Winter Tales – Dr Dianne Firth – Sunday 31 August

Winter Tales in aid of the Australian Women’s Archives Project (

Dr Dianne Firth
Landscape architect and art quilter

Layers by design: landscapes and quilts

Sunday 31 August

Dr Dianne Firth has long had two (sometimes linked) threads to the needle of her career. On one hand, she is a landscape architect and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra. ‘Behind the Landscape of Lake Burley Griffin: landscape, water, politics and the national capital’ was the title of her PhD dissertation and her research continues with a focus on the theory and practice of landscape architecture and its management, particularly as it applies to Canberra. Dianne is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects, Deputy Chairperson of the ACT Heritage Council, a member of the ACT Place Names Committee and a member of the Land Development Agency’s Design Review Panel. On the other hand, Dianne is an art quilter of considerable renown who has exhibited her work widely in Australia, the US and elsewhere. Her love of landscape has often inspired her choice of subject and the way she chooses and treats the fabrics making up her quilts.

2pm-4pm Fourth Floor Conference Room, National Library

Entry $15, includes afternoon tea

Bookings online at


Coalition for Working Women (CWW)

NFAW is a member of the Coalition for Working Women (CWW) formed in early 2014 to address issues impacting the capacity of women to participate equally in the Australian economy. Its particular focus is ensuring that the Government does not scale back the gender reporting requirements under the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012.

The WGE Act was introduced to strengthen the capacity of the Government to collect and report meaningful gendered workforce statistics to improve workplace equity and female participation in the workforce, in particular in management and leadership roles. The macro level workforce indicators currently generated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics are not sufficient as they show trends not specifics, have little relevance to individual employers and do not drive change – which is clear from the lack of real progress to date.

The CWW has made a submission to the Department of Employment’s formal consultation on workplace gender equality reporting requirements. As the consultation appears to be seeking responses primarily from employers and employees the CWW believes it is important to have represented the views of women’s and industry organisations on a policy that has long-term implications for the Australian economy.

What can you do?

The CWW comprises the following organisations:

  • Australian Council of Trade Unions
  • Australian Local Government Women’s Association
  • BPW (Business and Professional Women) Australia
  • Financial Services Institute of Australasia
  • Local Government Managers Australia
  • National Council of Women of Australia
  • National Foundation for Australian Women
  • Women on Boards
  • Women’s Electoral Lobby
  • The Work and Family Policy Roundtable (UniSA)
  • YWCA Australia

View CWW Submission to WGEA Consultation July 2014.V3 here.

Clive Palmer, the unlikely friend of low income earners

The low income superannuation contribution is rapidly becoming a case study in the perils of linking unrelated policy initiatives.

The scheme, a federal government contribution of up to $500 to people earning less than $37,000 per year, was a response to the structural inequity of low income earners paying more tax on their superannuation contributions than higher income earners, thanks to the flat rate of tax applied to earnings.

As I have written previously the superannuation system is not a fair system. The LISC grants a tax concession without requiring additional contributions. This boosts retirement savings significantly without reducing take home pay.

But the Rudd/Gillard government’s decision to link it to revenue collected from the mining tax has made it become a political hot potato that has seen an unlikely saviour emerge: mining billionaire Clive Palmer.

When Labor introduced the mining tax, it hitched a package of spending measures to it, including the Low Income Superannuation Contribution (LISC). Both the mining tax and the LISC were based on recommendations of the Ken Henry tax review. While neither emerged from the parliamentary process in the form proposed by Henry, one of the biggest flaws was the act of linking it to revenue collected by the mining tax.

The scheme, introduced from 1 July 2012, effectively refunds the tax paid by the superannuation funds on compulsory contributions. This gives a tax break of 15%, comparable to that available to a person earning up to A$80,000 but still less than a person on the higher income tax brackets.

But its funding mechanism has given the Abbott Coalition a reason to abolish the scheme, even though it addresses the bias to high income earners in the superannuation system.

Enter Clive Palmer, who this week said that while he supported the repeal of the mining tax, he would not support the axing of several other funding initiatives, including the low income superannuation scheme.

The repeal of the initiative was opposed by the Senate Standing Committee on Economics, which stated in a report in December last year that: “Superannuation groups that provided evidence to the committee were broadly united in opposing the repeal of the LISC”.

These groups were particularly concerned that the repeal of the LISC would remove any concession low-income earners received on their superannuation contributions, as the 15% flat rate on superannuation contributions was higher than the rate they paid on their take-home income.

