Victoria Greens spruik family ties in election pitch as ageing millennials defy drift to conservatism

Reproductive rights and parenting become hot topics in state election as parties on the left court women and young families

Kissing babies may be an election campaign trail cliche but for the Victorian Greens, it might also be sign their party – just like their supporter base – has grown up.

Announcing a plan for five days of reproductive leave for public sector workers this week, leader Samantha Ratnam, deputy Ellen Sandell and their candidate for the seat of Richmond, Gabrielle de Vietri, were joined by their children under two.

“Surprisingly, they all behaved very well,” Ratnam said.

Under the scheme, public sector employees in Victoria will be entitled to an additional five days of “reproductive health and wellbeing leave” to access IVF and endometriosis treatments, contraception procedures, abortion, hysterectomies and vasectomies and gender transitioning therapies. It can also be used when suffering a miscarriage or menopause symptoms.

It comes after previous pledges to make it easier for Victorians to access abortions, more funding for home birth programs and the reopening of birth centres connected to major hospitals.

Redbridge Group pollster and former Labor campaigner Kos Samaras said the policies were undeniably geared towards millennials who, like the Greens trio, are growing up and starting families of their own.

“It may have been the case a decade ago that a young person would vote for the Greens and then change parties when they got a bit older,” he sad.

“But we have evidence that millennials under 40 are sticking with their party, they don’t change. They are not getting more conservative.”

Samaras attributes this political loyalty to the fact millennials have not gained the economic security that came with age for previous generations.

He said the family-friendly rebrand would also help the Greens following a chaotic campaign in 2018, during which one of their candidates withdrew after a complaint of serious sexual misconduct and the party was forced to defend another for rapping sexist and homophobic lyrics.

“Labor really jumped on that and at the same time did very well because it had several policies geared towards women: free Tafe to help them retrain and reenter the workforce, public IVF, schools and hospital funding,” Samaras said.

It’s a formula Labor is hoping to repeat this election, notably with a recent pledge for an additional $13.6m for the state’s public IVF service.

The service, which began taking patients this week, was an election promise in 2018 and will offer two free IVF cycles and other services such as fertility preservation, genetic testing, donor and surrogacy services.

Naturally, a baby was present at the announcement.

The contest for women voters under 45 is likely to be particularly hard-fought in November, after teal independents redrew the electoral map federally in May.

Other progressive parties, including the Victorian Socialists, Fiona Patten’s Reason party and the Animal Justice party are heading into the election vowing to protect abortion rights in the state, which has become a focal point since the US supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade.

Georgie Purcell, lead candidate for the Animal Justice party in Northern Victoria, said despite abortion being decriminalised in Victoria in 2008, it remains “inaccessible” for many Victorians in regional areas.

Patten, who helped introduce safe access zones around abortion clinics during her eight years in parliament, has said she fears a new religious bloc in the Liberal party, combined with a larger group of Labor MPs from the traditionally conservative shop workers’ union and a crossbench possibly dominated by right-wing micro-parties, could seek to undermine the state’s abortion laws.

It’s a view shared by the Victorian Socialists, who have staged several protests following the Liberals’ preselection of Moira Deeming. The anti-abortion activist replaces Bernie Finn, who was expelled from the party for saying abortion should be banned in the state, even for rape survivors.

Samaras said recent focus groups of multicultural women in northwestern Melbourne showed support for female independents such as Patten based on their track record on reproductive rights.

“Contrary to popular belief, irrespective of religious background, women are very concerned at particularly male politicians determining reproductive health,” he said.

He said a survey of 1,142 voters across the northern metropolitan region, 56.6% rated measures such as safe access zones around very important and 12.8% somewhat important.

As for the the Liberal party, Samaras said it had lost female voters in droves at the recent federal election and had done little to convince them to return to the fold.

“They continue to project this image as the blokes party,” he said.

Ratnam said the Greens’ emphasis on reproductive health was a direct result of having more women in leadership positions.

“We have worked incredibly hard to make our workplace as inclusive as possible,” she said.

“I’ve gone on maternity leave, then Ellen has gone on maternity leave, and we’ve got a new mum in Gabrielle running – that’s only possible when the team is really stepping up.”


Benita Kolovos

The GuardianTramp

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