Meet Shilpa Hegde, part of the Liberal Party’s top echelon

By Indira Laisram
Shilpa Hegde

After Kamala Harris’s ascension in the United States, it has suddenly become an exciting time to be talking about women, particularly Indian-origin women, in politics. Closer home, meet Shilpa Hegde, who has just been elected to the Liberal Party’s Administrative Committee, a powerful 19-member decision-making body of the party.

What is more, Hegde believes she is also the first Indian-born woman to hold this key position. The gravity and enormity of it all is gradually dawning on this IT professional, whose association with the Liberal Party began the year she landed in Australia in 2001.

“I feel extremely honoured to be a part of one of the highest decision-making bodies of the Liberal Party for the state of Victoria,” she says.

Hegde was born in Karnataka and studied up to grade four in Muscat, Oman, where her father was working then. After that she returned to India and went on to complete the rest of her studies and engineering from the N.M.A.M. Institute of Technology, Karnataka.

By Hegde’s account, she never had any interest in politics in India and concentrated on studies, the way most Indian parents expect of their children. But marriage happened and she moved to Australia to join her husband Dayanand Shetty, who was already involved with the Liberal Party.

Arriving in Melbourne in 2001, Hegde recalls not having any family around or seeing many Indian faces and having very ‘limited friends’.  But with her husband being involved with the Liberal party, the regular party functions she attended paved the way for meeting new people and friends. “The party became my second home at one point,” she says.

Shilpa Hegde with Prime Minister Scott Morrison

That very year too, the federal elections were held and Hegde became a committed volunteer helping out with different activities such as handing out pamphlets. “It was two months since I came, I didn’t have a job yet and this was what spending time together with my husband also meant.”

While she didn’t expect anything more beyond this involvement, Hegde found herself volunteering in every election. However, she managed to establish her own credentials and through the years have held multiple positions within the FECs (federal electorate conferences) and SECs (state electorate conferences).

“I probably took a step back when my two children were born, doing only a few things but once they were in school, I got back,” she says, adding, “It has been a great journey.”

When the position for the Liberal Party’s Administrative Committee came up, Hegde’s friends and supporters suggested she applied for it as they believed in her ability. “Whenever anyone has suggested things to me, I actually first think whether I can give it my 100 per cent otherwise there is no point in taking away that opportunity from someone else. I thought I could do this now as I have the time and I don’t have to drive my son around everywhere,” she says with a laugh.

The election was held this February and Hegde won—catapulting her to the top ranks in the party.

The Administrative Committee is comprised of the state president, four vice presidents, the treasurer, four female representatives (two representing the Metropolitan Electorate Conferences and two representing the Country Electorate Conferences), four male representatives, a federal Parliamentary representative, a state Parliamentary representative, the immediate past state president, the president of the Young Liberal Movement and the Chair of the Liberal Women’s Council.

Shilpa Hegde with former PM of Australia John Howard

“There is a balanced representation of the sexes,” says Hegde, who continues to work as an IT professional in different domains while continuing her passion for politics after work.

Explaining the role of the Committee, she says it is mainly around governance. “If there are any motions that have come up or decisions to be taken, those are brought in front of the committee. We then hear both sides of it and vote on whether to go ahead with it. So, the committee is the decision-making body of the party.”

Asked if there are any paradigms emerging with her appointment and whether she is optimistic of more Indian-origin citizens becoming active in politics, Hegde is hopeful. “A majority of the Indian families who have come into Australia in the past, say, 20 years, are concentrating on standing on their own feet and looking after their families but in another 10-20 years, the children who are already settled and who have got family support will look forward to being in politics. There are people already doing that, but the more they go for it—no matter which party—the more chances we have of a fair and diverse representation.”

Hegde also believes it is important to have more women’s voices in politics and has a word of wisdom for young girls and women: reach for the stars, nothing is impossible. This, she says, comes from experience where she has doubted her abilities to do things but succeeded—backed by the support of her husband and people around her.

One can say, Hegde began her political career modestly. It remains to be seen how deftly she navigates her journey down the years!

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