When prominent businesswoman Sam Mostyn walked to the podium at the National Press Club in Canberra last year, few who followed NSW politics could have anticipated the impact it would have on policy in this state.
She declared “we need wholesale immediate change” to increase female workforce participation and ensure respect for women overall.
The date was November 24 and the freshly minted Treasurer Matt Kean was watching her speech on television from his office in Sydney and afterwards decided to call her.
It set off a chain of events, that led to about $12 billion being committed in funding in the lead-up to Tuesday’s budget directly targeting female inequality.
The funding addresses three areas: economic opportunities, safety and health.
The biggest spend by far—more than $10 billion—has been on improving affordability and accessibility of child care, and an overhaul of the preschool system, with the aim of making it more financially viable for women to get back in the workforce.
The government wanted to ensure its plans did not go unnoticed, with the week leading up to the budget almost exclusively devoted to women’s announcements.
There were three days of major childcare commitments as well as initiatives to get more women working in construction, and changes to parental leave for the public sector, entitling fathers to 14 weeks.
Then there has been $100 million offered for domestic violence support services and anti-street harassment initiatives, both designed to address the safety aspect of the women’s package.
And there had already been health commitments around funding for IVF and menopause hubs.
Many of these funding commitments are in direct response to findings from the government’s Women Economic Opportunities Review, which was set up in February and chaired by Ms Mostyn.
Last year, Mr Kean had been looking for a way for the state government to combat the growing wave of anger among female voters sweeping the nation and after watching Ms Mostyn’s National Press Club address thought she could have the answers.
He was one of the few government MPs who attended the women’s March4Justice protest in Sydney in 2021, and unlike many of his Liberal colleagues in Canberra and NSW, decided it was a “politically defining moment”.
So, after speaking to Ms Mostyn eight months later, he set up the women’s review with her as the head, insisted the findings would be the centerpiece of his budget and established a women’s panel within the Treasury department to make it happen.
And Premier Dominic Perrottet has been on board.
Mr Kean’s first budget as Treasurer is as much strategic as it is practical, it’s sending a signal to women voters that they’ve been heard, finally.
And voters might be forgiven for being skeptical about the pre-election epiphany of a government that’s been in power for 11 years, almost five of which under the leadership of a female premier.
In the 2019 state election, Gladys Berejiklian’s appeal to women in the 30 to 50 age bracket was crucial to her success, and her connection to that voter group endured through her time in the top job.
But without a woman at the helm, the government was left exposed to having low female representation within the Liberal Party as well as a lack of policies directed to women.
There’s also a personal side to the change of direction. Both the Treasurer and Premier are living the working family, juggle with young children.
And Mr Kean concedes it’s opened his eyes to the challenges facing many families.
But while the Treasurer and Premier are positioning themselves as modern men based on their family home, not much is changing within the house on Macquarie Street.
In February’s by-election, the Liberals ran Tim James to replace Ms Berejiklian, the Premier appointed seven women to his 26-minister cabinet — just one more than under Ms Berejiklian’s leadership.
And in the past 13 months, when two Liberal positions became available in the Upper House, men were picked to replace the vacating male MLCs.
Change obviously takes time and while the Coalition has been in power for more than a decade in NSW, it appears to be listening to women now.
The question is: have female voters stopped listening to the Coalition nine months out from a state election?