A tribute to the unsung female giants of a nation in great need of more

Friday was International Women's Day and the press was full of stories about the importance of women but I want to acknowledge some women in the media who have not been fully recognised.

Friday was International Women's Day and the press was full of stories about the importance of women but I want to acknowledge some women in the media who have not been fully recognised.

I have been very fortunate to know a number of powerful women who have been behind, beside and at times in front of three great Australian media leaders: Kerry Stokes, Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch. Charlie, the economic oracle who keeps an eye on protocol in this column, takes a deep breath: "Dangerous territory - talking about media owners can get you into big trouble." Louise, also such a great help in bringing a balance from a woman's perspective, says, "Go for it."

I remember calling Ros Packer one night in my capacity as chairman of the National Gallery in Canberra. Ros was a board member and she contributed a unique combination of wisdom, tenderness and steely resolve.

I was seeking her support for a major art purchase, which she readily gave, however I was in the midst of thinking it was just a touch rude of Ros not to turn down the television when she turned away from the phone and said: "Oh, be quiet, Kerry, I'm talking to Harold."

It wasn't the TV - it was Kerry making his thoughts known on the choice of art - a strong man but an even stronger woman and a great partnership. And it's all being repeated with the emergence of James Packer and his wife Erica.

At an earlier time I remember flying to Boonoke, the great merino property in the Riverina. It was open day for 200 of Australia's leaders. Everyone including Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was there. Boonoke was owned by Rupert Murdoch but he wasn't present on the day. Instead, an extraordinary woman hosted us who was the equal to Rupert in every way. Her name: Anna Murdoch - Lachlan's mother. And she adroitly handled the most powerful in the land. Louise is leaping about: "Good for you! And what about Dame Elisabeth, who gave birth to the great man?"

And then there is Kerry Stokes, the hugely successful boss of the Seven Network and the giant Caterpillar business in Australia and China. In every battle his wife Christine has contributed wisdom and business acumen. Although she has had a low public profile, I can tell you that she is an essential ingredient in the family's business success.

However her slightly elusive profile has been compounded for me several times by the presence of her identical twin sister. I've been deeply involved in conversations about sensitive television matters, only to be gently corrected that I'm talking to the wrong woman. I am grateful that they are a tight family who all work together.

The passing this week of Joan Child, the former member for Henty, should prompt reflection on the skills of women in our governments. Joan became the first female speaker of the House of Representatives during the Hawke government in 1986 and she controlled, with distinction, some of the most unruly men on the planet - as does our present speaker Anna Burke.

We all owe a lot to the many women who have made such strong contributions in a male-dominated world but here are some facts:

only 3.5 per cent of ASX 200 companies have a female chief executive.

only 12.3 per cent of corporate board directors are women.

only 30 per cent of our politicians are women and Australia's global ranking for female parliamentarians has slipped from 21 to 38 over the past decade.

And there is a very interesting additional reason why we should be increasing the number of females in government. World Bank research shows that the more female parliamentarians a country has, the less government corruption it has to deal with.

But for me, one of the cleverest women in the media today is Wilcox, the cartoonist for this column. I'm outing her right now as Cathy Wilcox, and she is one of the great talents of this industry that has been overwhelmed by a male perspective.

That's right, she is a woman. There is a quality to her cartoons that is different from men and we need more of that in every aspect of our society.

Harold Mitchell is an executive

director of Aegis.

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