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. Â 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.