Something was confirmed earlier this week at Senate Estimates that many of us have long suspected: the 2021 Women’s Budget Statement was hastily cobbled together in less than a month.
At the Senate Economics Legislation Committee on Tuesday, Labor Senator Jenny McAllister put to Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and officials from his department a series of questions to determine the timeline – and work – that preceded the development of the 2021 Women’s Budget Statement, the first in seven years since the Coalition government jettisoned the traditional accounting of major fiscal announcements in terms of their impact on women in 2014.
On April 6th there was the first meeting of the newly appointed “Women’s Task Force”, the phalanx of new lady ministers Prime Minister Scott Morrison appointed for all things lady business following a few months of torrid headlines in relation to his government’s performance in that area. And it was only shortly thereafter that Treasury had a meeting with the Office for Women to discuss, “the different ways that the package of measures that were targeting women’s safety, security and wellbeing could be pulled together.”
“Less than a month before the budget is brought down, we decide we’re going to have a Women’s Budget Statement, is that correct,” asked McAllister. “Yes,” was the answer.
It wasn’t until April 19th, according to testimony at Senate Estimates, that staff were seconded from the Office for Women to help Treasury develop the Statement.
All this might explain why, according to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, emails were sent from Treasury to the Department of Health asking for “urgent” input on “anything” in women’s health the department had already rolled out which could be included in the statement. The kicker: the department had just 24 hours to respond.
“That was just for “context” and “scene setting”, claimed officials from Treasury at estimates. Alrighty then. If you buy that, I have a lovely tenth hand East German used car I’d like to sell you.
And all this might explain why two of the 18 new initiatives to promote women’s economic security were actually sizeable grants for Matildas football matches and the FIBA Women’s World Cup.
Now I’m all for women’s sport and funding women’s sport, but the link to women as a groups’ economic security of the $17 million of investment eludes me. It’s more than a bit cheeky of the Morrison government to suggest there is one, and it smacks of a government casting around for anything, anything at all, to put in the ladies’ column.
Overall, what does this hasty process tell us about the extent to which the Morrison government takes gender equality issues seriously – including women’s safety, economic security and health? Put differently: what does this hasty process tell us about the extent to which the Morrison government still doesn’t get it and continues to believe that band-aids and spin will suffice?
The short answer: a lot.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that as recently as the start of this year the Morrison government still didn’t take these issues seriously; they simply brushed off the massive public outcry from numerous “credible women” to last year’s budget, all of whom claimed it failed to deliver for women (who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic) and moved on.
There was some bluster about how the “budget isn’t gendered” and “women drive on roads” and Morrison and Co. honestly thought they could put the issue – and the concerns of 51 percent of the population – behind them.
It wasn’t until April, following news that a staffer was allegedly raped in a minister’s office, historical rape allegations were levelled at another government minister and photos leaked of some rather misogynistic and quite unprofessional behaviour on the desk of another female minister that the penny dropped. This wasn’t going away.
And even then, this is the best they could do?
I previously wrote for Women’s Agenda that my litmus test for the 2021 Budget — what would indicate to me that the Morrison government had truly taken to heart the backlash to last year’s budget, in particular criticism that it had failed to deliver for women — was a significant paradigm shift in how they understands gender inequality and seek to address it.
I now realise that it was overly optimistic to expect that level of engagement. Next year, and there will be a next year as Simon Birmingham has confirmed there will be a 2022 Women’s Budget Statement, I’ll be looking for an indication that a bit more than three or so weeks’ worth of thought and effort has gone into the Statement.
I appreciate I’m a hard marker. But on this point, I’m prepared to grade on a curve. Yes, that’s setting the bar rather low and it’s very sad that it’s necessary. But we are where we are.
Kristine Ziwica is a regular contributor. She tweets @KZiwica