House debates

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Matters of Public Importance

3:11 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Kingston proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The existing barriers to women working full time and starting small businesses.

I call upon those 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—

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

We have a government that has delivered a trillion dollar debt in its budget earlier this month. It was chock-full of marketing opportunities, but none of the announcements that they've delivered lets them stand at a doorstep with 51 per cent of the Australian population. Not one of their announcements in this budget supports Australian women to get back to work.

The Prime Minister said this week, or last week perhaps, 'If you're good at your job, you will get a job.' Except that the Prime Minister didn't really mean that. He seems to only be referring to his Liberal Party hacks getting jobs, because if he said what is actually happening, he would have said, 'If you're the second income earner, have young children and are lucky enough to have a job you're good at, we're going to make it harder for you to take on more hours.' In question time today the government said that they will act quickly to ensure that Clive Palmer's luxury jet stays in the air, but in this budget women barely got a mention. But, of course, we all should be lucky, as Australian women, that we get to drive on roads. I think that is something that all Australian women will be eternally grateful for.

Of course, in this budget, there is nothing in it to fix the child-care system. The budget did nothing to fix the system that is now so expensive many families are having to choose between working for nothing or staying at home. There was nothing in this budget to recognise the barriers to workforce participation, particularly for women working on the fourth and fifth day. According to the Prime Minister, his job is done. The system is working and women have never had it better than under his government. Well, tell that to the hundred thousand families that are locked out of the system because they just can't afford it. Tell that to the families that have had their fees jacked up by 4.5 per cent in the last year, pushing up out-of-pocket costs to over twice the rate of inflation. Tell that to the many families that see a system that is becoming absolutely impossible to access or more expensive every day. It's a system that is so expensive that half of families say it impacts on their weekly grocery budget. It's a system that has built-in design faults that acts as a barrier to second income earners working more.

This is a system the Prime Minister designed. Now, the government will often infer that the Productivity Commission designed the current system, but that is just not true. This week, the Productivity Commission confirmed the government did not adopt all the features of their recommended model back in 2015. Back in 2015, the Productivity Commission identified very high workforce disincentive rates faced by the second income earner and designed a new system to boost workforce participation.

But they did not recommend in their model cutting off the subsidy at any particular income level and creating large subsidy and taper cliffs. It was the Prime Minister himself that came up with that. They did not recommend in their model an annual subsidy cap. That was the Prime Minister himself that designed that. He built those structural design flaws into his system long before he built a chicken coop.

The Prime Minister's system penalises women who want to work full-time. We've heard case studies from many women about how the cost of child care is holding them back from working more days. Today we continue to hear more and more stories. We hear, for example, Melanie, who has two children and says that, after childcare costs, she only takes home $150 of pay. Melanie says it's hardly worth it.

But don't take our word for it. Labor has been talking about this over and over because that is what we hear in our constituencies every day. Let's take the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, who said before the budget: 'We've got to fix the childcare problem. It's absolutely essential.' Of course we agree. But it is also a massive handbrake on small and family business, and last night the small and family business ombudsman told Senate estimates that child care is a matter of significance for 38 per cent of small businesses that are owned by women. She pointed out that many small businesses are started by women when they are home on parental leave. She reported that many women grow their business from a micro stage at home but can't take the next phase because the cost of child care is too high. She said: 'You can't be an entrepreneur and work three days a week. It's just not possible.' She also said that the cost of child care is just too high. It's a productivity issue and it's something that needs to be addressed. Small business is the engine room of the economy, but this government won't even let women into the car. Women want to be entrepreneurs. They want to have a go, but they're not getting a go under this government. Why is the Morrison government holding them back?

Labor has a reform plan to better support families, to smash down barriers for women and to supercharge Australia's economic recovery. Our plan will increase subsidy rates and tapers for 97 per cent of families in the childcare system. We heard that the Prime Minister was very focused on means testing and targeting, but of course that hasn't been the case for his Liberal mates. It hasn't been the case when it comes to private jets. It hasn't been the case for so many wealthy Australians, but he has the gall to have a go at women wanting to get ahead. Well, he's holding those women back.

We will rip up the Prime Minister's annual subsidy cap, which has been such a barrier to work. Labor will ask the ACCC to look at price regulation mechanisms and shine the light on costs and fees. We will put the Productivity Commission to work on a comprehensive review of the sector with the aim to implement a universal 90 per cent subsidy rate. In short, we will fix the Prime Minister's busted childcare system and we will fix it for good and leave an everlasting legacy for our country.

The Grattan Institute analysis of Labor's plan confirms it will reward working families and allow second-income earners to work more and keep more of their pay. Overall, the Grattan Institute found, Labor's policy will lead to an 11 per cent increase in hours worked by women with young children. This increase in productivity will deliver a sustained boost to economic growth, and economic modelling by the Grattan Institute and KPMG has estimated that policies similar to Labor's would increase GDP annually in a range of $4 billion to $11 billion.

