The $231 million Women’s Economic Security Package announced in the 2020-21 Budget as part of the Government’s JobMaker Plan allocates only a fraction of the funds to job creation. This is meant to support “new cadetships and apprenticeships for women … job creation and entrepreneurialism, and Women’s safety at work and at home” – a lot of deliverables for only $231 million.
An additional $1.2 billion for apprenticeships wage subsidy was included in the Budget in addition to $2.8 billion support announced in July, while vocational education and training (VET) received $586.8 million under the JobTrainer Fund. The apprenticeship wage subsidy is available for up to 100,000 people. The Women’s Economic Security Package will support 500 women working in STEM industries to complete additional studies – that’s right, only 500 women.
Since the United Nations’ International Women’s Year in 1975, governments have increasingly been expected to address and account for issues specifically impacting women. Gender budgeting has gained momentum, and as of 2020 more than half of OECD countries have adopted it in some form or another.
Australia’s 1984 Women’s Budget Program was created to challenge longstanding assumptions that policy impacts were gender neutral. The Women’s Budget Statements highlighted unequal implications of policies on women and raising awareness of women’s greater responsibility for unpaid work.
Despite global uptake of gender budget analysis, it was increasingly abandoned in Australia from the 1990s with the implementation of neoliberal policies. It effectively ceased in 2013. In the World Economic Forum’s ranking on gender equality, Australia fell from 15th in 2006 to 44th in 2019.
The recent passing of Labor pioneering feminist Susan Ryan, best remembered for the Sex Discrimination Act, serves as a reminder of both Australia’s gender parity achievements and the remaining gender inequalities. These gender inequalities will not be addressed through the gender ‘neutral’ policies that the Government advocates. As treasurer, Scott Morrison belittled concerns about gender budget impacts, “you don’t fill out pink forms and blue forms on your tax return, it doesn’t look at what your gender is any more than it looks at whether you’re left handed or right handed”.
Analysis of job losses and coronavirus stimulus reveals that women have been impacted far more than men by the pandemic. Women have seen faster job losses than men, while wage guarantee stimulus measures have neglected casual employment where women are overrepresented, and focused on industries such as construction – where women are underrepresented. Unemployment in March and April 2020 fell by 5.3 per cent for women and 3.9 per cent for men.
Free childcare would provide effective economic stimulus while increasing female workforce participation. Investment in childcare would have created 19.95 jobs per $1 million invested. Bringing forward personal income tax cuts mostly goes to high income men. For every $2.19–$2.28 of tax cuts that go to men only $1 goes to women.
Instead, budget measures to benefit women are noticeably absent.
COVID-19 Response Package funding for domestic and family violence support is classified as “not for publication” in the budget papers.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) “has no budget measures in the 2020-21 Budget.”
The Women’s Economic Security Package does not compensate for the lack of a comprehensive assessment of how budget measures impact women or government investing in industries that benefit men while neglecting investment in female-dominant industries.
The Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio Budget Statement highlights that “Gender segregation remains deeply entrenched across Australian industries, occupations and workplaces and access to parental leave has virtually stalled. Although the proportion of women in management overall has increased, most senior roles, especially at the CEO level, are still dominated by men.” It remains to be seen how the Government’s $231 million will address these issues.