8 things the PM could do right now to address issues impacting women

What can the PM do right now to address issues impacting women? Eliza Littleton, research economist at the Australia Institute, takes a look.

When it comes to addressing the systemic issues which are impacting Australian women’s everyday lives, it often feels like the problems are big and impossible to tackle.

However, tackling any big problem is easiest piece by piece, so here are eight things Prime Minister Scott Morrison can do right now if he wants to show he is serious about addressing some of the issues that impact women the most.

The PM can address the superannuation gap for women right now by abolishing the $450 per month minimum threshold on superannuation contributions and compensate those who undertake unpaid caring work.

Women retire, on average, with 28% less superannuation than men, a gap that persists across all age groups. And alarmingly, at retirement age, nearly one in four women (23%) have no superannuation compared to just 13% of men.

This shortfall is due to the combined forces of the gender pay gap and women having a higher incidence of part-time work, and tending to take extended periods out of the workforce for caring responsibilities and the like.

The PM and Treasurer could redesign and redirect the $41 billion dollars per year spent on tax concessions for superannuation to ensure they flow to those with the lowest superannuation balances and need them most — and, as discussed above, are primarily women — instead of the current status quo where these concessions flow primarily to those with the highest superannuation balances, most of whom are men.

The oft-cited wage gap of 13.4% between male and female workers actually applies only to women in full-time positions, and excludes bonuses and overtime payments.

This figure neglects the fact that almost half (45%) of all employed women are working in part-time positions.

By measuring total average earnings data, the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work has found that the true gender pay gap is now a staggering 31.2% across all jobs.

While there is no silver bullet policy to close the gender pay gap, systemic issues require evidence-based policy plans to tackle. A National Employment Strategy for Women would go a long way to addressing a gender pay gap that is fast becoming a chasm.

A lack of access to quality, affordable childcare presents a critical barrier to women’s paid work opportunities, due to the combined effect of women often being expected to assume childcare responsibilities and also the gender pay gap which can often force couples into making the ‘rational decision’ of having the female partner take time out of work while the male partner continues working to earn a higher wage for the household as a whole.

According to the ABS, over half of women with young children who do not participate in the labour market have listed childcare costs as a key factor in their decision not to work.

Australia Institute research shows that if Australia had the same female participation rate as the Nordic countries then 380,000 additional women would be employed, which is worth an extra $48 billion per year to GDP.

Increasing public funding to schools and healthcare services to fund significant pay rises for teachers and nurses, who are disporportionately female, as the increased feminisation of industries has generally seen a trend of lower pay in those same industries.

In her National Press Club speech, Grace Tame, 2021 Australian of the Year, called on governments to adopt a nationally consistent framework to support and protect survivors of sexual assault. This would include agreeing on a national standard definition of consent, disempowering predators and educating children on the dangers of grooming.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that within the space of a year: 1.6 million people were sexually harassed, the majority of which were not formally reported; 200,000 people were allegedly sexually assaulted, police were notified of 23,000 of these assaults, and only 5,000 people were convicted of sexual assault.

The system should not be organised to disincentivise survivors for seeking justice.

On the 15th of March, Independent MP Zali Steggall introduced a private members bill that would make sexual harassment illegal in all circumstances, including when perpetrated by politicians.

The amendment would address a ‘loophole’ that means members of parliament and the judiciary are not liable for sexual harassment in their workplaces under the Act.

The Australian Human Rights Commission survey in 2018 found that one in three people experienced sexual harassment at work in the last five years.

Workplace sexual harassment is prevalent, even in Parliament House, as recent events have shown. No employer should be exempt from being held accountable for their actions at work.

While Zali Steggall’s bill to amend the Sex Discrimination Act is a recommendation from the Respect@Work report, the Prime Minister could go one step further and adopt all 55 recommendations of this landmark report.

an independent think-tank based in Canberra > australia.org.au

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