25 May 2021


I rise to address a matter of great import in my community and, no doubt, right around Australia, and that is women's workforce participation. The pandemic has changed the very way Australians live and work. We've seen significant social and economic disruptions. We've adapted to meeting via collaborative tools in telehealth consults and socially distanced grandparents visits, and yet there remain lingering concerns about Australia's economic stability, especially given consumer confidence remains low. Some aspects of life are beginning to return to normal. In my local area I see commuter car parks once again filling up before seven o'clock in the morning and roads becoming increasingly congested earlier in the morning. The school pick-ups and drop-offs, at least for me, now allow parents to be at the school grounds, but again the traffic has become terrible at peak times.

There's something far more insidious at play that's not being addressed or recognised by this government, and that is the collapse in jobs satisfaction for women in the workforce. Deloitte recently conducted an important survey on women's economic participation and job satisfaction before and during the COVID-19 pandemic entitled Women @ Work: A global outlook. The report evinces some startling insights into the disproportionate way in which women are being affected by the pandemic. When I read the report one word immediately came to mind, 'depressing'. According to those surveyed, seven in 10 Australian women ranked their job satisfaction as good or extremely good during COVID-19. Today, only five in 10 have positive job satisfaction. But it gets worse: 73 per cent of women rated their productivity as good or extremely good pre-COVID, but now it is only 50 per cent. Mental wellbeing attracted a similar 70 per cent positive response leading up to the pandemic, but that's now crashed to 35 per cent, with 46 per cent of women rating their mental wellbeing as poor or extremely poor.

Physical health and wellbeing also crashed from 66 per cent to 41 per cent, with the ability to switch off reflecting similar figures. I want to focus particularly on this final concept, the right to switch off. As a consequence of COVID, it will need to be addressed by bold forward-thinking policy. Working from home or just remote working has become a staple for many, but it brings its own inherent risks. The pressure to be on the ball from the moment you wake up, before a usual start time, and to be contactable after hours, less you be labelled as 'slacking off', is not a new concept. It was something I grappled with when I worked as a lawyer in the corporate sector, but the pressure has certainly ratcheted up a notch. There's a perception that, if you're not commuting, you automatically enjoy more productive time in the day and, therefore, you should be putting in more hours. The figures I cited earlier demonstrate this pressure is obviously having an adverse impact on the mental health of women in the workforce, who remain disproportionately more likely to hold primary caring and domestic responsibilities. What is the culmination of these statistics? Fifty-eight per cent of women surveyed by Deloitte plan to remain with their current employer for two years, citing a lack of work-life balance as the primary reason for wanting to leave. The productivity disruption of women leaving the workforce is significant for our economic recovery. These are complex problems, and they're by no means novel, but we need to be forward-thinking. We need to have innovative ideas to help address these issues and keep more women in the workforce.

Unlike this tired eight-year-old government without a plan and with only media strategy to get through each day, Labor has actually been examining these issues, including a real plan to support women in the workforce when it comes to childcare. Labor's childcare reforms will alleviate at least some of the burden being placed on working mothers by addressing the Liberals' skyrocketing childcare fees. We'll scrap the $10,560 childcare subsidy cap—which often sees women losing money from an extra day's work—lift the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent and increase the childcare subsidy rate for 98 per cent of families. Women will no longer need to choose between more work and care, juggling conflicting responsibilities and feeling like both a bad mother and a bad worker for prioritising one over the other—and I know how that feels.

Our childcare package will give women options. It will make it easier for mothers and working families to get ahead, and no family will be worse off under Labor. That's because Labor is on the side of working women. These, as I said, are issues that require forward thinking and that require strategies that have examined the precise issues that I've outlined here, recognising that these are not novel concepts. But they have certainly changed in terms of their dimension. They will continue to change. There are many things that will not go back to normal, and technology will not solve everything; it will only be solved by being forward thinking, being strategic and having the Australian people front of mind.