Senate debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Women's Economic Security, Budget

3:04 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Families and Social Services (Senator Ruston) to questions without notice asked today by Senators McCarthy, Keneally and O'Neill relating to the budget.

The Prime Minister has described those expressing concern that women have been left behind by his government's budget as 'voices of disruption and division'. More disturbingly, some young man—I assume it was a young man—in the Prime Minister's office took time out of his busy day to ring up a female journalist and take her to task for her coverage of his government's budget, saying that 'no-one credible' was making criticisms of the government's budget on the grounds of its inadequacies in terms of women. When the Minister representing the Minister for Women was asked about these comments, her response was simply to say she's concerned about the level of understanding about how her budget works. How patronising! When Australian women raise their voices and raise objections about how this government performs and responds to their issues, the answer is, 'Oh, they clearly just don't understand.' Well, I'll tell you what: if I have to choose between the Morrison government and the credible women who are raising concerns about their budget, I know who I will choose. I will choose the credible women every single day.

For the people on the other side who don't understand the issues—because I think it's this government who doesn't understand; it's not Australian women—let me take you through it. We are facing the worst recession in almost 100 years. It's a recession triggered by a global pandemic, and it has disproportionately affected Australian women. Women have lost their jobs and they've lost their hours, and they've lost them at a faster rate than men. Since March, almost 200,000 women have lost their jobs, and 110,000 women have left the labour force altogether. At the peak of the coronavirus restrictions earlier this year, more than one million women had no work whatsoever, and outside the workforce a whole lot of new tasks accrued to women in the home: homeschooling and looking after unwell people—a massive increase in the burden of work at home.

But, during the pandemic, what did the government do to support women? Well, they set up JobKeeper in a way that excluded short-term casuals, and that overwhelmingly impacted women more than men; they withdrew JobKeeper from the childcare sector, unbelievably; and the women who were excluded from other measures of support were told that what they should do was draw down from their already meagre super balances, forcing women to choose between their financial security now and their financial security in retirement.

The government had an opportunity to redeem themselves in this budget. They had an opportunity to fix some of this stuff-up, because there is no doubt that Australian women have borne the brunt of the pandemic and the Morrison recession that's accompanied it. But, despite racking up more than $1 trillion worth of debt, the Prime Minister's office rehashed the women's economic statement and allocated $230 million in new funding, 0.024 per cent of the new spending measures in the budget. For absolute clarity, we are spending more in this budget on a waste-recycling program than we are on the Women's Economic Security Statement. We are planning to spend more on buying petrol than we are on the Women's Economic Security Statement. We're spending twice as much on putting in a new computer system in the Department of Human Services as we are on the Women's Economic Security Statement in this budget. So, when credible women say to you on the government benches, 'Your budget does not deliver for us,' a humble government—a listening government—would actually take that concern seriously. It would listen and respond. It would not try to demean and diminish the voices of people who raised their concerns about its performance, because that is essentially the kind of arrogance that will not be rewarded.

People who raise concerns about women's issues are not voices of disruption or of division. We are ordinary voices of Australian women who are tired of having our interests ignored by a government that only sees the world through male eyes and appears incapable of appreciating women's perspectives, uninterested in addressing them and hostile to hearing women's voices. I stand with the credible women.

3:09 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a great day to be doing a motion to take note, because I get to talk about my favourite subject: women. I'd like to give a shout-out to my beautiful wife; my beautiful daughter; my beautiful sisters; my mother, who has passed away; and my grandmothers. They were all working women. The one thing that we will never do on this side of the chamber is leave women behind. The other thing we will never do on this side of the chamber is leave our children behind or leave our families behind.

