Mandela and I on his first day of Prep 2014

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Mandela and I during book week 21/8/2013. He was dressed as Merlin the Wizard in a costume I hand-sewed after work one night (one of the many ‘other duties as required’ performed by working mums!

I believe that as a young Australian, born and raised in Tasmania by parents who valued family, social responsibility, education and compassion above all else has put me in a uniquely privileged position.

I was able to complete primary and secondary school without a hitch – I learned piano, trombone, recorder and was even in the band. I studied sciences, the humanities (in which I excelled), religion and philosophy as well as art, woodwork, cooking, sewing.

When I was 15 I represented Tasmania in the Model United Nations Assembly. My family was not rich, my parents had ten children (most of whom are far smarter, kinder, and compassionate than I), but my parents worked hard, 24 hours a day to ensure that we had the skills we needed to stand on our own feet. My parents ran businesses from home, while Dad worked full time. We grew our own fruit and vegetables, butchered our own meat (I feel I should be saying sorry to our pet sheep that invariably wound up on the dinner table), shopped savvy (Mum might be the national expert on buying groceries on a budget!) and we rarely traveled, nor did my mother enjoy the ‘luxuries’ that many other women enjoyed.

That said, although we were not affluent by any means, when I was four, my parents stopped working for 12 months in order to volunteer in Western Australia. My first memories are of watching my parents assisting on indigenous education and agricultural programs, and thinking that there was absolutely nothing unusual or exceptional about this. I was raised to understand that helping people in the community (whether they look like you, talk like you or act like you or not) was just “what you do” a “normal part of life.” So this is where I started school, as the only white kid in my class, surrounded by poverty. I only realised as an adult that of all the children in my class I would be the only one to complete year 12 and go to university. As a child, I thought that the kids in my class and I were the same and equally deserving of a future – as it happens, the Australian government must have disagreed, why else would I have had opportunities when they did not?

I believe that as citizens of a free and democratic nation we have an obligation to actively participate in guiding and shaping the future of our nation. We have also a responsibility to take responsibility for the government that we elected (regardless of how small a margin they may have scrapped into leadership with). As we have the right to vote for our government, based on the information they give us prior to elections, then we also have the responsibility – the obligation – to ensure that we firstly, ensure we have heard and understood all the information, and secondly, to hold our governments accountable for their actions and ensure they keep their promises. These responsibilities and obligations go both ways – our elected leaders are obligated to fulfil promises, and to represent the wants of the Australian people, locally, nationally and internationally. As such, it is with absolute rage that I watch our current leaders break promise after promise, while we sit by and lay blame without taking action.

Australia, I have always bragged to people, is the only place on earth where you can be born poor, and still achieve your dreams. Although not everyone can do this, not everyone tries – we are not perfect – but change, progress, and fulfilling one’s potential is something that was possible, my parents and my grandparents, and their amazing accomplishments’ and their commitment to both their own children and the community are a testament to this. Australia was the land where hard work took you places, the land where you could ensure that your children became more than what you could.

Australia was the lucky country, in which the battler could have a fair go. Education was available, healthcare was available, and support services were available. Australia was that country that embraced multiculturalism, valued diversity, was compassionate and was safe to live in.

I was proud to be Australian. Today, I look at things a little differently, and I am writing to ask that you do to.

I believe that everyone deserves opportunities, but no-one deserves a free ride – the world owes no one a favour…. Rather, we owe our children a future. We cannot live in an economic vacuum, we have to work as hard (hell, we should work harder) than our parents and grandparents. No-one should be unemployed for decades, nor should anyone leave school and expect the taxpayer to carry them forever.

