Wednesday, 17 June 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Franklin proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government's mismanagement of the COVID-19 recovery and its lack of a plan to address the disproportional impact of this crisis on women.
I call upon all those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
If ever we needed another example of how the government is not listening to women when it comes to cuts in a post-COVID recovery, we got it today. When the Prime Minister was responding to a question about women giving birth on the side of a highway and said, 'Don't worry; we'll spend more on the road,' I think he missed the entire point. Unfortunately when this government are actually responding to the post-COVID recovery and the economic crisis that we have today, they keep missing the point. They missed the point when it came to the frontline workers who have been leading us through this crisis. They missed the point when it came to responding to the aged-care workers, the childcare workers, the retail workers and the nurses, who are all on the front line.
When it came to things like JobKeeper for the childcare sector, the government said that they're going to snap back, cut JobKeeper and pull the rug out from under all the early childhood educators. Ninety-seven per cent of that industry are female workers. What don't they get about that? What don't they understand about child care, the fact that families need it to be able to go back to work and the fact that people will no longer be able to afford some of the highest childcare fees in the world?
The government said that they were going to recognise the contribution of the aged-care workers during COVID-19—great idea; we supported it. But, of course, yet again, they implemented it badly. And what have we seen? Almost 40 per cent—125,000 aged-care workers—missing out on their retention bonus. Again, this is another industry dominated by women; 87 per cent of them happen to be women. You can see a bit of a pattern forming here when it comes to the government's response.
Then we see one of the centrepieces of the government's response—the early drawdown of super. What do we know about women and superannuation? We know that women already retire with half the superannuation balances of men, and we know that women, as part of some of the figures, have a lower withdrawal rate than men in terms of the amount. Why do you think that might be? I suspect it's because women are completely draining their superannuation balances. The other thing we know is that they told us Treasury did no modelling on the impact based on gender prior to this decision that this would be part of the recovery. They didn't want to know the impact on women in Australia when it came to retirement incomes. What we know is that this is not going to improve the retirement incomes of women in Australia.
And of course JobKeeper—who was JobKeeper supposed to support? It was supposed to support workers, and what have we seen from the government's own figures? The number of people who've lost their jobs in Australia has been disproportionately women. Indeed, the minister at the table gave us the number yesterday: 325,000 women have lost their jobs during this COVID economic crisis that has been caused by the government's decisions.
The thing about this, of course, is that the government could have made a choice to include more people in JobKeeper originally because most of the people who are missing out are of course women. Modelling estimates 200,000 of those 325,000 women who have lost their jobs could have been employed on JobKeeper, if it had included casuals. What a good idea that would have been! But instead, according to the payroll data yesterday, 9.5 per cent of women have lost their jobs, and women of course are losing more hours than men.
We've heard about a lot of people who are getting fewer, and indeed zero, hours when it comes to employment in Australia today, and of course we know they are women. Studies and the data have told us that women are doing more of the child care at home. Women were doing more of the homeschooling when schools weren't in session. Women are doing more housework during COVID.
And we see the government's response: HomeBuilder—again, a good idea. Let's invest in some infrastructure but, instead of spending it on social housing to help women fleeing family violence with their children, we see it's being spent on people's home renovations. Seriously, you have to have $150,000 to be able to get 25 grand to renovate your house. In my home state of Tasmania, I doubt we'll see even a couple of hundred of those, but we could have seen, proportionately, $13 million go into social housing in Tasmania. That would've made a difference to an enormous number of women and children fleeing family violence in Tasmania.
We have from this government a whole series of deliberate decisions that they have made that disproportionately impact on women as they prepare this country, as they make decisions, for how we're going to come out of this recession—the recession that the government admits that we are in because of the decisions that were made during COVID-19. The government can and should do better when it comes to responding.
Today we had a good announcement from the minister—$1.8 million for some scholarships to help some women. That's a good start, but where is the plan? Where is the actual holistic plan for responding to the disproportionate impact that women have felt during this recovery? There isn't one. You can get nearly $800 million for thousands of workers in a male-dominated industry, which is a good idea, as I said, but they could have spent it better. They could have done a better job with it and a better job with JobKeeper. They could've done a better job with their childcare package. They could've, and they should've, done a better job on all of it, and then the women of Australia wouldn't be in the position they're in today.
What we need from this government is for them to actually listen to the women of Australia. The gender pay gap has been around 15 per cent for more than two decades. But, of course, we had the Treasurer come in here just a few months ago and tell us prior to COVID that there was nothing to see here: the gender pay gap has closed in Australia. Well, it hasn't. I doubt after this that it'll be the same as it was prior to, given the government's deliberate decisions that will probably expand the gender pay gap.
