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Budget 2017: What’s in it for Canberra women?

Emma Davidson

Last night’s Federal Budget included a mix of funding announcements for programs to encourage paid work, discourage use of welfare support payments, and rename a few existing programs.

So what does it mean for women living in Canberra?

Housing and homelessness

A new housing and homelessness agreement replaces the previous National Affordable Housing Agreement and National Partnership on Homelessness. These are the programs that fund housing affordability schemes, and crisis services for homelessness.

This is a relief, as many in the community sector were expecting cuts. The combined value of the previous programs would have been $1,483.6m in 2018-19. The new agreement is funded for $1,500.2m in 2018-19, a slight increase (though not enough to meet demand).

But it will roll crisis service funding (for domestic violence and homelessness shelters) in with other affordable housing programs (such as home ownership programs or investment properties leased at less than market rates). This means the community sector will need to continue campaigning at the ACT Government level to ensure that funding for our crisis services continues, and isn’t swallowed up by other affordable housing programs.

Young women on good incomes will be encouraged to use their super funds as a lower-taxed savings account for a house deposit. Which will be nice for the extremely small percentage of young women who have any money left after they pay high private rent and HECS debts on an entry-level wage.

Older women are encouraged, through tax savings, to downsize and put the excess capital into their super. This will help their cash-flow and increase the number of houses for sale. Ultimately, neither of these measures are likely to have much impact on the housing market.

Managed Investment Trusts may increase community housing supply at reduced market rent, helping moderate income households. But for people in the lowest income brackets this will still be unaffordable, and public housing programs will still be needed.

Health

There were no new programs for breast and cervical cancer, just continuations of existing programs. These include $65m over four years for breast screenings for 70 to 74 year old women, and $41.6m over four years for Victorian Cytology Service for cervical cancer screening.

Good news for the mental health sector: $80m over four years for psychosocial support services for people with mental illness who don’t qualify for NDIS funding. While this relies on States matching the funding, it is good to see psychosocial health needs being addressed.

Universal pre-school funding

We already have this (thanks ACT Government). While it’s nice to know that families in other areas will also have access to this in future, it’s only 15 hours per week. And there’s not many jobs out there that allow you to only work 15 hours per week on pre-school days.

Domestic and family violence

Community Legal Centre funding of $39m was announced back in April and is still not enough to meet demand.

Specialist Domestic Violence Unit funding in legal centres is only $3.4m over two years, which won’t meet demand.

Parenting Management Hearings may help keep less complex matters out of family court, but we need to see more detail about how they will work.

Banning direct cross-examination in family law proceedings where there are family violence allegations is something that will make a real difference for women having to face their former abuser in a court room, and is a good move.

Employment

A demerit system for jobseekers will cut $632m in welfare payments over five years, but the administrative costs have not been fully disclosed and could be quite high. This is because the administration of the system involves payments to for-profit organisations. It also does nothing to increase the number of jobs actually available for jobseekers to apply for. With jobs continuing to be cut in the Federal public service, this will have an impact on Canberra households.

Women wanting to get back into the workforce, or transition to a new career, will benefit from around $20m of investment in training and reskilling older Australians. For Canberrans who are facing redundancy and need to update their CV with new skills, this could be very helpful.

There is also $33m for “boosting the local care support workforce”, by which the Government means “getting more women into the disability and aged care workforce”, particularly in outer suburbs. While it’s great to see more help for the disability and aged care sector, we’re not sure why this should specifically be a measure for getting women into the workforce (as listed in the Minister for Women’s media release). Men really are just as capable as women at being care-givers.

The 2017 Federal Budget doesn’t provide much in the way of new programs to help women in the ACT, or additional funding for existing programs.

What it does do is shift some of the decision-making for funding much-needed services to the ACT Government. Requirements for funding to be matched at State level, or shifting the decision on how much funding goes to crisis services and how much to other housing programs, is a nifty trick to avoid having to take responsibility at the Federal level.

It’s now up to all of us to hold both levels of government accountable for properly funding the services we need.

Feature image: Martin Ollman

Emma Davidson

Emma Davidson is National Secretary of Women’s Electoral Lobby (Australia), a TEDxCanberra volunteer, ACT Greens candidate for 2016, and Canberra’s slowest roller derby referee. More about the Author

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