By Lauren Kathage MP

21 June 2023

Lauren KATHAGE (Yan Yean) (17:40): I rise today to grieve for the women of Victoria and the risk to their rights, their health and their economic security if the Liberals were in government and had handed down the 2023–24 budget. They say that if you want to see the values of a government, look at their budget. That will show you what is important to them, what matters to them and what they care about. There can be no doubt when you look at the 2023–24 budget that this government values women. This government values the health and economic security of Victorian women and is willing to put in motion the major reforms and the matching investment to enable women to have better lives. That should not be a surprise. When a government is made up of many women it is natural that the programs they prioritise and the improvements they make are based on the deep understanding and lived experiences of women, and when you work for the benefit of women you are often also benefiting the state more generally and children in particular.

We can see this in the government’s investment in the Best Start, Best Life initiative. Due to the fact that women are more likely to be the primary carers in households, caring for children continues to be the biggest obstacle to women joining the workforce. Around a quarter of Australian women who wish to work or increase their hours say that taking care of children is their biggest obstacle. It should not be this hard. This is a problem that is faced by many families in Yan Yean, where in some areas 15 per cent of the population is under the age of five. I have had conversations with local families who in the past have had to sit down at the dinner table – that favourite political cliché: the family sitting at the table – and do the sums to work out if they could afford mum to work or do the complicated sums to see how many days they can afford mum to work. This government has changed that equation by making kinder free at participating services. This eases the pressure on family budgets, provides the best start for young Victorians and gets the mums who want to be at work back to work.

As is the case with much of the work of this government, it is not just tweaking at the edges, it is wholesale reform that totally changes the game. The $1.7 billion in this year’s budget builds on the $4.4 billion invested to date, and with this investment we will put in $1.6 billion to roll out three-year-old kinder and increase capacity by building new kindergarten facilities; $1.4 billion for free kinder to give Victorian parents, especially mums, the choice to return to work if they want to, with savings for families of up to $2500; $1.3 billion to build up to 100 new kindergartens, including land acquisition, with the majority to be located at or nearby local government schools – I am getting dizzy; these figures are massive; $921 million to deliver 35 new government-owned and operated early learning centres by 2027; and $303 million for around 35 new ones at low-fee non-government schools.

I have seen the money and the commitment to this reform work in Yan Yean. Like I said, we have got a lot of under-fives in Yan Yean, and the government is investing to make sure that we have the facilities we need to give these young Victorians the best start. In Donnybrook we opened a new primary school at the start of this year, and next year a co-located kindergarten will open. For local mums that is going to be fabulous, to avoid the double drop-off. A couple of weeks ago I attended the opening of the new Marymede Early Learning Centre in Doreen. That is the government investment at a Catholic school to open a lovely kindergarten centre there. It was not long ago that the Premier joined me for the official opening of an inclusive play space at the Orchard Road kindy, and not long before that Eucalyptus Parade kindy was officially opened. So a lot is happening based on our investment.

There can be no doubt that this is a government that listens to the voices of women, that believes women, that takes us seriously. That is why we are working to address the healthcare gender gap. The 2021 Australia Talks national survey found that one in three women say they have had health concerns dismissed by a GP and that women are twice as likely to feel dismissed by their doctors as men. Women’s health has been disregarded, misdiagnosed or dismissed for far too long. Because of both our sex and our gender, we continue to have worse health outcomes. Just yesterday my sister messaged to say that my high school-aged niece had attempted to get to the school sick bay yesterday with excruciating period pain. On her way there she vomited and blacked out. When she came to she had to be carried to the care she needed. She has been to the doctor before. He told her to take Ponstan when her period started and to come back if her pain continued. My sister told us:

I almost want to video her to show someone and say see! It’s not normal and it’s not as simple as a bit of cramping! … She is almost delusional with the pain and her whole body is affected.

That is what my sister shared with me. That sense of feeling that you have to work hard to prove to a doctor that something is wrong is heartbreaking and all too common. That is why we are investing $153.9 million to improve access to services, upskill our workforce and bridge the medical research knowledge gap. This is going to give us 20 new, full-service women’s health clinics as well as an Aboriginal-led clinic that will deal with everything from endometriosis to contraception. Women will have better access to diagnoses and treatment, and we have backed this up with $64.8 million for 10,800 more laparoscopic surgeries for endometriosis and related conditions over four years.

