While I had my doubts that the Government would do enough for women in this year’s Budget, I really believed there would be something to address the epidemic of domestic violence and women’s growing economic insecurity.
With so much attention paid to the impacts of Covid on women, I thought the Government wouldn’t be able disregard the worsening gender inequality in this country.
I was wrong.
Covid-19 has magnified our existing socio-economic inequalities, and gender inequality is no exception. This crisis has forced more women out of work or onto reduced hours, with increased caring responsibilities, seen more women fall sick on the frontline in feminised industries like nursing and teaching, widened the gender pay gap, and seen one in ten women experience family and domestic violence.
But this Budget, just like this government, continues to ignore women.
There is no new money to make childcare accessible, build affordable public housing, or fund frontline domestic violence services. The Budget has allocated more funding to roads than it has to the women’s economic security statement. And it’s main selling point – tax cuts – will deliver more than twice as much money to men as women.
Last night, we listened to Treasurer Frydenberg bang on about how this year’s Budget is all about delivering jobs, jobs, jobs.
Putting aside the debate about whether the job-creation methods the Government has proposed will be successful, women can’t re-enter the workforce without accessible, affordable childcare.
We had heard from experts all year that if you want real economic stimulus, you need to invest in childcare. The Australia Institute found that offering free childcare and bringing women’s workforce participation up to Sweden’s levels would increase GDP by as much as $140 billion.
We learnt from the Grattan Institute that making childcare more accessible could increase women’s lifetime earnings on average by $150,000.
And when the Government (briefly) announced national, free childcare for all, we saw firsthand the way this took the financial pressure off of families and enabled women to take on paid work.
Instead, in last night’s Budget the Government allocated a mere $240 million for a women’s economic security statement. That’s a whole $18 per Australian woman, so it doesn’t really buy you a lot of economic security.
This tiny amount does include welcome support for 500 new cadetships and apprenticeships for women in STEM, expansion of the Women’s Leadership and Development Program, and $2.1 million for an advisory body on addressing sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.
The other small bright spot was the Government’s adoption of the Greens earlier proposal to retain paid parental leave for women who lost their job due to Covid-19. After voting against the Greens amendments for just that, it’s good to see the Government has backflipped and adopted this sensible proposal which will actually help new parents.
But don’t be fooled: $240 million for women’s economic security is a pitiful attempt by the Government to try and tick “helping women” off its to-do list. It’s literally the smallest amount of funding that gets a mention in the budget speech. It’s 10% of the funding going to roads, and 2% of infrastructure spending.
Sadly, warnings from the women’s safety sector that family and domestic violence, already at epidemic levels, is increasing, have also been ignored.
The Treasurer talked up the $450M allocated to intelligence and law enforcement agencies to address “domestic threats”, but there was not a cent of new funding to address the biggest threat women in Australia are facing: violence.
Last week, Minister Ruston finally delivered some money for safe housing announced 20 months ago, but there is literally not a single new cent in the Budget for frontline domestic violence services – which are already overstretched and having to turn away up to half of the people coming for help.
The Australian Institute of Criminology found that 1 in 10 women in a relationship has experienced abuse during the pandemic, many for the first time or with unprecedented violence. One woman is killed by her current or former partner every week. Ignoring calls for funding to address this crisis is inexcusable. The women’s safety sector wanted $12 billion over 12 years, they got nada.
Many of the Government’s other Budget-night promises are skewed to helping men, over women. Wage subsidies for apprenticeships? Only 24.4% of Australians in training last March were women. The promised tax cuts? For every dollar of the tax cut women receive, men will more than double.
The Coalition is busy patting itself on the back today for giving women a mention in the Budget. But one thing is clear: we have a global health crisis and a government conspiring to send women back to the 1950s.