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Senate Estimates - Effect of the Budget on Women

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Larissa Waters 27 May 2014

CHAIR: Senator Waters.

Senator WATERS: I presume you are able to advise on the government's overall budget spend in relation to women? I have tried to work it out and I need some assistance. In the shift from FaHCSIA to the new—

Ms Cross : Do you mean the costs of staff and the program budget?

Senator WATERS: The program budget.

Ms Cross : We can help you with that.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I have looked at the figures under the previous government when I understand all of the programs sat with FaHCSIA. I have tried to compare that with what we have got now. I think I have worked out that you have got DSS outcome 2.1 which retains the national plan, and everything else sits with PM&C under outcome 1.1. Looking at the figures, they appear to add up to about $60 million less than it used to be. Can you clarify that for me?

Ms McDevitt : The Department of Social Services and women's safety program, or national initiative program I think it comes under, that funding has not changed in the budget. I think it is around $104 million over the forward estimates period. In the PM&C Office for Women portfolio, we have the women's leadership and development fund in the budget. That has been reduced by 10 per cent in line with many other reductions to programs across government. It will not affect any existing funding agreements or contracts at all, and the money is there in the forward estimates for that program.

Ms Cross : And that is not anywhere near a $60 million figure—

Senator WATERS: I will follow up on that and I might put some questions on notice once I have had another look. Can you give me some table numbers, because I have page 29 of DSS—

Ms Steele : I think if you go to page 31 on the PM&C budget statement, it shows the Office for Women in that table. You need to read it in conjunction with Budget Paper No. 2, which shows where the saving was made.

Senator WATERS: And that is that reduction to the national initiatives bucket that you mentioned?

Ms Steele : Yes. That is on page 188.

Ms McDevitt : No, that is the women's leadership and development strategy that sits within PM&C.

Senator WATERS: And that was a $1.5 million decrease?

Ms Steele : It was $1.6 million over four years.

Senator Cash: Bear in mind, Senator Waters, as the officials have stated, it does not affect the current grants that have been made. They stay as per the grant.

Senator WATERS: Sure. It is just a reduction over the years.

Senator Cash: Yes.

Senator WATERS: Is that the only reduction in funding?

Ms McDevitt : Yes.

Senator WATERS: Has the bucket which funds the national initiative, including the national action plan, been reduced?

Ms Steele : No, and that is in DSS.

Ms McDevitt : It is $104 million over the forward estimates. You will see it under national initiatives in the portfolio budget statement. I think that program does include some small amounts of other funding in the order of $3 million or $4 million, but the main part of that funding is the $104 million over the next four years.

Senator WATERS: I might have another look at those figures and come back to you with some questions on notice. Thank you for clearing that up.

Ms McDevitt : We would be very happy to clarify that for you.

Senator WATERS: The PBS says that your office is responsible for women's economic empowerment, women's leadership and status, and the prevention of violence against women. I am just trying to work out how that fits with what I thought was DSS's retention of responsibility for the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. Could you explain how you divvy up that work.

Ms McDevitt : I think essentially the responsibility for the action plan and the second action plan sit within that portfolio. The minister may like to comment. Minister Andrews is working with Minister Cash and asked her to lead that work. That is why, as Ms Steele said earlier, we are working very closely with the Department of Social Services and other relevant departments. They have the funding and they are doing a lot of the work on it, but the minister is leading that work in terms of shaping the plan, working with stakeholders et cetera. So it is almost a bit of a join-up.

Senator WATERS: So the office that is resourced to do that work is DSS, but you are collaborating.

Senator Cash: It has always been that way. The office of women and the national action plan to reduce violence against women and children have never actually been joined.

Senator MOORE: The way the budget line is in the budget measures is that it has the $1.6 million over four years, but it goes $390,000, $395,000, $402,000, $370,000. Can you explain that variation in figures over four years?

Ms Steele : Where did you get that?

Senator MOORE: It is on page 23 of the budget measures, the yellow one, which actually spells it out across the whole department. In the white one it is very neat and goes, 0.4, 0.4, 0.4. But in this one it has this little, quirky variation, and I just want to know why.

