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Monday, 8 March 2004
Page: 20960

Senator McGAURAN (3:22 PM) —Senator Ian Campbell, the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, has replied not only in question time but also in this take note of answers debate succinctly to Senator Mackay's question. He has said that there is no so-called secret agenda to stop funding of family planning services. He went on to say that this is the beat-up of the week, and it is only Monday. Those opposite are at it again. On International Women's Day you would think they could come into this parliament and celebrate the occasion with a bit more generosity. But, no, they come in here with their usual beat-up with regard to family planning, which is hardly the broader issue of International Women's Day. There are so many other subjects involved which they do not raise or celebrate. They come in here with a typically negative and nasty approach to all issues. This is a time to raise many issues, and I thought they would have taken the opportunity to do so.

The minister, nevertheless, in his generosity has given you a succinct, direct and committed reply, but you reject it out of hand. Of course, you have to. You think it is your job to and so you do. Today is an opportunity to recognise International Women's Day in another way. I, as a National Party senator from Victoria, take the opportunity to recognise International Women's Day by remembering the women of the bush, the women in rural and regional areas throughout Australia. First of all, I take this opportunity to remember the pioneering women, who were the backbone of those early settlers and families in times of drought, flood and hardship. There were hard times, as we know only too well from the poetry and legends that are told of those times, and we know how important a role women played.

Today, it is no different. Women from the country areas, the isolated areas, particularly in my colleague Senator Lightfoot's state of Western Australia—more so than in Victoria—and outback stations still play the same role. They are the sisters of the old pioneers. In times of drought or flood they are the backbone of the family. But perhaps there is a new dimension to the times of the pioneering women; today's women are now taking greater care in the finances of the farms. They seem to have taken up that role in times of financial hardship, particularly during the years when interest rates were soaring. It was the women who held the family together emotionally and were able to understand the finances when many farmers did not. More than ever we should recognise the role women played in the country during that period.

Of course, I am not just talking about women on the farms but also about women in the small towns and their volunteer efforts with the CFA—the fire brigades—with all the charity groups and, of course, those women in small business. I could go on. That group should be recognised on this day. I hope that Senator Stott Despoja, who is a great advocate for women, and Senator Denman, who has just entered the chamber, would jump up on International Women's Day and raise subjects like that. They should have a bit of outlook. They should not come in here with negative beat-ups just to take a political opportunity on such a day. Also, we know only too well the opportunities within politics. Those women I have just pointed out—Senator Denman and Senator Stott Despoja—and Senator Stephens—

Senator Stott Despoja —What about the National Party women in the Senate?

Senator McGAURAN —For once I will take up one of your interjections, Senator Stott Despoja, considering how often I interject on you. Senator Stott Despoja would be interested to know that we have just preselected, possibly in a winning position, a woman for the seat of New South Wales. We have our own De-Anne Kelly, a real firebrand in politics. She has made her mark in politics and has gone up in the ranks to become a parliamentary secretary. Here in the Senate on the front bench—tragically I am not going to have time to go through each one's contribution and the particular characteristics they bring to the job—we have Senator Patterson, Senator Vanstone, Senator Troeth and Senator Coonan, who hit the ground running in that very complex and difficult portfolio and who is probably the first woman to be on the Treasury benches. These are the women who have been given opportunity through merit not quota. (Time expired)