JIM CHALMERS MP
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
ADDRESS TO THE FUTURE WOMEN LEADERSHIP SUMMIT
TUESDAY, 8 MARCH 2022
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Thanks for the opportunity to be here with you today.
I want to start by acknowledging traditional owners and by saying how proud I am that Labor under Anthony Albanese has committed to the full implementation of the Uluru Statement.
And also with some thank yous.
To Jamila Rizvi and Helen McCabe for the opportunity to participate today, and consult with you at other times on policies and perspectives that disproportionately impact women, but fundamentally affect all of us.
And to everyone involved in Future Women, and all of you here on International Women’s Day, for facilitating conversations like these, connecting women, and leading a national conversation on gender inequality.
I’m conscious that this is the end of two very intensive days of discussion, that a lot of ground’s been covered already, and that with the time available I can’t do justice to every issue important to all of us here.
You already know we’ll implement all 55 recommendations of Kate Jenkins’ report into workplace safety, including those the Government have not and will not.
You know we’ll properly fund Working Women’s Centres in every Australian state and territory and bolster the role of the Australian Human Rights Commission when it comes to issues around workplace safety.
And today we’ve announced Labor’s plan to provide the support schools need to make sure Australian students receive age-appropriate consent and respectful relationships education to help prevent violence and keep kids safe.
You may also be familiar with the policies we’ve announced to combat domestic violence, for example the new investments in frontline services and hundreds of new community workers, and ten days leave.
Domestic violence is one of our major national challenges exacerbated during COVID – but not the only one.
There are serious issues in the labour market too.
That’s what I want to zero in on today – women in work and what that means for the distribution of opportunity in our society and our economy as we emerge from the pandemic.
Each of us brings our own perspectives to this, in my case from my community, my constituents, my colleagues, my own family experiences.
We know that before COVID, women were more likely to be in casual and insecure work and in lower paid roles.
And then, during the first wave of COVID, 55 per cent of jobs lost were women.
It was 60 per cent in the Delta lockdowns.
And most prominent in these numbers were women without a post-secondary qualification.
Which makes it even harder to understand why tens of billions of dollars in JobKeeper money was showered on businesses that didn’t need help while so many women in casual jobs were denied the help they needed and deserved.
These big challenges in the labour market before and during COVID mean Australia’s gone backwards on gender equality over the last decade.
In the Global Gender Gap Report for 2021, Australia recorded its worst ever result – falling to 50th place.
That’s a fall in 26 places since government changed hands in 2013.
But even worse than that is Australia’s embarrassing 70th place finish on the measure of Economic Participation and Opportunity category.
In 2013, we were 13th under Labor, now 70th under the Coalition. A drop of 57 places in nine years.
Even more alarming when you remember we have some of the most highly educated women in the world, with a ranking of equal 1st in Educational Attainment, but then we cut off their opportunity to fully participate in the paid workforce.
How are we going to address this?
Let me touch on three ways today.
First, by dismantling barriers to participation.
At a time when skills shortages are restraining the recovery, when the unemployment rate is falling in welcome ways, we need to make the pool of available labour much bigger.
This is not just about primary carers joining the labour market.
It’s about fuller participation in terms of more hours and in the jobs they aspire to.
Especially given the fact that in most other OECD countries, women do more hours of paid work.
We won’t be able to make the labour pool bigger while child care costs – the single biggest barrier to work facing single parents and primary carers – are skyrocketing at almost double CPI, like they have been over the past year.
That’s why our childcare policy, to make it cheaper and more accessible, is our biggest on-budget commitment so far, and why we see that as a core investment in the economy and in easing cost of living pressures, and not some form of welfare.
It benefits the economy by boosting participation by around three times as much as the Government’s alternative.
So first, participation. And second, pay.
You already know that Australia’s gender pay gap now sits at 13.8 per cent. It’s as wide as 24 per cent in professional services, and 21 per cent in healthcare and social assistance, and the finance industry.
And according to a recent ACTU report, when you factor in all earnings including overtime and bonuses, women in the workplace are on average $483 per week worse off than men and retire with about half the amount of superannuation.
The gaps are even wider for women who face compounding barriers, including Australia’s Indigenous women, women living with a disability, and women who are recent migrants or from minority cultural backgrounds.
That’s why Labor fought so hard and were so glad to see the $450 minimum threshold only just removed on the Superannuation Guarantee, which was denying low-paid workers, disproportionately women, what the ACTU calculated was $59 million in super contributions every year.
More needs to be done to narrow the disparities in pay.
In 2019, KPMG, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and the Diversity Council of Australia crunched the data to reveal the drivers of this gap.
They found that the most significant component was still gender discrimination.
A sobering and unacceptable fact.
We need to focus policies on exposing the extent of the gap within workplaces and target discriminatory behaviour directly.
Labor has and always will strongly defend the principle that with work of equal value should come equal pay.
Consistent with the recommendations of the recent Workplace Gender Equality Agency Review Report released last week, transparency is crucial which is why we’d legislate to put the onus on large employers to report their gender pay gap publicly.
And give employees the right to disclose their pay should they wish to.
