Here’s my weekend column for The New Daily.
Image by Alex Ellinghausen, Fairfax/Nine
Did I mention I have a book coming out this week? For those of you who aren’t on social media, this may actually be real news. So I thought I’d do a quick blog post to tell you all about it.
The book, On Merit, is about the Liberal Party’s “women problem”, but it also explores why Liberal women continue to perpetuate the myth that they should only progress within the party “on merit”.
I’ve set up a separate page on this blog to explain why I wrote the book, provide links to articles I’ve written on the same topic over the years, and also provide links to any articles or interviews about the book.
I hope you enjoy reading and talking about the book as much as I enjoyed writing it.
On Merit is part of MUP’s Little Book series. It starts with the emergence of the ‘red shoe brigade’ following the Liberals’ recent leadership troubles, and looks at the use and abuse of the merit myth to suppress Liberal women. The book also explains why those same women have resisted calling themselves feminists, but are now using some of the sisterhood’s tactics.
I’m thrilled that MUP has taken a chance with a lesser known writer like me. So I’m hoping the book will do well.
It’s currently available for pre-order, in either paperback ($14.99) or e-book ($9.99).
If you’re a supporter of independent voices in Australian politics, please buy a copy!
Latest political analysis for The New Daily.
Analysis for Crikey.
Regrettably, it’s standard operating procedure in politics, business and the media to respond to criticism by trying to destroy the credibility of the critic. Attack is almost always considered the best form of defence — just ask Gillian Triggs.
So it should come as no surprise that only days after Abbott proxy Peta Credlin was essentially accused of undermining another Liberal woman, Credlin in turn lashed out at PM Malcolm Turnbull with the claim that female Liberal supporters were deserting him.
Interestingly, Credlin used the Australian Election Study (AES), the nation’s only longitudinal survey of voters, to justify her claims. The AES is an imperfect tool — as are all surveys — with one of its limitations being that its data is collected straight after each federal election, when the news media is brimming with post-fact analysis and attempts by political players to frame the outcome in their favour.
According to Credlin’s interpretation of the most recent AES, which shows a lower proportion of women saying they voted for the Coalition in 2016 than 2013, Malcolm Turnbull has a worse “women problem” than Tony Abbott.
There could be many reasons for the drop in female voter support for the Coalition under Turnbull, not the least of which is the national trend of women moving away from the Coalition since the days of John Howard, and which is in line with the global trend of women moving away from right-of-centre parties.
Then there’s the fact that Turnbull has proven to be the most disappointing prime minister since Kevin Rudd — perhaps even more so.
Whatever the reason for the Coalition falling out with women, it suited Credlin to emphasise the change to deflect criticism of her being involved in a challenge against cabinet minister and new mother, Kelly O’Dwyer.
Credlin works hard to cultivate the impression that she’s an advocate and supporter of the advancement of women. So it was a very bad look for her to be associated — even if it was only in name — with a plot to bring down O’Dwyer.
The women Credlin did support during her time with Abbott, in the workplace and in the media, are steadfastly loyal. And Credlin reportedly repaid that loyalty with patronage. She was known to provide favoured female journalists with click-worthy leaks and exclusive stories, and over-rule ministers to appoint her own female friends and supporters to ministerial offices.
However, there’s another cohort of women whose careers Credlin thwarted during her time in Abbott’s office. One doesn’t have to look too far to find the stories of female Coalition staffers whose appointments or promotions were blocked by Credlin, as well as those who clashed with her, only to suddenly go on leave and then quietly disappear altogether.
And then there are the female MPs, who, under Credlin and Abbott, were not “good enough” for the junior ministry or cabinet, but who miraculously qualified for promotion once Turnbull became PM.
Even the women who managed to get into Abbott’s ministry were reportedly given rough treatment by Abbott’s gatekeeper. One well-connected female journalist wrote that Credlin’s relationship with Julie Bishop was “toxic”, and that “younger women, including Victorian Liberal frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer, seemed to spend years in the deep freeze”.
