Australia

Anthony Albanese says ‘serious economic change’ required to better support women ahead of budget reply speech

Labor Leader Anthony Albanese has promised women will be placed at the centre of his budget reply speech on Thursday night as the opposition vies to outflank the government. 

Ahead of his address to Parliament, Mr Albanese outlined the need for “serious economic change” to respond to concerns around wages and workforce participation faced by women.

The response comes after the Coalition announced $3.4 billion towards women’s economic participation and personal safety in the federal budget on Tuesday night.   

The female-focused funding splash follows pressure on the government after thousands of women marched outside Parliament in March demanding action against inequality and gendered violence. 

Mr Albanese has accused the government’s budget response of being about “political management” rather than driving systemic change for women.  

“We do need serious economic change,” Mr Albanese said in a women’s budget statement speech to the Labor caucus on Thursday. 

“The way to grow the economy is by giving support to women’s economic participation in the economy.”   

Mr Albanese’s budget reply speech is expected to include new commitments on initiatives for women as well as renewable energy, and ideas to help young people create new start-up businesses. 

Labor last year announced it would deliver universal childcare subsidies as a centrepiece of its budget reply to support women’s economic participation in the workforce. 

In an apparent response, the federal government in this year’s budget announced a $1.7 billion commitment over five years to increase the childcare subsidy for families with multiple children. 

The new measures to come into effect next year particularly target low and middle incomes families earning $130,000 or less per year – but do not go as far as Labor’s promise of universal childcare.  

Labor claims that its plan would result in 92 per cent of families being better off – while the Coalition says its response is more targeted towards families that need the support most.   

The Coalition’s budget also outlines $1.1 billion in money directed towards safety initiatives tackling violence and harassment – including $261.4 million for frontline services and initiatives under a two-year agreement with states and territories.   

Mr Albanese recognised the need for action to address gendered violence while delivering his women’s budget statement ahead of his budget reply. 

“Tonight women will turn up with their children at shelters and be turned away because there is no space for them,” he told the Labor caucus. 

“And they’ll face a choice of either sleeping in their car or going back to a dangerous situation – we know that will occur because it occurs every night.” 

Mr Albanese is also set to reveal a new program to encourage the entrepreneurship of young people in the start-up economy. 

It will offer 2000 students the opportunity to be mentored by universities and private-sector incubators to turn their ideas into future businesses.

Labor is seeking to differentiate itself from the Coalition by finding ways to boost productivity to lift wages and create opportunities for Australians to enter the workforce.

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said more action is needed to specifically address the “substantial, long standing gender inequality” facing women in Australian society.

“The budget on Tuesday night was a massive missed opportunity but probably no more so than the opportunity to address that gender inequality in particular,” he told the Labor caucus.

Women’s workforce participation stood at 61.8 per cent in the ABS’s latest labour report in March compared to 70.9 per cent for men. 

The federal government’s budget delivered on Tuesday also forecast a real wage cut for the next two financial years, before inflation and pay growth reach parity in 2022/23 and 2023/24.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s economic recovery would ensure wages continue to improve. 

“Wages will continue to improve in this country so long as the economic settings continue to be right, that we continue to back Australians, that we secure Australia’s recovery,” he told Parliament on Thursday. 

With additional reporting from AAP. 

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