I’m in Melbourne, and we’re still in Stage 4 lockdown. So, like a lot of people in these pandemic times, I’ve rediscovered a few classic parlour games.
Here’s my current favourite: “Blokecovery Bingo”.
Ahead of the October 6th federal budget, I’ve been reading into the trickle of pre-budget media briefings and speculation, attempting to discern if there will be anything, anything at all, for the ladies — or families. Or will the budget consist almost entirely of stimulus measures from which men, and male dominated industries, stand to disproportionately benefit? Basically, a “bloke-covery”.
Yes, that would be odd, given the well documented disproportionate impact the COVID-19 recession is having on women; women and younger people are over-represented amongst those who have lost their jobs. But why let a “she-cession” get in the way of a good, old-fashioned — and I do mean old-fashioned — “blokecovery”?
The “Bloke-covery Bingo” player in me was therefore delighted to read Shane Wright’s front-page story for Sunday’s The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age flagging that the government is preparing to announce “astounding” expenditure in the “recession-busting” federal budget. The feminist and parent in me less so, but I’ll get to that.
“The Morrison government is preparing to unleash an ‘astounding’ amount of spending in next month’s budget to drag the country out of its first recession in 29 years,” wrote Wright.
But, curiously, even though Wright highlighted in the second paragraph that the “longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s finances are crystallising” with the government’s Centre for Population forecasting the fertility rate will drop well below the level used in budget assumptions, and, therefore, “supporting families so people can get back into the workforce” will be a feature of the budget, the actual measures flagged “for families”, and by proxy “for women”, were rather underwhelming.
There was, however, no shortage of “bloke-covery” chestnuts.
Bringing forward tax cuts that the Australia Institute only last week highlighted would disproportionately benefit rich men seems to still be very much on the agenda.
And there was talk of extending the Homebuilder scheme, which again, the male-dominated construction industry will surely be very happy about.
And, of course, there was mention of “infrastructure”.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan yesterday announced that the relaxation of the activity test for childcare subsidies will be extended until April 4th. And he also announced that the childcare industry will get “recovery payments” worth pre-COVID revenue, payments that will go directly to service providers (many private) — and not directly to families to assist them with the comparatively high cost of childcare.
Even at the best of times, many families have said that the cost of childcare was prohibitive, but now up to a third tell the campaign group The Parenthood that they will struggle to afford it in a recession.
Will that be enough to persuade prospective parents, and women in particular, to “have one for country” to help the country get back on its feet financially, as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg so helpfully suggested recently at The National Press Club?
Perhaps Mr. Frydenberg and Mr. Tehan need another reminder about where babies really come from, as in the kinds of stimulus spending and investment in social infrastructure, like universal, affordable, accessible childcare, that really do encourage people to have babies.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You have to build a strong, caring economy that works for women — who, you know, tend to have the babies — if you want to inspire that kind of confidence.
You can’t take away “free” childcare, discourage women from working more hours through tax policy, ignore the scourge of pregnancy discrimination that affects 1 in 2 women, and generally pursue a “bloke-covery” that disadvantages women and assume that they will be all too happy to return to hearth and home and start breeding.
But relax the activity test until April 4th? And pay subsidies directly to private childcare providers, which are more likely than public providers to fall below the national quality standards?
Yeah, sure… thanks.
Kristine Ziwica is a regular contributor. She tweets @KZiwica