As a member of the Australian Labor Party, it’s been sad watching Mark Latham’s descent from Labor Light on the Hill — the thoughtful third way reformer and inheritor of the Whitlam legacy — as he turned into a buffoon for hire.
I’ve had a soft spot for Latham for a long time — longer than I cared to admit to my party friends. There is half a shelf of Latham in my library at home. From the Suburbs was downloaded and read on the Kindle for iPad within days of its release.
But selling out political feminism in order to sell a few books is, regretfully for me, the last straw. Last week, Latham told his book launch audience that there was “no policy oomph from feminist dogma” and that a concentration by Labor female MPs on gender issues meant a resulting lack of policies relevant to the electorate.
I beg to differ — and I’ve got the facts to back it up, rather than just relying on tired rhetoric designed to grab a sound bite. The influence of increased women in Parliament on the Labor benches has profoundly influenced Labor policy over the past twenty years. As revealed by the EMILY’s List Australia Impact Analysis — our first review of the impact of large numbers of progressive federal MPs on the legislative program — a critical mass of women working together made formidable change.
The analysis of the Rudd/Gillard governments — which had the highest representation of women of any major Australian political party and a record number of women in any federal cabinet or ministry — showed clear links between this increased proportion of women and such important reforms for women and families as Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme; pay equity for community sector workers and tax; and superannuation changes that benefited working women.
Legislation supported by these women MPs also included the Carer Recognition Act 2010; Australian Human Rights Commission Amendment (National Children’s Commissioner) Act 2012; Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012; Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 and the Early Years Quality Fund Special Account Fund 2013.
With four of the five women in cabinet between 2011 and 2013 long-time EMILY’s List members — Julia Gillard, Penny Wong, Jenny Macklin and Tanya Plibersek — legislation was also passed to introduce Disability Care; to remove gender references from Medicare; place RU486 on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme; and to greatly expand provision of quality, affordable childcare.
Mark Latham rarely needs motivation for getting people in the labour movement off side these days. But one has to wonder why he chose to make comments about the failure of Labor’s political feminists on the eve of the National Labor Women’s Conference in Canberra. Could it be that his rehabilitation in the party and press depends on doing the dirty work of faceless men — men in both the labour movement and the conservative media — who would like to see all women politicians and activists in a chaff bag? Surely not.
In the lead-up to last weekend’s national ALP conference, where party reform was on the agenda, Labor women set themselves on a campaign of renewal to address 100 years of underfunding and underrepresentation of women in decision making and organising within the party. The Gillard experience is inspiring Labor women to organise — for if there is to be another Labor female leader in the future, she will need a lot more support than Gillard got in 2010 for her to win on her own terms. Changes that must be made for future women’s leadership must be fought for now by committed political feminists.
Sadly, Latham fits a mould. He joins a long line of Labor rats in the press — all making a career from undermining the party’s legacy, trashing current activists, unionists and MPs in the movement, and doing whatever it takes to maintain their own relevance in debates they no longer have a vote in. And they all have something in common: they’re all men.