We will take the shackles off the current system. Women will be off to work more days, spend more time on their small business and get more money in their pocket. Australia will only pay off the trillion dollars of Liberal dependent by growing our economy, and our policy will happen do that. This Liberal government pretends that it is the friend of small business. It goes around getting pictures with small business, bragging to everyone that will listen, but they are not listening to small business. They assume that women aren't necessarily working in small business, that they don't need childcare support and that they don't want to actually work more and on more days, because it was the Prime Minister's own system that was designed to make women work for nothing on the fourth and fifth days. We on this side of the House want to see small business succeed. We want to see women entrepreneurs getting a go, unlike what was exposed in question time today.

The Liberal Party say a lot about small business and women entrepreneurs. They love an announcement, they love a bit of spin. But they announce something in 2018 and they are not prepared to deliver it until 2021. That is not the type of support that small business and women want. They want support now. They've got good business ideas, and what they need is a government that will support them. Unfortunately they don't have it. They have a budget that leaves so many Australians out and holds so many Australians back. We on this side are very proud that we are putting up a plan for the long term when it comes to child care. We are very proud of our plan to have a future made in Australia. These are the things that Australians are talking about.

The Prime Minister was also exposed in estimates today. He told The West Australian that he had to do a marketing strategy to try and get taxpayers to understand, and only then would he actually found some childcare changes. But the minister at the table in estimates today confirmed that there is no plan to have any new reform in child care. The minister at the table today also clearly said that there was no plan for any marketing strategy. So this Prime Minister talks from one side of his mouth and then he talks from the other side. You cannot trust anything this Prime Minister says. It's all about marketing, it's all about spin.

Compare that to Labor. We have a serious plan for Australia, a serious plan to boost women's economic participation, a serious plan to help women in small business to get go. Under Labor, if they have a go they'll get a go.

3:21 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad to speak on this MPI and highlight the importance of women to our economy. I've only been in this place since 2013—not as long as some but a bit longer than others. Every time Labor gets an opportunity in this place, they talk down the opportunities for women in this country. But we want to talk women up, because they have a critical role in Australia's economy. Women are tired of those opposite using them as a political football. We've seen once again that, for Labor's spokesperson it's all about theatrics, it's all about using women as a political football. I, for one, am tired of that, and women in Australia who are in business, women who are trying to get ahead, know that the Morrison government has their back.

I want to talk about my portfolio and the impact and benefits of the defence industry to our economy. We are well aware of the need to grow our talent pool and to give women every opportunity to embark on an exciting career in the our defence industry. A couple of weeks ago, during National Science Week, I had the pleasure of having a call from my Perth office with a young woman named Tess Horton. What a cracker she is! Tess is a 20-year-old student at the University of Newcastle and the bright future of our STEM workforce. She is one of eight women, studying at three universities across Australia, who were awarded a science, technology, engineering and mathematics scholarship by Defence. If Tess is the future of our defence industry workforce and Australia's broader STEM workforce then it is a very bright future indeed. She spoke to me about how excited she was that Defence was giving her this opportunity. It is vital that we inspire more young women like Tess to go down this path.

The defence industry is growing fantastic new opportunities for women growing a small business in Australia. Our country is at the dawn of a new era of opportunity for SMEs in the defence industry sector. It's going to provide thousands and thousands of jobs in the defence industry. It's great to see these new enterprises for women in the sector. Last Friday, I was thrilled to join the Launch on Northbourne event in Canberra—virtually, of course, because I was in Perth at the time. It was a University of New South Wales event, showcasing innovation and defence and cyber areas that are developing new commercial ideas to improve Australian security.

One of the presenters was a lady called Amy Ormrod, who was with a company called Terra Schwartz Cyber. This company is developing an Australian cybersecurity system which is supported by a $420,000 defence sovereign industrial capability priority grant. It's developing an Australian sovereign cyberworthiness system. It was great to engage with her, albeit by Zoom, to hear how women like her are helping to grow Australia's defence industry systems for the future. It's women just like Amy who are the face of women in our sector. They can demonstrate the opportunities we now have in small business right across the country. We are all doing that so that we can knock down the barriers that women do face, and we are promoting these exciting opportunities in our defence industry.

That is the case right across our government. Our government's overarching objective is to return Australians—men and women—to work and to boost prosperity as Australia emerges from the COVID-19 crisis. The 2020-21 budget provides $98 billion of response and recovery support under the COVID-19 response package and the JobMaker plan, bringing the government's overall support to $507 billion. Increasing women's workforce participation is an economic and social priority. The JobMaker plan aims to drive down the unemployment rate and drive stronger economic recovery for all Australians, men and women, in Australia.

In addition to the budget, the 2020 Women's Economic Security Statement, which significantly builds on the 2018 statement, acknowledges progress made as well as the barriers that women continue to face from time to time. The WESS builds on the government's COVID-19 economic recovery plan by providing the targeted, tailored, specific support needed to help women overcome barriers to full participation in the economy and society. The 2020 WESS includes a wide range of measures to create new jobs, support more women in work, expand opportunities for business and build the skills Australia needs to support accelerated economic recovery and growth.

