Paid parental leave is not the only thing important to women this election

Date

Senator Christine Milne, Leader of the Australian Greens

Australian Greens leader Senator Christine Milne speaks at the launch of the Greens federal election campaign at the National Convention Centre in  August 24.

Australian Greens leader Senator Christine Milne speaks at the launch of the Greens federal election campaign at the National Convention Centre in August 24.

The way this election campaign has been going one would be forgiven for thinking that paid parental leave is the only thing of importance to Australian women. Worthy as it is – paid parental leave isn't identified by women as their number one public policy concern. Women on the campaign trail have primarily raised with me issues like juggling work and financial responsibilities, childcare, restoring the cuts to single parents payments and whether they will be financially secure right through to their retirements. 

If the polls are accurate Tony Abbott will shortly be Prime Minister. The Greens will work with him in the Senate to deliver an improved paid parental leave scheme, one with 26 weeks paid leave at the parent's salary, capped at $100,000, including superannuation payments. This is a sensible reform which will increase women's lifetime workforce participation, benefit the productivity of our nation and provide vitally important time for both parents and babies.

The areas of similarity between the Greens and the Coalition pretty much end there. The Greens want increased access to quality, affordable childcare, and the restoration of the single parenting payment, which the ALP and Coalition cut, so that 100,000 single parents, mostly women, lost between $60–120 per week and are now living in poverty. We will also move to legislate for quotas of women on company boards, requiring 40% women within five years.

The Greens want to close the gender pay gap which still sees women with children, on average, earning around $1 million less in her lifetime than a man with children. This goes on to impact women in their retirement where we see women retiring with just under one-third the amount of superannuation compared with male counterparts.

There is also a growing number of middle-aged women who pull me aside to share their worries about retirement. Many, of a similar generation to me, worked a bit when they were younger but left the workforce to have a family. They accumulated little superannuation and usually have no property or assets of their own.

Australian Greens leader Senator Christine Milne with lead candidates, Senators and MP re-contesting their seats, L-R, Adam Stone, Simon Sheikh, Cate Faerhmann, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Milne, deputy leader Adam Bandt, Janet Rice, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, and Senator Scott Ludlam, at the launch of the Greens federal election campaign at the National Convention Centre in Canberra today, Saturday August 24, 2013.  Photo by Penny Bradfield.

Australian Greens leader Senator Christine Milne with lead candidates, Senators and MP re-contesting their seats, L-R, Adam Stone, Simon Sheikh, Cate Faerhmann, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Milne, deputy leader Adam Bandt, Janet Rice, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, and Senator Scott Ludlam, at the launch of the Greens federal election campaign at the National Convention Centre in Canberra today, Saturday August 24, 2013.  Photo by Penny Bradfield.

I always stop and listen to their stories as I can relate to them directly. I was working as a teacher when, at age 22, I got married and was told not to worry about superannuation anymore. Feminist ideals aside, this arrangement might have worked out for women of my generation if marriages survive but they don’t always.

Luckily for me I have a successful career and can now support myself but many women of my age are not as lucky. I recently visited a center in Perth which provides shelter for the homeless and was told the fastest growing demographic for social housing were older, single women who had become homeless through divorce or poverty. Ensuring women have adequate superannuation in their retirement, regardless of relationship status, is important to me and I will work to make it important to whoever occupies the Lodge next week.

What I will not work on with whoever occupies the Lodge next week is undermining women's right to choose. This is not something you usually hear during an election campaign but I can categorically and undeniably rule out facilitating any attack on women's reproductive rights.

Abbott is only three seats away from effective control of the Senate, and with the likes of Democratic Labor Party Senator John Madigan and independent Senator Nick Xenophon, there is a risk that women's guaranteed access to safe and confidential reproductive health services will be weakened. Senator Madigan has already, in the last parliament, attempted to whip up pro-life activism, following the campaigning strategies of the American Christian right to slowly chip away at women's rights.

There is also a real threat of interference by an Abbott government in how Australia spends its foreign aid. Family planning is key to reducing population growth and also maternal mortality, which is the leading cause of death and illness for women worldwide. No strings should be attached to our foreign aid, especially restrictions which lead to worse health outcomes for some in developing countries.

While Abbott has muttered words of reassurance when pushed on this issue, I fear that once the stage-managed, carefully scripted, painstakingly choreographed control of the campaign drops away so will Abbott's newly-discovered feminist credentials. The Labor Party is so seemingly afraid of mentioning former Prime Minister Gillard, using the 'm' word ,or playing the gender card, they have effectively facilitated this make-over of Abbott's.

Australia's foreign aid also goes to investing in female farmers in developing countries. Poverty and gender inequality remain the driving forces behind global hunger, with women and girls comprising nearly 50% of the global agricultural workforce producing 60–80% of the food, yet women and girls are 60% of those suffering malnutrition and hunger. As a mother, going to work all day in a paddock tilling the soil, planting the seeds or harvesting food for a multinational company all day and then returning home to your hungry family, unable to provide food, must be painful to reconcile. We need to invest in small-scale agriculture, where female farmers can grow and control food for their families and communities.

