On Tuesday, May 11th the Federal Government handed down its latest and highly anticipated, budget. Last year, we saw the government spend big on tax cuts, infrastructure and encouraging business spending, with the challenges facing women in the midst of the pandemic almost entirely left off the agenda.
This time around, things are slightly brighter for women in Australia. Childcare subsidies, greater investment in domestic violence support and amended super rules are some of the key changes helping to improve women’s economic security.
But has the government gone far enough to redress gender inequality in Australia? Let’s find out.
What is the budget and why does it matter?
In a nutshell, the federal budget is used by the Australian government to explain how they’re going to spend your tax dollars over the next four years. It’s delivered by the Treasurer (currently, Josh Frydenberg) and gives us all a snapshot of:
- How much money is coming in: income (which is generated from people and businesses paying taxes)
- How much money is going out expenses (which includes things like health, education, defence, transport, debts, social security and welfare)
- Where our money will be spent over the next financial year (July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022) and a forecast of the government’s income and expenses for the next three years (until mid-2025): known as forward estimates
Usually, the budget is handed down on the second Tuesday in May. But, you might remember the government’s last federal budget was delayed to October 2020 to give them time to factor in all the disruptions and uncertainties of the pandemic.
So, why does this all matter? The budget is a useful way to see what the government’s priorities are for the year ahead. Plus, it goes some way to predict the country’s economic outlook and recovery (which we’re all interested in after the uncertainty we’ve faced since the outbreak of COVID-19).
Christina Hobbs (CEO of Verve Super) offers a really helpful summary of the purpose of the budget, explaining, “perhaps it’s better to think of the budget as an annual values statement because it shows Australians what the Government really is going to value in the year/s ahead – this is because it has actual $s attached to real-world expenditure items.”
The key takeaways from this year’s budget
While women, aged care and social security have been promoted as “winners” in this budget, it’s important to look at the figures holistically to see how much is actually being spent on women specifically.
Over the next four years, the government plans to spend $2433 billion. Out of that, just $3.4 billion will be spent to improve women’s safety, health and economic security (to put that in perspective, that’s just 0.14% of the total budget).
Let’s look at some of the positives for women from this budget:
- Childcare subsidies of $1.7 billion over three years will assist roughly 270,000 families and boost some women’s workforce participation.
- Changes to super rules now remove the $450-a-month minimum income threshold for the super guarantee, which is designed to help redress the super gap and boost women’s retirement savings (particularly for those who work multiple part-time or casual roles).
- An extra $1.1 billion has been put towards a range of schemes to support women’s safety, access to housing, skills training and helping female-led businesses.
- Out of this, $261 million will be funnelled towards domestic and sexual violence prevention programs with states.
- Plus a $164 million trial of cash-and-kind grants will be offered to women fleeing violence.
- There will also be $90 million spent on consent education and $320 million allocated towards women’s legal services and children’s contact centres for improved management of kids in separating families.
- An additional $26 million will be allocated to Family Violence Prevention Legal Services to boost support services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
- Plus, $29.3 million will be spent to improve migrant and refugee women’s safety through a range of early intervention and grassroots programs.
There’s no doubt that this budget gives women across the country more hope than the last. In the wake of increased public discourse about domestic violence, inadequate consent education and the need to address workplace sexual harassment, this budget offers a necessary yet overdue step in the right direction.
What has changed since the last budget?
In the last 2020/2021 budget, many criticised the Government for failing to allocate funds to groups most in need, predominantly women.
As we’ve already seen, women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. At the peak of the COVID lockdowns, 8% of all Australian women were out of work (double the number of men who lost their jobs at the same time).
Rather than offering tailored support for women, the Government’s economic recovery plan in the last budget was focused on personal income tax cuts, investment tax breaks and spending big on infrastructure (all industries dominated by men, and largely benefiting only men).
Another big criticism levelled at the Government in the previous budget was their failure to make cheaper child care a reality for Australian families. This is one of the most effective and practical steps the Government could take to redress women’s economic disadvantage and support economic growth. The stats show that boosting women’s participation in the workforce (including offering free childcare) would boost the Australian economy by up to $140 billion.
This year’s budget offers more in the way of childcare support and does remove some of the barriers preventing women from fully participating in the workforce. But, free access to childcare is still yet to be considered as a viable long-term option.
Female-dominated industries such as aged and childcare are given more targeted attention in this budget than the last, with specific funding channelling towards fostering career pathways for women in these industries.
While $1.1 billion over four years seems like a significant investment in domestic and family violence services, it’s a fraction of what is needed to truly address this crisis in Australia. Many women’s safety experts reveal at least $1 billion in funding is needed each year to provide adequate funding for these essential services.
Overall, the budget has offered a good start to redressing some of the key challenges facing women in Australia today. While the government has promoted this budget as one focused on women, some of the biggest areas of investment continue to be business tax cuts ($17.6 billion), tax offsets to low and middle-income earners ($7.8 billion) and infrastructure investment ($6 billion).
In comparison, $3.4 billion on women’s economic security is just a small slice of the pie. To truly redress gender inequality and women’s financial insecurity, more system policy reform is needed to improve outcomes for women across the long term.