State budget must not replicate federal failures

October 19, 2020

It’s been a big few weeks for women, politics, and the economy. It’s been an even bigger year for women, politics, and the economy.

A year so full of turmoil and hardship, that those who have suffered the most from job losses and reduced working hours because of the pandemic (and subsequent recession) – that is, women – should have our attention. We have the statistics; we know that women make up 61 per cent of COVID-19 job losses in Victoria (GenVic 2020). The “she-cession” is no secret. Women’s organisations the country over have been recommending a gender-equal course of economic recovery for months. However, the federal budget has left women behind, with its focus on male-dominated, ”shovel ready” investment. 

A lot has been written now in response to this lack of federal budget spending on women (a third of one per cent of the entire budget of a trillion dollars, to be precise). We now need to turn our attention to the state budget, to ensure it doesn’t replicate these failures at the federal level.

Gender Equity Victoria (GenVic) released a statement last week and published their submission to the Victorian State Treasurer, and we at WHGNE stand with their recommendations. The Victorian Government has both an opportunity and an obligation to respond, and this is why.

 When thinking about economic empowerment and recovery, many argue that it can be reduced to two ideas – economic advancement, and power and agency. To put it simply, when women have autonomy and power, and can influence the decisions that are made about the governing of their countries, economic advancement will occur for the whole country, and it will become self-sustaining. 

A core principle of economic empowerment for women is equal access to decision-making and leadership opportunity. This principle extends from a governmental level to an individual level, as when governments include women in their decision-making processes and in positions of influence, women are represented, heard, and able to achieve their goals. 

This sounds  simple, doesn’t it? So, how can we do that with the Victorian budget?

GenVic’s recommendations, summarised below, offer some constructive and valuable starting points when considering how the state budget might make amends for federal failings. (You can read the full submission here.)

  • Gender-equal economic decision making.
  • Investment decisions made based on gender-disaggregated data.
  • A return to a gender-responsive budget so recovery investments don’t worsen or entrench gender inequalities.
  • Investment in women’s health.
  • Economic recovery using a long-term, intergenerational lens.
  • Increased funding for preventing and responding to gender-based violence.
  • Investment in affordable and accessible public housing.

  • The first three recommendations directly address the core ideas of equal accessibility and participation in decision-making for all women.  The empowerment of Australian women starts with them having a seat at the table when discussing economic decisions that directly affect them. Women are experts in their own experiences, and this expertise can benefit us all, if only women can contribute to the shaping of policy, budgets, and national decisions.

    Recommendations 4, 6 and 7 relate directly to the notion of providing safer, fairer, and more dignified environments in which women can live, work, and prosper. This is important for us at WHGNE, because of our focus on domestic violence prevention and women’s sexual and reproductive health. Women cannot thrive if they do not have access to healthcare that addresses their unique sexual and reproductive needs. Nor can they thrive if their personal safety is threatened in their homes, workplaces or in public spaces. 

    Similarly, access to affordable housing enables women fleeing violent situations to keep a roof over their heads, so as not to be pushed into homelessness where they are at an even higher risk. 

    Not only do women not thrive without these things, but they are at risk of serious harm and death. The federal budget may have failed to allocate any money at all to the prevention of violence against women,  or to specifically address their health, childcare needs, or public housing, but there is still time for the Victorian Government to provide the much-needed financial support. In fact, when considering childcare, a recent report found that spending $5 billion on childcare, nationally, would deliver an $11 billion increase in GDP. Access to childcare encourages our unpaid sector, comprised predominantly of women, to enter the workforce and contribute to the economic recovery we need so badly, and it also enables equal accessibility as addressed in recommendations 1, 2 and 3. 

    The fifth recommendation ties everything together nicely. Without planning a long-term, intergenerational recovery from the chaos of 2020, we may as well drop the term “recovery” altogether. No single government can fix a recession in one term, but not acknowledging the lasting impact on those most vulnerable and most at risk in the community is polarising and oppressive. It takes generations to change societal attitudes towards gender. We know this. We also know that the key to economic advancement is to empower women and girls. There is a solution right there in front of us, and GenVic have spelled it out. 

    We have a chance to both improve the lives of Victorian women while simultaneously establishing a long-term recovery plan for the recession that has hit us this year. So we ask the  Victorian Government, why not?