Why does Australia need a Women’s Economic Security Minister?

Image: Getty.
Image: Getty. (Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a reshuffle of his cabinet, with a new role, Minister for Women’s Economic Security handed to current Superannuation Minister, Jane Hume.

“These changes will shake up what needs shaking up,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.

“What we must do is address the Government’s agenda with the changes we are making.”

He said the former approach, which was to have one Minister for Women, was ineffective, and that the Government needed to have more women across all major portfolios.

It comes after months of growing discontent, rape allegations, inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment in Parliament House.

“I have always wanted to ensure there is a strong voice of women in my government, and there has been,” Morrison said. “I think what we are announcing today has gone further than that.

The state of affairs

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Senator Jane Hume during a doorstop in the media gallery at Parliament House on March 18, 2021 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
Senator Jane Hume. Image: Getty. (Sam Mooy via Getty Images)

Hume, who currently holds the superannuation, financial services and the digital economy portfolio will also become Minister for Women’s Economic Security when she is sworn in.

And she has a tough job ahead of her.

As it stands, women in Australia retire with 36 per cent less in super, they earn 13.4 per cent less, and it is set to take 26 years for Australia to achieve pay parity.

Additionally, according to the Financy Women’s Index, women face a 101 year wait for true financial gender equality.

That encompasses 33 years for employment equality, 18 years to cut the rate of female unemployment, seven years to see equal numbers of men and women on boards and 38 years to close the gender gap in superannuation savings.

More recently, figures from research firm Toluna found that women are more likely to feel concerned or extremely concerned about their finances following the pandemic.

And research released this morning from Industry Super Australia warned young women may be hardest hit by plans to pause the superannuation guarantee.

The Government’s previous attempts to address financial insecurity in Australia have had a lukewarm reception.

The 2020-21 Budget, handed down in October last year, allocated around $240 million of the $500 billion to women’s economic security.

That amounted to around 0.038 per cent of the total Budget.

Hume’s to-do list

Financy founder Bianca Hartge-Hazelman believes the women’s taskforce has been set up due to the “media storm” surrounding the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins, allegations against Christian Porter and MP Andrew Laming’s inappropriate behaviour.

Although Hartge-Hazelman is concerned it could be “window dressing at best”, she’s hopeful that Hume’s appointment will lead to real change.

However, there are a few key areas Hume will need to tackle, and they all come down to building respect for women, and the work they do.

Superannuation and parental leave

“The first thing we should be tackling superannuation,” Hartge-Hazelman told Yahoo Finance.

“We need to see the scrapping of the $450 monthly threshold for superannuation, so that minimum wage earners can earn that superannuation from their employers.”

Additionally, the Government needs to introduce superannuation payments on parental leave.

Currently, paid parental leave is the only type of paid leave that doesn’t attract superannuation - a key driver in the superannuation gap.

“It would be good to shine a spotlight on what’s happening in some financial services firms where men and women are being encouraged to equally take parental leave,” she said.

“Parental leave definitely needs to be equalised there. When we look at women’s economic security, we need to equalise the perception around paid parental leave.”

That means encouraging - and potentially even mandating - that more men take parental leave.

This is essential in addressing workplace gender bias, which can prevent women from moving into more senior and leadership roles, Hartge-Hazelman said.

Gender pay gap

Hume will also need to act to close the gender pay gap, and impose higher reporting standards on companies.

“There’s this voluntary appetite among companies to report their gender pay data, sort of as a feel good thing, to make themselves look like they’re taking action, when in actual fact, many companies are just not,” Hartge-Hazelman said.

Instead, gender pay reporting needs to become mandatory, and non-compliant companies should not be eligible for lucrative Government contracts.

Recognition of unpaid work

Around 45 per cent of women with children will spend more than five hours a week looking after them, and more than 33 per cent will spend upwards of 20 hours a week, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

For men, 32 per cent are spending five or more hours a week looking after their kids, and only 17 per cent will spend 20 or more.

The Melbourne Institute’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey also found that women do more unpaid work - even when they’re the main breadwinner.

To Hartge-Hazelman, fostering work practices that recognise the realities of raising children, is the ultimate step.

“[Child-rearing age] is around the time when the biggest change happens, and when the biggest fallout happens in terms of women’s long-term financial security,” Hartge-Hazelman said.

“It’s not just about the paid work, it’s also about the unpaid. I’d love to see the Government acknowledge the hard yakka that goes on at a domestic level, and launch real, meaningful campaigns that break down unpaid work dynamics,” she said.

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Image: Yahoo Finance
Image: Yahoo Finance