The strongest budget for women in the past 40 years?

Ahead of the budget, Katy Gallagher, Minister for Women and Finance, claimed that “this is the strongest budget for women in the past 40 years.”  If true, this suggests the bar was pretty low. Most of the budget’s announcements on gender issues are a rebadging of previously announced policies, including: the expanded Paid Parental Leave (PPL), the increase in the childcare subsidy, and improvements in pay transparency.

The taskforce charged with advising the government on women’s economic equality identified six actions for the government to take up this budget.  The good news is that the government took some of the advice of that taskforce:

  • Single parents on the Parenting Payment, 96% of whom are women, will continue to receive $67.80 per day until their child is 14 (instead of that payment falling to $49.51 per day after the child turns 8).
  • The ParentsNext mutual obligations system will be axed, relieving people on the Parent Payment of punitive employment activities formerly imposed when their child turned 6 months old.
  • Aged care workers (most of whom are women) will receive a 15% wage rise, thanks to an additional $11.3 billion slated for the sector. However, there is some concern that workers not paid under a Modern Award may not receive these wage increases.
  •  Commonwealth Rent Assistance will be increased by 15%, costing $2.7 billion over 5 years. This is a welcome measure, however, it will only amount to an additional $23.60 per fortnight for single people on the maximum rate (because the CRA rate is so low to begin with).

Other important gender reforms, supported by advocates and researchers, were not implemented by this budget:

  • The Childcare Subsidy activity test is maintained, placing continuing pressure on parents raising children to pursue often pointless employment search activities. Research has suggested this activity test can have perverse impacts on the long-term employment success of parents.
  • No mention was made of extending superannuation contributions to primary carers on paid parental leave, 87% of whom are women.
  • Other care workers (in sectors other than aged care) will not receive support for general wage rises under this budget. The budget did contain a $72.4 million initiative to retain and recruit more early childhood education and care workers.

Once again, the progress made toward gender equity through this budget (and other government initiatives) is heartening. But the question remains: is enough being done to address the core drivers of gender inequality in Australia’s labour market?

Our previous research shows that a woman on median income her entire working life will earn $1 million less in today’s dollars than her male counterpart.  Continuing gender pay gaps in Australia are driven by the uneven distribution of women across different industries, occupations, and employment statuses; by the undervaluation of traditionally feminised work; and by the disproportionate amount of unpaid work performed at home by women. The most effective ways to address these structural issues would involve restoring free childcare; equalising the take-up of paid parental leave between men and women, and expanding it to 52 weeks (the OECD standard); and significant wage rises for all workers in the care economy.

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