Last week the government released its Budget for 2022-23 and many commentators are touting women as “winners”. The Women’s Budget Statement includes three categories: safety, economic security, and health and wellbeing. Some highlights include:
Women’s safety: The Government is committing a further $1.3 billion across a range of initiatives, as part of ongoing efforts to end violence against women and children. This includes funding for frontline workers to better recognise and respond to family, domestic and sexual violence; accommodation and payments to help women escape domestic violence; support for women and children experiencing technology related abuse; support for women who experience sexual harassment; greater efforts to prevent and respond to forced marriage of women and girls; and enhanced support for victims of human trafficking.
Women’s economic security: Changes to the Paid Parental Leave scheme means that parents will be able to share up to 20 weeks paid leave between them (merging two weeks of dad/partner leave with 18 weeks of primary carer leave). It is said the $346.1 million upgrade will give families more choice and flexibility on how to manage work and care, help to remove barriers to women’s workforce participation, and incentivise fathers to further use parental leave. Single parents will also be able to access the full 20 weeks of leave, and given that more than 80 per cent are women, this is a positive step forward for single mothers. There are also plans to expand childcare services in remote and regional areas.
Women’s health and wellbeing: When it comes to women’s health, the Government is committing $58 million to improve the treatment, management and diagnosis of endometriosis. It will provide $23 million over four years to support families who have experienced stillbirth or miscarriage, including a new grant program for bereavement support. And it will invest in multiple initiatives to combat breast cancer and support breast cancer patients, including expanded eligibility for diagnosis services, expanded specialist nursing support, and subsidised treatments.
Overall, it is pleasing to see many positive initiatives for women in the latest Budget. However, a few things did jump out as requiring further attention and a more nuanced discussion.
While the new Paid Parental Leave scheme will undoubtedly benefit single parents, the majority of whom are women, concerns have been raised that women’s equality may be negatively impacted more generally. Part of the intention of the new scheme is that dads/partners will have the option to take more leave, freeing women up to return to work if that’s what they decide to do. However, commentators have pointed to research indicating that because men tend to earn more than women, it is unlikely that they will take more leave, and indeed may no longer even take the leave that is earmarked for them under the current scheme. It has been suggested that a better alternative would have been “to increase the incentives for men to take up more of the care load that will support women in the workforce, children’s health and men’s well-being.” It is clear that more consultation is required to understand whether such an approach will be beneficial to women in the long run, or whether it will in reality create further difficulty for women wanting to share parental leave entitlements and responsibilities with their partners.
Included in the Budget is “$81.2 million over four years for genetic testing for cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy and fragile X syndrome to help couples understand and assess the risk of passing on significant genetic conditions to their child and to plan their pregnancy appropriately.” While this has been presented as a positive step, we have previously raised concerns about the ethical and social implications that standardised, widespread genetic screening has, particularly in relation to pressure placed on women and the devaluing of people with disabilities.
The Government is also committing $10.3 million over four years “to further promote and create leadership, safety and employment opportunities for women in sport”, as well as “investing in programs to encourage greater participation of women and girls in sport”. While it is great to see investment in women’s sport, undertakings to promote women’s leadership, safety, employment and participation in sport fall flat when one of greatest risks to these – the participation of biological males in women’s sport – has not been adequately addressed by the Government, or indeed anyone in politics save for Tasmanian Liberal Senator Claire Chandler. By wholeheartedly supporting Senator Claire Chandler’s Save Women’s Sport Bill, the Government has an opportunity to genuinely make good on these promises.