That said however, no-one should leave school with inadequate literacy levels – as so many Tasmanian young people are today. Children and young people deserve a better education than that – and Australia needs its young people to have a better education than that. There should be nothing ‘optional’ about education – that gets us no one anywhere. We need to raise our expectations of schools and teachers – and of your people and their parents. We want the privilege of living in the lucky country? Well we better take the opportunity to learn enough, to vote smart, to work smart, to live smart to take advantage of what Australia could offer.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and they are damn right. Parents have got to encourage kids to go to school, makes sure they know it’s important, and that they have the means to get there and excel – this includes making sure your kid is safe, supported and has good nutrition. Schools, need to teach the students what they need to know, academically and socially, they need to be accountable for the student and make sure they do whatever it takes to make sure no child is left behind. Parents need to be actively involved in this process. The government needs to make sure the schools are adequate; that the hospitals and medical clinics are accessible; that every family has access to a home and the capacity to buy food; and that the streets are safe – otherwise none of this will happen. The community needs to jump up and down and demand that this happens if it is not happening. I am not saying this is easy – it’s not – but we did not call them “battlers” because their lives were easy. The ANZACS, the women’s suffrage movements, the asylum seekers – these people all risked their lives to make the future for their children in Australia safe and successful. They taught us that life is not easy – and no one ever promised that it would be – however, if you work hard, you can live a dream.

When our country is ruled by the elite, and the everyday Aussie, is so bogged down with surviving, and whole communities within Australia have for so many years, been trapped in a cycle of welfare so strong that no one remembers a time when they were able to take control of their lives, it is no wonder that we have become a nation that believes government propaganda and feel as though we have no power to change our situations. I once read that the reason Saddam Hussein was able to rise to power and completely control the once strong and wealthy nation of Iraq was by planting discord amongst the people – building distrust between groups of people, tearing apart the common threads that bonded the people together – in simple terms – divide and rule tactics. I see this happening in Australia, and it scares the hell out of me – we are being divided by our leaders and we do not even realise it most of the time. For example, we are scared of asylum seekers, vulnerable people who are running away from torture, because the government has convinced us that they are ‘taking over’ our country – yet we aren’t worried about the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef by industrial developments which only wealth Australians seem to be profiting from. We scorn the pensioner – because we are told they are draining our welfare system, but we are okay with the wealthiest Australians avoiding paying tax. We blame the child who does not achieve well at school, and requires welfare assistance as a result, yet we fail to connect this child’s lack of achievement, with our societies failure to protect her from sexual abuse, and further our failure to properly sentence her abuser – we read stories often of peadophiles receiving suspended sentences, or 18 months in prison – and forget that their victims suffer forever and will probably need our assistance forever. We are not standing together to demand a better tomorrow for our children – and because we are divided, we are easy to rule, mislead and control. Australia, surely we are smarter than this.

Australia has become so divided in fact, that we have now started to make life difficult for mothers. We all have mothers, we all love our mothers, yet, under our new budget, our new future plan for Austalia, we are persecuting them. This is firstly, an insult to all mothers, women, and anyone who has a mother, wife, sister, or who has any degree of respect for women.

As I stated earlier, I do not expect a free ride life, nor do I think we should give anyone a free ride – people should contribute what they can, and receive what they need. Changes to HECS/HELP programs at universities and childcare rebates as well as the complete degradation of the public education system (particularly in Tasmania) however, are slowly but surely turning Australia into a country where women – mothers – are not able to actively contribute to the workforce, their children’s educations, or the community. Wait, before you say “it is the women’s choice to have a child,” and wash your hands of any responsibility, ask yourself these two questions:

(1) If no one has babies – and we close off migration programs – where exactly is the future generation of Australians going to come from?

(2) If we develop a culture in which it is acceptable (nay it is legislated) for mothers to be treated unfairly in work and education, can we be sure this discrimination will not negatively impact on all women?

Babies are expensive. Having a baby is expensive…. From the word go, everything costs money – going to hospital, leaving work, buying maternity clothes, baby beds, car seats, prams, breast pumps (we need these is we are going back to work because we can’t afford to pay our bills on a single income) – this all adds up. Raising the baby is expensive – everything costs more than Paying bills when you aren’t working, because you are home with baby, or paying child care if you aren’t. Saving for school fees, missing work because your child has the sniffles (they caught it at childcare), taking your little monster to the doctor, feeding and clothing them… there seems to be no end to this and I am actually getting stressed writing this list! This is no news though, we know babies cost money, people cost money – everything costs money. No biggie. We know this. This is why we go to university, get qualified, work hard, save hard, have a glorious few months (if we are lucky) with our physically and emotionally demanding (albeit precious) babies before going back to work in order to make just enough money to be struggling. Once again, I am not telling you what you do not know. If you want to be rich – motherhood is not the career path for you – however, if we, the women of Australia who are compassionate, well educated, and hard working are not going to give birth to babies, and raise them to be equally as hard working, compassionate and well educated – then where will Australia be in a few years? I realise that our system of governance is based on a four year term, designed for politicians to do just enough show ponying for us to be duped in to relecting them, rather than actually making on going changes, but seriously, I thought that this one is a no brainer. If we have kids and do not ensure they develop to their full potentials, then in the next generation Australia will not reach it’s full potential!

