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Coalition women's policy an admission of their failure.

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Shadow Minister for Social Security, and the Aged




The Coalition’s announcement of $6 million a year to help women return to work is an admission that their policies have pushed women out of the workforce, Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition for the Status of Women, Jenny Macklin, said today.


Cuts to childcare have forced fees up, making it impossible for many women to afford to work.


And even if women want to get a job, the failure of the Job Network to help many women search for work has made it even harder.


These are problems which the Coalition has created — and now on the eve of an election they announce a few initiatives designed to paper over the cracks.


Further evidence of the Coalition’s failure to support women in the workforce emerged today with the release of an internal Liberal Party memo by Senator Helen Coonan.


The memo, dated December 1997, admits that there is ‘mounting evidence that the Coalition Government is losing ground with women voters’-The document admits that:


The decision to withdraw the $40 million subsidy from community childcare centres has led inexorably to steep increases in the affordability of quality child centre a nd has provided a disincentive for women to continue working.


Every woman in the Howard Government knows that the Coalition in two and a half years has failed to support women in the workforce.


And if John Howard is elected, it will be three more years o f the same.


Only this time, there will be a GST on all of the essentials, tax cuts that women will not get their fair share of because they do not earn enough, and a childcare system which is afforded only by the few.


September 15 1998

Further information Jenny Macklin 0419 592 622



Winning Women


3 December 1997



Voting Patterns


There appears to be mounting evidence that the Coalition Government is losing ground with women voters.


Although the Government gained huge kudos from having a record number of women in Parliament, the perception is that it has made little difference and we have failed to exploit the electoral advantages this gives us.


Fallout from policy changes to child care, aged care, legal aid, incentives for working mothers and a luke warm response to the Domestic Violence Summit have generated an impression peddled in the media that the Howard Government does not listen to women.


Anecdotally, I (as well as other women colleagues), have been virtually besieged at functions, by women protesting at "what the Government is doing to women" . As with many of our policies that- are fundamentally sound, the selling of the message has failed to convince.


This can’t be allowed to go on. If it does, we risk not only the decline in certain sectors of the female vote but the collapse of electoral support from women generally.


A recent parliamentary research paper on the gender gap in Australian elections made the following observations:


• that between 1987 and 1996 the percentage of women choosing the Coalition has been higher than the percentage of men supporting the Coalition;


• more women have voted for the Coalition than for the ALP since 1987, with a gap of 18 points evident in 1996;


• the Coalition's gender gap narrowed in the 1996 election not just as a result of losing the male vote (a two percentage point drop) but due to gains made in the female vote (which rose from 43% to 48%).


• younger women and men are less likely to support the Coalition than older women and men. The Coalition is specifically losing ground with women in the 18-24 age bracket. There was a very noticeable decrease in the Coalition vote amongst women in the 25-34 age bracket at the 1993 Federal Election (declining 11.6% from 44.8% in 1990 to 33.2% in 1993)


• older women were the strongest supporters of the Coalition. In 1996, “over 55” women were the strongest age/gender group supporting the Coalition. A paper delivered to the International Women's Democrat Union (March 1995) reported that females aged over 50 constituted 18% of all voters.


• the voting patterns of those in the 25-49 age bracket with dependent children were the most erratic.


Dr Carmen Lawrence has recently compiled research by academics and ALP polling in an attempt to analyse the extent to which women voters contributed to the demise of the ALP at the 1996 Federal Election. Entitled “The Gender Gap in Political Behaviour” , Lawrence suggested that the lowest vote for the ALP at the last election was among women in households with incomes between $25,000 and $30,000. The research also indicates that women have a weaker attachment to the major parties and a greater uncertainty about issues and their voting intentions, implying that women are open to influence and party persuasion.


Specific areas where it is said that the Government is alienating women and the usual “spin” put on those issues are:-


1. child care -


There are currently over 1.4 million employed mothers with one or more dependent children who are likely to be sensitive to the Governments policies on childcare and employment incentives. ( Labour Force Survey , October 1997).


