Supporting the 'health and wellbeing of Australian women' needs more than a $354 million package

Supporting the ‘health and wellbeing of Australian women’ needs more than a $354 million package and media splash

Is today’s Federal Budget going to be a “women’s budget”, as some commentators have declared?

That term may be stretching it. But what we can say from pre-budget announcements is that this year’s budget is so far delivering a lot more for women than Treasurer Josh Frydenberg did in the budget of October 2020, which categorically failed women.

Of course, doing better than 2020 isn’t hard.

During last year’s Budget speech, Frydenberg delivered a solemn address emphasising the impact of COVID-19 on women who had taken on the majority of the job losses. Then he announced his plan: a pathetic $240 million for women’s economic security, covering everything from safety to entrepreneurship and jobs creation.

So we’re pleased to see some movement in a better direction in 2021, and some enthusiasm at least for doing more — including a doubling of funding for women’s safety (although the figure announced is still well off the $1 billion the sector says is needed) and outlining a $1.7 billion package to boost affordable childcare. There’s also the abolishment of the $450 threshold for earning superannuation, which will give a boost to women’s retirement savings.

Another centrepiece of the Morrison Government’s ‘women’s budget’ (it’s still a stretch) is the $354 million outlined to support the health and wellbeing of Australia’s women.

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This women’s health package is welcome. It’s needed. It will see a number of specific services benefit in what they can deliver to Australian women.

It will see improvements to cervical and breast cancer screening programs, pre-implantation genetic testing, more funding for the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia helpline, support for programs helping those with eating disorders, money for women’s health initiatives including Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and the Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia and Breast Cancer Network Australia.

But once again, there is a lot that the Morrison Government is aiming to cover off with one relatively small pool of funding. There are around 13 million women in Australia. This funding amounts to less than $30 per woman, over four years.

While the package does offer a range of specific funding measures, there is also a lot that’s missing. A number of cancers impacting women have been overlooked for example, as well as key support around women’s mental health and key measures that can support menstrual health, pregnancy care, aging and women-specialized disability services.

Granted you can’t fund everything, there are always “winners and losers” in any Budget. But giving a few hundred million to address the “health and wellbeing” of Australian women is not going to cut it.

Truly supporting the “health and wellbeing of Australia’s women” requires delivering a Budget that aims to comprehensively address affordable childcare, the pay gap, women’s workforce participation, women’s economic security in retirement, and a reformed system of paid parental leave that better supports secondary carers (the majority of whom are men).

It involves exploring women’s workforce participation as something enabled by breaking down traditional gender roles at home. It involves ensuring that women who work in so-called “feminised” sectors — which are typically our most essential workforces given they so often involve care — are actually paid what they should be paid, so they don’t suffer a lifetime of financial penalties that may ultimately hinder their “health and wellbeing”.

Will we see that kind of budget? A budget that dares aim to suggest a “new normal” around the value of care, one that can really aid the health and wellbeing of Australian women?

We’ve so far got some tinkering around the edges. A tinkering that women should not need to be grateful for. Nor one that gives the Morrison Government any right, from what we know so far at least, to declare this a “women’s budget”.

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