Women Impacted Disproportionately by COVID-19 - 17/06/2020

17 June 2020



If there was any doubt that this government is out of touch with the needs and the lives of Australian women, the Prime Minister's answer today to my question about whether it was acceptable for women from the Yass Valley to give birth by the side of a road says it all. His response was, 'That's why we're upgrading the road.' I think that really says it all. It's a really important issue for our region that women in the Yass Valley have to travel for over an hour to give birth in either Canberra or Goulburn. We've been calling for that area to have a maternity hospital. In fact, Labor has this week committed to putting $4.75 million towards building a maternity hospital at Yass.

When I asked the Prime Minister, 'Is it acceptable to you that numerous women have given birth beside the road in traumatic circumstances?', his answer was, 'That's why we're upgrading the Barton Highway.' It's kind of funny, but it's also not funny at all because this is a serious health risk to mothers and their babies. Having given birth previously—and I'm going to be doing it again sometime soon—I can tell you that I don't want to be doing it beside a highway with no help. Pregnant women really need to know that they're going to have the help and support they need at that time. They are worried about their babies' health and their own health through that process. Hearing this complete lack of understanding of that from the Prime Minister says everything. It really is a huge worry. It's not just the fact that the birth can take a disastrous turn for women and their babies in that sort of circumstance; it's also the trauma that many women will experience as a result of that throughout their lives. That is something that many women from the Yass Valley have talked about, and it has been covered widely in the media. It is something that this government should be aware of.

I move on now to other areas where the government is out of touch with Australian women, particularly in their response to this pandemic. Many female dominated industries have been the absolute heroes of this pandemic. I refer to cleaners, nurses, aged-care workers, early childhood educators and teachers. These are the people who have kept us healthy, kept us alive, kept us safe and kept our economy going as this pandemic has pushed us into recession for the first time in almost 30 years.

Women have also borne the brunt of the economic downturn—55 per cent of Australians who have lost their jobs are women, even though the workforce participation rate for women is almost 10 per cent lower than for men. That's 325,000 women who will have to live with the lifelong consequences of unemployment. We know these consequences are worse for women.

Even before the pandemic, we knew that our economy was not working for Australian women. It's not set up for women to succeed, with women holding only a quarter of board positions in this country. It's not set up to treat women fairly, with women still earning 14 per cent less than men for the same work in this country—and in the private sector that is even higher. When women have children, more than 50 per cent of them don't get any maternity leave from their employer. Even fewer employees provide secondary carers leave. The number of secondary carers—it's mainly fathers who take it up—is low. Just 15 per cent of Australian fathers take more than four weeks when their baby is born. This is a huge cause of the ongoing gender disparity in our workforce. Only when it becomes normal for both mum and dad to take time out of the workforce to care for children will we have any chance of equality. The government has a huge role in that, in the types of programs that they provide and the law around what's provided by employers.

Even just in this sitting period, where we've moved some changes to paid parental leave to allow it to be more flexible, this government refused to ensure that women affected by coronavirus will be exempt from the work test and be able to access paid parental leave. Again, for families expecting a new baby, it's a huge worry that they'll lose, potentially, up to $15,000 as a result of that failure to step up and protect those women. It's not going to cost the government anything extra. These are people who would have been receiving it anyway but have lost their jobs due to a global pandemic.

This government really needs to stand up for Australian women. They obviously don't understand the pressures, the economy. The childcare situation is another example of where a female-dominated industry is going to be kicked off JobKeeper well before any other industry. Why is that? (Time expired)