The decision to withdraw the $40 million subsidy from Community childcare centres has led inexorably to steep increases in the affordability of quality child care and has provided a disincentive for women to continue working.


2. aged care -


Currently 71% of nursing home residents are women. Two thirds of the principal carers of the disabled, sick and frail people living at home are women who will be most affected by the introduction of charges for nursing homes and Community Care Services.


3. industrial relations -


About 40 % of women work part time compared to around 10% of men. The removal of the minimum hours requirement for casual and part time workers are perceived to have made it harder for those who have to balance child care and work.


Women on awards receive 94% of male wages but receive only 54% of over award payments. Moves to set wages by direct negotiation with employers are said to impact heavily on women.


4. higher education fees -


The introduction of higher fees are said to have greater impact on women (especially mature age) because more women enter higher education than men, with 56% of starting under graduates in 1996 being women.


5. legal aid -


The rationalisation of fede ral/state legal aid means that there will be less money to spend on civil disputes the main recourse for victums of domestic violence, most of whom are women.




There are, of course, compelling arguments against the perceptions that have gained currency in response to these policy changes. The reasons for the changes have not been communicated very well nor have the benefits that flow from those changes been reinforced.


We need to be far more competitive than we are in securing our women’s vote and winning back those women we are losing. If we are to stem the tide and secure the vote of our female supporters a carefully targeted plan needs to be devised and strategically implemented.


I make the following suggestions:


Proposal 1: The formation of a Women’s Electoral Taskforce.


The formation of a Women's Electoral Taskforce to comprise:

• the Minister for the Status of Women (the Hon. Judi Moylan MP);

• a representative from the Prime Minister's office (Katherine Murphy?);

• a parliamentarian from each State/Territory. Jocelyn Newman as the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister had already nominated a representative for each State/Territory. (Collectively amongst those representatives there is wide ranging expertise and a valuable existing network to target local and specific women’s groups.)

• a representative from the Federal Secretariat


Proposal 2: That the Taskforce be responsible for developing an electoral profile of women voters.


That the TaskEorce be responsible for:


i) assembling a qualitative and quantitative electoral profile of women’s voters

• by issues;

• by demographic spread (e.g, age, income, ethnicity etc.)

• by metropolitan/country divide; and

• by electorate (marginal seats).

to assist in formulating policy input for the next e lection.


Proposal 3: That the Taskforce review Coalition policy as it impacts on all portfolio areas affecting women to assist the formulation of responsive policies to take to the next Election.


Whilst it goes without saying that women do not vote just according to gender, “kitchen table" politics has gained ascendancy in recent elections (Clinton; Blair).


Attitudes change. Women in particular have been described as “issue-volatile”. It is imperative that the current and emerging issues that are likely to affect female voting patterns are identified and addressed.


Wome are concerned about:


• income security and jobs;

• pensions, retirement income and superannuation;

• health and personal safety (domestic violence);

• access to educational opportunities;

• access to child care; and

• social equity.


A paper delivered to the International Women's Democrat Union (March 1995) concluded that women were significantly more likely to nominate social issues as issues of perceived national importance, such as improving th e education system, immigration numbers, improving government welfare measures such as the cost of Medicare and health insurance, providing more government assistance to families and doing more for the needy and the aged, than their male counterparts.


The paper also indicated that women were less likely than men to prioritise economic issues such as taxation, interest rates, inflation and the promotion of industry and business growth.


Proposal 4: That each member of the Taskforce identify specific target groups and stakeholders in women's policy areas and coordinate a wide ranging “roadshow” to showcase the Government’s achievements for women and to combat misinformation head on.


What I have in wind is strategic visits by some Coalition women politicians throughout both regional and metropolitan areas to target key women’s groups. Obviously relevant Ministers and Senators have the ability to do this, to support the local Member and to raise the profile of women's issues in a particular electorate.


A couple of examples have convinced me that face to face discussion of concerns goes a long way to proving that we listen, we care and we consult.