I'd like to reflect on the comments of another great Australian woman, Quentin Bryce, Australia's first female Governor-General, who said when talking about the complexities of trying to raise children and going back to work, 'You can have it all; you don't necessarily have to have it all at once.' I think it's terribly presumptuous of those on the other side of the chamber to think that they know what every woman wants. Some women don't necessarily want to go back to work straight away. Some might like to stay home while their children are young. If that's what they want to do we on this side of the chamber will support that, because we on this side of the chamber believe in choice and believe in our children. That's different to that side of the chamber, which believes in command and control. This side: choice, children, families. That side of the chamber: command and control.

Of course, there's more to it than Labor like to make out. We've got it here from our old friend Aunty, the ABC. They're not the greatest friends of the coalition. A few years ago Fact Check did a piece called, 'Was Labor's childcare fund only ever about the union?' And the result was 'in the ballpark'. It says:

However, there are reasonable criticisms of the amount allocated to the fund, the uneven way it was distributed and the adoption of a first-come-first-served policy. This process favoured the union.

One thing we will never do on this side of the chamber is unionise parenthood. That is the difference between this side of the chamber and that side of the chamber. That side of the chamber puts unions first. It doesn't put our children first. It doesn't put women first. It doesn't put the welfare of all Australians first. It puts the unions first all the time. Whenever they're talking about these issues, you can always be sure that, in the background, it's always about the unions. It's always about the unions.

Let's just look at some of the numbers in the budget here. There are allegations that there's no money in the budget for women and no money in the budget for women's support. Let's just quote a couple of figures here. Women are getting $242 million for women's workforce participation. We're spending $240 million to get women back into work. I should also say there's $9 billion in this year's budget for child care. On top of that, there's $20 billion for the family tax benefit. I forget who it was, but one of the Labor senators mentioned that two-thirds of people who stay at home are women. We're supporting stay-at-home parents to the tune of $20 billion. There's parental income support of another $7 billion. There's child support of $2 billion. Support for the childcare system is $1.5 billion. There's another $600 million for families and children. All up, there's about $40 billion to help families—you know, women are a part of families. There is a lot of money in this budget for child care, for families and to help women get back into the workforce. So I totally refute the allegations that the coalition doesn't support women.

We should just touch on a few other big discounts in the budget here. I note Senator McAllister raised the issue of superannuation. If we look at the biggest tax concession in the budget—guess what it is! The second and third-biggest are concessional taxation of superannuation entity earnings and concessional taxation of employer superannuation contributions—over $40 billion in superannuation contributions. Wow! So I tell you what— (Time expired)

3:14 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I find it hard to believe some of the contributions and some of the answers that we've received to our questions today about what is, in actual fact, confronting Australian women at this time. I also find hard to believe not only the tone-deafness of the answers that they've given us today but their inability to hear the reality—to see and understand the reality—of what is happening to Australian women right now in the course of this Morrison crisis that's been inflicted on us—I do mean the Morrison recession, but it's a crisis of great proportion because there is no adequate response. For example: before the recession, the Central Coast, which is in the electorate of Robertson, where I live, had the highest underemployment of unskilled female workers in the entire country.

They have not been noticed. They have not been heard. There is no response. Despite putting us in debt as a nation to the tune of $1 trillion, those women's needs remain unanswered. These were women at the front line of the aged-care crisis and the front line of the pandemic, and the government has now turned its back on them. Women on the Central Coast of New South Wales lost work hours much faster than men, they were 50 per cent more likely to stop looking for work than men and they are suffering more significantly than men. You'd think a government would know about these things. You'd think the government would have some plan in their response, in their budget, to that reality. Data from the New South Wales Parliamentary Library shows us that employment growth slowed to a trickle while more people than ever were leaving the coast to commute for many hours for jobs. That's the reality before these guys got to the pandemic, and it's so, so much worse now.

Senator Rennick mentioned the union movement, and I want to stand firmly with the SDA union and other great union leaders who are the only voices standing up for workers, who are much maligned by this government. As they said, this is a blue budget for a pink recession. There is totally inadequate support for women. Two hundred thousand women who work in accommodation services, food services and the retail trade sector all missed out on JobSeeker due to its design flaws around casual employees. They're suffering, their families are suffering and, of $1 trillion that is going to be racked up as debt for this country, there is no relief in sight for those women.

