10 September 2020
YWCA Canberra recently released Towards 2024, our platform of policy priorities for the forthcoming ACT Election. Our priorities have been informed by the major themes which emerged from our 2019 survey Our Lives: Women in the ACT and policy responses from COVID-19.
This pandemic has underlined the value of safe shelter and the role of early childhood educators in the functioning of our community. At a time where entire populations were encouraged to stay home, those in insecure tenancies, overcrowded dwellings or living with someone who used violence against them were most vulnerable. Compounding this, rent and mortgage stress escalated, with almost 4000 Canberrans stood down from jobs or out of employment altogether. Referrals for our housing services and outreach support during the peak of the local lockdown increased by 170 per cent.
YWCA Canberra has a long-standing history of advocacy in the lead up to ACT elections and we have been working with relevant community sector stakeholders and meeting with political parties and candidates to lobby for our priority areas. To date, we have met with Members of the Legislative Assembly, ACT Government Ministers and political candidates from ACT Labor, the Canberra Liberals and the ACT Greens as well as minor parties such as the Canberra Progressives to share our priorities and encourage support for our proposed measures.
On 5 August, the ACT Government announced plans for an investment of $61 million into public housing construction and maintenance. In addition to this welcomed initiative was the announcement to lift the cap on affordable rental properties eligible for the land-tax concession scheme for investors who lease properties at less than 75 per cent the market rate through community housing providers, like YWCA Canberra. The cap within the scheme will now be lifted from 100 properties to 125. YWCA Canberra’s Rentwell program, which has already tenanted 56 individuals across 30 properties, is demonstrative of the success of this scheme.
Incentivising the supply of affordable private rental properties is just one policy lever available to governments to grow housing options for Canberra families and individuals who struggle to compete in the private rental market. We also continue to call for diversity in the available housing options. While the new investment in public housing construction is welcome, it is important to remember that not everyone who is in housing stress meets the eligibility requirements for public housing. For this reason, we continue to emphasise the important role community housing can play in supporting members of the community on modest incomes who are locked out of affordable and convenient rentals.
Towards 2024 also raises the ongoing accessibility issues with Canberra’s refuge housing stock. There is currently no crisis refuge available to gender diverse persons experiencing domestic and family violence. Our platform calls for appropriate services to be explored which will cater to this group. Additionally, women with disabilities have been inadvertently excluded from accessing Canberra’s refuges as much-needed upgrades remain overdue. Along with Women with Disabilities ACT and Advocacy for Inclusion, we continue to lobby for these structural upgrades to occur.
Towards 2024 calls for the implementation and funding of universal access to preschool for three-year-old children. While this measure has been committed to by the ACT Government, its reach has been limited by insufficient funding.
Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) provides children with the best start in life and COVID-19 has also highlighted the critical role that early educators play in our economy. Despite this contribution, the sector was the first to be removed from the JobKeeper wage subsidy initiative, designed to support affected workers and industries in the period following COVID-19 shutdowns.This premature removal of the sector fails to recognise the important role ECEC plays in the community and economy and reinforces the wage inequality experienced by those in the sector.
Our election platform calls on election candidates and political parties to join us in valuing the sector by supporting the equal pay case for educators whose low wages and high turnover rates impact on the majority female workforce and children accessing the services.
Our 2019 survey of nearly 1100 Canberra women, Our Lives; Women in the ACT revealed unacceptable levels of sexual harassment in public spaces and the workplace. Sexual harassment is a form of gender-motivated violence which limits the economic participation of women. We call for the future ACT Government to commit to annual reporting on the prevalence of sexual harassment in Canberra by collecting and publishing relevant workplace data.
We continue to call for Respectful Relationships Education to be implemented in ACT schools from P-12 and for the Crimes Act to be amended to incorporate the concept of positive consent.
The ACT election on 17 October is your opportunity to engage in the policy and ideas of the ACT Election to shape the Canberra you want to live in. YWCA Canberra has called on members via our social media platforms to share what matters to you and how government and community services can best deliver for women. Responses so far have highlighted issues such as pandemic leave, intersectional policy approaches and better public lighting.
Our popular Meet the Candidate will take place on 17 September and we welcome participation from members and supporters.