Credlin also demanded the sacking of a female journalist who was close to O’Dwyer, for having the temerity to write that the chief of staff had snubbed Julie Bishop by not inviting her to the launch of a mentoring program for female Liberal staffers.
The genesis of the mentoring scheme also points to the mixed feelings women had about Credlin during her time with Abbott. Credlin reportedly created the support program for conservative women after noting “the sisterhood” failed to come to her defence when Clive Palmer launched a sexist attack against her. (For the record, this writer was one of several women who did criticise Palmer for the attack.)
As is often the case with Credlin, there were different views as to whether this was the real reason for her starting the scheme. She may have also been attempting to address Abbott’s “women problem” by cultivating female staffers, or perhaps even trying to build a network of supporters to kickstart her own political career.
We’ll never know for sure, given the mentoring program barely lasted a year after the man who launched it — then-minister for women Tony Abbott — was removed from the Liberal leadership by his colleagues.
Speaking of Tony Abbott, the vengeful former PM obviously didn’t get the memo that he was meant to take the high moral ground on women this week. Credlin may have been more interested in settling scores with the Turnbull camp over the alleged O’Dwyer smear, but Abbott was busy repelling women voters by dog-whistling to the MRA-types who’ve shifted to One Nation.
Abbott used his new fortnightly slot with tabloid radio host Ray Hadley to take another whack at the Human Rights Commission, which would be scrapped under Abbott’s five-point plan to make the Coalition Great Again.
This time, Abbott took aim at the Turnbull-appointed Sex Discrimination Commissioner who’d proposed the government could help to promote women in the workforce by requiring “contracted organisations to demonstrate efforts to improve gender balance, with an ultimate goal of reaching a 40:40:20 gender balance”.
According to Abbott, proposals such as this were PC rubbish and “anti men”. The former PM apparently forgot his own administration retained the previous Labor government’s 40:40:20 policy (40% men, 40% women and 20% unspecified “to allow for flexibility”) for women on government boards, although it seems to have only paid lip service to the policy given the proportion of women on government boards dropped under Abbott’s watch.
That situation was reversed under Malcolm Turnbull and his cabinet-level Minister for Women Michaelia Cash who also strengthened the policy to 50:50 across all government boards with a minimum of 40% women for each board.
Unsurprisingly, Credlin dropped the “women’s problem” line of attack against Turnbull after Abbott flaunted his unreconstructed chauvinism to lure male voters away from Pauline Hanson.
She’s already framing the next battle with the Turnbull camp, suggesting Scott Morrison’s “good debt/bad debt” approach makes the government look “dodgy”.
Originally published at Crikey.
Australian women have had the right to vote and run for parliament for over 100 years. Yet it was not until 1943 that the first woman was actually elected.
Here we are, more than 70 years later, and still only 72 out of 226 members of the Australian Parliament are women – that’s three in ten.
It’s been a long, slow haul, and there’s clearly much more to be done. Women make up half the Australian population and we should also be half the elected politicians.
Why is it important to have more women in parliament? Because without women having a greater say in the making of laws that govern our country, governments will never really tackle the matters that are of greatest concern to women.
Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult for male politicians to understand many of the issues facing us such as women’s health, the challenge of juggling work and family duties, or the difficulties faced when trying to re-enter the workforce after raising a family.
And then there is the struggle by older women to cope financially as they approach pension age, sometimes even being forced into homelessness. Well-paid male politicians may not even be aware of this issue, let alone be motivated to do something about it.
Domestic violence is a good example of an important issue that has been continually overlooked because men are less likely to experience it than women. And so the money provided by male-dominated governments for legal assistance and women’s shelters has been woefully inadequate.
It’s probably fair to say that if not for the tireless efforts of family violence campaigner Rosie Batty, who faced an unbearable tragedy when her son was killed by his father, we might not have even had the promises made this election of additional funding to support affected women and children.
Another example is the fact that the grand Parliament House building in Canberra, which houses up to 4000 MPs, staff and journalists at any one time, did not have a childcare centre until some female MPs started to have babies and wanted to have their small children nearby. And so the staff bar was converted into a childcare centre in 2008, nearly 20 years after the building was officially opened.
