(Image: Private Media)

It took 46 minutes for women to score a mention in the Liberal Party’s campaign launch yesterday. Following a surge in demand for domestic violence services throughout the pandemic, years dominated by allegations of sexual violence, and a recession forcing women into unpaid caring roles and underemployment, it was a glaring — but very deliberate — omission by the Liberal Party. 

The campaign was opened by Liberal candidate for Griffith Olivia Roberts, a rare opportunity for a woman to appeal to female voters, but she instead spent more time criticising the Labor Party than praising her own — followed by Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

By the time Prime Minister Scott Morrison took the stage, it was just past 12.30pm. He mentioned women about a quarter of the way into his speech — a throwaway line about the Coalition’s “record investments” in “protecting women from violence and abuse”.

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Morrison unveiled his three new policies: allowing first-home buyers to access superannuation to enter the property market; incentives for older homeowners downsizing their houses; and $375 million for a Brisbane cancer centre. Jenny, of course, scored a mention: “For most, including Jen and I, [a home] is the largest asset you will ever own and it is a source of your security in retirement.”

It is also an asset men are more likely to own than women. Women aged 55 and over are the fastest-growing cohort of homeless Australians, with the number of homeless older women increasing by 31% between 2011 and 2016. 

But once again, the Coalition has failed to analyse how two of its three policies will affect equity in Australia — and specifically how, once again, these will advance the assets of older white males over anyone else in this country.

It’s a throwback to the paltry 2020 budget, which distinctly lacked any analysis on how budget decisions affected women. Morrison argued at the time that women benefited greatly from the budget because they too could access boosts to business, tax relief, and better roads. What his budget did was worsen the divide between men and women: there were no extra supports for women with children or women fleeing violence. 

After public outcry, this was addressed in the next two budgets with some analysis of how women would be affected by funding decisions. But it seems the message didn’t stick: Morrison’s flagship new policy allowing first-home buyers to access superannuation to enter the property market will once again widen inequalities between men and women. 

Superannuation is a sticking point in gender equity, with a gap of 22%-35% between Australian men and women in the years approaching retirement age. The median superannuation gap for women aged 60 to 64 is 28%, or a difference of $57,207 — a huge figure in a time of rising inflation. It’s estimated that across the pandemic up to 70,000 women may have been coerced into withdrawing their superannuation by abusive partners. 

Australians aren’t paid superannuation on parental leave — a flaw that Labor, several independent candidates and the Greens have pledged to fix, though the Coalition has not. 

Soaring house costs have seen the gender gap in homeownership skyrocket, too. While the census doesn’t collect gendered data on homeownership, one analysis found as of January 2022 men had exclusive ownership of 29.9% of homes compared with 26.6% of properties owned by women. Women own about 7% fewer investment properties than men. 

With a pay gap of almost 14%, it takes women a full year longer than men to save a 20% deposit for a home, with women more likely to work in part-time and insecure positions. 

This worsened across the pandemic, too, with women more likely to leave the labour force and do unpaid work, and less likely to receive government support. Six months out of work can add another $100,000 to the $2 million average lifetime earnings gap between men and women, the Grattan Institute has found. 

Ask the Morrison government and it’ll point to the Home Guarantee Scheme, which allowed single parents to buy their first home with a deposit of 2%. Morrison said in his speech that 85% of the 2200 who benefited were single mums — helping just 1870 women of the 877,800 single mums across the country.

The Morrison government has made record investments in women’s safety. But without addressing drivers of sexual violence or necessary protections in advancing gender equity — or simply keeping Australian women off the streets — once again its policies support one very specific cohort of people over another. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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