Despoja on motherhood, politics and progress

Natasha Stott Despoja in 2012.
Natasha Stott Despoja in 2012. 

In an interview with Essential Kids about her involvement in the conservation movement, Natasha Stott Despoja also spoke about life after politics and why she would never enter into the toxic environment that is parliament today.

It has been over a hundred years since women were first able to vote and run for parliament, and five since Despoja left office but she is frustrated at the amount of progress we have made for women in politics since.

“I think progress has been too slow, I have absolutely hated the gender overtones of the debate in recent years and in some ways it was inevitable that the first woman to be the prime minister would be subject to a lot of sexist analysis and stereotypes.”

Natasha Stott Despoja with her husband, Ian Smith, and two kids, eight-year-old Conrad and five-year-old Cordelia.
Natasha Stott Despoja with her husband, Ian Smith, and two kids, eight-year-old Conrad and five-year-old Cordelia. 

Especially when it comes to appearance and whether or not a woman has children.

“We need to get beyond the idea of what women look like, how old they are, and the notion of women’s suitability for office. I mean we don’t do that to men in politics and we shouldn’t be doing it to women ...  it is ridiculous.”

It seems she has no regrets on her decision not to contest the 2007 election and to spend time with her family.

With both children now in school, Natasha cherishes the time she got to spend with them during those early precious years.

“I could tuck them in at night and take them to school or be there for their events and their projects and I wouldn’t have been able to do that had I been commuting between South Australia and, not just Canberra for Federal Parliament, but all around Australia.”

That doesn’t mean she never misses her old life, but she can’t see herself returning to politics as it is today.


“There are parts of me that miss it terribly, the law making and the legislating, but not the toxic environment that parliament now is. It looks absolutely awful and I wonder why anyone would want to be a member of parliament,” she says.

As the director of Beyond Blue, Natasha often worries about the culture of bullying and intimidation that seems to be developing in Parliament, especially since last month’s Labor spill that never eventuated.

“I’ve worried about the human cost of the last few weeks where people talk about each other with such disregard and such vitriol, I really wonder about people’s emotional and mental health and I think that is something that has changed greatly since, well, certainly since I first entered politics in 1995, which I know is a long time ago now.”

Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard.
Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard. Photo: Andrew Meares

Despoja speaks from personal experience when she says that Labor’s leadership instability is going to cost them greatly.

“I think that any leadership instability is costly. My political party experienced internal tensions and leadership turmoil and that was critical for us. It’s one of the reasons that account for the Democrats demise and that breaks my heart, especially looking at the current political environment, where the Democrats, I would argue, are the kind of party that is needed now more than ever.”

“It is a message to anyone in any walk of life, political parties or in a workplace – you get better results when you work together productively and encouragingly,” she says.