Why we still need a women's budget statement in 2018

Why we still really need a women’s budget statement in 2018

Since the 8th of May when the treasurer Scott Morrison handed down the Federal budget, 27 volunteers have been working behind the scenes to analyse its impact on women.

The fruits of this labour, the Gender Lens on the Budget 2018–2019 report, was published this week by the National Foundation for Australian Women.

All of the contributors who helped prepare the 150 page report are women, who are also employed. Unsurprisingly, given they are women aged between 30 and 70, most also have not insignificant caring responsibilities.

Yet they volunteer their time and expertise to undertake gender based analysis of the budget to identify the ways in which the proposed policies will affect men and women differently.

This work was once undertaken by the government of the day but since 2014 there has been no Women’s Budget Statement. Now it’s up to an army of volunteers, led by the NFAW’s chair Marie Coleman, to do it.

In an ideal world government budgets might be gender neutral in impact but in reality they are inevitably gender biased if they do not assess how policies affect women.

“Gender budgeting identifies policies that are unequal at the systemic level, as well as opportunities to spend money on helping women and which have a high return,” Marie Coleman says. “Applying a gender lens in the formulation of any budget is crucially important and that’s not happening.”

This year the government produced material that highlights budget measures of interest to women in its 2018 Budget statement ‘Women’s Economic Capability and Leadership’. But Coleman says this document can be described as a list of initiatives that may benefit women, rather than gender-based analysis of the proposed policies.

Some recent gender based analysis released by The Australian Institute shows the proposed tax cuts in the 2018/2019 budget are far better for men than women.

Senior economist Matt Grudnoff says men will get twice the benefit from the income tax cuts compared to women because they favour high-earners.

“If a government is intent on reducing income tax then cuts that target middle and low income earners will have far less impact on income inequality,” he says.

In Senate Estimates on Monday night the Office for Women confirmed it didn’t know what the impact of the Liberals’ tax policy would be on women.

The Australia Institute’s analysis also indicates that spending cuts mainly disadvantage women who rely on government services more than men. The proposed cuts in the 2014 Budget impacted women more than men: 55% of the cut in incomes was borne by women and 45% by men.

The result is a situation where men get the most benefit from tax cuts while women are more detrimentally impacted by spending cuts.

“The impacts of budget decisions on gender inequality should be a more prominent part of budget decision making,” Grudnoff says. “One way to help achieve this would be mandating that all budget decisions should include a statement showing the impact by gender. This at least would highlight which policies benefit men and disadvantage women.”

Which is precisely why the NFAW prepares its annual report.

Coleman says this year’s budget is “not great” for women although she identifies some small seeds of hope. The fact there were two women on the Expenditure Review Committee, the first time in several budgets, is positive. As is the fact the minister for women Kelly O’Dwyer expressly required the Office for Women to assist her in the ERC role.

In September O’Dwyer will unveil a ‘significant funding’ package to address the economic disadvantage many Australian women face. It’s promising but the budget remains the single most important policy document and to alleviate gender inequality in a meaningful sense requires wholesale reform at that level.

“A broad policy approach to rethinking the work and care rewards and incentives in our current system is necessary,” Coleman says.

Having worked as a bureaucrat in Canberra for several decades Coleman says this type of change must be led from the very top.

“I know the impact when the Prime Minister says ‘I want this done’ and the secretary then tells everyone ‘We mean it’. That’s how things happen.”

Coleman recalls when Bob Hawke was the Prime Minister and he wanted a women’s agenda  ‘the day before yesterday’.  The head of the Prime Minister’s office organised an inter-departmental committee comprising deputy secretaries from the various departments which was chaired by the Office for Women.

“They were each asked to bring forward proposals from within their own departments for consideration by the IDC,” Coleman says.  “Within a small amount of time quite a sensible agenda was prepared. It has to be driven by the most senior person in cabinet and we’re not seeing that at the moment.”

If the Prime Minister or the Minister for Women are looking to prepare an effective  women’s agenda the Gender Lens report contains 72 recommendations that could form the basis of meaningful change.  The hard work has already been done for them.

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