The Federal Budget delivered on Tuesday night triggered quick and rampant outrage among Australian women.
After feigning faux sympathy over the plight faced by 51 percent of the population, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg dished up a meagre $240 million to support women hardest hit by the crisis. $240 million, which in real terms, equated to a whole lot of token nothingness.
A sprinkle of leadership training, a handful of STEM cadetships, blanket sexual harassment reform and the promise of support for women at work AND at home. Oh, and an Economic Security Statement that took some serious excavating and a mouse’s microscope to find.
The Twitter fury hit hard and fast.
Hordes of women joined the chorus, including Women’s Agenda’s contributing editor Georgie Dent. Her anger (and influence) apparently registered with the Prime Minister’s Office, because on Wednesday morning they phoned to give her a stern talking to.
‘No one credible has a problem with this budget or the policies proposed’, a spokesperson for the office assured Dent (or words to that effect). The uproar was a case of spiteful, spoilt women taking umbrage at a perfectly reasonable agenda.
The fact the government and its representatives could be so patently oblivious, ignorant and prehistoric in their thinking here, is telling. It is also unbelievably foolish.
On Wednesday afternoon Dent had gathered a tribe of vocal, incensed and utterly credible women, all of whom felt the same way: that their government–the people elected to represent the best interests of the whole populace– had failed them. Again.
“I realised how factually inaccurate that comment [by the PM’s Office] was”, Dent shares. “It was an attempt to discredit a whole lot of very credible women and many credible men too. So I reached out to a few women on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon and suggested we use #CredibleWomen on all Budget-related tweets.”
Within hours, the hashtag #CredibleWomen was trending with an army of women from all walks of life chiming in to lament policy short-sightedness and make known their positions. It rose swiftly to the #2 top hashtag in the country.
“I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m not surprised,” says Dent. “This budget absolutely fails to deliver for women at a point in history when women are facing an absolute crisis in relation to financial security. It’s shameful.”
Jane Caro, a proud member of the movement agrees. “I think it’s great that this has all come together all because of the arrogance of the government.”
Caro believes the government’s failure to adequately address the needs of women, especially through childcare reform, is a result of a “1950’s mindset”. “They [the government] literally don’t see women,” she says. “when they talk about a gender blind budget, they meant they don’t see 51 percent of the population. And they never do.”
According to this government, “women are supposed to facilitate others’ getting ahead and having careers, but they’re not actually meant to have them themselves.”
This is ultimately why childcare reform, a policy which has been repeatedly documented by economists as an advantageous move, was disregarded by the government on Tuesday night.
“I don’t think there is a rationale because it’s not rational”, says Caro. “I think it’s stereotyping and prejudice, and I’m going to be absolutely upfront, I think it’s religiously driven.”
“I think there’s a very strong view among some, more doctrinaire Christians, that women should be at home with their children. And giving women an option to work outside the home is entirely a bad thing. It’s not their place. It’s not what they should be doing,” she says.
But the budget was also a mind-boggling missed opportunity for growth, says Emma Alberici, Chief Strategist at Compare the Market. It’s completely at odds with what the government purports to want: greater workforce participation.
“The government has long said its ambition is to lift workforce participation among women so that it better reflects workforce participation of men,” she says. “One of the low hanging fruit of that objective is women. There is a ten percentage points gap, or thereabouts, between the number of men working and the number of women working; in any capacity, part-time, full-time, whatever.”
‘The vision, as articulated by this government, has always been to get women working more. The more people work, the more money they make, the more income tax they pay, the more productivity is in an economy. It’s a simple, simple economic principle.”
This very simple principle was a step too far for Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg. Not one single measure was announced to address care reform, an industry which has long been dominated by women.
“At the moment, caring of old people and young people falls predominantly to women, so that means they can’t work,” says Alberici. “So if your objective is to get more women working, you need to be laser-focused on improving access to quality childcare and quality aged care.”
In terms of women, the government’s efforts fell wildly short of ‘laser focus’. There was no focus. There were no new policies announced to support Indigenous women and girls, no additional funding for domestic and family violence, no extension of paid parental leave, no meaningful support for a bevy of female-dominated industries.
It was a farce. An absolutely shameful omission. And the more than 8,500 #CredibleWomen hashtags on Twitter is proof.