On International Women's Day the Australian Greens have called on the Gillard government to get behind twelve priority areas to help advance women's equity and build an Abbott-proof fence, says Australian Greens women's spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon.
Ten areas were set out in a speech to the Senate on 25 February and are summarised below. Two more have since been added.
"The spectre of an Abbott-led government has made Australian women understandably nervous and the Labor government needs to do more to implement initiatives that will make a real difference to women's lives," Senator Rhiannon said.
"It's time to resurrect a feisty and energetic Office for the Status of Women within the Prime Minister's department to drive change.
"We need a clear plan to achieve equal pay, to implement Greens MP Adam Bandt's Better Work Life Balance Bill to achieve fairer flexible working hours and reform tax and superannuation rules to provide women with a bigger safety net for retirement.
"Australian women also deserve an articulated plan from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on women's issues he would advocate for if elected.
"What is Mr Abbott's position on women's right to choose? Will he allow the allocation of overseas aid for reproductive and sexual health programs without political interference?
"What no woman wants is a return to the Howard years where these kinds of services and programs were placed under threat," Senator Rhiannon said.
Australian Greens top 12 priorities for action:
1. Re-establish the Office for the Status of Women within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
Australia needs more than a backseat driver for women's issues, we need a feisty and dedicated office responsible for women within the PM's office. The first Office for the Status of Women was a success until former PM John Howard downgraded it by merging it with the Department of Family and Community Affairs and renamed it the ‘Office for Women'. Since that time - while the efforts of hard-working women bureaucrats within the office who continue to push gender equity are impressive - the spotlight on women's issues has dimmed considerably.
2. Develop a clear and comprehensive plan to achieve Equal Pay
The gender pay gap currently sits at 17.5 per cent, widening from 15 per cent since the Howard years. The $2.8 billion the Gillard government allocated to implement Fair Work Australia's decision for community workers is welcome, but far more is needed to pressure resistant states to budget for equal pay increases.
3. Back the Greens' Better Work/Life Balance Bill
Flexible working hours help reduce the stress women face combining work, family and caring responsibilities. Greens MP Adam Bandt's Better Work/Life Balance Bill expands the right to request flexible working hours and allows Fair Work Australia to rule on requests for flexible work arrangements.
4. Address tax and policy settings around superannuation
Part-time work, caring responsibilities and lower pay all help see women's average superannuation payout sit at roughly a third of that of men. Offering paid parental leave with superannuation is one useful policy change. Tackling tax concessions on superannuation is another. These are costing the public purse around $30 billion each year, with almost half of the tax concessions going to the top 12 percent of earners who are predominately men.
5. Increase the Newstart Allowance by $50 a week
The government's tight fisted increase of $4 per week for Newstart recipients is an insult. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert's bill to increase the maximum single rate of Newstart by $50 per week is a reasonable ask considering the single rate of Newstart is more than $130 under the poverty line. A tougher mining tax is one way to pay for this urgently needed reform.
6. Scrap Income Management
Evidence on the implementation of Income Management in the Northern Territory shows it is failing women and should be scrapped. Yet despite this the government is rolling it out in five new sites around Australia. Investment in jobs and services is needed, not this heavy handed paternalism.
7. Stand firm on women's right to choose
Attacks on women's reproductive rights are possibly the most feared outcome of an Abbott led government. DLP Senator John Madigan, who may hold the balance of power in the Senate after the election, is already attempting to whip up pro-life activism. Guaranteed access to safe and confidential reproductive health services, including abortion, is what most Australians want. PBS listing and the eventual subsidising of RU486 and Misoprostol to enable non-surgical abortion to be more widely accessible is crucial, particularly for women living in rural and regional Australia.
8. Extend protection against discrimination at work to domestic violence victims
An estimated 1.2 million Australian women have experienced domestic or family violence. More is needed to support these women to stay safe at work and keep their jobs. Extending protection against workplace discrimination to victims of domestic violence is overdue.
9. Increase overseas aid for family planning
The threat of interference by an Abbott government in how Australia spends its foreign aid is real. Family planning is key to reducing maternal mortality, which is the leading cause of death and illness for all women worldwide. We need a vocal commitment to continue and increase aid funding for reproductive and sexual health, with no strings attached, to avoid a repeat of the Brian Harradine years.
10. Ensure parliament reflects the real world gender makeup
2013 is the 110th anniversary of Australian women winning the right to vote and stand in elections, and the 70th anniversary of the election of the first women to Federal Parliament. Actively working to increase representation of women at all levels of government would strengthen and boost our democracy.
11. Deliver proper paid parental leave
A paid parental leave scheme offers wide-ranging benefits not only to women, but also to business and through providing long term productivity benefits to the Australian economy. The Greens are campaigning to amend the Fair Work Act to include guaranteed paid parental leave for a minimum of six months, with superannuation entitlements, making it an enforceable workplace entitlement with proper pay. Treasury costings show the Greens’ plan will cost $740 million pa.
12. Get more women on boards
Quotas for women on boards are in place in Norway, France, Belgium, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. Australian companies lag behind. In 2012, 12.3% of board directors in Australia were women, while in the US it was 16%. ABS figures show only 3% of Australian board chairs are women. The Greens want the the Corporations Act to require publicly listed companies, with an annual turnover in excess of $15 million, to ensure that women hold 40% of board positions within five years or risk closure. The proposal is based on Norwegian legislation which has seen 93% of public limited companies in Norway meet this requirement.