Beth Ripper was first elected to Wellington Shire Council in November 2005 and Mayor in December 2006. In 2012, Beth decided not to re-contest the council election, and can now reflect on how being a councillor has benefited her work as an artist, gardener and community project worker.
You’ve been involved with several not-for-profit organisations, advocacy groups and community initiatives. Why did you decide to get involved in local government?
I observed at the time that there were a lot of women in the community who were very active in many ways but were not stepping up to that next level of decision-making by being active in local politics so I decided that it was time for me to get involved.
There was one woman on council when I was first elected. It was a group of men on Council who actually supported the idea of getting more women candidates. Their advocacy persuaded me to run for council. What kept me on Council throughout the 7 years was a group of incredible women committed to local government.
At first, I did not think I had any of the skills required. It took me three years to see that I had the necessary skills to take it on. I think generally women tend to edit out their skill set and don’t take risks. That was my experience as well. But as soon as I got on Council, it was quite clear the value that I brought to the table.
My involvement included roles in the parents’ kindergarten community, school councils, member of Landcare and participating in the Shakespeare Festival. Another role that provides wide-ranging skills that is often overlooked is being a parent. You juggle all sorts of things including relationships, logistics, finances and priorities. One needs to demonstrate flexibility as a parent. In that regard, I brought to the table a totally different perspective because it was so vastly different to the backgrounds of most other councillors.
My involvement with community projects as well as running my own businesses provided understanding on how community activities come together, the importance of strategic planning and the need for an implementation plan. You also need to know who to reach out to for support to get things done.
I also brought to the table a different kind of negotiating skill, a capacity to talk things through that was perhaps a little less competitive and ego-driven. I brought a fresh view from a demographic that was not seriously valued at the time.
Being on council gives you an extraordinarily privileged position in the sense that you have access to a depth of knowledge that cannot really be attained in any other way. When I left council, I brought with me not only this depth of knowledge, but also a deeper respect for local government and what is accomplished for the communities they serve. My passion for women’s participation has grown enormously with my time on council because I feel there is an unspoken prejudice against women’s participation.
Council deepens your network. Initiatives I am involved in now are far more visible in a sense because of the connections made through council. Ultimately, it allows you to bring in and mobilise more people to community activities.
People think you have to be high profiled and well connected in a traditional way. What women need is a heightened awareness of their own skills. At the end of the day, fairness, compassion, listening skills, inclusiveness and open-mindedness, are skills that many women already have and are often lacking in politics.