ABC Weekend Breakfast – Women left out of Budget, Labor’s Working Family Child Care Boost, older women being left behind

Saturday, 10 October 2020

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Well, let’s bring in our Political Panel now, with Liberal MP Katie Allen, who joins us from Canberra. We’ve also got Amanda Rishworth, who is the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, also joining us. Thank you so much both for appearing on Weekend Breakfast. Katie Allen, if I could start with you, it has been called a blokes budget, that the Federal Budget has ignored the pink recession. We do know that women have been most affected by the pandemic and the unemployment numbers as well. What in the Budget do you think actually supports more women going back to work?

KATIE ALLEN, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR HIGGINS: I actually think this Budget, quite rightly, has been focused on our COVID recovery, which is, of course, going to be fuelled by both men and women. So, the Budget is actually, with having already had JobSeeker and JobKeeper, we’re now moving to JobMaker Hiring Credits, we’re looking to increase productivity and participation. We need to get women back to those participation rates that were at a record high. And what I will say is that, you know, women who are in retail and hospitality and, of course, health and education were hardest hit. But they have also been the quickest to bounce back in those States where we have been opening back up the economy. And of the almost 500,000 jobs that have come back online, 60 per cent of them are women. And in this Budget, what we’re seeing is a real focus on jobs and job recovery, but also about participation and productivity. So, if you look at some of the women’s initiatives that are in there, the Women’s Economic Security Statement – and I would really recommend that you go and have a look at this really significant 75-page, dedicated report to specific things to help women get great and better jobs. It includes things like women in STEM, a cadetship for 500 women, which is $25 million. We’ve also got in there a really interesting Boosting Female Founders, because we know women entrepreneurs are really good at getting return on investments, 72 cents in the dollar rather than the 31 cents that is men have. We’re seeing interesting stuff about women in computer science. Because we know that women getting back into science, technology, engineering and mathematics is really important for the jobs of the future. And also a mid-career checkpoint and a career revive aspect. So, there’s a lot in it, going forward. And it’s all part of this COVID recovery Budget, which is of course, both for men and women. And, of course, tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners, which are of course going to help women.

KATHRYN ROBINSON, HOST: Katie, if we can stay with the package, it might be 75 pages, but it’s only $240 million. Do you really think that’s enough to sustain over the next 4-5-year period?

ALLEN: If you look across all the different budgetary measures, they’re not just for men. They’re for men and women. If you look at the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, she’s got a really interesting package for manufacturing, looking at health and clean energy, things I’m particularly passionate about, but so are women. So, there’s a lot in the Budget that will, of course, affect both men and women. And there are specific stimulus amounts for women, particularly some really interesting pilot programs, to get women into these really high-paying jobs.

IBRAHIM: Amanda Rishworth, we want to talk about this $6 billion day care package, which is Labor’s Budget centre piece in reply. The universal Child Care Subsidy, of course, it’s been pointed out that higher-income families would be able to afford child care more than lower-income subsidies. Shouldn’t this program then be means tested?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: That’s just not right to say that low-income families would not benefit significantly from Labor’s changes.

IBRAHIM: I don’t think anyone is saying that. I think everyone is saying yes, lower-income families will benefit, but so will higher-income families. But surely if higher-income families can afford child care, then shouldn’t more money or subsidies be given to lower-income families, and shouldn’t this program be means tested?

RISHWORTH: What we’re offering, firstly, is a 90 per cent subsidy for the lowest-income families. But this is not a welfare measure, this is a workforce participation measure. Because this measure will have the potential to grow our economy between potentially $4 billion, conservatively, to $7 billion. That is good for the whole economy, because this is about women’s participation. This is about women who look at the family financials and say I have to pay to go to work on the fourth and the fifth day. And so that is meaning we are losing the talent of those women, we’re losing the productivity, and we’re losing workforce participation.

IBRAHIM: On the same $6 billion package for child care, it does nothing to address the shortfall and the shortage of child care experts and workers, who are suffering from low wages?

RISHWORTH: This will develop an increase in demand, and of course, it will provide as a job stimulus for early educators. Many educators have been kicked off JobKeeper and are not getting any hours at the moment. They’re not getting any work at the moment. In Victoria, for example, we have been inundated with many casual educators who don’t have any work at the moment. So, what our proposal is about is supporting women getting back to work, about supporting families to have more money in their pocket, and growing our economic development. And that is why we’ve had business groups come out and support this, early childhood educators come out and support this, unions come out and support this, right across the board. Families have been crying for relief. Because there’s no point in stimulating jobs, like the Government says they’re going to do, if women can’t take up those opportunities. And that’s exactly what our proposal is putting forward. It’s more important than for just those families, it’s more important than just women’s workforce participation, it is about growing our economy as well. This is economic reform.