So what are the political parties doing to increase the number of women in parliament?
Malcolm Turnbull declared after he became Prime Minister that no-one was more enthusiastic than him about “seeing more women in positions of power and influence in parliament” and in the ministry. He delivered on that promise by making six women senior ministers, compared to only one appointed by Tony Abbott.
That was an important step by the PM, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that his government’s Liberal and National parties have a disappointingly low number of female MPs, and that this number is likely to get worse after the election.
At least three of the Coalition women who are retiring this year will be replaced by a man, whichever of the major parties win the seat.
One of those women, Sharman Stone, has called for her party to have a quota that would ensure 50 per cent of all Liberal candidates in winnable seats were women. This would increase the number of Liberal women being elected.
So far, Dr Stone’s suggestion has been pooh-poohed by the men in her party, who say that a target of 50 per cent is good enough. The difference between a quota and a target is that a quota can be enforced, while a target is something that would be nice to have.
In contrast, the Labor Party has done much better in getting women elected to parliament, having met its quota of 40 per cent female MPs in the current parliament.
Labor has set a new quota of 50 per cent female MPs by 2025, but it is difficult to accept why the party needs 10 years to raise the number of women in its ranks by from 40 to 50 per cent.
Perhaps this is because many of the unions that have a large say in who is chosen by Labor to run for parliament also have overwhelmingly male union members and are run by men.
That would explain why a number of talented young Labor women were replaced by male union member candidates for this election.
As we have noted before, there may not be enough women in parliament, but that does not mean that women’s voices cannot be heard.
Pay your local MP a visit in the lead up to the election, or give them a call. Ask them what they’re going to do for Australian women if they get your vote. And if they don’t give a satisfactory answer, make contact with their opponent and ask the same question. Your vote counts, so make sure you use it.
Originally at The Australian Women’s Weekly.
In comparison to the Turnbull Government’s focus on the economy this election, the Shorten Opposition’s pitch to women is about fairness and “putting people first”.
This is partly because the Labor Party traditionally believes government funding for the services people depend upon, like health and education, is just as important as having a strong economy.
But Labor also hopes that, when it talks about fairness, voters will be reminded of the unfair budget that Tony Abbott delivered in 2014.
That was the budget where Abbott broke a pile of election promises and then increased costs or reduced payments for students, the elderly, the unemployed and the sick, while doing very little to make the wealthy pay their fair share.
When Labor leader Bill Shorten and his team talk about fairness, they want voters to be worried that if Malcolm Turnbull is re-elected, he might also break his election promises and turn out to be just like Tony Abbott.
Apart from trying to scare voters away from the Government, the Opposition is also trying to lure them to Labor. According to one opinion poll, Labor has been very successful in getting men to switch their vote from the Government to the Opposition. But when women are abandoning Turnbull’s team, they are going to the Greens and other parties as well as Labor.
What’s more, three in ten Australian women haven’t yet decided which party they prefer.
This means Labor has to capture the hearts and minds of a lot more women if it is to win the July election.
So what does the alternative government have to offer us?
For women with families, Labor has promised to deliver increases in funding for education and health promised by Julia Gillard when she was prime minister.
In fact, education is the central theme of Labor’s election pitch. It’s an expensive commitment that aims to fund every school according to the needs of its students.
Labor has also promised that computer programming will be taught in all schools, teachers will get better qualifications in science, technology, engineering and maths, and there will be additional support for Indigenous students and students with disabilities.
There’s also program to help young people in areas with high unemployment get into work.
In health, Labor has committed to lift the freeze on Medicare rebates that doctors say is putting pressure on them to give up bulk billing, scrap a plan to increase prescriptions by $5, improve the system for helping people with mental health issues, and fund local initiatives aimed at reducing suicides.
When it comes to Australia’s working women, Labor’s election commitments focus on those at the lower end of the pay scale. The Opposition promises to crack down on employers who exploit workers, as well as those who re-arrange their businesses to avoid paying out employees when a business shuts down.
Under Labor, new mothers can receive paid parental leave from their employer in addition to payments from the Government.