The gender pay gap has only closed marginally in Australia very briefly due to legislation that this side of the House implemented when we were in government and of course the mining boom. They are the only two things that have impacted the gender pay gap for the last two decades. If this government was serious after seven years, they might have done something about it. If we want true equality in this country, if we want women to be equally represented in the workplace and in other spheres around Australia, the government needs to listen to what women are saying to them today. Quite frankly, when we got the Prime Minister's response to a very legitimate question about women giving birth on the side of the road to get an answer about more road funding, it seriously shows what a joke and a farce the government is when it comes to listening to women.
There are a lot of great women over on that side of the House but, please, the government needs to listen to what they are hearing and what they are saying when it comes to responding to this economic crisis. We cannot continue to have language like 'snapback'. I don't think the women of Australia want to snap back to a 14 per cent pay gap. I don't think the women of Australia want to snap back to the highest childcare fees in the world, almost. I don't think women want to snap back to some of the decisions that this government has been making around people like aged-care workers. That is not the answer. The government needs to come up with a comprehensive plan for addressing the disproportionate impact that this economic crisis has had on women, and it needs to do it quickly. It needs to listen and do it quickly.
Those on the other side of the House come in here talking about how they want gender equality. We had dorothy dixers to the minister yesterday talking about the 325,000 women who have lost their jobs, but where is their plan to fix it? How many jobs does JobMaker provide for women of Australia? I'd really like an answer to that. I want to know: how many jobs for women will JobMaker actually make? That's what we want to know. That's what the women of Australia want to know. The government should be able to do the work and have the plan so they can actually answer that question, because we all know that they have no answer to it today. They should have an answer, they could have an answer, but they don't. They need to. They need to be able to say to the women of Australia, and their families: 'We understand the situation. We understand women have been disproportionately impacted, and we are going to come up with a comprehensive plan to address it. We are not simply going to snap back to the inequality that we had beforehand.' We are not going to be able to snap back and create thousands of jobs for women who have lost them, because the government have bungled the implementation of the recovery plan and they need to fix it. They need to do the work very, very quickly, because Australian women will not put up with this government continuing to make decisions that disproportionately impact on them.
I thank the member for Franklin for allowing me to explain further to the House and the parliament this government's very strong record when it comes to women's policy, whether it be women's economic security, women's safety, the gender pay gap, which was 17.4 per cent when Labor was last in government and is 13.9 per cent today and going down—that's roughly $1,100 a year that women are better off as a result—or access to superannuation. But, most importantly, the No. 1 thing that a government must do during a global pandemic—and the responsibility we have for women is the responsibility we have for every Australian—is keep people safe, build a hospital and healthcare system that looks after them and their loved ones, contribute to international research for a vaccine and a cure, make sure, as the health minister has done, that we have sufficient ventilators in place for the worst possible scenario and fund states and territories to do what they need do in response. This is not solely a women's issue; it is an issue for every Australian. I am certainly not going to underplay the challenges that this pandemic has delivered for so many people, whether they be women in their own particular circumstances or whether they be the elderly, the lonely or the people who have been impacted in ways that will only come to light later on when we consider the mental health implications. But what I want to say very, very strongly to the member for Franklin and members opposite is that we as Liberal and National parties have been here before as a government in delivering for Australian women and we will do this again. We have always led the way.
Central to our response is our $1,500 per fortnight wage subsidy, JobKeeper. I have countless examples coming to me from my rural and regional electorate about how this wage subsidy is supporting women, whether they be in the workforce or in small business, and keeping them connected to their employers, allowing them to contribute and being there for the great ideas and the great contributions that they will be ready to give on the other side. But the health of our economy is vital when it comes to the opportunities and the choices for women. The member ridiculed part of the announcement today. It's just come through, and I see that women in local government are delighted that they will share government funding to support women's economic security in the local government workforce. That came through just before question time. That is part of our response. But, more importantly, the women's economic security statement that this government delivered in 2018, that is still there and that will get a refresh, as the Prime Minister announced recently, is backing up so much of what is important. This is a $158.3 million initiative, and it has some key areas that matter to women—boosting their skills and employability, encouraging their return to work and helping them establish their own business.
Scholarships for women in business and finance were mentioned almost as though they were a nothing thing by the member for Franklin, which is crazy, because re-education and retraining is vital during this pandemic, improving the economic recovery following critical life events, such as family and domestic violence and separation. That is a women's economic security statement that responds to the needs of women. It's not just about the economy. I mean, it never is just about the economy, but it's vital for women in particular and it targets their needs. It is $158 million and it is underway. It was launched by this government in 2018.
