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Budgets and Federal Elections

17 April 2019

As the dust settles on the Federal Government’s 2019-20 Budget only to be kicked up by the spruiking in the run-up to a Federal Election we take a look with Besa Deda, St George Bank Chief Economist, at the main measures for females in the Morrison Budget.

The buzz-acronym of the decade, STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, Maths), is front and centre for women: “The government will provide $3.4 million over 4 years from 2019-20 to encourage more women into STEM education and careers ($1.0 billion in 2019-20, $1.1 billion in 2020-21 and $1.2 billion in 2021-22). The funding will support an extension of the Science in Australia Gender Equity program for an additional 3 years; and a digital content National Awareness Raising Initiative, led by Women in STEM Ambassador.

“The measure builds on the 2018-19 Budget measure titled Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan.”

Besa also notes that there are measures directed at addressing domestic violence: “These include $78 million to provide more housing for women and children fleeing family violence and $82 million to improve and build on frontline services to keep women and children safe. “Prevention initiatives worth $68 million will be funded and $64 million for national sexual assault, domestic violence counselling service. $35 million is budgeted for support and prevention strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

According to industry experts, there are areas where budgetary measures may have helped women further. One of these would be to address the persistent gap in retirement savings between men and women.

However, the promised tax cuts – if and when the Budget gets into the black - are in an area which may play out in favour of women, who are more likely to inhabit jobs in the low and middle income earning areas.

Tax relief for small business will also be welcome to women whose entrepreneurship tends to fall into this business sector.

A surprising fact, learned from the WEL (Women’s Electoral Lobby) website, is that women outnumber men as voters in almost all federal electorates. That means women can exercise real power in a Federal Election and should seriously think about what their vote means for them with a future government.

Up until 2014 the Federal Government produced a Gender Budget Statement. The Statement began around 1984-85 and “examined the effects of tax, spending and economic policy by dis-aggregating data by gender”.

Since 2014 the mantle has been taken up by the National Foundation for Australian Women – albeit unfunded by government and with limited access to data. The Labor Party has pledged to bring back the Statement if it’s elected in May.

Will dis-aggregating budget numbers and measures by gender make a difference?

It may improve Australia’s OECD rating as a “mid-range performer” when it comes to gender equality.