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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7146


Ms COLLINS (FranklinMinister for Community Services, Minister for the Status of Women and Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development) (19:39): I thank the member for Page for her statement and her question. There is no doubt that as a government we should be very proud of what we have achieved but also for the legacy of Labor governments past and how far we have come when it comes to gender equality in this country. But that does not mean that our job is yet done. We still know that women are more represented when it comes to lower incomes in Australia and we know that more women work part time in Australia, so we know that we still have quite a long way to go when it comes to some of these issues and true gender equality in this country.

When the Prime Minister and I released the Women's Statement 2012: Achievements and Budget Measures, we talked about the considerable achievements that we have made in advancing gender equality since Labor came into office in 2007, particularly set against our backdrop of broader reform, which is of supporting working Australians and their families, building a new Australian economy and strengthening our communities.

One of the key achievements the member for Page referred to—and of course there are very many more—was the historic introduction of the Paid Parental Leave scheme, which the minister for families, sitting next to me, was instrumental in. We have now got more 160,000 families that have registered for the Paid Parental Leave scheme, and no doubt that has supported many women in Australia, particularly-low income women, in the first analysis of the data. We have also made increases to the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent and lifted the cap from just over $4,000 to $7,500. We now have more than 800,000 families in Australia accessing the childcare rebate, so that has also made child care more affordable in this country. Whilst we know that we have come a long way, we still have some way to go when it comes to the affordability of child care. We also have a record investment in that regard—early childhood education but also child care.

We made the reforms that the member for Page referred to: the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act and the agency, legislation for which, I am very pleased to say, passed through the House of Representatives yesterday. That is about driving cultural change through workforces in Australia and working with businesses and industry to ensure that women are more equally represented in workplaces across this country and that men and their caring responsibilities are also given equal weight in workplaces across the country. That piece of legislation, which I am particularly pleased with, has now passed through the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate.

We have also heard about the Fair Work Act and the equal pay audit with Fair Work Australia. It is this government that is providing more than $2 billion in supplementation to community service workers who are out there every day doing very difficult work, the majority, again, of whom are women. In fact, of the 150,000 workers in the community service sector that will be receiving these increases, 120,000 are women. It is a very significant decision for women in that sector.

We have our major reforms to superannuation and the increase of superannuation from nine to 12 per cent, which will of course assist women, and our historic pension reform. As the minister for families also knows, when it comes to the pension system, our changes to increase the single age pension have helped women more proportionally than men, because 70 per cent of our single age pensioners are in fact women, so they have also benefited very significantly from that.

We have our national plan to reduce violence against women and their children, which gives effect to the government's zero tolerance approach to domestic violence and sexual assault. We have some very innovative campaigns about respectful relationships right across the community, from the government's innovative website to working with community organisations and also sporting organisations, which have been traditionally male dominated.

So we have done a lot when it comes to some of those, but, particularly in this year's budget, one of the big announcements that will benefit women considerably is the increase to the tax-free threshold, from $6,000 to $18,200. The majority of part-time and low-income earners, as I said at the beginning, are indeed women; 70 per cent of part-time workers are women, so women will benefit much more from this measure. We have also had in the budget greater support for working women and their families, with a boost to the family tax benefit from 2013, and we have heard about the Schoolkids Bonus replacing the Education Tax Refund—again to help women and their families. We are also doing some other work in encouraging women into non-traditional sectors. It is an important component, of course, of gender equality. The government is providing $54 million over four years to encourage more people, including young women, to study maths and science at school and university. What we are trying to do in this budget is build on some of the Labor reforms of the past to create a fairer and more inclusive Australia and part of that, of course, is increasing women's participation in the workforce. We are also continuing our support for the working women's centres in this budget. There is so much more to talk about, but I will end there.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms O'Neill ): There are no further questions. I call the minister.