The Politics    Thursday, September 1, 2022

Jobs for the girls

By Rachel Withers

Image of Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during the Jobs and Skills Summit at Parliament House, September 1, 2022. Image © Mick Tisikas / AAP Images

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during the Jobs and Skills Summit at Parliament House, September 1, 2022. Image © Mick Tisikas / AAP Images

Investing in women’s workforce participation is going to cost money. Where is Labor going to find it?

Labor’s Jobs and Skills Summit got off to an auspicious start this morning, amid the release of a major agreement from the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Their joint statement set out several shared principles, including the need to boost women’s workforce participation through the expansion of Commonwealth paid parental leave to 26 weeks, with incentives to encourage both parents to share in it. Much of the morning agenda was focused on women: a panel discussing equal opportunities and pay found itself in furious agreement (Minister for Women and Finance Katy Gallagher declared it a “core economic imperative”), while fixing childcare was said to be key to growing the economy (Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews called it “perhaps the biggest lever that we can pull”). Many are now calling for federal Labor’s childcare subsidies to be brought forward, but, as with calls to expand parental leave, ministers say it’s going to be difficult to find the cash. These are indeed very expensive, though very important, policy solutions. So how is the government going to ensure the summit is more than a “talkfest”, a forum in which solutions are found but then gently ignored?

It has been widely noted how different this event looks to Bob Hawke’s 1983 summit, in which all the business and union delegates were men. As Laura Tingle pointed out on 7.30 last night, those setting the agenda ahead of the current summit were all women, namely, the BCA’s Jennifer Westacott and the ACTU’s Sally McManus and Michele O’Neil. The opening remarks today (after the PM and treasurer) were made by Grattan Institute chief executive Danielle Wood, who was there to discuss the goals of full employment and productivity growth. “If untapped women’s workforce participation was a massive ore deposit, we would have governments lining up to give tax concessions to get it out of the ground,” she quipped. Independent MP Zoe Daniel is calling for the summit to pay more than “lip service to equality”, and presented a list of ideas including bringing forward those childcare subsidies. As KPMG national chair Alison Kitchen pointed out, such subsidies have “tangible economic benefits”, with GDP boosted by almost $2 for every dollar invested.

This all sounds promising. In just one morning, there have been many incredible solutions put forward and many excellent points made, with everyone seemingly in agreement as to what needs to be done. But as Treasurer Jim Chalmers keeps insisting, Labor can’t fund every idea (he is reportedly refusing to take on any more unfunded budget requests, even if they will pay economic dividends, meaning that bringing forward the childcare subsidies is all but off the table). Speaking on RN Breakfast this morning, Gallagher – putting her finance minister hat on – also lowered expectations of the paid parental leave expansion, noting that the budget remains in huge amounts of debt. This, of course, was a perfect opening to ask about the Stage Three tax cuts (which I have previously noted, will come up every time the government can’t afford to pay for something). Host Patricia Karvelas duly obliged, pointing out that these cuts overwhelmingly favour men. “Does that sit comfortably with you?” Karvelas asked. “It’s the reality that men earn more than women and are over-represented in those higher income thresholds,” Gallagher responded.

That is, unfortunately, the reality – and it’s a reality that the opening sessions of the government’s jobs summit were supposedly all about fixing. But why ask women (and economists, and trade unionists, and business leaders) for their big ideas if there’s no way for them to be implemented? It’s not fair to say that the summit is simply a “talkfest” or a “stunt”, as the Opposition has been saying for weeks now. These are important national conversations, and it’s brilliant that they are taking place in a public forum. But there’s little point putting women’s economic equality “front and centre” of the summit, as Gallagher maintained that the treasurer had done, if the government won’t put it front and centre of its policymaking.

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


The Politics

Image of Clare O’Neil

Boundless pains

Is now really the time for another migration scare campaign?

Image of Anthony Albanese

What comes next?

How the government responds to recent challenges is make or break for effective progressive government in this country

Image of Mark Dreyfus

The farce estate

The Mark Dreyfus episode sums up everything that is wrong with our politics and our media

Lisa Chesters wipes tears from her eyes. Behind her, the empty seat of the late Peta Murphy is marked with a floral arrangement.

A moment’s peace

Politicians briefly pause their ugly immigration war to pay tribute to Labor MP Peta Murphy

From the front page

Members of the Kanakanvu tribe perform at a Saraya harvest festival, Donghua Village, Taiwan.

Who is Taiwanese?

Taiwan’s minority indigenous peoples are being used to refute mainland China’s claims on the island – but what does that mean for their recognition, land rights and identity?

Image representing a film still of abstract colours

Tacita Dean and the poetics of film editing

The MCA’s survey of the British-born artist’s work reveals both the luminosity of analogue film and its precariousness

Image of David McBride

David McBride’s guilty plea and the need for whistleblower reform

The former army lawyer had no choice but to plead guilty, which goes to show how desperately we need better whistleblower protections

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Mars attracts

Reviving the Viking mission’s experiments may yet find life as we know it on Mars, but the best outcome would be something truly alien