So, participation and pay, plus recognising if we want wages growth in sectors dominated by women, we need to invest in them.
So the third policy lever is about valuing and supporting sectors which can be big earners and big employers and which are dominated by women.
The numbers speak for themselves on the benefits to the economy in boosting the health and education sectors, and the care economy, where women significantly outnumber men within the workforce.
Because their size, significance and potential are too often taken for granted.
How many Australians realise that the education sector employs more people than hospitality?
Or that the health system contributes more to economic activity than the manufacturing sector?
Last year, after steady growth over the past decade, health made the second largest contribution to GDP of any industry.
Ten years ago, it wasn’t even in the top five.
And this will only increase as our population ages.
But the direct economic benefits aren’t the only reason that supporting these industries to grow is smart policy.
It’s also because investment in health and education and care make our lives tangibly better.
It’s hard to think of any other three industries that make a more meaningful contribution to unlocking opportunities for more people in more parts of the country.
Labor has a plan to properly invest in these sectors, not only to grow them but to recognise and to elevate their status too.
That begins with a properly funded public health system, with Medicare at its core.
Our policy for free TAFE and to support an additional 20,000 university places will focus on expanding workforce capacity in those areas which are currently experiencing a critical skills gap, including in the care economy, like child-care, aged care, disability care, nursing and community services.
And Labor will strengthen the Fair Work Commission’s capacity to order pay increases for workers in low-paid, female-dominated industries too.
For example, we announced last year that we would support the Fair Work Commission to move quickly to meaningfully lift the wages of aged care workers.
We know that wages and working conditions are key to addressing the workforce issues that have plagued the sector for years, and that have intensified over the past few months.
And improving pay and conditions will be vital for ensuring that the sector can continue to meet the growing demand for services as our population ages.
Almost as important as the policies we develop on participation, pay and industries are the ways we go about developing them.
We need to rethink our policies, in ways I’ve just described.
We also need to rethink our methods too; the way we’d govern.
One of the reasons I’m attracted to some kind of broader measures of economic and social progress is to do a better job tracking gender inequality in our society.
There’s no reason why a wellbeing approach to the budget can’t sit alongside traditional economic data and give us a better and more complete picture of how women are faring and the impact of government policy decisions.
And in broadening our metrics for success, we can also consider other ways to enhance transparency and accountability in decision-making too.
Like introducing a comprehensive and compulsory Women’s Budget Statement, which casts a proper gender lens on policy and isn’t just some kind of marketing exercise.
Like revamping the Intergenerational Report so that it is more frequent, less partisan and includes more understanding of the drivers of future prosperity, including women’s economic participation.
Big data and all the other relevant technological advances mean we have never had a better opportunity to bolster and buttress traditional economic data with faster, more accurate, more tailored information.
If we use these tools well, we'll give ourselves a better chance to make the right calls on policy, for the right reasons, and to address the gaps that still exist.
Anyone who ignores this opportunity to design policy with people in mind isn’t really serious about understanding how we can do better.
So rethink policy, rethink methods – and we also need to rethink roles.
Unpaid work and caring responsibilities during COVID, which increased because of sickness, school and childcare closures, still largely fell to women, despite the fact that many more men were at home.
In July 2020, rare and valuable ABS Household Impacts data showed that women were twice as likely as men to report that they performed most of the unpaid domestic work, and three times more likely when it came to unpaid care.
Of course, it’s not only women who are impacted from taking on the lion’s share of this unpaid work.
This gender imbalance means that many men are more disconnected from their families and loved ones and miss the profound meaning and value that can come from this work.
It also impacts the diversity of our workforce, and the better outcomes for business that come from an environment that ensures we have a broader set of perspectives at our disposal.
We’ve always known gender equality has never been just a women’s issue.
It is a national issue that impacts every one of us, in all spheres of life.
Part of the solution must involve getting more women and greater diversity into institutions of power, including in economics.
It must involve elevating the visibility and voice of women.
And, as recommended following the most recent Jenkins’ review, that must start with the parliament.
One of the defining features of Labor’s parliamentary team is the prominence and predominance of women.
I am proud that Labor is the party of Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. And so many other exceptional leaders. Of Penny Wong. Tanya Plibersek. Katy Gallagher. Kristina Keneally. Clare O’Neil. Jenny McAllister. Madeleine King. Michelle Rowland. Linda Burney. Julie Collins. Amanda Rishworth. Terri Butler. Catherine King.
And many others in the Federal Labor Caucus.
Together, we take seriously the contribution of Australia’s women who have disproportionately shouldered the burden of COVID at home and at work.
We recognise our society and economy won’t be stronger after COVID than it was before, if we don’t learn and act on what COVID has taught us. And embrace a culture of change.
We are grateful for the contribution of organisations like this one who have been working to address these issues for some time – like through the Jobs Academy and other similar programs.
But we now need a government that takes these issues seriously too.
You deserve more than another three years like the last nine, slipping down the international rankings when it comes to economic opportunities for women.
That wouldn’t do justice to the sacrifices women have made, and not just during the pandemic.
Thanks, and I look forward to your perspectives and questions.