Last night I was fortunate enough to attend an event at Kirribilli House, the Prime Minister’s Sydney residence. In attendance were about 25 writers, editors and bloggers, whom Julia Gillard has called “some of Australia's most influential women”.
It was a lovely evening – many attendees brought gifts, the Prime Minister told a funny story about being mobbed at Adelaide’s Marion shopping centre while attempting to do a spot of shopping (she’ll be shopping online this year), and I can recommend the mini risotto balls. But wait – just why were we there again?
I’m not privy to the going’s on in the PM’s strategy team, but I can assume that it’s because, collectively, our websites reach over 2 million Australians every month, most of them women (and that's a lot of votes). It’s easy to dismiss “mummy bloggers” as hobbyist writers bemoaning parenthood over a glass of wine and a keyboard, but the numbers signify something: we’re no longer niche. We represent sizable online communities whose needs are not entirely served by the mainstream media, which has traditionally not been female-friendly, and which has stifled criticism and vigorous debate. Tracey Spicer has spoken out about the boy’s club atmosphere of traditional media outlets, and Tara Moss has written about how women’s voices were stifled in the mainstream media coverage during the US election, even on supposed ‘women’s issues’ like abortion and birth control.
It’s hardly surprising that women have chosen to launch our own platforms for discussion. The last 12 months have seen the birth of websites such as Daily Life (published by Fairfax), The Women’s Agenda and The Hoopla. Blogs such as Eden Land and WoogsWorld are now competing with magazines and television in capturing advertising dollars from brands eager to talk to women in an authentic voice. Essential Baby and Essential Kids continue to go from strength to strength, now reaching over a million Australian parents each month. Issuing press releases to mainstream media is not going to reach these new online communities - women want their voices heard, and they want to engage directly with the people who matter.
The Prime Minister’s office was one of the early adopters of social media as a way to interact with constituents, holding a ‘Pm Tea’ in July with many of last night’s attendees. The event quickly trended on Twitter. Julia Gillard is now an old hand at Google Hangouts and is conducting a live Facebook chat with the Sydney Morning Herald today.
Some opposition members have jumped on the social media bandwagon to some extent, although Tony Abbott is yet to forge connections with female-centric online communities in the same way as his Labor counterparts.
With polls indicating that he is much less popular with women (despite the poll-leading position of the Liberal party), Abbott may have to up the ante coming in to an election year.
However, it’s clear that inviting women to sip tea and champagne is not quite enough either. Women are online every day, talking about the issues that affect their families. Last time Essential Baby had an audience with the Prime Minister, at the PM Tea, we presented her with a document containing more than 200 submissions from Australian families on how the government could help improve their lives. Issues such as the NDIS, childcare places, same sex marriage and housing affordability rated highly. Our readers expect progress on these policy issues when they cast their vote at the election. We don’t just want to have our say – we also want to be heard, and see action.
Bloggers are still working through their feelings on this cosy new relationship with the government, and there are some justified concerns. However, the Prime Minister has shown she is willing to do things differently; the ball is now clearly in Abbott's court.