As PM retreats to manshed, bring on an arms race for the women’s vote


So Morrison sipped instead of skolling. But the vignette was a reminder that, two weeks into the campaign, we have hit peak bloke, at least on the Coalition side.

Loading

For all the noise and bad publicity the Liberals copped last year about their woeful lack of female representation, little has changed except the further exodus of talented women from cabinet.

There has been no investigation into the claims of misogynistic bullying made following the coup against Malcolm Turnbull, and just before the campaign began, Morrison decreed that the issue of abortion was a “debate” that doesn’t “unite” Australians, and was therefore not “good for the country”.

Abortion tends to be a “debate” only for those who don’t need it. For everyone else it’s a healthcare-access issue.

Loading

Given the Liberals have no great story to tell on women’s issues, and only a very gloomy one to tell on female parliamentary representation, it is no great surprise Morrison has retreated to a sort of election campaign manshed.

There has been cricket bat-bothering and tennis racquet-wrangling. Various trucks and tractors have been mounted. There is little by way of policy that serves women.

Go to the “Women” heading of the policy section on the Liberal Party website and the first item you will see is a boast about “women’s economic security”, with the government claiming credit for record high levels of female workforce participation (60.5 per cent).

This is disappointing in itself, but also disappointing because it sets the bar so low that Labor can leap over it quite easily.

Just by virtue of the fact that Labor doesn’t have an actual “woman problem” with their parliamentary numbers, they are deemed to have credit in the bank.

Labor is on track to reach its female representation goal of 50/50 by 2025, and that’s great, but that should be the baseline, accepted as our due, not a cause for great celebration.

Female representation matters because it empowers women electorally to ask for more, and more again, in terms of policies that amend the entrenched equity differences between our lives and men’s.

Illustration: Reg LynchCredit:

For years we have been thrown scraps by politicians who treat us as an interest group, or a cute minority who can be bought off with a rehash of childcare funding or an announcement about breast cancer research.

Such things are excellent. We should keep asking for better. We should howl to the heavens over policies like then-treasurer Joe Hockey’s 2015 attempt to stop “double-dipping” on maternity leave, something then-social services minister Morrison described at the time as a “rort” (with new mothers being the rorters), and quietly dropped when key senators such as Derryn Hinch received calls from distressed pregnant women and refused to pass it. We should not let Labor off the hook when it comes to helping higher income women access affordable childcare too.

Loading

We can’t say we want more women on boards and in other positions of power while expecting them to surmount obstacles their male counterparts don’t encounter.

Last weekend The Sydney Morning Herald/Age published tax modelling by KPMG and the Australian National University showing working mothers typically lose 90 per cent of their wages for every extra day they use childcare. In many cases, these women pay to work.

It confirmed what so many women already know – working motherhood can often seem a cruel joke that places place enormous stress on women, who are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

That women should pay to work (and to pay tax) is not just unfortunate or even unfair, it is unacceptable in any society committed to gender parity.

Nothing short of a fundamental change to traditional family structures, and the tax policy based on those structures, will achieve genuine equality, and if that sounds radical, so be it.

Most women I know, no matter how they vote, have been thoroughly radicalised, not in a university bar but in the home, via the experience of motherhood, and the realisation that society only ticks over because of the invisible ocean of work women do, unpaid and unheralded.

On Friday Labor announced its women’s policy, which included a commitment of $660 million to new programs curbing violence against women, doubling the amount the Coalition has pledged.

Today Labor announces its full childcare policy. It addresses affordability for all but the uppermost households, concentrating on the lower income households. This is laudable and most welcome. But this shouldn’t be an area of policy where one party gets over-praised just because they have a policy, and the other side is running dead.

Jacqueline is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.

Most Viewed in Politics

Loading



Politics

Related posts

Make a comment