Julia Gillard chatting with Ashlie Becker and RebeccaTeale . The PM was  visiting ability option in Seven Hills, Sydney.

Julia Gillard chatting with Ashlie Becker and RebeccaTeale . The PM was visiting ability option in Seven Hills, Sydney. Photo: Carlos Furtado

Political parties are like the worst type of boyfriend. At first they are desperate to get your attention but when you try to talk about serious issues they start umming and ahhing and looking over your shoulder for a less demanding date.

There has been a resurgence of interest in so-called women’s issues by political parties since Labor realised it was onto a winner in its attempts to portray Tony Abbott as anti-women.

Given that women make up just over half the voting population, it makes sense that parties want our votes. But beyond the rhetorical bunches of flowers neither side is exerting itself to demonstrate why one would be better than the other in government.

That is not to say there have been no decent policies. The Labor government brought in the paid parental leave scheme, an increase in the amount of money paid to families to help with childcare costs, a  rise in the tax-free threshold for low income earners (which are more likely to be women) and funding for the equal pay case.

The Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott visited Rosie Hopgood at her Beaconsfield home in Melbourne's South East where he had morning tea with her, her friends including Liz Schrama and Liz's kids.  Jack 3 months old and Billy 2 and a half.

The Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott visited Rosie Hopgood at her Beaconsfield home in Melbourne's South East where he had morning tea with her, her friends including Liz Schrama and Liz's kids. Jack 3 months old and Billy 2 and a half. Photo: Penny Stephens

The Coalition is promising a more generous parental leave scheme and a Productivity Commission inquiry into the childcare system. Its scheme would also pay women’s super contributions while they are on leave, something Labor dropped from its scheme because of cost.

In an age when women are more likely to enter retirement facing poverty due to a paucity of savings, this is no small thing. But, in an election year, there has been no hint of some more visionary thinking in this area.

For starters, how about that gender pay gap? It got bigger last year and now stands at 17.4 per cent. And why does the GST apply to tampons and pads? There’s a monthly gender tax if ever there was one.

Then there is the morass that is childcare. Trying to get a place in inner-city areas is all but impossible unless you put your name down on a waiting list at the time of conception and have an employer who will tolerate not being given an exact return-to-work date until your number in the lottery comes up.

The overwhelming evidence tells us the critical learning years for children are from naught to five and yet there is no guarantee a child will have a place at childcare. Childcare is a multi-generational issue with baby boomers spending their retirement looking after grandchildren because their sons and daughters have to go back to work without finding suitable care.

The lack of childcare affects employers whose workers are unable to specify how long they will be away or what days they will work if they come back part time. Parents with school-aged children face a difficult quandary – how to find work that fits into the hours of 9am to 3pm.

Sure there is a right to request flexible working arrangements, but that’s all it is. You can ask but there’s no guarantee if your employer says no. Politicians don’t exactly set a good example by job sharing or going part time.

Then there is the ridiculous intersection of the tax and benefit system. The Howard government brought in all sorts of goodies for parents in the form of family tax benefits and Labor is loathe to take them away.

The thing about family tax benefits in a two income household is that they reduce the more the second earner - usually the woman - brings home. Research by the Grattan Institute published last year shows just how little money women are working for. In only one of the 10 family scenarios modelled for the research did it prove financially rewarding for the woman to work full-time instead of part-time. In every family type modelled, the woman’s pay dropped once there was a second child, largely because of childcare costs.

If an extra 6 per cent of Australian women worked, the size of the economy would grow by about $25 billion a year, the modelling found. Basically we have an economy that pays women to take time off work to have children but then penalises them when they return to work.

That neither of the major parties show any signs of considering this fundamental issue should give you some indication of just how far they are prepared to go to really appeal to women.

On International Women’s Day think about what the parties are actually offering you and demand they do more. Don’t give your vote away in exchange for the policy equivalent of a glass of cheap chardonnay.


* The Pulse Live will cover today’s National Press Club debate between the Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, and the Coalition’s deputy leader, Julie Bishop, from 11.30am.