Our budget will look like this if the government's really 'listening to women'

Here’s what our budget will look like if the government’s really ‘listening to women’


What a year.

I don’t say that with any discernible note of positivity. It’s been a train-wreck, especially for the government which has fought an onslaught of misconduct allegations since the beginning of the year. Lids have been lifted on a toxic culture that’s freely flourished inside the corridors of parliament for decades.

But of course this issue goes beyond politics.

Women are fed up. We’re fed up of being unequal in a society which should be streets ahead of other nations yet continually flounders.

Up till this point, the government has failed to deliver meaningful reform for women– it had the luxury too. A government that’s dominated by privileged white men has little impetus to resolve issues they’re not directly impacted by. Especially when the majority of voters rarely speak up to put pressure on.

This has changed. Most Australians can now see the glaring gaps that have existed for generations. Over the past few months, they’ve all been exposed and the social fury is resounding. If the government is truly “listening to women” as the Prime Minister recently promised, we’ll see some big reforms coming out of our federal budget handed down next week.

Here are a few in particular we’ve got our eye on:

Universal childcare:

We do know that the government will be addressing childcare in its budget, but its proposal so far goes little further than tinkering.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced last week that come July 2022, the Morrison government would increase the childcare subsidies available to families with more than one child aged five and under in childcare by 30 per cent to a maximum subsidy of 95 per cent. The current annual subsidy cap of $10,560 will also be removed. This is a start, but it’s about a fraction of what’s truly needed.

If the government were to announce universal childcare at a cost, according to recent modelling, of $12bn, it could unlock $70 billion in extra economic activity, according to ACTU estimates. Female workforce participation would be radically boosted– potentially to the rate of men’s. It would also enable families to live and work in the way they choose, not in the way that’s socially prescribed.

Additional and more inclusive paid parental leave:

Currently the government’s paid parental leave is embarrassingly inadequate and out of touch with modern family ideals. It supports the notion of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carers, offering the former 18 weeks leave at the minimum wage and the latter two weeks. Most often, given the structure of this, it is women who take the heftier chunk of leave while fathers miss out on a crucial period of bonding with their new baby. In fact, just 1 in 20 Australian fathers take primary paid parental leave at present.

We need to move toward a system– common in countries like Sweden, Norway and Finland– that offers incentives to parents who take equal time off. We need to increase the amount of leave offered to a minimum of six months and remove unhelpful labels like ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carer which perpetuate negative social stereotypes and make it harder for women to get onto a level playing field.

An Equity Economics study found if the federal government provided 12 months of paid parental leave to be equally shared between parents, it would lead to an increase in gross domestic product of $116 billion or 2.9 per cent by 2050. It seems to be a no brainer.

Domestic violence funding:

Experts have been appealing to the government for months to increase its funding of domestic and family violence services. Off the back of the pandemic, we’ve seen a significant uprise in cases of violence, with precarious unemployment and social isolation exacerbating what was already a burning crisis.

Women’s Safety NSW reported to Women’s Agenda last month a massive 35 percent surge in women seeking help, recording 286,722 occasions of delivering services to women experiencing domestic and family violence in NSW, 73,863 more than the year before. The $150 million Commonwealth funding received last year is due to run out next month, yet the demand for domestic violence services is as high as ever.

“Service system gaps which pre-existed COVID, such as case management and accommodation support, specialist supports for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, culturally and linguistically diverse women, women with disability, and LGBTIQA+ people, as well as targeted support for children, and behaviour change programs for people using violence in their relationships,” are vital says Hayley Foster CEO of Women’s Safety NSW.

On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. It’s a desperate reality we need to fix quickly.

Social housing

As we reported this week, Australia’s homelessness rate is spiralling, with the leading cohort being older women.

James Toomey, Mission Australia’s CEO, calls it “a perfect storm” given the severe shortage of social and affordable housing, growing levels of housing stress and of course ongoing pandemic challenges. A number of other factors can increase the likeliness of being rendered homeless, including sudden illness, death of a spouse, domestic violence and the added stress of the COVID-pandemic.

Roughly 28 per cent of women aged 55-64 in private rental accommodation are likely to be at risk. For part-time or non-full time employees this figure rises to 34 percent. For parents who are parenting without a co-partner, the number jumps to 65 per cent. Moreover, ABS figures show that the number of Australian women living alone is expected to increase by 27-58 per cent by 2041. 

The government needs to address this issue quickly and decisively.

Wage increases to those working in care sectors:

Aged care workers, early childhood educators, teachers, nurses… they were all deemed by the government to be ‘essential workers’ at the beginning of the pandemic. If that’s the case (which of course it is), we need to start valuing them and remunerating them as such. These are industries that are dominated by women who are often working for minimum wage. It’s not okay– people cannot afford to live off “the love of the job”.

Of course there are countless other policies the government could lay on the table that would dramatically improve the lives of women in this country: superannuation reform, stricter laws for perpetrators of violence and sexual assault, pregnancy loss bereavement leave, public education and university funding and constitutional recognition of First Nations people– just to name a few.

But if they make a start by addressing the above, we’d at least have some hope that the message was being received: that women in this country demand and deserve more. The jig of turning a blinding eye is up.

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