Dr. Lynette J. Dumble PhD, MSc, is a feminist political, medical and environmental scientist and the founder and international director of the Global Sisterhood Network, an alliance of feminists from around the world who are working together to improve women's lives. Her past academic appointments include: senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne's Department of Surgery at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and Department of History and Philosophy of Science; visiting medical scientist at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa and University of Illinois in Chicago; and visiting professor of surgery at the University of Texas in Houston.
She is a member of the Boston-based Committee on Women, Population and Environment, and the Amsterdam-based Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights, a past state president of the Australian Federation of University Women and University College at the University of Melbourne, and is active in a number of movements challenging the assumptions of globalization, biotechnology, militarism and religion in relation to world peace, Indigenous and Women's rights, public health, food security and environmental safety.
She has a major interest in women's health and has published more than 500 articles in medical, scientific, environmental and political journals and in the print and electronic media, on diverse subjects ranging from the cultural, political, scientific and social discrimination against females from conception to grave to transplantation immunobiology, biotechnology, and medical ethics.
Commentaries by Lynette Dumble:
18 August 2010
The Choice: A woman with an eye for the future, or a man with his head in the past
Since assuming the Labor Party’s leadership, Julia Gillard has contended with every aspect of the genderized intolerance anticipated, with the media preying on her appearance, clothing, relationship, and speaking style, rather than her intended policies for a second-term Labor Government (1). In stark contrast, Julia's alternative in Tony Abbott has stumbled through four weeks of campaigning with the media paying shallow attention to his dubious political promises, and zero attention to the personal aspects of his attire and elocution.
As the campaign enters final days, Julia has grown in personal poise, and likely inspired public confidence, with her robust televised performances, and her party's realistic political promises on climate change, economics, education, health, immigration, population, pay equity, transport, and water.
Within this same time frame, Abbott's credibility has seriously waned (3). His parental leave scheme, in itself a seismic shift from the Liberal Party's free-market philosophy, is opposed by MPs from within both parties of the Liberal-National Coalition. Already causing consternation in safe Liberal seats, this Abbott-trumpeted policy has also been slammed by the Business Council of Australia.
The Abbott-led Coalition has also driven the sustainable population bandwagon, conveniently overlooking the fact that since the 1990s the Coalition had promoted mass immigration on economic grounds. Highlighting the Coalition's immigration flip flop, just seven months ago Abbott was proclaiming that "a higher population has been consistent with a better life for most people".
Abbott's tax policy is at best thin, and contains what Australia's foremost political correspondent, Michelle Grattan, describes as "a silly measure"(3), this being a ''tax receipt'' for the taxpayer so that he or she is aware of how many of their tax dollars were spent on education, housing, industry assistance and other areas of government spending. If the promised ''tax receipt'' is to be comprehensive, this amounts to being a lengthy document, but what can Mr. or Ms Taxpayer do about government spending on, for example defence, of which they happen to strongly disapprove, or non-spending on, for example Indigenous health, of which they would strongly prefer? A year after the fact, not a solitary thing other than to keep in mind come the 2013 Federal Election.
Aside from his past anti-abortion and work choice baggage, failure to commit to pay equity, threats to reduce, or even eliminate for a lengthy period, the social security of the unemployed, and an irrational scepticism on climate change, Abbott has regularly executed new blunders in the past six weeks. Amongst his most foolish was his vow to cancel Labor's $43 billion Broadband infrastructure program, and replace it with a vastly inferior $6 billion alternative, the intention being to cut spending rather than prepare for the future at a time when Broadband is increasingly the backbone of the 21st-century economy. After stumbling to answer questions on this policy when interviewed on the ABC's 7.30 report, Abbott then incorrectly claimed ''Just as the Prime Minister says, I say as well, I'm no Bill Gates here and I don't claim to be any kind of tech-head in all of this,''. To set the record straight, this response from Julia Gillard was in answer to a question regarding internet filters, not broadband (4).
In the recent words of Sharan Burrow (5), former president of the ACTU, and currently head of the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation, "The Labor government investment in broadband also means jobs, lots of jobs. Tony Abbott on the other hand is set on destroying jobs when the economy is still vulnerable. With cuts of 25,000 jobs in broadband, 12,000 jobs in the public sector, fewer nurses and healthcare professionals with his cuts to Labor's health initiatives and a multiplier effect that could see these losses trebled in the private sector, this is not the leader for Australian workers".
So there we have it: Julia Gillard, a woman with an eye to the future, or Tony Abbott, a man with his head in the past, namely the economic rationalism of the Howard days. The choice belongs to the nation on August 21, but there are clear lessons from Britain where the election of a conservative Coalition has in the space of just 100 days led to the further economic and social marginalisation of women, children, the poor, and migrants (5).
