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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23699

Mr ORGAN (9:46 AM) —It was my honour recently to meet with eminent feminist writer and former head of the Office of the Status of Women, Dr Anne Summers. She is the author of Damned Whores and God's Police and her new work is entitled The End of Equality: Work, Babies and Women's Choices in 21st Century Australia. During a speech at a crowded Wollongong City Gallery, Dr Summers presented a somewhat gloomy picture of the status of women in this country. Cassie McCullagh's subsequent expansive report in the Illawarra Mercury reinforced that view and included commentary from men and women in my electorate of Cunningham.

Dr Summers's research has revealed that the issue of sexual and domestic violence against women is being largely ignored by government. The proportion of women in full-time employment has not increased in 30 years. More than 160,000 Australian women are prevented from working because they cannot get child care. There is an estimated shortfall of as many as one million child-care places in Australia. In Sydney alone, an average child-care place costs $250 a week, yet the maximum government assistance is only $137 a week for those with a combined family income under a paltry $31,755.

More Australian women work part time than at any other time in our past—and more than in any other country in the industrialised world. In a great many instances this is not through choice—they would rather have full-time jobs—but because of the lack of child care and other support for working mothers. As a consequence of working fewer hours, most women do not earn enough money to support themselves. Women are earning less in relation to men than they did a decade ago. One in four Australian women today will never have children, which is fine if that is their choice but not if it is because they have had to choose between having a career or having a family. Less than 10 per cent of the senior executives of our large companies are women. Women comprise just 26.5 per cent of federal parliamentarians, with a disproportionate few holding senior ministerial positions. Dr Summers found:

The brunt of Government policy towards women for at least the last seven years has been designed to make it more difficult for them to hold jobs, and have children. The hope has been, apparently, that women would just give up any career aspirations and decide to have children.

Under the government's breeding creed they would stay at home behind the white picket fence. This is a disgraceful situation that is setting back by decades the cause of women and their liberation from restricted choices.

Dr Summers believes that there is no doubt that women's rights have been eroded since the election of the Howard government in 1996 and that the only way that women of Australia can ensure their cause will be improved is to get rid of the ultraconservatives. Women should take the opportunity at the next election to send a very clear message that backward policies and a failure to adequately promote the status of women are unacceptable. Due to the gravity of the situation, at the earliest convenience I will be moving that a royal commission into the status of women be set up to investigate in detail this matter and to provide solutions and alternative policy directions. Dr Summers is to be congratulated for her work over many decades in promoting the cause of women in this country. As the federal parliament we must address this issue and ensure that the women of Australia enjoy justice and equality of opportunity in all their endeavours.