It's important during these challenging times to face the issue of women's safety, and I want to do that with strong statements about the security that we have improved for women in their homes, particularly during this global pandemic. Now, we know that home has been a pleasant place for some people, but it's been pretty awful for others, and so we've announced and allocated $150 million for a COVID-19 domestic and family violence support package. We announced that on 29 March. One hundred and thirty million dollars will be provided to state and territory governments to invest in their specialist frontline services. Although she didn't directly mention it, I know, because I read the words of her MPI, the member for Franklin alluded to that. She certainly alluded to it in a press release issued earlier today, so I want to respond to that and reject, completely, that this government is not responding to women's safety, because we are. There's $150 million during the pandemic. I have a note from the New South Wales government that states:
Domestic violence victim-survivors will have more vital help available during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the NSW and Federal Governments today investing more than $21 million to boost frontline services and other supports.
We send this money to those frontline services through the states. We don't have the funding contracts directly, so, to get it out the door and get it delivered, we've given that money to the states. That's $150 million just because we recognised the issues during the pandemic.
That figure is in addition to the $340 million the Commonwealth has already invested in initiatives under the Fourth action plan of the national plan to reduce violence against women and their children 2010-2022. I hope people are getting the continuity here: by having a strong, determined women's policy that is resourced to a higher level than I've certainly ever seen from a Labor government, going into the pandemic, adding the supports we need to women's safety and women's economic security and JobKeeper to keep women connected to the workplaces, as we come out the other side—and we're not there yet—we know that we will be in the best possible place to support the women of Australia.
I'm constantly surprised at the tone that the opposition has. It tends to reinforce gender stereotypes, no more so than in the area of child care.
Ms Rishworth interjecting—
The member for Kingston is chiming in, and so I would expect her to do, but what has really been missed by the opposition in the childcare debate is that our rescue package funded childcare centres at 50 per cent of their revenue regardless of how many children attended the service, and it worked. Ninety-nine per cent of childcare providers are still operating. The message we had before we injected that funding was, 'My goodness, these centres are going to close!' Well, 99 per cent are still operating. How successful is that? Childcare attendance has lifted to around 74 per cent, and we've added $780 million in transition payments, frozen fees and guaranteed employment levels, because it is also about the early childcare educators. We built the childcare system for families and for children—
Ms Rishworth interjecting—
And, yes, we support our educators for the early learning that they deliver. Yes, of course we do, and we want to. The most important thing we can do is keep the centres open. By keeping the centres open we have families looking for child care for workforce participation. This is in addition to the $2 billion in the childcare subsidy that will once again go to eligible families from July. The system we've designed is all about increasing choice and enabling women to make different choices when it comes to their participation in the workforce. We know that for families—women and men; childcare is an issue for women and men—the hours of work and the flexibility around that that is being delivered through the latest childcare package is absolutely enabling more parents to go back to work in the way they want to go back to work. And families on JobSeeker will be eligible for a subsidy of 95 per cent of the fees, so we are making sure that, as we reopen our childcare centres, those on the lowest incomes get the best access and have the lowest fees. And that's exactly as it should be. But that's not what you hear from the opposition, because what you hear from the opposition is this long, ongoing, bleak, dreary narrative about entrenched disadvantage. And, you know, it's just so last century. I see the opportunities for women in the modern world, and coming out of this pandemic, as giving families and communities something that adds to their choices.
We've always seen women at the front line of modernising the workplace—flexible work practices, working from home. We know that, on the other side of this pandemic, they will be there with good ideas, with good initiatives, stepping up as leaders and stepping up for the leadership roles that we often see in our communities. And we wish women would step up for more of them, because they often don't know how strong they are in the work they do and in their advocacy—for example, in rural and regional Australia, their incredible cohesiveness in bringing their communities together. But I think there must be a change of heart from the Labor Party when it comes to this subject and a recognition that there are—
From what I heard from the last speaker, women have never been better off than under a Liberal government, and, I have to say, there might be a few on that side who are saying it, but it's not what Australian women right around this country are saying. In fact, we heard the minister just talk about how affordable childcare is in this country. Well, it's not just the Labor party saying that's not true; it's actually organisations and families right across the country.
That gives me the opportunity to talk about a report released today by The Front Project. This has made very, very clear the struggle that families will be under if this government does what it intends to do and 'snaps back' to its high-cost childcare system. Ninety-seven per cent of all families surveyed said that early learning and care was important in their family. A quarter of families are concerned about future employment and nearly 10 per cent are looking for new jobs. So what we've got here is families who are concerned about the cost of child care. Fifty-seven per cent of families said that fees impact on their social spending, 55 per cent said that fees impact on their grocery budgets and 35 per cent said that fees impact on where they choose to live. So when this government says that there has never been a more affordable childcare system it is just plain wrong.
And, in the middle of a recession, when families are relying on mortgage and rent moratoriums, and JobKeeper and job seeker to get by, the government says: 'We've got a plan for Australian women: we're going to bring back childcare fees. That's what's going to fix the economy!' Of course, childcare providers C&K are so worried that they've said the cost of child care is starting to influence the way people live their lives and the sort of nutrition families are able to put on the table for their children. That's the impact this is having.