The number of women on JobSeeker has jumped by 124 per cent over the past 12 months, surging past their male counterparts in August. What does it mean for the women who end up on JobSeeker? Let me give you a little bit of the flavour of what it was like for an amazing woman who gave evidence to a committee hearing that we had in Launceston at the end of 2019. This is the kind of Australian woman this government is leaving behind. Her name is Debra and this is what she said:

I've worked a total of 35 years for Australia, and my last position was for 22 years. I've worked 30 of those 35 years in factory work so it was physical labour and your body can only take that for so long. In 2016, I was made redundant. The factory I worked at closed in November of that year, and I was made redundant in July. I went to Centrelink to be told that I had to live on my redundancy for 18 months, which I did. After that they put me on Newstart.

The equivalent of Newstart is JobSeeker. Debra went on to say:

So to say that going from a paid job to Newstart is a shock to the system is a bit of an understatement because budgeting is impossible. There's just no money to budget. There's just not enough money to go around.

I've followed all the instructions from Centrelink and my job provider to the letter. I've had my payments suspended five times so far this year due to no fault of mine, and that's stressful. … When you get a text message—actually, on Wednesday I reported and, when I got to the end of my report, it said: your payment has been suspended. So I had to get out of that, ring my job provider and ask, 'What's going on?' It just happens all the time…

…   …   …

My medical scripts cost about $80-plus a month. I've used all my redundancy. I have very few savings left. Frankly, I'm scared about what's going to happen to me when my car rego and my insurance et cetera come in because there are no savings left—that's what I've been living on. I mean: am I going to have be forced to live in my car? It makes me very sad, and it's demeaning when our Prime Minister says that Newstart recipients are a blight on the Australian economy.

That is the Mr Morrison who created the budget that we saw on Tuesday night. That is why Australian women are being left behind, because he simply doesn't care. (Time expired)

3:19 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is bizarre, to say the least, to hear opposition senators come into this place and talk about the 'Morrison recession', as we just heard Senator O'Neill mention. Obviously this is an issue which has gone right through the Labor Party. Dr Chalmers yesterday sent around an email talking about the 'Morrison recession' as if the COVID-19 crisis didn't exist. Now, the budget papers during the week revealed that, yes, the Australian economy has shrunk by seven per cent in the June quarter. That compares to a 20 per cent reduction in the UK and 12 per cent in New Zealand, so this is the global recession that the Labor Party don't seem to be able to come to terms with and that is inflicting damage upon the world's economy. Given that this discussion is about women, I will now turn to that matter.

This budget is about improving the economic standing of this country and improving the standing of all the citizens of Australia. Yes, our whole economic response to this pandemic has been to try to be as broad based as possible. We've spent $100 billion on the JobKeeper scheme, and that has kept businesses afloat. It's kept people in their jobs. It's kept people alive.

We can talk about the issues that have been raised during this motion to take note. As I say, the budget is based on a rising tide lifting all boats, 'all boats' being the Australian people. But of course there is a gender pay gap, which under our government, leading into this pandemic, is the lowest it has been on record, and so there is a recognition across our government that there is a need to deploy measures to deal with some of the issues that women, in particular, face. In relation to child care, which is often raised, I have never seen this as an issue for women. It's an issue for families. It is an issue for men and women. It's an issue for everyone. And so solving child care is not solving something which is a problem that should only accrue to women. It is something that families need to work together on, and I don't see this issue as just falling into women's bucket. But across the board we have deployed measures in this budget which deal directly with some of the shortcomings in our economy.

