Simon Crean: Address To ALP Women’s Conference

This is the text of an address by the Federal Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, to the ALP Women’s Conference in Canberra.

Address by Simon Crean to the ALP Women’s Conference.

CreanI’m delighted to be here today to acknowledge the women who make such a major contribution to our work, and to tell you how important I believe increasing the input of women is to our Party’s future success.

I’m convinced that greater input from the women of Australia is necessary if we are to modernize the Labor Party and win office at the next federal election.

I acknowledge the groundbreaking leaders who have shown the way – women like former state leaders Rosemary Follett, Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence, and the new Chief Minister for the Northern Territory, Clare Martin.

And I acknowledge the great work being done by organizations like the Labor Women’s Network and Emily’s List, which has raised $400,000 to help more than 70 women into parliament.

One of the big differences between us and the Coalition is that every time the Prime Minister leaves the country he has to leave it in the hands of John Anderson or that try-hard, Peter Costello.

When I go overseas — as I’ll be doing later today when I start my trip to China — I’ll be leaving the Labor Party in the hands of my Deputy — Jenny Macklin!

Who would you prefer?

Jenny of course is the first woman to hold a senior federal leadership position in one of the major political parties. She also has the key portfolios of employment, education, training and science, which are central to our vision for the nation.

But there’s not just Jenny.

I have insisted on having more women on the front bench because it is an essential part of modernizing the structure of the shadow ministry and the parliamentary party.

I’ve been actively supporting a new generation of female frontbenchers as well — Carmen Lawrence, Julia Gillard, Kate Lundy, Nicola Roxon, Annette Ellis and Kirsten Livermore.

It’s not just a question of promoting them but of giving them tough assignments in key economic, social and values-related portfolios.

And there are a whole lot more women waiting in the wings, ready to take leadership roles.

Having said that, my central message for you today is this: modernizing the Labor Party and the broader Labor movement means giving women a bigger say and it means adopting new policies that will appeal to women.

Policies that will help the Party see more of the world through women’s eyes.

One great idea I’m proud to be able to endorse today is the proposal from the Labor Women’s Network for a National Political Experience Program for Women.

The Program will encourage women from all walks of life to gain experience as policy advisers and organizers by giving them two weeks of work experience at the highest levels of the Party.

It’s a great initiative and I’m delighted to be participating in the first intake.

The Policy Review

Modernizing the Labor Party means reviewing our policies.

All our policies will be up for review, except keeping Telstra in majority public ownership.

Jenny is conducting the Review, and we’ve already made a number of important policy announcements as that Review has progressed.

Take our policy towards asylum seekers.

In the last few months we’ve shown that you can be more compassionate towards asylum seekers and protect your borders at the same time.

Julia Gillard has helped shape a policy framework that will mothball Woomera, return security at detention centres to the Commonwealth, introduce more transparency and media access and – most important of all – get the kids out from behind the razor wire and into normal housing with their mothers, where they belong.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t agree that we need some form of mandatory detention to undertake important health, identity and security checks.

But we do need to process people faster and more humanely.

Labor’s policies on asylum seekers are currently the subject of detailed consultation process coordinated by Julia Gillard, and we will be making further announcements on this subject later in the year.

We’ve also recently called for new directions on population policy, for the modernization of the Parliament, and for the ending of the scandal of recent former ministers exploiting their inside knowledge with lucrative consulting contracts.

IVF

A typical example of the way John Howard really views women’s issues is assisted reproductive technologies like IVF.

John Howard this week decided to re-introduce into Parliament laws to give the states the right to deny some women the right to access IVF treatment.

The same laws he wanted to introduce in the last Parliament.

He wants to do this despite the High Court saying on the issue that you can’t discriminate against women.

It’s not just a question of overriding the umpire’s decision. It’s that we have a Prime Minister who simply can’t move with the times.

He hasn’t got a vision for the future because he’s hankering for the past.

Instead of governing for all of us, he believes that all of us should return to a view of society he holds but few others hold.

Just look at what he proposes.

Firstly, no state government currently has any intention of taking him up on his offer to exempt them from the Sex Discrimination Act.

Secondly, his legislation will not deny anyone the ability to get IVF treatment if they’re willing to go interstate.