The Prime Minister pretends it concerns him. In April, when he announced his so-called 'free' child care for essential workers policy, he said:
I don't want a parent to have to choose between feeding their kids and having their kids looked after.
Well, that's exactly what's going to happen when we revert—snap back—to the Liberals' failed plan of high childcare fees.
Of course, the government is pretty tone deaf to what families and women need, and the shadow minister for women highlighted that. But you don't need to listen to us to realise how out of touch the government is. You just need to turn to the Senate. Let's hear it from Senator Rennick in the other place last week. He said that children should be at home with their parents and that parents should be home and not participating; that is their rightful place. That's the attitude this government has. Senator Rennick belled the cat when it came to their plans for Australian women: stay at home, look after your kids, be seen and not heard. That is this government's plan for Australian women.
The Morrison government has shown clear and decisive leadership in guiding our nation through this twin crisis created by coronavirus. We acted early in declaring COVID-19 a pandemic to give our health system the best chance to prepare for an outbreak. And we put in place social-distancing restrictions to protect all Australians, but especially our most vulnerable. As a nation we've done a great job of flattening the curve, which has seen Australia become a world leader in fighting the coronavirus. National cabinet, led by our Prime Minister, has developed a clear plan to remove the restrictions which were necessary to suppress the virus in our community. We're focusing on reopening the economy, and we're focusing on creating jobs. We want jobs across all industries.
The Prime Minister has acknowledged that the health and economic impacts of coronavirus are affecting women more than men, with 55 per cent of jobs lost being held by women. It is a fact that women hold less-secure employment, such as part-time or casual employment, and make up the greater proportion of workers in industries which have been hit hard as a result of the pandemic, such as hospitality and retail. Prior to coronavirus, there were more women in work than ever before and the gender pay gap had closed to its lowest level on record at 13.9 per cent, well below the 17.4 per cent that was the gap when Labor were last in office.
This is why supporting employment and supporting businesses as they reopen is central to providing financial security for women. Business supports, such as the JobKeeper wage subsidy, have kept employment opportunities open for women, and I can quote Belinda Merlino, who is the owner of Concord's The Skin Clinic in my electorate of Reid. She said, 'The government has done an amazing job for us in helping us all during this time.' On Tuesday, it was encouraging to see that the ABS payroll data showed that the number of females in jobs increased by 1.4 per cent through May, compared with 0.4 for males. While we undoubtedly have more work to do, this is an encouraging start.
I have spoken in this place before about the need to support more flexible working arrangements and childcare provisions to encourage more women to return to the workforce. Recent challenges posed by the need for children to stay at home and to be schooled at home has brought this issue into focus. Social distancing and restrictions in public spaces have led to an increase in unpaid care work—not only care for children but also care for older family members who have been asked to isolate in their homes.
Many parents from my electorate, often mothers, have been in contact with me over the past few months to share their own experiences of the unique impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on their working life and family structure. It was this valuable feedback that directly influenced the Morrison government's decision to supply a childcare relief package for families at this critical time when parents have been working from home. While free child care allowed parents to continue to work at the height of restrictions, we are now once again adjusting the support to this critical industry based on feedback from providers as demand for care increases.
We must keep providers viable at this critical time. There is more work to be done to support working women, but the key to this is ensuring that childcare centres remain open. As businesses ease back into more regular operations it is imperative that childcare facilities are able to offer parents the ability to increase the number of days they can access. That is why we have made adjustments to the activity test and introduced a $708 million transition payment to keep the childcare sector viable for consumers and for providers.
Tough times don't excuse abusive behaviour at home, and even in a crisis there's no place for abuse or domestic violence. It's devastating that this pandemic has led to an increase in domestic violence reports and that 1800RESPECT has seen an increase in the number of calls for assistance. The government is proud to have had the largest-ever Commonwealth investment, of $340 million, for prevention and frontline services to support the Fourth Action Plan, including $82.2 million to improve and build on frontline services. (Time expired)
It is so important that we debate this topic today, because this government has ignored the women of Australia, with the result that we are now experiencing a 'she-cession'. Women have lost their jobs because they work in the industries that have been hardest hit by the shutdown. They've had to give up paid work because they're the ones who took on the job of managing schooling from home and caring for their children. Too many of them have been at increased risk of family violence while at home. And what support do they get from this government? They get a snapback to unaffordable childcare fees and a home builder package aimed squarely at an industry that is overwhelmingly dominated by men.
