Prime Minister, it’s time to make women a priority

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I have urgent advice for both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women. You need to start taking women seriously.

This advice doesn’t just come from me.

At last week’s Equality Rights Alliance members meeting in Melbourne, senior Liberal woman Robyn Nolan herself voted for a motion asking you to develop a comprehensive – funded – plan for women for adoption by cabinet in 2017.

And that should be a warning sign to you that women – all women – need this government to pay attention. Nolan is president of the National Council of Women in WA. She’s also the former federal president of the Liberal Women’s Committee and of the Liberal Women’s Council in WA. She’s no bleeding heart.

If she thinks you need to sharpen up on behalf of women, you should do it now. And here are your top 4 priorities. You’re welcome. 

1. First things first. Hire a head of the Office for Women who wants to stay around. Amanda McIntyre is leaving after just a year in the job. One year.

I understand she could have stayed if she wanted to – but it must be hard to love a job of running the Office for Women when no-one in government takes that office seriously. Better to be a partner in a big consulting firm where partners understand why diversity matters. 

So find someone who wants to be an advocate both within and outside of government. You need someone with passion and big ideas who is willing to fight the good fight.

2. Restore the Women’s Budget that you dumped in 2014. That was an Abbott move. You’ve reversed plenty of his mistakes, you can do this too. It might even improve your government’s standing among women.

You must recognise that budgetary decisions affect women differently to the way they affect men – we now know from modelling by the National Foundation for Australian Women that after this budget, some women will have an effective marginal tax rate of 100 per cent.

How did you not know that?

It turns out no-one bothered to work it out. Not one person. Treasury officials told Senate estimates they did not model the impact of the 2017-18 budget on different Australian households. Meaning women.

And Michael Brennan, the deputy secretary of Treasury’s fiscal group, says he doesn’t think Treasury has even started to analyse the tax system to see what impact it is having on women, despite Australia’s G20 commitment in 2014.

So that’s a bit of a problem.

3. Take action on workforce participation. For four years, the government has said one of its top priorities is to increase the workforce participation rate of women. Awesome priority – and one we would all like to see happen.

But Prime Minister and Minister, you need to take charge and make sure that happens. Ask someone to do the analysis from where you can make policy, develop strategies and take action.

No-one’s going to do it without you asking. It’s almost three years since the Government committed at the 2014 G20 meeting to reduce the gender gap in workforce participation by 25 per cent by 2025. Which means you have just eight years to go to fix the problem. As I’ve mentioned before, it won’t fix itself.

A week ago, Claire Moore, senator for Queensland, asked McIntyre which department or agency within the government was doing the work on boosting women’s workforce participation.

McIntyre, the one who is leaving in a few weeks, replied: “It would either be Treasury or Employment, depending on which measure it was, but tax and transfers is Treasury.”

And when Moore pushed McIntyre for more information, there was none forthcoming. This week, Senator Jenny McAllister had the opportunity to ask Treasury directly. “It’s not underway that I’m aware of within the Treasury,” was the reply.

McAllister told Guardian Australia this week: “First we had a minister for women who was unable to answer basic questions about what role, if any, the Office for Women played in the budget process [and now] we learn that no one was asked to calculate the real effect of this budget on Australian women.”

4. So it’s back to that motion from last week – a comprehensive funded plan for women. All women.

There are more surprises to come as we unravel the budget and I’m guessing that we will discover that changes to Medicare will hit women hardest.

But I shouldn’t be guessing what will happen to women as a result of this budget.

And neither should you.

Jenna Price is a Fairfax columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.

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