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Karin Sowada

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Karin Sowada

Karin Sowada
Senator for New South Wales
In office
29 August 1991 – 30 June 1993
Preceded by Paul McLean
Personal details
Born (1961-11-01) 1 November 1961
Sydney, New South Wales
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Democrats
Alma mater University of Sydney
Occupation Archaeologist

Karin Nicole Sowada (born 1 November 1961) is an Australian archaeologist and former politician. She served two years as an Australian Democrats senator for New South Wales between 1991 and 1993, filling the casual vacancy created by the resignation of Paul McLean. Defeated at the 1993 election, she briefly returned to public life in 1998 as a republican delegate to the Constitutional Convention that led to the 1999 Australian republic referendum. Sowada served as the assistant curator of the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney between 1996 and 2005. Karin is a researcher in Egyptian archaeology with Macquarie University in Sydney and is a specialist in the foreign relations of Egypt and the Near East during the Bronze Age. She also works as Chief Executive Officer of the Anglican Deaconess Institution Sydney Limited.[1]


  • Early life and political campaigns 1
  • Appointment to the Senate 2
  • Senate career 3
  • Constitutional Convention 4
  • Archaeological career 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life and political campaigns

Sowada was born in Sydney to Swiss and English immigrant parents. She went to Bronte Public School and Randwick North High School and started her working life as a strapper in the thoroughbred horse racing industry. Sowada briefly worked as an insurance broker before commencing a degree in archaeology at the University of Sydney in 1985, specialised in classical and near Eastern topics.

In 1982, Sowada joined the Australian Democrats. She stood for public office the following year at the age of 21, when she was selected as the Democrat candidate for the House of Representatives seat of Phillip at the 1983 election, polling 2.8% of the vote. She was again the Democrat candidate when then Prime Minister Bob Hawke called a double dissolution election in 1984, and improved her vote, gaining 5.5%. Sowada made a final bid for the seat at the 1987 election. The Democrats were polling well federally at the time, and her campaign received some media attention, resulting in her polling 6.8% of the vote, which gained her some attention within the party in advance of her 1990 Senate bid.

Appointment to the Senate

By 1990, Sowada had graduated from university and was working as an archaeologist, having taken several trips to the Middle East. She remained active in the party, however, and served as the Democrat campaign manager for the 1988 NSW State election and minor by-elections. Sowada then shifted her attention to the Senate, and managed to gain second place on the New South Wales Senate ticket for the 1990 election, behind Vicki Bourne. However, minor parties rarely achieve more than one Senate quota per state, and Sowada had virtually no chance of being elected.

Having failed in four bids for public office, Sowada had little expectation of serving in federal politics by 1991. She was undertaking a postgraduate degree at the University of Sydney and married her fiancé, Democrat staffer Armon Hicks in July, 1991. Five weeks later, however, a casual Senate vacancy arose for which she was nominated by the party. Prominent anti-nuclear campaigner Helen Caldicott had also sought the position but party rules favoured Karin since she had been No. 2 candidate at the preceding Senate election. She was, at the time, the youngest female senator in history (a distinction which later passed to Natasha Stott Despoja).

Her accession to the Senate was a direct consequence of the ambush of leader Janet Powell by the Democrats' national executive and party room, leading to her replacement by John Coulter. The senator for NSW, Paul McLean had resigned his seat in disgust after Coulter's speech condemning the performance of his leader.[2] It was also reported that Cheryl Kernot (the alleged architect of the coup) believed she had an understanding with McLean that he would back her for the deputy's post. "Instead he quit politics altogether, concluding after the campaign against Powell that he did not have enough of the jugular instinct."[3]

Senate career

Having filled the casual vacancy and been assigned the role of spokesperson on industrial relations, Sowada controversially backed the Hawke government's move to enshrine the right to strike in legislation. While this stand earned her much praise from the trade union movement – in September, she became the first female politician and first Democrat to address the biennial congress of the Australian Council of Trade Unions – it also sparked a major clash with party founder Don Chipp, who threatened to resign from the party because of the direction the party was taking with Sowada in charge of industrial relations. Coulter appeared to take notice of Chipp's criticism when he officially took over as leader in October, as Sowada lost the industrial relations portfolio in the subsequent reshuffle. Soon after, she crossed the floor to vote with the opposition Liberal Party against a move to ban political advertising during elections. This was to be the first of several clashes between the federal party leadership and Sowada and her ally, New South Wales state parliamentary leader Elisabeth Kirkby.

