For the 30 years prior to 2014 each Federal government of the day has produced a Women’s Budget Statement in tandem with the Federal Budget. Not anymore. This practice was abolished by the current government in 2014.
“It used to be one the budget papers but then it vanished,” NFAW Marie Coleman explains.
Whilst it’s a “regrettable” omission Coleman says in reality historically the document, like a great deal of the documents associated with the Budget papers, wasn’t particularly compelling.
“An immense amount of the budget material is (and has been) self-congratulatory tripe.”
In contrast the reason for applying a gender lens is as compelling as ever before. Examining the potentially differential impacts of policies and their outcomes for men and for women, and whether the consequences of policies, intended or unintended, may adversely impact on women is essential.
More alarming than the decision to abandon the Women’s Budget Statement is the absence of necessary detail required for a thorough analysis of government decisions in the Budget Papers. Coleman says the progressive loss of transparency in the Budget documents is concerning and has serious implications for women.
“The papers are deliberately hard to read and hard to track down details about money. In relation to the so called war on family violence, for example, it’s really difficult to know what is new money and what is old money rebadged.”
This is why the National Foundation for Australian Women, a non-politically aligned feminist organisation, has teamed up with expert volunteers from a range of women’s organisations, including Professor Marian Baird, Dr Helen Hodgson and Dr Kathy MacDermott, to provide a detailed analysis of the 2015-2016 Federal Budget through a gender lens. The report is here and the results aren’t good.
“Fundamentally this is a budget that is ripping money from women left, right and centre,” Coleman explains. “This is the rudest budget for women – particularly on middle to low incomes – you can imagine. It’s divisive.”
There are very unpleasant trade-offs and several instances where funding is touted as new, where it’s actually previous funding rebadged.
Coleman says the proposal to fund a rationalised child care scheme by cutting payments to sole parents and gains won by women in enterprise bargaining is a classic wedge strategy to force an unpopular measure through the senate in order to fund a popular one.
“The government will improve childcare from 2017 but take existing benefits away from plenty of women from July this year. Does that seem reasonable?” Coleman says.
Among the many recommendations the NFAW makes to the government is to abandon its proposed changes to paid parental leave.
“It’s important that people who do support paid parental leave let their senators and local members know,” Coleman says. “This is not the time not just click ‘like’ on Facebook. Go online to Parliament House, find email addresses for your elected representatives and let them know what you think.”
The Budget fails to recognise the legitimate issue of reskilling a slice of the labour market, in which women are highly represented.
“The ABS has consistently released figures showing the under-employment and unemployment of a large number of women who want to work or work more,” Coleman says. “There is very little in this Budget that is supposed to be about jobs and families helping women actually become job ready. Put it this way, I don’t see youth unemployment in Burnie in Tasmania being greatly improved by this Budget.”
The report identifies a number of policies in the 2015-2016 Budget that will differentially impact women. Consequently it makes a number of substantive recommendations in relation to taxation, health, social services, housing, families, employment, violence against women and education and training.
Coleman is confident the findings and analysis are very solid.
“We have done the best we can in the timeframe. We wanted this to be ready for Senate Estimates so this level of detail is available,” Coleman says.
It’s there and it needs to be tackled.