Women’s safety and economic security

Budget Review 2021–22 Index

Harriet Spinks and Catherine Lorimer

The 2021–22 Budget is notable for the inclusion of a women’s budget statement. Between 1984 and 2013 governments usually produced a women’s budget document which highlighted measures that would specifically promote the health, economic security, safety and wellbeing of women in Australia. However, such a document was not produced between 2014 and 2020.

The women’s budget statement is likely in part a response to concern about the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and calls for gender-responsiveness in the subsequent economic recovery stage—the lack of a gender lens, particularly in the context of the impacts of the pandemic, was a key criticism of the 2020–21 Budget. While the inclusion of women’s budget statement has been welcomed by stakeholders, the statement itself has also been criticised for not being a genuinely gender-responsive analysis of all budget measures and policies, as was produced during the Hawke/Keating period. Similarly, while funding for specific measures has been welcomed, critics have pointed out that the Budget does not address the systemic and structural issues that contribute to gender inequality.

The inclusion of the women’s budget statement should also be seen in the context of recent campaigns around women’s safety at work and at home following several high-profile allegations of sexual assault, and increasing pressure driven by the worldwide ‘Me Too’ movement. The announcement in March 2021 of a new Cabinet Taskforce for women, and the creation of three new Ministerial titles relating to women’s safety and economic security, foreshadowed the Government’s intention to include a focus on women’s safety and wellbeing in the 2021–22 Budget.

The Women’s Budget Statement, and the measures highlighted within it, are built around three main pillars: women’s safety; women’s economic security; and women’s health and wellbeing. This article focuses on the women’s safety package, and briefly addresses the women’s economic security package, although the child care measure, which forms the bulk of the women’s economic security package, is discussed in a separate article. Measures to promote women’s health and well-being are discussed in the Library’s Budget Review article titled Health Overview.

Women’s Safety

The Budget provides just over $1 billion over five years for a women’s safety package, comprising measures to reduce family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV) against women and children, and support people who have experienced such violence (pp. 83–85). Half of this funding ($507.3 million over four years) will go to measures to directly support women and children who have experienced FDSV. Primary prevention programs and education initiatives will receive $92.4 million over four years, and $80.6 million will go towards improved data collection and research capacity.

Around a third of the package ($320.1 million over four years) is directed towards legal services and supports, including through the National Legal Assistance Partnership, which is discussed in the Library Budget Review article on Legal Aid and Legal Assistance Funding. In addition to the funding in the Women’s Safety measure in Budget Paper No. 2, funding is also provided under a separate measure for reforms to the family law system (pp. 62–63). Some of the funding under this measure (discussed further below) is included in the women’s safety measures described in the Women’s Budget Statement.

The Ministers’ press release states that the Budget provides $1.1 billion for women’s safety. The Women’s Safety measure contributes a little over a billion of this. Other measures included in the Women’s Budget Statement under the umbrella of ‘women’s safety’ include some of the family law system measures (discussed below), and implementation of the Government’s response to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work report. The latter includes $9.3 million over four years to support the Respect@Work Council Secretariat (the Council was established with funding in the 2020–21 Budget) and $6 million over four years to strengthen reporting on sexual harassment prevalence, prevention and response.

The Women’s Safety measure is the latest in a series of funding packages from this Government addressing women’s safety and FDSV over the last several years, largely in the form of funding to support the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children 2010–22 (the National Plan).  Previous packages, which combined have totalled around $900 million, include:

  • ‘more than $100 million’ over four years for initiatives under the Second Action Plan of the National Plan announced in June 2014
  • $100 million for a Women’s Safety Package, to support action being taken under the National Plan, announced in September 2015
  • an additional $100 million over three years in the 2016–17 Budget, to build on the 2015 women’s safety package
  • a $100 million package to support the Third Action Plan, announced in October 2016
  • a $328 million package over four years for projects under the Fourth Action Plan, announced in March 2019 and
  • a further $150 million for a domestic violence response package, providing additional support to frontline services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, provided in 2020.

The current National Plan is due to expire in 2022, and the funding supporting the Fourth Action Plan, which covers the period from 2019 to 2022 will be largely disbursed by June 2022. The Women’s Safety measure in this Budget has been described by the Minister for Women’s Safety as a ‘down payment’ on the next National Plan, which will commence in mid-2022. The bulk of the funding under the new women’s safety package has been allocated for 2021–22 and 2022–23, so it is likely further funding will be provided in the years beyond that once a new National Plan commences in 2022.