The Government introduced the MRRT Repeal Bill into Parliament last year, but it was rejected by the Senate in March this year.

The recommendations of the Committee were that the Bill be passed but that the issue of superannuation incentives for low income earners be revisited when the budget returns to surplus and as part of the proposed review of taxation. The ALP members tabled a dissenting report which highlighted the repeal of the LISC as a reason for the legislation not to proceed.

The Bill was reintroduced into the House of Representatives last month to be debated by the Senate after the incoming Senators took their seats on 1 July. Although not part of the 2014 budget, the repeal of the LISC is consistent with the current Government’s approach in cutting back expenditure. It was estimated to cost around $950 million per year, considerably less than the 2013 tax expenditure of $16 billion on employer contributions to superannuation.

This government, however, is focused on cutting expenditure to bring the budget into surplus and has deferred decisions about tax expenditures to the tax review.

Although the LISC is not a budget initiative, the abolition is yet another regressive impact on low income earners who will also be impacted by the proposals for the medical co-payment, the removal of the schoolkids bonus (which Palmer also says he won’t support), deregulation of university fees and restructuring of income support payments.

Ironically the Government is highlighting the inclusion of the Superannuation Guarantee in its Paid Parental Leave Scheme – yet the LISC benefits 2.1 million low paid women.

Clive Palmer has appeared to commit the Palmer United Party to oppose the repeal of the LISC. Under the current composition of the Senate a combination of the ALP, Greens and PUP senators have the numbers to block legislation. If PUP senators have the interests of low income Australians at heart, they must hold firm on this commitment.

AUTHOR - Helen Hodgson, Associate Professor, Curtin Law School. Curtin Business School at Curtin University, member NFAW Social Policy Committee.


Co-payment will hit harder than expected, Sydney University study finds

Treasurer Joe Hockey has faced criticism for the Medicare co-payment. AAP/Joe Castro

The government’s proposed Medicare co-payment and its increase in the pharmaceutical benefits scheme threshold will send a bigger-than-anticipated price signal, according to a study by Sydney University general practice researchers.

If both policies were introduced, the average annual extra cost to a patient, which increases with age, would be A$36 for children up to $122 for people 65 and older.

A young family of four would expect to pay $170 in co-payments for GP visits and tests, plus $14 for medications – $184 more annually.

A self-funded retired couple without Commonwealth concession cards could expect to be up for an average of $189 in co-payments for GP visits and tests, plus $55 for medications – totalling $244 more.

An age pensioner couple with concession cards would pay an average $140 in co-payments for GP visits and tests plus $59 for medications – $199 extra.

The research comes as the Medicare co-payment faces defeat in the Senate with Clive Palmer reaffirming his opposition.

The researchers – Clare Bayram, Christopher Harrison, Graeme Miller and Helena Britt – are from the Family Medicine Research Centre at the Sydney School of Public Health. They used data from the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program which is a continuous national study of general practice activity. The researchers say they have been conservative in their assumptions.

They found that more than one-quarter of adult GP consultations involved at least one test, which would make for a minimum out-of-pocket cost for the consultation of $14 in co-payments. About 3% of adult GP consultations involved imaging and pathology – making for a minimum $21 in co-payments.

Different people use health services at different rates, with the average number of GP visits made by the Australian population who visited a GP in 2012-13 being 6.6. The rate increases substantially with age, from an average of 4.5 for children to 10.5 for people 65 and over. A similar age-related pattern applies for pathology services.

“Therefore, the introduction of co-payments will not have an equal impact across the population. It is the high users, usually the older, sicker people in our community who will be the most affected,” the report said.

The co-payment would change patterns of health service use, with different impacts for different patient groups .

“Compared with other OECD countries, Australia already has one of the highest levels of out-of-pocket health costs. Through introduction of the co-payments the government aims to ‘ensure health services are sustainable and used efficiently’. However there is no evidence that any modelling was performed to assess the effect of co-payments on deterring people from seeing a GP, or the flow on effect on hospital emergency department attendances.”

In 2012-13, 5.8% of people delayed or did not see a GP because of cost, and this was a greater barrier for those from disadvantaged areas.

“Discouraging people from using primary care health services flies in the face of all international evidence.

“It is likely that the increased costs due to these policies would deter more people from seeking early treatment or from taking necessary medications. This is a concern when areas in Australia already have 13% of their population delaying or not seeing a GP due to cost, and 15% doing the same for prescriptions.

