In 2012, Tony Fitzgerald summed up the state of politics in Australia with this observation (firewalled on The Australian):
“… insiders see problems with insiders’ eyes, recognise only some of the problems and few of the causes and suggest insiders’ solutions with voters as mere bystanders. The usual, and sometimes intended, outcome is a flurry of superficial activity, appointment of a suitable group of other insiders to report, lengthy discussion of their report, considerable navel-gazing, a feel-good pronouncement and business as usual.”
How very true.
We have endless committees and very expensive reviews and then ignore their findings and recommendations. Instead of implementing solutions, we waste money on talkfests.
Which brings me to our Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer.
Kelly is an improvement on her two predecessors in the role in that she is a woman and also a feminist. (Mind you, it would be hard to find someone worse than Abbott and Cash.)
She has been very busy announcing lots of stuff of late.
“The minister for women is committed to addressing gender imbalances through leadership and financial literacy initiatives” writes Katharine Murphy.
O’Dwyer has started a fighting fund to get more Liberal women elected to parliament, contributing $50,000 herself. She is also launching networking sessions in Parliament House for her female parliamentary colleagues and started a Leadership for Women course for female parliamentary staff which will focus on strategic planning for career progression.
In the May budget, the minister announced $65 million for a new not-for-profit organisation with “a focus on improving financial literacy.”
“I want this to be for financial literacy and capability what Beyond Blue has been for mental health,” she grandiosely proclaimed.
During the week, Kelly also announced $500,000 for an inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.
She has also promised to deliver a women’s economic security statement in September (reportedly with a budget allocation of $100 million) which she said would “make sure that women have the economic capability, the economic resilience to make choices about their lives”.
So we have a campaign fund and coffee club for Liberal politicians and a seminar for their staff, a new organisation, an inquiry and a statement. They will fit nicely with the tens of millions spent on advertising.
Meanwhile, family benefits have been cut, funding for legal aid has been slashed, refuges have closed, men’s help groups have folded, early intervention community programs have been defunded, over 100,000 are homeless, elder abuse is rampant, anti-bullying programs have been attacked, and women continue to be beaten, raped and killed.
It’s all very nice for high-flying women to empower each other but what about those women who are struggling to survive? They don’t need investment advice. They need a way to put food on the table and a roof over their children’s heads. They need to know that they have a place to be safe.
I agree that economic independence is a desirable goal that provides choices but Kelly seems to think that the only reason many women are not financially independent is because they just don’t understand how the system works.
We understand well enough, it’s just that the majority of women do not have enough left over to worry about whether to put it into superannuation or a negatively-geared property or shares.
Single parents don’t need lessons on economic literacy – they need practical help.
Victims of domestic violence don’t need advertising campaigns – they need safe havens, legal help, and paid DV leave.
It isn’t women that have to get smarter, it’s society that has to change.
Women joining the workforce began to break their isolation and dependence on, and often obedience to, the male ‘breadwinner’. However, in many cases, women are now doubly exploited through lower wages and unpaid labour at home.
As for sexual harassment in the workplace, Ms O’Dwyer said she was prompted by the #MeToo movement yet, when asked if she had ever encountered sexual harassment in her male-dominated workplaces, she declined to comment, saying it wasn’t about her.
But she has just funded a nationwide inquiry that will, presumably, ask others to speak out about their experiences. That takes courage. Why do politicians (and their staff and the press gallery) refuse to tell their stories? They seem too scared to speak up yet ask others to take that risk.
We don’t need a national survey. We need all women, particularly those who have a public voice, to speak up about just how prevalent this scourge is and how unacceptable that sort of behaviour is. Exposure and solidarity have done a far better job to create momentum for change than any policy and procedure documents.
Not only are women suffering a gender divide, there is also a serious class divide in the Western capitalist world.
While globalisation has shifted billions from abject poverty to relative poverty, it has brought with it unbearable inequality, brazen greed, climate change, and the hijacking of our parliamentary democracies by bankers and the ultra-rich.
Insecure work, low wages, and high household debt have combined to create an obedient, docile, uncritical workforce who will work to support the upper-class’s lifestyle and the economy.
As workers struggle to provide their families with all the temptations that a capitalist society offers, they become far less likely to risk their employment, and less able to improve their situation.
The power of unions has been undermined, membership has declined, and industrial action been made largely illegal, with very expensive fines to further discourage withdrawal of labour as a negotiating tool.
Helping women achieve leadership roles is not really any use if they just then help the women who are already flush with choice and opportunity.
We need women who understand the struggle of those not born into privilege, the 50% of people who earn below the median wage, those who have sacrificed any thought of job security let alone satisfaction or even, at times, safety, the tens of thousands who suffer domestic abuse, those who are forced to exist on welfare, and those who cannot afford a home.
Help them first. In real, tangible ways. Maybe then we can find time to talk about ‘financial literacy’ without sounding completely oblivious to the real world.
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