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Wednesday, 8 March 2000
Page: 14217

Ms MACKLIN (7:40 PM) —International Women's Day is a day for celebrating the achievements of women and also a day for identifying what barriers are still to be overcome. Our commitment to advancing the status of women is made even more important because of the disastrous impact the Howard government's policies are having on women. Australian women are hurting under this government. Rather than working to improve the status of women, the Howard government has implemented a litany of policies that turn the clock back and that make it harder, not easier, for women to participate fully as equal citizens. Let us just look at what they have done to child care. Budget cuts to child care under this government have resulted in the cost of child care rocketing up by at least $20 and sometimes $30 a week. The lack of access to child care is a barrier to many women realising their full potential, and restoring affordable, quality child care for women must be a priority for a government that is committed to advancing the status of women.

The government's industrial relations laws represent a major barrier to women's advancement. The government is determined to continue to strip awards back even further with the second wave of industrial relations changes. Women must continue the fight—women will continue the fight—against this government's industrial relations agenda. It is a recipe for poverty and sets the struggle for equal pay back even further. I want to take this opportunity tonight to pay tribute to Jennie George, the first woman president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Jenny has been an inspiration to Australian women both through her leadership and through her struggle for women's equal pay. Most recent has been her fight against the government's draconian industrial relations changes which, if they had been successful—and we hope they are not reintroduced—would have seen women's position in the work force deteriorate even further.

Of course, now we see the government's attack on women extending to its taxation policy. The new 10 per cent GST is an unfair and discriminatory tax that will hit Australian women hardest. Women are on the lowest wages and are more likely to be social security recipients. It is these women who will bear the brunt of the new tax. The government has no understanding of the complexity of women's lives and no interest in assisting women to juggle work and family responsibilities. Women in the 21st century want to combine their work and family lives. To do this they need more family friendly workplaces, including the provision of family leave, paid maternity leave and family facilities at work. Of course, the Howard government has demonstrated that it is unable to develop and implement policies that address these needs.

Nine months ago the government was presented with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's report Pregnant and productive: It's a right not a privilege to work while pregnant. Despite the report's disturbing findings, the government has not acted on any of these recommendations. The opposition has taken up this blueprint for action and is committed to ensuring it is implemented. I have drafted a private member's bill to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to implement some of the report's recommendations, and I will introduce this into the parliament in the next sitting week.

The 21st century does offer great opportunities for Australian women, but there are, and will continue to be under this government, real barriers to achieving any of these possible gains. The barriers include the lack of affordable quality child care, the stripping of awards that are removing much needed protection for Australian women workers and the need for greater flexibility in the use of entitlements for family and personal leave. We need taxation and social security arrangements that encourage women to return to work and increase their hours of work, not discourage them, which is what this government is doing. The removal of labour market programs that had proven benefits to women was, of course, another mark of this government. This Howard government is not interested in improving the status of women; it is actively undermining women's advancement. It is a government for the few and a government stuck in the past. It is definitely not a government for the modern Australian woman.