A national budget for women+: how pace of change in Australia responds to urgency

by Verve

Content warning: This article mentions intimate partner violence and health issues around pregnancy loss. 

A budget for women+? 

Watching the budget last night, it is clear that the Treasurer understands the big challenges facing women in this country. The Government is listening, and they want women to feel heard.  But does the pace match the urgency?

Firstly, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that this budget is progress.

The Women’s Budget Statement outlines a coherent strategy for achieving gender equality across key issues, and there are new budget initiatives aligned with that strategy. It sounds like relatively simple stuff, but we’ve come a relievingly long way since 2020, and the Morrison/Frydenberg “Tradie and Truckie”  COVID recovery budget, that almost forgot about women at all.

In fact, the Treasurer went as far in his pre-budget interviews to declare this budget a “win for women” and a “budget for mums”. How refreshing. But also, calculated: “Appealing To Women” in 2024 is also a survival strategy.

So, are women really budget winners? 

The answer depends on how low you set the bar for victory. 

There are plenty of great initiatives funded through this budget, including super payments for government-funded parental leave – something that Verve has advocated for.

We also finally have a Federal Government that understands the value of the work women do in the underpaid feminised ‘caring economy’, with commitments to fund salary increases in aged care and early childhood education. 

There was also additional funding to address domestic violence, women’s health and other chronically underfunded issues that impact women.

The problem is, that there is a difference between a budget with positive policy initiatives and a budget that actually seeks to fix the problems women face. In the case of budgets, the money allocated speaks louder than words, and there are nowhere near enough dollars in this budget to solve the multiple crises that women are facing. 

Australia has some of the most expensive and inaccessible early childhood education in the OECD and therefore poorest rates of workforce participation among women who have had children. That won’t be solved with this budget. Indeed obvious reforms, like altering the active test to support 44,000 more women on low incomes to work each year, were ignored. 

We have a ‘national emergency’ of violence against women, with 28 women murdered this year already. Yet tens of thousands of women who are trying to flee their partners are turned away each year from legal support, shelters and trauma counselling due to lack of funding. And that funding situation will not significantly change after this budget. 

Domestic violence and economic inequality have now led to rocketing homelessness among women and children in Australia. With women over 55 are the fastest-growing cohort of homeless Australians. There are housing initiatives in this budget, but this budget will not solve the housing problem, indeed it will likely worsen. 

And the list goes on…

None of this makes me feel that women are winning with this budget. 

Instead, like many of us, we are relieved by the progress, but devastated by the lack of ambition. 

This budget may be a survival strategy for the Treasurer, but it doesn’t fund a survival strategy for women.

The Leaving Violence Program

The Women’s Budget Statement this year included some shocking facts about gender-based violence in Australia. On average, one woman was killed every 11 days by a current or former intimate partner in 2022–23, and just over one in four women (27% or 2.7 million) have experienced violence or abuse by a cohabiting partner. 

In response to the protests around the country following the deaths of 27 women this year, the government called an emergency cabinet meeting to come up with solutions. This budget includes the product of that work – the Leaving Violence Program. 

It sees $925.2 million to establish the permanent Leaving Violence Program, taking the total investment to address violence against women to $3.4 billion. Those eligible for the program will be able to access up to $5000 in financial support along with referral services, risk assessments and safety planning.

The Government is also increasing spending on the National Housing Infrastructure Facility by $1 billion to better support housing for women and children experiencing domestic violence and for youth. The funding is being rebalanced to provide more up-front grants to support states and territories and community housing providers to deliver more emergency housing. 

In higher education, the government announced a plan to address gender based violence. It will establish an independent National Student Ombudsman to investigate student complaints to help resolve disputes with universities and introduce a National Higher Education Code to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence.

Women’s Healthcare Wins

The budget allocates $49.1 million for longer consultations addressing complex gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis and pelvic pain, enhancing care for women with these challenging health issues. 

This will cover specialist consultations of 45 minutes for endometriosis under Medicare. Previously, an initial gynaecologist appointment received an $81.30 rebate which covered only 10 minutes of a gynaecologist’s time. The result of the small rebate saw patients being crammed into short sessions which barely scratched the surface of their issues. As of July next year, Medicare will cover $168.60 for an initial appointment, and $84.35 for follow-up appointments, compared to the previous rate of $40.85.  

But that wasn’t the only big health announcement that impacted women. There was also: 

  • Access to Early-Stage Breast Cancer Treatment: Australians will gain access to abemaciclib (Verzenio®), an early-stage breast cancer treatment, through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This subsidy reduces the cost of the medication to $31.60 per script, compared to the prohibitive $97,000 per course without it.
  • Improved Contraception Options: Funding directed towards training healthcare practitioners in the insertion and removal of long-acting reversible contraception, improving accessibility and options for women. The Government will provide $1.1 million over four years from 2024–25 to support the development of a virtual contraception decision-making tool for women and health practitioners.
  • Period Products for First Nations Communities: A $12.5 million allocation will enable the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation to distribute free period products in remote communities. 
  • Enhanced Maternity Care: $56.5 million over four years to enhance maternity care. This includes improved antenatal and postnatal care.
  • Support for Miscarriage and Early Pregnancy Loss: The Government is providing $7.0 million over four years from 2024–25 to support the development of miscarriage education and awareness materials and provide funding for bereavement care services for women and families experiencing miscarriage. 
  • For First Nations women: $5.8 million will continue prevention efforts on preterm and early-term births, and $900,000 will support the National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan 2020–2030. An additional $3.5 million will expand the Midwife Professional Indemnity Scheme, facilitating Birthing on Country programs.
  • Menopause Training for Health Professionals: A $1.2 million investment over two years will support training for health professionals in treating and managing menopause, ensuring up-to-date knowledge and improved care.

Super on parental leave 

An already announced measure is reflected in this budget’s costings. The government has committed that parents will receive an 11.5% superannuation guarantee  – or about $106 a week – on their publicly funded paid parental leave from 1 July 2025. 

The investment will amount to $1.1 billion over the four-year forward estimates period, with annual costs then amounting to $623.1 million from July 2028. The superannuation guarantee will climb to 12% in 2026, that increase will be reflected in payments on parental leave too.

Tackling placement poverty and low wages in feminised industries 

The government has announced a $320 weekly placement payment to help those studying to be a teacher, nurse, midwife or social worker undertaking mandatory practical units. It will cost the budget about $23 million a year. The issue of “placement poverty” has been keenly felt in these feminised industries during the cost of living crisis, with many worried it could keep students out of these essential industries. 

The Royal Commission into Aged Care, another feminised industry, found that higher wages are necessary for staff attraction and high-quality care. To support fair wages for care workers, the Government has committed to fund the Fair Work Commission’s decision to increase the award wage for direct and indirect aged care workers once the final determination is made. 

The government also committed to funding a much-needed wage increase for child care workers in this budget. This is aimed at helping to recruit and retain more early childhood educators, but the exact amount is still being ironed out. 

“In childcare, aged care, and across the care economy, the majority of workers are women. Lifting wages in these industries has helped bring the gender pay gap to a historic low,” the Treasurer said as he handed down the budget.

If you think you or anyone you know may be experiencing domestic violence, help is available. Please reach out to 1800RESPECT, a 24-hour free helpline, on 1800 737 732. 

If you or anyone you know are experiencing thoughts of self harm or suicide please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or text 0477 13 11 14, for free and confidential support. Beyond Blue can also assist you with mental health resources, you can reach out to them on 1300 224 636. 

To access free financial counselling, reach out to Financial Counselling Australia on 1800 007 007.

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