Women deserve better than this. They are tired, they are fed up and they deserve a government that understands their lives, not one that makes it harder. We know that during this crisis service industries, such as hospitality and retail, were hit hardest. And guess what? Those are the industries that employ the most women. ABS data shows that women not only were more likely to have lost their job after COVID-19 compared with men but also lost more wages than men. Almost 200,000 Australian women missed out on JobKeeper because of the design flaws from this government. And now the Morrison government has made specific choices about how they believe the economy should 'snap back'—and those choices are not focused on women. We have the JobMaker scheme, targeted at boosting the construction industry. Well, guess what? At least 82 per cent of construction workers are men. The construction industry did not have a closedown forced upon them during the pandemic. Yet that's the industry the government has targeted with its stimulus package. At the same time, early childhood workers have had their supports taken away from them.
I just feel as though the members in this chamber today have not understood or recognised that. From the other side we've heard from the Minister for the Environment, who seemed to suggest that child care actually isn't an issue that affects women but just an issue that affects people in general. Well, what nonsense. We all know that women take up the majority of childcaring duties. Women are the ones who have to decide whether they can afford to go back to work. In this country, too often they cannot afford to go back to work. I've been part of those conversations in the playground, and I'm sure many people in this chamber have as well, where you sit next to a woman and she says, 'The second one's eight months old now, but we've had the conversation at the kitchen table and my husband and I decided it just wasn't worth me going back to work.' That is the reality of child care in this country. That is the system this government wants us to snap back to. It's a disgrace.
We also heard from the Minister for the Environment that she wished women would just step up—'Step up. It's your fault you're not getting ahead. It's not the unaffordable child care. It's not that you can't find a place. It's not that JobKeeper got taken away from you. It's your fault. Step up.' The member for Reid said that women should look to increase their childcare days. And it is really important—women should be able to increase their days. But, again, there was no mention of the affordability issue that is keeping so many women from being able to do this.
While women have been waiting to find out what comes next from this government, I've heard from women in my electorate who work in the travel industry. They're currently not making any money. In fact, they've told me that at the moment they're essentially working to pay back money. Are they going to be next? They need JobKeeper. They told me the only way they can continue to employ—again, this is a largely female dominated industry—was through JobKeeper. If that's taken away, even in September, before we have international travel, these women are likely to suffer further job losses.
So women in Australia are right to be worried. We've heard already today from the Prime Minister about how he sees women's lives. Apparently, if you're due to give birth and there's no local hospital, what's really going to help you is an upgrade to the highway. Now, look, I've given birth. It was a pretty tough experience, and I don't think speeding down the highway would have made it feel any better. So I say to the Prime Minister: it is time for you to take a good hard look at what your government is doing to the women of Australia. You clearly are not in touch. You're not addressing the issues that they are concerned about. We need affordable child care. We need women workers supported. We need an economy that works for women in this country.
I'd like to say to all Australians and perhaps remind those opposite that COVID-19 definitely does not discriminate. I refute the claims from those opposite, and the member for Franklin, that this government intentionally discriminates against women. The suggestion is appalling. It's distasteful and untrue. Can I also remind those opposite to read the PM's response beyond his first sentence where he went on to talk about record investment in hospitals and health.
We're also asked about our government's plan. Can I outline JobKeeper, jobseeker, JobMaker. Those opposite, as we heard, are job takers. Their record on the economy is appalling. It's terrible. They wanted to increase taxes by $387 billion. What sort of state would Australia be in now if that had occurred? So I'd just like to remind those opposite of our plan.
I've spoken in this chamber before about the profound impact that COVID-19 has had in my electorate of Moncrieff on the Gold Coast. As in the rest of Australia, the blow to Gold Coast jobs has been devastating, as tourism, education, events and hospitality are all key employers in our city. It is called JobKeeper for a reason. The government has taken decisive action to address the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The Morrison government has provided a historic wage subsidy of $1,500 per fortnight before tax. This has been a lifeline to tens of thousands of businesses in my electorate. It's kept Gold Coasters in jobs and businesses in business, and it has helped to tackle the significant economic impacts of the coronavirus.
Estella Rodighiero from Regional Development Australia Gold Coast released a survey this week that showed 92 per cent of the businesses surveyed on the Gold Coast have been affected by COVID-19. With 32,111 small businesses in Moncrieff at the last census, that number is potentially very high. Treasury data has revealed that suburbs in my electorate are some of the hardest hit in Queensland, with around 12,000 businesses applying for JobKeeper. Surfers Paradise with 2,949, Southport with 2,439, Nerang and the hinterland with 2,420, Ashmore, Arundel and Molandinar with 2,166 and Broadbeach with 2,114 were all in the top 10 suburbs of businesses who have applied for JobKeeper. As COVID-19 is controlled, the government is focusing on reopening and rebuilding. We need to get businesses back open, enable Australians to go back to work and ensure that consumers and businesses have the confidence to return to normal activities. Our focus remains on jobs, jobs and more jobs. I've established the City Heart Taskforce in Moncrieff to engage with key industry sectors to build city-wide strategies as we foster the economic road to recovery. This is all about community leaders of peak bodies working together to revive our city heart and create job opportunities as we foster our road to recovery.
