He who wins women, wins the election

He who wins women, wins the election

Back in the nineteenth century, Australia led the way in giving women the right to vote and stand for parliament.

Yet here we are 114 years later and still only around 30 per cent of politicians in Australia’s parliaments are women.

Political parties say they’re doing everything they can to get to 50-50, but so far only Labor and the Greens have managed to get close. Labor has 45 per cent women MPs in the national parliament, while the Greens have 45.5 per cent. The Coalition parties have 27 per cent, and may have even less following the upcoming election.

This is not just a matter of balancing things up for appearances sake.

Without enough female voices in the nation’s decision-making forums, there is an increased chance that governments will make poor or bad decisions that have a negative impact on women.

That’s because it’s easier for a bunch of men on comfy incomes to cut funding for frontline domestic violence support, women’s health services or child care without thinking through the implications for women, families, the economy or the broader community.

In the absence of there being enough female politicians to stand up against their male-centric colleagues, it’s up to female voters to remind politicians what our half of the population wants from elected representatives when it comes to identifying priorities and allocating government funds.

The power of women voters cannot, and should not, be underestimated. Hell hath no fury like a female voter scorned.

Some politicians are alert to this, and while some have tried to pitch themselves as the supporter of women’s interests, many have failed.

Who could forget Tony Abbott trying to neutralise his “women’s problem” with an expensive, badly-targeted and poorly defended paid parental leave scheme.

And then there was Julia Gillard who, on the same day that she delivered her blistering speech about Abbott’s misogyny, also cut payments to single mothers when their youngest child turns eight.

So it’s hardly surprising a major opinion poll found more women supported Labor after Kevin Rudd replaced Julia Gillard in 2013 federal election, even if he did eventually lose to Tony Abbott.

Opinion polls are now showing the Government first led by Abbott and now Turnbull has lost its lead on the Opposition, with at least one poll suggesting this is because women have shifted their votes from the Coalition to Labor.

This may be in part because of decisions in the federal budget, which we highlighted last week as pretty unsatisfactory for women. But female voters have also gone off the Prime Minister, who failed to deliver on the high voter expectations he encouraged before challenging Tony Abbott for the top job.

Back then, 68 per cent of men and women approved of Turnbull, now that has dropped to 46 per cent for women and 49 per cent for men. The PM’s disapproval rating has increased accordingly.

Even so, despite their disillusionment with PM Turnbull, male voters seem to be sticking with the Government.

Accordingly, the outcome of the federal election rests in the hands of Australian women.

That’s why we’ll be providing you with analysis of the parties’ election policies, in light of their track records to date, and an assessment of what each party has to offer Australian women.

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 published at the Australian Women’s Weekly.

Does Turnbull actually get what women really want?

Does Turnbull actually get what women really want?

It’s easy to forget that just over a week ago Treasurer Scott Morrison handed down his first budget. Not long after, the Prime Minister fired the starters’ gun on the July election, so there wasn’t much time to check in detail what the budget offered Australian women or whether it treated you fairly.

The Opposition’s shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, laid out Labor’s plans for the budget in Canberra yesterday, giving us a fresh opportunity to look at what the major parties think about Australian women.

It’s clear the Turnbull Government still doesn’t get it when it comes to treating women equally or fairly.

Financial security is a big issue for women: not only do you earn less but you have fewer dollars to put into in your superannuation account. Last week’s budget was meant to encourage women back to work by providing better childcare and improving superannuation.

The Government claimed the budget would “help” women build up a better retirement nest egg by extending a scheme that it initially tried – and failed – to scrap. The scheme, originally created by Labor when it was in government, will provide around two million women on low incomes with a refund of the higher taxes they pay on some super contributions.

That’s not “help” but fixing a distortion in the superannuation system.

Good news for super:

  • Allowing workers to put more funds into their spouse’s super
  • Letting women with less than $500,000 in super make “catch-up” contributions

However these changes won’t help if you don’t have a spouse or can’t afford to put extra super payments away.

There was no good news either in the budget for those of you with children, or planning to start a family.

Bad news for mothers and women hoping to start families:

  • The Turnbull Government stuck to the Abbott Government’s decision to stop new mothers from topping up base level, taxpayer-funded parental leave with payments from their employer. There will be no “double-dipping” under a government that Malcolm Turnbull leads.
  • There was also zip in the budget for childcare; in fact the Government postponed improvements to childcare subsidies that were promised in last year’s budget. Now the increases won’t apply until July 2018. This is because the Government plans to cut other parenting payments and family tax benefits to help pay for the changes. It blames Labor for the postponement of the subsidy increase because the Opposition won’t support these other cuts.

What about funding to combat domestic violence? Surely the Turnbull Government put its money where its mouth was on this critical national issue?

Well not exactly.

Bad news for violence against women and children:

  • The Government’s Women’s Safety Package provided $100 million for an advertising campaign, GPS trackers and an expansion of the national family violence counselling and information service. But it did not restore funding to legal centres and services cut by the Abbott Government.

Bad news for tax cuts:

  • Only one in five women will earn enough to get the cut, while one in three men will benefit. Women with families but who earn less than $80,000 will get no tax cut and no childcare relief for another two years.

Single women on low incomes will still have little or no superannuation. And if any woman is experiencing domestic violence, there is a good chance she won’t be able to find legal support or another place to stay because of cuts made by the Abbott Government that have not been reversed by Malcolm Turnbull.

In contrast, the Labor Opposition has more women-friendly policies, but is yet to fully spell out how it will pay for them.

