Women's Economic Security

Ms WELLS (Lilley) (12:42): Even with all the weeks to prepare for consideration in detail, the best question asked then was, 'Are you aware of any alternative approaches?' Honestly, you do a disservice to this process.

The Morrison government can run but it cannot hide from the numbers. Australian women earn less than men in any job. So my first question to the minister is: what is your plan to fix that? This Morrison budget glossy is full of buzzwords without any substance. It's not a budget even trying to fix the systemic inequality faced by Australian women. It is a budget for political recovery, not for pandemic recovery. Half of one per cent of this $589 billion budget, or $3.4 billion, is going towards women's economic security.

Gender Equity Victoria conducted analysis comparing how the federal budget's investment in women measures up in comparison to some of the other big-ticket items that it announced. Specific funding for endometriosis is $5 million, but the gaming industry receives $20 million in tax breaks. There is $29.3 million set aside to improve migrant and refugee women's safety over the next three years, but $464 million is being sprayed around to bolster immigration detention. There is $57.6 million being set aside for family violence services for First Nations women—that's terrific, but $474 million is being spent upgrading military training facilities, all in the Northern Territory. From those numbers it is pretty clear how much the Morrison government actually cares about women's economic security—it doesn't. There is little support for women working in traditionally female dominated, undervalued care sectors like aged care, child care and retail. You can throw as much unconditional money as you like at aged-care facilities, but you are not going to fix aged care if you are not fixing the systemic workforce issues in that industry. If you have a female dominated workforce that is underpaid, underappreciated and overworked, you will not fix aged care, no matter how many billions you throw at private centres to do so without any strings attached.

We agree that new skills spending is good, but skills do not create jobs, they do not boost wages and they do not improve existing works conditions. Poor wage growth hurts everybody, including workers and small-business owners, but it hurts women the most, because 65 per cent of all jobs undertaken by women are in low- and middle-income service industries like hospitality, retail, health care and social services. This inequity is only further widened by the gender pay gap, which is currently at 31 per cent and only getting wider as the prevalence of insecure work continues to grow.

An honourable member interjecting—

Ms WELLS: I'll take that interjection. It's the lowest possible figure you can use, not factoring in casual work, part-time work or time taken over the course of a lifetime. It's 31 per cent when you are realistic about the kinds of systemic discrimination and time off that women take in the workforce. This budget offers no substantial change to policy settings that block women's economic security. So my question to the minister is: why not?

In terms of addressing parity in retirement incomes, yes, the budget abolished the $450 a month earnings threshold for super, which will predominantly benefit women in low-paid casual work. Great. But, with one in three women retiring with no superannuation at all and the average super balance of women being roughly half that of their male counterparts, this measure is small; it is insufficient. It is just a drop in the ocean. Perhaps some of the $29.5 billion in tax concessions handed out each year to boost male super could instead be used to pay super on paid parental leave. As economist Alison Pennington put it, 'Pink-washing' the budget 'cannot hide the powerful disequalising forces that this government has set in motion.'

This budget cements rising inequality in the structure of our post-COVID recovery. The short-sighted, insincere, PR focused policy decisions being made by the Morrison government today, being defended in this chamber today, will affect Australian women for generations to come. So my question to the minister is: what is the Morrison government doing to improve the quality of work, the pay and the conditions for undervalued women working in our care economy? Further, my question to the minister is: will the Morrison government support Labor's policy to strengthen the ability and the capacity of the Fair Work Commission to order pay increases for workers in low-paid, female dominated industries? Until we have answers to those questions, I don't see how Australian women can rely upon this Morrison government at all.