On domestic violence, the government's first priority is to keep all Australians safe. Combating violence against women and children is, of course, central to that goal. While we're asking Australians to stay at home to control the spread of COVID-19, we also recognise that, for many women and children, home is not a safe place to be. The Morrison government has just last week committed $245,000 to the Gold Coast domestic violence unit in Southport. The unit is a critical frontline service that is essential for those Gold Coasters who are impacted by domestic violence. Additionally, the Morrison government's $150 million domestic violence support package was designed to keep women and children safe during these challenging times. This will continue to help break down barriers to women's economic security, including $18 million in grants to boost entrepreneurship opportunities for women. I would like to highlight that, prior to COVID-19, there were many more women in work than ever before. The gender pay gap had closed to its lowest level on record, at 13.9 per cent, well below the 17.4 per cent gap when Labor, those opposite, were last in office.
I will finish by adding that, here on the Gold Coast, we're still looking forward to the day when the Queensland Premier confirms the 10 July opening date. This closure is hindering the Gold Coast's COVID-19 recovery. As we've heard multiple times from the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and as I have said multiple times, reopening the interstate border is the first step— (Time expired)
If there was any doubt that this government is out of touch with the needs and the lives of Australian women, the Prime Minister's answer today to my question about whether it was acceptable for women from the Yass Valley to give birth by the side of a road says it all. His response was, 'That's why we're upgrading the road.' I think that really says it all. It's a really important issue for our region that women in the Yass Valley have to travel for over an hour to give birth in either Canberra or Goulburn. We've been calling for that area to have a maternity hospital. In fact, Labor has this week committed to putting $4.75 million towards building a maternity hospital at Yass.
When I asked the Prime Minister, 'Is it acceptable to you that numerous women have given birth beside the road in traumatic circumstances?', his answer was, 'That's why we're upgrading the Barton Highway.' It's kind of funny, but it's also not funny at all because this is a serious health risk to mothers and their babies. Having given birth previously—and I'm going to be doing it again sometime soon—I can tell you that I don't want to be doing it beside a highway with no help. Pregnant women really need to know that they're going to have the help and support they need at that time. They are worried about their babies' health and their own health through that process. Hearing this complete lack of understanding of that from the Prime Minister says everything. It really is a huge worry. It's not just the fact that the birth can take a disastrous turn for women and their babies in that sort of circumstance; it's also the trauma that many women will experience as a result of that throughout their lives. That is something that many women from the Yass Valley have talked about, and it has been covered widely in the media. It is something that this government should be aware of.
I move on now to other areas where the government is out of touch with Australian women, particularly in their response to this pandemic. Many female dominated industries have been the absolute heroes of this pandemic. I refer to cleaners, nurses, aged-care workers, early childhood educators and teachers. These are the people who have kept us healthy, kept us alive, kept us safe and kept our economy going as this pandemic has pushed us into recession for the first time in almost 30 years.
Women have also borne the brunt of the economic downturn—55 per cent of Australians who have lost their jobs are women, even though the workforce participation rate for women is almost 10 per cent lower than for men. That's 325,000 women who will have to live with the lifelong consequences of unemployment. We know these consequences are worse for women.
Even before the pandemic, we knew that our economy was not working for Australian women. It's not set up for women to succeed, with women holding only a quarter of board positions in this country. It's not set up to treat women fairly, with women still earning 14 per cent less than men for the same work in this country—and in the private sector that is even higher. When women have children, more than 50 per cent of them don't get any maternity leave from their employer. Even fewer employees provide secondary carers leave. The number of secondary carers—it's mainly fathers who take it up—is low. Just 15 per cent of Australian fathers take more than four weeks when their baby is born. This is a huge cause of the ongoing gender disparity in our workforce. Only when it becomes normal for both mum and dad to take time out of the workforce to care for children will we have any chance of equality. The government has a huge role in that, in the types of programs that they provide and the law around what's provided by employers.
Even just in this sitting period, where we've moved some changes to paid parental leave to allow it to be more flexible, this government refused to ensure that women affected by coronavirus will be exempt from the work test and be able to access paid parental leave. Again, for families expecting a new baby, it's a huge worry that they'll lose, potentially, up to $15,000 as a result of that failure to step up and protect those women. It's not going to cost the government anything extra. These are people who would have been receiving it anyway but have lost their jobs due to a global pandemic.
