Female MPs call for gender policy reform

An enthusiastic hum of conversation has filled church halls around Australia, as Micah Australia hosted its annual Women’s Leadership Network Breakfast over the past week. Recognising the complexities for women getting to the normal starting hour for a business breakfast, these breakfasts have kicked off at a very civilised time of 9.30.

The most recent breakfast was held in Hobart this morning (Monday, 28 March) with Senator Claire Chandler giving the keynote address. The shadow minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Penny Wong, was the drawcard speaker at Micah’s Adelaide event on Friday. The Melbourne breakfast was held on Tuesday, with Peta Murphy MP a last-minute replacement for Clare O’Neill MP. Celia Hammond MP addressed the Perth event and Senator the Hon Amanda Stoker was at Brisbane. The Sydney breakfast has been postponed until April/May due to a surge in COVID cases.

Micah Australia – a coalition of churches and Australia’s largest non-government organisations – seeks to be a powerful voice for the world’s most poor, vulnerable and oppressed. The purpose of these annual women’s breakfasts is to help equip Christian women leaders “to make the change you want to see in the world”.

Addressing the gathering at Richmond Baptist Church in Adelaide, Senator Wong spoke of the fears people around the world are feeling as Russian bombs and missiles bombard Ukraine and hundreds of thousands of people flee their homeland into Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania and other neighbouring countries.

“… good gender policy is smart economic policy.” – Senator Penny Wong

“The return of war in Europe – something we hoped we would never see again – has once again reminded us that urgent humanitarian need can come from anywhere,” Wong told the Adelaide breakfast.

“Not so long ago we were dealing with another crisis: the return of the Taliban in control of Afghanistan and the subsequent economic collapse of an already fragile state.

“These events are further reminders of the disproportionate impact of war and strife on women and girls around the world.”

The Labor senator spoke to the audience’s heart when she said that pursuing gender equality is not just good for women and girls, “but also for economic and social development”.

“Apart from being the right thing to do, good gender policy is smart economic policy.

“When women and girls are empowered and barriers to their participation are removed, economies grow faster.

“Health and education outcomes for women and children improve, and there is greater social stability, sustainability and equality.”

Peta Murphy MP, the federal member for Dunkley, warned the Melbourne crowd that her presentation might sound like “a stream of consciousness”, as she had received a call for help from Micah’s patron, Tim Costello, the night before.

Speaking with humour and honesty, Murphy said she would endeavour to speak to the theme of the breakfast, “The World We See”, “but like every politician, I am just going to pick out bits of the brief that I was given that suit me.”

She began with a passionate introduction to Louisa Dunkley (1866-1927), the woman the seat of Dunkley was named after, due to her active campaigning in winning women in NSW the right to equal pay for equal work.

The three attributes the member for Dunkley admires in this feisty, determined woman from more than a century ago and has sought to adopt in her own life as a politician are, to be:

1/ An activist – challenging what is not fair to change

2/ A feminist – believing in equality

3/ A unionist – upholding the rights of workers; the power of collective action; fairness; equality and community.

“One of our problems is we don’t have a federal bill or a charter of rights.” – Peta Murphy MP

Murphy also spoke of the need for a charter of rights.

“I think that not just do we not have enough gender balance, and cultural and linguistic and background balance, in our parliament, I think part of what that means is we don’t necessarily have the right framework – legal and linguistic – in our politics, in which to place some of these big debates and issues we are involved in.

“In a constructive way, so a way that is not only not partisan political, but also puts things like climate change, how we treat refugees, religious discrimination, the right to housing, how we deal with people in the legal system and domestic violence, into a context of, ‘What is our Framework?’.

“I think one of our problems is we don’t have a federal bill or a charter of rights. It’s both a legal and a language framework for how we [address] some of these big issues and how we discuss them, so they aren’t always looked at as silos to be dealt with one at a time.

“We understand if we have a charter of rights that everything intersects with everything else. Sometimes rights and issues butt up against each other, but that’s why there needs to be a language in which you can discuss those tensions.”

In the lead up to our Federal Election in May, Micah Australia will be campaigning for a “Safe Place for All”.