With the number of women entering federal and state parliaments increasing, North Shore politicians Kylea Tink and Felicity Wilson reveal how they’re shattering the glass ceiling for women in politics. Niki Waldegrave reports.


International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8 March, celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world.

Australian politics is traditionally male-dominated, and while the number of women in state and federal parliaments is increasing, it is still not at 50 per cent.

As of May 2023, the number of federal female parliamentarians improved from 25.3 per cent to 39 per cent. In state and territory parliaments, women account for 41.9 per cent of positions.

The Federal Government met its target of women holding 50 per cent of government board positions in the 2021/22 financial year.

But Australia still has a long way to go when it comes to smashing the patriarchy in parliaments.

Independent North Sydney MP Kylea Tink, and NSW Liberal North Shore MP Liberal Felicity Wilson, reveal to North Shore Living (NL) the challenges women face in parliament and how they’re shaking things up.

Kylea Tink has called out aggressive and ‘hostile’ behaviour she experienced from an unnamed Liberal MP

Kylea Tink, Federal Member for North Sydney

Kylea, who has children aged 21, 19 and 16, says there’s a ‘real and perceived power imbalance’ in the federal system. “The environment tends to be very masculine and the truth is, women are not very well supported in the environment that is politics in this country.”

The community independent had her own ‘Julia Gillard moment’ last September when she revealed in parliament she felt ‘unsafe’ after ‘hostile’ behaviour she experienced by an unnamed member of the Liberal party in the House of Representatives. In 2012, Ms Gillard, when prime minister, gave a speech about the misogyny she was experiencing – including being called a ‘witch’ and a ‘bitch.’ This caused a media sensation across the world, and highlighted the difference with which she was treated because of her gender.

When Kylea called out a male Liberal MP’s reaction to her vote last year, the speaker of the house reminded the chamber about expected standards and there was much interest from the media about her experience.

‘Parliament needs to be better’: Kylea Tink

“There’s a lot of aggression in the chamber, a lot of machismo, a lot of testosterone,” Kylea explains. “What’s so concerning is not only was there no apology, even the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, said there was nothing wrong with what had happened.”

That was in stark contrast to the feedback she was getting from other parts of the chambers, with senior politicians, including men, thanking her for calling out the behaviour.

“This speaks volumes about what is broken regarding attitude towards peers in the parliamentary environment,” she adds. “You would not find that type of behaviour in any other work environment – certainly not in the boardroom.

“My whole message and my whole reason for being in politics is I don’t care what it has been like in the past. My experience is what it’s like now and it’s not good enough.

“It terrifies me that people say this is better than what it was.”

She says whether male or female, it shouldn’t make a difference.

“Women across all parties in all areas of that chamber knew exactly what I was talking about.

“It’s not acceptable. The way our parliament behaves should be best in class to set an example for the rest of our nation.

“Finding myself in that chamber is giving people like me a chance to be clear and unfiltered, to stand up and say: ‘This is not good enough. It needs to be better’.”

Felicity Wilson, NSW Liberal Member for the North Shore

Cremorne-based Felicity has been in state politics for seven years and gave birth to Eleanor, five, and Harry, three, during her tenure.

Flying solo as a single mother, Felicity, 41, says entering politics remains a challenging culture for young people, regardless of gender – but especially women due to some ‘old school attitudes and behaviours’.

“I’ve had a range of very unpleasant experiences in my political career,” she admits. “I don’t know to what extent they’re driven by misogyny. That’s not to say there isn’t misogyny – and there’s definitely sexism.

“There was scepticism from some quarters about whether I could do the job with young babies, but that’s something women have had to endure for millennia.

“And we just do it and prove them wrong!”

While most working mothers can negotiate time off for childhood milestones, MPs have to apply for a ‘pair’ which must be approved by parliament.

Felicity recalls when she gave birth to her son on a sitting day, Labor (then in opposition) granted the ‘pair,’ then threatened to withdraw it. “I was like, ‘Sorry, guys, but I’m having a baby’.”

At the time of our NL interview, Felicity’s daughter was due to start her first day of kindergarten, which unfortunately was the first day of parliament for 2024.

“There are some things that we as parents in this day and age see as non-negotiable,” she explains. “I want to talk about how her day was, be her mother and experience her day.

Felicity Wilson’s children have grown up with their mother in parliament

“But here I am, less than a week out, waiting to see whether they will approve me leaving the parliament for an hour or two.” In the end, Felicity was able to attend her daughter’s first day.

Felicity, who has been photographed with her children in the chamber, is calling for more women to enter politics.

“Those optics help show what you can do,” she surmises. “It gives other women the ability to see that you can go into politics and have babies.”

She applauds the changes that grandmother of nine, Liberal Shelley Hancock, made when she was elected as the first female speaker of the NSW lower house in 2011.

As well as keeping the ‘bear pit’ in order, she introduced parents’ rooms with cots, breastfeeding chairs and change tables to encourage more women into politics. She also successfully argued that the NSW lower house didn’t need ‘ridiculous’ formal rule changes to permit female MPs to breastfeed, as was required in Federal Parliament.

“She wanted to turn the whole place upside down,” laughs Felicity. “These were big, great changes. When women come into these leadership positions, they do things differently.”