The Liberals have a problem with women

November 10, 2020

Her book and subsequent television series presents the commanders of Gilead ruling a society, a North
American country, transformed into a male version of traditional values after an ecological and political crisis.
The rule of law is subverted by men for men. Thereafter, a select group of commanders make all society's laws and
decisions. Women's role is simple: to obey men. In Atwood's fictional world, just like in reality, it is intriguing to
explore and understand what motivates those in power. What vision of society are the leaders trying to achieve?
Who are they making decisions for and why are they so doing?

Now that Prime Minister Morrison is well into his third year in The Lodge, Australians are justified in asking:
what does he truly believe in? What are his core values? What gut instinct does he turn to in a crisis? It's not easy
to sift through the marketing spin emanating from the man who holds the highest office in our land. After all,
the only jobs Mr Morrison has held are in marketing, advertising and politics.

However, we can more readily examine what the current member for Cook has done and said in the past. Just
how morally flexible is the Prime Minister? At a base level, any bloke who grew up in Bronte supporting the
Roosters and rugby union but then switches to Cronulla Sutherland because it is politically expedient to do so—
switches the team he supports!—anyone that does that I could say is a fake; but maybe I will just give the Prime
Minister the benefit of a doubt and say that he is a slippery character.

Before entering the adult advertising world, the Prime Minister's first paid job was as a child actor doing television
commercials. Perhaps he has never stopped playing a part. With all respect to the actors out there—they're a
sector that's doing it tough at the moment—we know that actors love to hog the limelight and say their lines,
but afterward they don't hang around to change lives. We, the audience, must do this ourselves after the curtains
have closed.

While it is okay for an actor to merely look for applause, political leadership requires so much more than saying
your lines and then leaving the stage. Analysing the actions rather than the scripts of Prime Minister Morrison,
we reveal a clear pattern. Close observers of the Member for Cook would not have been surprised by his recent
budget's neglect of women. Quite a sinister thread runs through his decisions as social services minister, then
Treasurer, and now in The Lodge. His ordinary treatment of women is a linking theme. There is no doubt that
policies implemented under the Abbott and Turnbull governments worsened the lived experience for women.
These policies were mostly designed by then Social Services Minister Morrison. In 2013 Australia ranked 23rd in
the World Economic Forum's Global gender gap report, when measuring the gap between men and women in
health, education, work and politics. Last year we slipped back to 44th out of 153 countries. Let's call that strike 1.
Encouraging women into the workforce is good for the economy and is good for women. Being financially
independent can mean the difference between being trapped in an abusive relationship and having the financial
means to leave. So why does child care in Australia cost between 30 and 40 per cent of the average household
income when the average in the OECD is just 11 per cent? Why are Australian women disadvantaged three or
four times over? Social Services Minister Morrison was responsible for introducing the current childcare subsidy
scheme, making our childcare system one of the most expensive in the world—strike 2. In passing, can I thank
the opposition leader for committing the party that he leads to cutting childcare fees and putting more money
into the pockets of working families.

I take you back to the Fair Work Commission decision on penalty rates made in 2017. Not only was then Treasurer
Morrison missing in action when it came to resisting the Fair Work Commission's penalty rates decision; he
voted eight times to support the cuts in penalty rates. Women make up the majority of workers in retail and
accommodation, where penalty rates matter most. Cutting penalty rates has made it harder for many women to
pay the rent, to put food on the table and to feed their children, and it has exacerbated the gender pay gap—strike 3.

In his last budget as Treasurer, in 2018, Treasurer Morrison didn't provide one extra cent for aged care. At that
time there were more than 100,000 Australians waiting for home-care packages—and there still are, except it's
worse—many of them with dementia and other high care needs. We know that many more women than men
need home-care packages. In 2017, 67 per cent of those receiving home-care packages were, you guessed it,
women—strike 4. Treasurer Morrison also slashed thousands of jobs from the human services department, and,
you guessed it again, 70 per cent of the human services department workforce are women—strike 5.

Women are much more likely than men to delay seeing their doctor because of financial costs. Treasurer Morrison
kept in place the freeze on the indexation of Medicare rebates. It was the GP tax, which forced up the out-ofpocket costs of seeing a doctor, disproportionately impacting the health of women—strike 6.

Now, let's move to Prime Minister Morrison. We know that he has a problem with women. We know that because
the Liberals' own report says so, as reported in today's copy of The Australian. Journalist Rosie Lewis says that
the Liberals' own internal report finds the Liberal Party will fail to reach their own target of equal representation
in parliament by 2025. They're nowhere near that at the moment; women make up barely a quarter of their MPs.
When you see the men who are here in parliament because they have more merit than credible Liberal women
—well, to paraphrase Amy Remeikis, my eyes almost roll so far back into my head that I can see my own brain.

These facts help explain why the Morrison government policies are heavily weighted against the interests of
Australian women, who make up more than half of our population. Let's look at some of the facts. The Morrison cabinet is dominated by men. Worse still, the Morrison government's very important Expenditure Review Committee—the one that oversees all government spending—was made up
entirely of men until June this year. Perhaps listeners are starting to see the source of the problem. Australian women need solutions to the systemic problems that have resulted in women over the age of 55 being the fastestgrowing homeless group. Forty per cent of older, single, retired women are living in poverty.

