The 2014 Victorian state election is bearing down on us and considering the current national political climate the outcome is likely to be close.
Federally, with the LNP claiming victory in 2013, we saw an immediate, hard shift to the political right and a steady march toward policies and tough budget measures calculated to drive vulnerable Australians, including women (and particularly women parenting alone), deeper into hardship and poverty. With this in mind, it becomes even more important for single mother families to know where our state politicians stand on issues affecting the women and children of Victoria.
To help us identify how their policies will potentially impact women parenting alone, CSMC approached state representatives for all three major political parties requesting feedback on a list of questions relevant to issues affecting our members. Currently we have only received comment from the Victorian Greens; however we do have a meeting scheduled with the Shadow Minister for Women, Danielle Green to hear more about Labor’s policies for women and their children.
At CSMC’s initial contact with the State Liberals in July we were advised to send our questions to the Minister for Women’s Affairs, Heidi Victoria, as well as to the Minister for Children, Wendy Lovell. When neither of these Ministers responded we were told we should be addressing our questions to the Minister for Community Services, Mary Wooldridge. Almost two months later we are still waiting for a response from Minister Wooldridge.
In our interaction with the Minister for Women’s Affairs, Heidi Victoria’s office we were told, like many others we were confused about the Minister’s role. The staffer we spoke to told us the Minister for Women’s Affairs wasn’t there to represent issues of equity for women overall, but represented working women and women in business and government. The implications of this conversation being single mothers are all on welfare, don’t work, don’t own businesses and aren’t represented in government, therefore are not the concern of the Minister.
It is deeply troubling to think our politicians could be so out of touch with the lives of the people they represent. Women who parent alone are growing in number, are progressively more politically savvy and represent up to 20% of the vote in some constituencies.
As a cohort we are growing increasingly tired of politicians who hear ‘single mother’ and see us only as people on welfare and not as women who are unfailingly stepping up to the job of parenting alone when our relationships break down, as well as contributing members of the Australian community who make significant financial and personal sacrifices to ensure our children thrive despite the great odds stacked against us.
On behalf of our members, CSMC would sincerely like to thank the Victorian Greens for taking the time to respectfully respond to our questions and to Danielle Green from the Victorian Labor Party for following up on our concerns and making a time to meet with us.
You can find the Greens answers to our questions below and we will keep you posted on further developments with the other political parties, including our forthcoming meeting with the Shadow Minister for Women so you are able to inform your vote at the state election come November.
How will your party work to ensure single parent families are raised out of poverty, regardless of their source of income?
There are a number of ways to raise single parents out of poverty. One way is to ensure the government payments are adequate for stay-at-home parents to live off.
As you will know, the Australian Greens have provided a strong voice for single mothers, being the only party to oppose the cuts to Centrelink single parent payments. We have also advocated for a $50 increase in the Newstart payment.
Rather than providing adequate support to single parent households, the Abbott Government is only making things worse. Single parents families will be unfairly impacted by the budget, with ACOSS finding that single parent households on low incomes are $50 per week worse off as a result of cuts to family payments alone.
Cuts to family payments and the single parenting payment, the loss of the pensioner education supplement (again) as well as the increased costs of medication and visits to the doctor will all have a substantial impact on the household budget. NATSEM suggest some single parent families will lose more than 14% of their disposable income as a result of budget measures.
The Greens will not sit by while the Government keeps punishing single parents and making it harder for them to afford the absolute essentials like rent, food, utilities bills and school costs. Since budget night, the Australian Greens have been steadfast in opposing any budget measure that punishes vulnerable people.
The Australian Greens are moving ahead with legislation to reverse the cuts to single parents by the Howard and Gillard Governments. We are consulting on draft legislation that will see single parents remain eligible for parenting payments until their youngest child turns 16, rather than the current limit of 8.
Other ways to lift single parents out of poverty are addressed in subsequent questions.
How does your party plan to increase the availability of secure family friendly jobs with predictable working hours?
The Greens understand that having a job with good workplace conditions is incredibly important to families, particularly single parents, for whom juggling the responsibilities of work and home is even more demanding and challenging.