I am hardworking, smart and pretty easy going, but they direction Australia is going in will hurt my son in the future. So I am now in hopping mad, protective mama mode – and I want to see changes. This is my story.

In 2013 The University of Canberra released a study (http://www.natsem.canberra.edu.au/storage/AMP_NATSEM_33.pdf) which found that the real cost of raising a child to adulthood is $452,388, which is basically every cent I will earn for the next 15 years until my five year old son Mandela is 20 years old.

Education (both nationally and in Tasmania) is not a priority of our government, nor is social justice, compassion or forward planning (internationally, locally and nationally). As such I cannot rely on the public school system, the public medical system to ensure that my son is given the opportunities he deserves – or indeed opportunities equal to our mainland counterparts. This increases the costs of raising my son.

Honesty has also not been a strong suit of our current leadership – so anything that I have not mentioned above as being a factor I cannot rely on, I am sure in time will become something I cannot rely on.

I do not want to be dependent on welfare, and I do not want my son to be. Every day that I do not work so I can raise my son, I am accumulating interest on my HECS, and I am not earning the dollars I need to raise my son, which is becoming more and more expensive.

In Tasmania there are no jobs in my field. I know I could move interstate, Tony Abbott has already told me this – but my personal circumstances do not allow this, and also when you make it so expensive to raise my son, I need to be near people I can trust to babysit while I chase enough paper to pay top dollar for education because the Tasmanian public system is so dismal we have some of the lowest literacy rates in the country. As a consequence, every morning I wake up feeling depressed, I feel like I wasted my time studying to become an expert in my field. Not being able to work in my area of study, means my specialist skills are ‘expiring’ – it is like watching an ice sculpture I spent years (literally years at university, eating rice and beans because I couldn’t afford anything else) building slowly melt because someone (Mr Abbott again) turned the freezer I saved up to buy off.

If I was a man – it would be so much easier, I wouldn’t have to worry about maternity leave – if I were married/partnered with a child, I would have to budget it in, but I could actually go to work to provide for them. I would earn more than a woman as well – for no apparent reason, even in the same jobs (i.e. lawyers) men earn more than their female colleagues. Also, my clothes are cheaper, I could shower and get ready for work in less than 30 minutes (this gives me more time to sleep and relax, which would make me more work ready) and no one would ever expect me to wear high heels to work.

It is 2014, and my life would be easier if I were a man. That is not just. I know I should not expect much from a government that selects a sexist old man to be the Minister for Women. He has never had to breastfeed at night and then work all day and be judged for it, so I cannot reasonably expect him to understand my situation. That is one of the reasons why I am writing this. Mr Tony Abbott, I studied hard prior to having Mandela, and while I was in hospital having him, and during the first 12 months of his life.

And so I ask you, Mr Tony Abbott, Can you write your thesis while 7 months pregnant with 2 broken ribs? I did – and I got a distinction.

Mr Tony Abbott, Can you write an essay on humanitarian intervention whilst in hospital having a 12 pound baby and get 98% for it? I did.

Mr Tony Abbott, Can you breast feed and type an essay at the same time? I can.

Mr Tony Abbott – can you make uni more expensive and difficult for women? You can? Swell.

Mr Tony Abbott – please for the love of God, can you put a woman (or at least a bloke who has some degree of respect for women in the role of Minister for Women?)

My HECS debt is insane. I know you will tell me that the answer to my employment woes are simple:

(1) I could waitress again, or work in a kitchen, or clean toilets – these are all the ways I got through university by the way – I did not have access to youth allowance (I think I owe Howard a debt of thanks for that? Maybe it was Mr Rudd…I am not sure, I was too busy with study and work, to try and find someone to blame. Either way, I am awesome at making coffee and never ever attended a “barrel” at uni, or went to the Uni Bar as a consequence).

