Gordon Campbell on the National Party’s reversion to type on gender issuesJuly 27th, 2012
Surprisingly to some, Labour women’s affairs spokesperson Sue Moroney is showing a genuine ability to get up the nose of the government, as she goes about wiping the floor with Women’s Affairs Minister Jo Goodhew. This began long before National’s collective meltdown in the House on Tuesday over Moroney’s paid parental leave Bill. The process started virtually unnoticed back in February, after Next magazine had published findings of a report that the widespread practice of photoshopping and airbrushing idealised images of women’s bodies in magazines and other media appeared to be doing harm to many New Zealand women. To the point where
• 86% of Next’s respondents reported thinking about their weight on a daily basis;
• 75% are unhappy with it;
• 89% believe that looks are crucial to success in life; and
• 63% would consider getting plastic surgery.
Seeking to follow up on this issue, Scoop’s Anne Russell sought an interview and comment from Goodhew. As Russell later explained in her subsequent Werewolf article on the subject:
The aim was to explore her views on the impact that advertising and media images have on women’s sense of worth, in the light of the reporting by Next magazine – and the overseas legislative proposals to limit (or label) the use of photo-shopped images in advertising. “The impact of such imagery overseas includes excessive attention to dieting among pre-teens and young teens,” I pointed out, “which raises health issues that may be of particular interest to the Minister, given her prior experience in nursing.” Also, such an interview might serve “as a useful introduction to the views of the Minister on the priorities that she sees in this portfolio.”
No dice. Instead, a spokesperson in the Minister of Women’s Affairs office replied that “The Minister has no comment to make on this issue at this time.” Nor has she since, nor on virtually any other issue that primarily affects women. Just what Goodhew does do in her role as Women’s Affairs Minister – beyond junketing overseas a couple of weeks ago to put a self-congratulatory spin to a report to the United Nations on women’s status in New Zealand – is something of a mystery. Moroney by contrast, not only spotlighted the Next survey in a thoughtful press release on the subject, but expanded in the Werewolf article on how she thought the issue should best be tackled. (Argue as one could with her solutions, at least she was willing to discuss the subject.)
Subsequently, Moroney’s attacks on the spin that Goodhew gave the UN about progress on gender issues since National took office were also very much on target. Given the underlying recessionary causes, the slight shrinkage of the gender pay gap in New Zealand was nothing that working families would be celebrating:
…The real story is that everyone’s wages are going backwards compared with living costs [and] There is nothing to celebrate when men’s wages drop – we need a Government that promotes higher wages. The report also gloats about how hard men have been hit by the recession, despite the latest unemployment figures showing women’s jobs are now disappearing at a higher rate than men’s…
So when Goodhew and Moroney scrapped in the House on Tuesday about paid parental leave, Goodhew had something to prove. Unfortunately, she wasn’t up to it, and this embarrassing clip captures only the half of it. (Enough has been said already about Maggie Barry’s noxious attempt to sideline Jacinda Ardern simply because Ardern has not had children.) At issue was Moroney’s private members Bill to gradually extend paid parental leave from 14 to 26 weeks by 2014. National’s women MPs professed not to oppose the idea in principle – a claim belied by the venom with which they voiced their opposition – but on the basis of cost. Costs which, as Moroney pointed out in the Herald on Tuesday, Finance Minister Bill English has consistently over-stated as requiring an extra $500 million a year in borrowing to meet.
In fact, the real extra cost by 2014 (when the full entitlement would be phased in) would be considerably less, at little over $140 million a year.
[Department of Labour] costings showed that in three years, the full 26 weeks’ parental leave would cost $315.6 million a year. That was $145.7 million more than the forecast $170 million cost of keeping it at 14 weeks.
No one – not even Jo Goodhew – can argue that paid parental leave isn’t a good thing, and something from which society reaps social and financial rewards further down the track. That’s why so many countries recognise it, and why they fund it more generously than New Zealand. John Key’s own pet scientist Sir Peter Gluckman, has publicly recognised its value:
A report by the Prime Minister’s chief scientist Sir Peter Gluckman last year said that strong attachments between parents and babies in their first few months helped children’s development all the way into their adult years.
“We not only get a better society as a result, we actually get to save money as a country because we don’t have to build so many prisons and put so much money into remedial education or the health system.
Can we afford to make that kind of social investment? (Can we afford not to?) Well, if it costs $170 million for the paid parental leave that we currently have, will an extra $145.7 million – which is the true cost of the increase that Moroney is mooting, not $500 million – really break the bank? Keep in mind that National seems happy to pay out $56 million in brokerage fees alone for its loony, ideologically-driven asset sales selldown. Taking that together with scrapping the last round of tax cuts for those earning over $150,000 – as Moroney also suggested in Parliament the other day – and you’d nearly be there, and that’s without counting the downstream savings and social benefits referred to by Gluckman. This is hardly a luxury. As mentioned, New Zealand ranks very, very poorly in developed nation comparisons when it comes to its existing paid parental leave provisions.
All of which goes to show that while being the shadow spokesperson for women’s affairs may not look like a plum job, it offers plenty of political opportunities. In recent decades, the centre left has enjoyed a crucial gender gap advantage among voters, one that Key’s softline style erased among women voters at the last election. This year though, a harder edge is evident in the government’s social policy programme, and that is opening up opportunities for the Labour/Greens combo to claw back any ground it may have lost among women voters.
The performance in the House by the new Green MPs – Julie Ann Genter and Holly Walker in particular – and the points being scored by Moroney and Ardern must be making the National Party strategists extremely nervous, given the dodgy calibre of their own women MPs. Among whom Judith Collins, Anne Tolley and Kate Wilkinson have always been PR nightmares, Hekia Parata’s class size fiasco still haunts her, and the vaunted Amy Adams is making no public impact at all.
National is getting no help from the Act Party, which should be leading the liberal/libertarian charge on social policy. Yet under the reactionary leadership of John Banks, it dutifully popped up to vote with National against Moroney’s parental leave extension Bill. Will Banks be voting for Labour MP Louisa Wall’s same sex marriage Bill? Hard to say. Of late, Banks’s attempts to go funky modern have extended only as far as putting out a press release to save the whales.
What this means is that when it comes to both the traditional home and hearth issues and the social liberal issues, the centre left is making all the running. The young Nationals had at least noticed that National needs to do something about this perception – only to be met with John Key’s sniffy response that their conference remit on gays having equal rights to adopt children was not high on his “to do” list. In the meantime, the Bill by Louisa Wall on same sex marriage is maintaining the centre left momentum on liberal social policy. Significantly, Key has signalled that he would be voting for it. Even so, National are still playing a pretty poor game of catch-up.
Nice to see that there is now an American audience for Kim Hill’s fractious encounter with Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’ resident big bag of wind. In linking to RNZ in his Salon column, Glenn Greenwald praised her “relentlessly adversarial, critical, deeply informed and at times subtly contemptuous questioning.”