Super vs surplus

It seems women’s equality will have to wait a little longer, presumably for the sake of the surplus

The Albanese government has given Australian women an early International Women’s Day present, announcing it will finally start paying superannuation on paid parental leave, addressing a gap that currently leaves women with, on average, 25 per cent less super than men upon retirement. Experts have long called for this fix, which Labor took to the 2019 election, but not the 2022 one, citing costs; it was a key recommendation from last year’s Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce, with many disappointed it was not included in the 2023 budget. Today’s announcement has been welcomed by advocates, super funds and unions, especially the Australian Services Union, which led a multi-year campaign on the issue under late senator Linda White. Speaking at the National Press Club on a new gender equality plan (including new requirements for companies seeking government contracts), Minister for Women Katy Gallagher placed the PPL announcement among a series of Labor achievements, going back to Whitlam, noting that this was “the right thing to do”. Why, then, does the policy not kick in until July 2025, after the next federal election?

The government doesn’t have a clear answer on this. Spruiking the policy on RN, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said he was proud of the policy. But he didn’t have a compelling reason as to why it wouldn’t start until after the election. “We’ve got to get the systems right. You can’t just click your fingers and make this work immediately,” he said, failing to justify why 16 months was needed, when the Stage Three tax cut changes were able to be actioned in four months. Asked a similar question on News Breakfast, Gallagher also cited “implementation”, adding that it can take a long time to get legislation through the Senate. That argument is somewhat complicated by the fact that the Greens – who hold the balance of power – fully back this change, having previously demanded it in exchange for their support on super tax changes. Greens women’s spokesperson Larissa Waters welcomed today’s announcement, but said women shouldn’t have to wait until 2025, when there was a PPL bill before the Senate right now. Gallagher, meanwhile, revealed to the Press Club she had no guarantee the Coalition would honour the policy if it won the election, adding that she would “hope” it would not reverse such an uncontroversial change. Hope is one thing, but it would surely be harder to undo if it were already being paid.

It seems more likely that this delay is about the all-important surplus, with the government eager to provide another black budget, even at the expense of their own policy agenda, unwilling to forgo the approximately $250 million this policy is expected to cost annually – small fry in the scheme of things. There is some tension within the Labor caucus, according to the Nine papers, as the leadership group repeatedly knocks back ministers’ spending proposals in order to protect the surplus – “an objective strongly backed by Treasury”. Asked on RN this morning if he was “obsessed with delivering a surplus”, Chalmers retorted that he was “obsessed with responsible economic management”. In other words, yes he is, with Labor priorities to take a backseat or wait a little longer, even ones as “uncontroversial” as closing the gender super gap.

I may be accused of looking a gift horse in the mouth. But it’s unclear why we should have to wait another 16 months (and potentially longer, if the Coalition somehow secures a 2025 victory) for a simple fix that has been floating around for several years, to right a wrong that has been going on for even longer – not when the government can find seemingly endless money for tax concessions and fossil fuel subsidies, while refusing to do more to tax our resources. Speaking at the Press Club today, Gallagher repeatedly returned to the idea of a little girl born today – on March 7, 2024 – and what kind of future she might look forward to. Her point only served to underline the fact that the mother of that little girl could be missing out on several thousands of dollars worth of superannuation, just so the Albanese government doesn’t have to mess with its surplus.

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