As I packed my bags for Canberra on Monday night my eldest daughter, 10, commented that ‘the big budgets seem to happen more than once a year’.
She’s right. The last Federal budget was handed down just seven months ago in October of 2020. That was the first Budget my older daughters were aware of and it’s one they’ll never forget.
The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg handed down the 2020-2021 Federal Budget on the 6th October which coincided with the school holidays. Like working parents of school aged children everywhere “it”, being the exercise of combining work and family responsibilities without the routine of school, was a juggle. Our youngest was still at her long daycare and our older two were enrolled in a half-day soccer camp.
I arrived one minute after the finish time to collect the girls and as I raced towards them I was flustered and white.
“What’s wrong?” they asked in unison.
The morning had been a blur of work but the reason I was rattled was the phonecall I had taken just moments before getting in the car to collect the girls, fifteen minutes earlier.
‘I just had a strange phonecall and sort of got in trouble,’ I said.
“By who????” the girls asked.
“The Prime Minister’s office.”
The disbelief was mutual. As has since been reported widely a staff member from the Prime Minister’s office called to dispute my criticism that the Federal Budget ignored women.
Of concern to the PMO was this article that was published in Women’s Agenda that morning, as well as a number of tweets I had sent in the previous 16 hours. It centred around the shocking fact – revealed by Per Capita’s Executive Director Emma Dawson on Budget night – that just one-third of one percent of the total Budget spend was aimed at women.
To my mind, that women were the biggest losers in that history-making, record-spending Budget was shameful. To the mind of the PMO staffer, that I said as much was shameful.
The fateful last line of our conversation before I explained that I had hang up and collect my daughters, something I can only assume would be quite foreign to those working in the PMO in any week, let alone Budget week, but par for course for working parents, spawned a viral moment.
‘I am far from alone in calling this budget out as failing women,’ I said. ‘Lots of people have made the same point.’
‘No one credible is saying that,’ came the reply.
I was speechless which was handy because I needed to go. My head was spinning as I raced to the pick up point and my discombobulation was visibly apparent.
I loaded the girls back into the car and pondered what had just happened. It was a heady mix of shock and anger that was tempered by wanting to be a calm and rational parent as well as needing to arrange logistics for the afternoon. I’d been fielding media requests for most of the day and had almost back-to-back interviews scheduled from the minute we got back home.
Between a podcast interview and finishing an op-ed I quickly shot off a private message on Twitter that launched #CredibleWomen.
The message was short and sent to a disparate group: some women I knew well, some I didn’t know at all, but they were all women who had criticised the Budget for overlooking women. I suggested using the hashtag #CredibleWomen when tweeting about the Budget and promptly switched the internet off to finish an article. Within a few hours, without any context, 15,000 tweets had been sent. That night #CredibleWomen was the number one trending topic on Twitter in Australia.
The ‘no one credible’ line from the PMO staffer was the match, and the flames of #CredibleWomen spread like wildfire as a result of the collective frustration and disbelief that the Budget failed to adequately recognise and prioritise women’s economic security as a fundamental and pressing component of Australia’s COVID recovery.
That just $240million out of a $500 billion Budget, roughly one-third of one-percent of the total spend, would be specifically dedicated to women’s economic security was shocking given the extent to which women have borne the disproportionate burden of the adverse social and financial consequences from COVID.
That the Treasurer specifically called the investment out as an initiative of significance was shocking too.
It was emblematic of the prevailing sentiment in decision-making, particularly in Federal politics, that women’s economic security is a niche concern deserving of little serious concern or expenditure.
The habitual dismissal of the compelling social and economic rationales for prioritising the economic security of half the population was the foundation from which #CredibleWomen exploded.
Economists, business leaders, academics, doctors, lawyers, journalists, politicians and advocates across a range of sectors and organisations were already united in their recognition of the Budget’s failings in relation to women.
#CredibleWomen amplified their voices and their messages. It grew rapidly and exponentially, revealing thousands of women and men who recognised the government’s failure to address the systematic barriers that make economic security so elusive for so many women at that moment in history as indefensible.
To reveal the suggestion that ‘no one credible’ was making the case as deeply mistaken. The point wasn’t women, or men, seeking to present themselves as ‘more’ credible than anyone else but about representing all women as credible.
As valid. Inherently. There was unity around a fundamental objective that the experiences of all women be deemed credible as a matter of course. There was a collective appetite to demand women be counted in Australia as equal citizens.
This appetite was reflected in the #March4Justice. Hundreds and thousands of Australians took to the streets to demonstrate that the safety and security of all women is a fundamental and urgent priority. An objective we will fight for until it is realised.
It is time to create a nation in which women do not routinely accumulate disadvantage over the course of their lives but dignity and security. Structural problems require structural solutions and women will not be silent until that happens.
Since October last year a lot has changed. Going into the 2021 Federal Budget it is widely acknowledged that, politically, this Budget must deliver for all women. Failing to acknowledge women as valid and equal citizens is a critical political weakness for the Prime Minister.
Tonight, a marketing statement hastily printed off after the budget itself is distributed, will not cut it.
It is time for a #Budget4Justice. Will it deliver? I wait with bated breath.