Last night the Treasurer lamented women’s economic security challenges… and then pledged little to solve them

Scott Morrison Marise Payne

Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Minister for Women Marise Payne.

We’re not sure what’s worse: the lack of funding announced for women’s economic security, or the faux attempt at sincerity and concern for such security while the Treasurer spoke about the tiny figure they would spend on it.

Handing down the budget last night, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said his government is determined to get women’s workplace participation back to pre-COVID-19 highs.

He said, solemnly, that women have made up the bulk of the job losses during the pandemic.

He said that his government is going to create more opportunities and choices for women. Not just in the recovery but also for “generations ahead”.

And then he mentioned what they were going to spend on it: $240 million.

Not on one program. Not even on one key agenda. But rather on everything from women’s safety “at home and at work”, to cadetships, to entrepreneurialism, and somehow also within all that, “jobs creation” too.

And he did it while announcing the construction sector as the major winner from this budget, where women make up 10% of the workforce.

And, most insultingly, in a speech for a budget that failed miserably to deliver significantly on what many economists are saying is vital for women’s economic participation: affordable and accessible childcare.

It’s incredible that this figure actually gets its own subheader in the budget speech, under ‘women’s economic security’.

Single roads get more funding than that.

Back in 2018, that figure was about on par with what was outlined for the school chaplaincy program over four years.

The coalition could have done a lot more — there’s a significant amount of money being spent in this budget.

It could have promised spending that makes a difference, not just on childcare, but also on getting creative on coming up with significant policies that can get more women into work.

Policies that lift women out of poverty, hat enable even something in support of ‘economic security’ for women right now, when they need it most.

This $240 million doesn’t aim to do any of that.

Rather, it generates a press release.

It enables Frydenberg to mention women’s economic security in his budget speech.

It gives the Minister for Women Marise Payne, who has been mostly silent on how the pandemic is impacting women, the opportunity to share some initiatives for women’s workforce participation, all under the banner of the “Women’s Economic Security Statement” — which despite the Coalition’s best spin, still doesn’t actually secure much, given the limited funding and how many millions of women actually live in Australia.

Challenges on women’s economic security remain, the Treasurer said tonight.

They absolutely do. And $240 million isn’t going to solve them.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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