The Politics    Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Equality control

By Rachel Withers

Image of Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston at a press conference in Adelaide today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston at a press conference in Adelaide today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Anne Ruston’s claim that “no government has done more to support Australia’s women” has been laughed out of the room

Today is Domestic Violence Remembrance Day, on which we remember those who have lost their lives to it, including at least 18 women in Australia this year. Warning of a crisis in the sector, the National Women’s Safety Alliance has used the day to release its “In One Generation” plan, featuring 20 specific government actions to reduce violence against women and children. The week has also been tinged with the fact that the United States is set to roll back abortion rights, while Australia’s very own assistant minister for women, Amanda Stoker, has (again) spoken at an anti-abortion rally. So what did the Coalition have for us today, in this election campaign that many once hoped would focus on women’s safety and equality? There was the message that “no government has done more to support Australia’s women”, a reminder that it’s a “free country” (for Stoker to say what she likes, that is), further obfuscation over the status of stood-aside education minister Alan Tudge, and more dismissive rhetoric (“anti-Liberal groupies”) from former PM John Howard, who referred to North Sydney candidate Kylea Tink as a “lady by the name of Tink”. No government, surely, has done more to infuriate Australia’s women.

It was a missed opportunity from the Coalition to announce a policy, or to have anything to say other than “look how great we are”, followed by a ridiculous segue from Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston, who used questioning about the issue to point out what a strong economy the Coalition has overseen. (The PM did have millions to announce for the marginal seat of Boothby.) Ruston’s claim that “no government has done more to support Australia’s women” has been laughed out of the room, with shadow minister for women Tanya Plibersek noting that this is the same government that tried to make women drain their own super in order to flee domestic violence. As Australia Institute senior economist Alison Pennington added, it has also imposed high-fee childcare, while underfunding feminised care industries and suppressing wages. It was noteworthy timing for former PM Julia Gillard to make a rare foray into the discourse, taking to Twitter to point out the still massive gender pay gap, and to praise Labor’s plan to make gender pay equity an objective of the Fair Work Act.

The Coalition seems to have given up on recent attempts to win back women voters – unless of course it thinks that be grateful is a winning message (it wouldn’t be the first time). Labor, on the other hand, appears to be pitching itself to women “sotto voce”, writes academic Dr Ingrid Matthews, so as not to upset the nation’s misogynist power structures. Anthony Albanese’s budget reply, she notes, was “almost wholly addressed to impoverished women workers in feminised industries and unpaid roles”, with plenty of references in the Opposition’s campaign to Medicare, aged care and childcare. (Crikey’s Amber Schultz has today compared the major parties’ women’s policies, with Labor coming out on top across the categories.) Speaking to reporters about women’s issues today, Albanese and Plibersek had far stronger answers than Morrison and Ruston, with the Labor leader able to point to his childcare policy as another way to address women’s economic security, while hammering the government over its well-established record on women.

In fact, the most the Coalition has had to say about women during this election was when it came to Warringah candidate Katherine Deves, with the PM briefly up in arms about Deves being “silenced” over her transphobic views. (Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has today chimed in, dismissing suggestions that laws need to change to protect women’s sports.) “I’m not going to allow her to be silenced,” Morrison said last month, seeing a chance to use Deves’s more extremist views to re-prosecute the culture wars that are driving many of those “anti-Liberal groupies” up the wall. Deves was “a woman standing up for women and girls”, he added. Women continue to die and suffer abuse at a horrifying rate in this country, and the gender pay gap still sits at 13.8 per cent. But if you ask Morrison, the most pressing issue for women in this election is against whom they play sport.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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