As we endure the first really hot spell of the summer I think it’s worth re-examining Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent comment that the best thing he has done for women is repeal Australia’s price on pollution.

Just before Christmas the PM was asked on breakfast TV to name his top achievement in his capacity as Minister for Women.  Mr Abbott said, “As many of us know, women are particularly focused on the household budget and the repeal of the carbon tax means a $550 a year benefit for the average family”.

Leaving aside the exaggerated household savings estimate, which has been well and truly debunked, and the rather 1950s view of women’s role in society, let’s explore whether removing the carbon price really is good for women.

The facts tell us the opposite is true – removing Australia’s most important mechanism to tackle climate change is bad for all of us, and it is especially bad for women.

Why? Because the carbon price reduces the greenhouse pollution that causes climate change. This pollution is the major cause of climate change, and climate change makes our weather more extreme and heatwaves more severe.  And the stats say women suffer more than men.

Just this month the World Meteorological Organisation said 2014 is on track to become the hottest year on record.  We know prolonged periods of hot weather inflict horrific human damage.

More than 500 Victorians have died in two major heatwaves since 2009.  Hundreds more died in Sydney and Brisbane.

The reality is older women are the people most susceptible to death during heatwaves in Australia. 

Research conducted in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane shows the elderly, especially females aged 75 and over, are the most vulnerable to premature death as a result of heatwaves.

The study identified possible reasons for the increased risk to women including an adverse effect of menopause on thermoregulation and cardiovascular fitness as well as social factors such as living alone or low income.

Given this disturbing research, how on earth can removing an effective policy to deal with climate change be good for women?

A popular argument among some members of the Coalition government is that Australia’s pollution represents such a small percentage of global emissions that whatever we do here is irrelevant (so, therefore, why do anything?). 

These views conveniently ignore the fact that Australians are among the worst polluters in the world, per person – worse than China or the US.

We have pumped more of our fair share of pollution into the atmosphere and we now have a responsibility to act – for our mothers and grandmothers, our aunties and sisters.

We have a responsibility to women in developing countries too who are particularly vulnerable to the extreme weather events that are becoming more pronounced with climate change. 

Work by Care International shows women and children are 14 times more likely than men to suffer direct impacts of natural disasters. 

More women are injured or killed during hurricanes and floods.  In many developing nations women and girls are responsible for growing food and collecting water, meaning they are increasingly affected by more extreme droughts and floods.

More than anything Mr Abbott’s comments about women and the carbon price betray a serious misreading of what most women value in life. 

More than anything Mr Abbott’s comments about women and the carbon price betray a serious misreading of what most women value in life

Polling by JWS Research in May 2014 for the Climate Institute showed women are more likely than men to believe climate change is happening and is a threat to Australia.  And women are significantly more likely than men to believe the Abbott Government should take climate change more seriously. 

Instead of taking climate change seriously, the Abbott Government is insulting women and placing them in danger.

In the latest Climate Change Performance Index, released by Climate Action Network Europe and German NGO Germanwatch at the recent UN climate talks in Lima, Australia dropped down the ranking and is now rated the ‘worst performing industrial country’.

Australia is ranked 57th out of 58 nations, with only Saudi Arabia below us. The main reason why Australia has fallen so far so quickly?  The government’s dismantling of effective climate policy.

In the hot days ahead, it’s important that we’re all keeping an eye out for our mothers, nanas, aunties, sisters, neighbours and friends. 

Because, sadly, when it comes to climate change, the federal government isn’t.


Kelly O'Shanassy

CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation.