JUNE 2023

Without fear or political favour WEL campaigns for: pay equity, freedom from harassment, decent incomes and secure work, eliminating violence and assault, reproductive choice, women’s homelessness, free and universal childcare, equal representation of all our communities, and accessible education and TAFE.

WEL urgently needs your financial support to continue its work.

Make your tax-deductible donation to WEL before June 30. The Women’s Electoral Lobby provides tax deductibility through our sister organisation, the National Foundation for Australian Women’s portal.

The Federal Labor Government one year on

On the 21 May, the Albanese Labor Government marked its first year in power.

Measured against WEL’s 2022 policy platform, the Government (with Senator Katy Gallagher as Minister for Women) has achieved landmark gains for Australian women.

Highlights include:

  • Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Act, implementing the recommendations of the Jenkins Report. This introduces a positive duty for employers to take measures to eliminate specific forms of sexual discrimination including sexual harassment.
  • Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs Better Pay) Act. This historic legislation is already having positive and far reaching consequences for many low paid working women. The Act includes an overarching objective for gender equality, pay equity objectives, greater scope for negotiating flexible work arrangements, workplaces safe from sex based harassment and opportunities for unions to bargain across enterprises.
  • Inclusion of 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards.
  • Significant reductions in the costs and reach of early childhood education and care (with possible universal free early childhood education and care through the Productivity Commission Inquiry).
  • Staged increases in Paid Parental Leave to 26 weeks, with greater flexibility and ‘use it or lose it’ incentives for the second parent.
  • Completion and initial funding of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children (2022-2032).

The 2023/4 Budget reinstated Parenting Payment (single) to parents of children aged 8-15 and abolished Parents Next, provided a modest increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and allocated $11.3b to help fund the staged, interim 15% pay increase awarded to 250,000 aged and personal care workers (including nurses in the sector) under the new work value provisions of the Fair Work Legislation.

A raft of other initiatives, especially increased funding for Medicare Bulk Billing in poorer areas and tightening up assessing, monitoring and management of child maintenance payments, will make a difference to women’s lives and incomes.

With the commencement of the Secure Jobs Better Pay Act, unions covering low paid workers in the childcare industry have initiated a Multi-Employer Bargaining push for a work value-based 25% pay-rise for early childhood educators.

The abolition of the Childcare Activity Test and payment of superannuation on Paid Parental Leave remain urgent priorities for WEL and feminist advocates for Women’s economic inclusion.

Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce

We are looking forward to the release this month of the delayed final report and recommendations from WEET. We understand from Minister Gallagher’s testimony at Senate Estimates that the final report will provide advice on a replacement body to advance the Government’s agenda on women’s economic equality.

WEL expects membership of that taskforce to be as expert, authoritative and independent as WEET. WEL thanks the chair of WEET, Sam Moyston, for her powerful leadership in shaping a feminist voice to the Government.

Gender Equality Strategy delayed until later in the year

WEL is also anticipating the release later in the year of the Government’s Gender Equality Strategy. In Budget Estimates, Senator Gallagher described the Strategy asthe overarching architecture for driving gender equality across the country. Essentially the document that we use as our anchor to drive our decisions and things like potential legislation and other priorities’.

An authoritative and independent taskforce is needed to drive implementation of the Strategy.

Federal Budget: NFAW Analysis

As it has done every year since Tony Abbott abolished the Women’s Budget Statement, WEL’s sister organisation, the National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) produced an outstanding gender lens on the 2023 Budget. WEL members contributed to this analysis.

Age/SMH Economics columnist Ross Gittens has made a number of sharp observations about the NFAW Gender Lens analysis in his newsletter.

’You’d think with the new look and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher on the job with the Labor sisterhood, there wouldn’t be a lot to complain about. But, like all smart interest groups, this one knows to thank the government for all it has done, skip a beat, then ask for more.'

And on the proposed Stage 3 tax cuts, Gittens said:

'This year they [the NFAW] note that, though men earn more income than women, and pay more income tax than women overall, over the six years up to the pandemic, the tax paid by men grew by 10%, whereas that paid by women grew 18%.

Why? Because, being on lower incomes than men, women lose more in bracket creep than men do. They note that this gender imbalance will be worsened rather than reduced by the stage three tax cuts.

The Foundation’s ‘gender analysis’ of the cuts says that more than half their cost to the budget will go to individuals earning more than $200,000 a year, two-thirds of whom are men.’

Report of Senate Inquiry into Universal Access to Reproductive Healthcare

On 25 May the Senate inquiry into reproductive health delivered its report Ending the postcode lottery: Addressing barriers to sexual, maternity and reproductive healthcare in Australia.