This government really needs to stand up for Australian women. They obviously don't understand the pressures, the economy. The childcare situation is another example of where a female-dominated industry is going to be kicked off JobKeeper well before any other industry. Why is that? (Time expired)
I want to read a note from a female small business owner in my electorate of Lindsay, who says, 'I'm thankful for all that has been put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. We have so much faith in the way that this country is being led that we just purchased a new vehicle because of the $150,000 asset write-off. Due to having three apprentices, we benefited from the apprentice rebate.'
I'm not here to say how wonderful and great things are for women—I don't think there's a person on this earth who has been having a great time of it over the last few months. We've had the health impacts of coronavirus. We've had the economic impacts of coronavirus. As families, we've been impacted, ensuring that our children are still getting that great Australian education at home. But the Morrison government has been very focused on the health impacts, the economic impacts and our Australian families. From an economic perspective, I have over 15,000 small and medium-sized businesses in Lindsay. We were certainly a coronavirus hotspot at times, which put extra pressure on our community, and we've had over 4,500 organisations access JobKeeper. So we have very much been focused on the economic and health impacts. As you know, I have Newmarch House in my community.
Lindsay is a community that comes together and has a wonderful community spirit. I've got a female network within the Lindsay electorate of small business owners, and we have very much stayed in touch and talked about the road to recovery post-coronavirus. Part of that road to recovery is the large infrastructure investment that the Morrison government is putting into Western Sydney to create more jobs. When I've gone out and visited the infrastructure projects, it's been really fantastic and pleasing to see the number of women who are taking up jobs in construction and non-traditional female roles.
Encouraging female workforce participation is really important to me. It's something I did when I led W21, the 21st century global women's initiative at the United States Studies Centre, which looked at how growing women's economic participation would contribute to global economic growth and, certainly, economic growth in our country. So creating jobs for women is something I'm very passionate about. I want to ensure that in Western Sydney those jobs will be in industries that will feature with the development of the airport, and in manufacturing, agriculture and technology. This means that I have a strong focus on educating our young girls in science, technology, engineering and maths. This is a focus of our government, and the industry minister talks about this a lot. She has come out to Lindsay where we've worked with some amazing young girls in their development of their interest in science and maths and where that might take them in the future.
We need to be ensuring that we're reaching our full workforce potential. I am focused locally—and I know the Prime Minister is too—on ensuring that, as we emerge from coronavirus, women are still getting all the opportunities they can. That's why the recent numbers have been pleasing, with ABS payroll data showing that the number of women in jobs increased by 1.4 per cent in May, compared with 0.4 per cent for men. But we do have a lot of work to do. It is an encouraging start and I am completely focused, from a local perspective.
I know that getting a job helps many women. I've worked with women in social housing to get them to financial and housing independence. So, from all ends of the spectrum, I think supporting women and encouraging increased female participation in the workforce is something that we're all going to be focused on and, certainly, something I'll be focused on in my electorate of Lindsay.
I anticipated that there would be certain things that both sides of the House agreed on during this MPI. That's partly because only yesterday the minister addressed the issue of how women have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. She said:
Women have been the hardest hit though COVID-19. Our participation figures show that 325,000 women have lost their jobs and the women's workforce participation rate has fallen 0.9 percentage points to 58.4 percentage points, and this is partly due to the fact, of course, that women are heavily represented in sectors with sharp decreases in paid work: hospitality, tourism and retail.
So I thought: 'Okay, there's a certain amount of stuff here that we're on the same page with for a change. They actually accept the facts.' But, rather than acceptance that there's gender inequality in the way coronavirus has played out through our economy and through our social structures, what we've had is total denial that that could even be the case. We had a minister telling us that women have never had it so good. We've also heard in the chamber today the Prime Minister, when asked about the serious issue of women with no access to maternity services finding themselves giving birth on the side of a road, respond: 'Ha! We've got an answer for that. We're going to upgrade that road.' This is just a classic example of how out of date the other side is. I thought they had learned through this crisis that you have to look at the evidence and you have to listen to the experts. Clearly, they have learnt nothing.
There's one other thing they clearly haven't done and that is read their own agency's report. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency only last month—so they've actually had a little bit of time to read it—put together a fabulous document exploring the ways in which women have been disproportionately impacted by coronavirus. If they won't take the advice of their own agencies, we don't have much hope. There is no doubt that, as ACTU leader, Sally McManus, said this week, there is a pink recession happening, and it's being acknowledged in the government's own documents. Women, of course, were the warriors in the home during this pandemic. They were maintaining work, if they still had a job, they were supervising learning at home and they were worrying about their older relatives and their neighbours. I saw women doing incredibly things to reach out to their community.
