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As recently as the early noughties, transport industry insiders say that it wasn't uncommon for female workers to still be called "darl".
While many high-powered male executives at Victorian transport companies knocked back drinks over long lunches, women working in administrative roles were being pushed to field customer complaints due to their 'sympathetic' nature.
Who would have thought that, by 2018, Victoria's three transport ministries – some of the government's most important posts – would be held by women?
Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan, Roads Minister Jaala Pulford and Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne.CREDIT:LUIS ASCUI
Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan, Roads and Road Safety Minister Jaala Pulford and Public Transport, Ports and Freight Minister Melissa Horne help make up the 50 per cent of Labor's new Cabinet who are female.
They will oversee a multibillion-dollar infrastructure program, including construction of up to five road and rail tunnels, two of which run beneath the Yarra River.
The ministers agreed to sit down exclusively with The Age weeks into their new roles to discuss the transport challenges ahead.
First, the gender issue.
Just 16 per cent of Australian engineering students are women, while one in five Australasian rail workers are female.
The state-owned V/Line regional rail service employs 1600 men, compared with a measly 370 women.
Speaking from her Spring Street office, Ms Allan wasn't shy about calling out the problem.
"Over the past four years, I will say that I've been in many meetings where I have been either the only or one of a very small number of women in the room when we've discussed our transport infrastructure projects," she said.
"I've learnt a lot from that experience about how to be very direct and clear in terms of what the government expects of its delivery of projects."
Between now and 2022, major construction for the $11 billion Metro Tunnel and the $6.7 billion West Gate Tunnel will get under way.
Work will also start on the $15.8 billion North East Link, $13 billion airport rail, $50 billion suburban rail loop and the removal of more level crossings.
The image of having women in charge of the ambitious task might be pleasing, but Labor insiders say the politicians’ own records prove they were chosen on merit.
First-term MP Melissa Horne’s appointment surprised many, but sources close to Ms Horne describe her as smart and highly capable; a 'fixer' in the face of crisis.
She's worked as public affairs director at the state's Transport Department and more-recently at the Level Crossing Removal Authority where, as communications director, she is said to have run a tight ship while preserving a direct line of communication with Ms Allan's office.
The Williamstown MP has told transport bureaucrats that getting trucks off residential streets in her electorate was "top priority" and said that improving bus services would be a focus.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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