Ms Cross : I will have to check that with our corporate services area. It looks as though in the first few years it is just the same amount being indexed. I am not completely clear why in 2017-18 it is a smaller amount. We would have to check that with our corporate area.

Senator MOORE: It would just be nice to know in terms of the papers and how it adds up. Thank you.

Ms McDevitt : The funding profiles are very often uneven across forward estimates.

Senator MOORE: They are not in the other paper. They are very neat in the other one.

Senator WATERS: Again, pardon my ignorance, could you clarify for me the nature of your office. I have a list of the agencies that sit under PM&C, and clearly you are not an agency as such. How do you characterise yourselves? Are you a branch of the department?

Ms Cross : We are an office within the department.

Senator WATERS: Are there any other bodies with such status?

Ms Cross : We have had a range. It depends on how far back you would like to go. We have had a range of different units within the department, offices within the department. There used to be the office of Indigenous policy. There have been different titles at different times. But the Office for Women has always, for as long as I can remember, had an Office for Women or an Office for the Status of Women. It has always been an office, for as long as I can remember.

Senator WATERS: Does that have a different status to an agency?

Ms Cross : An agency is set up differently. You can have units or offices, which are still part of the department. An agency is normally a separate structure.

Senator WATERS: So it does not necessarily demote you; it is just that you are internal rather than external.

Ms McDevitt : Yes. Some agencies were established by legislation.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I did want to come to that. Do you have any statutory?

Ms McDevitt : No.

Senator WATERS: Do you have any statutory obligations to report on women's issues?

Ms Steele : No, but we have obligations under international treaties to report to international bodies, such as the UN.

Senator WATERS: On behalf of the Australian government?

Ms Steele : That is correct. Some of them are on behalf of state and territory governments. There is a comprehensive report on the status of women across Australia.

Senator WATERS: Could I just clarify—and I know Senator Moore went through this at the beginning—how many staff does the Office for Women currently have?

Ms McDevitt : There are around 20 full-time equivalents. I say 'around' because things move a little bit, particularly with people working part-time, people going on leave and who we bring in.

Senator WATERS: Is that steady over the forwards?

Ms Steele : Yes, that has been steady.

Senator WATERS: And steady in the past as well in the forwards—steady across the forward estimates?

Ms Cross : We have not yet finalised our internal budget for the forward estimates. Normally we do that towards the end of the financial year, when we would finalise next year's budget. That has not yet been finalised across the whole department.

Senator WATERS: Are you anticipating that you will need to make reductions?

Ms Cross : We have been talking about the impact of the efficiency dividend within our department and the need for savings across the department. We had some earlier discussions with the committee about the various processes we are going through to achieve that.

Senator WATERS: So you are not too sure what that will equate to in terms of numbers just yet?

Ms Cross : Overall for the department there will be reductions, but, as to exactly how that applies in each area of the department, we have not finalised those budgets.

Senator WATERS: I will come back to that next time, then. Again, Senator Moore touched on this earlier. I am interested in the office's role to advise on budget measures. We went across the cabinet submission input, which sounds positive, so that is good. In terms of the specific budget measures, were you asked to advise on the implications for women of the raft of what looks to me and to many of the women's groups to be disproportionate impacts on women as a result of quite a lot of different budget measures? I will go through them individually, but, just generally, was that something that you were asked to advise on prior to the budget being presented?

Ms Cross : I think we have already stated for the record that PM&C does provide advice on all budget measures. Now that the Office for Women is in PM&C, they have been part of that process.

Senator WATERS: Were you specifically advising on the individual measures which have been identified by the groups as having the worst and most disproportionate impact on women—namely, the cuts to community legal centres, the co-payment for GP visits, the HECS interest rates, which of course will affect women once they take time off work—

Ms Cross : PM&C provide advice on all budget measures.

Senator WATERS: All of them. Were you requested to produce specific financial calculations of the effect on women in particular scenarios?

Ms Cross : We do not normally reveal the nature of the advice that we give government.

