Vickie Chapman leads the way for generations of women to come.
At 16 years old, Vickie Chapman’s life was “at a crossroad, [where] you either marry the boy next door or you have the chance to go onto an education in Adelaide.”
Up until then, the now-Deputy Premier and Attorney-General of South Australia had enjoyed an “idyllic life” on Kangaroo Island, filled with weekend sports, fishing and farm work.
Her country upbringing instilled a strong work ethic and a fierce sense of South Australian pride. Ahead of her final year of high school, she crossed Backstairs Passage to complete her secondary studies at the newly merged Pembroke School and later studied law at the University of Adelaide.
She credits her pursuit of education to the women on the Island. “We were raised by my father so someone had to tell him that we had a chance to have an education,” she explained. “I think the assumption is when you grow up in the country and you’re female and you’ve got a brother, that farming interests would transfer to the boys and you find something else to do.”
As the state’s first female Deputy Premier and Attorney-General, she’s taken strides to address domestic violence and reform abortion law. Earlier this year, the State Government introduced tough domestic violence laws, and in May awarded more than $2 million to fund the Legal Services Commission for the provision of legal services to victims of family and domestic violence. “In life, in private practice and in politics I’ve seen domestic violence as an underpinning ill of our community,” said Vickie.
“A simple thing like changing the rules, suspending the need to pay a bond, or removing the offender rather than the victim, once initiated, can change the world for victims.”
These pieces form a puzzle of complex societal attitudes where, Vickie said, “it’s very important for girls to have good role models, to remove barriers for them accessing education, to ensure they have financial independence, and most of all to teach our boys to respect women.”
“I think the assumption is when you grow up in the country and you’re female and you’ve got a brother, that farming interests would transfer to the boys and you find something else to do.”Vickie Chapman
To supplement life as a student, Vickie rekindled her childhood entrepreneurial streak, fostered through ventures including buying and selling pigs with her brother as a child. Equipped with her trusty Husqvarna sewing machine, the budding law student sewed and sold bikinis and bridesmaid dresses.
During her studies, Vickie frequently visited legal practitioners offering career insights and work experience. “I took them literally, I rang them when I’d decided what I wanted to do,” she said.
This led to her first graduate position at David Burrell & Co where, interested in court work, she started with criminal law and quickly began dealing with everything from the Aviation Act to child custody disputes. She gained valuable insight working alongside senior barristers including Ted Mulligan QC and Brian Martin QC AO.
Backed by an impressive calibre of courtroom experiences, Vickie established her own practice, Chapman and Associates, before eventually entering politics.
In retrospect, Vickie’s career as a Liberal MP isn’t a surprising one. After all, “civil service was something that was expected in the country.”
“You gave one bale of wool to the local church, one bale to the local hospital and one bale to the Liberal party.”
As a woman in the spheres of law and politics, she’s resolute on the importance of diversity in leadership. “Every law we make affects people’s lives and therefore it’s important that there’s a perspective of diversity in the members of parliament who are considering these laws,” she said. “People have to know when they look at the team, or the group, or the bench that are making decisions about their life that there is some capacity to be able to relate to them.”
“Every new industry comes with an army of regulation and rules, we need to be prepared for it and I want South Australians in the legal world to provide that service.”Vickie Chapman
She’s also tasked the South Australian Law Reform Institute based at the Adelaide Law School, with considering changes to the state’s abortion laws. “We haven’t really dealt with this in Parliament since it was debated in 1969 and clearly the medical world has moved on,” said Vickie.
“I think it’s important that we first get rid of this idea that we should put someone in prison for 15 years for taking a toxic substance to try and destroy a foetus in their own body. Stop punishing women for being in a situation that is just not viable for them.”
Despite holding the position of the state’s first law officer, the Attorney-General proved you never stop learning when she returned to the University forty years post-graduation to undertake a one-week intensive Strategic Space Law course.
“We’re going to be the centre of space, so space law needs an army of people who are going to know about contract law in space, the rules of engagement in the defence world, the surveillance rules, and the launching and permit processes for satellites,” she said.
“Every new industry comes with an army of regulation and rules, we need to be prepared for it and I want South Australians in the legal world to provide that service.”
For Vickie, a woman proud and hopeful for her state’s future, this attitude extends to all new industries. Between defence, cyber security and space, she’s dubbed this “the next golden age of South Australia.”
“We want to be a part of it and we want our kids to be a part of it. We’re talking about industries that require highly skilled young people with university degrees and we need them in a hurry,” she said.
“The University of Adelaide offers that, it’s a premier university, there’s no question about that.”
Above all else, as a woman leading the way in South Australian politics, Vickie is adamant about laying the groundwork for generations to come.
“People will judge whether I’ve been good or bad at it, but what’s important for me is that I try and demonstrate, for those who are watching with a view to their own future, that this is something that we as women can competently undertake.”
Story by Michaela McGrath
Photos by Meaghan Coles