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Thursday, 27 May 1999
Page: 5587

Senator SYNON —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Newman. Economic security and freedom from domestic violence are important issues for Australian women. Will the minister advise the Senate of government policy initiatives aimed at helping women, including proposed changes related to domestic violence and measures to enhance the economic security of women?

Senator NEWMAN (Family and Community Services; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank Senator Synon for her question. It is very important to focus on some of the issues which are of importance to all Australian women, and this government has been doing that.

Today, at a forum that was sponsored by Senator Vanstone on perpetrator programs, I reaffirmed the federal government's commitment against domestic violence through the $50 million Partnerships Against Domestic Violence initiative. One of our priority areas is more work with domestic violence perpetrators. Other priorities include preventing long-term damage to children in violent families and the prevention of violence in indigenous communities. Domestic violence takes a huge toll on Australia's families and this government is determined to tackle it head-on. The provision of court mandated programs as part of a range of programs for the perpetrators of domestic violence can only have positive benefits.

In relation to enhancing the economic security of women, the coalition government will be introducing legislation to enable the splitting of superannuation assets after divorce, and this will help to redress the imbalance of superannuation wealth between the sexes. That imbalance is one that NATSEM data has shown exists between the sexes, and this legislation will be the single greatest move to redress that imbalance.

But it is only the latest of a number of coalition superannuation initiatives for women that are already in place, including retirement savings accounts that enable women to continue to contribute to their own fund, even when they are out of the work force, and an income tax rebate for spouses who are in the work force to contribute up to $3,000 a year to an at-home spouses superannuation fund. Other changes in superannuation which are available to women and which are beneficial include the extension of the age limit for people contributing to qualifying funds to help people wanting to continue to build up their retirement savings later in life, and the provision of superannuation choice.

The Howard government's commitment to working women was also affirmed in the recent budget, with the government announcing a $24.2 million return to work initiative aimed at women who have been out of the work force for two or more years for parent ing or caring. These women will receive access to reskilling to meet the demands of today's work force. I am delighted to note that the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics average weekly earnings figures show the gap between men's and women's wages is closing. I am sure, Madam President, you would be pleased as well. The ABS figures show that women's full-time adult ordinary time earnings are now 84.8 per cent of men's; up from 83.5 per cent at the same time last year, and up from 83.1 per cent when Labor was in government in February 1996. There has been a continuing narrowing of the pay gap between the sexes under this government, and I, for one, am hugely pleased.

This latest good news comes on top of ABS work force statistics released on 13 May showing rising women's employment: 210,000 new jobs for women between April 1996 and April this year. In addition, the unemployment rate for women has fallen from 8.4 per cent in April 1996 to 7.3 per cent now. The participation rate for working age women—15 to 64—remains stable at 64.2 per cent, and the number of mothers who are employed continues to rise, increasing by 7,100 in March alone to reach 1,120,000 in April this year. Our government has been focused on the needs of all women, and they are freedom from domestic violence, retirement income and workplace opportunities. (Time expired)