• FWX Mar qtr 2024  78.3
  • FWX yr-o-yr  3.66
  • FWX qtr-o-qtr  2
  • ASX 200 Boards years to equality  5.6
  • Underemployment years to equality  19.9
  • Superannuation years to equality  17.7
  • Gender pay gap years to equality  23.3
  • Employment years to equality  25.6
  • Unpaid work years to equality  45.5
  • Education years to equality  389

The Mother’s Day Budget we wanted but didn’t quite get

Financy CEO Bianca Hartge-Hazelman shares her thoughts on the Mother’s Day Budget she wanted but didn’t quite get.
Bianca Hartge-Hazelman
May 17, 2023

I wanted a Mother’s Day budget with the works – bacon and eggs with sides – but what I got was the continental, with an extra croissant.

The federal budget was like a typical Mother’s Day to me. Feet up from unpaid work for a day, a loving, respectful and acknowledging gift or two. But the next day, I found myself asking, has anything really changed on gender equality?

In my opinion, not enough – but progress is at least sunny-side up.

The latest Financy Women’s Index report shows progress towards gender financial equality slipped for the second quarter in a row in March as the female underemployment rate increased, relative to male. It also took the shine off improvements in the number of monthly hours worked by women and higher female representation on ASX 200 boards, now at 36 per cent.

The index headline score fell to 76.1 points from 76.2 out of 100 in the December quarter; however, the index remains 0.5 points higher than 12 months ago.

Although the budget delivered a timely boost to women facing cost-of-living pressures and in economically disadvantaged groups, it arguably fell short on broader measures, which would have more impact on advancing equality.

“I struggled to find anything in the budget that significantly helps improve gender equality in a fundamental way,” says Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital. “Issues like paying superannuation when on parental leave have yet to be addressed.”

The budget was silent on addressing the gender gap in superannuation, which according to the Financy Women’s Index will take 19 years to close, compared to 24 years to close the gender pay gap.

But the biggest missed opportunity in the Mother’s Day budget was that it didn’t include a target timeframe for achieving gender equality any time soon.

Such a target would send a clear signal to women, business and the world that Australia takes gender equality progress seriously, much the same as the nation’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

That said, what was progressive was the commitment of a process to include a gender lens for policy, as discussed in the Women’s Budget Statement.

“Important to changing the way we view gender are a range of non-financial measures, such as expanding the scope of gendered impact assessments and embedding gender responsive budgeting, which will help to further entrench a gender lens on government decision-making and open the door to investment in women’s financial progress,” says Rhiannon Yetsenga, manager in the economic analysis and policy team at Deloitte Access Economics.

This statement also detailed how a national apprenticeship program on government projects will not only help get more women into male dominated fields, but support more men working in female-dominated areas. This is a great step towards challenging gender norms in employment – where there is a 28-year wait for equality – and in particular education, which has a 139-year wait until female graduates can expect to earn the same as men.

“We’ve made some good progress in breaking these systems down, but it has been slow. But I believe if we keep pushing forward across government, industry and community with actions that address bias, we will achieve financial equity for women and families,” says Natalie Previtera, acting CEO at NGS Super.

The standout measure for women in Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ budget was the extension of payments for single parents, most of whom are women. Payments will be made to parents whose youngest child is aged 14, up from eight years old.

“This measure indirectly increases their incomes by facilitating more part-time work without reducing benefits – they can earn at least $50 more per fortnight than JobSeeker recipients before benefits start decreasing,” notes Roger Wilkins, deputy director of the HILDA Survey.

Also positive for women struggling to find employment is the broad-based increase in JobSeeker assistance, as well as the extension of the higher payment level for long-term recipients aged over 60 to those aged 55 to 59.

The increases in the Medicare bulk billing incentive will also benefit women more than men because women are more likely to be income support recipients, and are also more likely to have sole care of children aged under 16.

Similarly, the home energy subsidies will benefit more women than men because they are more likely to have a concession card, and the same applies to the increase in rent assistance.

“Overall, I think Labor is doing quite a bit and has flagged further measures, such as improving the child support system and working to reduce domestic violence, which – if effective – will help,” adds Wilkins.

“That said, I’m not convinced the announced changes to parental leave pay [and removal of dad and partner pay] are positive for women. I think they will end up [unintentionally] reinforcing the notion that parenting is women’s work,” he says.


This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review and has been republished here with permission.

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Bianca Hartge-Hazelman
May 17, 2023
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