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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5655


Dr STONE (4:38 PM) —Minister, in the Budget Related Paper No. 1.8 at page 166, on the budget measures for EOWA—the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency—there were no new budget measures in the 2010-11 budget for that agency. We know there is a major problem in Australia with gender pay equity deteriorating. In the last two years it has got worse. This is a serious issue of the rights of Australian women, who on average earn 18 per cent less pay compared to men in the same work. We have recommendations that the EOWA be particularly strengthened. These came from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and in the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations following its consideration of these matters last year.

I am concerned that there were no budget measures in relation to EOWA. Do you have something up your sleeve that you are going to bring out some time soon? Clearly, the agency cannot do the work it needs to do to address the gender pay equity issues. We are very disappointed that the agency was treated in the way it was. Of course, there are lots of other concerns about the legislation itself, which is not adequate anymore in terms of making businesses report on things like pay for men and women doing the same work.

There is then the issue of violence against women, which I think we would all agree is very serious. I am sure it is of great concern to all parties. When will the government formally respond to the Time for action: the National Council’s Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children, 2009-2021? As you know, this plan was delivered in April 2009, but there has been no response. We have had a commitment to some sort of communication package around the issue, and that was made at about the time the national council presented its plan. We have not seen anything of that communication package. We do not know what is in it or when it will start. I think it is very serious if that whole area is being neglected when we know that, sadly, domestic violence against women and their children is increasing in our community.

We also want to know when you are going to deal with the problems of the MACS, Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Services, centres. They predated the CFCs, the children and family centres. Why do you have those two types of Indigenous multifunctional centres coexisting but one, the CFCs, having greater financial support than the other? It is bad luck if you are in a community like Shepparton, with a multifunctional Aboriginal centre. You are being squeezed of support, your funding is diminishing and you have had to let go a lot of your special services for your special needs children. If they had more fortuitously had one of these new CFCs, they would have had a much better funding stream. We want to know what the difference is between those two types of centres. Why do they coexist? Why is one better funded than the other when they both serve children with very special needs?

We also want to know how the MACS centres are to deal with four-year-olds, who, under the policy of your government, are supposed to have universal access to pre-schooling. As we know, the children in the MACS centres do not pay fees—that is part of the system, and it is a right part of the system. But if the children go off to a kindergarten they do have to pay fees, particularly in Victoria. So how are you going to handle in these multifunctional Aboriginal centres, and indeed in the children and family centres, the four-year-olds, who should be receiving early childhood education? Are you going to specially support upgrading the qualifications of the workers in these two centres? If so, when?

I have a number of these MACS centres in my electorate, there are six or seven in Victoria, and the women—it is almost invariably women—who organise them are most concerned at the deprivation of their children, given this extraordinary and strange government parallel policy. We want to know what your department is going to do with the introduction of the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care, which is to commence in 2012, in terms of implementation and compliance for other childcare centres which are not Indigenous specific. How will this framework be implemented or relate to the Indigenous childcare or multifunctional centres? At the moment, they think they will be left out in the cold, not get special attention and not have the quality assurances relate to them. They want to hear exactly what you have to say about that.

I am disappointed with the budget. Clearly, it does not advance the needs of women in any way. I am very keen to hear your responses to these questions.