Senator Larissa Waters: "We've got a long way to go"

The co-deputy leader of the Greens and Senator for Queensland made international headlines when she breastfed her daughter Alia in Parliament this month. We talked to Senator Waters about what the outcry says about gender parity in politics – and what needs to change for all women in Aussie workplaces.

By Mia Abrahams and Grace Jennings-Edquist

What’s missing from the Federal Budget, particularly from a women’s rights perspective?

Well, so much. A women’s budget impact statement, for a start. We used to have one until the Abbott Liberal government got rid of it in 2013. It was a women’s budget lens, basically, that analysed the budget. The fact that this government doesn’t think it’s worthwhile to analyse what the budget does for women really speaks volumes about their commitment to equality.

The lack of a real funding boost for women and children escaping from family and domestic violence. There’s been a few crumbs added in this budget, but it’s nowhere near what it should be.

The lack of attention to the plight of students, many of whom are women. There is a proposal to make university degrees more expensive and to have students pay back the debt at a lower rate of income, and we know that will affect women disproportionately more because, sadly, women are still on the majority of those lower incomes. And of course there’s been no increase in the minimum wage, and in fact there’s been an attack on penalty rates that this government is very supportive of. And again, we know that women do a disproportion amount of lower wage roles.

How surprised were you that your recent breastfeeding in parliament made international news? What does that say about how far we have to go in terms of making politics woman-friendly and family-friendly?

It says we’ve got a long way to go if it’s news that a mum breastfeeds her child in parliament. I long for the day when that’s not news because its just something that happens all the time when necessary. It indicates that we still don’t have gender parity in parliament; we still don’t have gender parity when it comes to the unpaid labor that women do. We know we do the bulk of domestic child-reading duties too, and if we want to achieve equality in the workplace we need men to do more in the home to share those duties more equally so that women can have the time and capacity to step up in the workplace.

Your portfolios include both women and environment and biodiversity. Is there a link between women’s rights and environmental rights- or feminism and environmentalism? 

I think it’s really clear that women around the world will be the most effected by climate change in particular, but tend to be the most affected by any sort of environmental degradation or disaster. Often we’re the poorest globally so we will be least able to cope with the effects of a changing climate and a degraded environment. I guess more specifically in Australia where our standard of living is of course much much higher — except if you’re an Aboriginal Australian and we’re working to try and fix that too — but I guess philosophically the underpinning of equality runs through both women’s rights and environmental rights about an ethic of respect, whether it be for both genders or whether it be for the planet that provides life for us all.