So the Bill will be a waste of the Parliament’s time – time that should be spent addressing real issues, such as a national approach to ensure access to IVF programs.

Instead, he is pursuing a divisive course because it suits his obsession to always look inwardly, narrowly, backwardly and in this case discriminatorily.

People get this Prime Minister wrong. They think he has no agenda. That he’s just small minded. That’s true.

But he’s not just small-minded. He obsessively wants to take us backwards.

I want to take the electorate forward.

We need to identify the differences between us and the Coalition more clearly and give people a real choice.

On the IVF issue we have already determined our position.

If he brings the legislation back we won’t be supporting it and every member of the caucus will be voting that way.

The reason is, this is the Sex Discrimination Act. If you are seeking to override it you are seeking to discriminate on the basis of sex.

Labor created in the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984. It was a groundbreaking piece of legislation that Susan Ryan and others fought for.

John Howard only accepted it grudgingly at the time.

We embraced it. We meant to stop discrimination on the basis of sex. We still do.

You can’t say the same for the Liberals.

It’s time for people to stand up to John Howard and his divisive and conservative wedge politics.

But this wedge could catch Howard out.

The Liberal moderates are uneasy.

Laurie Oakes this week in the Bulletin told us that these so-called Liberal moderates now go by the extraordinary name of “the Black Hand”.

Well let’s see the Black Hand in support of true Liberal values stand up to the dead hand of conservatism.

I say this to those like Marise Payne, Julie Bishop, Petro Georgiou and that self-styled leader of the moderates, Peter Costello: are you going to once again sit on your hands and let Howard override the Sex Discrimination Act or are you going to come out and take a stand?

This wedge will only last a short time, but the watering down of the Sex Discrimination Act will last forever as a stain on the reputation of every Liberal moderate who supports it.

The women of Australia will be watching.

The Prime Minister thought he could get his way before – on banning stem cell research.

He had his minister, Kevin Andrews, urging that stem cell research should be banned.

He thought he could achieve the ban because the states were divided.

They weren’t.

A national agreement followed – but it was driven by the states, not him.

The lesson is that we need a national approach to IVF the same way we needed it for stem cell research.

IVF programs all rely on state and federal funding.

We should therefore be insisting on a national code of conduct – similar to that of the UK – with strong guidelines to ensure that people accessing IVF programs are able to care for their children. Such decisions should be left to experts, not politicians.

That’s the way forward – national partnership, not division.

Paid Maternity Leave

By adopting such a backward-looking approach, John Howard is making himself irrelevant on another key question of choice for Australian women – paid maternity leave.

More and more women are entering the paid workforce, but women are not being supported by policies that help them participate.

Long hours, competition for jobs and the rising cost of a mortgage are making it more difficult for families to make the choice between working and having a family.

Everyone is feeling the squeeze.

In this environment we have to help women manage their transition out of the workforce – with adequate income – and then help them back into the workforce with job flexibility.

Last week the Government’s own Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, released a paper on paid maternity leave.

On the same day, I committed us to support paid maternity leave.

Yet a week before, John Howard went to the Liberal Women’s Conference – their equivalent of this forum – and launched a pre-emptive strike to destroy it.

First he claimed that it would cost jobs.

That’s rubbish.

There is solid evidence – supported by the Report of his own Sex Discrimination Commissioner – that paid maternity leave leads to increased productivity, employee loyalty, reduced attrition and retention of skilled employees.

Businesses understand the importance of retaining the skills of their employees – skills gained through expensive training and experience. How can they retain those skills if they can’t encourage their workers to return after having a baby?

So paid maternity leave is not just good for women, it’s good for business.

John Howard also claims that the extra costs of paid maternity leave will force employers to discriminate against women.

Give us a break. This is the bloke who wants to actively discriminate against women when it comes to IVF now saying that he wants to protect them from discrimination by stopping paid maternity leave.

It’s pure hypocrisy.

While inconsistency is his strongest suit, the fact is: John Howard has no intention of doing anything that improves a woman’s right to choose to stay in the workforce after having a child.

Australia must have paid maternity leave.

The Coalition opposes it.

Well I’m announcing here today that a Crean Labor Government will introduce Paid Maternity Leave.

Labor will create a partnership with business, unions and the community on a model for legislated Paid Maternity Leave.