*Problem, you apply for a job in hospitality with a Masters degree and apparently you are ‘over skilled’ – and I’m more expensive than a 16 year old school leaver.

(2) I could go back to university and re-train in an area that is in demand in Tasmania – but then my HECS will GROW and I will never be able to pay it off. Also, I cannot afford to take time off from work, and paid child care for my son so I might go to classes.

I know I will be criticised for this article – but some of it needed saying. Parenting – financing parenting – is like a Catch 22 – no matter what you do, you are upsetting someone.
If you work, people ask why you bothered to have children if you do not want to “raise them yourself.” If you stay home however, you are a “dole bludger, who has babies to get money off the government.”

If you study before you have your babies you are wasting your degree.

If you have babies before university – you are wasting your life and not giving your kids the best you can.

If you are affluent, you should be spending more on your kids because obviously you are depriving them of something material, or of your time because you are working.

If you are struggling financially – you should have planned ahead.

I would like the record to reflect however, that I graduated, had a full time job, established a non-government organisation overseas, learned three languages and planned ahead before I had a child. My situation has since changed however, as you cannot plan for completely unexpected and irrational events including illness, natural disasters and the Liberal Government/Tony Abbot as PM just to list a few examples!!

I have worked fulltime more or less since my son was born – I have completed a number of (generally short term) contracts which have utilized my skills and allowed me to pay tax. My son may be slightly miffed at times because he has to go to after school care due to Mama being at work, but at least he has heating, a roof over his head, food, and an education – and weekends and nights and mornings with Mama. Then the world gives us grief because apparently I shouldn’t work, I should be with Mandela. When I resigned and stayed home, I was told that I am lazy and not doing all I can to give him all he needs. I am now struggling to find a job, and feel like I am being dismissed by the Australian government – because my role in the workforce is not valued enough for me to earn as much as a man. My role in the home however, is not valued at all either – because the government does not see that in order to have a future, Australia needs to invest in mothers and children.

Then the government makes election promises – and breaks them. They move the goal posts, and make it that much harder for ordinary people – no wait, not ordinary people, EXTRAORDINARY women, mothers, to “win” – or even participate in society – how is this a fair go?

Australia needs women to go to university and study to build this country – we are half of the population. Australia needs women to have children, and properly educate them so they can be the future. Australia needs to stop spending money on expensive and inhuman ‘refugee solutions’ and look at asylum seekers, women and children as humans, who are valuable to this country.

If I could hammer something into Mr Abbott’s head it would be:

Please stop making me feel like crap because I have worked my ass off to be a good parent and citizen, but you make it too damn hard because I’m not as important as a man or as a rich mine owner (even though, proportionally I pay more tax).

• Phil na Champassak, in Comments: Thank you Josie, for a well written indictment of the Australian social attitudes towards the role of women and mothers that are generally taken for granted. We live in a consumerist society that uses women every which way. Unfortunately most women climbing up the corporate or political ladder tend to ‘ape’ men for acceptance. What is lost along the way is the fundamental nurturing that even men should condone and emulate.

• Alison Bleaney, Comments: Josie – your depiction of the dilemmas that currently face young educated, hard working, motivated women in today’s political framework is chilling. It is and will increasingly become a problem for our society and is a social issue – not an equity issue but a discrimination issue. Women bear and mostly rear children – so far that’s just how our biology dictates it! So where is this heading and is society prepared to take this on board and address these issues and nurture our children (our future) and their mothers (carers and educators for life) and indeed ‘relevant others involved in their rearing’? What has happened to ‘community’ and ‘elders’ and where is the importance of all of this recognised in today’s politics?

• Frances Daily, in Comments: Thanks Josie for your efforts – both to convey your thoughts and for all you do. Don’t give up – Tasmania, Australia and the world need people like you. So speak up, keep going and enjoy the precious moments you have with your son, family and friends. You will find another job (or many jobs) that you will love and will be great at and I am sure those you work with will appreciate your skills, talent and dedication to work and life. We need more like you so you are an inspiration and will continue to be.