Gender Equality in Australia’s Tax and Transfer System

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This Workshop brings together researchers from economics, law, social policy and political science with the aim of investigating gender equality in the Australian tax and transfer (social security) system. The Workshop will examine four themes of significance: (1) size and structure of the fiscal state; (2) work, care and capabilities of women over the lifecourse; (3) saving, assets and retirement provision; and (4) gender-based analysis and evaluation of fiscal reform. Outcomes will include recommendations to achieve gender equality for policy makers engaged in tax and social security reform; an open access academic publication and policy notes that contribute to public debate.

This Workshop brings together experienced and early career researchers from social science disciplines of economics, law, social policy and political science with the aim of investigating and making recommendations for gender equality in the Australian tax and transfer (social security) system. Researchers will explore how taxes and transfers affect equality of wellbeing, benefits and burdens along gender lines, and how gender norms affect the design of our tax and transfer system. These issues have significant implications not just for women but for Australian society as a whole and for the design of taxes and social security for the short and long term.

The Government has commenced a White Paper tax policy process to report by 2016, five years after the Henry Review carried out a comprehensive review of the Australian tax and transfer system (2009). Treasurer Hockey has suggested that the proposed tax White Paper may “complete the job” of the Henry Review. In addition, the McLure Welfare Review and Cooper review of the retirement system are expected to report in 2015, while the federation reform White Paper may also have significant gender implications for delivery of taxes and transfers that need to be understood. This workshop will examine the ‘gendered dynamics’ (Philipps 2002: 41) of tax and transfer policy since the Henry Review and in the White Paper and welfare reform proposals. The Workshop is timed in the third quarter of 2015 specifically to respond to and engage directly from a scholarly and policy-oriented perspective with reform proposals. It is co-sponsored by the Women in Social and Economic Research group at Curtin Business School.

The Workshop will examine four key themes about the fiscal state and its gender impact; the effect of the tax and transfer system on work, care and capabilities of women over the lifecourse and on saving, asset building and retirement provision for women; and how we analyse and evaluate gender in fiscal policy-making and reform. The objective of researchers in considering each theme is to investigate current data, legal and policy frameworks and recommend reforms to enhance gender equality.

1. The implications for gender equality of current approaches to the fiscal state
Researchers will address the recent decline in tax revenue collections; proposed cap on tax as a percentage of GDP; austerity approaches to transfers in the social security system; a shift of the tax base from income to consumption; and large tax expenditures leading to erosion of the tax base. The Henry Review emphasised revenue sustainability for government spending, including transfers, but also stated that a pro-growth policy must be adopted because Australia is a small, open economy operating in a globalised world. Current reform processes take place in an era of fiscal constraint and global tax competition, changing demographics and slowing productivity growth. These all pose challenges to funding government which inevitably have gendered consequences.

2. Work, care and capabilities in the tax and transfer system over the lifecourse
A key element of any discussion of the tax and transfer system is the gendered distribution of work and care. The Henry Review affirmed that Australia’s personal tax and transfer system is a fundamental part of Australia’s social and economic infrastructure for equity and support of capabilities of individuals (Stewart, 2011). This is especially important for women who occupy many of the poorest households in Australia particularly when raising children (Lloyd, Harding and Payne 2004). It is also generally accepted in the Henry Review and in today’s policy debate, that Australia must increase women’s workforce participation, warranting reform to the tax and transfer system to encourage this. Yet Australian tax and transfer policy remains incoherent with respect to this goal and proposals for reform face constraints of cost to government. Researchers will address the efficiency and equity implications for family configurations and in terms of childcare and other forms of care, family benefits and taxes on work (eg, Apps and Rees, 2010) and the gender implications of higher education tax and transfer settings.

3. Savings, asset building and retirement provision in the tax and transfer system
There is less understanding concerning the gendered implications of how we tax savings and wealth and of income and asset testing in the transfer system. Women have less income and assets than men, especially superannuation (Jefferson and Ong 2010; Austen and Sharp, 2007) and women’s wealth remains limited because female working life is interrupted by care responsibilities. Women’s limited asset portfolios and interrupted working lives imply that women derive fewer and smaller capital gains and benefit less from tax concessions. However, detailed data and analysis of women’s savings and asset positions to date is limited, and the link between women’s work and saving warrants further exploration.

4. Gender analysis and evaluation in the fiscal policy process
This theme will examine the history and future of gender budgeting, gender and family impact analysis and other modes of distributional analysis and policy development focused on gender equality in Australia’s tax and transfer system. It will examine how gender is being considered in current White Paper and other reform processes for tax and welfare reform, and will examine the broader questions of how to select benchmarks for assessing gender inequality in relation to income, savings, wealth and consumption, including treatment of women as individuals or within households, which is a challenge in analysis of the data. The goal is to identify where are the gaps and what is required for a full gender equality analysis in Australia’s tax and transfer system across the above themes.

The contributors to the Workshop will bring original theoretical, empirical and policy-oriented research to these four themes. In addition to the Australian researchers, TTPI will bring at least one leading international scholar in the field to participate in the Workshop with Australian participants. Professor Lisa Philipps, Canada, who has successfully led an international workshop on gender inequality in tax policy has in principle agreed to attend. The Tax and Transfer Policy Institute will invite government officials of Treasury and the Department of Human Services who are working on White Paper tax and welfare reform processes to participate in all or part of the Workshop. Workshop papers will be published in an open access academic refereed collection or special issue of a journal.

REFERENCES

Apps, P and Rees, R (2010) ‘Australian Family Tax Reform and the Targeting Fallacy’ 43(2) Australian Economic Review 153–175.

Jefferson, T and Ong, R (2010) Profiling Gender Differentials in Asset and Debt Portfolios in Australia, Centre for Research in Applied Economics Working Paper Series no 2010/04 (Perth, Curtin University of Technology School of Economics and Finance).

Henry Review (Review of Australia’s Future Tax System), Final Report (December 2009), https://taxreview.treasury.gov.au .

Lloyd, R, Harding, A and Payne, A (2004) Australians in Poverty in the 21st century (NATSEM), University of Canberra).

Philipps L. (2002) ‘Tax Law and Social Reproduction: The Gender of Fiscal Policy in an Age of Privatization’ in B Cossman and J Fudge (eds), Privatization, Law and the Challenge to Feminism (Toronto, University of Toronto Press) 41.

Sharp, R and Austen, S (2007) ‘The 2006 Federal Budget: A Gender Analysis of the Superannuation Taxation Concessions’ Australian J Labour Economics (June) 61–77.

Stewart, M. (2011) ‘Gender and Tax Policy in Australia’, in Gunnarson, A, Brooks, K, Philipps, L and Wersig, M (eds), Challenging Gender Inequality in Tax Policy Making: Comparative Perspectives (Hart Publishing, UK) 53-74.

For more information, please contact:
Mrs Nurdan Kulluk-Rennert
Manager, Executive and Workshops
Nurdan.Kulluk-Rennert [at] assa.edu.au
+61 .2 62491788

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Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

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