Budget Appropriation Bills
As Ross Gittins outlined earlier in the week, this budget is all about shifting—cost shifting and blame shifting. It shifts cost to the states, families, pensioners, students and young adults. It shifts the blame to welfare recipients, to parents, to the vulnerable.
I have spoken on several occasions in the past weeks about the impact of this year's budget on my electorate of Lalor, about the cruel budget cuts and the impact this will have on education provision, from our youngest pre-schoolers to our rapidly expanding school system and for our young adults to access university, TAFE, apprenticeship and employment support. But today I want to focus on something different—the impact of this budget on women.
The average gap between men and women's earnings in Australia is approximately 17 per cent. We know that women take time out of the workforce for child rearing and caring responsibilities in much higher numbers than men. Women are often employed in part-time positions so that they can juggle their family responsibilities, and they are under-represented in high-paid executive positions. These factors alone mean this year's federal budget will result in a disproportionate impact on women.
I agree that responsible governments will always look for ways to ensure we keep spending under control. This is as it should be. But much has been made about all sections of Australia sharing the burden, when the reality of this budget means it is unfairly weighted against women. As we know, this year's budget was the first budget since 2005 not to include a family impact statement. It is also missing a women's impact statement, a tradition that goes back 30 years. This has meant it has taken time to assess the impact in full. However, we are fortunate that the ANU and the National Foundation for Australian Women, amongst others, have taken the time to unpack the potential impact on women. The budget savings have been shown to fall disproportionately on those who rely on benefit payments. Which group is in the majority for relying on benefit payments? Women. This means this budget adversely affects women. Those women in caring roles, those women with low or modest incomes and especially those young women making a start in education training or the workforce.
Women want to engage in the workforce. They also want to provide for their families. This means many juggle work and caring responsibilities with part-time work and with periods of time out of the workforce. A paid parental leave scheme is a great way to support women during their child-rearing years. That is why Labor introduced a sensible scheme in the last parliament. This government, however, is committed to its deeply unpopular, gold-plated parental leave scheme—paying women on high incomes $50,000 while others receive so much less or indeed nothing if they are out of the workforce. This expensive, token bone thrown to women who do not need it is designed to mask the real nasties in this budget: the cost-shifting to women who can least afford it. And it may well be less token, this commitment to the rolled gold PPL scheme, given there is not one cent allocated in this year's budget—that is right, there is no income source identified in this year's budget for the Prime Minister's gold-plated parental leave scheme.
A paid parental leave scheme is one part of the women's workforce participation puzzle. Child care is another. The changes to family benefit and the increased cost for health services will necessitate women returning to work. We know women are already under-represented in the workforce, are concentrated in service industries and earn less than men. This government is introducing a range of measures that will punish women into the workforce—in itself not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your perspective; however, at the same time the government is choosing to withdraw existing support for women to work. Single parent families are predominantly headed by women. The learn or earn requirement will be difficult for these women to meet unless there is suitable access to child care, especially out-of-school-hours care. So what does this government do? It changes various childcare support measures. It has frozen the cap on the childcare rebate and the threshold for eligibility. This will have the impact of making child care less affordable, especially for low-income women. The Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance will drop from 50 hours to 35 hours per week. Cuts to Aboriginal Child and Family Centres will hurt Indigenous women. There has been $450 million cut from out-of-school-hours care, and the abolition of the program that provides training places for teenage parents will hit young women before they even get a chance to enter the workforce. They will be left with the prospect of a life of low-paid, low-skilled work.
And where they have got support, like the much-lauded Trade Support Loans scheme, it is heavily weighted to male-dominated industries. It will do very little to support female apprentices. For those women wishing to start or to return to the workforce by returning to study or by upgrading their skills, this budget just brings more bad news. This budget contains no new measures to encourage participation. And just when women might have been making healthier contributions to their superannuation in their 40s and beyond, they may now be left to support their young adult children up to the age of 30 due to changes to Youth Allowance and Newstart. We know that women retire with less than their male counterparts. In recent years Labor introduced measures to try to address this: the increased rate to the Superannuation Guarantee and the low-income superannuation contribution. The budget measures to defer the increase to the Superannuation Guarantee and the abolition of the low-income superannuation scheme will have a greater impact on women, who are more highly represented in low-income employment.
The list of fails for women in this budget are extraordinary. There is an impact with the health measures. Medicare was established 30 years ago. It is our much-lauded universal health system, the envy of many other countries. This budget puts that under threat. The burden of the GP co-payments again will fall unfairly on women. The planned GP co-payment is not just a pressure on the cost of living but a back doorway to eroding the Medicare system. It the pathway to a two-tiered health system for the haves and the have-nots. And who are the have-nots? By and large, they will be women. As already outlined, women are generally lower paid, so the impact of the GP co-payment will have a disproportionate effect on them.
