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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Volume 37, No 26. October 2, 1974

Women leaven the loaf?

page 14

Women leaven the loaf?

This year's local body elections sees an encouraging number of women candidates: eleven standing for the Wellington City Council, five for the Hospital Board, (traditional ground for aspiring women politicians) but none for the Harbour Board. The fifty odd voters who attended a recent public meeting organised by Now to meet these women found most of them to be articulate, informed and deft at handling slippery questions and interjections with honesty and openness, in marked contrast to Michael Fowler, Mayoral candidate (Citizens). Asked to reply to some of the matters raised, he indulged instead in a chivalrous patter which made even his fellow Citizens wince: women on Council were 'the leaven in the loaf' (a dangerously mixed metaphor); he would look forward to seeing younger women; 'It would be a good thing, liven it (the Council) up'. With no logical grounds he proceeded to label questioners in the front row who had experienced difficulty with discrimination in Council jobs and obtaining a suitable (i.e. not sub-standards) house from the Council for a child care centre 'very rude', and topped this by telling one interjector to be quiet, old woman'. Apart from completely misjudging his audience let alone the candidates his inability to handle a relatively gentle interjection (dare one call this 'oversensitive, emotional'?) indicates that he is hardly suitable for Mayoralty.

Debate was hottest and differences between party policies most obvious with the Hospital Board candidates. The main issues here were bad public relations, the 'redevelopment' (Citizens) versus 'expansion' (Labour) of the Hospital in Newtown, and the abortion issue. All the candidates agreed that the hospital could do with some 'humanisation' in its treatment of patients, but differ on an ultimate solution to the obviously poor and inadequate working conditions. While Frances Acey, one of the Labour candidates, suggested community health centres, involvement of residents, expansion and upgrading of the domiciliary services, along with encouragement of home confinements backed up by a 'Flying Ambulance', the two Citizens' candidates were more concerned with working in the existing structure; suggesting visiting for children, better facilities for the parents of sick children, and the expansion of daycare and outcare to reduce waiting lists. The different emphases are related to the Citizens' endorsement of the present monolithic hospital structure and its retention in Newtown, and Labour's policy to shift non-specialist services out to the suburbs, partly to develop community spirit (related to the emphasis on 'community councils' in the Local Bodies Bill at present before Parliament) and partly to end the hospital's domination of Newtown.

Phoebe Frost said that the upgrading of Hospital facilities (and increase in bed size, presumably) was important with the opening of a Clinical School in 1977. However, since the school will be using [unclear: Htt] Hospital as well, it does not seem that they expect to find all the facilities and practice in one place. She also seemed to misunderstand the Labour emphasis on community involvement, suggesting that 'the community of Newtown, especially the women can work on this; if institutions want voluntary work, it's right on their doorstep.' Candidates were asked where they stood on abortion, largely because Wellington is second only to Southland in the stringency of its abortion regulations (requiring unanimous approval of four doctors). Frances Acey indicated her willingness to change the regulations (a private view; there is no unanimous policy in the Labour ranks), and Phoebe Frost indicated her endorsement of the present rules by comparing the decision to abort with the decision that a person was insane ('You'd want more than one opinion, if you were a relative, wouldn't you?')

Council candidates were far more in agreement with both the nature of the problems facing Wellington, and resolution.

Most felt that the city needed to plan far more carefully, and in consultation with its citizens, as well as making more use of 'experts', with an emphasis on sociologists and ecologists rather than (e.g.) engineers. Annabel McLaren deplored the emphasis in all the urban planning textbooks on the separation of residential areas from work-places, leading as it does to farflung suburbs with poor public transport, leaving '25% of women under house arrest'. There was general agreement that council housing should be expanded and made more flexible, including advice and perhaps aid for the establishment of urban communes, or as the Citizens preferred, 'mixed communities' (i.e. with wide age and occupation range), sensible housing and choice for the aged. Labour goes so far as to suggest that the Council be the major landlord in the city, for obvious reasons. The Council should also take a much sterner line with both Government and inner-city builders, demanding that Government comply with rather than annul the City Plan — and that it pay more for the land it occupies. (At present the Government grant to the Council is half the sum it would pay in rates). Office buildings were to be more strictly policed with regard to provision of child care, car-parks, easy access for the disabled, creches for shopping centres, and aesthetics. 'Renewal' should take place only in consultation with the neighbourhood involved, and with an emphasis on renovating rather than pulling down.

The proposed community councils are welcomed as increasing citizens' participation in decision-making, along with developing communication channels with the Council. All parties emphasise the importance of 'grassroots' activitiy and decision rather than council imposition; there appears to be a very vaguely defined difference in the sort of aid that the different parties would give once community needs had been expressed, and perhaps not sufficient recognition that proving the strength of your intent leads to Catch 22 politics (as e.g. those applying for Arts Council awards are well aware).

People standing on a soap box addressing a single person

While child-care centres were generally espoused, there were some differences in emphasis — e.g. Nicky Hill (Labour) sees community based and run centres as far more valuable than those at the place of work while Irvine Yardly is mainly concerned with keeping the child close to the mother. There was too some confusion between creches for shoppers (which haven't been well utilised, both here and in Auckland) and child-care centres for workers. Concern was general that standards be universally high rather than the current unevenness and lack of professional care. At present the council offers houses but these require a great deal of skilled work, and some money before they can be used (or passed by inspectors). Candidates generally promised to set up a separate child-care centre committee (at present it comes under the housing committee).

The council as employer was criticised as discriminatory in its advertisements, the lack of women heads of departments, and in its reclassification of female draughtswomen to an inferior position when equal pay came in, along with the promotion of men with less experience and time served. Annabel McLaren felt that traditional women's jobs such as typing and library assistant should be opened to men as well as women moving into men's jobs and rank. Cath Tizard, an intelligent chairwoman and herself a member of the Auckland City Council, mentioned that the ACC had overcome the 'last gasp' of male chauvinism, the separate toilet, by simply demanding a lock on the existing toilet, thus allowing women to be employed as gardeners. (A lesson there for the pussyfooting, self-defeating tactics of the Wellington transport corporation). Councillor Elizabeth Campbell, a very able politician, well-armed with facts and her own impressive council record, suggested a 'women's lib delegation' to council on the matter when a council employee noted that there were no channels for complaint and redress; however, this leaves the onus of proof up to the complainant.

Communication or rather the present lack of it between council and citizens was to be remedied by regular use of media, including radio, and open council meetings and committees. Audrey McIntyre qualified that by suggesting that meetings dealing with council employees remain closed for the latters protection.

It was recognised that citizens could only participate in city affairs if they were sufficiently aware of the issues involved, and given time to make suggestions or objections. Agreement seemed to be general that councillors should be paid, partly to encourage more women, particularly non-earners, to run for public office.

The choice between candidates appears to lie not so much between their policies, which apart from the Values Party do not differ radically, making very similar promises and evincing similar concern on similar issues, but between the calibre of the candidates. It is therefore important that voters read what is reported and make some effort to attend public meetings to assess the candidate's capabilities for themselves.

The women candidates impress, on the whole with their grasp of fundamental issues confronting Wellington and its citizens, as well as their enthusiasm. It was also a great relief not to have to wade through the mire of name and party calling in order to learn where the candidates stood and why.