Meet a candidate: Rachel Stephen-Smith

7 June 2016

Jordan Lim

Jordan is the Communications and Advocacy Officer at YWCA Canberra.

With elections looming at both the territory and federal levels, we were interested to meet the women candidates standing for election for the ACT Legislative Assembly, to learn a bit more about them and their priorities for the community.
This week, meet Rachel Stephen-Smith, Labor Party Candidate for Kurrajong. 

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up in Kurrajong, walking or riding my bike to Turner Primary, Lyneham High and Dickson College and playing in local parks. My parents made sure my siblings and I understood we were luckier than most. Their ethos of giving back to the community motivated a career in public policy and a strong commitment to volunteering.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked across a range of policy areas in government and non-government organisations. I’ve also been a waitress and a diplomat; a horse riding coach and a Minister’s Chief of Staff.Rachel Stephen-Smith

What drove you to run for the Legislative Assembly?

ACT Government services affect people’s lives every day, and I want to bring my experience to the Assembly to help build a stronger, fairer Canberra. As a coach at Pegasus (Riding Develops Abilities), I saw how critical it was for the families of children with disabilities to get the right support. As a public servant, a health consumer advocate and a policy adviser, I’ve always worked to deliver positive change for the community.

While living in Washington DC, I volunteered with one of the most disadvantaged communities in a city divided by inequality. I think Australia generally strikes a fair balance, but creeping attacks on public services put that at risk. I never want to see American levels of inequality here, but I fear that’s where we’ll head if we don’t fight for fairer communities.

The electorate of Kurrajong spans a huge part of central Canberra. What is something that people may be surprised to know about Kurrajong, and what do you see as the key issues facing the electorate?

When people look at Kurrajong, the first thing they see is the north-south divide, but I’m finding common issues on both sides of the lake.

Lots of young people and families in the inner north and south are excited by the way the city’s growing and changing. Then you’ve got a group of residents who’ve lived in Canberra for a long time and care deeply about maintaining our city’s heritage and protecting the environment. There’s also a significant group of older people living on fixed incomes. For them, public transport, access to services and cost of living are really important.

Kurrajong also hosts a lot of Canberra’s public and social housing, which is great. I’m a big believer in making sure social housing is located close to jobs, services and amenities, and that’s a key aim of Labor’s public housing renewal process too. That process is seeing a lot of necessary change, but is also resulting in some uncertainty for tenants and their neighbours. What’s been heartening for me is how many people want to ensure public housing tenants are looked after.

What are the barriers that you see to gender equality in our community, and how do you propose to address this?

I’m very concerned about the images presented to young women and girls, particularly the sexualisation of young girls and blatant misogyny on social media. It’s up to all of us to counter this social pressure by really thinking about what we’re saying to kids, especially girls.

Governments have a role in providing resources for parents, teachers and the wider community, especially when it comes to addressing violence against women. We need research in order to understand the problem – then we need to get into schools and social spaces and change attitudes. And we need to provide resources for those who are affected by violence so they are empowered to leave violent relationships, and then have access to safe, secure housing and support to rebuild their lives.

In our election platform we have identified three priority areas which require ongoing action. How do you envisage developing a more inclusive, equitable Canberra?

School is where we learn to work and play with others. Public schools level the playing field of opportunity and build diverse communities – whether that’s through the inclusion of students with disabilities, celebrating multiculturalism, or simply ensuring students understand people have different experiences of life. That’s why it’s so important to maintain strong public schools and support programs like Safe Schools.

When it comes to building a more inclusive Canberra, a high priority for me is the development of new housing models for people with disabilities that empower them to choose how they live.  While the NDIS is a fantastic Labor initiative that will transform lives, it has limited applicability to housing. So states and territories need to keep working with people with disabilities, not-for-profit organisations, innovative developers and the community housing sector.

What is the change that you are passionate about seeing in Canberra?

Like Labor’s other candidates, I’m passionate about seeing Canberra continue to grow in a way that includes and engages everyone. Ensuring young people get every opportunity to achieve their potential is particularly important. That means great maternal and child health services, quality early childhood education and care, and excellent schools. It also means creating an urban environment that fosters good mental and physical health for people of all ages. Becoming a vibrant, sustainable and inclusive city doesn’t just happen – it’s an ongoing journey, and I’m keen to be part of it.

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2 responses to “Meet a candidate: Rachel Stephen-Smith”

  1. Greg Edwards says:

    Well said Rachel, the issues that you are standing up for are crucial for the existence of a fair and equitable society. Best of luck with your Campaign & look forward to seeing you in ‘the house’.

  2. Bob Hawkins says:

    Your responses tell me you have a good grasp of local affairs and are well qualified and experienced to be a responsible ACT LA member. If I lived in Kurrajong, you’d get my vote.