The need for better and cheaper access to child care, better support for families, improved access to mental health services and a solution to workforce shortages were they key issues identified by a panel of businesswomen during a forum with Deputy Leader of the Federal Opposition Sussan Ley and Federal Member for Petrie Luke Howarth.
The forum, of 17 women who represented a cross-section of small businesses, was held at Best Western North Lakes Hotel on Friday.
Those in attendance included women from real estate, health and medical, fitness, business development, motoring and childcare industries, and representatives from service organisations.
During the discussion, which lasted more than one hour, Ms Ley asked for candid feedback on issues facing women in the workplace and in business.
The participants did most of the talking, with Ms Ley happy to listen as the Opposition looks to develop new policies post the May election in which they lost Government.
She is the Shadow Minister for Women, Shadow Minister for Small and Family Business, and Shadow Minister for Industry, Skills and Training.
She said she took away a feeling of pride in young women and women who are entrepreneurs who are blazing a trail in their individual lives, small business or workplaces.
“I always say, ‘women don’t always realise the value they add and often doubt themselves’ but every single woman at this forum was extraordinary in their own way,” Ms Ley said.
“We’re at the stage where we’re developing new policies, so with valuable colleagues like Luke (Howarth), it’s about what can we do to better meet the needs of your community?
“Clearly, we had a strong message about child care today. Everyone was engaged around child care and the work-family balance. Those two things create passionate responses in women who often find that balance a difficult one, find the challenges of managing home and work and finances a difficult one because it is difficult.
“There’s takeaways for me about new policy ideas, new policy development … you won’t see announcements from us next week because we’re still listening to the Australian people and we want to get it right in every corner of this country and that includes an important area like Luke’s electorate of Petrie. It’s a vibrant, growing area of Brisbane.
“We heard about the number of vehicles on the road, the number of new residents coming to the area, housing challenges, child care access challenges … so there’s a range of challenges we want to get right when we design new policy for the future. This has been really valuable.”
Addressing mental health challenge
When it comes to dealing with mental health challenges, Ms Ley says the former Coalition Government had entered into “a really significant mental health partnership with State Governments”.
“I’m not sure how that’s being rolled out in Queensland, but I hope it’s being rolled out in the way in which we intended it to be which was that we support people in that critical stage of the link between a mental health crisis and rebuilding your lives in the community. The message we always have had is that there’s a gap there.
“For young people, who have gone through a crisis, we need ongoing support. There was a multi-billion-dollar mental health partnership which was available for every state government. I hope that is being used well. I note that in the recent budget there was actually a cut to public health funding from the current government by about $2.4 billion in the forward item items in the budget.”
Ms Ley said workforce shortages were also compounding mental health challenges, with a lack of clinicians.
“There is a lot of mental health support out there but there’s also a workforce shortage and one of the things … I’ve been quite critical of the new government over is the fact that we have a workforce shortage across the board … this government is sitting on its hands and not getting on with straight-forward measures which would bring workers into this country perhaps on a short to medium-term basis because we haven’t had the migrant workforce, backpacker labour when it comes to farm jobs for the whole period of COVID. We’ve got some catching up to do,” she said.
Broad spectrum of opinion
Federal Member for Petrie Luke Howarth, who organised the forum, said the purpose was to bring together a range of women – different ages, professions – from across the electorate.
“I just thought everyone in the room was pretty remarkable and they’re just people that I’ve met … they don’t vote a certain way. I think the number one thing you can do as a federal member of Parliament is to listen,” he said.
“If you listen and respect what people are saying, it helps you to be a better member of Parliament. For me, it’s just about connecting with women through the electorate and understanding what each of them is going through. It will help me be a stronger voice for the people of Petrie.”
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