The Mountain of Joy group in Kurrajong Heights fed people every night, and no doubt are still feeding people who are concerned about spending too much time outside their homes because of their age or their vulnerability. Women did amazing things. Women were the warriors in the workplace. Eighty-seven per cent of registered nurses and midwives are women. Eighty-seven per cent of aged-care workers are women. Ninety-six per cent of early childhood educators are women. A percentage of cleaners are women. A high percentage of teachers who are now back in the classroom are women. They're back in the classroom literally with kids who are not able to enforce social distancing in the same way that we have privilege of being able to do here.
Women were the warriors and that's why they need extra support to get back up into the place that they deserve, whether it's pay equality or equality around who has jobs. Unfortunately, at the moment we've got a government who thinks that it's fine just to do jobs for the boys. That's what we've had. That's not because women can't do these jobs; it's because the government has singled out sectors and given them support—not the arts sector where there are lots of women, not universities where there are lots of women, but construction where the facts show us that there are more men than women choosing to work in that sector. That's the inequality.
I thought it was very interesting to hear Associate Professor Alysia Blackham, from The University of Melbourne, who researches workplace discrimination and inequality, describe the pandemic as magnifying the already existing inequalities in the labour market. She said:
Women were already overrepresented in insecure work and are more likely to be on casual contracts with no paid leave entitlements, so there is no obligation to employ them on an ongoing basis …
That's why women are disproportionately affected and that's why we need a plan. And that's not even touching on the issue of women and superannuation. (Time expired)
I think it's fair to say that no government would want to be in the position that we found ourselves in just a few months ago, having to prioritise the health of all Australians while also giving regard to the economy. The strong, decisive actions of our government have led the way in countries across the world. We have seen success on the health front. There is no doubt that, by putting in place those appropriate measures, we have slowed the spread of the coronavirus. We are certainly all aware that the economic impacts of COVID-19 have been severe. Businesses and households are facing increased uncertainty. We all witnessed the lines outside of Centrelink as job losses came swiftly. It was very painful to witness. This government rightly took swift action to address the devastating consequences of the pandemic, including with the in introduction of JobKeeper.
In my community alone 2,800 businesses have been processed to receive JobKeeper so far. Our community is innovative, entrepreneurial and has a significant number of small businesses both owned by and employing women. In a region that has a significantly high number employed in the private sector, JobKeeper has proved absolutely necessary. The package kept a large number of northern Tasmanians in work and our businesses in business.
Just last week I held a tele town hall with Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein where we engaged with thousands in our northern Tasmanian community to discuss the health and economic response to COVID-19. It was certainly made clear that JobKeeper had had a positive impact at a very difficult time. This payment has been used to keep businesses afloat during this time across a range of sectors, including the female dominated hospitality industry.
Restaurant owner Karen Burbury owns and runs successful restaurants in Bass—Cataract on Paterson and Rupert and Hound—employing over 100 people, many of them women. She says: 'JobKeeper has granted us the confidence to plan for the future success of our restaurants. The payment has given us the opportunity to retain our employees, as our teams are the backbone of our businesses' foundation. The payment has been very valuable for the wellbeing and mental health of all our employees and it has offered them the reassurance that their position is secure when the restrictions are lifted. As a business owner, it has given me the security to engage with our employees and renewed hope that our local economy will come back.'
As we now look to the next phase of our economic recovery, much is being done by our government to ensure that our economy can begin to recover. As the Prime Minister pointed out earlier this week, almost 30 months of job growth was lost overnight when COVID-19 took hold a few months ago. Undoubtedly, the impact has been devastating, but it could have been far, far worse without the right economic strategy in place. And, as we look to the recovery phase, it is important that women's roles in the workforce are taken into account.
A study earlier this year showed that women dominated employment growth in this country for both full- and part-time work and that prior to COVID-19 there were more women in work than ever before. As we've heard, the gender pay gap has reduced to its lowest level on record at 13.9 per cent, which is well below the 17.4 per cent gap when those opposite were last in office. Of course, not for one second am I saying that equity and equality for women in the workforce has magically been fixed or that there aren't unique challenges facing women across my community and the country as we look to our economic recovery. Without a doubt, we know that this pandemic has had an impact on women and we need to focus on that as we prepare and plan our way out. This is partly due to the fact that women are heavily represented, as we've heard, in sectors with sharp decreases in paid work, such as the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors. We know that increasing women's participation in paid employment will assist in accelerating Australia's overall recovery. Our investment in essential services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic ensures that women are well positioned to play a full and equal role in every aspect of Australia's response and recovery.
As the economy, particularly in those industries which employ large numbers of women, such as retail and hospitality, starts to revive again, we would hope to see at least an additional improvement in that situation. Just this week, we saw some welcome news on Tuesday, with ABS payroll data showing the number of females in jobs increasing by 1.4 per cent through May, compared with 0.4 per cent for males. While we undoubtedly have more work to do, this is an encouraging start. The government are continuing our focus on women with our $158.3 million women's economic security plan, which we were the first to introduce.