In other news we went on our first official fact finding mission to regional Australia, and it was a terrific visit.

Last week, WomenVote’s Vanessa Whittaker, Maria O’Brien and Rosie Connolly visited Armidale, in the seat of New England.

We met so many great people in Armidale, and emerged with a greater understanding of the particular issues confronting regional and rural women.

Our first stop was a breakfast Q&A, organised by WiNG, the Armidale Womens’ Networking Group of the Armidale Business Chamber. One of the key topics discussed was that being of a conservative political persuasion, or living in a conservative electorate, was consistent with being a feminist, and believing in fair and equal treatment for women. In this context we discussed Dame Beryl Beaurepaire: that equating support for equal treatment for women with a “left” perspective is a recent phenomenon in Australia.

We had the chance to speak to local businesswomen, Michelle Wheatley and Jo Dolan, about regional womens’ health, poverty and underemployment. This was followed by a sensational session with Bronwyn Pearson of Pinnacle People Solutions, discussing issues affecting regional womens’ employment.

Bron is involved in a regional employment trials program, and had this to say about her area of Gunnedah:

  • 57% of businesses report an employee having missed work due to the unavailability of childcare
  • There are 35 families are on the waiting lists for 0 to 3 childcare
  • 1 in 5 employees cannot accept work due to child care constraints
  • There is real resistance to flexible working in the region
  • There is limited availability of before and after school care
  • A lack of social housing and access to home and disability support in the region

Workforce participation, access to childcare, financial security, and the prevalence of women in casual or insecure work – these are issues that are affecting women all around Australia.
We also visited the sole women’s refuge in Armidale and talked with manager Carolyn Burgess and Senior Constable Lauren Wheeler. The refuge has only 5 bedrooms and one bathroom, and is wholly inadequate, as are the emergency fallback arrangements when the shelter is full. A very sobering visit.

WomenVote met with independent candidate for New England, Adam Blakester, and discussed issues affecting women with him. Adam and his policy director Julie reported that they were well aware of the underemployment of women in the region and were working on their women’s policy.

At the Armidale Regional Airport, WomenVote shared a sneaky glass of wine with state member and NSW Minister for Agriculture, Adam Marshall. We were pleased to hear that he was well aware of the needs of the Armidale shelter.

We tried several times to arrange a meeting with the federal member, Barnaby Joyce, but his office never got back to us.

Overall, it was an enlightening visit, and we appreciated hearing from regional women about many of the issues that drove us to form WomenVote – female participation in the workforce, access to childcare, the prevalence of women in part-time or casual/insecure work, and violence against women.

WomenVote warmly thanks to the WiNG organising committee of Deborah Hunter, Shona Eichorn, Emalene Gemmell, Aileen MacDonald and Ingrid Rothe for their warm hospitality and for putting together such a great agenda. It was lovely to meet with a fantastic group of women at the Booloominbah University at the University of New England, including Keli McDonald and Rechelle Leahy of the National Rural Women’s Coalition. A big thank you to Simon Scott of Simon Scott Photo for the great photos and Rashna Farrukh of WomenVote for her outstanding work in putting the trip together.