I would like to go back to my portfolio again, because we know that defence and defence industry is really a barometer for women in the workforce, and for some time now defence has been taking a losing role in building a strong record of inclusion. We know that women are absolutely vital in our quest to grow the defence industry workforce. So we are ensuring that we have access to the best talent from all parts of the diverse Australian community to build that very important defence industry workforce. I note that within the Defence portfolio there are specialist recruiting teams just for women. These teams compromise of current serving defence women who promote careers in defence and mentor other women as part of the recruiting process.

In 2019-20 defence's efforts to further gender equality have specifically focused on women's representation in leadership roles. Defence has been recognised for its commitment to gender equity, receiving the Athena SWAN bronze award in 2020. Congratulations! What an amazing achievement. The Athena SWAN awards are an initiative under the Science in Australia Gender Equity program, which aims to promote equity and diversity in STEM. The bronze awards have recognised defence's commitment to advancing the careers of women not only in STEM fields but also across all defence groups and services.

In February this year, defence sponsored the inaugural Catalysing Gender Equity conference. It is committed to championing the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, a shared vision for the STEM sector to attract, retain and advance girls and women in STEM education and careers.

Over the past 18 months in my role as the Minister for Defence Industry it has indeed been a great pleasure to be able to meet the captains of industry, especially the women, leading the charge in our very, very important defence industry. In October last year I travelled to the United States and visited Heat Treatment Australia's Los Angeles office. There I was immediately blown away by the incredible work of Karen Stanton and her family. For those who don't know Karen, she is the director of Brisbane based Heat Treatment Australia and she is a pillar of Australia's defence industry. Heat Treatment Australia is a key supplier in our global F-35 program and is one of the beneficiaries of our government's continued investment in this truly global program. Karen has continued to do an outstanding job in her position as director of HTA, and she's expanded its operations and broadened its horizons in our defence industry, going way beyond our shores.

I would also like to single out Gabby Costigan, who is the CEO of BAE Systems Australia. Gabby is yet another fine example of how the Australian defence industry is leading the charge in opening up greater senior leadership opportunities for women. For those who don't know Gabby's background, she is a former colonel in the Australian Army and led logistics operations for both the Australian and the US governments internationally. Following her distinguished career, there was no-one more deserving to take up the role of CEO of BAE Systems Australia in 2018. She is now responsible for one of the largest defence companies in Australia, supporting our men and women in uniform.

I'd also like to recognise Sarah Cullens, another outstanding supporter of the Australian defence industry and the work of the Morrison government in our defence industry. Sarah took the leap of faith and started up her own small business providing specialist advice to defence businesses. Sarah is the wife of a current serving member of our Defence Force and raises her children right here in Canberra. I've always valued Sarah's incredible contribution and insights into defence industry, and thank her for her incredible sacrifice to take care of her family as her husband has served his country.

I hope I've given you a sense of how important defence and also the industry called defence industry is in Australia. And I'm so proud of the opportunities that we are giving women in defence and defence industry. I want women in this country to know that, on this side of the chamber, we back them every day. There are opportunities, and we will be there for you when the others will just complain. (Time expired)

3:31 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the member for Kingston for this matter of public importance today and for the terrific contribution she made focusing on child care, in particular, earlier. I also pay tribute to her for the policy work that she's done to develop what is a fine childcare policy for Labor. Our policy will make child care more affordable and more accessible for Australian families. It will encourage women to take on that extra hour of work, that extra day of work. On this side, we never want someone to say no to an extra hour of work or an extra day of work because it doesn't make sense for them financially. Only our policy will increase participation and economic growth. It's not surprising that there is a difference in policy between our side and that side.

We saw today the release of a report from the Menzies Research Centre, co-authored by the member for Boothby. As the report acknowledges, the Liberal Party is nowhere near on track to meeting its commitment to seeing half of its elected members be female by 2025. We had the same goal to reach 50 per cent by 2025. We're almost there now. They're stuck at around about a quarter. I want to compliment the member for Boothby for her involvement in this matter. It is a brave thing to do; it's gutsy. I want to compliment her for calling out this problem in the modern Liberal Party, because it is a serious problem when you acknowledge that something is an issue, where you want to increase female representation and then you stick solidly to 25 per cent for decades after that. Unfortunately, the report goes on to vehemently reject any kind of quota or target system, saying that it undermines the principles of competitive enterprise and reward for effort.

Someone gave me a good bit of advice today about how we deal with this issue of inequality of female representation in politics and in other male dominated areas. They said, 'You could solve this problem overnight if only women had the confidence of a mediocre man.' I think there are a few people on the other side who would prove that point.

The truth is that things like achieving equality do not happen on their own. Organisations, including political parties, set targets for all sorts of things. Businesses set targets for profitability. Businesses set targets for market share. If a political party is prepared to be judged by the public on achieving gender equality, why wouldn't it be prepared to set a target?

