was the humble beginnings as a shop assistant selling chicken and chips in Newcastle where I grew up, or treating people in the public health system…
Melanie Gibbons was elected to State Parliament in March 2011. Following a boundary redistribution, she was elected as the first Member for Holsworthy in 2015. Prior to entering Parliament, Melanie worked in small business and for a disability charity, an…
Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly and Member for South Coast, The Hon. Shelley Hancock MP has been a strong advocate for the South Coast region through lobbying for much needed funds for the Princes Highway, additional police resources and…
Natasha was elected at the March 2011 State election. Having worked in both the public and private health sectors, Natasha brings to Parliament broad experience in public policy development. Before entering Parliament, Natasha worked as a public affairs and government…
Eleni Petinos was born and raised in the Sutherland Shire and understands the issues that are most important to the community. She has worked as a solicitor and is currently a policy adviser in social services. As the Liberal Member…
After growing up in Sydney and the NSW Southern Highlands, Marise Payne went on to complete her education at MLC School, Burwood and her Bachelor of Arts and Laws at the University of NSW. A member of the Liberal Party…
Born in Nigeria to British parents, Sussan Ley spent her early childhood in the United Arab Emirates, before migrating to Australia at the age of 13 with her parents and older brother. Schooled in the U.K., QLD and ACT, later…
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells was sworn in as Minister for International Development and the Pacific on 18 February 2016. Concetta is a former Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs with responsibilities in the Attorney General Department, Department of Border Protection and Department of…
Ann was born in Milton and finished her Science degree in Canberra, where she began teaching. She has lived locally for 25 years choosing to bring up her family on the South Coast. Her sons Rodney, Barry and daughter Kim…
Lucy was elected as the Federal Member for Robertson on the Central Coast of New South Wales in September 2013. Lucy’s family first moved to Point Clare in 1985, and Lucy and her siblings attended the local school at Narara…
Patrons for the NSW Liberal Women’s Council are:
Hon Mike Baird MP NSW Premier, Minister for Western Sydney
Hon Gladys Berejiklian MP NSW Treasurer, Minister for Industrial Relations
Hon Pru Goward MP Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Medical Research, Assistant Minister for Health, Minister for Women, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
Past Presidents of NSW Liberal Women’s Council
- 1945-1948 Edith Shortland
- 1948-1956 Hon Eileen Furley, OBE
- 1956-1959 Ivy Faunce, BEM
- 1959-1962 Roberta Gallagher
- 1962-1968 Phillis Jackson, MBE
- 1968-1971 Thelma Bates, CBE
- 1971-1974 Pam Mitchell
- 1974-1979 Maureen Giddings, OBE
- 1979-1983 Betty Combe
- 1983-1988 Betty Grant, OAM
- 1988-1991 Marie Wood
- 1991-1996 Chris McDiven, AM
- 1996-2000 Judith Hopwood
- 2000-2003 Hon Robyn Parker
- 2003-2005 Mary O’Dea
- 2005-2011 Helen Wayland
- 2011-2012 Lucy Wicks MP
- 2012-2015 Felicity Wilson
- 2015- Chantelle Fornari-Orsmond
Executive and Committee
President: Chantelle Fornari-Orsmond
Urban Vice Presidents: Penny Fischer, Katherine O’Regan
Country Vice President: Helen Glachen
Secretary: Nomiky Panayiotakis
Treasurer: Reena Jethi
Membership Secretary: Karen Howard
General Committee: Lynne Dibben, Christine Forster, Amy Lehmann, Isabelle White, Liana Ross, Maureen Bennetts, Lisette Walsh, Cristina Talacko, Danielle Brown, Mary Blainey
Ex-Officio: Felicity Wilson - Immediate Past President
Hollie Hughes – NSW State Executive, Country Vice President
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The Liberal Women's Council is the peak body of women in the NSW Liberal Party. It aims to bring more women into the Party, nurture current members and bring issues of concern to women to the Liberal debate.
Liberal women were pioneers of political participation by women in Australia, and the first female members of parliament at State and Federal levels.
Women play a key role in the Liberal Party and have equal representation at all levels of the Party.
All women who join the Party can participate in the activities of the Liberal Women's Council.
Women’s Council canvasses all topics of interest to Liberal women, engages in policy debate and preparation of motions, actively campaigns to secure and holds electorates for the Liberal Party, and hold regular meetings with guest speakers, as well as other social and fundraising events throughout the year.
President: Chantelle Fornari-Orsmond