COVID-19 Small Business Grants and the Impact on Women

I wrote to the Minister for Finance and Small Business a month ago to raise my concerns that the COVID-19 small business grants discriminated against women. I am yet to receive a response from the Minister or from anyone in the Government—and so the unintentional consequences of ill‑advised and poorly thought through policy on the hop continue. When the Government has only a single solution to the huge economic downturn that we are experiencing, which is to provide a grant to businesses that has tight eligibility requirements and hoop after hoop to jump through, it risks excluding people. That is exactly what the New South Wales Government has done.

This exclusion is caused by the grant eligibility requirement for small businesses to have between one and 19 full-time staff. If a business has five, seven or 10 part-time staff it is ineligible. If a business employs mums who require flexibility and only want to work two, three or four days a week, and it slots in some casual workers to fill the gaps that exist, it is ineligible. You are ineligible if you run a small business that employs one person who, let us say, was full time, went on maternity leave and only wanted to come back working three days a week so now you have employed someone else to do the other two days. Is the House seeing the trend?

Women make up approximately 70 per cent of all part-time employment. The number of women establishing small and micro businesses is increasing astronomically—up 12 per cent in the past 12 months. One business owner in my electorate of Blue Mountains detailed her own situation to me. She is a sole trader in the upper mountains and has seven casual staff. They work regularly but none are full time, yet the combined hours per week of those seven staff are well in excess of one full-time employee. This business owner met every other criteria laid out by the Government but fell over at this one, as did many other small businesses who reached out to me.

The requirement to have full-time workers in order to qualify for the grants is a huge downfall of the grant scheme. Not only does it exclude many small businesses in tourism areas, which tend to have more seasonal work, but also it discriminates against small business owners who choose to employ women and provide flexible work arrangements that result in non full-time employment. I believe for these businesses to be unable to access support grants at this time is a form of indirect gender-based discrimination. It reflects poorly on the Minister and the Government, both personally and as a Government, for them not to take the time to respond to my concerns.

Now that the damage has been done and so many businesses who employ women across New South Wales have lost out because of this Government's narrow-mindedness, what is the Government's plan to ensure women are not again forgotten in the response to both this disaster and others that will no doubt unfold in the future? This sham of a Government has failed to consider that through applying the gendered lens, however you look at it, women lose out. Under this Government and during this pandemic, women at work lose out. As Emma Dawson of Per Capita Australia has explained, the significance of women to the foundational economy should be front and centre of any economic recovery package. Women's work is critical; it is substantial to the pandemic response. And women's labour is often undervalued—think of the cleaners, the child carers and educators, the nurses, those in the community services sector and the casualised workforce.

If this is the first time that members are realising the disproportionate impact on women then I ask them to go back to their caucus rooms, speak with their colleagues and figure out how to fix this and how they might support small businesses that are run by and employ women. I guarantee there is at least a handful of small businesses in each of their electorates that missed out on the $10,000 COVID‑19 support grant because the policy was created by a bunch of blokes who did not think twice about who it would exclude.