Why wouldn't you set a target? How does progress happen unless we say, 'This is what we want to achieve, and this is our mechanism for getting there'?

I have made this offer before, and I make it really sincerely and in the spirit of bipartisanship: I would be happy to sit down with senior Liberal women, as I've done with some senior Nationals women and say, 'This is our experience. This is how we fought for and achieved change in the Australian Labor Party.' It doesn't happen by accident. It doesn't happen overnight. It's happened because these women here and many, many thousands more have fought for and achieved this change over time.

I'll tell you what, having women at the table when decisions are made gives you better policy. If you had more women around the cabinet table, you wouldn't have a Prime Minister saying 'I don't know what the women are complaining about. We've built them a great road to get to the maternity ward' that's hours away. You wouldn't have people on the other side saying, 'Well, tax policy is not gendered.' Give me a break! You wouldn't have this situation where you make an announcement in 2018—the Boosting Female Founders Initiative—then reannounce it the next day, then reannounce it the next year and still not have spent a single cent of that $18 million to support female entrepreneurs, which is obviously something that we support on this side as well. And you wouldn't have funding for domestic violence programs and sexual assault education in schools cut at the same time as White Ribbon is releasing information showing that 40 per cent of young men think that it's not domestic violence to punch—to punch!—or control your partner. That's the problem with not having enough women sitting around the table when decisions are being made. You get the wrong decisions. (Time expired)

3:36 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm really pleased to talk on this MPI and to support the budget measures across all portfolios like the Minister for Defence Industry, who is at the table. Like her, I want to talk up the fabulous women, particularly those in rural and regional Australia. Whether it's through the economic statement or other budget measures, we know there are opportunities for women right around this great nation, and I want to encourage them all to take advantage of the opportunities they have, like so many of those in my electorate and elsewhere who have.

In talking up the great opportunities I'll talk about women like Erin and Tegan Studsor, who founded Traffic Force, a highly successful traffic management company servicing the whole of Western Australia, starting in Bunbury, in my part of the world. Along with Sharni Bennell, Tegan and Erin are also owners of the Kali Group an Indigenous and all-female owned business providing labour hire and recruitment services. They are great young women.

Another fantastic self-starter and determined and motivated woman is Larissa Versace, who started her own lawn-mowing and garden maintenance business in my home town of Harvey as a very young woman. She's a talented soccer and AFL Harvey Bulls player. Her business has gone through to Fremantle because she's playing Australian Rules football in the women's league for East Fremantle. What a great and fantastic young woman. I'm really proud to see our young women like Jo Gunning with her outstanding business, ShoeBeDoo; Renee Evans, who keeps evolving her store, Emporium of Eshe, in line with her customer's needs; and Vanya Cullen, who has grown her family's wine brand to a national and international level of acclaim.

I want to talk briefly about the fantastic Walk Talk Taste Margaret River. That's what Kellie Tannock has done in Margaret River. Of course, it's been somewhat affected by COVID, but it has won a small business award. Kellie describes herself as the chief walker and talker, taking people around Margaret River and tasting the wonderful locally grown produce. What a wonderful initiative from this woman. Cathie Rice started her business Cathie Rice Travel in Bunbury 50 years ago with nothing. She is a quality and trusted provider of travel services in all aspects of travel and escorted tours. What a fantastic effort Cathie has made. There's one fabulous woman after another, such as Lynnette Brazen. I could go on and on talking about the wonderful work of women in rural and regional Australia and how they're contributing to the economic diversity and economic opportunities that exist in what is rural and regional Australia.

So I really wanted to talk to the young women who are watching today, the fabulous next generation of young women. Whether they're looking at the budget or not, wherever they are right now, I want to say to them: you are in a fabulous place called Australia, and, whether it's in education, in manufacturing, in agriculture—across so many portfolio areas—or just in the ambitions that you have for yourselves, one great thing is that we are not limited by our postcode in this country in what we can achieve. The minister for defence materiel represents an enormous electorate—I think, one of the biggest in the world—and she knows that young women in her part of the world also have great opportunities, like all women in rural and regional Australia—those very innovative, capable women that we see in our awards, the rural women's awards, who are doing extraordinary things, no matter where they're located in this country.

We've seen, through COVID, so many of them take the initiative to do business differently, and, for them, business as usual is now uncertainty. Uncertainty is business as usual. But they are stepping up to the mark and getting the job done. I am just so proud of all of the women around Australia who not only have done everything they can to keep themselves and their families safe but also have worked in their community and with their community.

That's what we're seeing from women in rural and regional Australia at the moment, and I'm so proud of what they do. They are taking and making opportunities, and that's what happens when you're supported by the government; it enables you to do exactly that, as our government has in an ongoing way and through this budget. I just want to say to young women: take the opportunities you get, or make them yourself, and get on with being the best you can be and do the best you can in this country.

