Senate debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020


COVID-19: Economy

4:38 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | Hansard source

This was a time to work with the industry, to put aside ideological preoccupations and to cooperate with business. It's a very great shame that this does not appear to have been the approach so far.

I want to make some remarks about the impact of the crisis on women and the need to pay particular attention to women's economic circumstances. Time and time again, the impact of significant changes to women's economic circumstances are under-reported and under-recognised. This week the ABS released figures that showed overall employment decreased by 7½ per cent between 14 March and 18 April this year. That is a substantial change in the labour market. However, while male unemployment fell by 6.2 per cent, female unemployment fell by 8.1 per cent. That's a difference of nearly two percentage points. Associate Professor Alysia Blackham, who researches workplace discrimination and inequality at the University of Melbourne, said that the pandemic was magnifying already existing inequalities in the labour market. She noted that women are already overrepresented in insecure work, and they are also more likely to be on casual contracts with no paid leave entitlements. It leaves them vulnerable to being cut off from their jobs, as there is no obligation to employ them on an ongoing basis or to ensure certain hours.

This is a government that rarely thinks very specifically about the impact of its decisions on women. On this occasion I say to the government: because of the industries they work in, because of the terms and nature of their employment, women are being hit hard by this crisis. In building policies for reconstructing Australia, we need to think in specific ways about how those policies might support women or might undermine women's interests. Men and women have very different economic lives. This pandemic has highlighted this, and the policy response needs to explicitly consider whether or not the policies advanced will help Australian women.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected us all, but it has also provided us as a community with an opportunity to reflect on what is important in our lives—our families, our health and our economic security. It has illustrated that we're all vulnerable to forces beyond our control and that we rely on one another for compassion and cooperation in difficult times. It's provided us with an opportunity to reflect on what we want the future to be and to think about what we want to take forward and what we want to leave behind. We do not have to simply snap back to insecure work, to jobseekers living in poverty and to science being ignored. We can have an economy that works for people, not the other way around, and a society that reflects the very best of who we can be.


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