A notable inclusion in the package is $261.4 million over two years for a new National Partnership with the states and territories to expand funding to frontline services. The Minister has described this as providing funding during the ‘transition to the next National Plan’, and noted that states and territories will also be expected to contribute funding under the Partnership. This builds on a National Partnership Agreement between the Commonwealth and the state and territories struck in 2020, under which the Commonwealth provided $130 million in response to increased demand for domestic violence services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. National Partnership Agreements have not historically been used to disburse funding under the National Plan (with the exception of relevant funding under the Partnership Agreements relating to legal assistance, and housing and homelessness). Funding of frontline service providers has previously been largely provided by the states and territories, with Commonwealth investment generally directed elsewhere. While state and territory governments will retain primary responsibility for funding of frontline services, the new National Partnership Agreement marks a notable move on the Commonwealth’s part into more direct support for these services.

Family law system and family violence

There have long been calls for the family law system to be better resourced to deal with the growing number of complex family law matters involving family violence. The family courts currently consist of the Family Court of Australia (FCoA) and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCCA). On 1 September 2021, the new amalgamated Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia will commence. Recent recommendations for increased funding for the family law system have been made by the Joint Select Committee Inquiry into Australia's Family Law System.

In the 2021–22 Budget, the crucial role of the family courts in addressing family violence and the necessity of resourcing them has been addressed as part of the women’s safety package. A total of $416.2 million over the next four years is allocated to support women and families experiencing domestic violence through a number of measures to increase information-sharing and support in the family law system (p. 24). The increased resourcing for the family courts has been welcomed by the Chief Justice of the FCoA and Chief Judge of the FCCA, the Hon Will Alstergren. The allocation of $60.8m over four years from 2021 (and $1.7 million per year ongoing) (p. 62) will allow the family courts to implement a new streamlined approach to family law case management. The extra funding for the family courts was welcomed by the Law Council of Australia (LCA); however, the LCA expressed disappointment that the courts remain under-resourced in terms of judicial and registrar numbers to deal with increased caseloads and backlogs. Women’s Legal Services Australia welcomed the additional funding for the courts but warned that urgent law reform that puts the safety of women and children as a priority still needs be addressed.

The funding package includes a number of new initiatives including the National Information Sharing Framework on Family Safety ($29 million over four years). This aims to improve family safety outcomes in the family courts and through the state and territory family violence and child protection systems by ensuring decision-makers have prompt and timely access to all relevant family violence information (p. 25).

A number of existing services received additional funding to allow for expansion to new locations, including regional areas:

  • $85 million over three years from 2022–23 in additional funding for enhanced social supports under the Family Advocacy and Support Services  (which combines free legal advice and support at court for people affected by family violence) and for 26 new locations, including in regional areas
  • $101.4 million over four years from 2021–22 to increase access to Children’s Contact Services for families across Australia who are unable to safely manage arrangements themselves for the contact and changeover of their children and
  • $129 million over four years from 2021–22 for increased legal assistance funding to help women access justice and respond to increasing demand for domestic violence assistance (See Legal aid and legal assistance services brief for further details).

Women’s Safety NSW have welcomed the additional funding stating that ‘these reforms are essential for ensuring safety first in family law’.

Women’s Economic Security Package

The Women’s Economic Security Package provides measures worth $1.8 billion over five years to improve women’s workforce participation and economic security (pp. 81–82). Of the $1.8 billion for this package, $1.7 billion is spending under the new Child Care subsidy arrangements—see the Library’s Budget article on Child Care Subsidy changes.

The remaining $100 million of the Women’s Economic Security Package funds a range of smaller measures focused largely on boosting women’s workforce participation, including programs to: encourage women into careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM); additional grant funding under the Women’s Leadership and Development Program; fund capacity building and financial support for early stage enterprises that improve the safety and economic security of Indigenous women; and assist women following a career break, or absence from the workplace.

The Women’s Budget Statement highlights a range of further measures which it claims will enhance women’s economic security, including measures relating to training and skills, sport, housing, and retirement income. Notably absent from the Budget is an extension of superannuation to cover paid parental leave payments, which some observers, and the Opposition, had been expecting.

This brief was updated on 17 May to correct two minor errors.