Good news for mothers and women hoping to start families:

  • Labor is opposed to the Government’s proposed cuts to family tax benefits
  • Labor supports new mothers getting parental leave payments from both the government and their employer

Good news for violence against women and children:

  • Labor has promised $70 million to combat domestic violence, including $50 million for frontline legal services.

Good news for women at work

  • Through its industrial arm, the union movement, Labor is also focused on getting better pay and conditions for working women.

The Prime Minister said on International Women’s Day earlier this year that gender equality was an economic and social priority for Australia, noting that when a woman is empowered, the whole economy and community benefits.

Mr Turnbull challenged his audience to do “all we can” to ensure women get the same economic and social opportunities as men, are respected, have a strong voice, are financially and economically secure, and are safe from violence.

The Turnbull Government’s first budget did not live up to this challenge. However it still has around eight weeks left during the election campaign to convince Australia’s women that it can do so.

Originally published at The Australian Women’s Weekly.

‘Left-splaining’ to Bishop misses the point

Australian fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar has reportedly awarded Foreign Minister Julie Bishop the title “Woman of the Year”. In doing so, the fashionista’s bible has kicked the barely contained hornets’ nest that is the feminist movement’s need for the label to be embraced by all women.

Excerpts of the magazine’s interview with Bishop, released to publicise the edition before it arrives in newsstands and on iPads, emphasise the Cabinet minister’s refusal (again) to describe herself as a feminist.

“Stop whingeing, get on with it and prove them all wrong,” Bishop is quoted as saying. In what has already been latched upon as criticism of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Bishop is also said to exhort: “Please do not let it get to you and do not become a victim, because it’s only a downward spiral once you’ve cast yourself as a victim.”

Such advice will likely kick off another round of condemnatory opinion pieces from the stable of fine Australian female writers who are proud to call themselves feminists. Just as they did after Bishop made similar statements to the National Press Club last month, feminists will imply Bishop’s rejection of the label equates with rejection of the movement and refusal to recognise what it has achieved.

The problem with these analyses is that none of the writers can possibly know what a “woman of the right” thinks about feminism. This is because self-proclaimed feminists almost universally have a progressive point of view and have little understanding (or acceptance) of how conservative or other right-of-centre values may influence the thinking of other women.

Just as a man trying to explain feminism is often dismissed as “mansplaining” because of the clear disconnect between the perspectives of men from women, it’s time we started calling out “left-splaining” when it comes to progressives telling us what women of the right think about feminism and the advancement of women.

Bishop’s comments about “getting on with it” and “proving them wrong” is grounded very much in the individualism that is part of the Liberals’ ethos: the power of the individual, the merit of hard work in the pursuit of excellence, and the right of those who’ve worked hard to enjoy the profits of their endeavours. This philosophy emphasises every individual’s responsibility to do the very best we can, and if we fail it’s not society’s fault but due to our own limitations – be they in capability or effort.

Bishop’s acceptance of this individual responsibility was evident in her comments to the National Press Club:

For me I refuse to acknowledge [the glass ceiling]. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. But the approach I’ve taken is that if I want something I’ll work hard and set my mind to it and if it comes off that’s great. If it doesn’t I’m not going to blame the fact I’m a woman. I’m not going to look at life through the prism of gender.

The extension of this philosophy is the refusal to use gender as an excuse for one’s lack of success or failure, or to become a “victim” of one’s gender.

Accordingly, Bishop accused Gillard at the National Press Club of “turning herself into a victim” rather than accepting that “she was judged by her competence and that’s where she was found wanting”.

It could be a mistake however to jump to the conclusion that a similar quote provided by Harper’s Bazaar is Bishop having another go at Gillard. In saying “Please do not let it get to you and do not become a victim, because it’s only a downward spiral once you’ve cast yourself as a victim,” Bishop could well have been exhorting women generally not to hobble themselves by accepting they’re handicapped by gender.

The flaw in this logic of course is that no matter how hard women strive, no matter how smart or what levels of excellence they achieve, there are still societal barriers preventing many women from achieving equity in pay or recognition let alone the levels of success envisioned by Bishop.

This is the nub of the disagreement between women of the left and women of the right over what should be done to progress the advancement of women. In the most basic terms, women of the left see the need for society to be changed, whereas women of the right see it as a matter of individual endeavour.

And without left and the right recognising and finding ways to accommodate these different perspectives, real progress will never be sustained.

It’s all very well in these days of fractured political philosophies and the rise of the anti-politician to say that left and right are no longer useful ways of grouping what people think. But when it comes to discussion of feminism, these labels are still a useful guide to the differences of opinion.

Women of the right are just as committed to the advancement of women as their sisters on the left. Women of the right are mothers too, and they want to see their daughters have prosperous and fulfilling lives. These women don’t reject the principles of feminism – equality and the advancement of women – but they see them being achieved in different ways. If that view is flawed, yelling at them to take on the feminist mantle will not correct it.

Perhaps the actual underlying concern for feminists is not that women of the right won’t accept the feminist label, but that they are disinclined to recognise the role of the feminist cause in what has been achieved so far. The union movement would be similarly disappointed in the lack of acknowledgement that it gets for having delivered improvements in pay and workplace conditions over the decades.

If that is indeed the root cause of the call for women of the right to embrace the label, then the feminist movement has lost its way.

Surely the advancement of women is an important enough issue for the need for accolades to be set aside. The only way forward is for women of the left to find a way to bring women of the right into the fold to work together on ending discrimination against women.

Some of those women will be the CEOs, board directors, and MPs of tomorrow. Only with their acceptance of the real need to address gender inequality, and knowledge of how to do it, will the task ever be complete.