Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne has defended the federal government’s budget, claiming it does not disproportionately benefit men, and is a “budget for all Australians” focused on economic recovery and driving jobs.
Fronting Senate estimates on Monday, Senator Payne rejected the assertion that the federal budget was gender blind and had not done enough for Australian women. She insisted that personal income tax cuts, the JobMaker hiring credit and the JobTrainer fund would support both men and women.
“If the Commonwealth is accelerating personal income tax cuts to support low- and middle-income earners then that is not a gendered initiative that prioritises men over women, or vice versa. It’s an important initiative that enables those Australians to get some more support in their pockets,” she said.
“If we are talking about supporting business investment, the JobTrainer fund, the JobMaker hiring credit; they’re not gendered initiatives. They are about stimulating the economy in the context of the worst economic crisis that we have seen in a generation for all Australians.”
Senator Payne said the Women’s Economic Security Statement is there to “supplement” central budget measures.
“It requires targeted focuses in a number of areas through the Women’s Economic Security Statement and that is part of the discussion that we obviously have been having. But driving jobs and economic recovery is a whole of government, whole of nation exercise and that is what this budget is about.”
Senator Larissa Waters, the Greens Senate Leader and spokesperson for Women, who questioned Senator Payne at the Senate estimates, said the Minister for Women does not know the difference between being gender blind and gender neutral.
“We have a government that forgot about women in its Budget and is pathetically trying to cover itself by claiming that just about anything in the Budget is for the benefit of women,” Senator Waters later told Women’s Agenda.
Senator Payne was clear that restoring the Women’s Budget Impact Statement, that past governments have used to provide a gender-based analysis of the budget, is not a priority of the Morrison government. The Women’s Budget Impact Statement was axed by Tony Abbott in 2014, and has not been reinstated.
Senator Payne said she had personally read through these statements over the years, and found them to “vary significantly in terms of their value”.
“I think the Women’s Economic Security Statement does a better job than a Women’s Budget Impact Statement in many places to summarise the context of the budget and the circumstances in which we find ourselves,” she said.
Asked about the lack of investment in childcare in the federal budget, Senator Payne said the government’s existing system does enough for Australian families.
“This government only reformed the childcare system in 2018 and our reforms which have been in place for a relatively short period of time are absolutely about providing significant financial support to Australian families, and particularly to lower to middle income families,” she said.
“We are investing at record levels in childcare, providing over $9 billion a year through the childcare subsidy.”
In terms of funding for frontline domestic violence services, Payne said that the federal government’s contributions prior to the budget – $340 million as part of the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children and an additional $150 million announced in March this year – was sufficient.
Prior to the budget, the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance had recommended $1 billion per year for the next 12 years was needed from the federal government in order to properly fund front line services and keep women safe.
When asked if she was aware of the call from the sector for $12 billion over 12 years, Senator Payne said she was “aware of a number of calls that are made by stakeholders across government and specifically in this area from time to time on these issues”.
Payne also said she had not yet been briefed on the National Foundation of Australian Women’s Gender Lens on the Budget report, which has concluded the budget is a missed opportunity to pursue positive structural reform for women. A representative from The Office for Women explained they had not had time to provide a full briefing to the Minister yet.
“Today, we had a Minister for Women who fell into line and refuses to accept the Budget disproportionately benefits men, doesn’t think that we need the gender lens of the Women’s Budget Impact Statement restored, and doesn’t support establishing a Women’s Economic Security Advisory Council,” Senator Waters said.
“The 2020 Budget is bad for women. It has no new money for childcare, housing or frontline domestic violence services, the tax cuts are worth twice as much for men as women, and the women’s economic security statement is a mere 0.04% of the Budget.
“Gender inequality is systemic, it’s cultural, and it will persist until we have a Government that puts more energy into shutting it down than they do into shutting down complaints that they are leaving women behind.”
Labor Senator Jenny McAllister also questioned Senator Payne on Monday, asking if the Minister for Women had been briefed on the designs, or if any gender analysis had been done, on the government’s key economic schemes.
In relation to the taper rates of JobKeeper, Senator Payne said she would refer any questions to the “agencies that are responsible for that scheme”.
“I haven’t particularly been briefed on an analysis of that nature, no,” Senator Payne responded when asked if she had seen any gender analysis on the scheme.
Regarding the JobMaker hiring credit scheme, Senator Payne did not answer whether she had been privy to any gender analysis.
“I’m not going to speak in detail about matters that may have been the process of cabinet consultations,” she said.
For the stage two tax cuts being brought forward, Senator Payne said she had only been provided with a briefing that highlighted the cuts would benefit over 11 million Australians, with no mention of gender.
Senator McAllister also pointed out the Women’s Economic Security Statement had not been printed out in glossy paper or placed alongside other budget papers during the budget media lock-up, it hasn’t yet been tabled in parliament, and hasn’t been officially launched.
“My concern is that this looks like an afterthought,” McAllister said. “It was not printed, it wasn’t prioritised.”