The Report has recommended 36 reforms to the healthcare system to ensure that women and gender diverse people can access the services they need. Over 170 medical, legal, community, specialist health services and women’s advocacy organisations, including WEL, made submissions. The diversity and range of submissions was striking.

‘Ending the postcode lottery’ details how contraceptive options and advice available to Australian women are often outdated and expensive, the medical and health practitioner workforce has limited training in many basic aspects of reproductive healthcare, with availability of services and expertise geographically determined in many instances and with abortion services confined to fee for service private providers in most states.

The ball is now in the Federal Government’s court.

The Federal Government holds the levers for implementing almost all of the Report’s recommendations. For example, those that apply to Medicare, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Council, the National Scope of Practice Review, the Department of Health and Aged Care and workforce and training strategies.

The Health Minister needs to work with the states and territories to ensure consistency and free access to publicly provided reproductive health, whatever postcode you live in.

The Report recommends that an implementation plan for the National Women’s Health Strategy incorporate measures recommended by the Inquiry

Disturbingly, the Federal budget did not include any funding relevant to expanding access to reproductive healthcare and the Women’s Budget Statement was silent on this aspect of reproductive health.

Make Telehealth for sexual and reproductive health and pregnancy counselling permanent

WEL will be joining with Family Planning Australia, expert groups such as the Royal College of General Practitioners and other advocates campaign for the retention of Medicare Benefits Schedule telehealth items for sexual and reproductive healthcare, including pregnancy support counselling and termination care.

Many people don’t know that the current exemptions allowing Medicare benefits for telehealth delivered pregnancy counselling and sexual and reproductive health expire on 30 December this year.

People under 30, those living in rural and regional Australia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are strong users of telehealth for services like abortion, gynaecology and contraception. Medicare rebates for these telehealth services are one of the only ways young people and those from isolated and rural and regional communities can access reproductive health services.

Wiyi Yani U Thangani National Summit

First Nations Women from across Australia came together from the 9-11 May to design a future of their own, building on the landmark Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Womens Voices Project) as a ‘blakprint for systemic and structural reform’.

The Conference and the Youth Forum that preceded it endorsed a National Framework for Action and an Institute for First Nations Gender Justice and Equality’.

See the Conference Communiqué here

The Voice

What you can do - from the Jessie Street Trust

Jozefa Sobski and Mary O’Sullivan from the WEL Executive Committee attended the Jessie Street Trust panel on the Voice Referendum on 2 June. Other WEL members supported the event.

Panellists Professor Tom Calma, Rachel Perkins and Teela Reid were generous and open about the Voice Referendum - highlighting the importance of recognition and the chance to advise parliament and the executive on laws that directly impact on Indigenous Australians.

Now it is up to us all to act – no matter in how small a way.

The Trust has made some excellent suggestions on ways we can all support the yes vote in the referendum. WEL will provide further suggestions in the next few weeks.

Here are some ways to get started:

1. Sign up to the campaign and pledge your support.

2. There is misinformation in this campaign and understanding the issues is important. Inform yourself on the Referendum

3. Read the Uluru Statement from the Heart;

4. Get hold of The Voice to Parliament Handbook, by Thomas Mayo & Kerry O’Brien, available from bookshops and online. It’s succinct, clear, hugely informative, with Cathy Wilcox’s cartoons to delight.

5. Show your support for a YES vote by wearing a Yes t-shirt, badge, etc.

6. Volunteer with Yes 23 Campaign or a local Yes support group

7. Find out if there is a group in your area here.

8. Most importantly, talk to friends, family, work associates, neighbours, your book club, etc. about why you support a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum. You can find a conversation guide on the Yes 23 website and clear arguments on the Uluru Statement

Never underestimate the power of a conversation.

Older Women’s Network (OWN) Discussion Sessions on the Voice

It was parliaments of Australia that had denied Indigenous Australians their rights, taken children from their families, and sought to control every aspect of their lives... Understand this and you understand the call for an Indigenous advisory body to parliament.

OWN Sydney held the first of a two part discussion on ‘The Voice’ at its premises in Newtown on 1 June 2023.

The first session was facilitated by Menaka Cooke (a WEL Executive member) using material provided by TogetherYes, part of the Indigenous-led Yes23 campaign. It was attended by 36 people.

A second session will be held in 6-8 weeks by OWN in Newtown to discuss key dimensions of the Voice, how it will assist in Closing the Gap and making a difference to the way First Nations people are governed with policies and programs that reflect their needs and wishes. If you would like to attend the next session write to Anna Logan [email protected] or [email protected].

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