How roads and bridges win over social infrastructure and women miss out

How roads and bridges win over social infrastructure and women (and men) missed out

A total of $628 billion was calculated in expenditure across all announcements by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in last week’s Morrison Government budget.

Within that, the Women’s Budget Statement highlighted expenditure amounting to $2.1 billion, pooling numerous initiatives together under the banner of “women-like” things, including everything from safety, to paid parental leave and women’s economic and leadership advancement programs.

So how does a couple of billion on women-like things compare to everything else?

The figures tell part of the story. The $2.2 billion outlined across the Women’s Budget Statement amounted to just 0.3 per cent of total expenditure calculated. It starts to look particularly insignificant when you compare it to initiatives like the $9.9 billion allocated for cybersecurity over ten years, and the $5.4 billion allocated for the Hells Gate Dam in Queensland, (despite the project not yet having a completed business plan).

So how does the full $628 billion budget stake up for women?  

With investments in social infrastructure being overlooked in favour of those in construction, feminised workforces have been overlooked, yet again. But this time, these omissions come at an even greater cost to everything else underpinning Australia’s economy, given women in sectors like aged care and childcare have indicated their intentions to leave, predominantly thanks to frustrations over pay and working conditions.

Indeed, as Kristine Ziwica wrote for Women’s Agenda last week, this budget has failed miserably on the desperate need for a shift to “care feminism.”

Now today the National Foundation for Australian Women has released its comprehensive analysis of the Budget, looking at both the Morrison Government’s outlined expenditure and the Opposition’s reply.

It’s goal is to cast a gender-lens over the full suite of announcements, and in this year’s case found significant disparities in how physical infrastructures was funded (roads, dams etc) compared to social infrastructure (like aged care and early childhood education).

Indeed, the latter looks to have actually been almost forgotten, when compared to the billions allocated towards physical infrastructure.

And that’s a significant issue when it comes to women’s economic security, given the workforces across social infrastructure are predominantly female

In short, the NFAW has described the Morrison Government’s 2022 budget efforts as opaque, short-sighted, and as a missed opportunity.

“Critically, there has been no structural reform in the areas that affect women’s lives,” Professor Helen Hodgson (pictured above) of Curtin Law School said, on launching this new analysis.

NFAW highlighted the Australia Institute’s recent figures finding that for very one million dollars spent on infrastructure, there is one direct job created for men, and only 0.2 for women. But every one million dollars spent on healthcare and social assistance creates 7.9 jobs for women and 2.3 jobs for men.

“Spending focused on health, education and tourism or entertainment will create far more jobs, for both men and women, than spending a similar amount on construction. In its 2022 Budget, the Coalition has chosen to go with construction. Everyone needs social infrastructure, but hard infrastructure can be (and has been) targeted to marginal electorates,” the NFAW authors write.

The Coalition has not included measures for improving pay and conditions for early childhood educators, or for supporting workforce supply, despite predictions that the childcare sector will require 26,000 additional Cert III and IV trained educators by November 2025, and more than 8000 additional early childhood teachers. The Coalition has also failed to respond to the massive talent drain expected from the care-based sectors, with significant dissatisfaction on pay and conditions seeing more than half of childcare educators indicating plans to leave within the next few years.

The lack of detail in the budget is also a cause for concern.

“The Budget papers are particularly opaque, with limited details and renamed programs, in a way that limits scrutiny by external organisations. Overall, this Budget was an opportunity to invest for the future: to promote structural reform in the tax and transfer system; in climate change and in the care sector. Sadly, this budget falls short of much-needed structural reform in areas that affect women’s lives, failing to support Australian women in their time of need,” added Hodgson.

The NFAW analysis also looked at the Women’s Budget Statement, addressing that mere 0.3% allocated on the three areas of women’s safety, women’s economic security, and women’s health and wellbeing, and noting that the initiatives identified are unlikely to improve Australia’s ranking in the Global Gender Gap index.  

Particularly, it highlights the changes unveiled to the Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave, noting concerns that the changes run contrary to international best practices. Making paid parental leave more “flexible” by merging “Dad and Partner Leave” for families to decide how best to use the full 20 weeks is likely to see even less men taking any parental leave at all. While single parents, the majority of whom are women, would benefit from being able to access these full 20 weeks — this option could still be available on a better thought-on “use it or lose it” strategy.

Meanwhile, the NFAW has described the budget as failing Indigenous women, highlighting the extremely limited funding allocated for significant economic, housing and safety concerns of Indigenous women. It takes issue with the Women’s Budget Statement claiming to have taken an “intersectional approach” when it fails to fairly address initiatives for closing gaps on Indigenous advantage.

And on climate change, the analysis notes the massive omission of no real funding announced. While funding has been announced for disaster relief, no gender lens has been applied to how it’ll be spent. There was also nothing to address the overarching causes of climate change, and need for Australia to play a greater part in reducing emissions and

The NFAW has been conducting its gender-based analysis of budgets since 2014, centreing this year’s analysis across a number of key issues impacting women’s economic security: employment reform; welfare reform; tax and superannuation reform; integrity; gender and the just use of power; climate change; housing and homelessness.

See the full NFAW analysis here.

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