Haussegger to use title to include men in gender inequality discussion

Broadening the discussion of gender inequality to include men and boys is how the ACT's Australian of the Year will spend her year with the title.

Virginia Haussegger, a former broadcaster and now advocate for women, said the issue "flowed through every cell" of her body and made her enraged, adding Australia had a lot of work to do in addressing gender inequality.

ACT's 2019 Australian of the Year finalist Virginia Haussegger. Photo: AAP

ACT's 2019 Australian of the Year finalist Virginia Haussegger. Photo: AAP

"We have in Australia made some good progress over the past several decades, and we ought to applaud the women who have worked so hard to make that happen, but we have also hit a period of what I fear is complacency," she said.

"I would like to use the year to speak to as many people and organisations as I can about the issue of gender equality and what we need to be doing to broaden the discussion.

"We need to work harder to include men and boys in the discussion and search for solutions to gender inequality."

Ms Haussegger, who has been passionate about achieving gender equality for as long as she can remember, said Australians only had to look at the lack of female representatives in federal parliament to understand the country wasn't making the progress it should be.

"I can't tell you how many people say to me, 'We have more women in leadership and things are getting better and that there is no need to push the issue'. But we have not fixed it," she said.

"When we still have senior women choosing to opt out of leadership roles because they can't juggle family responsibilities with senior roles in workplace, we have a major problem."

Having left her job as a journalist, a career she started in 1986, Ms Haussegger heads the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, a University of Canberra think tank dedicated to lifting the number of female policymakers.

Research completed by the university in late 2018 into Australia's attitudes to gender equality showed men felt excluded and disadvantaged in the discussion, she said.

The women before her, and the women who were also nominated for the honour, would be in the front of her mind while she held the title in 2019.

"Everything I am doing as ACT Australian of the Year, I am doing with a sense that I am doing this for all of the nominees," Ms Haussegger said.

"I am standing on the shoulders of many, many women who have come before me. I feel I am representing all the fantastic people who are nominated, and in fact representing everyone."

Speaking prior to Friday night's gala event at the National Arboretum, Ms Haussegger said she was "overwhelmed" to be attending alongside other extraordinary people.

Her extended family in Melbourne watched the event on television, cheering her on from their lounge rooms.

The ACT's Young Australian of the Year is entrepeneur Hannah Wandel, who at the age of 13 found inspiration from tragedy and created the Country to Canberra project.

The mentoring program is designed to break down geographical and gender barriers for girls in regional Australia.

Also among the award recipients was Dr Sue Packer AM, the ACT's Senior Australian of the Year, who on Friday was named the 2019 Senior Australian of the Year for her work protecting children from abuse.

The Territory's Local Hero of the Year, David Williams, was given the accolade for coaching people with intellectual disabilities to find their voice.