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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17105

Mr MOSSFIELD (11:03 AM) —On this matter of appropriation for the Department of Family and Community Services, my attention was drawn to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Adele Horin, entitled `Part-time work marks true income gap'. The article refers to a study published in the journal Family Matters, which found that the number of struggling families may have been underestimated. Earlier research has estimated that about 17 per cent of families with children are seriously disadvantaged because neither parent has a job. However, this figure rises to almost 26 per cent—a quarter of all families with dependent children—when families who rely on a single part-time wage are included. The article states, `Australia's proportion of families with no work or little work is one of the highest in the developed world.' Clearly, this is something that would concern us all, and I am sure that the Minister for Ageing, who is at the table, would be concerned about that. One in four Australian families with children is either jobless or dependent on a single part-time job. This shows something that the Labor opposition has been saying for some time; that is, the gap between the work poor and the work rich families is wider than the Howard government is willing to admit.

With the high growth in part-time jobs, more and more families are now reliant on a parent who may work for only a few hours a week. The study shows that sole parents are the group depending on part-time work. The study covered the years 1983 to 2002. In 1998, for the first time, the proportion of lone mothers in full-time work fell below that of those in part-time work. While it will come as no surprise to honourable members to find that part-time work is still skewed quite markedly on a gender basis, the proportion of fathers being employed part-time also increased over that period of the study.

To underline that brief statement, I refer to a couple of press articles. An article in the West Australian of Wednesday, 30 April, under the heading `40-hour week a myth', says:

A vast gulf divides Australia's job market, with more than a million people looking for work, and thousands spending possibly dangerously long hours at their desk, tractors and earthmoving equipment. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 574,300 Australians were “underemployed” last September, as well as 628,500 who were unemployed. The bureau's new Australian labour market statistics report also shows that over the past 10 years, unemployment, long-term unemployment and labour force under-use have all been on a steady downward trend.

An article in one of my own local papers, the Blacktown Advocate,highlights the point that I was making in my first brief statement. Under the heading `Families in poor state' the article says:

The growth in the numbers of “working poor” in western Sydney is outstretching the resources of Anglicare, one of the region's biggest welfare providers.

The article goes on to say:

Mr Coller said despite public perception, growing numbers of callers were not welfare-dependent but hard-working families struggling to make ends meet.

He blamed the growing yet hidden poverty affecting families on the inflated cost of living in Australia's most expensive city. “This is impacting on the working families who were once capable of protecting themselves from financial poverty,” he said. “Over 40 per cent of a family's income goes towards housing costs, the highest in history.”

In conclusion, I intend to say quite a fair bit more about the article, Polarisation of families according to work status. Where does part-time employment fit in? I will speak extensively about that article in a later debate but, to indicate to the House some of the issues that I will be raising, I will quote a paragraph from this article. It says:

Australian literature has generally defined work rich and work poor families in terms of whether parents are in paid employment. The literature has not, on the whole, differentiated between full-time and part-time employment. Rapid growth in part-time employment over recent years makes the differentiation between full-time and part-time employment increasingly important when considering the distribution of work across families. The proportion of all new jobs created which were part-time increased from 43 per cent in the 1980s to 75 per cent in 1990s.

(Time expired)