Cutting through the 2021 ‘women’s budget’ hyperbole – did it live up to the hype?

by Christina Hobbs

Women were mentioned 15 times in the 2021 federal budget speech, this is equivalent to the last 7 budget speeches combined – the Treasurer and PM really wanted us to know that they were thinking about us.

But at Verve, we know that when it comes to budgets, it’s money that talks.

So we’ve done some digging to see how the 2021 federal budget really stacks up for women…..

How to cut through the fluff to understand if the budget really stacks up for women

Mainstream news journalists often love to focus on ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. We think that’s a pretty nonsense way to talk about the budget. It’s also unnecessarily confusing. 

The problem with the talk of ‘who benefits’ is that there’s often little consideration given to the ingrained economic advantage and discrimination that differing groups of Australians have experienced since the beginning of ‘budget time’.

For instance, you’ll hear a lot of chatter about how women are ‘winners’ this year. In part because of extra funding for services that support women who are experiencing violence. Yet the reality is, that for women who are facing violence and being turned away from full refuges or caller hotlines, the funding won’t be enough to bridge the gap. The lack of additional funding for prevention means that future generations of women will have the same experiences. That’s a pretty sad vision of ‘winning’, and certainly nothing like the glorious victory that we at Verve dream of for women.  

Meanwhile the real winners – billionaires, and multinational corporations who continue to pay no or little tax in Australia – will continue to be able to keep riding coattails on the downlow.

So, to cut through the noise, we’ve turned to the noisiest place of all – social media – to bring you the reactions of some of our favourite cut-through ‘no bull**it’ economists and commentators on the budget items that matter for women.


It grates on us that childcare is still considered as expenditure for women. In slightly more enlightened countries, it is seen as support to children, families, our society and our economy (encouraging greater workforce participation by both parents and supporting those future tax payers of tomorrow!). 

Yet, we all know that in Australia the cost of childcare is preventing many women from returning to work. So, sadly, we’ll still considered it as a policy ‘for women’. Again, it’s worth noting that increased participation of women in the paid workforce is something the entire economy would benefit from.

The government is offering an additional $1.7 billion to support moderate improvements in affordability for families with more than one child in care. 

That’s a positive announcement! But it’s being slammed as too little, too late as it won’t kick in until 2022 and is far less than what childcare advocates and economists alike have been saying is desperately needed to support women’s labour force participation and accelerate post-COVID economic growth. 

Women’s safety & security

Male violence against women has never received adequate attention or resourcing in Australia. 

It’s good news that the government is taking a step forward with an additional $1.1 billion for safety initiatives tackling violence and harassment over four years. But, leading advocates are saying that at least four times this amount is required to meet basic service costs. The sector is also dismayed, as we all are, that major investment has not been made in the areas that would reduce the actual occurrence of violence. 

Let’s compare the $1.1 billion to address the very real violence and present danger that women face everyday, with the $270 billion the Government is willing to commit to building defence capability over the next decade.

Would a few extra billion to create a safer Australia for women be so hard to find?

Retirement equality

Okay, a bit cheeky to quote ourselves, but we are pleased to see the government is intending to scrap the $450 monthly threshold on the Superannuation Guarantee from 1 July 2022. 

This means that almost all workers will receive super, even if the worker is only earning a small amount from their employer/s. This will really help some women, as women make up the bulk of casual workers in Australia. 

However, when it comes to women’s retirement savings, we really need to see significant reform to level the playing field for women. Two-thirds of the more than $40 billion spent on super tax concessions each year goes to men, despite women retiring with on average 35% less

Retirement equality requires big picture dedication and action to reduce the pay gap, support women back into the workforce, ensure that both partners take on equal caring responsibility, and to ensure all carers receive a super benefit. We certainly aren’t seeing a commitment to big picture thinking.

Australians living in poverty

As major news outlets claim this budget to be a victory for both ‘the elderly’ and ‘for women’, let’s spare a thought for single older Australian women this week – the fastest growing cohort of homeless Australians. 

Many of these women were legally required to give up their jobs after they got married. Almost all older women alive today who did maintain a profession faced extensive career and pay discrimination. Elderly Indigenous women and men alive today were paid significantly less than white workers by law, right up to the 1970s. 

Yet, Australia’s elderly single women who were unable to build personal wealth, are now forced to subsist on a pension that leaves many living below the poverty line… no doubt feeling like real winners this week. 

Initiatives to “fix women”

The Government has announced a host of other ‘project’ based one-off initiatives to support women’s economic equality. Things like mentorship programs, grants and training. Many of these announcements are positive news for women, yet in the face of structural discrimination, these programs don’t address the root cause of economic inequality. 

For instance, the government has spent serious $$$ in recent years convincing more women to take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs and training opportunities. Yet, we see women in STEM leaving these jobs in droves because of challenges and disrimination they face later in their careers. 

Indigenous women

There’s no group of Australians who face more entrenched economic discrimination than women from First Nations’ communities.  

Tellingly, I struggled to find one prominent Indigenous advocate who felt like the budget would address any of the systemic issues faced by First Nations’ communities today. 

The reality is, this week, budget week, the Twitter feeds of most prominent Indigenous women commentators are not filled with commentary on the budget. Instead we see urgent messages about deaths in custody, the mass incarceration of Indigenous children, and the increasing removal of young children from their parents. 

A reminder that it’s a privilege in Australia to even be hopeful that a federal budget may deliver change in an area that you care about. 

The government is slating spending $57.6 million to work with First Nations’ communities to tackle violence against women and children, and a further $26 million over four years for the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services programs. 

The government also revealed it will set aside $31.6 million over the next five years for a personal safety survey for First Nations’ women run through the Australian Bureau of Statistics to record just how prevalent violence facing Indigenous women and girls is.

Future generations of women  

There was not an additional cent to support renewable energy or climate change mitigation. The word ‘climate’ was only mentioned in the footnote of the budget speech. 

You’re too smart and socially aware for us to even need to explain the importance of this one. 

By the way, yes it should be easier to understand how a budget will impact women! 

There used to be a very handy statement in the budget each year that showed how important changes would impact both men and women. 

It was introduced by Hawke in 1984 to shed light on the impact of economic decisions otherwise thought to have little to do with gender. 

The statement was important, because decisions that appear to have nothing to do with gender can often have a greater impact on economic equality or inequality than specific expenditure dedicated to supporting women. Last year’s budget was an excellent case in point. The decision by the Government to fuel the COVID-19 economic recovery by funneling cash into construction and other male-dominated industries, had a much greater impact on fueling gender inequality than the positive impacts of the $270m that the government specifically committed to ‘women’s initiatives’.

In 2014,  Abbott and Hockey in their first budget, decided that no such statement was required anymore, and we sadly haven’t seen a Liberal Government include the statement since.

So, where does this leave us?

Women around Australia will react differently to this budget. Some will see it as a positive step forward, others will see it as a complete lack of vision. 

However, in our opinion the numbers do not add up to this being a budget that truly supports women, in particular indigenous Australians, women living below the poverty line, and future generations of women who will be hardest hit by climate change. 

In this case, 15 mentions of “women”≠ adequate action to address gender inequality. 

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