Hayley Foster women's safety
Women’s Safety NSW CEO Hayley Foster (Image: Women’s Safety)

On International Women’s Day 2019, in an insight into the Coalition’s mindset, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “We want to see women rise. But we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse.”

This year’s budget goes above and beyond to prove this ethos. Advocacy groups have slammed it, saying the paltry $240.4 million allocated to benefitting women over five years does nothing to address inequalities in Australia’s culture and economy.

This total, as analysts have pointed out, represents a tiny fraction of the $500 billion budget spend. It amounts to about $40 per female worker, or $8 a year, until 2025.  

It took Treasurer Josh Frydenberg around 20 minutes to even mention women in his budget speech.

Here are five things getting more money than gender equality:

  • Recycling: $249.6 million
  • Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package: $270 million 
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): $3.2 billion
  • Australian Federal Police: $300.2 million
  • Defence: $34.4 billion.

Following criticism from Labor, Morrison defended the budget, arguing women also benefitted from boosts to business, tax relief, and better roads.

“This budget, above all, is a budget for all Australians,” he said.

Decades of progress in female employment lost

As noted in Frydenberg’s budget speech, women make up the majority of those who lost their jobs during the pandemic. He also noted 60% of jobs created by May have been filled by women — though failed to mention 12% of women were underemployed in August compared to 10.4% of men, an increase of 30% since the same time last year. 

Australia Institute senior economist Alison Pennington told Crikey that without real investment and change, the effect of these losses would be felt for years to come. 

“This will potentially erode decades of progress,” she said. 

Most of the funding is given to organisations to boost female participation, including more than $100 million in grants for leadership programs, mentorships and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) cadetships — though STEM placements are limited to 500.

“What they’re proposing is moderate, tokenistic funding to leadership bodies to encourage women into male-led professions,” she said. 

“Job creation measures are 500 cadetships. It’s a drop in the ocean in the scale of the unemployed.”

The $2.1 million across three years to address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces was also woefully inadequate, Pennington said.

“This will do nothing to address the structural inequalities.” 

There is also no specific plan to help close the superannuation gap at retirement.

No support for women with children

While free childcare was offered as a temporary solution during lockdown, it was quickly cut back (though there is $314.2 million to support Victoria’s childcare services for the next year). Of Australian households using childcare, 60% said one parent would be forced to reduce working hours when full childcare fees returned. In 68% of those households, that parent was a woman. 

“The government has prioritised profit-led childcare over the participation of paid women. The combination of inaction on the childcare burden and total inadequate job creation efforts, means women are locked out of work,” Pennington said.

Instead, ParentsNext — a mutual obligation payment scheme for out-of-work parents which has been dubbed “punitive” and “manifestly inconsistent” with Australia’s human rights obligations by the Human Rights Commission — has been extended, with $24.7 million over four years. 

Modelling has found spending $5 billion on universal early learning would deliver $11 billion in increased economic activity by helping women back into the workforce.

Little for women escaping family violence

Women escaping family and domestic violence have largely been left out of the budget — and women on temporary visas have been ignored altogether. 

The bulk of the $150 million to reduce domestic and family violence had previously been announced in response to the pandemic.

Women’s Safety NSW CEO Hayley Foster told Crikey advocacy groups had been calling for a $1 billion yearly investment in the sector to address critical service gaps and drivers of violence. 

“There is an extreme risk of family violence due to the economic crisis. There’s an escalation of violence and risk, financial distress, unemployment, and we’re also seeing reduced ability by women to seek help and escape and live safe and independent lives,” she said.

Unemployment makes it harder for women to leave their abusers. Foster says organisations within her network had been rejected for funding, with some refuge centres turning away half the women and children received. 

“We haven’t seen any additional investment in affordable accommodation, which is the number one barrier to seeking sustainable safety, but we’ve seen nothing,” Foster said. “It’s mind boggling.” 

The silver lining, however, is extra funding into the family court system. A four-year, $132.1 million allocation will hopefully expedite family law matters in the Federal Circuit Court, which Foster said she hoped would speed up hearings for families in dangerous situations.

Peter Fray

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