Flicking through the papers with a coffee on a Sunday is one of life’s most consistent pleasures. It’s something I ordinarily enjoy a lot but yesterday the ritual was even sweeter than usual. As I read Samantha Maiden’s column in The Sunday Telegraph on childcare and cabinet I was tempted to raise a public toast with my flat white. I actually considered photocopying the article and handing it around to my fellow patrons.
Why? Because Maiden perfectly captured the problem with the current Cabinet making decisions about childcare. She highlighted the fact that childcare is not a subsidiary economic issue – it should be a priority. The pertinent question she poses is whether a group of leaders with little practical exposure to its realities can grasp its importance.
Having children isn’t everything but as Maiden explains having some firsthand understanding of the work/family juggle would help enormously when seeking to create policies to improve it. But in Tony Abbott’s ministry working mums “are thin on the ground” which Maiden says “represents a serious disconnect with the everyday struggles of the rest of Australia.”
The fact Maiden is not a columnist regularly derided as a frightbat or a member of handbag hit squad shouldn’t be relevant but it is. Her argument is coherent and comprehensive; not easily dismissed as an expected tirade from a disgruntled feminist. Undoubtedly some will choose to see it that way but I am confident reasonable minds wouldn’t reach that conclusion.
Childcare poses a legitimate barrier for working families in Australia and there is a legitimate question to be asked about how effectively we can solve that.
The issue of women in Cabinet, or women on boards or in executive roles for that matter, is not simply a matter of symbolism. It’s matter of efficacy. Decision making groups that roughly represent the people for whom their decisions effect makes sense and, critically, make better decisions.
Childcare is one policy area where the disconnect between Cabinet and the rest of Australia appears particularly obvious, but it’s certainly not the only one. Every decision that Cabinet makes has the potential to affect all Australians. Yet there is no way around the fact the individuals at the Cabinet table don’t reflect all Australians – not even roughly.
I’m hopeful Maiden’s column might just persuade Tony Abbott that childcare is one policy area where he ought to call upon a group that is broader than his inner circle.