Transcript - ABC AM

Release Date: 
20 November 2018

Subjects: Women’s Economic Security Statement, parental leave pay flexibility, Israel Embassy

SABRA LANE: Today the Federal Government is unveiling a $109 million package over four years to boost women's economic independence, workforce participation and earning potential. It's the long promised Women's Economic Security Statement from the Women's Minister Kelly O'Dwyer. She will deliver the first one today. Some of the money will be split into programs that will help rural and regional women back into work after taking a break, and helping separating couples split their property assets quickly, and encouraging more Women into Science and Technology and entrepreneurs. Joining us now is Women's Minister, Kelly O'Dwyer. Good morning and welcome to the program. 

KELLY O'DWYER: Good Morning Sabra.

SABRA LANE: How many women will this package end up helping?

KELLY O'DWYER: Well I think it has the potential to help millions of Australian women and the generations that follow. We want women to be economically secure because when women can build their financial security they have choices in their lives. And women want choices – choices are good for them, for their families and for our nation. When women do well, Australia does well and the nation prospers.

SABRA LANE: The Government now is going to be more flexible on how parents can access their paid parental leave. I think currently 18 weeks you take in one block. How will that work and why are you doing i

KELLY O'DWYER: Well we know that there are thousands of parents that don't access all of their parental leave payment, which means they are missing out. It’s a pretty rigid system right now. You have got your 18 weeks and use it or you lose it. We know that families actually want more choices about their family arrangements. It doesn't take into account that there are many women who are self-employed, who are running their own small-businesses and who can't spend 18 weeks away from their business. So we want to give them the flexibility to choose to take that parental pay leave payment in blocks in a way that suits them. We also recognise that there are many fathers who also want to spend time as the primary care-giver with their families as well. 

SABRA LANE: You're also allowing victims of domestic violence early access to their superannuation in some cases what’s the thinking behind that?

KELLY O'DWYER: Well we know that women are particularly financially vulnerable during separations. This is absolutely true when women are fleeing domestic violence. We know that they are at a heightened risk of homelessness and we need to give them ever support to be able to be safe and to rebuild their financial future and economic security. For themselves and their children. We are giving them access to no-interest loans through Good Shepherd Microfinance. That is going to help around 45,000 women who currently don't have access to those loans. They will be able to use it to get bonds for residential accommodation to be able to provide, in some instances, debt consolidation so that they can as I said rebuild their lives. 

SABRA LANE: By allowing women to access their super early is there a danger that when it comes to retirement they will be left in this double-jeopardy situation where they won't have enough money left to retire on?

KELLY O'DWYER: Well certainly when it comes to superannuation we did a lot of consultation on this issue. You can get early access to superannuation for terminal illness or sever financial hardship but we are extending it out to those people who have suffered from domestic violence. Because there are some people who certainly need that help now. On balance that was what the stakeholder feedback told us. 

SABRA LANE: Are you worried though when it comes to retirement they will be left with even fewer savings to rely on?

KELLY O'DWYER: Well we certainly know that women right now retire with about 42% less in their superannuation accounts. This is only one of the three pillars that women and men can be supported in retirement. There is savings outside of superannuation of course and there is also our strongly funded social safety net as well. All three of them combine of course to be able to ensure that we have people on a decent standard of living when they retire. 

SABRA LANE: Will the Government consider paying superannuation for women during or while they are taking maternity leave?

KELLY O'DWYER: On parental leave payments that is certainly an interesting question. But we have to make sure that the superannuation system is currently working structurally for women right now. We know that right now it isn't. There are changes that need to happen in order to make sure that those accounts are not ripped off by high fees and charges or default insurance premiums that can erode their balance. Until those changes go through the Parliament I don't think it is sensible further changes to the superannuation system in that way.

SABRA LANE: It sounds like you’re saying to women who do take parental leave and don't get superannuation that they’re being held hostage to that other stuff that is going through Parliament? 

KELLY O'DWYER: No, certainly private employers can make the decision to provide additional superannuation guarantee payments. The Government also has a bigger question to consider here as well Sabra – which is if you pay the superannuation guarantee on one payment, why not on all payments? And that obviously comes at considerable cost to the taxpayer.

SABRA LANE: So you are not going to match it? Labor has promised to do that if it wins the next election and you are saying we are not prepared to match that?

KELLY O'DWYER: We have got a strong package today that targets women being able to get more choices in their life and how they build their financial security. We believe that that is really carefully calibrated. It allows people to be able to, for instance, build their own business, establish their own business and grow their own business with a number of the programs that we are putting in place. We also know that business has a role to play as well when it comes to the gender pay gap, and the flexibility pay gap between women who work part time and men who work part time. Clearly, women work part time more than twice the rate of men. There is a participation gap. Our measures today are all designed to tackle that. 

SABRA LANE: There is, on a separate issue, an unseemly fight in the Government over the prospect of moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The Financial Review says the Government considered this six months ago and decided to make no change. Where do you stand on this?

KELLY O'DWYER: The Government is obviously considering this issue and the Government will make a decision in the national interest. I will leave my comments for Cabinet’s consideration when we have had the opportunity to properly evaluate what is in our national interest.

SABRA LANE: Minister thanks for joining AM this morning.

KELLY O'DWYER: Thanks Sabra.