This government has acted with impunity towards women for too long

This government has acted with impunity towards women for too long

Scott Morrison Enough

It’s been a little over a month since the Federal government handed down its history-making, big-spending budget. That means it’s a little over a month since I received a phonecall from the Prime Minister’s office that spurred the viral hashtag #CredibleWomen.

It’s been written about extensively but the short version is that a staffer in the PM’s office rang to convey his disappointment with comments I had made about the Budget failing to deliver for women which he described as ‘factually inaccurate’.

I was told that as ‘a public figure’ what I said mattered and what I had said about the Budget was apparently not true. When I responded that I was far from a lone voice in highlighting the absence of anything substantive to address gender inequality I was told ‘no one credible’ was saying that.    

The conversation was courteous and mostly civil but astounding all the same. (Made even more strange by the fact half the phone call took place in the car while I was ferrying our two older children between school holiday activities.)   

When I was told ‘there was nothing gendered in the Budget’ I laughed out loud. That comment made very clear why and how women were so readily overlooked in the Budget. If the starting point is the fanciful assumption that men and women are on equal footing and therefore impacted equally by each and every measure, of course there won’t be any targeted measures or policies.

A few hours after I received that phonecall I sent a private message to about 25 women and suggested we use the hashtag #CredibleWomen when posting about the Budget.

That was just the match.

The flames of #CredibleWomen spread like wildfire as a result of the collective frustration and disbelief that the Budget failed to adequately recognise and prioritise women’s economic security as a fundamental and pressing component of Australia’s COVID recovery.

That just $240million out of a $500 billion Budget, roughly one-third of one-percent of the total spend, would be specifically dedicated to women’s economic security was shocking given the extent to which women have borne the disproportionate burden of the adverse social and financial consequences from COVID.

That the Treasurer specifically highlighted this investment as an initiative of significance was shocking too. 

It was, and is, emblematic of the prevailing sentiment in decision-making, particularly in Federal politics, that women’s economic security is a niche concern deserving of little serious concern or expenditure.

The habitual dismissal of the compelling social and economic rationales for prioritising the economic security of half the population was the foundation from which #CredibleWomen exploded.

Economists, business leaders, academics, doctors, lawyers, journalists, politicians and advocates across a range of sectors and organisations were already united in their recognition of the Budget’s failings in relation to women.

#CredibleWomen served to amplify their voices and their messages. It grew rapidly and exponentially, revealing thousands of women and men who recognised the government’s failure to address the systematic barriers that make economic security so elusive for so many women at this point in history as indefensible.

To reveal the suggestion that ‘no one credible’ was making the case as deeply mistaken.  The point wasn’t women, or men, seeking to present themselves as ‘more’ credible than anyone else but about representing all women as credible.

As valid. As informed. Inherently. As deserving of dignity and respect as a matter of course. Not because they’re someone’s daughter. But because they’re human beings of worth.  

I contemplated all of this while watching last night’s explosive 4 Corners program. It shed light on some deeply uninspiring and problematic conduct by two senior government ministers and fixed the spotlight, once again, on the Federal Liberal party’s treatment of women.

Before the program went to air, the MD of the ABC confirmed in Senate Estimates that representatives from various government ministers had sought to stop the program going to air. The program’s executive producer Sally Neighbour and reporter Louise Milligan confirmed the ‘unrelenting and extreme’ political pressure applied to the ABC in seeking to have this reporting shelved.  

It is extraordinary. And appears to align with a disturbing pattern that was revealed in the program itself as much as in the government’s response.

When a married government minister was photographed by a public servant in a public bar with another woman, the course of action was, reportedly, to immediately have the photograph deleted from the phone.

When members of the government were presented with some of the damning findings in this forensic 4Corners report the response was ‘let’s fight the ABC to get this off air’.

When the Treasurer and the PM ignored multiple comprehensive submissions made ahead of the Budget to ensure the disproportionate adverse impact of COVID on women would be addressed, and were then called out for the glaring omission, the response was to call a pesky female writer and suggest she’s mistaken.

The pattern? Act with impunity and then actively seek to silence anyone who dares to call it out.

Enough. It is time for #CredibleWomen and #CredibleMen – like all of those involved in producing and protecting Monday night’s 4Corners program – to challenge and change that.

It is clear some members of this government are all too eager for impunity to prevail.

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