Workplace conditions, like wages and government allowances, are controlled by federal laws. The Australian Greens believe workplace laws should provide better work-life balance, with people having more control over their working arrangements and enforceable rights to flexible working practices, balanced against the legitimate operational needs of the employer. People should also have legal protection against working excessive hours.
The Australia Greens are also strong advocates of equal pay for equal work. Australian men are said to earn 17.1% more than Australian women, and men are said to be paid 10% more in the same professions.
In Victoria, in July our unemployment rate hit 7%, the highest rate since 2001. This is the tenth month in a row that unemployment in Victoria has been above 6 per cent. With the closure of many manufacturing industries and a high population growth rate, it’s clear that more needs to be done to create new jobs.
The Victorian Greens have a number of election policies that will generate jobs. Two already announced include: our plan to build 50 new trams for the network, which will create around 500 local jobs; and our plan for a Victorian Cash for Containers scheme, which will create over 1,200 jobs. Closer to the election the Greens will announce more specific commitments which will lead to job creation.
How will your party guarantee all children are able to participate fully in their education, ensuring all aspects of schooling – uniforms, equipment, fees and school activities including camps and excursions – are affordable?
The Greens understand that for single parents, schooling can be expensive and extra-curricular activities can be unaffordable.
The Victorian Greens support elimination of all fees for ‘non-core’ activities charged by public schools. This can be achieved through increased funding and reinstating the Education Maintenance Allowance. This allowance should be paid at a level sufficient to ensure that all students can afford to participate in the full range of extracurricular activities including but not limited to camps, excursions and instrumental music.
How does your party plan to assist single mothers to study and train for careers that offer secure employment and opportunity for career growth?
The Greens believe people are entitled to well-funded and high quality, life-long public education and training.
For decades, TAFE has provided quality, low cost education and training to Victorians of all ages and backgrounds to give them the skills to get meaningful jobs. TAFE plays a critical role in supporting women to train and obtain skills to get quality jobs.
In 2009, the former Labor government introduced market contestability to VET. This led to a sudden rise in the number of private training organisations and a blow out in the VET budget.
Instead of reining in the funding of the new private providers, many of whom were rorting the system in 2012, the Coalition government slashed TAFE budgets.
This has led to campus and course closures across Victoria, higher student fees, less student concessions and the loss of thousands of dedicated TAFE staff.
As a result, VET students of all ages are struggling with the everyday cost of basics such as food and transport, and are concerned about their accumulating debt.
The Greens understand the importance of TAFE. Colleen Hartland, Greens MP for the western suburbs, received her first qualification at age 40 as a TAFE student.
The Greens will restore core public TAFE funding and reinstate TAFE as the primary, low cost provider of VET in Victoria.
The Greens support will ensure everyone has access to quality, affordable training opportunities.
How does your party plan to increase the availability of affordable, secure housing for single mother families?
The housing affordability crisis in Australia has come to define this generation. Successive governments have failed to keep up with the housing needs of a diverse, growing and ageing population. And this Victorian Coalition Government is no exception.
Despite 34,000 people currently facing years on the public housing waiting list, the Napthine Government has become the lowest funder of social housing per head of population of any state or territory in Australia. The Coalition provides just $74 for social housing per head of population, compared to $165 in NSW and $265 per person in South Australia, our two closest neighbours.
The Coalition Government’s long awaited social housing framework failed to provide any vision or make any investment to increase the number of public housing dwellings to meet the growing need. Further it has cut funding to highly successful programs, such as the Social Housing Advocacy and Support Program (SHASP).
The Greens stand for increased investment to build new social housing dwellings that are affordable, sustainable, safe, secure and suited to client needs. We support restoring funding of SHASP and expanding programs to help prevent homelessness.
Affordable private rental housing is also essential. An increasing number of Victorians will rent for life. However, currently less than one per cent of rental properties in Melbourne are affordable to a single person on Newstart, and less than two per cent to a single parent with one child.
To increase the number of affordable rental properties, the Greens are standing for minimum targets for provision of affordable housing in urban renewal precincts, such as Fisherman’s bend, Richmond Station and E-Gate in Docklands.
Often rental properties are expensive to run as they have old, inefficient heating and hot water systems and are riddled with holes that let out the heat. They can also be insecure, with tenancy not guaranteed in the long term.
