A tale of two reshuffles

A tale of two reshuffles

So here we are, only three weeks after an election at which voters made it clear we’d grown tired of the major parties and their shenanigans. And yet the silly political games continue.

A record 23 per cent of Australians voted for candidates from non-major parties this election. Instead of recognising this voting trend as an existential threat, both the Coalition and Labor have claimed a victory of sorts from the result, and are now squabbling over the spoils of office.

First it was the arch conservatives in the Liberal Party, demanding their man Tony Abbott be returned to the cabinet to legitimise their cloistered views on what should be the Government’s priorities.

The PM treated this call with the scorn it deserved, particularly given he’d already appointed the most talented conservatives to the ministry when he became Liberal leader last year. However Mr Turnbull did not snub the right entirely, using a vacancy in the lower ranks to promote rising conservative star Zed Seselja.

As we mentioned last week, the PM’s bigger challenge was to accommodate another two ministers from the Nationals in light of the junior party’s better performance at the election. Mr Turnbull took the easy way out of this conundrum, choosing to increase the number of ministers in the cabinet rather than demote one of the Liberals.

Clearly the PM was unwilling to risk taking away the prestige and perks of higher office from the very same Liberal MPs who he may one day have to ask to support him again in a leadership tussle.

After the new ministry was sworn in on Tuesday, Mr Turnbull may have thought he’d gotten away with managing the competing interests within the Coalition.

But no, according to a media report on Friday, the particularly idiosyncratic collection of Queensland MPs known as the Liberal National Party belatedly decided they had not been allocated enough goodies from the cookie jar during the ministerial reshuffle.

The LNP is an amalgamation of the Liberal and National parties that exists only in Queensland. It’s officially the Queensland Division of the Liberal Party but also associated with the Nationals, meaning some federal LNP MPs sit with the Libs and others with the Nats when in Canberra.

The LNP MPs’ reported solution to the apparently graceful rebuff from the PM was to propose leaving the Liberal Party to form a separate party so they could supposedly lay claim to more seats in the ministry.

This is a politically delicate situation – the LNP federal MPs who sit with the Libs get a vote when the Liberal party room elects the leader and so are important to Mr Turnbull. And Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce depends on the LNP MPs who sit with his party to bolster their numbers in the Government as well as claims to the frontbench.

So it’s no surprise the move by the LNP to claim more seats on the ministerial gravy train was quickly nipped in the bud by Mr Joyce and the LNP’s most senior office holder, Senator George Brandis.

Ordinarily, Opposition leader Bill Shorten would seek to exploit such an outbreak of tensions within the Coalition, perhaps even holding a press conference to denounce the unseemly spectacle of MPs grimly defending their place at the trough while more deserving colleagues miss out.

But the Labor leader remained quiet on the Coalition’s travails.

Unlike the Liberal and National parties, Labor’s factions determine which MPs will be in the ministry. Having been presented with the list of chosen MPs, it is simply the Labor leader’s task to allocate the portfolios to those honoured by their factions with the sinecure.

But this week the Opposition leader had to deal with his own civil revolt. Labor MPs had also been brawling over who was more entitled to the pay boost and title that comes with being a “shadow” minister.

Mr Shorten is, if nothing else, a faction man. While he once wielded the numbers to depose Kevin Rudd and then Julia Gillard, the Labor leader has become deeply dependent on other factional warlords to wrangle the votes, such as those needed to beat Anthony Albanese for the Labor leadership or stymie the left’s attempts to embarrass him at national conference.

The man Mr Shorten is most beholden to in this respect is Senator Kim Carr, whose Victorian left faction abandoned him to make room for new talent on the frontbench. Senator Carr has been a minister or shadow minister almost continuously since his first appointment in 2001, except for a short period early in 2013 after Kevin Rudd’s non-leadership coup.

Like Mr Turnbull, Mr Shorten took the path of least resistance in order to protect (the protector of) his numbers. Instead of prevailing on a supporter who’d already had a good innings to move on for fresh blood (as Mr Turnbull did with Ian Macfarlane last year but failed to do this week), Mr Shorten increased the ministry from the legislated limit of 30 to 32 to make room for Senator Carr.

This means two Labor MPs will be shadow ministers in name only, and will not receive the $40,000 pay rise that normally comes with the title.

One of these MPs is Sam Dastyari, the Miley Cyrus of Australian politics who would probably do his job for nothing as long as it meant keeping his high profile with the media. Senator Dastyari is also a factional powerbroker from the NSW right, so he must have seen strategic value in getting promoted to a phantom ministry.

Then there is Andrew Leigh, a shadow minister in Mr Shorten’s previous frontbench who will now have the pleasure of performing a similar role but with a hefty pay cut.

It goes without saying that Dr Leigh is considerably more credentialed than most of his Labor colleagues, but the former professor of economics is also factionally-unaligned and therefore in no position to complain. One anonymous Labor source reinforced this point to the media on Friday, saying Dr Leigh should be grateful he was still in the ministry given “he’s only got one vote”.

What will voters make of this behaviour from Australia’s only two parties of government?

Coalition and Labor MPs should treat their re-election as the honour that it is, behaving in a way that acknowledges the privilege of serving the voters of Australia.

Instead we’ve been treated to a week of tantrums, grand-standing and horse-trading. This is exactly the type of entitled behaviour that enrages voters and drives us away.

This originally appeared at The New Daily.

 

Why we need a quota for women in parliament

Why we need a quota for women in parliament

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.

What Shorten’s election promises mean for women

What Shorten’s election promises mean for women

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.

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.