“Overseas studies have shown that there is little evidence of health care care cost reduction from introducing co-payments. The evidence suggests that long term health costs will be higher due to patients deferring necessary care, resulting in increased hospitalisation and progression of disease,” the study said.

“International evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the most efficient, effective and equitable health systems have a strong primary care focus.

“We believe that if Australia is to maintain an efficient and equitable health care system, general practice requires investment, not reductions.”

Click here for the online version

Paid parental leave and childcare belong together

Date  - June 18, 2014 – 12:15AM

Marie Coleman

What a time for the Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews to finally release the report reviewing the operation of the existing Rudd-Macklin Paid Parental Leave (PPL) Scheme. 

Amid strong opposition to the Abbott government’s proposed parental leave extensions and the prospect of outright mutiny by National Party senators, it’s unsurprising that the beleaguered government has seized on this report to legitimise its controversial scheme.

Minister Andrews asserts that the report supports an extension of the PPL scheme from 18 to 26 weeks as well as an increase in the amount of the payment, consistent with his government’s proposals. It does no such thing.

It is also claimed the report was overseen by a steering committee comprising highly regarded business associations, employer and employee groups and policy-makers such as the Australian Industry Group, the ACTU, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and the National Foundation for Australian Women. This claim is also wrong.

None of these independent organisations (originally appointed by Ms Macklin) had the opportunity to provide the direction needed to produce a robust report that could have served as a foundation for ongoing policy development.   Where we would expect to see recommendations drawn from solid evidence reviews, research and the public consultation process, there are none.

The data is nevertheless valuable in painting a picture of who has benefited from the existing scheme, how employers have responded, and the like.  However, it should be analysed with caution by all participants in the current debate over the proposed extensions to the PPL scheme.  And it certainly should not be selectively used to categorically support or reject any particular PPL formula.

To put things in perspective, the Rudd-Macklin PPL scheme resulted from a Productivity Commission recommendation to establish a PPL scheme where public and private funding would coexist.  The taxpayer-funded system would set a minimum payment but could be ”topped up” by additional amounts employers and employees agreed to separately.  The commission expressly rejected the option of a national PPL system predicated on income replacement believing that industry was not ready for such a move.

Take-up of PPL has been very strong. By early 2013 around 96 per cent of employed women were receiving paid parental leave.  Of these some 49 per cent received the government payment alone, while 51 per cent received both the basic payment, plus an additional contribution from their employers.

The review report makes some positive findings about the existing PPL scheme.  It has been successful in delaying mothers’ return to work in the critical first six months following the birth of their child and slightly increased their likelihood of returning to work within a year.  The effects were particularly pronounced for low-income earners and self-employed women for whom the period of predictable income gave them the confidence to remain at home.  PPL also increased employers’ retention of women when they returned to work.

What the report does, is reinforce the importance of a PPL scheme in any economy that values women’s workforce participation.  But its findings do not go so far as to endorse the current government’s proposed approach.

The Abbott government’s PPL proposal will see greatly increased PPL payments funded by a levy on big business.  Businesses’ concerns stem not just from the scheme’s cost, but also because they foresee a loss of their ”employer of choice” differentiation when Centrelink becomes the exclusive paymaster.

More importantly, since the Rudd-Macklin scheme was introduced, childcare affordability and availability, has overtaken PPL as the defining issue for women in the workforce. Many see improvements in childcare as a higher priority than increased PPL payments. Yet, in the recent budget, measures have been proposed that will raise the cost of childcare.

At present, the government is awaiting the interim report of the Productivity Commission on childcare.  Amid the controversy surrounding Abbott’s PPL scheme, influential groups including the National Foundation for Australian Women are urging the government to expand the Productivity Commission’s terms of reference and develop an integrated set of proposals covering improvements to both childcare and paid parental leave.

PPL, together with childcare, are essential drivers of parental workforce participation and should be considered in a related framework rather than in complete isolation.

Abbott’s PPL scheme has become a political liability and the government urgently needs to defuse the heat from its contentious measure.  It can do this through the sensible expedient of referring the issue to the independent experts at the Productivity Commission to come up with a comprehensive, ”big picture” solution to women’s workforce participation.

Marie Coleman  is Chair of the Social Policy Committee for the National Foundation for Australian Women, and was a member of the steering group for the review of the paid parental leave scheme.

For an electronic copy click here -

The super rich and tax: lifters or leaners?