1. Liswood, Laura. Women in power and the battle facing Julia Gillard. The Guardian, London, Saturday August 14, 2010, page 23.
2. Grattan, Michelle. Coalition draws a long bow. The Age, Melbourne, Friday August 13, 2010.
3. Aly, Waleed. Coalition cracks show as populism reigns. The Sunday Age, Melbourne, August 8, 2010.
4. Coorey, Phillip. Abbott's devil lies in the (lack of) detail. The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday August 11, 2010.
5. Burrow, Sharan. Victoria a key battleground. The Age , Melbourne, Friday August 13, 2010.
6. Editorial. Dangerous echoes of Thatcherism. The Independent, London, Monday, 9 August 2010.
4 July 2010
The Feminine Face of Australia’s National Obscenity
Back in 2008, Labor's White Paper on the subject of homelessness, which was described at the time as "A National Obscenity", prominently exposed the full extent of the problem and articulated the urgent need for wide-ranging responses. This was the first time since Federation that a Government of any persuasion had disclosed the scandalous truth of the number of Australians who spend their lives without a safe roof over their heads.
Although the overall rate of homelessness has remained relatively stable over the past 12 years, increasing numbers of children, families and older Australians today find themselves in this situation, with our Indigenous over-represented in the population without a home. Entitled "The Road Home“ (1), the White Paper estimated that on any given night 105,000 Australians were without a home due to multiple factors: the shortage of affordable housing, long term unemployment, mental health issues, substance abuse and family and relationship breakdown, while amongst homeless women, domestic and family violence [ read *men’s domestic and family violence *] was the chief reason for their tragic plight.
Labor's "Road Home" made a unique commitment to respond to the nation's homelessness via three strategies: First, by Turning off the tap via early intervention services aimed at preventing homelessness; second by Improving and expanding services which provide sustainable housing, improve economic and social participation, and end homelessness for their clients; and thirdly by Breaking the cycle for those who become homeless by moving them quickly through the crisis system to stable housing with the support they need so that homelessness does not recur.
Decades of neglect mean that solutions will not be instantaneous, but Labor’s three strategies aim to halve overall homelessness, and offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers in need, over a period of 12 years.
A recent survey conducted by Homelessness NSW (2), an NGO working to achieve an Australia where no one experiences homelessness and affordable housing is available to meet demand, confirmed what feminists have long suspected, i.e. Australia’s National Obscenity has a feminine face. To quote Sue Cripps, CEO of Homelessness NSW, "Workers in the sector are increasingly seeing that the face of homelessness is older and female. Older women are invisible - on the streets, parks and public spaces they keep a low profile to avoid both the law and lawlessness" (3).
The older homeless woman's invisibility, unseen on the male-preferred park bench, means that she doesn't count in the national statistics. A range of reasons account for her homelessness - often disadvantaged by caring for children, she faces an interrupted work career, and as a result a reduced income and superannuation, and fewer job options. Divorce too frequently leaves women financially worse off than their former male partners, while, as confirmed in The Road Home, escaping male domestic violence and abuse is a fundamental driver of women's homelessness.
Back on June 24 when Julia Gillard became Prime Minister, she praised her predecessor Kevin Rudd's determination to health reform, combat homelessness and close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. As our elected-Prime Minister we can therefore anticipate her continued determination to pursue justice regarding these issues, and for homeless women that means the creation of special services which cater for their needs. In Sue Cripps' words "Homelessness is no picnic for anyone but older women do it particularly tough. There are few services designed for older women. There are no female-only boarding houses. Women in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s are forced to become nocturnal, grabbing sleep during the day to stay awake and avoid the rape, violence and crime that often comes at night".
Labor’s Minister for Housing, Tanya Plibersek, also demonstrated the Gillard Government’s ongoing efforts to address the nation’s homelessness with an August 5 announcement of the building of 1170 new homes across the State of Victoria, which though not women-specific, will cater for those on low and moderate incomes who are struggling to find a home within their budget (4)
In contrast, while Labor's strategies for reducing the nation’s homeless were supported by former opposition leaders Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull, the current Liberal leader Tony Abbott has failed to commit to the targets, and appears unwilling to do so. On that note, a win for Labor on August 21, and Julia for PM, will be a positive step for the nation’s homeless, and an urgent requirement for our sisters who find themselves without a place to call home.
1. The Road Home - The Australian Government White Paper on Homelessness .
2. Homelessness, NSW.
3. Cripps, Sue. Homelessness has a female face. The Age, Melbourne, Tuesday August 3, 2010.
4. Williams, Erin. New homes for Ballarat's low income earners. The Courier, Ballarat, Victoria, Thursday August 5 2010.
18 July 2010
A Feminist Future
Julia Gillard's replacement of Kevin Rudd as Australia's Prime Minister was largely regarded as a victory for the country's women, both past and present. Two decades earlier, Victoria's first woman premier, Joan Kirner, and the following generation of women, forged a unique style of political leadership: Intelligence, consensus, integrity, humility and connection with community became the newly sought traits for women when electing candidates to the political corridors of power.
