Zoe Daniel: Enough of being treated as a minority – women need commitment to real change

This is not a welfare measure, it is a matter of economic empowerment to lift up women and their children.

This is not a welfare measure, it is a matter of economic empowerment to lift up women and their children. Photo: Getty

We need to talk about women; we need to talk about the Stage 3 tax cuts; we need to talk about future generations.

Women are not a minority; we are more than half the population, and until governments get with the program on that our economy and our society will be lopsided.

Disadvantaged we are, but a minority we are not.

We are in that pre-budget moment where all governments play down expectations so that come budget day when they throw out a bit of burley women are expected to be so very thankful.

The superbly chosen Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce, established by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, has made just six recommendations for the May budget, all of them modest, economically responsible, targeted at women in poverty and designed to address one of our primary economic problems – productivity.

Reversing Julia Gillard’s short-sighted decision to slash eligibility for the Single Parent Payment is top of the list, with the taskforce recommending the allowance be restored to single parents until their youngest child reaches 16 years of age.

This is not a welfare measure, it is a matter of economic empowerment to lift up women and their children. (95.5 per cent of payment recipients are female).

Research shows that 60 per cent of single mothers in Australia have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a previous partner.

The ‘choice’ for many women is poverty or violence.

Some stay in violent relationships because they can’t afford to move out.

This is shameful.

Coward’s way out

Yet right on cue, there are hints that the government may go only part of the way to fixing this untenable situation by restoring the allowance but only up to age 12, just as children are starting high school, just when that extra $100 a week would make a real difference to addressing the intergenerational poverty that afflicts these children.

Why? Because it’s too expensive. Right?

It is the coward’s way out.

My office has costed the change via the Parliamentary Budget Office at roughly $640 million over the next three years to cover families with children up to age 12, or $1.1 billion up to age 16.

Do we, as a prosperous society, really want children starting high school in poverty? 

Do we really want 12-year-olds working to help support their families, below the poverty line?

I recall a conversation with a woman in my electorate on the phone one day. Quietly she explained her inability to leave a violent home due to lack of financial means, the coercive control, the fear, the trap.

As one (male) reporter remarked on support for single parents, ‘‘there are plenty of worthy causes, but all need to be paid for’’.

Indeed. Budgets are about choices and priorities, and ours are skewed.

Which brings me to tax.

I have surveyed my (wealthy and educated) electorate of Goldstein where a large swathe of people stand to gain from forthcoming Stage 3 tax cuts.

The results from roughly 1500 responses are interesting. Seventy eight per cent favour a review of the plan.

This is a sample of comments from respondents:

  • “I earn more than $200,000 and am very happy to pay tax to reduce child poverty and fund important initiatives for the greater good of society. Outcomes for children are deteriorating and it affects all of us.”
  • “I’m in the higher tax bracket and support a review given current debt and the state of the economy, housing crisis, etc. IMO there are much higher priorities right now.”
  • “IMO there are much higher priorities right now. I personally earn more than $200k per year but oppose the Stage 3 tax cuts. The government needs to find money to fund defence, health/aged/child care, NDIS and energy transition. I don’t want our country worse off as a whole for some small tax benefits.

Real change is needed

Poverty, even in a comfortable electorate like Goldstein is a problem.

I have been supporting Bayside Community Emergency Relief which is now providing much-needed assistance for people struggling under the cost-of-living crisis in Goldstein and beyond; middle-aged women who received the family home when they separated from their partners but cannot afford to maintain their house or pay the rates; increasing numbers of lower-paid female care workers who are skipping meals to pay the rent.

Here’s what one of them said in response to our separate community survey on the cost of living:

‘I can’t afford to heat my home this winter. I am working part-time, watching my super deteriorate and noticing price increases for everything I use and eat.’”

If we are to be true to the women of Australia and their children the government must adopt the modest suggestions of the Women’s Economic Equality Task Force and if that means recasting the Stage 3 tax cuts not just for reasons of fiscal responsibility, but as a moral imperative and priority, so be it.

More to the point, our tax system needs a full overhaul as I have been saying for 18 months. We are far too reliant on income tax but if we want to cut it, we must find other ways to raise revenue.

That’s clear.

Access to affordable housing for young people and older women is also a key motivator for people in my community.

This suggests that it is also a priority to improve the rate of Commonwealth Rental Assistance to address the housing insecurity confronting a disproportionate number of women, with the evidence showing that women over 55 are the cohort most at risk of homelessness.

These are among the benchmarks upon which women will judge this budget.

Constant delays to female-geared economic programs like expanded childcare subsidies, failure to pay superannuation on paid parental leave and, potentially, squibbing it on the restoration of the single parent payment are intersecting to cement a zeitgeist.

Women have had enough of being treated like a minority.

Zoe Daniel is the independent member for the Melbourne seat of Goldstein

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