3:41 pm

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Of course the women of Australia have been really having a go. They were having a go before the global pandemic. There were more Australian women than men in insecure casual work and part-time work. There were more women in Australia sharing the caring responsibilities in their family home, in terms of caring for younger children and also, outside the home, in terms of caring for elderly parents who can't get a home-care package. Then, of course, we got the global pandemic. But we had more women working on the front line, again in low-paid jobs. And what did we see after the pandemic? We had platitudes from government ministers, talking about how the global pandemic and the recession in Australia had adversely impacted on women.

And then we get to the budget, and Australian women were expecting the government to recognise the hard work they put in prior to the pandemic and during the pandemic and to provide some supports for them to get back into work. But what did we get? We got no new funding to deal with the gender pay gap, we got no new funding for frontline services for family and domestic violence, we got nothing at all to deal with the superannuation gap that women have in retirement in Australia and, of course, we got nothing to reduce the impact of increased childcare fees.

Quite frankly, the women of Australia are getting fed up. They're getting fed up with all the energy and effort that they are putting in that's not being recognised by this government. They're not being recognised for that caring role that they do in the home. They're not being recognised for the fact that a lot of them took on homeschooling. They're not being recognised for the fact that they were in low-paid jobs during the pandemic, on the front line, risking themselves and their families. And now, of course, we have the issue of childcare fees.

We've seen data in recent days talking about the increase in childcare fees—4.5 per cent across the country. Here in my home state of Tasmania, there are 16,000 families, and more than 28,000 children in child care. In the last year, childcare fees have increased in Launceston by over five per cent; and, in Devonport, 8.9 per cent. These are incredible fee hikes for families who are doing it tough because of the pandemic and the recession—families who have lost income, families who are trying to juggle their family budgets.

Surely government ministers and others on that side could have a bit more empathy and done more in the budget? Instead, after criticism about their budget not supporting women, we've had female ministers come out and say, 'It's okay because the budget is gender neutral and women can drive on roads.' Yes, women can and do drive on roads. They drive on roads to drop the kids to school. They drive on roads to do the child care drop-off. They drive on roads to go to the supermarket. Women are driving on roads all the time, perhaps a disproportionate amount, but they expect much more from government than that. That is, of course, what Labor has said in the budget reply. We need to do more. Helping families with childcare fees is something tangible that actually assists to get women back into work.

But it's not just Labor who is saying that. We had evidence last night from Kate Carnell who said, 'You can't be an entrepreneur and work just three days a week. It's just not possible. The costs of child care are just too high. It's a productivity issue and it's something that needs to be addressed.' Of course, the small business ombudsman is not alone in that. Last week the government's gender equality agency told Senate estimates, 'Child care, along with other things, is a barrier for women returning to the workforce, particularly after taking parental leave.' The evidence from everybody is overwhelming that the childcare system, designed by this government and this Prime Minister, is failing Australian families. It is not worth so many families doing extra hours or extra days work because of the way the childcare system has been designed with the subsidy.

The government needs to change tact. It has taken on lots of Labor's ideas during this pandemic, such as the wage subsidy. This is another thing that it needs to look at. We would be happy if it took on Labour's ideas in terms of child care. The government simply must do better by Australian women. Australian women have been doing the hard yards. They've put in the effort. They've had a go. They now need to get a go from this government. As the Prime Minister said, 'If you're good at your job, you'll get a job.' Australian women have been really good at their jobs and they've been working incredibly hard. It's about time that they got a government that actually supports them and actually delivers on policy that supports women and their families, and supports women to start small businesses and to get back into work.

3:46 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the centrepieces of this year's budget was the updated Women's Economic Security Statement. This builds on the important work of my predecessor, Kelly O'Dwyer, the minister for women and member for Higgins who released the inaugural Women's Economic Security Statement in 2018. The statement was of particular importance this year with COVID. There are five priorities of this very important Women's Economic Security Statement, WESS. The first priority contained in the WESS is to repair and rebuild women's workforce participation and further close the gender pay gap, which was at record levels before COVID. Amongst other things, this is why the government has announced our $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy. This is not the manufacturing of old. We are talking about complex, high-value manufacturing using smart technology and levering off research and development, design logistics and services. We're talking about modern industries such as food and beverage, medical products, recycling and clean energy, defence and space. The Morrison government is particularly keen to see women lead this manufacturing revolution with sizeable investments targeted at women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. This includes $25 million for the women in STEM cadetships and advanced apprenticeships to create STEM career pathways for up to 500 women through industry sponsored advanced apprenticeship-style courses starting next year. Another measure is the government's $36 million commitment to the Boosting Female Founders Initiative to support up to 282 additional startups and 4,300 women entrepreneurs. Access to early stage capital is one of the biggest challenges female founders face. This initiative provides early stage capital and allows female entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and expand into broader markets. The Morrison government is keen to see women crack into high-skilled, high-paying industries which will help us bridge the gender pay gap.

