The image of the undeserving rich is clearly female as typified by the government-driven, media-promoted, hysterical coverage of the two minor income tests to Family Tax Benefit B and the Baby Bonus.

Despite both cuts being to well under 10% of recipients, they have been puffed and discussed as though the recipient were Cruella de Vil or a Vanderbilt wife. The part B payment still favours single-income families over dual-income families earning the same and should have been combined with part A, except for sole parents.

So this was not a move to support paid working mothers, it was a cheap scam to gain kudos for being tough against payments to women which covered up the lack of toughness on mainly upper class male welfare such as super tax concessions. And now rumours are flying that maybe a future maternity leave scheme may be means tested, which would be grossly insulting to women in paid work as leave is an industrial condition and Army Reserve leave is not means tested, though government subsidised.

Having a leave payment income tested will make it welfare again and not the basis for a wider set of policies on better conditions for work/family integration. It will confuse employers who offer real maternity leave as to how they would fit together. It would also be based on family income, so removing the principle of this being income for the person on leave.

The Baby Bonus will be paid over six months post partum to those estimating less than $75,000 income for this period. It no longer will help the poor with the costs of having the baby because it will be paid in 13 equal instalments. So the costs of the cot and pram and maybe some other equipment will no longer be affordable in cash. The not quite $200 a week stretched over six months suggests a killjoy control of don’t-spend-this-on-anything-expensive.

The SMH is already saying that the income test will be hard to police because it is a forward estimate and Centrelink will go lightly on those who make mistakes. It will only cover 16,000 (estimated) births out of 270,000 or more births. So it is symbolic rather than a major saving.

As for the rest of the Budget, women don’t do well either. The Child Care Tax Rebate is bad policy as it creates incentives for ABC Learning and the like to raise fees.

There is nothing to help sole parents caught in the welfare-to-work trap, except maybe an easing of the pressure to conform to ridiculous job-seeking demands. There is little there for the many single aged pensioners, mainly female, who have little or no extra income. There are tax cuts that may assist lower income earners but most of them also help high income earners.

The extras bonus for carers is there, for this year, but the changes to the Baby Bonus suggest a lump sum is not likely to survive the next year.

The noise about second earners benefiting from the tax cuts is only because they are low income earners. If they work more than about ten hours they are likely to lose eligibility for Family Tax part B, and depending on husband’s pay, the Baby Bonus as well. The promised extra child care places will be slow to come so the increased labour supply may be discouraged by the same policies that target them unfairly.

Peter Fray

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