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Women’s Economic Security Statement: What’s the Government’s plan?

By November 21, 2018October 28th, 2021No Comments

Great news this week as the Coalition Government’s Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, has revealed a raft of new measures designed to help improve women’s financial security, particularly women leaving abusive relationships. The reforms may have been described as “modest initiatives” by some commentators but on the other hand they have also been described as “simple measures” that have the potential to be “life-changing” for women. So what does the Women’s Economic Security Statement actually entail?

It’s a four year plan to promote economic security for women and involves the injection of $109 million in funding towards a variety of initiatives. While the initiatives are designed to benefit all Australian women, they are also geared at helping some of the most vulnerable women in our community, namely though who are suffering from domestic violence in their relationships.

Helping vulnerable women leave abusive relationships

Women in abusive relationships often feel trapped for practical and financial reasons and these new measures are aimed at improving their financial security and helping them set up a new independent life away from their abuser. Along with funding for specialist domestic violence units and health justice partnerships (to provide financial counselling and literacy support), other changes include:

  • Greater access to ‘no interest loans’

Australians on low incomes have long been able to access the NILS or No Interest Loan Scheme run by Good Shepherd Microfinance, but now that scheme will be expanded to help improve the lives of women in domestic violence situations, who can use the loans to help with relocation costs and other ‘starting over’ costs including buying essential household items, paying rental bonds and consolidating debts. The program will be expanded to make room for up to 45,000 more women.

  • Access superannuation early

While superannuation can already be accessed early by those suffering financial hardship, the ‘special circumstances’ for early release will now include domestic violence scenarios. Women fleeing abusive relationships often have limited funds and assets and often carry debt. This change means women may be able to access funds through their super at a time when they most need it, in order to begin their recovery and set up their new life.

And to improve the economic security of women generally, regardless of domestic violence, the Government is to make changes which will create greater transparency over superannuation in property settlements. Superannuation is a major asset for a separating couple, which the Family Law Act recognises, but it can be hard to access accurate figures. This should change with the introduction of a brand new electronic information sharing system between the Tax Office and the family law courts.

  • Funding to help protect against cross-examination by perpetrators

The courts will have discretionary powers to stop direct cross-examination in circumstances of alleged family violence. Where allowed, victims will have access to other protections such as screens or video-links. And there is new funding for Legal Aid to assist in situations where direct cross-examination has been prohibited.

  • New funding for family law property mediation

The establishment of a Small Claims Property pilot program will be of benefit to separating or divorcing women pursuing a fair settlement where there is a small asset pool (under $500,000). There will be a two year trial of methods of speeding up property settlements in such cases, which is hoped will streamline settlements and enable faster access to funds.

Also, the new measures will inject funding into more mediation services to resolve property disputes outside of court, including funding for Legal Aid services running lawyer-assisted mediation to help women achieve a more equitable settlement.

  • Encouraging greater workforce participation

Women trail men on three key economic measures: participation in the workforce, earning potential, and economic independence. They earn less, work part time at more than twice the rate of men, and on retirement have a 42% gap in super balances. To combat these inequities, other new measures in the Women’s Economic Security Statement include funding to help boost workforce participation by women and to help improve their earning potential, such as development of a “Future Female Entrepreneurs” program and support for regional employers to “develop action plans to attract and retain women returning to work after a career break”.

The Women’s Economic Security Statement also incorporates changes to the Paid Parental Leave system, which will increase flexibility and should help self-employed mothers, for example.

  • Funding for reinstating the Time Use Survey

There’s also a plan to reinstate the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Time Use Survey which was last conducted a decade ago when funding ran out. The survey provides critical information about unpaid work in the home, like the care of young kids, connected to the gender pay gap. According to The Conversation, the Time Use Survey “provides a contemporary evidence base to measure women’s economic activity”:

The long gap since the last survey means there has been no detailed record of time use since the introduction of the smartphone and the arrival of so-called gig economy employers such as Uber.

Recording both primary activities, such as meal preparation, and secondary activities, such as childminding while preparing meals, it is the reliable estimate of work done in the home, broken down by gender, age and role within the family.

Here at Alliance Legal Services, we welcome the announcement of the Women’s Economic Security Statement and hope that it represents a positive change, especially for women who wish to leave abusive relationships.

Sources:

Sydney Morning Herald

The Conversation

The Guardian

You can read the Women’s Economic Security Statement in full here.

If you need assistance with a situation involving family violence, Alliance Legal Services can assist you once you have chosen to take a legal course of action, whether this involves separation, divorce, custody arrangements for your children, or property settlements, as well as supporting you with any related criminal law or other legal matters through our network of referral companies. Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our experienced solicitors on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.

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