The government’s cowardly policies will never prevent disasters but women & children might

September 7, 2021

We are witnessing a spectacular failure in policy courage the likes never before seen in Australian political history.

Faced by not one, but three existential threats to the safety, health and wellbeing of the Australian people, we find ourselves led by a Federal Government that has all but given up on preventative health and safety measures just when the going gets tough.

For years the Coalition has aligned itself to the never-say-die ANZAC spirit. Stories of sacrifice, mateship and strategic interventions at Gallipoli, Kokoda and Long Tan evoked at every opportunity. But the moment the Morrison government is called upon, in the tradition of the great legends of our past, to give everything to stop a dangerous toxic invader or stand up against dangerous bullies and defend the safety of Australia, it goes to pieces, putting all of us, but especially women and children, in harm’s way.

Exhibit A. The COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Prime Minister should have stopped at nothing to prevent the pandemic from bleeding onto our shores and across our borders. As an island nation with a first-rate health care system, we stood a good chance of holding back the tide of pandemic. All we needed was a world leading vaccination scheme and a national quarantine facility. What we got were cheapskate procurement decisions leaving us undersupplied at the time of greatest need and hotels unfit for purpose, exposing thousands of people to the virus.

And who will be at greatest risk of exposure when the Delta variant runs rampant? Children under the age of 12 years and a healthcare workforce made up of 89% women workers.

The fight against COVID-19 is not over. Another mutation is taking place in South Africa; waves that look more like tsunamis are heading towards us, with ICU lifesavers our last line of defence. Primary health prevention is our only way out of this – vaccines, lockdowns, advertising campaigns and community based, multi-lingual health promotion.

These decisions are not easy or cheap. Prevention requires sustained, strategic effort. Which is why a National Preventative Health Agency would be so handy right now. But we don’t have one because, sadly, it was knocked off by the Coalition in 2014 at the behest of a few right-wing powerbrokers and media magnates.

Exhibit B. The safety of Australian women.

We’re in the midst of two pandemics right now – COVID19 and the scourge of gendered violence. Violence against women is at such epidemic proportions in this country that not even the hallowed, federal-police-patrolled halls of our own national Parliament are safe to work in if you’re a young woman.

Women are hurt and dying at home, at work, on streets and online. So are their children. Once again, a strategically resourced national prevention strategy is required to change poor attitudes and bad behaviours that underpin violence in Australia. Long term, courageous work. Experts know it will take decades to turn this problem around.

On the eve of a National Women’s Safety Summit after a year of scandal and women marching for justice across the country, stopping the harm of gender inequity and violence should be front of mind for the Prime Minister. Instead, he led a shameful vote on the floor of the house, weakening the legislative response to the Respect@Work report and sending a public duty to prevent dangerous sexualised behaviours in the workplace into the legislative dust bin.

Can you imagine Sir John Monash baulking at the Western Front in the same way that Morrison has over COVID19 and women’s safety? Refusing to follow through with leadership and bravery? Weasel-wording out of responsibility?

The “I don’t carry a stretcher” attitude of the PM is not the Australian way. Simpson and his donkey would be rolling in their graves.

Sadly, other leaders are now following in these cowardly footsteps. It was disappointing to see so many iconic Australian businesses signing onto a letter calling for the opening up of our country before we’ve even reached healthy vaccination rates. Imagine what our history books would look like if Australian corporate sector had penned a letter at the height of WWII calling for our soldiers to come home and just let the Axis of Evil do its worst. “We’re fatigued and profits are down. Bomb away, Mein Fuhrer”

There is a saying – an old one, but never truer than in this moment – prevention is better than cure. Taking steps now to stop disease, violence and harm in our community is far safer, braver and more economical than letting dangers run wild and unchecked.

Which brings me to Exhibit C: Climate change.

There is another disaster on our doorstep; another war raging in the atmosphere and our environment. And my kids and their kids will be on the frontline. They face a horrifying future of endless summer days above 50 degrees celsius, bushfires on the outskirts of cities we have no hope of controlling; a furious mother nature melting icecaps and changing weather patterns for good.

Only brave, preventative policy measures, backed by funding and political will, can protect our kids now.  But once again, we have a Prime Minister doing very little to stop a climate disaster before it starts.

Prevention matters to gender equality advocates like me because we know that wherever there is a risk of disaster – COVID-19, gendered violence or climate change – the people with most to lose are women and children.

It is tragic and embarrassing to witness crisis management delivered by bludgers and blamers; with no concept of intergenerational mateship, no wit to rally us in our darkest hours and no stamina for a long fight.

Still, there is hope. The ANZAC spirit to take on these challenges, persevere and succeed decently lives on in the ICU nurses donning PPE equipment everyday, the specialist family violence advocates protecting vulnerable families on the front line and in the determination of our young people to be heard on climate change.

It would seem, that the future of our brave, bold and beautiful country no longer rests with men at the top, but with women and children on the ground.

Tanja Kovac in Women’s Agenda