Queensland's Greens Senator, Larissa Waters.

Queensland's Greens Senator, Larissa Waters. Photo: James Brickwood JSB

The year 2089 – that’s when we’re finally expected to achieve equal pay globally, according to a new Oxfam report. That’s right, we’re still generations and generations away from closing the world’s gender pay gap, if the glacial rate of progress continues.

Obviously, we can’t let that happen – we need drastic and immediate action to ensure women and men are paid equally and that unpaid caring work is recognised. As luck would have it, Australia has the perfect opportunity to make a real difference in this space. 

As the host of the G20 this year, we can use our position to put gender inequality in the international spotlight by including the issue on the meeting’s agenda. The decision to do this rests with our Prime Minister Tony Abbott.  Unfortunately, Mr Abbott, our Minister for Women, who has only one female colleague in his Cabinet, has already taken a number of backward steps on gender equality in Australia. 

The Abbott Government has delayed a scheduled improvement in workplace gender equality reporting, which would have required large businesses to provide additional information about how many women they interview, appoint, promote and retain, compared to men. Not only has the government put off these improvements, it’s also consulting with big business to ‘streamline’ these and other existing gender reporting requirements, which appears to be code for watering them down. 

Comprehensive workplace gender reporting data is vital in informing efforts to tackle Australia’s shameful gender pay gap, which alarmingly still sits at more than 17 per cent. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency is putting the data to great use by helping businesses recognise and improve the gender equality of their workplaces, through workshops and certifications, and many businesses are highly supportive. 

Yet the Abbott Government’s plans to ‘streamline’ the reporting requirements threaten this valuable work, at the behest of a few (certainly not the majority) noisy members of the big end of town who dismiss measures to address gender equality as ‘red tape’. On top of this, the Abbott Government’s university interest hikes unfairly impact women, who are more likely to take time off work to have children and to work in industries that are incredibly important but under-valued, such as the community sector. 

Women who take time off work to have children face paying 30 per cent more interest on their university loans than men, under Tony Abbott’s uni cuts, which the Greens will work to see blocked in the Senate. Women are also unfairly impacted by Tony Abbott’s planned abolition of the low income super contribution – a $550 tax rebate to low income Australians who earn less than $37,000 per year, to support their retirement savings. On average women retire with just over half the amount of retirement savings that men do, again due to the pay gap, unpaid work and over-representation in casual and part-time work.

This week I will move an amendment to stop the abolition of the low income super contribution in the Senate. With the support of Labor and the crossbenchers, the Senate could join the Greens to protect the dignity of our lowest paid workers, who are mostly women, in their retirement – women everywhere will be watching to see if those Senators do.

Thankfully, there’s that avenue for the Senate to block some of the backward steps the Abbott Government is taking on gender equality. But the decision on whether to include gender equality on the G20 agenda rests with the Abbott Government. 

The opportunity to generate a high-level international discussion on gender equality is an important one that Australia might not have again for many years to come. Tony Abbott’s continual gaffes on women’s issues provide some disturbing insights into his views on gender equality and his government is very sensitive to what has been described as his ‘women problem’. 

This is an opportunity for Australian women to use our democratic power to see gender equality put on the global stage at the G20 for sisters worldwide. 

There’s no way women can or will wait around for another 75 years to be paid fairly – we need action now, for the sake of our own daughters and granddaughters, as well as future generations of women everywhere.

You can get in contact with the Prime Minister’s office by phone (02) 6277 7700 and/or online and explain you think he should put gender equality on the G20 agenda. You can also add your name to Oxfam’s petition to put inequality on the G20 agenda. 

Senator Larissa Waters is the Australian Greens spokesperson for Women.