Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra in the lead up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, Kelly O’Dwyer said that she relates to the struggles all parents face.
However, she also acknowledged that as a frontbencher, her experience has been more fortunate than most.
“What we need to do is ensure all Australians have the flexibility needed to fully participate in the workforce; we need to switch the setting where child care and family are automatically considered a woman’s principal responsibility,” she said on Tuesday.
“The number of men who work part-time has changed little over the past 10 years. According to the ABS, 10 years ago, 84 per cent of men worked full-time and only 16 per cent worked part-time. Today the figures are 81 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively – still a huge gap.
“In 2018, of females employed, 53 per cent were employed full-time while 47 per cent were employed part-time,” Ms O’Dwyer continued, calling this the “flexibility gap”.
She argued that by normalising workplace flexibility for men, the time spent in and out of the workplace for both genders would moderate.
“Just like there are targets for women on boards and in leadership positions – why aren’t there targets for men working part-time? What are the barriers?” Ms O’Dwyer questioned.
“The fact that more women take time out from paid work to look after family has a very real impact on their financial security in later life.”
For instance, lower lifetime earnings and subsequently lower superannuation balances, she elaborated, pointing to the fact that women between 55 and 64 retire with an average super balance 42 per cent lower than their male counterparts.
“[It’s] a gap that is far too great,” Ms O’Dwyer said.
“That said, it’s an improvement of 11 percentage points on the 53 per cent gap in 2013-14 – driven, in part, by the government’s absolute commitment to making sure superannuation works better for women, and something I’ve been focused on as Minister for Revenue and Financial Services.”
Continuing, she said the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset program, which essentially allows low-super balance workers to make catch-up payments over the concessional cap contributions will “crucially” apply to both men and women, which she hopes will give more families and men the ability to take on greater parental care responsibilities.
“This is particularly helpful for women who have experienced an interruption in their work pattern,” Ms O’Dwyer concluded.