Women, what are we going to do about them?

by Eliza Littleton

The Government’s $3.4 billion peace offering to women this budget was a swing and a miss. The woefully insufficient and temporary spending demonstrate that the Government is still treating issues affecting women as a political problem, rather than a systemic policy problem.

Take for example, the average of $250 million per year dedicated to domestic violence services which drops by 99% to $2.3 million in 2025-26. Or the $148 million (but really only $32.9 million of new money) over five years to women’s health issues like endometriosis, breast and ovarian cancer which will fall to $4.2 million in 2025-26. Domestic violence and female health issues will not disappear in four years and critical services for women require the certainty of permanent government support.

Let’s be clear, the budget attention on women is welcome – but short-term funding promises are not what women asked for.

In April, the Australia Institute made several recommendations to Government on how to improve women’s economic security using the budget as a tool to reduce gender inequality. Now post-budget, the question is how has the Government’s budget stacked up?

Answer – Badly.

Spending for women is worth a fraction of the more permanent budget benefits bestowed on high-income earners, who are mostly men.

For one, in the budget the Government decided not to abandon the stage 3 tax cuts. This measure alone will cost $18 billion per year, much more than the $3.4 billion over five years the government is boasting about spending on women this budget. If in 2024 they come into effect, 67% of the benefits will flow to men and only 33% to women.

The budget also made no attempt to address the gender inequity stemming from superannuation tax concessions. Not only do women face lower wages than men and take on the bulk of unpaid childrearing responsibility, but the superannuation tax system also adds to this economic disadvantage. The tax concession on super contributions cost the government $41 billion a year, sixty times the budget investment in ‘women’s policies’, and 72% of the benefits go to men.

Worse still, Australia Institute commissioned economic modelling found that providing free childcare would cost a small fraction of the cost of providing the stage 3 tax cuts and would provide widespread benefits to men, women and the whole economy. Instead, the Government committed a mere $1.7 billion over five years on a highly targeted childcare policy, which will only benefit large families, does little to address workforce disincentives for women and nothing to improve wages or working conditions for childcare workers.

If the Government wanted to show that it was listening to women, then maybe they could have implemented policies women have been advocating for and not these half-baked temporary policy gestures.

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