Woman Stott Despoja, Natasha Jessica

Parliamentarian and Political leader

Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne

Natasha Stott Despoja AM is an Australian former politician and former leader of the Australian Democrats. She was a Democrats senator for South Australia from 1995 to 2008. Appointed to the Senate at the age of 26, she was, at the time, the youngest woman ever to be elected to the Parliament of Australia.

Born in Adelaide, the daughter of Australian journalist Shirley Stott Despoja, Stott Despjoa was educated at Stradbroke Primary and Pembroke School and, later, the University of Adelaide where she completed a B.A. She was active in student politics, becoming president of the Students' Association of the University of Adelaide (SAUA) and serving as state women's officer for the National Union of Students in South Australia.

After leaving university Stott Despoja worked as a political advisor to Democrat senators John Coulter and Cheryl Kernot . When John Coulter resigned due to ill health in November 1995, she was appointed to the casual vacancy this created, completing the remainder of Coulter's term. She was returned at the 1996 general election and re-elected in 2001.

Stott Despoja was elected to the party's deputy leadership in 1997, under Meg Lees. She was elected leader on 6 April 2001, replacing Meg Lees, who resigned from the party in July 2002. Stott Despoja, unable to unite an increasingly fractious party, resigned from the leadership on 21 August 2002. Responding to media criticism about her handling of the Democrat's internal differences, she demonstrated the essence of her political and leadership style.

Some commentators have mistaken my relative public silence for weak leadership - my refusal to strike back aggressively, particularly in the public domain, as weakness. But I still believe that politics can be a civil discourse, and I choose not to inflame with returned invective. There are many policy examples under my leadership of which I am proud. I lament that many of these were clouded by conflict. I am happy to table many of those if senators would like to discuss them further. But the public could have seen the Democrat policies in action instead of our focus on internal battles. (Hansard)

The policy examples of which she was proud were reflected in the 24 private members bills she introduced while in parliament on a range of issues including paid maternity leave, the Republic, genetic privacy, stem cells, captioning and same sex marriage.

In 2006 Stott Despoja announced that she would not contest the 2007 election to extend her term beyond 30 June 2008. In 2011 she was named a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the Parliament of Australia, particularly as a Senator for South Australia, through leadership roles with the Australian Democrats, to education, and as a role model for women. In December 2013, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced the appointment of Natasha as Australia's new ambassador for women and girls.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Natasha Stott Despoja interviewed by Nikki Henningham in the Women and leadership in a century of Australian democracy oral history project [sound recording], 9 November 2012, ORAL TRC 6290/33; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources

Online Resources