In the month which has followed, it became plain that Gillard was heir to a perilous hangover from the previous Labor Leadership in the shape of the proposed Super Tax for Mining Corporations, and alternatives to Howard's still lingering, and widely unpopular, Pacific Solution to asylum-seekers and Northern Territory Intervention policies. Along with these issues, the Rudd Government's delayed initiatives to combat climate change strengthened the possibility that Gillard's inheritance was a poison chalice.
The daggers for Gillard's throat were rapidly sharpened over the ensuing four weeks, their wielders ranging from Tony Abbot, leader of opposition Liberal Coalition, to Nine's political editor Laurie Oakes, to the ultra-conservative director of the Sydney Institute Gerald Henderson, to the hoard of journalists feeding at the National Press Club’s patriarchal trough.
Nonetheless, Julia Gillard has proven over her years in Parliament that she has the spine to absorb the venom, and importantly survive in a political environment which is shamed by its hallmark culture of hatred.
Consistent with her survival spirit and courage, on July 17 she asked the Governor-General to dissolve the House of Representatives so that elections for the House and half of the Senate would take place on Saturday, August 21.
In her own words after casting the Federal Election die, "Now at this moment there is clearly an opportunity for us to look forward in this nation. Australia needs many changes, this is not a moment to turn back. We’ve come too far as a country and we’ve evolved too much as a society to risk that kind of backwards-looking leadership."
Within that address to the nation, Gillard made it abundantly clear that she is prepared to continue Australia's evolution into a more compassionate and environmentally-caring society, the latter evident from her agreement with The Greens over the past weekend, and the former promoting hope for a rethink of the Howard government's plans to build a receptacle for low and medium-level radioactive waste on Aboriginal land at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory, and a further unravelling of the Northern Territory Intervention scheme - none of which are remotely possible under a Liberal Coalition Government.
Julia Gillard may not be a radical feminist, but she is very definitely a feminist, and her promotion to elected Prime Minister is a strong positive step towards creating a feminist future for the country.
18 June 2010
Diverting Australia’s Military Budget to defend against Climate Change
My recent positive opinion of the 2010 Federal Budget with respect to Climate Change pre-empts the need to join the dots between the environment and Australia's military economy.
To begin, our projected military expenditure in 2010 runs at $73 million per day, amassing a grand total of close to $27 billion within the space of the current year. Australia's Medical Association for the Prevention of War(1) recently compared our military budget with that of the United Nations where the total funding of all activities, including the secretariat, peace keeping forces, the World Heath Organization, and its multiple supplementary agencies, is a mere $us30 billion annually. While paling to insignificance compared with US military spending, the Australian defence budget nonetheless indicates that we have joined the big league when it comes to military extravagances, and as a result have staked a claim to making a significant contribution to climate change via energy intensive and/or carbon emitting military-related missiles, machinery, transport and infra-structure.
Similarly, the decadence of Australia’s Defence Budget is also demonstrated when seen alongside the estimated cost of the Millennium Development Goals: In brief, where $us135 billion is anticipated sufficient to eradicate global famine and poverty, provide universal primary education, significantly reduce maternal death and child mortality rates, promote environmental sustainability and set several other essential priorities, including the empowerment of women, notably in countries where to this day women have no rights whatsoever. Together these goals are anticipated to directly improve human survival, and to indirectly strengthen international security.
Additionally, Australia is actively involved in the manufacture of military weapons and machinery, and is amongst the world's leading suppliers of uranium, some of which is traded to countries who are armed with nuclear missiles.
At a point in time when the adverse effects of climate change are already upon us, Australia has an outstanding opportunity to show leadership by backing away from both armed conflict and the global arms trade. That in itself does not mean unemployment for the thousands within our defence forces. Instead the skills of these highly-trained men and women can be diverted to addressing crucial environmental issues on home soil, with their activities abroad restricted to peace keeping when and where warranted, and to climate change-related emergencies in neighbouring countries, notably within the Pacific Islands.
It does not require mathematics of Pythagoras proportions to envisage the reduced national defence budget, and environmental benefits, which would result from Australia's disengagement from war activities, but it does require a level of courage which is unprecedented in a world where military intervention has become the broadly-accepted substitute for diplomacy. Is that too much to ask of our political leaders in return for a world where peace is the alternative to conflict, and the risk of climate change-related catastrophes is diminished rather than amplified? I would like to think not!
