Albanese talks proudly of his single mum. Time to put his money where his mouth is


The least lucky women also have family violence to contend with: the Sophie’s Choice dilemma of needing to flee to find safety, only to find themselves in a position of great financial and social insecurity.


The precarity picture is unsustainable, not just for women, but for the economy. The nation’s expenses are increasing, and appear to have no ceiling: defence spending, aged care, the NDIS and the aged pension are all the biggest contributors to a worsening structural deficit. We need more women to find secure full-time work, pay more tax and do the jobs we need for society to function.

Even though women are over-represented in the care economy (without these workers society would grind to a halt), it is in what the prime minister calls “jobs of the future” where women can make a significant contribution, one that remains largely untapped.

With apologies to Virginia Woolf: imagine a young girl, who is not Shakespeare’s sister, but a future engineer whose intelligence could solve the problem of renewable energy storage at scale. Unfortunately for us, she marries a man who is abusive and she is forced into the poverty cycle of single parenthood. Or maybe she just drops out of the workforce in her 30s when she has kids, and she never quite manages to get her career back on track. Maybe she is sexually harassed at work, or just overlooked and underpaid. Perhaps she is raised in a single-parent household where the financial stress of her parent spills into substance abuse or parental detachment. She doesn’t have the domestic security she needs to excel at school. Her potential remains untapped, and we are all the poorer for it.

Mostyn’s taskforce is made up of 13 women with vastly different expertise. Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott is a member; so is Terese Edwards, the CEO of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children.

The Labor government has pledged to make women’s equality a priority in its budget decisions. Mostyn’s taskforce will soon hand to Minister for Women Katy Gallagher a list of recommendations – the top things they believe Labor can do to improve women’s economic standing. On Thursday Mostyn said the taskforce would recommend the government restore the single-parenting payment to parents of children over eight years old.

Illustration: Reg Lynch

Illustration: Reg LynchCredit:

In 2012, on the same day former prime minister Julia Gillard gave her famous misogyny speech, her government passed amendments pushing more than 80,000 single parents off this payment and onto the lower Newstart payment. In 2006, John Howard had already withdrawn the payment for new claimants once their youngest child turned eight, although families already on the payment were allowed to keep it until their youngest turned 16. The Gillard government ended that Howard-era grandfathering arrangement, defending it as a necessary budget cut.

As anyone who has cared for an eight-year-old will know, their needs are still intense. But that cohort of mostly women (women head 80 per cent of single-parent households), most of whom had more than one child, were suddenly expected to survive on about $100 a week less. Peter Davidson, of the Australian Council of Social Service, called it an “appalling policy … a cost-saving at the expense of families and children in the deepest poverty”.

It might seem counter-intuitive to extend the single-parenting payment if we want to guide women disconnected from the workforce back into employment. But we already know – because business has told us – that the low rate of Newstart is a barrier to employment, not an incentive to work.


It is all part of the picture of precarity. It is very difficult to pour yourself into the mould of an attractive prospective employee when you’re living hand-to-mouth. It’s even harder when you have several mouths to feed, clashing school and extracurricular activities to juggle, and possibly an abusive ex (many women in this cohort are domestic violence victims), or just one who doesn’t pay child support.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has spoken proudly of his upbringing by a single mother who lived in poverty. So he should – it’s the hardest job there is. The upcoming budget represents his chance to put his money where his mouth is, and restore some dignity to this overlooked group.

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