As the Federal Election looms, each party will spend the next few days frony and centre in the media spotlight trying to win your vote.
But beneath all the noise, what exactly is being promised to Canberra and in particular, Canberra women? Ahead of the election, Laura Peppas caught up with Federal member for the seat of Fraser, Andrew Leigh, to find out which issues he will be focusing on if he is successful.
What do you think are the most pressing issues for women in this election?
I think healthcare is number one for many Australians; making sure we’ve got a strong and accessible healthcare system, that you can see your GP when you need to and that you don’t have long wait times for elective surgery. As a father of three boys, I’ve spent my fair share of time sitting in emergency rooms worrying about seeing a doctor when you need to. I’m aware just talking to families in the electorate, of how important public accessible healthcare is for people.
Domestic violence against women in particular has become an increasingly worrying issue on a local, and national, level. What is your party specifically doing in this area?
Bill Shorten made this one of the main issues he focused on when campaigning to be Labor leader. We’ve announced that a Shorten Labor government will hold a family violence summit in the first 100 days and that all employees would be entitled to five days family violence leave, because I do think it’s a natural progressive change for Australia. I recently announced a Shorten Labor government would put an extra $690,000 into three Canberra community legal centres: Canberra Community Law, Street Law and the Women’s Legal Centre, which is one of the first points of call for people fleeing domestic violence, or who are trying to work out how to get a stable, secure tenancy while reaching a safe settlement with their partner. We need to elevate family violence to be a national issue.
What will you be doing to target job growth in the ACT?
In the ACT, we’ve seen one in ten public servants lose their job since the Abbott/Turnbull government came to office. Job security for many Canberrans means a strong, sustainable public sector. Under Labor’s period in office, public service jobs grew modestly except for our final year, when they fell by a couple of hundred. If you’ve got more Australians, you need more public servants. The cuts by the coalition are well in excess of what they said would happen: they said only 12,000 and it’s coming up to 20,000. That has a really damaging impact on the public service for Canberrans and of course the flow-on to small businesses that engage with the public sector.
Delayed streamlining of childcare subsidies and rebates is a big issue for women who are working out whether it is financially worthwhile to return to paid work. What are your thoughts on improving this?
There are a few differences as to what the government would do with childcare and what we would do. The first is that we would act quickly while they would act slowly – their policy wouldn’t come into effect for more than two years, while ours would take effect from 1 January next year. The second thing is that ours leaves no one worse off; on the Australian National University’s estimate the government would leave one in three Australian families worse off. We would increase the childcare benefit by 15 per cent, which is the means tested part of the system, and raise the cap of the childcare rebate from $7,500 to $10,000. I know many Canberra families are now finding themselves hitting up against that $7,500 cap and that makes it really hard for people to plan.
With so many women acting as unpaid carers for Australia’s children, elderly, and disabled, what can be done to financially support those in this area?
The Labor government increased support for carers, recognising the huge benefits they bring to society. The National Disability Insurance Scheme was to a large extent, aimed at making sure that someone with a disability received enough support so that their family members didn’t have to stop working and take care of them. Making sure we fund the NDIS is critical for that reason, and also in the area of aged care, making sure we’ve got those wraparound packages. Most people don’t want to die in hospital, they want to stay at home so we need more support for aged care that comes to the home to support families who want to stay there.
Your party has been criticised for a “black hole” in its spending promises. How do you plan to bring the budget back to surplus?
You’ll have all of Labor’s costings well ahead of polling day, and you’ll have them over four and 10 years. We think that’s important because many households are making plans not just for a few years, but for decades. If you’re sending a child to school, you’re making a 13 or 14-year decision. If you’re taking on a mortgage, you’re making a 20-30 year decision, so Canberrans don’t need a government that can only plan four years ahead. We’ll make the numbers add up because we’re not going to blow a hole in the budget for corporations – instead we’re prioritising Australian schools and we’re putting needs based funding at the centre of our economic agenda.
Where do you stand on marriage equality?
We don’t believe it’s important to send $160m of taxpayers funding on a marriage equality plebiscite, which conservatives will ignore. So why not get on and put the vote to parliament? In Ireland you’ve seen, during the course of their vote, a considerable upsurge in calls to mental health support lines for young gay and lesbian Irish men and women. I don’t want to see that in Australia, I don’t want us spending our taxpayer’s money on people who tell our young gay and lesbian people that their sexuality is wrong. On my fridge is this lovely picture of Ellie and Emily, one of the few couples who got married in the short period that Canberra allowed marriage equality. Their marriage doesn’t threaten heterosexual marriages, if anything it strengthens them.
Taking off your politician’s hat for a minute – what issues are important to you as a citizen of Canberra?
I’d love to make sure that Canberra is as supportive as possible for young people, as I see each of my three boys growing into the world. I want the Canberra they grow up in to be one of ethnic diversity, and one that’s good to the environment. Climate change is a huge issue; Canberrans understand the benefits of renewables, we want to be a clean, green city, and most of the Canberrans I talk to want us to move with the rest of the world rather than behind it in acting on climate change, and want to see a cap on carbon pollution so we don’t keep on causing increased problems for our kids. I also want to see us living in a city where volunteering to help someone who is living homeless is celebrated, and where much stronger connections with the traditional owners of the land are established. I would love for us to celebrate how amazing it is to share this land with people who have been here 60,000 years and learn to tell their stories.
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