Josh Frydenberg has signalled the looming federal budget will contain measures to boost the workforce of female-dominated professions such as aged and disability care, and also in the critical field of cybersecurity.
The Morrison government has already flagged the budget will contain new investments in aged and disability care, as well as mental health and domestic violence. The treasurer told a business conference in Canberra on Thursday the government would also address “some very important workforce needs across the economy”.
“We are going to have in the budget a series of measures that are designed to better match up skills that are being produced with the needs of industry,” Frydenberg said – citing the caring economy as an example.
“We are seeing workforce shortages today and we also know there are going to be future workplace shortages,” he said. “One area we are focussed on is the care workforce.”
“You saw a 100,000 more people go on the national disability insurance scheme in the course of the last year – who is going to be providing that important care and support? It is going to be trained people.
“You can’t just click your fingers and get that sizeable workforce overnight. So to aged care. Our response [to the aged care royal commission] is focussing on workforce, governance and the sustainability of the sector.”
Frydenberg said there were also workforce pressures generated by the digital economy.
“Cyber technical skills, for example – everyone is going to have a great need for those technical skills going forward, and we need to be able to produce in Australia graduates with those skills.”
With new polling showing the government’s standing with women has deteriorated in the wake of federal parliament’s “me too” reckoning, the government is expected to use the budget to try and reconnect with female voters disillusioned by how the government responded to the rape allegation levelled by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
The Covid-19 recovery budget last October was criticised as doing little for Australian women, with tax cuts favoured over baked-in investments in services that both support and employ women.
As well as measures to boost the caring economy workforce, other ideas under consideration include paying superannuation on paid parental leave and tax concessions to facilitate income splitting for partners of women over 50 to direct more money into women’s superannuation.
With the 11 May economic statement now looming, Frydenberg used Thursday’s speech to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to declare the government did not intend to take any “sharp pivots towards austerity”.
With the economy still emerging from the first recession in 30 years, the treasurer said the focus in 2021 would be job creation. He said the government’s budget strategy would remain on supporting the “transitioning” economy before any significant move in the direction of fiscal repair.
But the shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said Frydenberg’s budget framing speech on Thursday was “all about politics and not economics”.
“What this speech is saying to the Australian people is that there will still be austerity, there will still be budget cuts, but the Australian people have to wait until the other side of an election to find out what they might be,” Chalmers said.
“All this speech does is push budget nasties from this side of the election to the other side of the election … and that is a risk to people who don’t know where those cuts will be coming from”.
Chalmers said the government needed to look more deeply at issues in the labour market, because there were “issues around finding workers in some part of parts of Australia [and] at the same time as we’ve got almost two million Australians who can’t find a job or enough hours at work”.
“We need to get much better, as a country, at matching people with job opportunities.”