A recent report from think tank Per Capita highlighted increasing concern over inequality in Australia’s taxation system, particularly whether high income earners are paying their fair share of tax. Despite…


  1. Helen Hodgson

    Associate Professor, Curtin Law School. Curtin Business School at Curtin University and a member of NFAW’s Social Policy Committee

Disclosure Statement

Helen Hodgson was a Member of the Legislative Council in Western Australia from 1997 to 2001, elected as an Australian Democrat. She is not currently a member of any political party.

A recent report from think tank Per Capita highlighted increasing concern over inequality in Australia’s taxation system, particularly whether high income earners are paying their fair share of tax.

Despite the 2% tax rise on incomes of more than A$180,000 flagged in May’s federal budget, it is low income families that are doing most of the heavy lifting through cuts and freezes on transfer payments.

Per Capita’s 2014 Tax Survey explored the attitudes of Australians to taxation and government expenditure, and was conducted in February – well before the budget.

Most Australians believe they pay the right level of tax and would support more spending on health, education and transfer payments, according to the survey. Significantly they also think high income earners are not paying their fair share and would support higher taxes on the top 5% of income earners to fund improved services.

The 2011/12 tax statistics show that only 2% of income earners return a taxable income of more than $180,000, contributing 26% of the total tax revenue. This compares with 37.4% of income tax collected from the 14.4% of individuals earning between $80,000 and $180,000.

Many people would be surprised to find out that only 2% of Australians pay the top rate of tax, which raises questions over how high flyers are reporting their income, or structuring their tax affairs.

Last week the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) released its report on the Australian Tax Office (ATO) program to manage tax compliance of high wealth individuals.

The ATO identifies wealthy individuals as individuals controlling wealth of $5 million or more, with highly wealthy individuals controlling $30 million or more. Importantly, this takes account of the assets and entities controlled by the taxpayer, not on the taxable income returned by the taxpayer as an individual.

In 2010 the 2,600 individuals identified in the report as high wealth individuals contributed 1.2% of the tax paid by individuals and 5% paid no tax. By 2012/13 the number of high wealth individuals had increased to 2,650, controlling $301 billion in wealth, with a further 3,700 controlling a further $212 billion, although their contribution to the tax pool is not yet available.

How they do it

High wealth individuals are often able to structure their affairs with resources to support their lifestyle that don’t include taxable income. Lifestyle assets owned by other entities within their control may be used. For audit purposes, the ATO looks at the structures these individuals adopt, particularly the movement of funds and profits between these structures.

They also have access to tax planning opportunities that facilitate tax minimisation. Their tax structures can be very complex, usually involving a number of different entities often located in different tax jurisdictions. As most income is taxed on receipt, the use of foreign structures can defer the taxing point.

The Australian foreign attribution rules are intended to tax income where an Australian resident controls a foreign entity, but these rules are complex and have been criticised as being an impediment to international business.

Different entities can also be used to divert income to other members of the controlling individual’s family; in particular family trusts have become notorious for their flexibility in diverting income away from the controller.

Although the maximum rate of tax is applied to minors, adult beneficiaries are taxed at their personal marginal tax rate which may well be less than the tax payable by the individual who controls the family arrangements.

What the ATO is doing about it

None of these strategies alone constitute tax minimisation: all of them can be validly explained as a commercial arrangement, or on the basis of providing for one’s family. High wealth individuals will tend to use a combination of strategies that, in combination, move funds around between entities in a way that makes it difficult to identify who the proper taxpayer is, and the point at which the income becomes taxable. They also have the resources to contest assessments – 65% of assessments issued to a high worth individual following compliance activity are contested, and half of these result in a reduction in the tax payable, according to the ANAO report (page 99).

The government needs to empower the ATO and other authorities to pursue those high wealth individuals who are not pulling their weight. Unfortunately, it has already sent signals that it is not committed to action in core areas: in December 2013 it announced the proposal to modernise the foreign source income attribution rules would not proceed; and the review of the taxation of trusts has also disappeared from the Treasury work program.

The ANAO report highlights some inefficiencies in the audit of high wealth individuals that must be addressed, but the ATO is also facing staff cuts as a result of the 2014 budget.

In the mean time Australians will continue to ask if the highly wealthy are bearing their share of the pain.

Budget 2014 – Training and higher education cuts discriminate against women

The biggest losers from the 2014 Federal Budget cuts to vocational training and education are women, with many of the proposed measures either overtly favouring male-dominated occupations or penalising female-dominated industries, an analysis of the implications of the 2014-2015 Budget has found.

