You’re a woman living in Australia, the federal budget has come and gone, and you’re wondering where you fit. It’s certainly been painted as a less dramatic budget than its predecessors, but little has been said about women — more specifically, how it will affect them.
For Research Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney and commentator Eva Cox, it was a “disappointing budget for women”. Cox believes the Turnbull government is doing “very little” about the low income of women, and says there’s “nothing that says [they] really care that, economically, women are far behind”.
This may not be immediately clear, but dig a little bit deeper, Cox says, and the government’s “obsession” with getting women into work betrays the fact unpaid work is still painfully undervalued.
Paid parental leave
One of the things that hasn’t been mentioned much in analysis of this year’s budget is the government’s position on Paid Parental Leave.
Although many argue changes and cuts to PPL are officially off the table, Cox claims it’s not good news for parents just yet.
“I suspect they just put it on hold and they haven’t given it up on it,” she tells Mamamia, adding they’re probably just waiting for the “numbers” to push the changes through.
In fact, she says the fact PPL is all but ignored in this budget may be “cause for concern”, because it appears the government intends to push its original proposals. The very “fact it isn’t there”, she says, is “something to be wary of”.
So, in short, keep your eyes peeled. Cuts and changes to PPL may not have come on Tuesday, but that’s not to say they aren’t in the pipeline.
We talk to Malcolm Turnbull about the anti-vax movement. Post continues after video.
Childcare reforms passed by the Senate earlier this year are planned for the beginning of the next financial year. Because of this, there was nothing major going on in terms of childcare changes in this year’s budget.
According to Cox though, the budget did not address key criticisms of the current system and how the childcare system will essentially eliminate the ability of mums who don’t work to access help.
In cutting subsidies for women without standard 9-5 jobs, Cox says the government are banking on an assumption that a heap of the subsidies dolled out go to parents who don’t work, but still want to outsource child care duties. We know, of course, this isn’t the case.
Cox believes all this does is “ignore the needs of the child” who misses opportunities to socialise with other children, as well ignoring the needs of the mother who may have more than one child on her hands.
Australian Greens Deputy Leader Larissa Walters has criticised the government for their lack of action on domestic violence.
“The Government is putting women’s lives at risk by chronically underfunding domestic violence services and pushing women to financial hardship in order to raise revenue,” she said in a statement.
However, according to Cox, the problem isn’t so much the government failing to commit to enforcing change, rather their inability to work with state counterparts to “make sure the services are there”.
From this budget, the federal government will spend $3.4 million over two years to expand a trial of domestic violence units in legal centres.
They have also ordered a review of the family law system to ensure it can deal with domestic violence and child abuse cases. It will also change the Family Law Act so those suffering from family violence will not be forced to be cross-examined by alleged perpetrators.
From Cox’s point of view, the expansion of the ParentsNext program – from 13,000 young parents to 68,000 in 20 new locations – is a small win, but also plays into the government’s desire to get women back to work, regardless of circumstance (including domestic violence). She believes the government may be missing the “core issue” issue and questions whether getting women back to work really will “solve our problems”.
We know first home buyers and older Australians will be able to use their superannuation to get tax breaks the federal government hopes will make housing more affordable.
But when women disproportionately leave the workforce with less super, is this going to hit women a little harder?
Eva Cox doesn’t think so: “I think it’s more important to have a roof over your head than have some super. It is possible to manage on the aged pension if you do have housing behind you.”
What the government hasn’t addressed, however, is the increasing number of older, single woman of a generation who overwhelmingly worked in low-income jobs – like nursing and teaching – who will now be looking for affordable housing and places to live.
“There’s an increasing number of older women who will need affordable social housing and they aren’t recognised. A lot of them, too, got divorced and lost the family home. If they don’t have affordable social housing and places to rent, they’re in trouble.”
Medicare (and by default, the NDIS)
In order to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the government wants to increase the Medicare levy by half a per cent, taking the full levy to 2.5 per cent.
And although for Cox the funding of NDIS is “great news”, funding it through a Medicare levy means everyone contributes the same amount. Naturally, this means low-income families will cop the same tax hike as high-income families.
Education and school funding
As we knew before the budget came out, there will be more Commonwealth funding per student for most schools. The plan is to give schools an extra $18.6 billion over 10 years. Although Cox says it's a "highly debated" plan, she believes "they're trying to make it fair".
As for uni fees? Well, that's a different ball game. University fees are on the rise. Students will have to pay an extra $2,000 to $3,600 for a four-year course. That's a fee increase of 1.8 per cent next year, and 7.5 per cent by 2022. The income level at which you will have to start repaying your HECS debt will also be reduced.
"The university pay back stuff is awkward. They assume because you go to university, you're going to walk out of there with a high paying job," Cox says.
She believes that because women are more likely to trusted with "low-income jobs", this kind of measure will affect them more. It could, she says, discourage women from taking low-income jobs.
Family tax benefits
Not much at all has been changed with regards to the family tax benefits, with most of it "kept pretty much the same".
However, parents who don’t vaccinate their children will lose about $28 per child per fortnight because the money will be withheld from the Family Tax Benefit Part A.
What kind of family will be worse off from all the changes combined?
According to Cox, there's "very little" that has come from this budget that will assist low-income families with high childcare costs.
In addition to that, for a lot of single parent families - who only have one source of income - it's going to be hard. There's very little recognition for the work women do at home that's unpaid, and the government has made it clear through their "judgmental" rhetoric around those on welfare payments. Many of them, Cox says, are single mums with young kids simply trying to get by.
There are positives, of course, but there's no strong indication that much is being done about many of the key issues facing women every day.