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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 793

Mr SMITH(1.35) —I will make some remarks about the previous speaker, the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand). I note that at the end of his speech he said that he listened with interest to the remarks made by the honourable member for Moncrieff (Mrs Sullivan). I think that it is fair enough to say that because some of the things she did say were particularly relevant and they were beyond politics. It is a shame that the honourable member for Melbourne did not maintain that stance throughout his remarks.

Mr Hand —Are you suggesting women are not political; is that what you are saying?

Mr SMITH —When the honourable member started talking about McLachlan and others his remarks were not relevant to this debate. What we are debating today, looking at the motion, are four related topics. It is interesting that the motion has been on the Notice Paper for two years, and I dare say the honourable member for Melbourne has just dusted off a speech that has probably been sitting in his drawer for two years.

It is fundamental to realise that women cannot be seen as an isolated entity within a community but must be seen as part of that community. Therefore, the assistance we give women must reflect the assistance given to the entire community. Accordingly, the motion being debated today impinges upon the three major areas that are under government control, and they are industrial relations, taxation reform and social security. In each of these three policy areas, the reformist and humanising policies-and I stress `humanising'-of the party that I stand for and represent in this chamber are in marked contrast to the failed, socialist remedies trotted out by the Government with such monotonous regularity, and on which we have again heard two speeches this afternoon; I understand we are to hear another.

The four issues under discussion today involve wage justice for women; priority for women in job creation and training; setting of income support payments at realistic levels; and the provision of child care facilities. I would like to deal briefly with each of these and show really what a hypocritical motion this is. I believe only a Liberal government has the policies that will ultimately help the women in Australia. As I mentioned, the fact that this motion has sat for two years before being brought on for debate, in a way indicates the priority which the Leader of the House (Mr Young) attaches to these things.

The issue of wage justice is of course one which all thinking Australians cannot fail to accept, and I do accept the genuineness with which the honourable member for Melbourne approached this question. It is, however, only one aspect of a veritable industrial relations mine field. Unfortunately women are more exposed than men to the degrading experience of unemployment. In January this year the unemployment rate for women stood at 8.7 per cent, as against 7.9 per cent for men-a real indictment of this Government's supposed employment policies for women.

The honourable member for Melbourne did quote some statistics about the success of the community employment program, a billion dollar program which, I might add, went through this Parliament with the support of the Opposition. What we pointed out was that some of the programs which were being funded were absolutely anathema to wanting to provide the opportunities for training.

Mr Tim Fischer —Some of these projects are designed to help left-handed lesbians.

Mr SMITH —I thank the honourable member for Farrer for his assistance. What is of even more concern is the appallingly low participation rate of women in the work force compared with that of men. It is 49 per cent as against 75 per cent. Granted, many women do not wish to enter the work force, but there are a heck of a lot who do but cannot because of our present inflexible industrial relations system. If one examines the numbers of those looking for part time work, it becomes very clear that unless the reforms of the system advocated in our far-sighted, realistic and compassionate industrial relations policies are implemented, women will continue to bear the brunt of this Government's failed policies.

I might just interpose that it was interesting to hear the honourable member for Melbourne talk about the restrictive practices in the work place and how that militates against work opportunities for women. I can but agree with that. But why did not those in the Government who have the unions as their friends at their 17 October conference, which was just another talkfest where another task force was set up, address those issues in a more positive way? It is all right to talk about them, but honourable members opposite profess to be the Government, to have the unions as their friends. Yet they are unable to do anything about these matters.

The honourable member for Melbourne mentioned the problem with outwork. I think this is something that needs legitimate inquiring into, but we have to remember that the reason that people are involved in outwork activity is that formal entry to the part time work force is being stifled by the union movement itself and its treatment of the awards and part time abilities under those awards. The reason these people work is, of course, a matter of choice, and they choose to work because they require the funds for one reason or another. They are suffering increasingly from the policies that this Government is pursuing, and, of course, the need to work is even greater. Granted many women do not, as I said, wish to enter the work force, but if one examines the numbers of those looking for part time work, it becomes very clear that the reforms of the system advocated in our policy must be followed.

I think I mentioned that there are currently 82,300 women seeking part time work in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. By contrast there are only 27,000 men seeking part time employment. I can think of few things which would more greatly assist in a practical sense the desire of women to re-enter the work force than to have greater availability of part time work and greater freedom to undertake training in apprenticeships. The trade union movement has persistently held a hostile attitude towards the achievement of permanent part time work. There is some sign of change in attitude amongst some unions, but in many areas it is far too little and for many Australian parents it is far too late.

The practical desire of many Australian women to obtain greater access to permanent part time work should be facilitated. At present this desire is being thwarted by Australia's rigid and inflexible industrial relations system. The existing system penalises individual enterprises which want to make agreements to stagger their working hours to make them more acceptable to female and male employees who have family responsibilities or other interests. An interesting example which has been much cited but bears mentioning again involves an inner city suburban company where the employees, mainly migrant women, petitioned the management to alter their working hours. By starting 30 minutes earlier and having only half an hour for lunch they could be at home when their children returned from school because they had made up that extra hour. The employer obviously agreed. However, the firm was soon informed by the arbitration inspector in New South Wales that it was in breach of the standard working hours provision of the relevant award and warned that it would be penalised if the situation continued. What happened? As one would expect, the standard hours were reinstated and the children of the workers spent an extra hour of each day without parental care. The new Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Young), the man who has been charged with the task of going out and getting the migrant vote back for the Labor Government, perhaps ought to go to that factory in Sydney and explain to those migrant women why the system is such that they cannot come to an arrangement with their employers, a mutually advantageous arrangement if it were able to be implemented. I would be very interested to see him go and do that rather than what he is going to do next week, come to my electorate and make a menace of himself.