The second priority is greater choice and flexibility for families to manage work and care. We're doing that by investing in child care at record levels. In 2020-21 the government will pay a record $9.2 billion in childcare subsidy payments and that will grow to $10.7 billion in coming years. This investment continues to put downward pressure on the out-of-pocket costs that families pay. In fact, they have fallen by three per cent. Prior to us coming to government they were rising. Under the policy of those on the other side of chamber costs of child care had gone through the roof with an increase of more than 50 per cent. The childcare policies that we initiated in 2018 are working to help women get back into the workforce and to assist them in realising their dreams. Prior to COVID, the gender pay gap for women had fallen to a new low and female workforce participation had risen to a record high. As a government, we know that accessible and affordable access to child care is key to allowing women to work full time or start a business. We also want to make sure our government is supporting it in a targeted and means-tested way. Our childcare policy settings are designed to help those who need it most.

The third priority is to support women as leaders and positive role models. The concept that if she can do it, so can I is a very powerful motivator. Men take for granted that they have role models of power and influence; for women, this is a relatively recent development in our history. That is why the Morrison government is investing $47.9 million to expand the women's leadership program to help women retain employment and build career pathways, with an emphasis on male-dominated industries. Having a female role model can be the key to encouraging a woman to start the business she has always dreamed of.

The fourth priority is to respond to the diverse needs of women. We know that women experiencing multiple disadvantages have lower workforce participation rates than the national average for Australian women. The government is committing $41 million, across two years of the budget, for the Career Transition Assistance program. This program makes it easier for mature age jobseekers and volunteers to access training to increase digital literacy, find job opportunities and identify transferable skills. This is really valuable for women looking to get back into the workforce with increased hours at a very critical time of their life.

The fifth priority is to support women to be safe at home and safe at work. That is why the government is supporting women and children experiencing family and domestic violence with more than $2 billion through the National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020-25, by increasing funding to the Federal Circuit Court, and by providing $60 million to the Safe Places Emergency Accommodation Program.

For those raising families, re-entering the workforce or getting back into a business, the Morrison government is delivering in spades.

3:51 pm

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In Yass earlier this week, I called in on the Goodstart Early Learning centre with my friends Anthony Albanese and Amanda Rishworth. We had to be mindful of not getting in the way of busy mums and dads rushing in to drop kids off before getting out the door and on to work. It's a routine that many in this House and outside this chamber will be familiar with. Those parents and what they do in their day are in the engine room of their local community and economy. They are able to get on with creating a livelihood and building prosperity knowing that their kids are learning, laughing and being loved by professional educators and carers. But, before the busyness of that rush hour, those parents will have had to make some choices—choices that aren't always in the best interests of their family, themselves, their community or the wider economy. It's a dilemma and discussion that my husband, Brad, and I have had—and a special shout-out to Ruby, Max and Jack. I'll be home on Friday. Please be good for your dad; it's his birthday!

When I had my first child I knew I would have to go back to work, and I made inquiries at three separate childcare centres in my area. I was lucky enough to get Ruby a place in one. The first day of drop-off is incredibly hard, and we even witnessed it when we were at Goodstart in Yass on Monday. The childcare centres, the carers and their educators become part of your family. They educate your most prized possessions while you're at work. I want to thank Little Nippers Early Learning and Childcare in Merimbula and all the educators who have been part of my family's life. My youngest, Jack, is at school this year, but I've been through nine years, with three different kids, and I want to say a huge thankyou to everyone there.

Many families, mine included, have to discuss whether they can afford child care and how many days they can go back to work without simply working to pay childcare bills. In our family I became the secondary income earner and was able to enter paid work for two or three days. I also ran a small family business. I did the books for our business. That's unpaid work. If I worked any additional hours, we hit the cap and full fees kicked in, which we simply could not afford at the time. It's a reality that many couples will identify with and a situation that, more often than not, stops women from engaging in full-time work or trying to grow a small business.

The system should empower people and communities, not limit or restrict choice and potential. In regional communities, small businesses are our backbone. We need to support women and families to grow their businesses and grow their employment potential. Right now, the system under this government is a handbrake on livelihoods, a handbrake on small business and a handbrake on regional economies at a time when we need to reshape our future post-drought, post-bushfire and post-COVID-19. This will change when Anthony Albanese is Prime Minister and Amanda Rishworth is the early childhood education minister. Bring it on.

The Morrison system has failed parents. It's created a financial disincentive for many second wage earners to work full time or to grow their business. An Albanese Labor government will fix Australia's broken childcare system, and no family will be worse off. It's not a welfare measure; it's about making sure more women are participating in work, growing their regional businesses and unlocking their economic potential.

This week, in Yass, the Labor team spoke of early education as being a part of every child's life. In the same way that kids go to school when they're five or six, all children should have access to early education—when the foundations of their future selves are laid down in their heart, in their head and in their hands. As Mr Albanese said on Monday, 'The human brain develops 90 per cent of its capacity in those first five years of life,' and yet childcare fees for parents in Tumut and Tumbarumba have gone up by 12.3 per cent in the last 12 months. They haven't reduced; they've gone up. They've gone up in regional communities, and they've gone up in our metropolitan communities. If you can't afford it, your kids simply miss out. If you want to work more, you're penalised. This is the reality of how this government's childcare system works, or, more to the point, how it doesn't work. When they had the chance to fix it and deliver renewal and recovery in the recent budget, they failed to see the opportunity.

