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Aussie policy changes dangerous to women and charities

As the UN looks into Australia’s women’s rights record, the Committee scrutinises policy changes that have had an adverse effect on women

With Australia’s record of women’s right obligations coming under UN scrutiny, the government admits to a lack of gender analysis on policy changes.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) said Australia’s compliance to promote women highlighted the gendered nature of recent tax and social security cuts during a meeting in Geneva.

CEO of the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), Dr Cassandra Goldie, said the effects of the cuts on low income earning women and families is “concerning”.

“The Australian government admitted to the Committee they had not completed a gender analysis prior to implementing billions in cuts to social services and social security, nor in implementing billions through cuts to taxation which will flow predominantly to high income earners, most of whom are men,” Goldie said.

Goldie also pointed out that the government confirmed it had no plans to realise implementation of key gender rights and has instead put regressive policy measures in place that will further disadvantage Australian women.

CEO of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Terese Edwards, said the UN should hold the government responsible, adding: “Australia has violated its international human rights obligation by denying women who are sole parent’s access to a parenting payment once their youngest child turns eight years old.

“We hope the UN will investigate and make recommendations regarding the harm this policy is doing to single parents, and for antipoverty strategies to be developed to ensure governments do not use vulnerable single mother families as their ‘cost saving measures’,” Edwards suggested of CEDAW.

CEDAW also questioned the government’s attempts that threaten free speech in Australia, particularly for charity groups and whistle-blowers.

The Human Rights Law Centre said the Committee questioned how two bills on foreign funding of charities and whistle-blowers could be reconciled with the government’s pledge to uphold civil society’s voices during its time on the UN Human Rights Council.

Senior Lawyer at Human Rights Law centre, Lee Carnie, said: “UN’s top women’s rights experts are rightly calling out the Australian government for claiming that it respects free speech while at home moving to stifle critical voices and silence whistle-blowers.

“We should be thanking people who speak out against injustice, not deterring them or punishing them,” Carnie said. “We should be supporting the vital role charities play in developing effective social policy. And when it comes to women’s rights, we should be supporting advocacy by those NGOs who work with the most vulnerable women.”

The Committee’s Rapporteur for Australia, Patricia Schulz, suggested a contradiction between Australia’s claims to be at the forefront of the protection of human rights while being the only western democracy without a bill of rights.

“We call on the Australian government to ensure the impact of their policy measures on women is systematically considered, and that this gender analysis be made public when Parliament is asked to pass budget cuts and changes to taxation,” Goldie said.

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