Budget spend for policies impacting women acknowledges major group driving nation’s economic recovery

By Melissa Coade

March 30, 2022

Marise Payne
Foreign minister Marise Payne. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Australia’s $2.1 billion women’s budget statement, shared across the portfolios overseen by minister for women Marise Payne, minister for women’s safety, families and social services Anne Ruston, and women’s economic security minister Jane Hume, outlined the federal government’s intended spend for initiatives towards gender equality. 

“Women continue to drive Australia’s economic recovery,” the statement said, noting workforce participation for women had reached thef highest on record, at 62.4%.

“[There are] 1.1 million more women in work today than in 2013. And the gender pay gap has narrowed to 13.8%, the second-lowest on record and significantly lower than the 17.4% gender pay gap in 2013.”

References in the women’s budget statement to 2013 harked back to the period of government when Labor was in power, and the document serves as a reminder from the Coalition as to what gains have been made for women since it led government. But a truly coordinated approach to women’s equality with this government was not really seen until former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins rallied #March4Justice protests around the country and in Canberra about this time last year. 

The statement, according to the government, is a reflection of the continued collaboration of the cabinet task force for women’s safety and economic security to better address ‘critical issues facing women in Australia’. 

Budget line items across the areas of women’s safety, economic security, leadership health and wellbeing demonstrated the government understood that more needed to be done to improve respect and choice for women, the statement said.

“This statement builds on the government’s $3.4 billion investment in women made in 2021-22, bringing total funding to $5.5 billion.

“We know the three priorities (safety, economic security and leadership, and health and wellbeing) are mutually reinforcing – when we achieve better outcomes in one area we see positive benefits across all areas, as well for the economy and society as a whole,” the document said.  

The 2022-23 budget allocated $1.3 billion for targeted measures (building on last year’s $1.1 billion) to implement the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-23, which was informed by a national summit on women’s safety last year. Government funding for the plan has been directed to four policy pillars: prevention, early intervention, response and recovery.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in his budget speech that every 11 days an Australian woman was killed at the hands of a current or former partner.

“In last year’s budget, we committed $1.1 billion for prevention, early intervention, response and recovery programs. Tonight, we go further, with a new $1.3 billion package to end violence against women and children,” Frydenberg said. 

“More frontline services, emergency accommodation, and support to access legal and health services for women and children in need.”

The women’s budget statement underscored the importance of a ‘sustained, collaborative national effort’ to deal with the scourge of violence against women. It also conveyed that the government was working to address the drivers of violence so that women were safe at home, at school and work, online and in the community. 

“The government remains committed to working with all jurisdictions to end violence against women and children,” the statement said, acknowledging that rates of violence against women in Australia remained ‘unacceptably high’.

“Our investment focuses on a range of areas from prevention through to frontline services and women’s safety at work. It also takes into account the diverse experiences of women affected by family and domestic violence.”

Another $40.4 million will go specifically to programs for women’s leadership, which the federal government said would advance the economy further. Pointing to a 2016 target to get more than half of board positions on Australian government boards occupied by women, the government said its target was officially met in December 2021, as one indicator of success in this area. 

Australian women’s unemployment is now at its lowest level since 1974 and the gender pay gap slightly improved to 13.8% in November 2021. 

“Notably, women now hold a record 50.2% of Australian government board positions (41.7% in 2013) and 34.2% of ASX200 company board positions,” the statement said. 

In terms of women’s economic security, the budget set aside $482 million for measures to address a range of barriers and drivers contributing to the gender pay gap. These canvas government initiatives to enhance the flexibility and choice for working women to manage work and care responsibilities, support women’s participation in work, and entry into more diverse jobs or leadership pathways. 

The government has also funded an additional 15 full-time public servants to join the 36-strong Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), which monitors national workplace gender data, and works to promote and improve gender equality through the provision of advice and assistance. 

A new enhanced paid parental leave scheme for families is one of the government’s solutions to women’s workforce participation. It has been created to allow working parents the ability to share up to 20 weeks of fully flexible entitlements between both parents. 

“Further funding is also being provided to increase access to child care services in regional and remote locations, which builds on the $1.7 billion investment in the 2021-22 budget to make child care even more affordable,” the statement said.

More money for new and current initiatives to support more women to move into ‘jobs of the future’ was being spent, the government said, including male-dominated industries and occupations such as certain trades and leadership roles for sporting coaches and management. 

More funding for women’s health ‘at every life stage’ was another category of the women’s budget statement package, with $330.6 million of new investment to support health and mental health. Last year the sum allocated for this pillar was substantially more ($535 million in the 2021-22 budget). 

“We will deliver a suite of initiates covering maternal, sexual and reproductive health (including endometriosis), preventative health, and mental health.

“Supporting all women and girls to achieve the best health outcomes possible will benefit not only women themselves but also their families, communities and our whole country,” the statement read.

The budget announced the government will also be establishing a national women’s health advisory council to monitor and report on the implementation of a health strategy for women.

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