Today, I am rather vexed (again) about Senator Jane Hume.
Just over a year ago she was sworn in as Australia’s very first, dedicated Minister for Women’s Economic Security. After the devastating impacts of the pandemic on women’s economic security, in particular on their ability to work and save, many warned that it could set women back a generation. The Morrison government’s decision to dedicate a new ministerial portfolio to the issue of women’s economic security seemed like progress. And then …
The very minister tasked with shoring up women’s economic security has overseen — and publicly defended — several blatant attacks on their economic security, in particular their super. Women already retire with barely half the retirement savings of men. Perhaps we should rebrand Jane Hume the Minister for Women’s Economic Insecurity.
First there was the suggestion in 2018 that women fleeing domestic violence should fund their own escape with the proposal to allow DV victims access of up to $10,000 of their super on “compassionate grounds”. The Morrison government and Jane Hume, then in her other portfolio as the Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy, persisted with the idea for three years, despite the fact that numerous experts in the violence against women sector warned that it could leave women vulnerable to financial abuse. The Morrison government and Hume were then forced into a humiliating U-turn in 2021, when they dumped the idea after conceding they could not implement safeguards in the scheme to protect women from financial abuse.
Then there was the broader early release of super scheme introduced at the height of the first wave of the pandemic in early 2020 (two weeks before the introduction of the Coronavirus supplement and the JobKeeper wage subsidy), which allowed up to $20,000 to be withdrawn before retirement to people suffering financial hardship due to the pandemic. That saw more women than men wipe out their super entirely, money that we all know many women will struggle to put back because they are entering their prime child-bearing years, a period of time that commonly sees Australian women take extended leave from paid work.
Between April and December 2020, 1.5 million women drew down their super, one quarter of the entire labor force. Some 345,000 women completely emptied out their accounts.
Most appallingly, despite warnings from the violence against women sector about the previous proposed DV early access schemes’ potential to make women vulnerable to financial abuse, the Morrison government put no safeguards in place to guard against that in this broader, Covid early access scheme. And, surprise, surprise, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported later in the year, the scheme “opened a frontier for abuse”, creating a “perfect storm” with one expert estimating that up to 70,000 women may have been coerced into withdrawing their super.
And now there’s this new scheme permitting first time home buyers to access super for their first home. Many, many economists have already pointed out that this will disproportionately benefit men who tend to have significantly more super and disproportionately, negatively impact women who struggle to put enough away to begin with. There’s also the question of what many women have left after the previous raid on their super, but that’s bye the bye.
Genuine question: how can we really trust the Morrison government and Jane Hume when they say the latest super housing policy won’t push up housing prices when their previous raids on super played out exactly the way experts warned they would for women, especially DV victims? They knew it could have these “unintended consequences”, but they proceeded anyway? Is that “responsible”, to use the word Scott Morrison is so fond of in reference to his steerage of the economy?
Another genuine question: How can Jane Hume, who has the great privilege of serving as the first dedicated minister for women’s economic security in this vital, new portfolio, make the rounds selling this crap while ignoring the negative impacts on women?
When asked a year ago at Senate Estimates about the failure to protect against the risk of financial abuse in the Covid early access scheme, then Finance Minister Mathias Cormann coldly said that you need to “accept certain trade offs when there is a need for speed”. So women’s safety and economic security is a “trade off” to this government? He also said that he was satisfied “our government is motivated by making the best possible decision for all Australians, including women.” Then he added: “I know that all Australians, including women, have the opportunity to pass judgement on how they value our performance”.
Why yes, the women of Australia will be afforded the opportunity to “pass judgement”. It’s called an election. And it’s happening this Saturday. #WomenVote.