Now, getting to your point about means testing, we don’t means test Medicare, we don’t means test a whole range of programs that are seen to be beneficial for our economy. And indeed the Government hasn’t means-tested its economic stimulus. So, this is about growing the economy. This is about women’s workforce participation. And it provides a very, very good return on investment, not to mention the benefit to children that get a high-quality early education.

ROBINSON: Katie, just picking up on Amanda’s point there about that disincentive to take on further work which currently exists with the Coalition’s child care strategy, do you agree that there is a disincentive for say a woman on $45,000, her partner might be on $55,000, if she picks up an extra day of work after working two or three days, she’s on an effective tax rate of 90 per cent. Are you comfortable with the existence of a disincentive, or would you prefer to see that go?

ALLEN: What I would say is that our Government has responded to the Productivity Commission, and two years ago put out a signature piece, which is the Child Care Subsidy, which shows that 72 per cent of women are paying less than $5 an hour out-of-pocket costs. In fact, 25 per cent of women are paying – or families, I should say, are paying less than $2 per hour for out-of-pocket costs. 20 years ago, when I had my kids, I wish I could have had that support. There’s a lot of funding, $9 billion this year, going into child care, and it’s going to where it’s most needed, the low- and middle-income families.

ROBINSON: If I can just move on to more generally speaking, there’s an article in The Guardian today that outlines the plight of older women, women over 50, being left to languish in poverty. Katie, if I can speak to you, what do you think the Budget has to offer for women over 50, who might be in long-term poverty, who might have been on Newstart and now moved to JobSeeker?

ALLEN: Well what I would say is that, in the Women’s Economic Security Statement, there are exactly those sorts of initiatives, looking to pilot new ways of helping women to revive their career and to get back into the workforce, mid-career checkpoints. And I really welcome these initiatives. They’re being piloted at the moment. If they’re successful, these are the sorts of programs that we should grow. Because we know that, as you say, women over the age of 50 in particular, we’re finding those are the ones that are at risk. And so we as a Government are very interested in supporting these women and helping them to get back into the workforce, and to really retrain and upskill so that they can do that and participate at speed.

IBRAHIM: Amanda Rishworth, what would Labor do to help women over 50 who are, as Kath says, facing poverty and homelessness?

RISHWORTH: I think we’ve got to have a look at the root problems. Anthony Albanese, for example, talked about an investment in public housing. A lot of these women, for the first time ever, are often finding themselves unable to pay the rent, and falling into homelessness. I think that’s a critically important point. But I think we’ve also got to make sure that we are supporting women through their whole life cycle, so that they are not ending up at poverty at the other end. But, of course, what the Government has done with their wage subsidy is actually going to pit younger workers who have a subsidy, against these older women workers. And so when an employer is looking to hire a new employee, will they choose the younger person with the subsidy, or the older worker? Of course they’re going to choose the individual with the subsidy. So, there is some real concern for these older workers about some of the Government programs that they’ve put in place. Will they indeed be locked out of the employment market and find it more difficult to get back into work because of some of the Government’s programs they’ve put in place.

ROBINSON: Katie, final word to you. Has the Budget pitted old against the young, and men against women?

ALLEN: I think that is a really bad way of looking at things. What we know is that when there’s an economic downturn, younger people find it hard to get into a job, and it’s really important that we do get them on to, you know, the escalator that is a job and prosperity. And that first step is incredibly important. Otherwise what you end up doing is, you know, facing long-term unemployment. So, I really welcome it. I don’t think we should talk down this JobMaker Hiring Credit. I think it’s an amazing and really welcomed initiative. And what we’ll see is businesses, you know, really receiving about $10,000 and making sure they’re hiring new, young people, and in addition to those that they have, so it’s incentivising them to take on young people. They get to know them, they have confidence. And it’s also providing them at least 20 hours of work. This is a really great initiative, I think, to get business backing in new jobs. That’s what this Budget is about. It’s a Budget that’s about families, it’s about tax cuts, and it’s about getting business to help us move out of this post-COVID economy. It’s not just about governments doing handouts, it’s about governments incentivising and innovating to make sure that we increase productivity, participation, we get women back to that record-high 61 per cent participation, which we’re already starting to see come back. I’m really positive about what we’re doing going forward in this Budget.

ROBINSON: Katie Allen and Amanda Rishworth, thanks so much for joining us on Weekend Breakfast.


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