Democrats leader Meg Lees clearly hasn’t a clue about the day-to-day pressures juggled by working women. She emerged from negotiations with the Howard government, which gave the go-ahead to the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax (GST), triumphantly proclaiming that “a food-free GST would deliver fairness and equity as well as economic benefits.”
The rich will get the economic benefits. The GST is designed to shift the tax burden from corporations and high income earners onto low and middle income earners. So, will anyone benefit from Meg Lees’ hard-fought-for “fairness and equity?” Certainly not women!
The Democrats, who use their high-profile female leadership to appeal to women voters, have done a GST deal which is profoundly anti-feminist. Their definition of “food” is punitive and moralistic. Fresh and unprocessed food requiring preparation will not attract the tax, but convenience food, snack foods, soft drinks and confectionery will.
Back to the kitchen. Remember the ad with two school girls, each peering into their lunch box? One smugly compares her home-baked goodies with her friend’s mass-produced cake. The other girl proudly retorts, “At least my Mum’s got a life!” The advertising agency comprehends what the party with the highest percentage of women in Parliament seemingly can’t. A GST on prepared and semi-prepared food will force women, faced with family food bills they cannot afford, back into the kitchen to struggle with exhausting workloads.
The Democrats’ GST deal ignores the fact that women are still responsible for the overwhelming majority of domestic work. A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics survey revealed that food preparation is a main activity for the majority of women, and that women are still spending twice as much time on food preparation as men. Despite women’s demands that household work, food preparation and childcare be spread more equitably, most women are still doing much, much more than their fair share. Domestic work is still seen primarily as women’s responsibility, and it’s a lucky woman who has a partner who “helps.”
Time to collectivise. But feminism has made important gains. The majority of women have broken out of domestic isolation and gained some economic independence by entering the paid workforce. This has spurred a plethora of time-saving products and the growth of service industries. Women save time and energy by eating out or by bringing home food which is ready to eat or requires minimal preparation. It is currently families with children who are the greatest users of take-away food and the majority of those eating out. So, help is available for the working mum — but, in a profit-driven economy, it comes at a high price! The GST will increase that price. When the meagre wages don’t stretch far enough, women will be forced to do an even heavier double shift.
Women’s unpaid domestic labour is critical to the functioning of our economic system. The care and nurture provided by women to their extended families — the current workers, the potential new workers and the obsolete and unwanted workers — ensures the maintenance of a productive workforce. Corporate profits are accumulated at the expense of women’s physical and emotional wellbeing.
Women’s liberation from this double shift requires taking the most time-consuming domestic tasks, like food preparation and laundry, out of the private sphere of individual homes and into the public sphere. This vision is not utopian. It is already happening. But the current motive is to make a profit. Those with the capacity to pay can purchase any domestic service they wish from nannies, cleaners, caterers, gardeners, professional shoppers and even dog walkers!
We need to push forward to collectivise domestic work, food preparation and childcare under workers’ control. The Democrats’ GST deal is going in the opposite direction by penalising households which use crucial time-saving services and pre-prepared and take-away food. Their deal penalises the ones who benefit most from these necessities — women. For many households, it will create the economic imperative to force women, already tired from a day’s work, back into the kitchen.
No, Meg Lees, this is not fair and equitable! And we are not going to take it!