By Peter Lynch, Campaign Director, Supawomen
This week saw Labor perform a double summersault on the issue of superannuation on paid parental leave. In the 2019 poll, the party campaigned hard on the promise of helping cut the retirement savings gender gap.
Just before the current election campaign, they announced it would not be on the agenda. It created such an outcry that Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers was forced to say they were reconsidering.
In the end, it was left to Shadow Minister for Women Tanya Plibersek – already facing rumours that she’s on an outer with the Albanese leadership team – to pronounce the policy dead.
“It’s not a policy we’re taking to this election; it’s important we continue to see reform to paid parental leave,” she told the ABC.
“It’s Labor that introduced paid parental leave, we want to see improvements in it over time. It isn’t possible for us to fix every problem that this government has created, including the problem of the superannuation pay gap, in our first term of government.”
Her words echo those of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg when we asked him last month about the Coalition’s support for the initiative. Like Labor, they had come close to supporting it until, ironically, Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston blocked it.
After suggesting that a 2020 Retirement Income Review had said the results of paying super on parental leave would be negligible – in fact, the Review supported the idea and said the payments should be made – he told us: “I can’t do everything”.
So that leaves only the Greens and Independents supporting a scheme that would impact 160,000 new mothers every year and help erode a savings gap of up to $150,000 which can mean the difference between a comfortable retirement at the end of a working life, or penury.
Really simple Money, a financial literacy website for 30+ women, started a campaign to win this important change for women three months ago, after it was revealed that those aged 55+ are the fastest growing group of homeless in Australia.
These are retired professionals who have given a lifetime of service and brought up families. But because of a lack of financial education and often believing husbands and family would take care of them, end up with no savings to take care of their old age.
How can this happen? The answer today is that 88 per cent of those who leave the workforce to bring up children are women. And they go on to continue carrying for children for five years. They might take part time work, but mot won’t regain the status their career had before they had children.
And because they did not receive any super payment during those years, the gap beings to open up and is rarely replaced. A lack of awareness, and a high divorce rate.
Those like Anne Ruston, who apparently believes it is too expensive, are just wrong. It costs around $200 million a year – less, as the Greens are fond of pointing out, than the cost of the commuter car parks the Coalition is promising for marginal seats.
We polled 1,000 mainly women in February – and 82 per cent of them said they were in favour of super payments on parental leave, and 71.4 per cent told us they didn’t think they would have enough saved to allow them to leave work.
Perhaps more shocking, 60.4 per cent said they had no idea how much they’d need for a comfortable retirement because they hadn’t thought about it. And 92 per cent of those we spoke to said they would factor in support for the policy when it came to casting their vote on May 21.
Many political pundits believe women will be the most powerful force in this election. Yet strangely, their issues – and their strongest political representatives – appear to have been sidelined and silenced.
As we approach the pointy end of this campaign, it’s not too late for one of the parties to announce a re-examination of the case for super on parental leave – and, at the very least, an awareness program to ensure women realise the consequences of the gender cap.