Whose back, Mr Treasurer? | AMA (WA)


AMA (WA) | Rebecca Wood

Whose back, Mr Treasurer?

Monday March 8, 2021

Dr Rebecca Wood

This article looks at how the government has largely overlooked measures that support women in the workplace.

The impacts of COVID-19 have not been gender-neutral. The pandemic has disadvantaged Australian women more than men through higher rates of under- and unemployment, less job security, greater household and family demands, increased carer roles, and increased risk of domestic violence.1

On 6 October 2020, the Morrison Government handed down the Federal Budget, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg assuring Australians “we have your back”. Unfortunately, that comment was not directed at women but at male-heavy industry workers. The budget did not contain anything to address significant job losses in industries dominated by females.

Danielle Wood, CEO of the Grattan Institute captured it perfectly when she wrote:

The three sectors with the most targeted support are all bloke-heavy: construction (more than A$10 billion so far through the crisis), energy (A$4 billion), and manufacturing (A$3 billion). There is also an extra A$10 billion for transport projects, another boost to construction jobs in the building phase.

Hospitality, the arts and administrative services have all been hit hard. These sectors are dominated by women, which is one reason women’s employment has taken a bigger hit this year. Yet these sectors received next to nothing in the budget.2

Public policy can either reduce or increase existing gender inequalities in the workplace. For example, if we made childcare more affordable, this would help reduce the gender gap in the workplace. It would also support jobs and economic recovery. But politics is dominated by men who do not personally experience these issues, and who are unlikely to eliminate gender inequality any time soon. In fact, our government did away with measuring the budgetary impact on women when it removed The Women’s Budget Statement in 2013.

Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), an Australian government agency, predicted a $1 trillion fall in global GDP by 2030 if the COVID effect on gender inequality isn’t addressed, or a $13 trillion gain if it is.3

WGEA Director Libby Lyons acknowledged COVID’s detrimental effect on women in the workplace.

“A number of female-dominated industries have suffered the worst of the job losses,” Ms Lyons said.

“All the evidence we have suggests that COVID 19 is seriously jeopardising women’s long-term economic and financial security and workforce participation.”4

Couple this with the fact that women are less likely to receive JobKeeper payments3 and you can see how the government has let women down.

Initially the government stimulus package supported women through childcare, which both employs women and supports women to stay in the workplace. This support did not last long and was quickly removed, except in Victoria. The government has largely overlooked measures that support women in the workplace. These include affordable training, affordable early childhood care and education, adequate paid parental leave, equal access to parental leave for non-birthing partners, and supportive flexible working environments for parents.5

How will this affect doctors and our patients? I believe this lack of oversight will have serious impact on our healthcare workers in public and private practice. According to the North Metropolitan Health Service (NMHS) Annual Report, 78 per cent of all employees (including support staff) are female.6 That’s not far off from federal statistics which show women represent 75.4 per cent of all healthcare workers7 (excluding support staff).

As women and as clinicians, we need to be supported to remain in the workplace by policy and by our work community. We can’t do our jobs without our ‘support staff’!

To bring it back to gender economics, I’ll leave you with one last statistic – the gender pay gap in WA. Rest assured, we are the best at the pay gap – in fact we take the cake! Where the national gender pay gap is only 14 per cent, WA women sit high and dry at 22.7 per cent.

Gender should be a key consideration in the development of public policy. Only then can we catch up with the rest of the nation on gender equality, pay parity and women’s human rights in WA.7 Our State has led the nation on a range of other issues such as mandatory reporting. Where’s our fight when it comes to this?


  1. Sharp, R, Costa, M and Austen, S 2020, ‘Each budget used to have a gender impact statement. We need it back, especially now’, The Conversation, 30 September 2020. Available at: https:// theconversation.com/each-budget-used-to-have-a-gender-impactstatement-we-need-it-back-especially-now-144849
  2. Wood, D, Griffiths, K and Crowley, T 2020, ‘Budget 2020: high-vis, narrow vision’, The Grattan Institute, 7 October 2020. Available at: https://grattan.edu.au/news/budget-2020-high-vis-narrow-vision/
  3. WGEA 2020, ‘Gendered impacts of COVID’, May 2020 Available online: https://www.wgea.gov.au/topics/ gendered-impact-of-covid-19
  4. WGEA 2020, Media Release. ‘The national gender pay gap is now 14%’ Available online: https://www.wgea.gov.au/newsroom/ media-releases/the-national-gender-pay-gap-is-now-140
  5. Australian Unions, ‘Leaving women behind: The real cost of the COVID recovery’ Available online: https://action. australianunions. org.au/ women-and-covid
  6. NMHS Annual Report 2020, available online: https://www. nmhs.health. wa.gov.au/-/media/HSPs/NMHS/Documents/Reports/NMHS_ AnnualReport2020.pdf
  7. Calculated using Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2020a), 6291.0.55.003 – Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, Feb 2020, EQ08 – Employed persons by Occupation unit group of main job (ANZSCO), Sex, State and Territory, August 1986 onwards (Pivot Table), viewed 21 April 2020, available: https://www.abs.gov.au/ ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/6291.0.55.003