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The 2016 Budget and Canberra Women

Emma Davidson

Treasurer Scott Morrison introduced this year’s Federal Budget with the claim that these are extraordinary times.

While I’m glad he didn’t start with “it’s the most exciting time to be delivering a Budget”, it certainly looks like this is a Budget that will deliver interesting times (in the proverbial sense) for Canberra’s women.

The primary problem with this Budget is that most of its efforts to reduce the deficit come from reduced funding for services and support for low income earners, rather than increasing revenue. With women earning, on average, less than men, and being the primary care providers in most households who are trying to access services for themselves or their family members, this will make life more difficult.

One area where funding is seriously lacking is in services to tackle Australia’s domestic violence epidemic.

The lack of additional funding for frontline services, refuges, community legal centres, and transitional accommodation means we are unlikely to see a reduction in the numbers of women killed or injured as a result of domestic violence. The $100m announced in the Budget for domestic violence initiatives is much less than the amount recommended by Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence, and will be spent on initiatives in a report that has not yet been written. What this means is that desperately underfunded crisis services and community legal centres still have no promise of any extra help, after the previous Abbott government’s savage funding cuts.

For women on very low incomes, particularly single mothers, welfare support payments are critical to reducing their risk of homelessness. While this Budget cheerfully puts money towards expanded cashless welfare trials (which are not supported by evidence of improvement in outcomes for recipients but are expensive to administer) and crackdowns on welfare fraud, it offers no extra help for our most financially disadvantaged. Instead, there are cuts to carbon pricing compensation payments for new welfare recipients, meaning $14.10 per fortnight less for those on Newstart.

Failure to deal with negative gearing also means no relief in sight for people struggling to get into the housing market.

The growing number of Australian women paying private rent on a low income, particularly single mothers and older single women, will continue to be at risk of homelessness.

Instead, Morrison talks about “jobs and growth”. In fact, this phrase rated 13 mentions in his Budget Speech. Domestic violence rates 0 mentions. Childcare rated 0 mentions. With many women the unpaid carers for Australia’s children, elderly, and disabled, the focus on everyone having to get a job is disrespectful. Aged care faces a $1.2b funding cut, increasing the pressure on underpaid professional care providers, mostly women.

Keeping the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset will mean women earning under $37,000 continue to get a small tax offset that ensures they don’t pay more tax on their super contributions than they do on their income. But this is not so much offering women a carrot, as just not using the stick, as the Senate had knocked back an attempt to get rid of it. If Morrison really wants to make a difference to women’s superannuation, he could pay super on the government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme.

Delayed streamlining of childcare subsidies and rebates for another year will do nothing to help women struggling to work out if it’s financially worthwhile to return to paid work. Morrison has said this delay is because the Senate has not passed the government’s previously proposed Family Tax Benefit cuts.

A change intended to combat “bracket creep” so that a higher tax rate will kick in at $87,000 instead of the current $80,000 will help men earning an average or above average salary. But it will not help women who mostly earn much less. Morrison claims this will help “average full-time wage earners”. In fact, more than half of all Australians earn $50,000 or less, half of all Australians in full time work earn less than $59,000, and women earn even less than these figures.

Finally, the continued cuts to the public service are likely to have a big impact on Canberra’s women.

With the public service a major employer, and the bulk of jobs cut from the agencies with the highest percentage of women employed, this means many more Canberra women facing job cuts at the same time as reduced unemployment benefits, and continued pressure on already underfunded services.

While the economy is growing, the benefits of that growth are not flowing to women, and there is nothing in this Budget to change that.

Photography by 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