But the origin of the gender healthcare gap starts earlier with the ways we research diseases and develop treatments. In the Medical Journal of Australia we read that:

Historically and consistently across a broad-range of health domains, data have been collected from men and generalised to women. Failure to appreciate the differences between and across the sex and gender spectrum risks compromising the quality of care …

Many conditions that only affect women remain under-researched, such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome and menopause, and despite having a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, women have higher mortality and worse prognoses. So in addition to expanding access to resources and assistance, we are addressing the gap in medical research and medical understanding of women’s health. In order to hear from women directly and enhance patient care $3 million is being given to conduct an inquiry into women’s pain management. Additionally, we will provide $5 million for the establishment of a women’s health research institute in order to combine clinical treatment, academic study and scientific investigation. That will be overseen by a women’s health advisory council, to give advice to government.

Just as health outcomes for women are improved when the medical community fully considers and recognises the needs of women, so too our state budget has increased power to transform women’s lives when the gendered impact of investment decisions is taken seriously. We are changing the system so that government investments appropriately consider women. Victoria is the first Australian state to implement gender-responsive budgeting, but we are not alone in this endeavour. Numerous jurisdictions around the world have embraced gender-responsive budgeting as a powerful tool to dismantle silent inequities lurking within investment decisions. By adopting this approach to budgeting we are actively dismantling the structural barriers that hinder the progress of women and girls. It goes beyond transparency and accountability in government expenditure. It enables governments to adapt policies and investments to effectively address gender inequity. We will continue to draw upon international evidence to strengthen our budgeting practices and ensure fairer outcomes for all Victorians, because when we prioritise fairness and equity in every dollar spent, the entire state reaps the benefits.

It is crucial to acknowledge that the implementation of policies and programs affects people differently. Our needs and experience are shaped by various factors, including our gender. These differences are further compounded for women of colour, women with disabilities and women from other minority groups who face intersecting barriers. To meaningfully address the diverse needs of Victorians, gender equality must be a central consideration at every stage of the budget and policy process, and by doing this we create a more inclusive and just society where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive.

Equal opportunity – we have equal opportunity within the Labor Party, equal representation of men and women. In this chamber only one in five Liberal members are women. That is a failure of representation, and it is why they have a complete lack of vision or ambition for the women of Victoria. This is a party who at a federal level had Tony Abbott as the Minister for Women. It is a party who, when they want to understand more about women’s priorities, ask their wives. Well, our leaders do not have to ask their wives or their husbands; they can ask their cabinet. Our cabinet is more than 50 per cent women, and it shows. It shows in our policies, it shows in our determination and it shows in our electoral success.

I am so thankful to have entered Parliament with so many brilliant role models for me within the parliamentary team. There are women here in our party who have worked as family violence workers, as teachers, as champions of women’s rights, as vet nurses, as sheep farmers, as grocery shop owners, as policy advisers, as lawyers and – teachers. There are so many teachers I could not possibly name them. There is something about teachers. There are people who have experienced caring for ill family members. These are the women of our party, and they have embraced the newest members of the party with open arms and provided us with incredible advice and guidance.

Their achievements in office have been immense. Think of someone like the Minister for Treaty and First Peoples, the member for Dandenong, and her work as a minister ushering in new ways of being and relating with Aboriginal Victorians. We think about the Minister for Women and the important work that she is driving forward. Our Minister for Health, sitting humbly here in the chamber, has spearheaded these changes to our health ecosystem which are going to have incredible improvements for young people like my niece, for all the women across our state. Thank you, Minister, for the work that you are doing. This is what happens when you have a government that not only understands women, that values women, but is made up of women. I cannot imagine the Liberal Party sitting around their table on a Monday afternoon discussing pads and tampons. I cannot imagine it. I do not want to imagine it, to be honest, but the fact is that when you have a party that represents the wider community, then the policies serve the wider community.

Therefore logic tells us that when your party does not represent the community, when you are only 20 per cent women, then your party cannot serve the community. Your party cannot have a true vision for the whole community. Your party can only see through blinkered eyes the perspective of a certain part of society. On this side of the chamber we value the diversity of experience, gender and sex that our party brings. We continue to do it for the benefit of Victorians, and there is no way that we will slow down. There is no way that we will stop. We have got a lot to do.