Part three of the WEL formguide looks at the leaders, as the party leader can have a strong influence on their party's policies and direction and on the wider public debates. This assessment looks at both their expressed preferences in policy direction and their stated personal ideas about women and their position in society.
We have divided our assessment into four main areas:
Equity: Will their approach achieve a fairer Australia and continue the progress that women have made to obtaining a share of power, resources and respect? WEL believes that scapegoating groups and producing populist policies to placate the mainstream rather than serve minorities are both unfair and signal views which will also affect women as the biggest minority(?)
Social infrastructure: Will they provide the appropriate social infrastructure to ensure that those areas of public policy aimed at people rather than economics receive a fair share of funding? Without this families (that is women) will be compelled to take on additional caring responsibilities because education, health, community care and other such services are not adequately resourced. It is essential that responsibilities for care are shared between the public and private spheres in order to give women real choices.
Choices: Will they recognise that women are still unequal in income, political power, high level and non traditional occupations, and therefore put in place programs to remedy both past disadvantage and often entrenched attitudes so choices can be made which are not affected by lack of opportunities, rather than stereotype women into "traditional" caring roles?
Finances: Will they recognise that women still predominate in low paid, part time work and make up the majority of those not in the paid labourforce and are still disadvantaged by taking on traditional roles? Policies need to ensure that areas like social security, child support, retirement and other economic areas make arrangements to support women in these areas without biasing the system against either those who balance both paid and unpaid work, or take on solely unpaid work. Sufficient tax needs to be collected to fund the necessary cost of services.
Equity - 5/25
Howard appears to have problems in this area, and his government has tended to use issues such as welfare for migrants, overpayments in social security, and problems with ATSIC to push negative stereotypes. His failure to apologise to the Stolen Children indicates a rigidity which is not a sign of ability to change. He has allowed the debate about political correctness to assume rather unpleasant proportions, and, in trivial changes such as abolishing the term chairperson, has indicated that he has little empathy with those not like him. His granting increased access to "disgruntled men's groups" over women's groups indicates his discomfort with women generally.
Social infrastructure - 8/25
In filling the so-called black hole, the Howard led government cut into many areas of social programs and even now there are only small repairs. He has personally pushed support for carers which is a plus, but has at the same time has cut other programs such as disability and child care on a per capita basis. One can't help feeling that his funding is often designed to reinforce unpaid family care as the preferred option, which certainly accords with the Liberal view of the family as the primary means of welfare.
Choices - 5/26
This is a term often used by the PM but it sounds as though the main choice he offers to fund is always the traditional role. In his tax initiatives he has twice directed funds towards single income families, and ignored evidence that this actually is likely not to increase choice but reinforce more limited options for women with fewer job skills by both rhetoric and small tax advantages. The reduction of per capital funding of child care services has also limited women's choices to do other than stay at home caring for children.
Finances - 10/25
While the Coalition has certainly reduced mortgages for those that have them and made some minor improvements to super, the economic status of women is not improving. A small rehab program for women returning to paid work after care, is welcome but is merely refunding the JET scheme previously set up under a Labor government. The tax system not only discriminates against two income couples on the same low total pay as single income families, it also affects low paid workers as such by under compensating them. As most in this category are women and many have no social security entitlement, they will receive no real tax cuts or GST compensation but still be caught by a reduced level of funding for the public sector generally as the total tax take under the Coalition is less than the current funds and they are sparse enough! His repeated and long-term championing of income-splitting indicates his view of the divided responsibilities of men and women in family life.
Total : 28%
and not really even trying to change, which is a real worry! (We tried hard to find some areas in which the Coalition could score well, because it is embarrassing WEL's non partisan status that the PM has such a low score. Unfortunately we could only find individual issues such as opposition to the trafficking in women's bodies and increased domestic violence funding which, while extremely important, are more than offset by unsympathetic broad general directions.
Equity - 10/25
Policies offered by Labor are improving but there is a long way to go. It is difficult to score Beazley personally because of his low profile leading up to the election. However, he does score in this category because he has presented a more inclusive style and rhetoric, albeit one which needs to be followed up with some more specific policy proposals. Labor's women's policy statement was mainly rhetoric. His unwillingness to put back payments to migrants suggest that he will sell out to politics of pragmatism. Needs to eat more humble pie listening to women's groups and perspectives.
Social infrastructure - 15/25
As leader, Beazley has performed well, giving a sense of caring about social issues and a willingness to put money into child care, education and public health. His policies for jobs in non profit areas will work well for women in both employment and access to services. Their child care policy is bad because he just outbids the Coalition but does not challenge a market framework. Has offered a commitment to intervention when necessary.
Choices - 13/25
Beazley appears to be comfortable with the diverse roles of women and understands the position of women with paid jobs. He has acknowledged that women will make choices about paid and unpaid work without needing further government engineering but has still used combined incomes to deliver tax credits, thus making the second income earner at higher levels face a high tax rate. Still a way to go!
Finances - 16/25
Beazley has made it clear that he wants to encourage paid work as an alternative to welfare dependency by recognising that paid work costs money as well as earns it. WEL is therefore pleased with the idea of tax credits for workers, but not on joint incomes as indicated above. WEL is also supportive of tax cuts which do at least go mainly to those that need them and are limited so there is still money for other spending. His complete opposition to a GST may be too limiting in his suggestions of where the extra money can come from.
Total : 54%
Overall, as leader, Beazley presents as someone who is comfortable with whatever choices women may make, and who is prepared to use government to provide equity for all. A pass, but he needs to do better.
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Page created 28 September 1998; last updated 28 September 1998