Read more here – NFAW – Release – Budget & Education – May 2014-2

Women’s Agenda – Budget 2014

Report:  Budget 2014 will hurt no matter what kind of woman you are:

Read the report here – Womens Agenda_27May2014

or visit -

Budget 2014 – Women the biggest losers!

The biggest losers from the 2014 Federal Budget are women from virtually all walks of life, a detailed and disturbing analysis of the implications of the 2014-2015 Budget has found.

The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW), a leading non-partisan women’s advocacy group has found that:

  • An unemployed single mother with one eight-year-old child loses $54 per week or 12 per cent their disposable income.
  • Single mothers earning around two-thirds of the average wage lose between 5.6 per cent and 7 per cent of their disposable income. 
  • A single-income couple with two school-age children and average earnings loses $82 a week or 6 per cent of their disposable income.
  • An unemployed 23-year-old female loses $47 a week or 18 per cent of her disposable income. 
  •  For employed women using Family Day Care an immediate price rise in the order of $30+ per week per child is likely.
  • The increase in child care fees for parents on JET (Jobs, Education & Training) Child Care Fee Assistance and reduction in hours of JET subsidised care available will discourage participation in work and training.
  • Changes to university funding and housing security are likely to impact on women disproportionately.

How the budget fails

Read the full Media Release here –  Women the biggest losers media release FINAL

The detailed analysis can be found here – Budget 2014 NFAW gender lens (final)

Federal budget: what it means for women, parents and families

“Staying at home should be a parent’s choice but there are limits on how much support the taxpayer can give,” Treasurer Joe Hockey says.

He wants to give people over 50 “every opportunity to participate in the workforce”, and says “Australians under 30 should be earning or learning”.

This will be achieved through carrots and sticks, respectively. Unfortunately for many older women, they may not qualify for help unless they’ve been on unemployment benefits or Disability Support Pension for six months.

Young women are more likely than young men to be in education or training, but even graduates may find themselves waiting six months for unemployment benefits.

Higher levels of cost-sharing for university and other studies through changes to HELP may adversely affect education participation.

There will be reduced income eligibility for Family Tax Benefits Part B, and the payment will cease when the child reaches school age. Rates will be on hold for a time. This is intended to encourage women to get a job.

The Paid Parental Leave Scheme (once it passes the Senate) will help women return to work and improve their retirement savings, he adds.

It appears meanwhile that negotiations are still on-going with states and territories about harmonising and folding up their various statutory schemes and putting a dollar figure on their transfer to the Abbott scheme.  (States are to transfer agreed money to the Commonwealth.) It seems a bill is definitely proposed for this session of Parliament – aiming for Royal Assent before June 30.

Given the very major reductions proposed in Commonwealth funding to states and territories for their schools and hospitals, states might be not be keen to pass over to the Commonwealth significant money to assist a Commonwealth paid parental leave take-over, and state employed nurses and teachers, among others, may arc up if folding their paid parental leave schemes into the Abbott scheme means any losses to individuals.

Child care offers some budget savings, ( although the JET scheme will be extended). These savings are mostly at the expense of better career and training opportunities for child care workers – some of the lowest paid female workers in the nation.

The Commission of Audit recommended scaling down the Abbott paid parental leave scheme eligibility and payment level back to average weekly earnings – with savings going to expand child care – while suggesting a means testing for child care fee relief that would virtually rule out any woman earning more than around $50,000 a year. This could be counterproductive if every mother should be working. We must wait on the Productivity Commission for some more realistic child care options. It is due to report in July.

And Commonwealth provision of incentives to create an expansion of affordable housing looks to be over, something of deep concern for low- to middle-income women. Yet there is no sign of action on the blight of negative gearing, which is a factor in forcing first-home buyers out of the market.

Women owners of small businesses may be able to contain their excitement that $2.8 million (over four years) is allocated for the Department of Finance to work with small businesses to develop training and other strategies to facilitate access to Government procurement arrangements.

Women concerned about the well-being of women in developing nations may be distressed by the savings of $7.6 billion over five years from development assistance, and reversing decisions to join the African Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

And, finally, the very modest funding for the Office for Women’s Leadership and Development Strategy will have to achieve savings of $1.6 million over four years. The decision on where the cuts will fall is left to the Minister for Women (who fortuitously has declared himself to be a feminist).

Date:  May 13, 2014 – 9:09 pm
Marie Coleman

Federal budget 2014:      full coverage