Justine Caines Brings What Women Want Into The Australian Political Spectrum

justine-cains-headshot-a.jpgAlthough you don’t need to have 6 children to be featured, we’re starting with a remarkable Australian “SuperMum” who is most definitely worthy of our praise and support.

With a background as a mediator, political advisor, and trade union organizer, Justine Caines shifted her energies to volunteering in the community sector when she began having children. As National President of Maternity Coalition Inc. of Australia, the country’s national maternity consumer advocacy organization, Justine worked with the major Australian parties to improve maternity care. After working tirelessly for 8 years, Justine found that change was non-existent. As in most parts of the world, the Australian legislators turned a blind eye to issues that did not directly affect their campaigns – so the needs of mothers and mothers-to-be were off the radar screen. She realized that the only way to get real action was to make the issues political.

Australia’s birthing environment closely mirrors the United States. Cesarean surgery rates are increasing and maternity units in rural areas are closing. Although Australia has a universal public health system, its obstetricians are finding ways to exploit it. For example, Australia has a Medicare Safety Net policy to help families cope with large out-of-pocket medical expenses; once families spend more than $500 a year out of pocket on healthcare costs, Medicare will pay 80% of their medical bills. This helps approximately 1.5 million pregnant women and chronically ill patients pay their health bills. However, since the Safety Net was introduced in 2004, obstetricians’ fees have increased 269% and almost half the safety net benefits go to OB/GYNS. 

So Justine did what any rational woman would do: she started a new political party! As she canvassed the idea of a women’s party, she realized that many other issues needed attention, most of them social policy related. So the new What Women Want party adopted a broad policy platform which includes maternity care reform, affordable childcare, paid maternity leave, a strong education system for all children, housing, nuclear power, workplace laws, and better support for childcare workers. While Justine’s passion was born out of the need for maternity reform, the party’s focus has quickly become much broader.

The response shows that she is meeting a vital need. Since the party’s launch in April 2007, What Women Want has amassed more than 700 active members. The new party has Upper (Senate) House candidates in every state as well as several Lower (House of Representatives) candidates. Justine has received international press coverage and her actions have put women’s issues in the forefront of the upcoming Australian elections. And she has done all this with a 7 year old, a 6 year old, a 5 year old, a 3 year old, and 1 year old twins!

justine-kids-a.jpgJustine attributes her success to unity – recruiting women with differing strengths and skills, and using technology to bring these women together. Her husband, Paul Smith, and her mother, Marie Caines, are a fantastic support system in helping raise their large family.

To learn more about Justine Caines and What Women Want, visit the party website.

To read or listen to an interview with Justine Caines, click here.

To learn more about current activist campaigns for women and how to get involved, visit Conscious Woman’s Activist Resources.

** This column is intended to inform and inspire us, and is by no means limited to high-profile individuals. If you know of a conscious woman who would like to be featured on this site and whose activities demand greater exposure, email us at info@consciouswoman.org.

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