SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER
Minister for Finance
Minister for Women
Minister for the Public Service
Senator for the ACT
Date: Monday, 23 October 2023
DAVID LIPSON, HOST: It's well known that women tend to work in less secure jobs, earn less money than male counterparts, do more unpaid labour at home and are more likely to face poverty, particularly later in life. Right now, the gender pay gap is at 13% - better than it was, but still a long way to go. The government today is releasing a report by the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce that aims to reduce that gap. Katy Gallagher is the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Women. She's my guest this morning. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.
SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Good morning. Thanks for having me on, David.
LIPSON: This report recommends a long term goal of increasing paid parental leave to 52 weeks. That's a doubling of where it is now. And also, that it should be paid at a replacement wage level. How open are you to that?
GALLAGHER: Well, can I first thank the members of the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce for this report. And as you say, it's a 10-year plan or a long term plan. The WEET taskforce calls it a 10-year plan to really drive women's economic capacity and empowerment across the Australian community. One of those recommendations, and there's a whole area in the report around women and care, unpaid work at home which we all know and how we can support women better at work, and there's no doubt that access to paid parental leave is part of that. We did increase paid parental leave, the national scheme, from 20 to 26 weeks in the October Budget. That had a cost at around $600 million per annum. So, you know, I think we would all like to continue to improve that scheme, but we've got to find room in the Budget to do that as we go. And I think there's an acknowledgement that the more that you can support women and families actually to balance those caring roles that they perform outside of paid employment, the better you have, in terms of a skilled workforce and a loyal workforce as well.
LIPSON: So clearly some Budget pressures. What about this element of that recommendation, a replacement wage that is you know, to bring you up to speed with what your current wage was before you had the baby. Why should a lawyer get more super from the government than someone working at the checkout in a supermarket?
GALLAGHER: Well, in terms of super on paid parental leave, you're right, at the moment that's not paid and this has been something that I think there's been a lot of advocacy about from the union movement and from women's organisations. And I think the Treasurer and I have made it clear that when we can find room in the Budget for that, we want to see that, because we know that one of the other compounding issues for women is not just sort of the years that they lose income through what they call, you know those, well, it's the parenting years. It's actually at the other end when you're retiring that women are retiring with a lot less income as well. And so how we can make sure we're maximising women's incomes through their lifespan and their career span, the more we can ensure women retire with dignity and super is part of that. It's not the only thing but it's definitely part of it. And, you know, this is certainly on the government's table at the moment.
LIPSON: There are seven main recommendations, how many of those will you implement?
GALLAGHER: Well, I think we are pulling in the right direction. Like when I got the report, I think there's a lot of areas where there's commonality in the work that we've currently got underway. There's a lot of focus on the care economy and how we deal with some of the pressures there. There's a focus on skills and training and lifelong learning and there's a lot of work going on there. There's a section on government leadership and how we drive the change across the decisions that we make. And there's a lot of work going on there. So, you know, this is an important document. It really is going to, I guess, set the scene for some of the decisions that the government has to take over the next little while. It'll feed into all of the policy work we do and some of those Budget decisions we take. So, it's an incredibly important document. In the areas where you know, a lot of the areas where there's recommendations and sub recommendations, we've already got pieces of work underway, but where there's gaps, we will identify those and work through the detail of them. But we're incredibly committed to this report and to the 13 women who worked tirelessly on putting this report together, we thank them very much.
LIPSON: A lot of the report talks about the improvement to productivity that can come from some of the reforms being recommended, you know, you've framed some of your answers in the sort of in the Budget space that you know, we need room in the Budget. Are there anything? Are there any specific recommendations that you can identify that would improve the Budget position?
