As part of the 2021-22 Federal Budget (the Budget), the Federal Government has committed to providing $1.8 billion over the next five years to improve women's workforce participation and economic security. With $42.4 million dedicated to facilitate career opportunities and career pathways for women by establishing the Boosting the Next Generation of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Program by co-funding scholarships for women in STEM in partnership with industry and $38.3 million to increase grant funding available through the Women's Leadership and Development Program. Support has also been offered to medium to large regional businesses to attract and retain women returning to work after a career break, as well as providing greater support and expanding eligibility programs to include people who have been absent from work due to caring responsibilities for six months or more and existing workers at risk of unemployment, primarily targeting female dominated, COVID-19 affected industries.
This increase in funding and programs highlight the Government’s commitment toward bridging the gap on gender inequality, providing much needed and long overdue support and assistance to both women in employment and women transitioning into the workforce.
Public pressure in recent years have resulted in better corporate awareness of the need for, and benefits of, improved diversity and inclusion in the workplace. With women increasingly seeking support and commitment from both government and businesses to encourage greater professional development opportunities and assist in bridging the gap on gender pay and employment participation from women, we consider these initiatives in the Federal Budget positive developments.
Other significant initiatives include a commitment of $10 million over four years from 2021-22 (and $1.2 million ongoing per year) to implement regulatory technology solutions to assist employers to interpret and comply with modern awards and to explore and promote new ways of assisting employers through regulatory technology and $7.2 million over three years to invest in the improvement, maintenance and review of the Employment Contract Tool, which helps small business employers to make employment contracts that comply with workplace laws. With the Fair Work Ombudsman continuing to focus on prosecution of employers for underpayment of wages, we consider these initiatives will prove invaluable to businesses and assist them with navigating the complexities of modern awards and workplace legislation.
The Federal Government also announced its intention to commit an investment of $2 billion to the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan over the next four years commencing 2021-22. Over the next three years, $5.7 million will be spent on building the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) program to assist people suffering from mental health to participate in the workforce. This money has been committed to pilot the IPS program in Adult Mental Health Centres and to trial Youth Vocational Peer Support Workers in two IPS headspace sites. $0.9 million over five years from 2020-21 has been allocated to continue the Ahead for Business digital hub, supporting small business owners to take proactive, preventive and early steps to improve their mental health.
We consider these initiatives demonstrate a positive sign of acknowledgment and support from the Federal Government of the prevalence and rise in mental health issues, particularly in the current circumstances of economic uncertainty, increases in unemployment and rapid rise in remote working since the outbreak of COVID-19.
Further initiatives and funding have also been provided with the aim of attracting, upskilling and re-distributing mental health professionals, with an emphasis on seeking to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers. This includes the provision of funding to conduct a scoping study to investigate options to improve consumer and carer engagement in the mental health sector.
We consider these initiatives to be positive developments that will assist businesses tackle the rise in mental health issues faced by workplace participants and within the workplace.