Critical policies for women

Excerpt from the 2016 Australian Poverty Audit

By Dr Anu Mundkur (Flinders University); Dr Bina Fernandez (University of Melbourne); Ms Kara Beavis (University of Sydney).

Since the causes and experience of poverty varies between different groups of women and men, policy responses need to adopt a gender transformative lens to achieve maximum impact.

This audit is limited to three key areas identified by Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development 'Goal 5' (Gender Equality) that impact women’s social, economic and political status, and their experience of poverty:

Women’s unpaid care work:
The unpaid work women undertake within families and communities is economically significant, estimated at 48% of Australian Gross Domestic Product, and socially vital, providing cohesion and dynamism to Australian society. Yet this work is often invisible to policy makers, particularly in the domains of childcare, Paid Parental Leave (PPL) and superannuation, with negative consequences for the poverty experienced by women.

Violence against women:
As the federal election approaches, political parties are expected to make major announcements about violence against women policy directions and dollars. Violence against women and children, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children and women with disabilities, is at epidemic levels. Front line services need secure funding. The cost of domestic and family violence is $15.6 billion by 2021 and violence against Aboriginal women is estimated to cost $2.2 billion by 2021. Yet, these figures don’t capture the impact of violence on lives and communities.

Women’s representation in decision-making:
Women represent less than 30% of all parliamentarians in Australia and occupy only 20% of all ministry positions. While many factors impact Australian women’s political participation, candidate selection practices, are indicative of a political party’s commitment to increasing women’s representation government. The calculations have been based on the ABC's list of candidates at the 2016 federal election.

Poverty scorecard

Not all the criteria requested by the poverty audit are applicable to the three key areas explored in this chapter.

Below is an explanation of the scores.

The Coalition

Women’s unpaid care work:
The Coalition government’s 2016 budget has postponed changes to childcare subsidies due to an impasse in the Senate; the delay will prevent many women from low-income households with children from participating in the workforce. Budget cuts to PPL will make the 10 week paid leave subsidy provided by the government only available as a ‘top-up’ to paid leave from employers, which will increase the cost of leave to families with new babies. The Coalition government fared better on superannuation benefits to women, as a $500 per annum super benefit is provided to people earning less than $37,000 annually (the majority of whom are women part-time workers). The Coalition government also proposes to enable women who take time out of the workforce to make catch-up contributions after they return to work through Superannuation co-contribution. 

Violence against women:
A national, $30 million ‘Let’s Stop it at the Start’ campaign against violence is jointly funded by the Commonwealth and the states and territories. However, the 2016/17 budget misses the mark, with the Coalition allocating $33.3 million a year for a continued response. A $34.83 million cut to community legal centres will take place between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2020. This includes cuts to Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Services. A cut of this magnitude – 30 per cent to funding nationally – means women and children won’t get the legal support they need for their safety.

Women’s representation in decision-making:
The Coalition has no articulated affirmative action policy and is leaving it up to local branches to nominate more women candidates. In the current election, 27% of Coalition candidates are women and only 10 women will be contesting from safe seats. 10 male MPs are retiring and only two are being replaced by women candidates. All three female retiring MPs have been replaced by men. The Coalition has selected 53 Senate candidates, 19 (36%) of whom are women.

The Australian Labor Party

Women’s unpaid care work:
Labor intends to retain the Child Care Rebate at 50 per cent of out-of-pocket costs, with a cap of $7500 per child per year, to reduce the cost of childcare to families. It claims to focus on investing in improvements to the quality of early education and childcare. Labor also promises to preserve the current PPL, so that families with infants will benefit by up to $11,800 more per year compared to the Coalition policy. Labor was addressing structural inequality such as women’s over-representation in poorly paid industries and the unpaid economy in their last term. If elected, Labor is likely to re-introduce their tax concession to compensate low-income earning women for excessive taxing of their superannuation contributions.

Violence against women:
Leadership on the issue of domestic and family violence has come most notably from the Palaszczuk Government in Queensland and Andrews Government in Victoria, but their budgetary allocations suggest that Federal Labor’s proposal of $72 million nationally over three years is not in the right ballpark. A Shorten Labor Government will provide five days of domestic and family violence leave for employees and include this in the National Employment Standards which set minimum employment standards.

Women’s representation in decision-making:
The ALP has an affirmative action policy and hopes that by 2025 women will make up 50% of Labor parliamentarians. 39% of ALP candidates are women and nine women candidates are contesting in safe ALP seats. Of the five female MPs retiring this year, only two have been replaced by other women. The three male MPs who are retiring have all been replaced by other men. The ALP has selected 48 Senate candidates, 28 (58%) of whom are women.

The Australian Greens

Women’s unpaid care work:
The Greens published positions supporting ‘comprehensive PPL’, ‘community-based, affordable, accessible, quality childcare’ and ‘an equitable retirement income system that effectively and adequately provides women with financial independence when they retire’ are too general to be able to discern differences between their policies and those of ALP or the Coalition.

Violence against women:
A Di Natale Greens Government will provide funding of $5 billion over ten years for a comprehensive domestic and family violence package. This includes $144 million over four years and secure long term funding for Family Violence Prevention Legal Services to offset expected cuts to the community legal sector in 2017. They will spend $100 million over two years for new specialist women’s services, invest in long term affordable housing, support young people who are victims of violence and provide 10 days of domestic violence leave.

Women’s representation in decision-making:
The Greens, while they do not have an articulated affirmative action policy, have said that they are committed to equal representation of women in public life. They outrank the ALP and the Coalition in the number of female candidates (49%; n=74) contesting elections for the House of Representatives. A challenge they face as a minor party is that most of their candidates require large swings in votes in order for them to be elected. The Greens also outperform the ALP and the Coalition with 32 (71%) of 45 Senate candidates being women.

Overall scorecard

This article is an excerpt from the 2016 Australian Poverty Audit. Banner image: Flickr/Ignite New Zealand

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