If this government is serious about creating jobs, create jobs in child care. Use child care to unlock jobs. Use child care to empower women to grow their business. Please start in Cooma. Even before Snowy 2.0, mums and dads in Cooma were struggling to access childcare places that they needed. The potential of the care economy in Australia's economy is clear for all to see, and an Albanese government will make that happen.

3:56 pm

Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (Wentworth, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the member for Kingston for putting this important matter of public importance on the agenda—the existing barriers to women working full time and starting small businesses. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue.

To my mind, the female workforce participation is not as high as I'd like it to be. It's not as high as it should be. It is increasing; it reached an all-time high of 61.5 per cent in January 2020, up from about 58 per cent in 2013, but there is still a very significant gap with male workforce participation. For males, at the same time, in January 2020, the workforce participation rate was around 71 per cent. So there is a gap of around 10 per cent that's still to be narrowed. In my first speech to parliament, I spoke about that. I said that reducing the gap between female and male workforce participation 'would be one of the most impactful and meaningful economic reforms we could pursue'. I also described the lost opportunity under employment and the lost human capital as a loss to economic opportunity for the country, and I continue to hold those views. This is an important issue, and we do need to look at what some of the barriers to more women entering the workforce and participating in the workforce are.

In that vein, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released a report in August—just a few months ago this year—entitled Barriers and incentives to labour force participation, Australia. It has a number of interesting findings, which I think are worth highlighting. The most important incentive cited for women who are not currently participating in the labour force was access to a childcare place. Fifty-two per cent of women rated this as very important. The second most important incentive was financial assistance with childcare costs, with 51 per cent of women surveyed citing this as important. Next, and closely behind, was the ability to work part-time hours, cited by 49 per cent. The ability to vary start and finish times was cited by 35 per cent of women, and the ability to work school hours was cited by 29 per cent of women. On the reasons that women working part time—that is, women who are already in the workforce—do not want to work more hours, in the ABS survey, 36 per cent nominated that as their preference; they were satisfied with the current arrangements. Twenty-seven per cent cited caring responsibilities. I think it's clear—at least, to me—that there are two issues here. One is access and affordability of child care, but the other is workplace flexibility. I think it's important when we're considering this issue that we consider both of those things.

On access to child care, the government's support to child care has been significant. We've committed to spending around $9.2 billion in 2020-21 for child care. Around one million Australians will be benefitting from the childcare package and, of those who are benefitting, around 71 per cent of these one million Australians will be paying no more than $5 per hour per day in daycare centres.

Now, our childcare subsidy is means tested. If your family income is over about $353,000, you're not eligible for the childcare subsidy. If your family income is between around $190,000 and $353,000, there's a cap on the amount of subsidy you can receive: around $10,500 per child per financial year. Personally, I think that's appropriate. We means test a number of benefits in Australia, and the case for giving this childcare subsidy to Australian households that are on high incomes is not well made.

I would say that COVID-19 has obviously been massively disruptive to our economy and to all people in the workforce and our overarching objective in our budget has been to return all Australians, men and women, to work. If we get the economy growing again, if we got people hiring again and if we get businesses investing again then all Australians will benefit. Of the jobs that we have created since May, 62 per cent have been filled by women. The other big disruption that has been caused by COVID-19 has been to workplace flexibility, the other barrier that I cited earlier on. I'm sure many of us here have seen this. I have certainly seen it in my own house. Workplace norms too often have limited flexibility. Things such as part-time hours, flexible hours or working from home were in the past frowned upon but have now been embraced by businesses and employers. Increasingly the ability for women in particular but also men to access flexible working arrangements, flexible hours and the ability to work from home is now becoming normalised and mainstream.

I did in the time remaining want to commend the report that was released today by my colleague the member for Boothby along with the Prime Minister. I think she highlights an important issue about female representation in the parliament, including in my own party. We do need a more diverse parliament, and that means diversity on gender and any number of other metrics. I think we have made progress there but we do have more to do.

4:02 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wanted to pick up on a couple of comments by those opposite in this debate on this matter of public importance. The minister spoke about defence industry and about how important that was to women's participation in work, but in her contribution the minister failed to acknowledge the gender pay gap that exists within her industry. Take my electorate. We have two big defence manufacturers. One of them manufactures uniforms. The predominantly women workforce are paid substantially less than the predominantly male workforce who work at Thales and manufacture Bushmasters. Both work in the defence industry, both in important roles. One keeps our defence troops safe in terms of uniform, the other in terms of the vehicles they drive, yet their pay is radically different.

Let's also talk about the gender make-up of defence industries. One in five people working in defence industries are women, one in seven are in management and one in 14 are apprentices. So, if the government wants to hold this industry up as an industry doing well for women, it's grossly mistaken.