Sowada spent the 1991-92 summer recess in an archaeological dig in Jordan, and kept a lower profile when she returned for the first sitting of 1992. She helped to set up a mentoring program for the intellectually disabled in Sydney, and was assigned the services of then student politician Natasha Stott Despoja as a staffer by leader John Coulter.

In June 1992, Sowada accused her party of neglecting its traditional focus on social issues to concentrate on environmental issues under Coulter, a noted environmentalist. An annoyed federal executive retaliated by criticising Sowada and Kirkby's handling of the New South Wales branch of the party, leading to a divisive spat in the media. Two months later, Sowada was the only Democrat senator to express concern at the resignation of the deposed former leader Janet Powell from the party.

She was very active in the education debate, which had taken centre stage owing to the draconian tertiary-education reforms initiated by former Hawke education minister, John Dawkins. She fought a pitched campaign against the government and Labor opposition over re-introduction of fees for university students and the declining quality and chronic under-funding of the higher education and post-secondary training sector. In addition, she spent much of 1992 working on youth issues, particularly in her role as a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Training, where she initiated an inquiry into high levels of youth unemployment.

Sowada faced her first and only electoral test at the 1993 election. After a month-long count, she was defeated by the National Party's Sandy Macdonald.

Constitutional Convention

In 1997, Sowada made a brief return to political life when she was nominated to become an Australian Republican Movement delegate to the Constitutional Convention on whether Australia should become a republic. She received the easily winnable fourth spot on the movement's ticket and was elected to the convention. Sowada became a prominent spokesperson for the Australian Republican Movement during the convention, vigorously opposing direct election of the president and supporting the movement's sometimes-controversial leader, Malcolm Turnbull. She acted as chief 'numbers man' for the ARM during the Convention.

After intense negotiations between the various factions, the Constitutional Convention finally resulted in the approval of a republic model to be voted upon at the 1999 referendum. As one of its strongest supporters, Sowada was appointed to a three-person committee directing the official "Yes" campaign, along with Liberal Party figure Andrew Robb (now an MP) and Peter Barron, a Labor Party adviser. The campaign ultimately proved unsuccessful with the defeat of the referendum, however, and Sowada faded out of the spotlight rather than become involved in the subsequent recriminations. She was briefly mentioned as a potential successor to Turnbull as Australian Republican Movement chairperson after his 1999 resignation, but nothing came of this, and she once again returned to academia.

Archaeological career

After her Senate electoral defeat, Sowada had resumed postgraduate studies and was elected to a number of committees in the Anglican Church Sydney Diocese, including the Standing Committee, Sydney Synod and General Synod. For years she worked on archaeological excavations in Jordan, Egypt and Israel, studying and travelling around the world conducting research for her PhD. She also acted as a lobbyist for Capitol Research, a small corporate communications company she established on leaving the Senate. In 1996, Sowada was appointed Assistant Curator of the Nicholson Museum at Sydney University. She had her first child, Kate Euginie Maria Sowada Hicks, in 1997, by which time she had largely settled into academia.

Sowada gained her PhD in Egyptian archaeology from the University of Sydney in May 2002.[4] She maintains an active program of archeological fieldwork and research in Egypt and Jordan and is well-published in scholarly books, academic journals and popular magazines. She has also lectured widely around Australia and often appears as a media commentator on archaeology and Egyptology. In her former academic role as curator of the Nicholson Museum, Sowada often acted as a media representative after various discoveries, such as during the scientific testing of several mummies in the museum's collection in 1998, and after the 2005 find of long-lost graphic impressions (squeezes) made by Nicholson. Sowada remains active in the Anglican community but has presented a lower profile since 2000. She had a second child, Lily Margret Sowada Hicks, in 2004.


  1. ^
  2. ^ An Affair to Remember
  3. ^ McGeough, Paul, The other side of St. Cheryl, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 December 1997.
  4. ^ K.N. Sowada, Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Old Kingdom. An Archaeological Perspective (OBO Series 237, Fribourg, 2009)

External links

  • Egyptology in AustraliaKarin Sowada's website
  • Archaeology and the bible Interview at the Centre for Public Christianity
  • The Hebrew Stone Rocks Foundations Interview at the Centre for Public Christianity
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