An important day looms for women next week as the Morrison Government delivers the Budget. It will contain the biggest changes in decades to promote gender equality.
A series of scandals and political blunders has brought about a once-in-a-generation opportunity for change. And that’s great news for a debate that has raged for decades without any solution.
Here’s what we might see next Tuesday:
While a $1.7 billion boost to childcare subsidies has been announced to be included in the budget, debate has instantly begun on whether this is enough.
Speaking on ABC NewsRadio, KPMG Chair Alison Kitchen, who has been part of KPMG’s efforts to investigate solutions to fixing childcare systems, commented on the $1.7 billion boost saying: “We’ve looked at a number of different ways of modifying child care, this doesn’t cover everything we’ve asked for, but it’s a very significant step that does target a significant number of families.”
Labor frontbencher Brendan O’Connor held a very direct stance about childcare.
“It actually fails dismally to respond to a social and economic need in this country, and that is to make sure child care is affordable for families.”
This subsidy also does not address the parental leave system and its issues, which the Business Council of Australia outlined as crucially important in a gender friendly budget. The Business Council of Australia proposed both increasing the amount of paid parental leave and allowing for a more flexible splitting of this leave between parents.
The current system gives 18 weeks of leave to a primary caregiver and two weeks to a secondary caregiver, however, the Council proposes that families should be able to split up 20 weeks as they choose.
While the subsidy is promising, women should be hoping for more reform in the budget and following months.
A crucial inequality between men and women lies in their superannuation balance. Analysis from Industry Super Australia showed that a Canberra woman in her 60s has on average, about half the super balance of a male in his 60s, with $231, 400 compared to $432,800.
This is indicative of a huge disparity that needs to be corrected, beginning with this budget. In the event of divorce this can lead to women with a low super balance suffering poverty and homelessness.
This disparity is driven by the gender pay gap, women not being paid super while on maternity and parental leave and women being more likely to work part time. One in three women retire with no super at all.
Superannuation being made compulsory on parental leave and an axing of the $450 per month threshold below which the super guarantee is not paid, are some policies that will hopefully be delivered next Tuesday.
Job creation and stimulus design
The Australian Institute report, ‘Gender experiences during the COVID-19 lockdown’ explains that while the pandemic affected women worse than men, the design of stimulus policy has disproportionately benefited men.
This is especially driven by the focus on building and construction, which creates very few jobs for women. Stimulus design in industries such as retail, tourism, aged care and disability, teaching and early childhood education would boost job creation for women and be of economic benefit.
The report says, “Given that spending on education, health and hospitality create so many more jobs per million of stimulus than other forms of spending, and so many more jobs for women in particular, it is surprising that there has been so little analysis released by governments to support claims that they are focused on creating as many jobs as possible.”
Investments into these industries is an important step towards pay equality and equal workforce participation.
The currently legislated Stage 3 income tax cuts will lead to a removal of the 37% tax bracket, meaning 32.5% will apply to all earnings between $41,000 and $200,000.
Men will benefit more than twice as much as women from these cuts, for every dollar of the tax cut women will receive, men will receive $2.19.
Matt Grudnoff, a senior economist at the Australia Institute told The Guardian: “Giving tax cuts to the wealthy will have a very limited stimulatory effect on the broader economy, but it will significantly widen the economic divide that already exists between men and women in this country.”
The Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie agrees with Mr Grudnoff’s opinion.
“The Stage 2 and 3 tax cuts, overwhelmingly benefit people on higher incomes, who are mostly men, and reduce government revenue by $30 billion a year from 2024.”
A failure to remove or re-work this legislation will be a clear shortcoming for women in the budget.
Domestic and sexual violence funding
With domestic and sexual violence continuing to be a huge issue in Australia, there are many calls for funding increases in this years budget.
In 2015/16 the financial cost of violence against women and children was estimated to be $22 billion, it is worth noting the real figure could be even higher as much domestic violence goes unreported.
Requests for funding include the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum requesting a $2 million investment, Our Watch and Women’s Safety NSW have asked for $150 million and The Law Council of Australia has called for $370-390 million investment for legal assistance services.
While it’s important these requests are met, there is also a need for more investment across the sector. The last budget had no new funding for domestic and family violence so that will hopefully be rectified in this budget, especially given that COVID led to spikes in domestic violence across Australia.