The Victorian Greens have introduced legislation into parliament to create minimum standards for rental properties in relation to repair, comfort, safety, facilities and energy efficiency. If passed, this law would also remove the ability for landlords to evict renters without giving a lawful reason. The aim is just for basic, decent accommodation for everyone.
The Greens believe the housing affordability crisis and years-long waiting list for public housing are unacceptable in a modern and prosperous economy.
What does your party plan to do to increase access to flexible and affordable childcare for single mother families across Victoria?
The Greens understand the provision of quality, affordable, and flexible care is a necessity for mothers.
Many families are also struggling to find the quality and affordable childcare they need. Investment is needed to ensure as many Victorian children as possible get the best start in life.
Instead of helping families meet the rising costs of childcare, Labor and the Abbott Government have made it harder for parents to make ends meet.
The Abbott Government has frozen the level of family income at which the maximum child care benefit subsidy can be claimed at $42,000 a year for the next three years and wants to continue to pause the maximum rebate at $7500 per child.
The Australian Greens opposed the Abbott Government’s cuts to the child care benefit as they are going to take an extra $57 a week from low income families.
Unfortunately Labor teamed up with the Liberals to pass this through the Australian Senate.
We need to stand up for working families, not punish them by making childcare unaffordable.
The Australian Greens will continue to stand up for single mothers and families to make child care more affordable.
Not only does child care need to be affordable, it needs to be available and in some areas there are long and growing wait lists. We know there has been a boom in Victoria’s population with 2,100 new Victorians each week. As a result there is a shortage of child care services in some areas.
To bring down waiting lists the Victorian Greens are standing for greater investment in child care centres in growth areas and areas of high socio-economic need.
When will legal aid funding be increased to ensure women have access to legal representation for the full extent of their family law proceedings?
The Greens strongly support increasing funding to legal aid and have advocated for this in the face of cuts by the Napthine Government in recent years.
We believe that both community legal centres and legal aid must have secure funds, in both criminal and civil jurisdictions, to ensure access to justice for all Victorians.
Women, in particular have suffered as a result of cuts to legal aid and community legal centres. Women have greater need for these services for family law proceedings and proceedings relating to family violence.
The Greens are standing for a greater range of specialist services available at court to victims of family violence so as to provide an integrated response at their first point of contact with the justice system.
What will your party do to protect women and children experiencing family violence?
In Australia one in three women over the age of 15 will experience physical assault and one in five will experience sexual assault.
In the face of worsening violence, the Liberal Government’s response has been totally inadequate, with measly funding and few reforms to address the issue. We can do so much more to make woman safe from violence. We need serious investment to make meaningful change.
The Greens are standing for:
- Investment in a comprehensive family violence prevention strategy
- Increased provision ofsupport services for crisis response, case management, women’s health, housing, legal assistance and court support.
- Appropriate resourcing of multi-agency risk-management services partnerships in all regions, that focus on keeping women safe from high risk, violent offenders.
- Reinstatement of funding for the Victorian Systemic Review of Family Violence Death at the Coroner’s Court to review.
The Greens are committed to reforms that will ensure men are held to account for their violence, and women are supported and protected.
Labor have committed to a Royal Commission into deaths which result from family violence. Will you back Labor’s commitment and what will you do to ensure this is still set up if the Liberal Party gains government?
The Greens support the Royal Commission; however we do not want it to provide a smokescreen for delaying investment in solutions now.
Royal Commissions take time – often years to complete. We already well understand many of the problems and solutions to family violence. We cannot afford to wait for the outcomes of the Royal Commission before acting. We will pressure a Labor Government, not only to carry out the Royal Commission, but to make meaningful investment in the short term in chronically underfunded family violence support services.
If the Liberal Party gains government, we will support Labor efforts in parliament to move ahead with the Royal Commission, as well as pressure them to invest in further services.
Will your party establish a ministerial reference group to ensure single mother families are represented in policy development on issues that affect them?
The Greens are strong advocates of meaningful consultation with the community sector in relation to policy reforms that affect the communities they represent and provide services to. Too often, the government’s so-called consultation has in fact involved providing information to groups about government plans after they have been decided on.
The Greens support the establishment of ministerial reference groups in relation to a range of areas, including policies that affect single parents and mothers.