24 MARCH 2023

The two major parties fall short for women says Women’s Electoral Lobby

NSW women have been missing in the policy action around the NSW election, at least with the two major parties.

The Greens have a comprehensive policy statement for women.

Since one of the two major parties will lead the next NSW Government, the stakes for NSW women are high.

The NSW Government partly funds (with the Commonwealth) and delivers most of the services which make a difference for women’s everyday lives: health, housing, education and training, social and community services, children’s services, support for women fleeing violence, the justice and police system, public transport, planning.

The State Government is the largest single employer of women in NSW. Women comprise 65.5% of the 400,000 people employed in the public service. 72% of workers in education and 74% in health are women.

Yet neither the Coalition nor the ALP have spelt out a coherent set of women’s policies let alone a vision for achieving women’s equality during this campaign. The Coalition Government’s NSW Women’s Strategy 2023-2026 is short term in scope and has limited reporting requirements.

The NSW Liberals made a start with the women’s Economic Opportunity Statement in the 2022-23 budget. They drew on feminist economists to link access to childcare with options for women’s workforce participation. But this is not enough.

For this NSW election, WEL has developed a set of polices and key demands which we believe need to be actioned by the next government, whoever wins. We have tracked these demands against election party promises to produce our Scorecard for the Coalition, ALP and Greens.

The Scorecard shows mixed performance by the Coalition and Labor across the areas of women’s housing, domestic violence, health, early childhood education and care, consent education and women’s political representation.

The Greens’ almost perfect policy score is very welcome but needs to be considered in the context of their potential role as broker in a minority government.

In the area of women’s employment and children’s well-being, the Coalition and Labor’s policies vary in quality and in detail, making comparison difficult.

For example the Coalition commits to 500 pre-schools and an extra 5000 places over the next 4 years. The ALP to 100 public schools and 50 on non-government school sites, without specifying the number of new places.

However the Coalition fails to spell out how and where their 5000 places will be delivered, given the acute shortages of educators in an industry plagued by low wages and poor conditions. Their wages cap disempowers early education and care workers in the public system.

Labor’s recently announced policy to invest $22m in upskilling and study leave for childcare workers could remedy shortages, especially when added to their commitment to remove the wages cap.

There is relatively good news across all parties on Domestic and Family Violence policy commitments.

On housing, Labor has outpaced the Coalition with small but significant steps on transferable bonds, rental security and mandating 30% affordable and social housing on surplus government land. These will not substantially help many women, including single mothers fleeing violence who comprise a significant proportion of those suffering housing insecurity and rental stress.

Both parties are silent on significant additional social housing.

The Coalition and ALP have made commitments on expanding access to women’s health services. The Coalition’s university managed trial for pharmacist renewal for prescriptions for contraceptives and STI medications is potentially liberating for women in rural and regional NSW. Why hasn’t Labor signaled matching support?

We applaud Labor’s doubling of funding for Women’s Health Centres. WEL believes Family Planning Clinics should be included as funded partners in providing specialist access to reproductive health and that public hospitals need to provide free reproductive health care throughout the state.

We remain concerned that despite strong calls from advocates and sections of the media, neither the ALP nor the Coalition have committed to mandating respectful relationships and consent education in the NSW curriculum. We understand that the Greens have now outlined their supportive policy.

Finally we lament the failure of the Coalition parties to select and promote excellent women candidates in winnable seats.

On the evidence from our Scorecard, WEL is reluctant to advise a feminist vote for either the ALP or Coalition, despite some strong individual policies. The Greens present the most coherent policy vision for NSW women but their capacity to give this effect will depend on how much balance of power they hold in the next government. The ALP’s overall commitment to higher wages for public sector workers via removal of the wage cap means that a significant proportion of NSW women workers - especially in the care industries - would be likely to benefit from a Labor win.