GALLAGHER: Well, I think there's an acknowledgement through the report that if we are able to maximise women's participation in the economy, that that has a positive impact on the Budget. I mean, the figure the taskforce reports is that if we are able to drive the change, remove some of the barriers, ensure that women get access to the training and support they need, make sure that we've got the care economy functioning well, that you know that will have a very significant positive impact on the economy. So, it's not, we certainly don't see it as you know, these are all costs, absolutely not. But I am being honest that when we're looking at making changes, we have to be you know, that do come with a fiscal cost, that we are being responsible about that and finding room within the Budget. So, there's no doubt, it's absolutely right for the economy to keep driving women's economic equality, absolutely. But where there is those costs, we do need to find room to pay amongst a whole range of other areas where we need to make investments as well.
LIPSON: Just very briefly before I move on, the issue of child care support. This report recommends abolishing the activity test. That's the one that makes parents work more hours to receive greater child care support. Are you going to do that?
GALLAGHER: Well, that has again, that has been an issue that has been raised with the government. It came up through the Jobs and Skills Summit. It's come up through this report and we're heading towards the end of the Early Years Strategy which is where that question is being actively examined. So, we're aware of it. We're certainly aware of the advocacy that people have placed on this as being a hindrance to women and women in work and supporting families properly, but it will come through that piece of work.
LIPSON: Now inflation, on Wednesday, inflation figures for the September quarter are going to be released. Petrol prices are expected to show a rise of more than 7%. What are you expecting for the overall inflation figure? Is that going to be up on last month?
GALLAGHER: Look, we do expect that we'll see upward pressure on inflation and we do know that, you know figures do jump around a bit but obviously, you know, we've been seeing higher petrol prices. People have been seeing that when they fuel up their car up, and we think that will play a bigger role in the inflation figures we get later this week - I think midweek. There's no doubt inflation is moderating, but it's you know, this is something we're seeing in other countries as well that, you know, it peaks and it's moderating, but it's staying higher than we'd like for longer than we'd like. But we'll know for sure on Wednesday when we see those figures come through.
LIPSON: So, should Australians brace for a Cup Day rate rise?
GALLAGHER: Well, obviously that's a matter for the Reserve Bank, and it makes those decisions independently of government. I think our focus is on how we can make sure we're easing the cost of living pressures for people, that they're feeling right now. Petrol is one of those areas, but we know there's other areas people are really feeling it, which is why our focus has been getting our $23 billion cost of living package out the door so that we can take some pressure off family budgets and household budgets.
LIPSON: I want to look at China and trade because yesterday the Prime Minister announced he will visit China next month, and that China will review its extensive tariffs on Australian wine. Now that's a similar protest to what we saw with barley. Is the government confident those tariffs will be removed and when?
GALLAGHER: My understanding is we have reached agreement with China to move forward to resolve the dispute. There's going to be an expedited review of the duties by China and the understanding is that it's expected to take about five months. So, look, this is an important step forward. We know the wine industry was really hit hard by those tariffs when they were implemented in 2020. It's a significant export industry and was a significant export industry into China before those tariffs were implemented. So, this is very positive news and it's part of our stabilising the relationship that the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and Trade Minister have been working on since we were elected.
LIPSON: And just before I let you go, the statement on the Voice that's come from some of the Indigenous leaders over the weekend. It calls the defeat of the Referendum a quote, "shameful victory by the No camp." Do you agree with that sentiment?
GALLAGHER: Well, I can certainly understand that for those First Nations people who campaigned for in many, many years, decades and decades, for constitutional recognition, that they are feeling extremely disappointed and distressed at the outcome of the Referendum last weekend. But from the government's point of view, the Referendum was held. We respect and accept that decision. And now it's a focus on how can we work together to make a practical difference in all of those areas where we need to close the gap in health, housing, education, employment, and that's our focus.
LIPSON: And then sorry, just one more very, very briefly, why do you think the ACT was the only jurisdiction to vote Yes?
GALLAGHER: Well, the ACT has always bucked the trend, it seems. We voted Yes for a Republic as well. So, look, I think there's, you know, it's hard to know, the ACT has often supported changes to the Referendum when the rest of the country has said No, and the Voice Referendum last weekend was no different.
LIPSON: Katy Gallagher, thank you for joining us, the Minister for Finance and Women. Thank you.
GALLAGHER: Thanks so much, David.