The Politics    Monday, February 14, 2022

Gender tax tricks

By Rachel Withers

Image of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during Question Time last week. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during Question Time last week. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The Coalition’s claim that women have gained the most from its tax cuts is both misleading and insulting

The Coalition has launched a ludicrous new pitch to women voters – and no, it’s not simply having the PM’s wife say the things that MPs themselves are not allowed to say about former Australian of the Year Grace Tame. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has today been selling heavily spun Treasury figures, saying that women have received some of the federal government’s biggest tax cuts – figures dutifully and uncritically reported by the AFR and The Australian. (“Women ‘better off under the Coalition’,” trumpets the latter.) The “previously unpublished data” shows women “enjoying the largest percentage decline in the amount of tax paid”, which does not necessarily mean they received the most in cuts. No doubt this “percentage decline” comes down to the fact that women are on average paid far less than men, with the early stages of the government’s tax cuts having focused on low-income earners. To claim that the government’s tax agenda preferences women is downright laughable. And at a time when women are crying out for justice and respect – and, hey, perhaps something to address the stubbornly wide gender pay gap – is this really the best the government can do?

In a staggering number of morning interviews, Frydenberg showed how little the government gets it, spruiking the savings while refusing to say whether the government would continue with the low- and middle-income tax offset that has contributed to these figures. Speaking on RN Breakfast, the treasurer talked up the tax benefits for women, noting that they were all about “rewarding effort”. As host Patricia Karvelas noted, this data comes hot on the heels of reports that the government is considering a tax cut on draught beer in the budget – a blokey idea that has been slammed as “sexist”, since men would overwhelmingly be the beneficiaries. (Frydenberg refused to rule that one out too.) Coalition-friendly 4BC questioned the value of the boast, with host Neil Breen noting that it was the gender pay gap, not tax cuts, that was key to fixing economic inequality. The treasurer also took to Twitter to share his stats, with Minister for Women’s Economic Security Jane Hume boasting that the government was “delivering for women”.

There’s no doubt these figures are heavily spun in an effort to support the government’s strange new pitch to female voters. Notably, the reports don’t actually reveal what proportion of the overall tax cuts went to women – just that women saw “the largest percentage decline” (which is easy when you don’t earn that much to begin with). But it’s simply ridiculous to suggest that the Coalition’s tax agenda is at all women-friendly. As has long been shown, the most controversial leg of its tax cuts, the stage-three tax cuts for high-income earners, will overwhelmingly benefit men. Greens analysis says it will give men $2 for every $1 women get, and perhaps further broaden the gap between the disposable incomes of men and women. Those cuts, which have been backed by Labor, are yet to come into effect, meaning they’re not reflected in the current favourable analysis. But even this year, research shows that around 69 per cent of the benefit is going to men. As former Liberal MP Julia Banks tweeted in response to Frydenberg’s claims, “They’re really getting silly now.”

But by far the silliest thing about this misleading new tax data is that it’s so far from what women are asking for. Women aren’t calling for tax cuts. They are calling – as journalist Kristine Ziwica tweeted – for justice, safety and an end to discrimination. Many of them in the desperately underpaid care sector are calling (or striking) for a pay increase – one that should be facilitated by tax increases, not tax cuts. The fact that the government has decided to make tax cuts the centre of its latest pitch to women, the week after Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins so eloquently and publicly explained what’s needed, shows how far we have to go. 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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