Senator WATERS: I just thought I would give it a go. Is this the first budget in over 30 years where we have not had a women's budget statement?

Ms Cross : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator Cash: Perhaps if you explain exactly. The document that was produced was referred to as a women's budget statement and has had many and varied forms over a number of successive governments. What it basically morphed into was a collation of policies post-budget that were put together. I had determined that that did not necessarily benefit the Office for Women. What we are looking at doing is, basically, in terms of our policies, delivering for women. Certainly, there has not been a women's budget statement as such, if this is what you are talking about. It was a document—a little glossy brochure—that was produced post the budget.

Senator WATERS: Why was that discontinued, Assistant Minister?

Senator Cash: Because we see it was more beneficial to actually just produce policies that are tangible to benefiting women's lives.

Ms Cross : There had been feedback in the past that, by the time people got the brochure, they were already aware of everything that was in the brochure because it had been published through other sources.

Senator WATERS: Was there discussion about publishing it earlier, say contemporaneously with the budget, so that people could look at the budget through the lens of how it would affect women rather than getting rid of it altogether?

Ms McDevitt : There were a number of budget documents—for example, on health, education, social services—which covered some of those measures you talked about and that were produced by Treasury. The budget documents are produced by Treasury.

Ms Cross : As a general principle, I think, the government has been producing fewer documents as part of operating more efficiently.

Senator WATERS: Did the Office of Women have an input into the decision to discontinue that post-budget collation of impacts of the budget on women?

Ms Cross : We certainly had discussions.

Senator WATERS: Discussions? Okay. Was the proposition that the women's budget statement be, rather than axed, brought forward and issued earlier discussed?

Ms Cross : We do not normally reveal the nature of advice.

Senator MOORE: Where did the feedback come from that the women's budget statement was not effective? The statement was made by Ms Cross.

Ms Cross : No, I did not say it had not been effective, I said I think the feedback we had had was that—

Senator MOORE: Where did that feedback come from?

Ms Cross : Most of the information that was in the statement had already been provided in other documents.

Senator MOORE: Yes, I got your answer. Where did that feedback come from?

Ms Cross : I had certainly had that feedback from other departments that had been involved.

Senator MOORE: Did it go to the alliances or the women's communities to find out whether they found it useful?

Ms Steele : We have had feedback over the years from the sector. As you are aware, the nature of the women's budget statement has changed quite dramatically over the years, from a large document very similar to this to—

Senator MOORE: That was a long time ago.

Ms Steele : That is right. A lot of women in the women's sector hark back to this as, I guess, the model approach. It has not been like that for some time. Producing a women's budget statement or document or glossy—whatever you want to call it—after the budget is delivered is becoming, I think, less and less relevant. I have had feedback from members of the sector on that.

Senator MOORE: Okay.

CHAIR: Just before you continue, Senator Moore, I would ask if you have a final question, Senator Waters, before I go back to Senator Moore. Senator Moore, Senator McKenzie has asked for one five minutes or thereabouts towards the end, so we are getting tight for time. Senator Waters?

Senator WATERS: How much savings were made by discontinuing the post-budget women's budget statement?

Ms Steele : There would hardly be any savings really. We are talking the price of a publication.

Senator WATERS: If you could just take on notice for us perhaps the list, as Senator Moore suggested, of feedback where folk have said that they found that it was an unhelpful document. I would be interested to see if that was a widely held view.

Ms Steele : We have not got formal feedback in an evaluation sense. It is conversations that we have had or discussions with the sector. I do not know what I can produce in a concrete fashion, apart from my perception of feedback from the sector.

Senator WATERS: This is my final question. I will just draw your attention to the national foundation, who have made it their introductory point in their critique of the budget, that this has been the demise of the women's budget statement, so clearly it is of concern to key bodies in the movement.

CHAIR: Senator Waters, that is not a question, that is a statement.

Senator MOORE: That is fine, because that was some of the issues I was covering.

CHAIR: Okay. It is eating into the time.

Senator WATERS: Thank you, that was my last question/statement.

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