The next speaker spoke about agriculture and agricultural workforce. Yes, we have lots of women involved in agriculture. However, only 32 per cent of the agricultural workforce are women. The speaker also spoke about the rural women's award, which I have had the opportunity to attend a few years now, with women from my electorate being successful. But what women raise at this awards night every year is that women are still fighting to be recognised as farmers. They're still fighting the concept that they are not the wife of the farmer but the farmer. We still have a long way to go in terms of norms when it comes to women in agriculture. Another speaker spoke about the fact that we had a high number of women take work back up since the pandemic hit and women were stood down. We've had a re-engagement of women.

Let's talk about the jobs they've gone to. It is the casual, insecure jobs. It's the few hours here. It's hospitality in retail. They're often told, 'When business picks back up, you'll get more hours.' It completely misses the point of this MPI. What we in Labor are saying we've put forward is that women do not take extra work. They do not pick up third and fourth days, sometimes at full-time employment, because of the cost of childcare, because of the barriers that are in place.

The final speaker spoke about women wanting more flexibility. Have we ever asked them why? Is it because they are trying to balance the cost of child care? That completely reinforces the point we are making. We have a childcare system that disproportionately affects women, who tend to be the second income earner in households, as the previous speaker on my side from Eden-Monaro mentioned.

I've got local examples. A pharmacist spoke to me. She said that, during the pandemic, her employer asked her to work more hours. She has two children in early childhood education. She actually paid to work. She thought it was her duty to work—it was a pandemic—but it cost her family money to ensure that she turned up and did her role for her community as a pharmacist. The cost of child care actually meant they were paying to work. A nurse, for whom I raised a question in parliament, said she would like to take the third and fourth day, but can't. These are the people that the government are saying are high income earners. Their means test is too mean. It is excluding nurses from taking that extra shift and the pharmacist from working full-time.

An academic at La Trobe University said that, now that her youngest has finished child care and entered primary school, her family is saving thousands. That's the problem. This government's means testing is targeting women. It's excluding women from working full time, if they choose to. If we are genuine about women having choices and flexibility, then don't lock them into part-time work by a means test that means they can only work a couple of days. Ensure that they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

This also includes for business. I grew up in a small business family. My mum and dad ran that business. My mum worked just as hard as my dad. My younger sister was in child care. I never once saw my mum work part-time because of child care. She worked just as hard. To suggest that women can run businesses on the side, again diminishes the work that women do. This government doesn't know what to do when it comes to supporting women, whether it be in business or the workplace.

4:06 pm

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I would like to speak on the Morrison government's ongoing commitment to Australian women. As a woman who has worked hard to succeed while raising two beautiful and wonderful children, I want to teach my children the rewards that come from working hard. This led me beyond my original career as a speech pathologist into owning a small business and then working as an adviser to the Premier of Victoria 10 years ago before eventually becoming the member for Chisholm. This journey taught me the unique challenges that accompany being a woman in the workforce, especially the challenges faced by migrant women.

I admit that it was no easy task juggling all these responsibilities, but I am grateful that I had the support of both my family and the government to help me succeed in my professional pursuits while still raising a family. That's why I'm glad that the Morrison government continues to champion women's success in the Australian workforce. Australian women often struggle to balance or maintain their work life due to a number of challenges, whether that is inflexible workplace arrangements, difficulty in taking time off their careers to take care of the children, curtailing future career advancement or not having the support of extended family. As many Australian families are aware, the cost of child care is a significant factor in Australian women's decision to put their careers on hold to raise their children. As a single mother with an immigrant background, I would not be where I am without child care.

The Morrison government recognises this challenge and is committed to reducing the cost of child care to Australian families. We have demonstrated this commitment by providing record funding for child care. This means $9.2 billion will be delivered to families over the 2020-21 period, growing to more than $10 billion in years to come. As a migrant who couldn't rely on the support of my extended family, child care was essential. This package will support many migrant women in their pursuit of a family and a career.

Over one million Australian families who are balancing their work and parental responsibilities are benefitting from the package. Of these families, 71 per cent pay no more than $5 per hour in day care centres, and, within that subset, 24 per cent pay no more than $2 per hour. This support makes an enormous difference to each and every one of those families and empowers women to take control of their careers and their lives, while still allowing them to raise a family. Our childcare subsidy supported families and helped to deliver all-time high women's workforce participation, at 61.5 per cent in January 2020. COVID-19 has taken a toll on the number of Australians in the workforce. I can proudly say that 61.8 per cent of the jobs created since May have been filled by women, and the number of Australian women in the workforce will continue to rise through the Morrison government's commitment to jobs for women by supporting women in STEM and those who wish to develop a start-up.

As a member of the government that helped achieve resounding results in supporting women in the workplace, I can confidently speak on behalf of all of my colleagues when I say that the Morrison government has proudly supported and will continue to proudly support women in the workplace. It always has been and always will be a priority of our government.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has concluded.