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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 640


Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (14:40): My question is to the Minister for Social Inclusion, the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, and the Minister for Housing and Homelessness. What is the government doing to support older people, families and carers to achieve the best possible balance between working, caring and social engagement?

Mr BUTLER (Port AdelaideMinister for Mental Health and Ageing, Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Minister for Social Inclusion and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform) (14:40): I thank the member for Wakefield, my colleague from South Australia, for his question. Late in his prime ministership, John Howard bowed to the bleeding obvious and declared the work-life balance issues of Australia to be a 'barbecue stopper'. He was right. The trouble was, of course, that he then did precious little of substance—

Mr Briggs interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Mayo has already been warned.

Mr BUTLER: to help Australian barbecues run more smoothly: no paid parental leave, no real attention to childcare policy and certainly no thought to the industrial issues involved, unless you count Work Choices. By contrast, this government has acted where the last government just talked. We intend to keep building on those achievements.

While the public and the media debate has tended to focus on the needs of Australian families with young children in this regard, we also know that a good work-life balance is an increasing challenge for older Australians. Australians over 55 are bearing greater caring responsibilities than ever before, often for their ageing parents as well as for their own children or sometimes grandchildren. This is happening at a time when Australia is relying more and more on increased workforce participation by this same group.

Indeed, around a quarter of the total growth in Australia's workforce last decade was by an increase in the number of Australians working into their sixties. While the total workforce grew over that period by about 25 per cent, the number of men in their sixties working grew by 110 per cent and the number of women working in their sixties grew by an astounding 200 per cent. But older workers often do not want to continue the work arrangements they had when they were younger. They want to have more flexibility in their work to take advantage of healthy early retirement or semi-retirement years and, obviously, they want flexibility to deal with their growing caring responsibilities.

Indeed, the ABS tells us that there are as many as one million older workers who want to move from full-time work to part-time work before they retire. Giving those Australians the flexibility and the right to formally request flexible work arrangements from their employer is not just the just the proper thing to do for a cohort that has worked so hard and for so long; it is also now an economic imperative. Extending the right to request flexible work arrangements to Australians over 55 was a direct recommendation of the government's Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians. It is the right decision and it is a decision that deserves the support of the entire parliament.