Women often take on the role of health manager in families. We know that visits by women make up around 60 per cent of visits to the GP. Mothers take their children, and often their elderly parents, in addition to attending for their own needs. For many on fixed incomes, this financial pressure will be an extreme burden. These women as health managers will also be disappointed by the withdrawal of preventive health programs. Keeping family members well and out of the health system through these beneficial programs will now be far more difficult. My electorate has an extremely high rate of diabetes, obesity, kidney problems and macular degeneration. Progress was being made through preventive health programs; this is now all at risk. The breakdown of the health agreements with the states will also impact negatively on the health system, adding pressure on health provision. Lalor is already under-resourced for its population size, and it seems no relief is in sight for additional resources coming our way.
Many of you know that, as a former school principal, I know what it is like to work in an area with low-SES families, with a high number of migrant students and students with a disability. You also know that I am a passionate advocate for the Gonski school funding model. Low-income families—the majority headed by women—were set to be the most supported families through these reforms. Bringing each school to an even standard meant many of the schools where I previously taught would receive an unprecedented level of funding—funding that would have enabled them to provide additional programs, employ specialist teachers, develop and support existing staff, have homework clubs and extra tutoring and provide equipment and textbooks when families could not afford to provide them. Education is a powerful tool to lift children out of a cycle of poverty and struggle. The dream for many women—to see their children succeed—is now dashed by the cruel cuts to the Gonski model. And the assistance to families on benefits twice a year, through the schoolkids bonus, to help pay for uniforms, books and excursions, was an early cruel cut by this government.
What does this budget offer the young women who do make it through and endeavour to take on further training? The Industry Skills Fund, a loan to VET students to support them through their studies, does very little to support female VET students, as it is weighted heavily to male-dominated trades. For those women who may benefit—if you call starting your career with a significant loan to repay a benefit—the lower incomes generally earned by women mean a longer loan repayment period, resulting in higher interest repayments. In a similar way, the deregulation plans for the university sector will also impact more adversely on women for the same reasons: lower pay and longer repayment times, resulting in more interest accrued and a higher debt.
Women currently make up 57 per cent of the higher education population. The current system has allowed for this growth in female participation in the tertiary education sector. What will this new system do? Once young women understand the financial implications, women will be caught in an education catch-22. They will need to learn to earn and then earn forever to pay for that learning. Even other small program cuts, like cuts to the workplace English language program, the VET fee waiver for childcare qualifications and the training program for teenage parents, all will have a detrimental impact, mostly on women.
The more we unpick this budget the worse the outlook is. I already knew that it would have a terrible impact on education, on health, on pensioners and on the young, but the common thread that runs throughout is women. I am not sure why this surprises me. The Office for Women has been swallowed up by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The minister for women shows no signs in this policy area for it to be a priority, other than tips on ironing. There is only one woman in the cabinet. Women make up 24 of the 125 LNP members and senators, and only one has, on merit, been included in the cabinet of this government. This budget is the first in 30 years not to include a women's impact statement.
Are these things indicative of an oversight, or of malice? Did no-one think to put a lens over the budget to test its imposts on women? Either way, it is a timely reminder that women can never afford to be complacent. I have rarely entered the women's debate. I have had the advantage of women going before me and changing the world. I believe strongly that women can stand on their merits and get ahead; I have seen so many strong women do just that. But recent history, and this budget, has taught me not to take the place of women in this society for granted. Australia is known for its sense of the fair go. This budget, however, has ripped away many beneficial programs that enable women to access that fair go. I implore the women from the government benches to take the time to read the budget analysis by the National Foundation for Australian Women.
In conclusion, I would like to make a few further points. This budget is built on a fabrication. First, the government attempted to establish a budget emergency. It has only taken a few weeks for the economists to put that argument to bed—and I believe the Australian public understand that now. Second, this budget sets up a divide between the haves and the have-nots, and the government's rhetoric lauds the taxpayer and demonises some mythical nontaxpayer for being a burden on the bottom line. The reality is that most pensioners have contributed throughout their working lives—and most women have contributed—and through access to education and training we can have a productive economy, with close to full employment, where our young people also can make their contributions.
So why make these cruel changes? Why do we have a budget where an unemployed lone parent with one eight-year-old child will lose $54 a week; where low-income earners, disproportionately women, lose $500 a year with the repeal of the low income super contribution; and where sole parents working part-time or on benefits stand to lose more than $3,000 a year? The budget fails the fairness and equity test. Australia is a mature society where we value the fair go and those who work hard get ahead. This budget does not reflect the Australia I know and love. I call on the government to rethink its budget measures and ensure Australia remains a strong and equitable society.
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