Budget 2021 is being called a ‘Women’s Budget’. It is certainly a much-needed improvement on the past, with welcome increases in funding for childcare, single mothers, superannuation support and domestic violence services, to name a few.
However, what is good for women is actually good for all Australians and there is a growing chorus of voices saying this is not enough; the funding is not enough to create long-term structural change.
And if it does not create structural change for all women, it certainly won’t move the needle for migrant and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) women in Australia.
We need to remember that culturally diverse women do not spring from the same starting block as Anglo women. The additional challenges, barriers and constructs that CALD women come up against are more complex and stem from a history wrought with exclusion and segregation. Their needs are more nuanced and a Budget that only begins to help women overall, is not going to give a platform for their voices.
We also need to remember that we are talking about a huge cohort of people. Almost half of all Australians were born overseas, or have one or both parents born overseas, meaning that the under-representation of that rich diversity will leave a large section of the population on the fringes.
Childcare support too little too late
$1.7billion of additional childcare funding not coming into effect until next July is going to disproportionately affect migrant women, especially with borders closed. These women and families often rely on relatives and grandparents visiting from places like India and China, sometimes for up to 6 months, to help offset the high cost of childcare.
In a year from now, we will have seen less money contributed to superannuation, as most of it will go towards childcare, and there will be downward mobility in careers as migrant women take on jobs for security of income to pay for childcare.
This in turn will deepen the gender ethnic pay gap. This year of struggle and strife will leave migrant women in recovery mode, even after July 2022. It will likely take years for them to recover their financial position, buying power and career trajectories – if ever.
This Government and future governments must also remember that the childcare support package is not just for women, it is for parents. Having a more robust option, like free or almost free childcare that is not targeted for particular families or incomes, but universal, will change the choices migrant parents and all parents have in how they participate in the workforce.
On a global scale, parents in Australia still pay more for childcare than parents in most OECD nations. At the height of the pandemic, this very Government showed us that free childcare works and empowers all people. Why are we short-changing ourselves?
Low to middle income tax relief short-sighted
Tax relief is a good recovery tool for now, but migrant women are a key demographic here. They often perform entry to mid-level jobs (private and public sector) and are also disproportionately represented in contract roles/temporary roles, especially after COVID-19.
While tax cuts will provide temporary relief, it is not going to offset the costs they are facing in areas like childcare and pulling the rug out on these measures is going to hurt these workers when they experience a tax increase next year. There is no mechanism to ease the pressure on them long-term.
Aged care boost ignores multicultural workforce
$17.7billion over five years toward aged care is a pleasing acknowledgement of the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care, but it does not clearly address the highly multicultural workforces that provide these services and the equity of their working conditions and pay.
Multicultural workers have experienced racism and discrimination in highly casualised labour conditions and unstable employment, and the funding needs to address these issues for the benefit of these workers to achieve true structural change within the sector.
Women’s Health support must target migrant and Indigenous women
Additional funding for women’s health support is absolutely positive, so long as we consider equitable access and the needs of migrant, refugee and asylum seeker women.
We have seen low levels of understanding from the public and private health systems in COVID-19 responses to lower socio-economic and multicultural people and their specific health needs. Women make up 51% of the population; 30% were born overseas and 3.2% of those are Indigenous women.
We need to pay close attention to migrant and Indigenous women’s health in terms of access to information, education, location and delivery of services. We cannot leave it up to advocacy groups to speak for these women.
Migrant women-led SMEs sidelined
The Budget’s support for SMEs definitely leans on the ‘blokey’ side. It is targeted at new training and upskilling for apprentices, with a focus on the agriculture sector, hospitality, tourism and opening up a range of infrastructure projects (including a freight hub in Melbourne and upgrades to new highways and railroads).
A lot of these cash injections will benefit male-led small businesses and male-dominated jobs. Unless women co-own these SMEs, we are going to see many female-led companies struggle. Migrant female-owned businesses seem even more cut out; women make up just over a third of all Australian SMEs and almost a third of these women are migrants born overseas – many of them knowledge, service-owned businesses (like mine).
The only pleasing piece is the improvement of procurement opportunities for SMEs. If this means putting supplier diversity and equity at the forefront, where diverse suppliers can get in front of big business with easier procurement and payment terms, then this is a clear opportunity to open up sales and cashflow.
Diversity and Inclusion is a platform for scale and opportunity that is not being realised by this Budget as we recover from COVID-19. Future Budgets need to apply a deeper understanding of the cultural differences of our multicultural nation, and pay specific attention to the requirements and behaviours of women, especially migrant and CALD women, to achieve the level of social equity and workforce participation we need to prosper as a nation long-term. When this inclusive decisioning is done right, everyone in our society benefits.