Earlier this week the NFAW released its Gender Lens Report which examined the impact of the 2017-18 Federal Budget on women.
It included the alarming result that some women will face an effective marginal tax rate in excess of 100% due to the stacking together of changes.
On Monday the Minister for Women and the Office for Women were asked a number of questions about this in Senate estimates. They were specifically asked about what modelling for women had been undertaken. They were also asked to articulate the Office’s efforts to meet the G20 objective of boosting women’s workforce participation.
The responses seem to reinforce the NFAW conclusion that no “gender aware” analysis of the budget took place.
And despite mention of a “taskforce” to steer Australia’s efforts to increase women’s workforce participation, three years after the G20 objective was agreed to in Brisbane there is little in the way of tangible proof of action.
We have extracted some relevant exchanges from Hansard on Monday here, as it is better read in full.
If you are even remotely interested in the status of women in Australia it is mandatory reading.
Senator Claire MOORE: The National Foundation for Australian Women released analysis last night showing that measures contained in the budget will produce EMTRs of 100 per cent or more for some women. Was the Office of Women aware of that report?
Ms Amanda McIntyre, (the First Assistant Secretary in the Office for Women): We were aware that they were going to release the report. We were not aware of the timing. We do now have a copy, noting it was released at five o’clock last night.
Senator MOORE: Did your office request, or request to see, modelling from Treasury on the EMTR caused by tax and transfer measures in the budget?
Ms McIntyre: Not specifically, no. While we provide advice on individual budget measures, as you know, the effective marginal tax rate is a combination of all of those measures coming together. So, no, not specifically.
Senator MOORE: Is it something that you would do? I mean I know that everything that goes through the Office of Women could have an impact on women. As this has been clearly identified in the strategies as a core element, I am searching to see whether the Office of Women would have any further role in looking at any work around that area.
Ms McIntyre: Could we request it from Treasury? Yes, we could. Hence our role sitting in PM&C to give us the ability to request information like that. We have not at this stage, but in preparing advice for government it would always be an option available to us.
Senator MOORE: So will you?
Ms McIntyre: Possibly.
Senator MOORE: The Balancing the Future strategy states: … the Government is taking action to boost women’s workforce participation by: … … … c. Examining the tax and transfer system and its impact on women … Which department or agency is undertaking this work? You are not, because you are not asking for the modelling. Which department is doing it?
Ms McIntyre: It would either be Treasury or Employment, depending on which measure it was, but tax and transfers is Treasury.
Senator MOORE: So Treasury has the primary responsibility. I understand it crosses over to others, but how is the work being conducted? Do you know how that is being done?
Ms McIntyre: That would be a matter for Treasury.
Senator MOORE: Office of Women does not own this, even though it has been identified by the Office of Women as a key issue.
Ms McIntyre: Our role is to coordinate policy across government. We do not have any modelling capacity within the Office itself; we have to draw on other people’s—
Senator MOORE: That is why you have to ask them for the modelling: you cannot do it yourself. You have said you are not asking for the modelling.
Ms McIntyre: I have not asked for it. I possibly could ask, depending on the advice.
Senator MOORE: You possibly could maybe ask for that modelling. You have not done that. I would have thought that a coordination role involves getting all those pieces, that there would be an expectation that the Office of Women would be coordinating this as a high-profile issue. That is not the case?
Ms McIntyre: Certainly we provide advice to the minister, and, should that advice need to draw on the modelling, then we would request the modelling.
Senator MOORE: The modelling that is being done by Treasury?
Senator Michaelia Cash, the minister for Women, then interjected and was asked a number of questions.
Senator MOORE: In Balancing the future: the Australian Public Service gender equality strategy 2016-19, under the section headed ‘G20’, it lists the commitment:
To support Australia’s G20 commitment, the government is taking action to boost women’s workforce participation by …It lists a number of key strategies, one of which is clearly: “Examining the tax and transfer system and its impact on women and their families …”
My understanding from that document—.. —which has now been around for over 12 months is that the government has committed to examine the tax and transfer system and its impact on women. That was clearly my understanding.
Senator Cash: We have certainly looked across the board and in all portfolios in terms of how each portfolio can contribute to meeting the G20 target.
Senator MOORE: From my understanding, the answer we have been given is that there is definitely work being done, and it is being done by Treasury.
Senator Cash: Correct.
Senator MOORE: If any of us want to see it, we have to get it from Treasury?
Senator Cash: You put the questions to Treasury.
Senator MOORE: When it comes to having the work done, are you coordinating it?
Senator Cash: Correct. This is the constant discussion we have, even when I was in opposition: what is the coordination role of the Office of Women?
Senator Jenny McAllister then posed a pertinent question to Minister Cash.
Senator McALLISTER: I have one follow-up question on that before we move on. Given that this work is being done in Treasury and it is a matter of weeks since your government brought down a budget, why, as Minister for Women, have you not sought a briefing on it in advance of the budget? The budget provides the perfect opportunity to respond to whatever insights have been produced by the modelling. I am puzzled as to why you would not have sought advice about the outputs from the modelling prior to the budget. Why have you waited until now?
Senator Cash: It is not that we have waited until now. The Office of Women is in constant discussions with other portfolios. As I have stated, we are currently in the process of finalising the broader G20 strategy.
Senator McALLISTER: You had a very good opportunity in the budget, as the person coordinating women’s policy, to address some of these issues. You had information and analysis being undertaken in the competent agency that could have informed budget response and yet you do not seem to know anything about it.
It is clear that the Office for Women didn’t examine the effective marginal tax rate for women in the budget. It is unclear whether Treasury did.
It also remains unclear why that type of modelling wouldn’t have been conducted by an office genuinely committed to investigating the impact on women.
Shortly after the early exchange Senator Cash told Senator Larissa Waters she disagreed with the NFAW report.
Senator Cash: Senator Waters, I have had a look at the NFAW gender lens report, and I also disagree with much of what has been stated. I think the Office for Women have articulated that they provide comment on the development of budget measures from a gender perspective, and that is the consistent evidence that has been given at numerous estimates.
The basis for disagreeing with the independent findings of the NFAW report is unclear. The report very clearly acknowledges the positive measures for women in the Budget. The wins however don’t exist in a vacuum and they certainly don’t cancel out the losses.
It is unclear why this analysis wasn’t undertaken by the Office for Women before the Budget.
It is also unclear why there still isn’t a strategy for meeting an important economic objective agreed to 3 years ago.
Or perhaps it is clear. Perhaps there is just little genuine interest in action?