Labor also has additional funding for women experiencing family violence, including more funds for legal services, grants to help women be safer at home, and better information sharing between the police, courts, child protection and other government agencies. It has also committed to introducing five days’ paid leave for people who experience domestic or family violence.
If this sounds like a lot of spending, it is. The Opposition says it will pay for its promises by making big business and high-income earners pay more tax, scrapping negative gearing for established homes, and not going ahead with some of the Government’s election commitments such as the company tax cut.
But at the end of the day, Labor says some types of spending, like health and education, are more important than balancing the budget.
It will be in the hands of female voters on election day to say whether Labor is right.
Originally at The Australian Women’s Weekly.
It’s still early days in the federal election campaign, but even now one thing is clear: the Turnbull Government is convinced the best thing it can do for Australian women is deliver a strong economy.
Malcolm Turnbull and his team are relying on what voters tell opinion pollsters are most important to us. Jobs and the cost of living are always high on the list. And we want to know the economy is being managed by a government that knows what it’s doing.
The Coalition’s pitch to Australian women this election is that the current government is better at running the economy than the other mob.
Even if you haven’t paid much attention to the campaign, you may be aware the Coalition has a “plan for jobs and growth”. That’s because government MPs can’t stop talking about the plan every time they see a camera or a microphone.
Constant talk of a plan is meant to make you feel confident the PM Malcolm Turnbull and his Treasurer Scott Morrison have everything under control.
There are a lot of parts to this fabulous plan, but the biggest and most expensive element is tax cuts for business. The Government plans to give smaller businesses a tax cut right away, and then give it to bigger and bigger business over the following ten years.
The Government hopes business owners will invest the extra money to expand their businesses (that’s the “growth” part of “jobs and growth”) and take on additional staff (that’s the “jobs” part).
All Australians are expected to benefit as businesses supposedly flourish and pour dollars back into the economy. Not everyone is convinced, however, that this will actually happen.
Aside from trying to deliver a strong economy, the Coalition has a number of other election promises that it says will benefit women.
For women with children, there are improvements to childcare subsidies, but these won’t kick in until July 2018. The Government also plans to restrict new mothers to accessing only one form of paid parental leave, either the government’s or their employer’s.
There’s a job training program for young people to prepare them for employment, which includes temporary placement in a real workplace.
There’s also increased funding for health and education, but not to the same levels being promised by the Labor opposition.
The Government has however promised a new scheme that will give young adults with cancer, who were previously considered either too old or too young to participate in clinical trials, the opportunity to also access the latest cancer-fighting treatments.
There’s money to subsidise a glucose monitoring device for children and young adults with severe Type 1 diabetes, and to extend the free government dental scheme to all children and young adults.
On women’s health, the Government has offered modest increases to funding for Medicare to cover the use of MRIs to detect certain types of breast cancer, for an online tool to help women with perinatal depression, and to treat Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.
On domestic violence, there’s a Women’s Safety Package that includes an advertising campaign, GPS trackers and an expansion of the national family violence counselling and information service. But the Coalition has not committed to restoring the funding to legal centres and services that were cut by the Abbott Government.
For working women, the Government has promised to strengthen laws that punish employers for underpaying and exploiting workers, and provide a small tax cut to people fortunate enough to earn over $80,000.
The Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, has also promised to release a “comprehensive policy” to boost women’s workforce participation during the election campaign.
There are some good changes to superannuation proposed by the Government, such as providing around two million women on low incomes with a refund of the higher taxes they pay on some super contributions.
Women with less than $500,000 in super would also be able to make “catch-up” contributions and high-income spouses would be allowed to put more funds into their low-income spouse’s super.
These are the main elements of the Coalition’s election pitch to women so far. Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to campaign promises. We know politicians tend to give with one hand just as they take away with the other.
So it is wise to expect that for every promise from the Coalition of a new scheme or increased funding, something else will be scrapped or cut to pay for it. The trick is to get the balance right.
In preparation for election day, which falls on July 2, it’s worth checking to see if you are on the electoral roll and your details are correct. If you’re not yet registered to vote, you can enrol online at the Australian Electoral Commission.
Originally at The Australian Women’s Weekly.