One of the roles I'm performing in this place is chairing an inquiry into fintech. During that inquiry it has become clear that there is a need for us to do more training and to spend more time, more effort and more resources ensuring that women have the skills to run tech businesses and to be successful in the tech space. And so in this budget we have deployed $25 million into STEM cadetships for women. We've also put money into boosting enterprise amongst women, with 280-odd startups expected to be created because of this scheme. In the course of this inquiry it's been a great pleasure to meet many founders and CEOs of fintech and regtech businesses who are women. There are many of them that are successful already, and we want to see more and more businesses in this space.

In this budget a number of recommendations of the fintech committee have been adopted. The research and development tax incentive recommendations have been adopted. There have also been changes to the fringe benefits tax arrangements that will be forthcoming. All of these things are designed, of course, to improve the amount of private investment into the tech space where men and women work, but we do want to see more women in this space, which is why we're deploying the STEM scheme. I reflect on some of the interactions that we've had at the committee, where there have been some brilliant women who've come up with a tech idea, gone into the market and established these businesses. They're now deploying things in the buy-now, pay-later sector and whatnot. This is a great tribute to female enterprise, but we do want to see more, so we are trying to provide some positive discrimination here in this field.

I summarise my comments by saying this is a budget for all Australians. The rising tide does lift all boats.

3:24 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One trillion dollars in debt and nothing for women over the age of 35.In the Morrison government's budget, women are being left out and left behind. Day after day, we see new evidence of the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on Australian women, but in response the Morrison government has failed. Women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, taking on two-thirds of the unpaid care work at home. Even before the pandemic hit, a significant number of JobSeeker recipients were middle-aged women. In August, there were 754,100 women receiving JobSeeker. Of those, 61 per cent were over 35. The same research revealed a huge increase in the number of women in their 40s, 50s and 60s relying on unemployment benefits for years. A third of women aged at least 55 have been on unemployment support for at least five years. There are 460,000 women aged over 35 years who are without work and who face a future of living on $40 a day. They have been excluded from the Morrison government's hiring credits scheme and will need to compete against younger, subsidised jobseekers. So if you're a woman in your 40s who's been on JobKeeper during this recession, had your hours reduced, work in hospitality or retail and, come March or April, you lose your job, what is in the budget for you? Nothing. The Morrison government excluded many women from JobKeeper. The Morrison government only provided JobKeeper for two-thirds of early educators and then ripped JobKeeper from the sector before any other profession. Ninety-six per cent of early educators are women working on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis.

What about First Nations women? Let's have a look at their story. There's no additional education funding for young First Nations women. The Clontarf Foundation funding supports the education of young First Nations men only. There was no additional health or legal services for First Nations women, no new money for further frontline domestic violence services, including no additional emergency and social housing to meet increased demand due to COVID-19, and no COVID-19 recovery support for unemployed Indigenous women over 35 years of age to regain employment.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that of the 64,644 First Nations people who sought specialist help for homelessness back in 2016-17, 61 per cent were women. First Nations women comprise 34 per cent of all female prisoners compared to two per cent of the overall Australian population. Although the majority of people in prison are male—97 per cent—First Nations women are the most rapidly-growing population of prisoners, with rates increasing by 150 per cent since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody—twice the rate of other females and double the rate of First Nations males from 2000 to 2016. These women have often experienced poverty, grief and loss, domestic violence, racism and poor mental health.

Senator Ruston noted the Women's Economic Security Statement contained $240 million in specific initiatives for women. Despite the $1.1 trillion of debt, the Prime Minister's women's economic statement contains just $240 million for 51 per cent of the population. This is a pittance compared to multibillion-dollar commitments directed to various male-dominated industries.

The 2020 budget contains nothing to address the significant job losses in industries dominated by women, yet women have represented more than 50 per cent of job losses during the coronavirus-led economic downturn. There's no new funding for frontline domestic and family violence services that support women and their children escaping violence, nothing new to address the gender pay gap, nothing on superannuation and women's economic security in retirement, nothing on child care, nothing on social housing and no plan for women in Australia.

Question agreed to.