(1) Vision 2030 : an alternative approach to Australian security. MAPW 2010
A publication of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia)
4 June 2010
Climate Change and the Budget
The 2010 Australian Federal Budget provided further insights into the nation’s political approaches to the Climate Change, arguably the major issue of the Third Millennium.
With respect to Climate Change policy, the Rudd Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was placed on hold in mid April of 2010 following a second rejection in the Senate. Instead, as an ongoing commitment to addressing the perils of Climate Change, the 2010 budget commits $30 million to funding a national community education program on the subject via print, radio, television and electronic media, the cost of which is to be met from within the existing Climate Change and Energy Efficiency portfolio. Despite an absence of bi-partisan co-operation, and muddled thinking within the Opposition’s Coalition ranks, it therefore appears fair to conclude that all is not yet lost in this direction!
Of equal, or perhaps greater importance in light of the ever-increasing reports of the climate change-related disappearance of small island territories, the 2010 Budget commits a further $178.2 million over two years to the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative. This builds on funding announced in the 2008-09 Budget [ $150 million over three years] for tactics designed to adapt to climate change.
In addition to supporting efforts under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to identify new and innovative measures which minimise the financial downsides of climate change in developing countries, the 2010 Federal funding accordingly aims to enhance the assessment of climate change impacts in neighbouring countries via cutting-edge scientific data, so that each may plan and invest in essential adaptation courses when and where appropriate.
Focusing on countries in the Pacific and small island states, the 2009 and 2010 budgets also include finance to strengthen Pacific meteorological services in partnership with New Zealand and Pacific Island countries, as well as Grants for Australian and International non–government organisations for the building of new and existing climate adaptation approaches in co-operation with local organisations in the Pacific region and East Timor. In the context that women have borne the heaviest burdens [ in terms of mortality, morbidity, and violence] stemming from climate change-related natural disasters, the Rudd Government’s investment in community-based strategies increases the opportunity to place gender perspectives to the fore of climate change adaptation measures in our region.
Moreover, the ultimate value of Australia’s good will expressed toward smaller and less economically advantaged nations in our region may well prove profound. To paraphrase Mary Robinson, former president of the Republic of Ireland and UN Commissioner for Human Rights, “… for the first time in human history, the richer parts of the world are dependent for their future survival on what happens in the poorest parts. It's no longer about compassion and philanthropy - it is in their future self-interest to ensure that the poorest have access to every available climate change strategy."
2 April 2010
Dominant issues crying out for courageous policy
Australia’s impending Federal Election of 2010 provides unique opportunities for political parties to express leadership at national and also international levels. The dominant issues crying out for courageous policy include Aboriginal Sovereignty, Climate Change, Economic and Employment Stability, Health Care, National Security, and Water Resources. Amongst these central issues, the dots which link Climate Change with National Security highlight an importance which cannot be ignored.
Already in 2010 the world has witnessed a series of natural disasters which can be seen as linked to Climate Change, at devastating levels in Haiti and Chile, and also, though with far less to even zero human impact, in Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Tonga. To date, though the year is still young, Australia has escaped with a minor 2.3-magnitude tremor striking bayside Pearcedale, 47 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, on March 25. More pressingly, as scientists have warned, Climate Change is also likely to place Australia directly at risk of a new order of fires which strike with sufficient ferocity to engulf entire towns lying in their path. This we have already seen in rural Victoria in February of 2009, with further close calls averted in the summer of 2010. The question therefore arises, is there a government policy which can reduce Australia’s contribution to Climate Change while simultaneously lessening the nation’s risk from natural disasters?
The answer is unequivocally yes. Although minor, relative to US and British military operations, our present involvement in Afghanistan, and beforehand in Iraq, is part of a global war economy which is an underestimated, but highly significant, factor in climate change.
A pacifist policy, withdrawing our troops from all regions of military conflict, presents as a ground-breaking opportunity to make a stand against the world’s missile sponsors who rather than placing faith in diplomatic solutions, either invent, sell, or drop bombs capable of massive destruction in terms of human and animal life, vital constructions, and landscape.
It is a fallacy that truth is the first victim of war. Rather, despite military boasts of “smart bombs”, civilians, in the main women and children, are the first and continual victims of armed conflict. Hence, a pacifist policy would attract women voters, and indeed all peace loving citizens within the electorate. At the same time, a pacifist stand would free our women and men who have chosen military careers to engage in vital homeland projects, for example in the protection of rural communities, their homes, animals and surrounding bushland during periods of high fire danger, and in the creation and/or restoration of water storage assets to counter drought. And lastly, should an Australian Pacifist Policy catch on at the international level, Mother Earth would be given a breather from assaults with today’s multi-tonned missiles, perhaps making her less prone to expressing the tsunami-magnitude disturbances which have claimed thousands upon thousands of lives in recent years.