• Earlier this year my office in conjunction with the South Western Sydney Women's Health Coalition , coordinated a half day workshop in Parramatta to discuss women’s health issues. The workshop brought together local service providers, NGOs and migrant services with ministerial advisers and the NSW Shadow Health Minister, Jillian Skinner.


The Seminar was held in "hostile" territory. There was much dismay in this community about specific Government decisions (e.g, funding cuts to Family Resource Centres, etc.). There was some trepidation on our part in going into the lion’s den! Surprisingly the event proved highly successfully in airing grievances, the providing of explanations and the building of relationships with key women stakeholders.


• Last year as part of setting the scene for a Liberal contest in New England, I visited the University of New England and met with a delegation of female academics. This environment could also fairly be explained as hostile having regard to increased HECS and upfront fees. Once again, a face to face meeting enabled many of the grievances to be aired and gave an opportunity for the Government’s policy and the reasons for it, to be explained.


I have beard a whisper that Cheryl Kernot is planning something like this and if she does, it is likely to consolidate or harden the attitude of women against the Coalition and it will be even more difficult for us to turn their voting intention around.


Proposal 5: That each Minister nominate an adviser to monitor the potential impact of their portfolio policy on women and to liaise with the Taskforce.


All too often policy is formulated, appointments are made to Boards or grants are made without sufficient consideration of the likely impact on women or even knowing what women’s groups to target to promote the policy.


We must develop better strategies to use the network and expertise of our women parliamentarians so that no Minister it left unaware of the implications for women of proposed portfolio initiatives.


In some policy areas there have been very negative reactions from women stakeholders.


Often this has been based on dire predictions or mere speculation as to the likely outcome of unwelcome changes reather than on any hard evidence. For example, with the changes to industrial relations it could just as plausibly be said that changes to the minimum required hours for part time work will allow women greater flexibility and in fact enhanced ability to participate in the workforce and manage family responsibilities. The contention put about by Labor is that it will restrict opportunities for women.


We need to be in a position to take issue with conclusions that have no foundation in fact and are mere scaremongering.


For our part, rhetoric will not suffice.


Relevant Ministers need to prepare information that deals with these criticisms as mere speculation having no foundation in fact and need assistance to target relevant women’s groups to get the message across.


Proposal 6: That the Taskforce develop a watching brief to monitor the positioning of Cheryl Kernot on women's issues (the Kernot factor).


The defection of Cheryl Kemot has provided a huge fillip for Labor at the polls. It remains to be seen whether the initial surge for Labor endures.


Prior to the defection, the Bulletin Morgan poll (2 November 1997) put the Coalition 14.5 points ahead of the ALP. Immediately after the defection, Labor led the Government by five percentage points.


Further, a Herald/AC Nielson-McNair survey (20 October 1997) indicated that more than a third of Democrats supporters are more inclined to vote for Labor at the next election because of Ms Kernot’s defection. The poll also indicated that 6% of Coalition voters are inclined to vote for Labor as a result of the defection.


Historically, the gender gap in voter support for Labor has fluctuated widely. In 1993, the percentage of women choosing the ALP rose to 46% presumably as a reaction to Fightback (GST) and “threats” to Medicare, but by 1996 had dropped to a low 34%. Significantly, it was female voters who polled the highest "undecided" category during the 1993 Federal Election and who had consistently higher expectations and concerns about the policies we took to the election at the time.


Obviously Labor hopes to lure women back to the ALP with the Kernot factor.


The Taskforce will:


• assemble the past utterances of Ms Kernot on relevant topics, especially as affects women;


• confront her (and Labor) with her contradictions and backflips at opportune times;


• to monitor so far as possible, where she is appearing and what she is doing and saying to women’s groups.



If there is general agreement with the Taskforce idea, (even if it undertakes a different range of tasks than outlined here), I think it is imperative that pl anning for it be undertaken as a priority.


In any event I would appreciate your views as to how it is proposed we manage women's policy issues now, and in the lead up to the election.


Helen Coonan

Senator for New South Wales