Fish-wives, Mr Premier?

[Update: I can now confirm that Barnett was speaking about (or attempting to speak about) the Fishing Industry Women’s Association of WA. I can also confirm that, according to the Government, the Fishing Industry Women’s Association of WA is not a Government committee at all. Its mention in this context was both gratuitous and misleading.]

Premier Colin Barnett made a speech about funding cuts yesterday at a “business luncheon”. The full transcript is here; it was also reported in the Australian.

Barnett was speaking at the CEDA-hosted 2009 “Economic and Political Overview”, billed as “Australia’s premier series of briefings on the Australian economy and politics for the year ahead.”

Check the video. The contempt for women starts from 42 seconds:


“What’s happened over successive governments, as new issues have arisen, new bodies are being created and the old ones have just been left in place. We have a Rock Lobster Fishermen’s Wives’ Committee. I’m not quite sure what that does, I’m sure they do good work. They might not be there at the end of the term.”

Logansrogue writes, in : “Sexism in WA State Government = NACEY SMASH!

He made a snide remark that the “Rock Lobster Fisherman’s Wives” association wasn’t one that would be around for much longer.

Disregarding the fact that he got their name entirely wrong (I forget what the actual name is), and the fact that they’re self-funded, he basically called women concerned with a CHIEF and IMPORTANT industry here in Western Australia as FISH WIVES.

How fucking DISRESPECTFUL can you get? This is the PREMIER. But what else can you expect from a man that doesn’t even bat an eyelid at the shenanigans of Troy Buswell?

Would he DARE to be so snide and dismissive about a fisheries lobby group run by men? I doubt it. The WAY he said it as a side joke, sniggering with the crowd, it makes me sick to my stomach. I’m not even that concerned with the fisheries department (other than marine preservation) and I’m utterly INCENSED with his bullshit.

So who is this group? We think it’s The Fishing Industry Women’s Association of Western Australia, or possibly the Women’s Industry Network Seafood Community. There is absolutely no trace on Google, Hansard, or anywhere else of a “Rock Lobster Fishermen’s Wives Committee”.

And if it’s FIWAWA, Barnett knows damn well what they do, the disingenuous twerp. The government has only a couple of weeks ago had a public political disagreement with FIWAWA, which suggests a rather more likely motivation for his public sledging is political posturing. Not a high-minded, disinterested budget review.

Mr Barnett’s chumly sneering lays bare his disdain for women working in community groups. He chose to couch his disdain in sexist language, choosing the word “wives” for women instead of their self-chosen term, “women”. The resonance with “fishwives” is, I believe, too obvious to be entirely accidental.

Barnett chooses to construct women who are active in their communities as subordinates to men — with a side serve of harridan.

Does he for a second know where we’d be without women’s community work? For a start, imagine the State school system without P & C work. No playgrounds, no fund-raising, no tuckshops, and a whole host of other less visible services falling by the wayside. Carers’ groups, support for seniors and people with disabilities and people in rural areas, poverty alleviation, domestic violence assistance, indigenous women’s safety and family help groups, gay and lesbian counselling, youth work, disaster support, wildlife rescue – the list goes on and on, the list of largely women-run community assistance groups. All of these depend heavily on the unpaid work of volunteer women who have decided to step up and make their communities stronger.

You might have seen a bloke rescuing that koala from the bushfire, but who nursed her back to health? Who ran your kids’ playgroups? Who comforted your child when he ran from a bully into the nearest Safety House? Which docent showed you around the museum and the zoo last weekend? Who supported you through breastfeeding difficulties? Who runs your local Freecycle, your op shop, your school uniform shop? Who is going to deliver your library books and your Meals on Wheels when you’re unable to drive or cook for yourself? Women’s volunteer work is making life more pleasant for all, and less dangerous and isolated for the most vulnerable.

But here’s the thing. So long as we stick to the domestic and caring domains, we’re golden (if financially unvalued, and taken-for-granted). But when women stand up for themselves politically, and lobby for their own interests – that’s where the politicians start to panic and think “It’s smackdown time. Back to the tuckshop where you belong, as WIVES.”

You can’t convince me that women’s groups are irrelevant frivolities that “we” can’t afford in these troubled times. Not now, not ever. And ain’t it strange how that “we” means “rich white businessmen”?

Categories: gender & feminism, language, Politics, social justice, work and family

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14 replies

  1. I think it’s an attitude that is ingrained in Barnett – he’s just used to dealing with old white guys in expensive suits.
    Ol’ Barney had a meeting here today with our CEO – a kick-ass woman – and he appeared decidedly uncomfortable.
    But it could just be because he was slumming it here in our office instead of his more palatial surrounds, or that he was in a building full of organisations he has turned his back on.
    I did so well to not throw anything, or throw anything up.

  2. theparissite: There I was hoping your punchline would be “and then I puked on his shoes”. Ah well, another opportunity missed.

  3. This is why I struggle a lot regarding volunteerism. If I want the things accomplished, I need to support them with my hours or my money. But, volunteerism is so undervalued that I feel that giving my hours both undervalues my time and undervalues the work that is being done.

  4. Anna, I’ve donated an awful lot of hours over the years to my kids’ school and pre-school. There was a time a couple of years back when I wasn’t doing any paid work and had over-committed myself just a bit on the volunteering front and it was doing my head in. I know just what you mean.

  5. Great post. The West also ran a story on this today but the sentiment seemed watered down a great deal, not sure if it was intentional or just as a result of general ignorance.

  6. The West also ran a story on this today but the sentiment seemed watered down a great deal, not sure if it was intentional or just as a result of general ignorance.

    Do you know if it hit their website, or do you have any other details? I can’t find it there (I don’t have a paper copy).

  7. Women actually do fight fires, too.

  8. I’d like to apologise to the people of Western Australia, because unfortunately, Colin Barnett is not only our premier, he’s my local member (and I use the term in its most euphemistic sense). All I can say in my defence is I didn’t vote for the man, and Cottesloe is a blue-ribbon Liberal safe seat anyway. Colin Barnett is, however, an excellent example of the standard Liberal pollie – he’ll say whatever the hell gets him into parliament, and then turn around and start asking his rich mates what *they* want to be able to do (for further details, see endless wrangling in the Post and the Chronicle – our two free local newspapers – regarding building height on Cottesloe beachfront; Mr Barnett campaigned on a five storey maximum, then went back on it as soon as he got into office) and be damned to the rest of us.
    Meg Thornton’s last blog post..Living on the dole (which is more a curse than a prayer)

  9. Well said, Lauredhel; regrettably, Barnett continues to demean many of us, and embarrass us all.

  10. Mr Barnett’s chumly sneering lays bare his disdain for women working in community groups. He chose to couch his disdain in sexist language, choosing the word “wives” for women instead of their self-chosen term, “women”.

    That word choice, compared to “Fishing Industry Women,” also plays down the women’s involvement in the industry they’re speaking about – as if they are interrupting a conversation they aren’t part of.

  11. No, it wasn’t on the website, at least not that I noticed. Page 6 or 8, from memory. Uncomfortable pic, really weak story. It was only when I read the transcript you posted I actually understood what they were talking about. Which is par for the course for the MSM.

  12. Helen:

    Women actually do fight fires, too.

    Absolutely they do! However, volunteer firefighting isn’t a deprecated, woman-dominated volunteer class. Interestingly enough, firefighters, who are mostly men, are (deservedly, of course) hero-worshipped in our culture. People in women-dominated volunteering orgs, no matter how hard they work or how much they risk, are not.


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