Because it has benefits for all parts of the community, it should be a shared responsibility.

We need a partnership to deliver the outcome.

To maximize its effectiveness in helping women move more easily in and out of the workforce, paid maternity leave must also come as part of a package with more flexible working hours and improved access to childcare.

We know paid maternity leave is affordable.

Don’t let John Howard tell you that it can’t be done.

The report of the Prime Minister’s own handpicked Discrimination Commissioner said it could be done for a net cost of $300 million.

That’s one model for paid maternity leave. There are others that must also be considered.

But what this figure shows is that this policy is very affordable to any government committed to finding ways to put it in place.

Given the amount that the Government is spending on proposals that don’t work, it must be possible to design a scheme that is cost effective and which treats all women equally.

It’s all about your priorities. It’s all about your values.

The potential benefits are huge.

It’s not just good for women and good for business, but it’s good population policy too.

Australia’s birth rates are falling, and Paid Maternity Leave – as part of a package of policies that give families more choice – can help us arrest the decline and ensure that we have a viable workforce in the future.

Everyone from Alan Jones to Anne Summers supports Paid Maternity Leave. What does that say about those like John Howard who oppose it?

A real pay rise for working families

A third key policy issue where women’s support and involvement will be crucial is taxation reform.

By the end of the next Parliament there will be an average of $6 billion per year in bracket creep, meaning that ordinary Australians will be paying more and more income tax.

Under John Howard, we’ve already got the highest taxing government of all time and families are paying more tax.

So we need to relieve the additional burden that will be created by bracket creep. We need to consider the best options for giving that money back and there will be many options for us to consider.

We know that the Coalition always gives the greatest tax cuts to the wealthy few.

We want to give it to working families to help them cope with the costs of bringing up children, and to boost the incomes of the lowest paid.

Sharan Burrow and her colleagues at the ACTU are doing a great job representing the low-paid and trying to win them a decent living wage.

But they need more help – the sort of help they can only get from a Labor Government.

Three weeks ago I announced Labor’s support for tax credits.

We support tax credits because they are the best way of providing a living wage that recognizes the cost of bringing up a family.

I like to think of it as not just a working family tax credit but as a real pay rise for working families and a plan for jobs.

Through our proposal, we could give a working family an income boost that wouldn’t cost them other benefits they need.

In fact, for a family with two kids and one full-time breadwinner on the minimum wage, a $10 tax credit is the same as a $15 pay rise before tax.

If the same family has a second breadwinner on the full-time minimum wage, a $10 tax credit is the same as a $25 pay rise, because that family wouldn’t lose any money in tax or in family payment claw back.

And if we pay these extra benefits at the start of the school year, we can make it easier for every family to meet the rising costs of educating their children.

So Labor’s proposed tax cuts would be a smart tax cut not a lazy one.

They would narrow the gap between rich and poor, help create a knowledge society, involve a lower cost to the employer, boost employment and boost incentive.

And, importantly, they would be a big boost for all families, including single parents, struggling to survive on the minimum wage.

Narrowing the income gap between men and women

Of course there are other important areas where new policy will be needed to get us closer to our goal of greater income equality for women.

For instance, our Policy Review must address the fact that women are retiring with less superannuation than men because of lower than average rates of pay, higher levels of part-time and casual work, and time spent out of the workforce rearing children.

We must look at ways to overcome these inequalities, by, for example, examining options for continuing superannuation payments for women while they are on maternity leave.

And we must keep working towards the goal of increasing the pay of people in “feminised” industries.

The recent Librarian’s pay case that recommended a significant pay increase for librarians is a landmark decision that points the way.

It’s a sad irony that the women who look after our children in childcare centres often can’t afford childcare for their own children.

We have to address these wage justice issues before we can have a truly just society.

Conclusion

Non-discriminatory IVF policies. Paid maternity Leave. A real pay rise for working families. Wage and superannuation justice for women.

These are some of the directions that our Policy Review is taking us.

It’s all about giving new form to our traditional values.

It’s about finding new ways to reach our goal of creating a strong economy and a just society.

And it’s about reaching out to new supporters in the community, building on the base we already have.

Making ourselves more open to women and their priorities is essential to making a success of Labor’s policy and organizational reviews.

I know they will be a success and I know you will all play a strong role in making them a success.

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