Victorian Nationals deputy leader Steph Ryan has announced her retirement from politics at the age of 36.
- Steph Ryan will be stepping down as the shadow minister for water, public transport and roads, gaming and liquor regulations
- Ms Ryan was the youngest MP in parliament when she was elected and the first woman to be appointed to a position of leadership in the Nationals, on a state or federal level
- She leaves the role to spend more time with her young family
“It has been the greatest privilege to be the member for Euroa and I am very grateful to the electorate for putting their trust in me when I was just 28 to do that job,” she told Matt Dowling on ABC Goulburn Murray.
Ms Ryan was the youngest MP in parliament when she was elected and the first woman to be appointed to a position of leadership in the Nationals, on a state or federal level.
Her resignation means the Victorian Nationals have lost a third of its female MPs in one hit.
Ms Ryan will be stepping down as the shadow minister for water, public transport and roads, gaming and liquor regulations.
Ms Ryan is expecting her second child and says she is seeking a job that offers greater flexibility.
“With a little one at home and another one coming [it] gets harder and harder to do. Just to give what you need to give on weeknights and on weekends.”
Parliament could be more family friendly
Ms Ryan said Victorian parliament could make some structural changes to better accommodate women, particularly those living in country areas.
“The reality is that you have to pick up your life and move to Melbourne for periods while parliament is sitting,” she said.
“I think those things can be resolved if the Victorian parliament has the will to do it.”
With a rise in women running for parliament, Ms Ryan emphasised that all family circumstances are different.
“I certainly hope that me leaving at 36 is not discouraging to young women who want to do this job because they absolutely can do it,” she said.
Associate Professor of politics at La Trobe University, Andrea Carson, said flexible working arrangements in parliament were particularly important for regional MPs.
“Parties and the parliament need to change the way they do things for all MPs with young children — I don’t think it’s just female MPs,” she said.
“They could offer childcare on-site, they could have more flexible working hours. We’ve just been through the pandemic, we know that we can all work remotely and we can do it effectively.”
She said the loss of Ms Ryan was a blow for the Nationals, who suffered big swings away from them at the last state election.
An advocate for regional Victoria
Leader of the Nationals Peter Walsh said Ms Ryan had been a strong advocate for regional Victoria.
“Steph was motivated to step up to be a voice for change after witnessing the desperate neglect and inequity in decision-making on challenges that are facing rural people,” he said.
Ms Ryan said she believed the job wasn’t a lifetime pursuit, but has not ruled out returning to politics.
She anticipates a three-corner contest for her seat of Euroa, with the Liberals likely to put up a candidate.
She says the Nationals continue to have strong female representation, with three of the six candidates currently preselected for the Nationals at the upcoming state election being women.
“I would really urge people who have a passion to make change in our region and to make it a better place to think about doing it,” she said.
Gippsland Nationals MP Darren Chester, who sits in the federal parliament, said Ms Ryan had paved a path for other young women who wanted to enter parliament.
“The Victorian Nationals have been very good at getting women into parliament, particularly young women,” he said.
“Steph’s departure will leave a big hole, but also creates a new opportunity for someone.”
He said the Nationals had a difficult task ahead of them with the upcoming state election, but said the party had a decent chance in the seats of Morwell, Shepparton and Mildura.
The federal and Victorian branches of the Nationals have previously sparred about the party’s climate policy, with Ms Ryan saying voters in rural areas wanted to see action on climate change.
Acting Premier Jacinta Allan congratulated Ms Ryan on her second pregnancy and said balancing work and family was tough for anyone, no matter their profession.
“Steph is someone who has always worked hard, she’s always on behalf of her community and in different portfolios, and I’ve certainly respected that work ethic and wish her and her family all the best,” she said.
She said the Victorian government was taking measures to support working families, such as the introduction of free kinder and 15 extra weekly hours of pre-prep and changes to parliament sitting times.
“We’ve already made significant adjustments to the sitting hours of the Victorian parliament following the 2014 election where we have made them more family friendly – we don’t sit in the school holiday period,” she said.
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