Having the Greens in the Senate standing up for women is a safeguard against attacks on women's rights. As Australia's only female political leader I will ensure issues important to women do not fall off the political agenda. I will stand against discrimination of any kind but especially that based on gender or sexuality. I am not only a woman in politics, I am a woman determined to make life better for women who come after me and women around the world.

Senator Christine Milne is the Leader of the Australian Greens.

 

9 comments so far

  • Thank you Christine

    Women's issues are society's issues and should not be 'boutiqued'. They need attention and solutions backed by a philosophy of equality that does not wax and wane for political campaign purposes. Paid parental leave is a small component of an overall women-equality issue, especially if the pay received during the relatively short time during an overall career is still less than a man doing the same job.

    Commenter
    Sandra
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    September 04, 2013, 12:28PM
    • What about women who stay home to raise their own children instead of shipping them off to daycare? What do they get? Why should my husbands taxes and the taxes I paid before having children, go to those who constantly jump in and out of work every time they fall pregnant to get this fully paid leave? Full pay for staying home when I get no pay for doing the exact same thing? Where is the fairness?! I get no rebates, I get no pay for not working and I get no baby bonus now. Either help out ALL families or help NONE. If they can't afford it they shouldnt have kids. I don't want to pay for theirs, I am paying for mine.

      Commenter
      We raise our kids on a single income
      Location
      in Outer Melbourne because that's all we can afford
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 12:30PM
      • Dear 'single income'

        The women who 'jump in and out of work' also pay taxes. You seem to imply they are freeloading off men like your husband or yourself who used to pay tax. I believe the government classifies you as a dependent and your husband's income tax rate would be adjusted accordingly. I agree that women who stay home (I am one of them and have been for 7 years) should be remunerated for their contribution to society as domestic workers and childcarers via the tax system too - but lets not beat up on women who have careers to pursue as well as motherhood. It need not be an either/or situation. After all, men can have both a career and a family without being accused of "shipping their children" off to the wife at home.

        Commenter
        Sandra
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        September 04, 2013, 1:43PM
      • Um... where is the fairness? Really - these women who continue to work and continue paying taxes... Think about it.

        Commenter
        j_lou11
        Date and time
        September 04, 2013, 1:47PM
    • Many of the issues raised are not solely women's issues. Homelessness affects men as well, as does single parenting. Why are these constantly raised as 'women's issues'?! Are we not trying to break down the stereotype that it's the women who raise the children?

      Commenter
      Ailie
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 2:18PM
      • Because there are no organised lobby groups specifically for men who can help or harm a political campaign. There are plenty of lobby groups representing women who can have a noticeable impact on elections.

        There's no votes in challenging these stereotypes, but there is a significant chance of getting on the wrong side of politically influential feminist lobby groups who can tank a political campaign, particularly for the Greens, who specifically rely on female votes much more than the other major parties.

        Commenter
        DM
        Date and time
        September 04, 2013, 4:03PM
    • I believe that these issues do not just matter to women. I also believe people should meet the requirements for a job and the ability to perform and not just because a quota has to be met. And how about working on ALL of those who suffer malnutrition and hunger? I'm sorry but she is discriminating by saying she is standing solely for women. Do men not matter at all?

      Commenter
      jenni1320
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 3:37PM
      • What about women who stay home to raise their own children instead of shipping them off to daycare? What do they get? "

        You get parenthood. What else do you want -- a cake? I am childfree AND I pay my taxes too. But I don't expect any cash back in my pocket just for being fecund. At the same time, my taxes should be spent on the community, not paying off the private consumption habits of adults who just so happen to have kids.

        Parents, cut the whopping sense of entitlement. Parenthood is a private good. Only parents and immediate family consume the satisfaction of raising a child. Baby’s first smile/teeth/ I wuv you mummy…that is soley enjoyed by parents.

        Yes, children are the future and there is social obligation to assist children to be future taxpayers. That is, children are social goods inasmuch infrastructure, border control, public health and law and order are social goods. It follows then that services for children are socialised; invest taxpayers' money in children's interests such as better public schools and children's health services. Give them a good start with improved maternity health and obstetrics. Mother-craft (or fathercraft) classes for new parents. RNs on call to assist parents in the home. Expensive ? Yes but this would be a bonafide investment in children rather than redistributing wads of private, discretionary spending money into the hands of those adults who choose to have children and refuse to budget.

        It is bald pro-natalism when the childless and working poor are fiscally penalised under a regressive scheme cross-subsidises the consumption of adult goods for the fecund, not a triumph for feminism.

        Commenter
        Nulligravida
        Date and time
        September 04, 2013, 7:16PM
        • What really concerns me is the number of single mothers, (single again, because they had to leave an abusive partnership) who have to rely on ONLY Newstart Allowance and Family Benefits Tax while trying to start again from scratch. I know one whose ex-partner will not pay any child support or help in any way towards his three children and she has had to rent a house, buy op shop household utensils, furniture etc and clothes for her children, while trying to find a job which will fit in with school times. I know for a fact they would be on the streets if it were not for a bit of financial help from her pensioner parents. The government or courts don't seem to care and put them all in the 'dole bludger' category, so forgive me if I am angry about the money which will be used for the Paid Parental Leave Scheme.

          Commenter
          Jone Jones
          Date and time
          September 04, 2013, 10:52PM

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