Is a Budget that works for people of all genders possible in our current context?  The Government seems to think so and has doubled down on its commitment to bringing more gender diversity to future Budget decisions. 

The Federal Treasurer is responsible for government expenditure and collecting revenue and plays a key role in setting the economic policy of the government.  They are supported by an Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Finance, among others. 

Given that Australia has been operating under a federated model since 1901, you might be excused for thinking that the people who have held these highly influential positions represent a diversity of perspectives.  At the very least, a diversity of genders.

Well, about that…..

Of the 41 people to have held the prestigious position of Treasurer of Australia. There were four named John, four named William, and two named Chris.

Not one of the 41 Treasurers of the Commonwealth of Australia has been a woman.

And the list of Assistant Treasurers is not much better, with previous incumbent Kelly O’Dwyer the second female to have ever held that position, which she occupied for just under 3 years between 2016 and 2019.  The first was Helen Coonan who was the Assistant Treasurer between 2001 and 2004.

When it comes to the Finance portfolio, current sitting Minister Katy Gallagher is only the third woman to fill the role – joined in this respect by Penny Wong, who held the position from 2010 to 2013, and Dame Margaret Guilfoyle from 1980 to 1983.  The other 15 names on that list are men. 

So, when we consider the totality of those positions – Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer, and Minister for Finance, the number of men who have held them outweighs the number of women by 78 to 5.

What impact does this have on the nature and focus of spending?

Of course, deciding what goes into a Federal Budget is not a task the Treasurer tackles alone…. or with only the support of the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Finance (sigh).  The Prime Minister clearly has a great deal of clout – and you likely already know that only one of the 31 people to hold that top job has been a woman.

More broadly, the 20 or so Ministers that make up Federal Cabinet play a huge role in determining which initiatives will be funded (and defunded) and to what extent.  The proportion of women in Cabinet was 6 per cent in 2001 and, under the current Albanese Government, sits at around 40 per cent. 

But decision making for Budget relies on more input than the politicians, right?  Absolutely.

More broadly, the bureaucracy that supports the creation and delivery of the Budget – the Commonwealth Departments and Agencies – certainly influence and shape the direction of the spend.  According to the Prime Minister’s website, of the 16 Government Departments that make up the portfolios, 6 are currently led by women.

While perhaps these numbers are stark and sobering, they likely don’t come as a surprise.  We know there is an issue of lack of gender diversity in politics, and particularly in the top end.  We know there are efforts underway to remedy that gap and create pathways and support for more women to enter politics and follow it through as their chosen career.

But can our Budget decisions wait that long?  Don’t we need to have women’s perspectives represented to achieve the best outcomes for our country? 

Of course, the answer is we can’t wait, and we do need women’s contributions.

That is why it was very heartening to see a commitment to structural reform in the way future Budget decisions will be made.  As part of the Women’s Budget Statement delivered on Tuesday night, the Government announced that all future Budget decisions will be ‘Gender Responsive’.

Gender responsive budgeting is a concept designed to create better and fairer outcomes across all genders, and ensure women, men and gender diverse people have equal access to opportunities and resources.  It is currently practiced in a number of OECD countries.

A key tool in this style of budgeting is a ‘Gender impact assessment’, which tracks and reports on gender equality outcomes through the budget process and provides decision makers (those Cabinet Ministers, the Treasurer, and Prime Minister) with information on how a policy may impact differently on women and men.

How effective the ‘Gender impact assessments’ will be at persuading a still largely non-diverse set of decision makers to alter the direction of their decisions is yet to be seen.  The fact that the Office for Women has been leading a pilot and published the results of its assessments against four policies is very promising.

One thing is for sure.  The announcement of gender responsive budgeting is a clear statement that Government recognises the need to embed diverse perspectives in the Budget process, and not leave it up to individual decision makers (and those supporting the decision) to proactively seek out and supply that information.