Additionally, Australia's apprenticeship system is archaic and actively discriminates against women. It needs urgent reform. Women starting apprenticeships are still regarded as an exception. There will be no large intake of female apprentices under such a medieval system. Until it is reformed, women will be barred from most apprenticeships and most trades. The coalition policy will revamp our apprenticeship system. It will make it more available to women and will introduce adult apprenticeships which will be of particular value to women wanting to re-enter the work force. Women will be the big winners from our industrial relations policy.

The motion under debate also makes mention of increasing income security payment for supporting parents and children of pensioners. The issue of children in poverty is indeed a very serious one, and is an issue which needs to be tackled in a bipartisan, non-political manner within this chamber. When 824,000 of this country's children live in poverty, something serious needs to be done and done urgently, and I think we would all accept that. Many of these children are in families of the new class, `the working poor', families that have been forced into this position by this Government's policies. It was interesting, was it not, to hear the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) in his concluding remarks say that he was not happy with how things were going. I do recall that he made similar statements late last year. I suppose that he is at least being consistently honest.

Since 1981-82 the number of two-parent families living in poverty has increased by 30 per cent. Where do I get that figure? I get it from the Institute of Family Studies, the one specialist body set up in this country to look at the impact of Federal Government policies on the people of Australia.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! It is now 1.45 p.m. and in accordance with standing order 109, as amended for this session, the debate on the motion is interrupted.

Motion (by Mr Duffy) agreed to:

That the time for the discussion of notice No. 1, General Business, be extended until 2 p.m.

Mr SMITH —What happened in the May economic statement of last year? In an endeavour to save approximately $600,000, the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) indicated that the Institute would be closed. Once the pressure got a little bit much they had a review. But where were the honourable member for Brand (Ms Fatin) and the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) on this question of the public support of families? It is all very well for them to stand up here today and say that we did nothing. When there was a material matter on which their bona fides could be judged they were not to be heard. The three major reasons for this rapid increase are unemployment, barriers to women entering the work force and the current taxation system, which is obviously biased very much against families. As we all know, homelessness is a ready indicator of poverty. Therefore, it is disturbing to see that in the four years of this socialist Government waiting queues for public housing have increased by 60,000. The crisis in the housing market is directly the result of this Labor Government's policy on mortgage rates and rental market arrangements.

I want to focus my remaining remarks on the taxation area, one that is in desperate need of reform. Under this Government we have higher taxes, and a damned sight more taxes than when the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) was Treasurer. It is an indisputable fact of life that most people are worse off under this Government. Indeed the honourable member for Melbourne made that very point last year and only last week Senator Button admitted the same in the Senate. Even after the second round of the Keating tax cuts occurs in July, the average Australian family with children will be between $8 and $15 worse off-I repeat, worse off-than they were four years ago when John Howard was Treasurer. One cannot argue against the facts. Under a Liberal Government there will be a flatter rate of tax, a broader tax base and a definite bias in favour of families. I do not know how many times one has to say it, but the continued distortion from the other side of the chamber will not be mirrored in the opinion polls. Families know, when they get that wage packet, that they are worse off.

Under the current tax system there is no recognition of the differing needs of differing families. Our policy will recognise those needs and under the principle of income splitting will recognise that a single income family is discriminated against, by comparison with a dual income family, in the sense that the single income family has only one tax free threshold and not two; that it can take advantage of lower tax rates on only one income and not two. The tax system, as I have said, needs reforming, reforming in favour of families, especially those with one income and dependent children. That is the principle underpinning our tax package. It is the principle on which we fought the 1984 election, the principle on which we will fight every election. It is a principle that this socialist Government knows and cares nothing about. In fact, the Government knows and cares about virtually no principle but that of robbing everyone in order to fund artists in residence for the Builders Labourers Federation or some other union body.

The Liberal Party and the National Party are the only parties that can really help not only the women of Australia but all of the people of this country. We believe in capitalism and make no apology for that. We believe in capitalism with a human face and a human heart. Where wrongs and injustices need correcting, we have worked to correct them and will continue to do so. So let not this Government seek to lecture us on this side of the chamber about the needs of women and how best to serve them. We do care about all Australians and our constructive policies stand in stark contrast to the warm inner glow socialist incantations that those who temporarily occupy the Government benches always seem to utter.

In regard to child care, for instance, the Government has turned its face against involving non-government organisations. Just last week I wrote to all of the women in my electorate who use the play group association services. Their views and responses have been particularly illuminating. They demonstrate that the women feel a real need to involve themselves in the political process, to attempt to help themselves rather than just wait for crumbs to fall from the Government's table. So what we do need, in summary, is the provision of different types of child care facilities--

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Mr SMITH —the freeing up of our inflexible industrial relations system--

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Mr SMITH —and the reform of our tax system in favour of families and--

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member will resume his seat and will heed the Chair in future.