New Budget measures for women: Do they go far enough?

Serious Hooded Woman with Backpack in Tunnel.

The Morrison government has announced a $3.4 billion package in new measures to improve outcomes for women’s safety, economic security, health and wellbeing in the latest 2021-22 Budget. But do the measures go far enough or are vulnerable women still at risk?

According to the ACTU the budget measures for women were small, delayed and piecemeal and would do very little to improve the working lives of Australian women.

Further, they fail to tackle underlying issues which causes gender inequality, the union has argued.

“The Prime Minister loudly claimed to be addressing issues of concern to women with the appointment of a team of new ministers. But this Budget provides only small amounts of money for limited programs which fall short of the far-reaching change needed to close the gender pay gap or keep women safe in workplaces or their homes” ACTU President Michele O’Neil said.

“This budget contains $17.9 billion in tax write-offs for big business, and only $1.1 billion for women’s safety over the next four years. The Morrison government has missed the opportunity to make the big structural changes needed by Australian women.”

Ms O’Neil’s sentiments were echoed by the Working Women’s Centres after they expressed their disappointment being allocated only $200,000 in the Budget.

“The Working Women’s Centre model is world-leading. We are the backbone of the struggle against workplace sexual harassment and violence. The voices of working women have not been heard. Survivors all over the country are speaking out, yet the ‘women’s budget’ doesn’t adequately support survivors of sexual violence in the workplace. Scott Morrison has failed working women.”

Yet the Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) have welcomed a $129 million funding injection into specialised women’s legal services which they say will support thousands of women and children to safely escape violent relationships.

“I’m heartened at the government’s acknowledgement of the crucial role women’s legal services play in responding to violence against women, Angela Lynch, CEO of Women’s Legal Service Queensland and WLSA spokesperson said.

“For many women and children at risk the justice system and courts are the only pathway to find safety, and specialised legal support is essential to keeping them safe through that process.

“Women’s legal services also provide a range of wraparound specialised services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including women in regional and remote areas where support is often scarce.”

However, Ms Lynch warned the $60.8 million to improve family law case management would not create a ‘safe, child-centred’ system without urgent law reform that puts safety first.

“We note the government’s focus on family law reform, but women and children will only be safe in the system if changes are made to make it the priority. For example, the assumption of shared parental responsibility, which gives violent men an incentive to litigate and puts children at risk,” said Ms Lynch.

“This dangerous presumption routinely gives violent perpetrators continued access to their victims and has already caused preventable deaths. Survivors have been clear: it must go.”

Another measure applauded was the abolishment of the outdated $450 superannuation threshold which will benefit many women on low incomes. Currently super is not paid for those who earn less than $450 a month.

But while praised, industry super funds said the measure did not go far enough to address gender inequalities.

HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said the end of the $450 threshold would mean many casual and part-time workers no longer miss out on the benefits of super entirely.

“It’s a key equity measure that super is paid on every dollar earned. However, we still have a long way to go to reform our super system to make it fairer for women,” Ms Blakey said.

“Our super system continues to favour those on higher incomes with unbroken work patterns, who are typically men. There are few other budget measures that specifically address the long-standing gender inequities in our super system.”

An example Ms Blakey gave was the fact that super continues not to be paid on parental leave which leaves a glaring gap in our super system.

“For too long Australian women have paid the ‘motherhood penalty’ for the time they take out of the workforce to care for children. More needs to be done to improve their retirement outcomes. Paying super on paid parental leave is an easy and obvious fix,” she said.

Industry Super Australia, also argued that if the government was serious about closing the gender super gap, women should get super paid on every dollar earnt, including parental leave.

“The government is sending the message to mums that it is ok for their savings to suffer when they take time out of the paid workforce to raise children,” Industry Super Australia Chief Executive Bernie Dean said.

The fund said to further help women the government should also move the Low-Income Superannuation Tax Offset (LISTO) so it better aligns with the income tax brackets, a tax cut that would benefit more than 700,000 women on low incomes.

“The best way to improve women’s economic security is to stop talking about it as a problem and get rid of outdated policies by paying super on every dollar they earn and mandating that it be paid on payday,” Mr Dean said.

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