There are key differences between male and female voters. Earlier this year, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Jenna Price analysed Resolve Political Monitor (RPM) polling from April / May 2021 and February 2022 and reported that the Coalition had gone down in favour with men and remained stable with women, while Labor had gone down a few points with women and up significantly with men. However, women were holding strong on being likely to vote for the Greens, Independents, Voices and Others.
It's been dubbed the ‘shouty men’ factor and it’s clearly been worrying the major parties who have both presented gendered policies to the electorate in a bid to win back women and, in many seats, stave off the teal independents.
Last week I was asked by James Vyver at ABC Radio National what the big issues for women are going into the election and how were the major parties addressing them.
Boost women’s workforce participation
To be achieved by both major parties largely via addressing the lack of accessible and affordable childcare. The Grattan Institute identified in its Cheaper Childcare Report childcare more affordable is one of the single best things the Federal Government could do to boost workforce participation and help the COVID recovery.
Childcare costs have soared in recent years, which most commentators point to a combination of high rents, strong demand, staff shortages and other COVID impacts. Both parties have committed to lifting subsidy rates and tweaking threshold numbers.
Improve women’s health and safety
Commendable in theory, but will additional funding and yet more programs really fix the underlying root causes and issues of sexual harassment and domestic violence? These are often the result of long-held societal and cultural norms and behaviours which can take decades to change. The programs and policies also always tend to be focussed on the victims - women and children, rather than the perpetrators.
Labor in some way is looking to address this through funding respectful relationships education in schools for all genders, while the Liberal Party is ramping up the role of the e-safety commissioner to take responsibility for the online safety adults as well as children.
I noted that the Liberal Party has “supporting women as leaders and positive role models as one of its five key priorities” – when perhaps “retraining men to be supportive leaders and role models” might be more appropriate.
With regard to the 55 recommendations from the Respect@Work Report, Labor has promised to enact all 55 while the Liberal Party has not committed to enacting the reforms and is consulting on whether or not they can / should be implemented.
Remove the gender pay gap
While I am dubious of how any party is going to achieve this while in office as there are too many factors and variables which go to making up the gender pay gap, Labor in my view has a more concrete plan. It has proposed (somewhat controversially) to strengthen the ability and capacity of the Fair Work Commission to order pay increases for workers in low paid, female dominated industries; and to prohibit pay secrecy clauses and give employees the right to disclose their pay, if they want to.
The latter is a key factor in perpetuating the gender pay gap. If you can legitimately ask your colleague what they are being paid, then you have the opportunity to benchmark yourself against them - assuming they want to tell you!. It’s clearly in favour with corporate Australia as well - in late March, Westpac announced that it would allow staff to have open discussions about their salaries. Similarly, ANZ, NAB and the Reserve Bank of Australia have also removed pay secrecy obligations for their workforces.
What is missing?
What neither party has done is come out with a comprehensive policy plan to address some critical issues faced by young people and women over 55 – the latter of whom represent the fastest growing cohort of people experiencing homelessness in the country.
In its election policy platform, the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) called for the rate of Jobseeker, Youth Allowance, and other income support payments to move from $46 a day to at least $70 a day, with additional support to single parents (the majority of whom are female) people with disability and private renters to make ends meet.
The availability of affordable rental as opposed to affordable home ownership is a key issue – with both parties going hard on supporting people into home ownership and really tinkering at the edges when it comes to addressing systemic issues around homelessness and rental stress.
The NSW Community Housing Association is just one body that has urged the Federal Government to broaden its focus from home ownership to providing tangible support for the growing number of struggling renters and homeless. People who will never own a home – regardless of the grants or other policies, such as the Liberal plan for people to access superannuation to buy a first home.
The CHA reports that there are 150,000 households on the social housing waitlist in Australia. More than one million households are in acute rental stress and struggling to make ends meet: including women and children escaping domestic violence, older Australians receiving the pension, people below retirement age unable to find employment, and low-income earners like childcare and aged care workers.
Overhauling the tax system
My personal view is that only so much can be done to address the issues impacting the growing number of men and women who sit at the margins of society, and what will be needed is a major overhaul of our tax system.
Something similar to the review released in 2010 by a panel chaired by then Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry. Known as The Australian Future Tax System Review, this exhaustive document made 138 specific recommendations, grouped under nine broad themes.
Concentrating revenue raising on four efficient tax bases: personal income, business income, private consumption, and economic rents from natural resources and land. Other taxes may be retained if they serve a specific policy purpose such as discouraging smoking or traffic congestion. Taxes fitting into none of these categories should eventually be abolished.
Configuring taxes and transfers to support productivity, participation and growth.
An equitable, transparent and simplified personal income tax: a much higher tax-free threshold (around AUD 25,000), only two tax brackets, and a simplification of superannuation, deductions and offsets.
A fair, adequate, and work supportive transfer system.
Integrating consumption tax compliance with business systems.
Efficient land and resource taxation.
Completing retirement income reform and securing aged care.
Toward more affordable housing: substantially increase rent assistance, gradually move to a uniform land tax and remove transfer taxes (stamp duty), and gradually move to a neutral treatment of rental and owner-occupied housing.
A more open, understandable and responsive tax system.
While these may not all be fit for purpose in 2022, surely it might be worth dusting off and updating. I fear neither major political party has the courage to take on what is really required in Australia for us to be fit for the future.
The Diversity Council of Australia today published its responses from the two major parties on a series of questions about where they stand on a series of key issues relating to diversity and inclusion, of which gender equality is one. Only the ALP has replied. Read the response here.
Election policies focussed on achieving equality for women
Liberal - https://www.liberal.org.au/our-plan/women
ALP - https://www.alp.org.au/policies/equality-for-women