Instead of a policy that will improve outcomes for women, we are seeing policy half-measures—and I don't mean that glorious one
of women being allowed to drive on roads; I mean the one allowing women to raid their superannuation to escape
family violence. We know the importance of women being able to safely flee from family violence, but we also
know that women already retire with significantly less superannuation than men. This government policy will
mean many have no retirement savings, increasing their chances of poverty or homelessness in later years.
And, staying in the general area of family law, instead of implementing many of the multitude of
recommendations from recent reports and inquiries, what did the Prime Minister do? The Prime Minister
launched his own parliamentary inquiry into the family law system—I'm on that inquiry—and he made the point
of installing Senator Pauline Hanson as the deputy chair. Rather than acting on the already completed reports
from coalition dominated committees, such as the one chaired by Senator Henderson, which could be protecting
women right now, the Prime Minister has launched yet another inquiry and Senator Hanson is paid to sit on it.
Senator Hanson has repeatedly said women lie about family violence. Sadly, some witnesses at a family law
inquiry public hearing were subject to online abuse through Senator Hanson's social media channels when she
live streamed the evidence. This whole inquiry is strike 7.

The recent university funding reforms are supposedly designed to increase enrolments in STEM subjects. I
say, up-front, it's a noble aim. But those reforms will mean students wanting to study humanities subjects,
predominantly female students, will be paying more than double for their degrees. The reform, which experts
say will not achieve its stated purpose, will make it harder and more expensive for students to go to university
and will, again, disproportionately affect female students. Strike 8.

The Prime Minister's stimulus response to COVID, to the pandemic, has shown his bias towards helping male
dominated sectors rather than any feminised parts of the workforce. Women overwhelmingly are employed as
permanent part-time or casual employees in the accommodation and hospitality sectors—the sectors that were
first to be impacted in the COVID-19 restrictions. There has been a recent uptick, but, at the height of the crisis,
471,000 women lost their employment—a much higher proportion than men. And yet the JobKeeper package
was deliberately designed to exclude casual workers, forcing many women to join the long queues at Centrelink
offices. That's strike 9.

Women with children welcomed the Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package when it was
implemented way back in April, which essentially provided free child care to families. That was a good thing.
However, under this Morrison government free child care was short lived, and abruptly ended in early July. Just a week later, childcare workers were thrown off the JobKeeper scheme—the first sector to be thrown off the scheme, and, surprisingly, as sector comprising 97 per cent women. Strike 10 to the Prime Minister.
At the same time that free child care ended and childcare workers were thrown off JobKeeper, what did the
Morrison government do? Prime Minister Morrison announced a new scheme, HomeBuilder, to assist the
residential construction market, where men make up 88 per cent of the workers. The university sector is another
area with a disproportionately female workforce that is also—surprise, surprise!—locked out of JobKeeper.
Universities have already seen job losses in the thousands, but I expect the final figure to be more like 30,000
across the sector. The majority of these people who will lose their jobs will be women. Strike 11.

Many female workers who have found themselves locked out of JobKeeper have availed themselves of the
Morrison government's COVID-19 early release of superannuation scheme, which is effectively private stimulus
during a recession. I understand why people would: without government support, there is no other way for their
families to eat or for them to pay the rent. This private stimulus has kept businesses ticking over and food on the
table for some; however, the reality is that the more than $34.4 billion—that's as at today—that has been taken
out of superannuation funds will miss out on compound interest, and that will never be made up. And that will
mean many more women are going to be retiring into poverty, and that is strike 12. Twelve strikes are enough.
I could go on, but time restricts me.

Women make up more than half of the Australian population, but they earn 14 per cent less than men. They
retire with 47 per cent less superannuation than men get to retire on. And women are being killed at the rate
of at least one woman a week by their current or former partners. Prime Minister Morrison has not given any
indication that he has a plan to fix any of these issues. He rarely even pays lip-service to these complicated
problems. Nevertheless, the choices that Prime Minister Morrison has made, the sectors he has chosen to directly
assist, those decisions reveal the member for Cook's entrenched bias. Not only has Prime Minister Morrison not
addressed any of the issues that make women's lives harder, he has never explained why he has ignored them.
When we ask questions about this in parliament, he just denies it. For instance, why do childcare workers, where
97 per cent are female, lose JobKeeper while the construction sector, which was actually doing okay, where 88
per cent are male, receive a $680 million boost through HomeBuilder? Was that a coincidence, is it a bias, is it
deliberate or is it part of an agenda? 'Because I said so' is the male approach to governing in Margaret Atwood's
fictional Gilead. The all-male commanders are always right. In 2020, how close are we to a version of the fictional
Gilead becoming a reality for Australian women? Surely not in a modern, secular, diverse nation!

The Prime Minister can continue to act out the role of the footy-loving, knockabout bloke. We know that he is a
skilled actor. In fact, he has the curriculum vitae to prove that he's a great actor, Like all good actors, he knows
how to fake things. However, a Prime Minister motivated primarily and fundamentally by an outdated notion
of patriarchal power is unable to govern for the good of all Australians, especially Australian women. As Rosie
Lewis says in The Australian today, 'The Liberal Party has a problem with women. The Gileadification of our
politics can't be ignored and should be called out. It is not fake; it is gradual but it is factual, but it is far from
being a fait accompli. Such a direction, such a failing, would not be in the best interests of modern Australia.' I
finish with what Margaret Atwood said when she was talking about another dystopian work of fiction, George
Orwell's 1994. She said: '1984' is not a wonder tale. Not only could it happen, but it has happened, but under different names.

In the spirit of the late, great Susan Ryan and so many other Australian women, I say: let's work together to
prevent the Prime Minister 's Gileadification of Australian politics. Let's keep Gilead as a work of fiction, not
as a political project.