Josh Frydenberg wage stagnation
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has announced a $1.7 billion childcare package to help bolster participation in the workforce. It’s a good first step, removing a cap on subsidies for high-income earners and reducing costs for families with two or more children. But the relief isn’t set to be introduced until next year, after the election.

In his pre-budget speech last week, Frydenberg said the budget would focus on getting people better-paying jobs but he didn’t mention women — despite previous messaging promising to support the safety and economic security of women across Australia.

This feels like a familiar pattern. In last year’s budget speech it took Frydenberg about 20 minutes to even mention women, and the budget was widely criticised for leaving women behind.

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Here are a few things that would make this year’s budget so much better:

A women’s budget statement

Abandoned in 2014 by former minister for women Tony Abbot, the women’s budget statement examined how decisions — many of which at first glance would seem to have no relation to gender — affected women.

This has since been replaced with a “women’s economic security statement”, which only looks at pay equity and domestic violence. There are growing calls for a wider gender lens document to be reinstated.

Support for parents

Increased childcare subsidy: The new package will give parents access to a rebate of up to 95% on childcare fees for their second and subsequent children aged under five, and abolish the subsidy cap for households with an income of more than $189,000. But Labor has criticised the package as falling short. Many believe that major system reform is needed to address the rising cost of childcare.

Paid parental leave: Gender-neutral parental leave and workplace flexibility should be implemented to encourage men to also take entitlements.

Job creation in female-dominated industries

Grants for female-led industries: Women-dominated industries have been hard hit by COVID-19. Capital grants in retail, tourism, administration, nursing, health, disability and aged care, teaching and early childhood education would boost job creation for women in some cases at 10 times the rate of construction.

STEM funding: In 2019, just 14% of people working in STEM-qualified occupations were women. Extra funding is needed to implement recommendations from the Women in STEM Decadal Plan to boost this number. Last year’s budget contained cash for just 500 STEM cadetships for women.

Support for women’s retirement

Women are more likely to live in poverty than men in Australia and the number of homeless women aged over 55 continues to climb at a rapid rate. A 2017 report found women’s retirement savings were 47% lower than their male counterparts on average.

Superannuation: To change this, superannuation should be paid on Commonwealth parental leave and to those earning less than $450 a month to allow women working multiple part-time jobs to bolster their funds. The cap on how much people can put into their super should also be lifted to accommodate women taking time out of the workforce.

Increase in JobSeeker: There have been ongoing calls to permanently increase JobSeeker to the 2020 level of $550 per week. If not a flat rate, an increase could be given based on household living costs, children, disability, illness and single parenthood.

Gender pay gap: Funding needs to be restored to the Fair Work Commission’s Pay Equity Unit, with legislation strengthened to recognise discrimination based on family responsibilities. Companies should also be mandated to disclose gender pay gaps in their businesses.

Equal tax cut benefits: The government’s stage-three income tax cuts will benefit men twice as much as women, as men make up most of Australia’s high-income earners. Studies show high-income earners are likely to save cash instead of reinvesting it into the economy.

Investment in sexual violence funding

Frontline services: Our Watch and Women’s Safety NSW have called on the government for a repeat of last year’s $150 million, matched by states and territories to meet immediate increases in demand. The National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum has requested a $2 million investment across its 14 services. Our Watch also wants to embed a staff member in each jurisdiction at a cost of $200,000 a year per location.

Service gaps: An extra $1 billion annual investment is necessary to fill service gaps and invest in the national primary prevention framework to prevent violence. In 2015/16, the financial cost of violence against women and children in Australia was estimated at $22 billion (though it’s likely higher due to underreporting from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, pregnant women, women with disabilities, and women experiencing homelessness).

Legal assistance: The Law Council of Australia has also called for a $370-390 million annual investment for legal assistance services. Extra cash is also needed to implement the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s first comprehensive review of the Family Law Act to reform the system.

If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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